The sun was just setting as we snuck out, all nine of us - Milo, who had brought one of his plant identification editions just in case he happened upon something rare; Benjy, who was already drunkenly singing some tune that sounded suspiciously like the Sorting Hat’s song from the year before; Willow and Albus, each with a sleeping bag even though we all knew one of them would go unused; Scorpius and Rose, who’d been bickering earlier about the difference between lizards and iguanas but were now sharing a bottle of wine between them; and Flynn, Mia, and I, walking a bit in front of the others to lead the pack. Mia was put out that Flynn had forgotten to bring the spiked seltzers that she liked, and even though he called her "high bloody maintenance" and she called him an "ungrateful mother-humping arsehole," they still managed to do so in between kisses.
The leaves blew gently in the wind, the weeds grazed our ankles, our footsteps creased the blades of grass, bending them over slightly until they slowly sprung back up again. Everything around us moved in a familiar way, but us - we weren't the same; we never would be again.
Flynn proclaimed that Milo was finally about to be around his true family - trees - and Milo was telling Flynn exactly where to shove it when he tripped over a protruding stump and came crashing down to the forest floor, his gangly limbs wrapping around thin air in a futile attempt to regain balance.
I was laughing along with the rest of them until I glanced ahead of me and my heart stopped.
He stood right at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, leaning casually against the trunk of a tree, a bottle of vanilla rum in one hand and a pack of Cauldron Cakes in the other. I hadn't seen him since Easter holiday so when I was close enough I ran to him and he dropped everything, wrapping me close and lifting me off the ground, so slightly that the tips of my toes could still graze the dewy grass.
He hugged Albus next, and then Scorpius and Rose and Mia, never letting go of my waist as he did so, and then after a rather rude comment from Flynn and a slight admonishing by a dirt covered Milo, we were on our way.
There was food and drink, but mostly there was conversation and laughter and lighthearted arguments. I knew there would be other times like this one - hundreds, in fact - but right there and then, this was the only one that mattered. The only thing that mattered.
And we could all feel it - the invisible precipice we were curling our toes over, now just waiting for the moment where the floor would give way and we would be released into the free fall of our lives. But for now, we enjoyed the suspense of it, the bittersweet security of solid ground.
Benjy had forgotten to bring the graham crackers for the s’mores - “Your one job, Waterson!” - but we made do anyways, opting to use the large pieces of Honeydukes chocolate donated by Albus to sandwich the marshmallows. Once we had gotten the fire started and settled around it conversation flowed like water, smooth and naturally in its usual patterns. We talked about Quidditch (Jack Robinson and Cicely Brown snogged after we won the semis and Nellie yelled at them in front of everybody), about family (Lily told Slughorn that he should lose five stone after he gave her a P on her practical so he invited her into the Slug Club early), and everything in between, side conversations interrupting the main ones so frequently it was hard to trace exactly where our thoughts were going. And then of course when Willow mentioned graduation Mia started tearing up at the prospect of all leaving in a week, and when Flynn didn’t even tell her to shove off and instead agreed she broke into full on tears, clutching Milo’s hand with enough force to break it.
Willow, Mia, and I had managed to get a flat in SoHo only a couple of blocks away from Flynn and Milo’s place and a quick Apparition from Scorpius and Al’s. Willow had an internship with The Daily Profit straight out of school, and Mia was going into marketing for a popular witches cosmetics company, a career choice I was mainly excited about because of all the free samples she was sure to bring home with her.
Scorpius was going to become an Auror as I always knew he would, just like Albus and Rose. Benjy had been offered reserve positions on two Quidditch teams and was still deciding whether to join the Arrows or Puddlemere - either way, he would get to play against Beck, who was having great success on the Holyhead Harpies, and Adam, who was well immersed in wedding planning with Annabelle. Milo had been admitted into the Mungo’s School of Healing and was already studying for his first day of classes, and Flynn - well, Flynn was going to figure it out, like he always did.
As for me, I was focusing on a career in Magical Law. When I had told James I’d been accepted into the program, he had laughed. “Reading old books and arguing for a living,” he grinned, the sides of his eyes crinkling up in the way I loved best. “Couldn’t think of a better profession for you.”
James and I had already worked it out, too. I would stay at his place as often as I could when he was home, and when he was traveling to Egypt or Romania or Thailand or wherever he would send me a Shakespeare play in that country’s native language. I already had a collection of Romeo and Juliet in foreign scripts decorating my bookcase.
As the sky began to lighten, Mia leaned her head on my shoulder from the other side, and then Flynn leaned his head against her, and then Albus wanting a laugh put his head all the way in Flynn’s lap while Rose balanced various items on his back.
And with my head resting on James's shoulder, I listened to Scorpius go on about protective spell technique until Rose told him to stop, and watched Milo get excited about a plant only to discover it was a common fungi, and witnessed Benjy’s shoe accidentally catch fire, singeing the hairs around his ankle slightly. Everything was expansive and melancholy and beautiful, and I wanted to freeze that exact space and time and keep it with me forever and ever and ever. I still do.
But even now, if I close my eyes and breathe in, all the way in, I can touch the edges of that night again. I can remember the way our laughter expanded our lungs so much we felt as though we might burst, the smell of ash and fire as it clung to the threads woven into the fabric of our clothing, the way we fell asleep side by side, warm skin pressed together underneath the rayon layers of the sleeping bag.
In my heart, I still feel it. All of it. Every last second.
Can you feel it, too?
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