I stumbled into my room, baring my teeth when I crashed into my wardrobe shutting the door behind me. I went utterly still, eyes wide as I tried to see in the dark whether I'd woken anyone up. Someone sighed and there was a rustle of sheets. Then silence. Breathing again, I took a step towards my bed—and went flying straight into my trunk.
'Fuck!' I hissed, clutching my knees in agony. FUCK that hurt! 'Ow.'
I tried to keep my moans of pain quiet as I rocked back and forth, eyes screwed shut.
I whipped my head around in fright.
Olive's sleepy face peered out from her hangings and she frowned grumpily. 'What are you doing?'
'Sorry!' I whispered, aggrieved. 'Did I wake you up?!'
'Yes,' she said sourly, blinking slowly. 'Did you just get in? Where were you?'
'James,' I said through gritted teeth. My knees were screaming. 'I tried to be quiet, sorry.'
Olive looked from me to my trunk. 'He left you notes.'
My eyes snapped to the two pieces of parchment sitting on top of my trunk that I hadn't noticed before.
My heart pounded in my ears.
'I didn't read them,' Olive said loftily. As though I should praise her for having the decency to not look at my private things. 'Will you tell me what they say?'
'No,' I grumbled, snatching the notes and shoving them unceremoniously into my trunk, where the rest of them were. Knees still sore, I pushed myself up and tore my robes off, tossing them aside on the floor. Kicking off my shoes, I dove straight into bed, face first. Without brushing my teeth or taking off my uniform. 'Goodnight, Olive.'
'Ooooh he got you so drunk.' Olive giggled quietly. 'You're going to regret it in the morning.'
I fell asleep at once.
Life without James Potter as my fake boyfriend was shocking.
I had had no inkling how much of it he had infiltrated. How he had wound himself to my friends, my spare time, my lunches and dinners, my studying. The vines, once strong and verdant, were now decayed, petrified into a dead grip that I couldn't prise off. I found myself stopping and starting, forgetting then remembering, that there was no reason to walk to the Gryffindor table anymore, that there would be no one waiting for me after class, no one to pull me away from my friends with a hug from behind, no one to kiss my cheek and swat away.
After I'd woken up Wednesday morning, hungover and mouth tasting like arse, I'd told Eve and Olive that I'd broken up with James. There must've been something in my tone or my face or something because both of them had become very, very quiet. They didn't pry—even Olive. Instead, they said they were sorry, that they were here for me if I needed anything, and they'd watched me carefully, as if waiting for me to break down so they could rush me with ice cream and tissues for my tears.
But they never came.
The tears, I mean.
As much as I wanted to pretend like it was about the Wave, I knew it wasn't. It was "I can't stop wanting to be around Pauline but I like someone else too!". It was James as a silent … leader. His authority, the fact that he had a life and interests outside of Quidditch and girls and pranks and—and—a normal teenager life! In what world did we exist together?! There was no bloody way he'd be interested in a girl like me.
I was such a naive fool.
James probably wanted someone like Jane or Cecily. Fiercely intelligent, other-worldly and interesting. Dark and brooding and mysterious. Lives rich with important things. Things that mattered. Lives that weren't composed of smutty romance novels, gossiping about boys with their friends, going to Madame Puddifoots unironically and waiting for the next party that we would hopefully be invited to.
Because that was me.
I was just a normal teenager.
I wasn't thinking about the world or our society and how I could change it. It wasn't like I didn't care about those things … I just … It just wasn't what my school life had ever revolved around. It was about getting boyfriends, about finishing my homework—hopefully on time—and getting good marks to make my parents proud. About trying things for the first time—getting drunk, having sex, maybe trying a drug or smoking a cigarette.
No wonder I was just a little kid to him. No wonder that even though I was seventeen, same as him, I wasn't a romantic interest. I wasn't like Pauline, with her dark, alluring eyes. Her graceful limbs, her tame and silky hair (Merlin how I envied her hair), her charm and vibrancy. She matched James' banter, full of quick and witty retorts. She got under his skin and had him on his toes. She was exactly the kind of girl I'd ship in James' story.
I was the girl I'd feel sorry for.
The girl who stumbled over her words, could barely get a coherent thought out, who was gullible and innocent, who believed everything her boyfriend did or said because she didn't know any better. The girl who could only get a boyfriend because she'd sent a fucking mortifying love letter to another guy who had rejected her. It was genuinely laughable, that she ever thought James would reciprocate her feelings for him.
What a fucking moron.
The rest of the week went by without being half as eventful as the first two days. The Professors were pressing, imploring, appealing to all students, asking them that if they knew absolutely anything about who had destroyed the Sorting Hat they should come forward. I couldn't help the way my face burned, the way I had to look away or risk showing my guilt. But no one came forward. And I kept my mouth shut.
The Hogwarts gossip mill was positively churning with it all.
Everywhere you went, there were endless discussions and conspiracy theories about who had started the Forest fire, who had destroyed the hat and what their motivations were. I paid little attention to this because they were all wrong (I mean, someone suggested Voldemort had been resurrected? What an idiot). Some people still suspected Cecily, which bothered me greatly—but I could hardly get involved, shutting them down, without being challenged to offer a better idea.
Then there was the scandal of James and I breaking up. That was harder to ignore.
It was kind of funny—in a completely unfunny way—how us dating hadn't ruffled any feathers, hadn't sparked any real interest from anyone, but as soon as we'd broken up, they were frothing at the mouth for answers.
At this point, the only thing I looked forward to anymore was my evenings with Cecily in the Kitchens.
According to the Grey Lady, we all had a part to play but we had to do it unwittingly. So Cecily couldn't tell me what, exactly, it was that I was doing to help, only that I was helping. So, without a clue of what to do, I did what I did best.
And we spoke about everything. She told me about her childhood, frankly and openly, and I listened without judgement. I told her about mine, guiltily. My heart broke for her—for the things she suffered, for the life that should have been. I marvelled at her resilience, her desire to be happy, her ability to carry the weight of her sorrow and pain. We also spoke of lighter things, like Charlie, and I was so glad they had each other. Our evenings together—and it was just me for now—we were to take it in turns—had turned into mini therapy sessions.
I only stopped short of telling her that my relationship with James had been fake … but I began to wonder, now, whether I should tell her.
I felt an inexplicable tug in my abdomen, a quiet voice urging me to do it.
I warred with myself because it was one thing I desperately didn't want to reveal. It was my true humiliation, my greatest shame. It showed my weakness, my vulnerability and insecurity. If I told her, I'd be laid bare for her to see just how pathetic I really was. She would realise that I couldn't help her—I could barely help myself.
Still, as the days went by, the compulsion grew stronger.
'Is this even working?' I asked desperately that Friday evening. 'Do you actually want to know about the time I wore low-rise jeans in primary school and bent over and my crush saw my arse crack and said nice arse? Merlin, Cecily, it was so mortifying. I didn't wear jeans for five years after that. It absolutely traumatised me!'
Cecily laughed, a full-bellied laugh, eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed with joy.
'I don't know,' she struggling to say, still sobering up. 'I just know that I always feel so much lighter when I talk to you.'
I glowed at that, feeling immeasurably pleased.
'That sounds good.'
'I think I know what your role is,' she said suddenly.
'Oh.' I paused. 'Is that good?'
'It definitely makes sense.' She considered the question more thoughtfully. 'The Grey Lady gave me … seven titles, let's say. I know what I am and I think I know what Charlie is but I'm trying to figure out who everyone else is. And I think I just realised what your title is.'
'I hope it's a good one,' I said half worriedly.
She grinned broadly. 'It's a really good one. If I'm right.'
We fell into an amiable silence, picking at our finished dinners. I mulled over my thoughts, burning with the desire to know what my title was and how it was helping Cecily control her Obscurus. She had explained a bit more about them, since my knowledge was basically non-existent, and if an Obscurial couldn't be killed in Obscurus form ... if you couldn't kill an Obscurus without killing the host … if she was telling me with pure honesty about her life … if I was telling her about my life and it was helping her to control her Obscurus … but if I wasn't being completely honest then ...
I swallowed, hard.
'I have to tell you something,' I blurted. She looked at me questioningly, smile fading. My heart pounded in my chest, blood roaring in my ears. Whatever thread that was tied to my gut pulled suddenly, tautening into a steel cable. 'It's bad. Very bad.'
'What is it?' She seemed worried now. 'It can't be that bad.'
'Oh no it definitely—definitely is.' My palms were slick with sweat as I gripped the arms of the chair I was sitting on. 'It's, um, very embarrassing for me. Very, er, difficult to tell you. So I'm just going to explain something before I, erm, tell you. Is that okay?'
'Kit, of course—'
'I'm insecure,' I cut across before I could change my mind. 'Like, I've only kind of realised it over the past couple days. I'm, like, cripplingly insecure. I'm too tall, I'm not that smart—' Cecily frowned '—and I'm not interesting. I don't know what to talk to people about because if they're not interested in Twilight then that's half of my conversation starters out the window. I don't think I'm very pretty.' I paused. 'Well, sometimes I think I can be pretty to look at but only when someone really thinks about it for a very long time and decides, okay, yeah, maybe she has very kissable lips! And I don't know where it comes from. No one's ever said those things to me—well, Mallory, my cousin, teases me a lot for being too tall—but other than that, I don't why I feel that way about myself. Sometimes I'll have an epiphany and think I'm fucking great but—but … most of the time I feel like I'm nothing.'
I lowered my gaze; I had never admitted that to anyone ever before. I hadn't ever acknowledged, even to myself, that I felt that way.
'I feel like I'm invisible,' I said quietly. 'Like … like no one sees me. The less people look, the less I feel like I even exist. And if I don't exist, I'm nothing. I don't know who I am, really. It's like … like I'm constantly right beneath the surface of an ocean. All I have to do is push, swim just an inch higher, and I can breathe. But no one sees me drowning. I'm not saying I need someone to save me … I just … I just need someone to look. To see me.'
'That doesn't make much sense, does it?' I let out a nervous laugh, mentally preparing myself for what I was about to reveal, drawing up every last morsel of courage inside of me. 'Like, of course people see me. Of course I exist. It's just … I'm … I'm, like, worried that I'm not … I'm not anyone unless … and Merlin, this is going to sound so pathetic but … but like I'm not anyone unless someone loves me …'
'"I think, therefore I am",' Cecily whispered, almost to herself. 'Kit, I think …'
'And I don't know if I even really mean romantic love,' I went on forcefully, hoping that I made that clear. There had to be limits to my pathetic-ness. 'It's just the only way I've seen someone be discovered—in movies and books and what a friend once told me—was when someone fell in love them, you know? I want someone to discover me. Because I'm not just what people think I am—I am what I am!'
'And I don't know who that is!' Loud and fucking proud! 'I'm still figuring it out. But the problem is I don't know how to be discovered. I don't know what to do—how to tell someone I'm drowning! And I write these letters, okay?! And maybe—maybe I've always wanted them to be read! Maybe I was secretly hoping Mallory would find them and send them—'
'—maybe that's why I hid them under the mattress like a fucking fool! I mean, who does that?! I was practically begging her to send them!' It was an epiphany—a wondrous one. 'I was desperate to be discovered! And—and this is all to say—that is, I'm saying all this to say—to say that—that when James got his letter—when he finally knew how I'd felt about him—I was hoping—hoping so hard that I couldn't even look at closely because if he rejected me I'd be devastated—I was hoping he'd want to be with me—and maybe that was childish and stupid but when he offered to—'
I jumped, startled.
And looked at her.
Cecily was utterly still. Her eyes were wide with horror as they flickered over her legs, her hands, before they slid slowly up to mine. I gaped in open mouthed terror, frozen to the bone, unable to move, unable to speak. It was as though a serpent had slithered into our path, watching us even as we watched it, knowing that the slightest movement, the slightest noise, would enrage it. Knowing that it would strike regardless.
Black sand-like particles emanated from her skin, swirling and undulating, not reaching out father than maybe a few inches. It floated calmly around her, creating a halo of darkness.
'Kit,' Cecily whispered, lips barely moving, eyes darting from between her open palms, where the black sand whorled. 'Kit what's happening.'
I couldn't speak; my voice was trapped in panic.
I glanced at the house-elves, bustling away, cleaning, cooking. They hadn't noticed us. They'd grown used to our presence here and since we had already eaten, they were satisfied in leaving us alone. But I was in fear for them—for what could trigger Cecily and make her explode in violent, destructive fury.
'Put—put it away,' I stammered stupidly, beads of sweat pearling on my temples. 'You—you've—'
'I don't know why this is happening!' Cecily was panicked, bordering on hysteria. 'I don't—I don't understand!'
'Calm down,' I hissed, but I sounded terrified even to my own ears. 'Cecily—just listen.'
She met my gaze and I could see just how scared she was.
'I know who you are.' I mastered my exploding fear, my fear for the house-elves, the students in the castle, me. My voice was unwavering and I didn't look away, didn't look anywhere but into her eyes. 'I've discovered you. I see that you're drowning. I know that you've been under the water longer than me. Someone should've looked and I'm sorry it took this long … but I see you. And I'm not afraid.'
Cecily pressed her lips together, tears of dread glittering in her hazel-green eyes.
She didn't believe me.
I held out my hand, pummelling my own terror into submission, telling it to take a fucking hike.
Cecily shook her head once, almost imperceptibly, body trembling.
'Take my hand.'
'Kit,' she half sobbed. 'You can't—'
I lunged forward and wrapped my fingers around her forearm, pulling her into me—or maybe she pulled me into her?—and gasped as a steel wall of icy cold hit me. Our eyes met; horror meeting surprise. The black sand shot up my arm, twisting around it, atoms energised. I watched in fascination as it danced around our arms, binding them together. I felt such terrible coldness—felt the void dragging me in.
'Take my arm,' I breathed, heart racing as though running away from death, pounding that much harder, reminding me that I wanted to live. 'Please.'
Tears fell down her face and she let out a broken noise, a cry of anguish—and dug her fingers into my forearm.
The black sand became frenzied, flurrying around us, whipping our hair, erupting gooseflesh over our skin.
We didn't look away from each other.
'It wasn't your fault,' I said. 'It wasn't theirs either.'
'I killed them, Kit.' She was crying. 'They l-locked me away. They h-hurt me to m-make it stop.'
'Fear is ignorance. They were religious Muggles and you were just a child. But you were loved—you are loved. They loved you so much—I was there in the Forest and I heard them. They loved you but they didn't know how to stop being scared. So they tried to control the unknown. Their fear. You can hate them and love them. What happened to you was terrible. Someone should have looked. But I'm looking now. And do you know what I see?'
Cecily shook her head, closing her eyes, tears spilling beneath them.
'I see someone broken trying to heal. I see someone who needed kindness but rarely ever saw it. I see fire and ice. I see rage and grief. I see guilt and shame. I see you looking, waiting for someone to notice that you aren't okay. That you can't just move on. That it will take your whole life to find peace. But I also see courage. I see so much love and kindness. And I will not let you go. I will never let you trap yourself in that room ever again. Okay?'
She didn't answer.
'Okay!' she cried as I dug my nails into her skin. 'Okay! Okay!'
Then—like a vacuum—the sand sucked back into her skin in a heartbeat. She arched her back with a gasp and for a heart stuttering moment her—her eyes went black—and she collapsed to the floor.
For a moment, there was only silence, only our breathing, heavy and laboured.
Then she began to cry, her entire body cracked with pain as she cried and cried and cried. Slowly, I slid off my chair to my knees. And I held her as she sobbed her broken heart out, keening with the weight that she carried.
'Okay,' I said.
I found Lulu in the Library by herself.
I pulled up a seat opposite her but she didn't look up once. Just kept writing notes, peering at her textbook for reference.
'I need your Galleon back,' I said, when it became clear that she wasn't going to acknowledge my presence. I'd already taken Imogen and Rudolph's (the latter without much of a fight, not that I was expecting one from that spineless idiot).
Finally, she looked at me.
'The Wave is disbanded,' I said, drumming my fingers against the table, trying to manage my thin patience. 'You don't need it anymore.'
'If I don't need it anymore,' she said slowly. 'Why do you?'
'Because it's evidence,' I snapped. 'And I need to destroy it.'
'I'll keep it safe. I want a reminder. Of what we did.'
'Is it not enough that the Hat found you worthy to wield the Sword of Gryffindor?' I hissed. 'Give me the Galleon and you can keep the memory or you best fucking believe I'll reach into your precious mind to take that away from you, too.'
Lulu didn't so much as flinch. She just stared at me, expression betraying nothing—not even alarm—as she sat back in her chair and considered me thoughtfully. Then, she snorted, as if a thought had amused her.
'What?' I snarled.
'It's just funny,' she said with a light shrug. 'I regretted it, you know? After I destroyed the Hat, I regretted it. I was the one who wanted it gone, who'd found out that it chose who to send letters to. I was the one who discovered the secrets of it enchantment. How Gryffindor had weaved his own fear of our secrecy from the Muggle world into it. How his actions perpetuated blood supremacy, even to this day, even after the Wars.'
'I can see why don't have any friends if that's your sense of humour.'
Her eyes became shards of ice, her lip curling into a sneer. 'You know what I feel now?'
'Since you're in a sharing mood …' I waved a hand for her to continue.
'I feel vindication,' she hissed. 'Because I look at you and you are nothing like what Rowena Ravenclaw would have wanted. If I believed in this fucking Houses bullshit, I'd say you're a Slytherin—through and through. You're a rotten core, Jane Fox. A pretty face with a rotten—fucking—core.'
I said nothing.
'Have your fucking Galleon back. I don't need it. I don't need the Wave.' She rose to her feet and slammed the golden Galleon on the table between us, her expression livid with contempt. 'Just know that I destroyed the Hat that gave you your place here in this world. And, if I wanted, I could rip you right out of it.'
Slowly, I took the Galleon and put it in my pocket, our eyes never leaving each other's.
'Is that a threat?' I asked finally.
Lulu laughed once—bitter and derisive.
'Oh no, Fox,' she said with relish. 'It's a promise.'
I got to my feet, considering her, weighing her words, squeezing the cold Galleon in my hand.
'Then you'd better be good at keeping them. Or you'll find yourself regretting ever making them.'
With that, I left.
The image flickered in mind, playing over and over again, like a broken film reel. Lulu rising up. I don't need it. The Galleon glinting between us. I don't need the Wave. Lulu's features contorting. I don't need it. The smack of the Galleon. I don't need the Wave. A flare of hatred. I don't need it. I don't need the Wave. I don't need it. I don't need the Wave.
I made my way to Ravenclaw Tower, unable to shake her words from my mind. I was so deep in thought, mulling them over, the meaning of them, that I almost didn't notice it when Potter fell into step beside me.
'Hey,' he said. 'Can I walk with you?'
'You don't have to ask.'
'I don't want you to think I'm following you.'
I looked at him. 'You can stalk me all you want.'
He gave me a rare smile, tightening his grip around the straps of his backpack. We held each other's gaze for a moment and I wondered what he was seeing. I wondered if he thought about me going to McGonagall with half an idea, barely a plan, risking expulsion and instead coming back with the Sorting Hat. Maybe, since it had all kind of worked out, he hadn't spared it a second thought.
'A thought for a thought?' he suggested. When I raised my eyebrows, he took it as permission to continue. 'I was thinking … You surprised me. You came out of nowhere. We've been at this school for six years now and we've barely crossed each other's minds—' wrong '—and now you're in my head all the time. A month ago, I was hoping you'd leave me alone and now … I can't imagine you not in my life.'
I stopped walking and faced him. 'What changed?'
'Nothing,' he said, smiling crookedly. 'You just … grew on me.'
Like a parasite.
'Your turn. What are you thinking?'
He's not in love with him. Because he's in love with you? He's not in love with him. Because he's in love with you? He's not in love with him. Because he's in love with you?
'I'm thinking Lulu is up to something,' I lied. Potter's brow furrowed, smile fading. 'She gave me her Galleon back. I have all three now but … something she said, when she gave it back … I need to find out what she's planning. I think what the Hat said to her—about finding a better way—got to her. I don't know if that puts us at risk or if it will affect us at all, but I'm thinking I'd better find out before it's too late.'
Potter studied me. 'It could be nothing,' he said after a beat. 'You could just be … overthinking things.'
I wanted to laugh. Me, overthinking? Why, what ever gave him that idea?
'Besides,' he said, lowering his voice. 'It's not like we won't have our hands full when it's our turn with Cecily.'
'You know, I never asked but—when did she tell you?'
He looked at me, then scanned the corridor. Confirming with his own eyes that it was empty, he said, almost embarrassed, 'She's better at duelling than me. She was getting the best of me so I … I used Legilimency. I may have been … harsher than I intended to be. That she even managed to push me out and somehow get into my mind was surprising. But what I saw …'
The rest of his words were drowned out by white noise.
'You're—' My voice broke, catching in my throat. 'You're a Legilimens?'
'Yes. But I didn't know what I'd find—'
'Have you ever looked in my mind?' I demanded, suddenly afraid.
Potter blinked, taken aback.
'I'd never do that you,' he said quietly.
Panic tore its way up body. 'You did it to Cecily.'
'I shouldn't have,' he said firmly. He forced me to meet his eye. 'Jane—I wouldn't do that to you okay? I will never look into your mind, not even with your permission. Your mind is yours. If you want, I could teach you Occlumency—'
'I can teach myself,' I said hoarsely, mind reeling, fear battling reason. I walked away from him but he caught up with me easily. How could I believe him? When he had so easily torn into Cecily's mind? He could have read any of my thoughts—all of my thoughts—if he tried.
'Jane,' he said. 'I'm serious. I never have and never will look into your mind.' He grabbed my arm and yanked me around, into him. I braced myself against him, hands digging into his biceps. 'Believe me.' When I didn't—couldn't—say anything, he tightened his grip on me. 'Please.'
He's not in love with him.
Because he's in love with you?
He's not in love with anyone.
'Have you … have you ever looked into Scorpius' mind?'
Potter went still.
It was answer enough.
'Do you love him?' His jaw clenched, a muscle jumping. 'Am I just a distraction? When I'm with you … do you think about him? Is it to stop thinking about him?'
'Where is this coming from.' Each word was tightly controlled. I couldn't read his tone.
'You say I grew on you,' I whispered. 'Like some pet you didn't want but came to like. You want a thought for a thought? What I was really thinking was that you never told me that you didn't want him anymore. You've never even told me that you want me. But, in all fairness, I did give you a way out of that one.' This time I did laugh, a breathless, bitter laugh that masked my hurt. 'I let you keep me a secret. Only I'm not. Because it was the only you'd convince yourself that I wouldn't dare to hope for more from you.'
'Jane,' he said.
'I've told you how I feel,' I said, unable to keep my words from twisting with despair. 'I've told you how much I like you.'
'I like hearing that,' he murmured, pressing his forehead against mine. 'I like hearing it a lot.'
'I'm not going to wait around.' My voice was low and harsh, senses short-circuiting from his nearness; he was pulling me under and, for the first time, I wanted to fight it, to stay in this moment of lucidity and make him hear me. 'I won't wait for you to realise—I'm not going to let you—'
I didn't realise he had been pushing me until I felt the wall hit my back. His face was pale, cheeks flushed, green eyes liquid and molten.
'Is it not enough that I want you?' Velvet and rough, the words washed over me, making me shudder with need. 'That I crave the taste of you. That I go to sleep thinking of your body and wake up wanting to feel you beside me?'
'It's not enough,' I said breathlessly. 'I don't want it without—without all of you.'
Potter put his hand on the wall beside my head. His other hand followed and I was trapped. My breath hitched; we were only a few inches apart. He dipped his head down so we were eye to eye. My stomach coiled in anticipation and raw desire.
'You don't want this?' he murmured. 'You don't want escape? You don't want me to kiss you again?'
'I don't,' I said, voice strangled. 'You can't use me to avoid what you truly want.'
'And you can't use me to prove a point,' he murmured, brushing his nose against my ear. A shudder ran through me. 'What is it, exactly, you like about me? Are you falling in love with me, Jane?'
'Albus.' His molten gaze didn't leave mine, and they flickered down to my lips. My heart began to beat faster. 'Al—'
But his name withered away with a gasp. Slowly—so agonisingly slowly—Potter brushed his lips from my jaw to the edge of my mouth, to the edge of insanity, and then to my lips.
'I'll give you whatever you want,' he whispered over my mouth. 'And you want this, don't you.'
It wasn't a question. Even if it was I wouldn't know the answer. But my heart was pounding in my chest—and if he didn't kiss me now, I would explode. So I stayed frozen, I didn't move, I didn't even breathe because I knew that if I did, this … this whatever the fuck this was would shatter. Because he was right. I was using him to prove a point.
I figured out I'm just not built to be alone. I'm terrified of it. So I'm facing my fears, sly Fox.
When he kissed me, mouth slanting over mine, he consumed me. It was light at first and I opened my lips automatically beneath the pressure. Against my own will, I felt myself become liquid air. I reached up to wrap my arms around his neck. His arms slid around me, his hands knotting my hair with pain that was pleasure. Then—in a split second—and I would never know if it was the way his tongue grazed mine, or the way I pulled at his long, raven curls, or the noise I made when he pushed his hips roughly against mine—but the kiss became hard and unyielding, all tongues and teeth.
His hands moved from my hair, slid down my shoulder blades and spine, gripping my waist, pressing his hips against mine—before he drew my hands from around his neck and pulled away. He stepped back and for a moment I thought I'd fall; I felt though as something essential had been ripped away from me. The very oxygen from my lungs.
I stared at him in blank astonishment.
'I like you, too, Jane,' he said. 'I like you more than I care to admit.'
Hope flared in my chest.
'No buts,' he murmured, amused. 'You'd just better rethink that point you're trying to prove.'
'I thought you said you wouldn't read my mind.'
He let out a laugh. 'I don't have to read your mind to see what's written all over your face.' He kissed me again—a slow, deep kiss that ignited a molten, pure need inside me. 'There's a party tonight in the Slytherin common room. The password's misery loves company.'
'The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus,' I said automatically. 'By Christopher Marlowe.'
Albus grinned at me over his shoulder as he left.
I threw my bag on my bed with a sigh and thought I probably didn't have time to take a nap if I wanted to make it to this party before midnight. Ideally, I'd like to be back in my bed by midnight.
'Rox, do you know if anyone's in the shower?' I yanked my robes off and sat on the edge of my bed, undoing the laces of my boots. 'There's a party in the Slytherin common room tonight if you're keen.' I slid my socks off and began unbuttoning my dress shirt. 'Rox?' I twisted in my bed to look at her.
She was laying on her bed in her pyjamas, legs crossed and glasses on, reading a Muggle novel.
'Rox?' I said again. 'Hello?'
She ignored me, flipping a page of her book to puncture the point.
'Oh come on, Roxy.' I tried not to sound exasperated because I knew that would piss her off even more. 'I'm sorry I left after dinner. I forgot I told Albus that I'd see him—'
'Enough.' Roxy shut her book and looked at me; her dark eyes were ice. 'I am so sick of hearing your lies.'
'Rox,' I began, but she didn't let me finish.
'No one's in the shower. You can go in. The girls have already gone to the party.'
I stared at her, waiting for the rest, but she had picked her book up again.
'Are you coming?' I asked, raising my eyebrows. 'Or are you just going to sulk in here by yourself?'
She didn't look up from her book for a long moment but I could tell that she wasn't reading anything. When, finally, she answered me, she refused to meet my eye.
'I sat here everyday when you were in withdrawal,' she said quietly. 'I was terrified for you. I was desperate. I asked everyone I knew if they knew how to brew a Draught of Peace. I was so desperate that I asked Boris Zhukov for help. But when I came back to the room, you were gone. So I flushed his Draught down the toilet, not knowing where you were. I don't know where you went Saturday night. I don't know how Cecily is back at Hogwarts and you're still here. And I've been wondering, you know, why don't I know what's going on with Jane? Is she still seeing Albus? Is she friends with Rose, Kit and Cecily? Did she destroy the Sorting Hat?'
I went perfectly still.
'And I realised,' she went on with mock thoughtfulness, sliding off her bed, grabbing her wand and her book. 'I realised that I don't know anything about you because we're not really friends.' She cut her gaze to me and it was cold, unfeeling. A look that tore its way down to the centre of my soul. 'I don't know if we were ever friends. I know I wanted to be your friend but I'd never stopped to think if you wanted to be mine. I think what you really wanted was to be invisible.'
She put her nightgown on and spared me a glance over her shoulder as she opened the door.
'Don't speak to me ever again if your first instinct is to lie.'
She slammed the door.
If I didn't try now, then I would never gather the courage to do it again.
There was no one to hide behind, no Cecily or Jane, no one in Gryffindor who liked me much at the moment. It was the last class of the day and my last chance.
I drew in a deep, steadying breath and went up to Scorpius.
He was mid-conversation with his bench mate, Oliver Tyndall—Hufflepuff—when he realised I'd cast a shadow over his desk, and he looked up. His expression faltered, smile fading away.
'Can I sit here?' I pointed at the empty seat beside him.
I plonked down and rummaged in my bag for my notebook, quill and cauldron. When I'd finished organising my desk, I found that he was staring at me with a slightly uneasy look. I ignored that and began writing notes as Slughorn started the class. We were to work in pairs for the potion he had set us.
'Er,' said Scorpius nervously. 'I didn't … I didn't ask Slughorn to pair us together anything.'
I tried to smile reassuringly, really trying to stop the grin that was threatening to spread across my face. He had done that once, I remembered fondly, after I'd stopped speaking to him for a week straight because he had spoken to Clara Edgecombe, one of his ex-flings, at a party. The warm glow in my heart sputtered out and my smile disappeared. He had scrambled so desperately to get me to talk to him. Finally, he'd begged Slughorn, offering to clean his potions cupboard for an entire month if he paired us together in class.
'I know,' I said, my voice loud even to my own ears. 'I expect it's because he was just pairing off people who were sitting next to each other.'
Scorpius cleared his side of the table a bit so I had more room. He seemed rather jittery—as if there was too much energy in his body and not enough space to use it all up in. I pretended not to notice to spare him his dignity.
'Where is Albus, by the way?' I asked coolly, placing my cutting board on the table. 'And your other friend—Asher? It's not like them to miss class.'
Scorpius turned to look at me so fast that I heard his neck crick. Rubbing it, looking annoyed with himself, he said, 'Al decided to skive with Fox so … yeah. And Asher—you know Zhukov's potions dealing?'
I looked at him sharply, pressing my lips together. I had a massive bone to pick with Boris Zhukov. After Cecily had left, he'd filled the gap in the illegal potions trade by selling weak or downright dangerous potions. 'He's still doing that, is he? I thought I confiscated everything from his stash.'
'Yeah … well … Asher bought some Dragon claw powder from him the other day. Turns out it was dried Doxy droppings.'
'What an idiot,' I said without sympathy. 'I'll go get the ingredients, shall I?'
He watched me go, mouth hanging half open. I fought the urge to roll my eyes. I knew he was freaking out that I was speaking to him, that I was being so nice and civil when I had hardly been present for the last conversation we had. He had taken the break up well, but we hadn't spoken since and I assumed he hated me.
Although, it didn't seem like he hated me … He seemed wary and on edge, like he thought I might have an ulterior motive, like it didn't make sense for me to talk to him, even as a friend, unless I wanted something … but the potions at the front were emitting terribly strong scents and I was having trouble thinking clearly. Scor had easily identified what was what and the Amortentia—the love potion—was clouding my thoughts.
When I returned, Scorpius was staring off into the distance with a glazed expression, cheek squished in his palm.
Scorpius was so startled that he knocked over his cauldron. It fell to the floor with a clang, creating so much noise that Slughorn looked up.
'My dear boy, is everything all right?'
'Er—yeah—sorry—' Scorpius bent down and put the cauldron back right, the back of his neck tomato red. He glanced at me and I grinned.
'What? Is there something on my face?'
I involuntarily lifted a hand to touch my cheeks and mouth. Scorpius watched the movement, eyes lingering on my lips, before forcing himself to look away. He managed to bite out, 'No—should we get started?'
I came out of a stupor myself. 'Yeah—yeah. Okay, here's the mallowsweet, but we need to put in the beetle juice first and bring it to a medium simmer for eleven minutes before we do anything else. I know the instructions say we need to wait for ten—but eleven's better, trust me—in the meantime we can cut up the Valerian roots—four and a half centimetres each precisely—' I thrust the Valerian roots at him without even looking, pulling my hair into a pony tail. I glanced at him to see if he'd started and found him staring at my hands. 'Scor?'
Knocking his knee against the wooden table, he took the Valerian roots from me wordlessly and started cutting them up. We both went to work in silence. I poured the beetle juice into the cauldron and turned up the heat, boring holes into it as though that would make it come to a boil faster. I struggled to find something to say.
'Did you read the Prophet this morning?' I asked.
'That whole business with the Sorting Hat finally made the front page.' Merlin, why did I bring that up?! 'About time. Mum actually sent me a letter about it asking me if I knew anything about it!'
Our eyes met over the steam emitting from our cauldron.
'As if I wouldn't have those idiots expelled immediately!' I said with a shrill laugh. I was going to kill myself. 'I mean—how outrageous! It's really horrible to think that it was probably someone in Gryffindor. Because—because of the Sword of Gryffindor, right?'
'Oh—yeah.' Scorpius cleared his throat, looking awkward and ill equipped to be having this conversation with me. 'Yeah.'
I raised my eyebrows. 'Is that all you have to say?'
'No. I just think we have differing opinions about it, that's all.'
'So you don't want to tell me because you think I'll bite your head off?' I demanded. 'Do you really think I'm so incapable of having a normal discussion with someone who thinks differently to me?'
He snorted, not bothering to hide his amusement over this.
'Didn't realise I was being funny.'
The corner of his mouth quirked up. 'Rose, I think it's safe to say that you don't have much patience for people most of the time. Having a discussion with you … well, it's never a discussion. It's an argument where you're always right and everyone else is wrong.'
I tried not to show how outraged I was by that.
'Please tell me what you think,' I managed to get out through gritted teeth. 'I promise to be patient.'
Scorpius laughed—then realised I was being serious. 'Oh. Well. I mean, I've never really understood the Houses stuff. I get that the Founders had a disagreement over the kinds of students they wanted to teach. But it's like once Slytherin said, oh fuck—I'm not teaching any Muggleborns, the rest of them just went—well fuck me, I want to teach people who value the same things I do. Then they made a hat do their dirty work because that felt more okay than subjecting students to Legilimency because—cool! Wow! A talking hat!'
'It's never made any sense to me,' he continued. 'What's the point of choosing kids that way? Like based on what the Founders wanted their students to be like? People change over time, the things they value change, their potential changes … that's what a school's for right? I feel like all the qualities the Founders admired … every student should be taught to value those. Being smart, ambitious, brave and kind … And I'm not advocating that we get rid of the Houses or anything … it would just be nice if they found a way to sort you into a House without forcing this … ideology on you.'
'Destroying the Hat was badass. And whoever did it … honestly—I can't say I wouldn't have done it myself if I had the chance. I don't know if it's a particularly Slytherin sentiment but … we obviously have a bad reputation and I think that it's cool that someone had the balls to say, what the hell are you going to do now? Like, there's no Hat to tell you that these are the specific reasons why you're in this House. Maybe now we'll have a chance to learn about Slytherin's history without feeling like we have to have any pride in it. Sort of gives me hope that the next group of Slytherins won't spend the year wishing they were in a different House or adjusting to some predisposed personality given to them by a talking Hat.'
I stared at him, speechless.
He looked at me uncertainly. 'It's fine if you don't think that. I'm just saying—how I feel.'
'I never knew,' I blurted. 'I never knew about the first years and … the predisposed …' I had always felt such fierce pride in being a Gryffindor. And I always assumed that people in other houses couldn't possibly mean it when they said they liked being a Ravenclaw or whatever. Because Gryffindor was obviously the best House … And I didn't even know why I thought like that. 'It makes sense. What you said. I've … I've never seen it that way.'
Scorpius smiled at me so disarmingly that I had to turn back to my cauldron to stop staring at him. What I saw actually did more than distract me—I brightened up at once. 'Oh good! We're getting there! Are you done with the roots? Scor, hello—' I waved a hand in front of his face but he merely blinked at me '—oh, give those to me you idiot.'
I scooped the roots and dropped them into the cauldron. The liquid turned into a clear, smooth lilac color. Exactly the color it needed to be, indicating the halfway mark of the potion being finished.
'Could you pound the mallowsweet into a fine powder? I'm going to stir now. We have to mix the powder in immediately after I'm done stirring so you have to do it quickly.' I paused to look at him and grew impatient again with his lack of response. 'Scorpius!'
He jumped into action, stuffing the mallowsweet into his pestle and grinding it into a fine, white powder. I left him to it, unable to stop from watching him from the corner of my eye. He brushed all ground mallowsweet into the middle of the pestle so it sat in a neat, sparkling white mound. While he waited for me, he pulled the textbook toward him.
'Er … sorry but … the textbook says that we have to stir the potion ten times? And to add beetle eyes, not mallowsweet.'
'Don't be silly. This will be just fine.'
'But it's not in the book—'
'It’ll be fine!'
Scorpius glared at me. 'Rose, we're changing the ingredients and the method completely. Are we even making the same potion anymore?'
I sighed and faced him. 'Yes, of course we are. But this is like—a sort of short cut. Like when you know it's easier to sweep your wand instead of flourish it when bonding two objects in Transfig. That sort of thing.'
Scorpius opened his mouth to argue, but he didn't seem to know what to say. He seemed slightly stunned. 'I didn't even know you knew I did that. I haven't told anyone but Albus about that little trick.' I couldn't help the riotous blush that pooled in my cheeks. It was bordering on rude, how oblivious he was to my childhood obsession with him. I watched everything he did. 'But that makes sense. Besides, you're better at Potions than me.'
He handed me the mallowsweet.
'Where did you learn this stuff anyway?'
'Well,' I said. 'A lot of it was Albus. And I'm surprised he hasn't taught you his tricks. But I also had a chemistry set when I was younger. I loved mixing things and I guess I just know there's a real art to it—a patience.' We both grinned at the joke. 'You have to almost be like a surgeon, you know?'
Scorpius was nodding seriously in agreement—but I knew he had no idea what a chemistry set or a surgeon was.
'Anyway,' I said rather abruptly. 'I'm good at Potions but I prefer Charms.'
Scorpius, seemingly in spite of himself, smiled. 'I know.'
At the end of the lesson, I offered to hand in our vial to Slughorn whilst he packed everything up. As I walked over to his desk, waiting behind a few students in line, I peered over at the bubbling Amortentia. And sniffed.
I smelled … laundry detergent, woodsmoke and … and …
I recoiled, heart racing in my chest, sprinting as though it was planning on tearing out of my body completely, away from that scent.
You should tell her how you feel, you know.
I tore my eyes away from the Amortentia and went up to Slughorn, plastering on a smile as I handed him my vial. He was one of the only Professors that called me Miss Granger and not Miss Weasley. Everyone saw my red hair and my striking resemblance to my dad and saw Weasley. Privately, I felt that Slughorn called me Granger on purpose. To remind me that he was very fond of my mother, the Minister of Magic. Too bad for him she never hesitated to remind me of his surprise that a Muggleborn like her could have made such fine potions.
'This looks excellent m'dear,' he said happily. Then he seemed worried. 'That Malfoy didn't give you any trouble did he?'
'No, Professor. We worked really well together.'
'He's always ruining something somehow … made it by the skin of his teeth into my class, I tell you … skin of his teeth. How are you getting on with your other classes, dear? Not minding the new Defence substitute are you?'
I tried not to let my impatience show. Slughorn always liked to have these bloody chats about my life. It was irritating. Pretending to like me wasn't going get him in with my mum! I wish I could just tell him that.
'No,' I said shortly. 'Since he's my cousin.'
Slughorn beamed at that. 'The famed Teddy Lupin! Wonderful boy—excellent in Potions. Shame he was drawn to his father's practice …' I tried not to roll my eyes. 'I suppose Creevey will be back soon, poor fellow. I taught him, you know? Muggleborn if you can believe it! Him and his brother! Both very good students … no aptitude for Potions, from what I remember … but very fine students … such a shame about his brother …'
God, I would gouge his eye out if he made me suffer this melodrama any longer.
'But Dennis will be back soon. If he's left St. Mungo's, where would he be going but here?'
I stared at him.
Creevey wasn't at St. Mungo's?
'Loves teaching, that boy. Loves it so much he jumped right out of his hospital bed before he was dismissed! Excellent work ethic …'
My blood ran cold.
I couldn't remember turning around, leaving Slughorn mid-sentence; I couldn't remember walking past Scorpius or the concern that had flickered across his features when he tried to tell me that he had my things; I couldn't remember breaking out into a flat out run, panic surging up my throat, like tinder flaring into a blaze.
Creevey was coming back.
'How did it go with Kit today?'
I was almost asleep; Charlie was playing with my hair, twisting a tendril around his finger and watching the ribbon of white unfurl. He seemed utterly mesmerised by it and it had made me smile. I snuggled up closer to him, tightening my arm around his stomach. I couldn't be happier that we'd decided to sack the Slytherin party tonight.
'You know I can't tell you that,' I murmured.
'Ugh, I keep forgetting,' he muttered darkly. 'Helena Ravenclaw is a bossy bitch.'
'You're the one who wanted to listen to her.'
'It would be nice if I could just know how it was going. I don't even have to know what you guys do together! Or where you do it! No specifics—honestly, an "it went well" would make me feel better.' I didn't respond. He poked my shoulder. 'Blink twice if it went well. Blink once if it didn't.'
Since my eyes were shut, I easily ignored his request.
'Okay—keep your eyes closed if it went well. Open them if it went badly.'
I twisted my head to glare at him.
He gasped. 'It went badly!'
He sighed heavily and wrapped his arms around me, looking up at the ceiling of his four poster bed. 'It really would ease my soul to know that it was working.'
'Charlie, it won't if I tell you. The Grey Lady said that you guys can't know what everyone's doing or it won't work.'
'But why can't you tell me how it went?'
'I don't know,' I grumbled. 'She was very clear I wasn't to talk about it at all—with anyone. And before you ask, she means even my boyfriend!'
But Charlie didn't say anything.
I looked up at him again. 'What?'
A slow grin spread up his face. 'Your boyfriend?'
I froze—then shot up. Or tried to. Laughing, Charlie refused to let go of me, even as I struggled furiously to wrest free of his grip, mortification burning a livid path up my body. Suddenly, he rolled me underneath him, pinning me there. I blew the air out of my cheeks, sending a tendril of my hair flying out of my mouth.
'Your boyfriend?' he said again, grinning stupidly. 'Babe, do you fancy me?'
I felt my face go bright red—but that didn't stop me from rolling my eyes aggressively.
'Don't call me babe.'
'Babe,' he repeated, laughing at the look on my face. 'Babe, I think you have a crush on me. You just called me your boyfriend.'
'I thought you were more mature than this.'
'Babe! I think you love me!'
Our eyes locked—and quite abruptly, all the breath left my body. Charlie seemed to realise—at the same time I did—that there was nothing remotely funny about what he'd said. His eyes slid to my chest, rising and falling rapidly as my lungs fought for air, so suddenly deprived of it. I squirmed in his grip but he only tightened it, eyes flicking back up to meet mine. His blue eyes were dark, lazy and molten, as they considered me.
'You love me,' he said, and there was no humour in his features at all. 'Don't you?'
I reached my face to catch his lips and he crushed me into him, deepening the kiss. He kissed me like he wanted to consume me; like it was tearing his soul apart to spend even a second apart; like he wanted to fuse together. The synapses in my brain seized up and exploded. God, yes, I loved him. I loved every inch of him. But his ego could wait a minute—or a couple—before I told him that.
I made my way back to my common room, still shaken. Once Cecily had stopped crying, wiping her tears away with the hems of her sleeves, she'd repeatedly told me she was fine, that she was just in shock. Shocked and scared that her … her Obscurus had appeared like that—all of sudden without any warning. I'd told her repeatedly it was all right, that it must be sign that whatever we were doing was working, but when she'd met my gaze, we could both see it for the panicked lie that it was.
In truth, how could we possibly know if that was everything going according to the Grey Lady's plan or everything going to utter shit?
It felt like a bad omen, that the Obscurus appeared at all … and like that … a deadly mist floating around her body, coming from her body …
I wished desperately that I could tell Rose or Jane about it and get their opinion on the matter—but I knew I couldn't. I was sworn to total and utter secrecy. So in my head it stayed, gnawing in my brain with worry.
Before I knew it, I was in my dorm room, grabbing my towel and heading to the shower. I was so preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly noticed Olive and Eve look at me as I came in. If they said anything to me, I didn't hear it. I just turned the faucet on and waited for the old pipes to start gushing scalding hot water. I caught my reflection as I stripped to my knickers—and looked away quickly.
I got rid of my bra and knickers and stepped into the shower, tipping my head back and letting it burn all my stress and anxiety away. For just one night, I would enjoy myself. I would go to Dean Beasley's party and enjoy myself. I wouldn't seize up with shyness like I had at the Valentine's Day party. I would strut in and dance and make conversation and have fun.
Happy and clean, I went to get dressed and stopped short at the sight of Olive and Eve, who were whispering in hushed voices until they noticed me and whipped their heads around, deers caught in headlights.
'Hey Kit,' Eve said with a guilty start. 'You—er—going to the Slytherin party tonight?'
'Yeah, I am.' I frowned. 'Dean Beasley invited me.'
Olive's eyebrows shot up in astonishment. 'Dean Beasley?' She seemed to need a moment to compose herself, no doubt experiencing this second injustice with the same indignity as she had when James and I started dating. 'Are—are you sure that's a good idea?'
I sat on my bed, confused. 'What do you mean?'
Olive and Eve exchanged a look.
'Well,' Eve said tentatively. 'You broke up with James only three days ago … And Poppy's told me about Dean—'
I held up my palm stop her. I didn't want to hear it.
'Eve, I love you, but I'm just going to get my mind off things and have fun. Aren't you guys going for the same reason? I feel like with everything going on—the Sorting Hat and Cecily being back and all the bloody drama—we all need a party, don't we?'
'What are you talking about,' Olive said flatly, arching an eyebrow. 'We weren't invited to the party.'
I looked at them in utter astonishment.
'What?!' I squawked. 'Yes you were! I invited you! I told you guys to come with me! I—I—' As I stammered it occurred to me that, actually, I didn't think I'd done anything of the sort. I deflated, looking at them in despair. 'Oh my God you guys … I am so sorry. I thought I invited you! I thought I invited all of you! I don't know what's wrong with me! I've just been so out of it but I really thought that I had invited you—'
'Kit, it's okay.' Eve shared another look with Olive. 'I mean, we didn't really think anything of it—' Olive grumbled '—because we knew you … you know … must be quite out of it after breaking up with James. Don't worry about us.'
Olive shot her an annoyed look. 'Are you mental? Kit meant to invite us and just forgot! I've already texted Peter and he's in. He's getting ready right now and if you'd rather sit here and read A Court of Thorns and Roses for the billionth time then be my guest.' She faced me with a devilish grin. 'But I'm going to this party with Kit and we're getting fucked.'
'Yay!' I shot up and hugged Olive. 'I'm so sorry I forgot! I literally thought I'd told you guys about it the second it happened but … Merlin, I don't know.' I pulled away from Olive, looking at the both of them. 'I don't know. I feel like I've just been … in a dream. A nightmare, actually.'
'You know,' Eve said gently. 'You never did tell us what happened.'
I lowered my gaze. 'He wasn't over Pauline.'
They were a silent for a moment, and then, to my surprise, it was Olive who said, 'He didn't deserve you in the first place. That's the problem with boys who have faces like that. They forget what true beauty is when they're surrounded by copycat girls who just make themselves look like every other basic bitch on the planet. His fucking loss if couldn't see how fucking stunning and perfect you are, Kit.'
I gaped at her.
'I mean, has he even seen your face? It's fucking perfectly symmetrical. Even Pauline fucking Jordan can't claim that. You have the most beautiful almond shaped eyes and the melanin of your skin. Girl, pop off. You don't need him. Dean Beasley is an incredibly intelligent man to realise what a catch you are. I stan him. He's an elite human …'
She kept going, telling me that, sure, I was a little harebrained and forgetful but those things were easily overlooked by my almost magical ability to empathise with others, my loyalty, and going on about how I was the only person she'd come to if she needed help with anything, like bailing her out of jail.
Olive had never offered me so much as an "I like your shoes" in the six years that I'd known her—and now she was showering me with the loveliest compliments I'd ever received.
I caught Eve's eye and she grinned back, as if she knew exactly what I was thinking.
It took us about an hour and a half to actually leave. Olive insisted we couldn't stress her out by telling her she needed to get ready in twenty minutes—she said her hand needed to be steady for her eyeliner and if we pressured her, all hell would break loose. Poor Peter had been waiting for almost an hour in the common room when we all descended. On the bright side, he quickly forgave me for forgetting to invite him.
Despite what I'd told myself earlier, about not being shy and enjoying myself, I felt like I was about to shit a brick. My stomach was squirming with nervous butterflies and even having my friends around me did little to soothe my wrecked nerves.
'Misery loves company,' I said, feeling sick.
Peter patted my shoulder. 'Let's get a drink in you.'
The common room was packed. People were drinking, smoking (um, what the hell?), playing beer pong. Some were sat on the armchairs, some in circles playing drinking games with cards. I couldn't help but compare it to James' party; his had been delightful and full of imagination and purpose. This was just … a regular party.
I looked around and found Dean Beasley fighting his way towards me with two drinks in his hands. He thrusted one towards me with a broad grin.
'Thanks,' I said shyly. I got lost for a moment in his dreamy eyes when I suddenly remembered who I was with. 'Oh! These are my friends by the way—Olive, Eve and Peter.'
His grey-blue eyes raked over them, smile becoming crooked and … and Merlin.
'Hi Kit's friends,' he said. 'Drinks are in the back—help yourself to whatever you want.'
'Thanks!' Olive grabbed both Eve and Peter by the elbows and shoved them forward, face tomato red.
Dean and I watched them go.
'I'm surprised you're here,' he said when they were out of sight. 'I was beginning to think you weren't coming.'
I felt my face redden. 'Sorry. The, er, toilet was clogged.' Dean raised his eyebrows, politely perplexed, and I disassociated from my body in utter mortification. Did I really just say the toilet was clogged?! 'Jill Tweedy you see! She clogged the toilet because—' Oh God, I couldn't be that much of a bitch to Jill, dead bird or not '—because she threw up in it! Because she wasn't feeling well! And it took ages for someone to come fix it and we couldn't go in there because of the—the smell—'
'Well,' he interrupted, eyes flicking up and down my body. 'You smell great.'
'Oh!' I squeaked, cheeks burning even hotter. 'Thank you! It's my—my body wash. I can—I can send you the link for it later, if you want? Pretty sure it's on sale at the moment. And I think it's more of a girl's body wash but that's so heteronormative, you know? Like why are body washes even gendered? It's just soap! Why can't a boy smell like roses or vanilla, like, those are really nice smells—'
'Do you want to sit?'
'What?' I was breathless and flustered; I had been rambling. 'Oh—yes. Yes.'
People made room for us on the plush couch but I was still tightly wedged next to Dean. I tried to make some space between us but the situation wouldn't allow it. My knees and legs were tightly pressed up against his, our arms brushing every time he lent forward to say something to one of his mates. I felt so terrifically uncomfortable and awkward that I barely even spoke a word to anyone. The music and conversation were so loud that if someone asked me a question or looked in my direction, I seized up in panic because I couldn't make out what they were saying.
Olive, Eve and Peter rejoined us with drinks, but they were sat on the other side of the wide circle, flushed with excitement and in their own little world. They chatted to each other, shooting me sly, suggestive winks every so often. Because—oh yes—at some point, Dean had leaned back and stretched his arm over my shoulders, making it clear to the world that I was … claimed.
I didn't even know what to make of any of it.
I couldn't understand his interest in me at all and looking at all the beautiful girls around me, especially the girls in his year, I began to insecurely wonder if this was all part of some sort of bet or challenge.
If guys like James Potter hardly noticed girls like me, then what kind of drugs was I on if I thought Dean Beasley would?
But he did.
He looked at me, like, every five seconds to see if I was watching whatever it was he was doing, or when he told a story, he made sure he made eye contact with me so I wouldn't feel left out, he squeezed my knee and offered to pour me another drink (which he got someone else to do when I said yes), he laughed at whatever I said (even when I was trying really hard to be funny but it just wasn't).
It was totally bizarre but … but lovely.
It took me a few drinks but eventually I settled in. Settled into the feeling of body burning next to mine. I started talking to the people around me—all of Dean's friends—and talking loudly. I feel like me and Hannah were actually becoming best friends. I just couldn't remember what her last name was. Soon, we began to play a drinking game.
'Hannah, what's your favourite colour?'
'Dean, who's your favourite poet?'
'Olive—' Olive seemed disproportionately thrilled to be addressed by Dean '—what was the last book you read?'
'Eve, who's your favourite scientist?'
'Ethan, when did you last take a shit?' Oh, Eve was definitely fucked if she was saying things like that.
'Dean, if you could kiss anyone in this room right now, who would it be?'
Dean whipped his head around to look at me, our faces inches apart, grinning.
'Kit, do you want to kiss me?'
He was so close, our limbs touching, my stomach coiled tightly.
'What?' I breathed, mesmerised.
Everyone screeched and howled because I had just lost the question game. I blushed and stammered, looking at them all desperately, hoping they would let that one slide—it was just a mistake—
'You have to kiss him!' Olive cried. 'You have to answer and if it's yes, you have to kiss him!'
I was mortified.
I looked back at Dean, hoping he'd save me, but he was laughing. 'Well? You have to answer.' Oh God. My palms suddenly became slick and clammy with sweat and I nearly dropped my drink. I could feel everyone's eyes burning into me and I'd never wanted to disappear so badly in my entire life. Dean's grey-blue eyes danced, smiling crookedly, his dimple dimpling. 'Answer, Kit.'
He grinned and dipped his head down, eyes flicking up once to meet mine, to make sure it was okay … and kissed me. His lips were soft and featherlight. White noise rushed in my ears, drowning out the screams and roars of delight and approval. The kiss was gentle, bone-achingly sweet. He didn't touch me, apart from our lips, and suddenly it wasn't enough—suddenly I wanted him to kiss me hard and fierce, to make me forget my name, to obliterate any thought—every feeling but his body and mine—
He pulled away, cheeks flushed, eyes bright and faced the group. It seemed that the kiss had ended the game because everyone began chatting madly and getting up for drinks. I tried to catch Eve's eye, to see if I'd embarrassed myself, if this was, as Peter would say, a demon I'd have to deal with in the morning, but Eve was gesticulating wildly and talking to Marta, a Slytherin in Dean's year.
'... thing is like if you're into fantasy and romance, they're such good books! Honestly, I'm begging you to read her books and then—and then you have to tell me when you get to chapter fifty-five in A Court of Mist and Fury! It's so good, Marta. It's so good. Like you will die.'
I wanted to laugh, or smile, because of course Eve was talking about her smutty books at a party but ... I felt suddenly very far away. Out at sea, watching everyone on the shore as I drifted further and further away.
'Do you want another drink?' I asked Dean abruptly.
'Huh? Oh yeah, sure—thanks!'
I was already up on my unsteady feet and stumbling towards the back, heart hammering too fast, mind reeling as I tried to place my emotions.
I turned to look and felt instantly relieved to see Jane and Albus sitting on an armchair together. It struck me as very odd, for some reason, that they were so close. That his hand was on her hip, that her arm was draped around his shoulders. I knew that they were together or whatever but they usually kept it private. Zero PDA. Very unlike James and I. Not that we made out in public because that was—of course—against the rules. But Albus and Jane could've been mistaken for brother and sister, the way they acted before.
'Hey guys! So nice to see you here!' I looked at Albus. 'Although, I guess this is your common room.'
He smiled at me, which was quite shocking. 'Well observed.'
'God, Albus,' I half whined. 'I'm sorry I nearly killed you with the knitting needles, okay?! It was one mistake!'
'You tend to make one mistake quite a few times,' he said dryly, but his eyes were glittering with humour so I knew he wasn't actually cross with me. 'Having fun?' I didn't miss the way he glanced at Dean Beasley.
At once, I became awkward.
'Um. Yeah … I actually need to get a drink so …'
Jane leapt to her feet, smiling serenely. 'Great, me too.' She linked her arm through mine and, bewildered, I let her lead to me to the drinks table. She began pouring herself a gillygin and tonic. 'I hope this isn't you trying to get back at James.'
'Why would I be getting back at him? I broke up with him.'
Jane shot me a look, as if to say are you kidding me? Then she handed me the gillygin and tonic and I took it wordlessly.
'He was right, you know. About the Wave. It happened way before you guys started dating and he couldn't tell you about it. It's not fair, I know but … Listen, I've had to lie to Rox too—'
'I don't care,' I said loudly. 'I actually don't care though.'
Jane watched me. 'So—what? You're just over him? It was Dean Beasley you wanted all along?'
'Maybe!' I exclaimed. 'So what!'
She snorted and shook her head, taking a sip of her drink. 'Fine. But you should know that Beasley has it out for James. It's no secret they hate each other. Beasley was, after all, the boy from Beauxbatons. I'm sure you knew that though.'
She took a sip of her drink delicately, like she hadn't just shattered my life totally and utterly.
I stared at her, feeling winded, like she'd punched me in the stomach, uncomprehending.
'What … how is he the boy from … he goes to Hogwarts.'
'It was a Beauxbatons party in France,' Jane said, as though that should've been obvious.
I looked down at my feet, heart clenched as tight as a fist, stomach burning with acid and bile.
'So he only … so he's using me to piss James off.' I was so angry and upset that I wanted to cry. I gritted my teeth and pulled at my jumper. 'God, I am such a fucking idiot.'
There was a beat of silence.
'I didn't say that.' Jane's eyes flickered over me. 'But he's not a good guy, Kit. His last two girlfriends couldn't stand him. He's psychotic. And I'm not saying you're about to date him but … if he wants someone, he gets them. Pissing James off is probably a fun bonus on top of getting to sleep with you.'
I looked at her sharply. 'What?'
She rolled her eyes. 'Of course he wants to sleep with you.'
'So … he wants me but it's fun that it will make James angry?'
'You're a pretty little present, neatly wrapped up for him.'
I tore my gaze away from her. My eyes scanned the common room searching for—for who knew what. Something to punch. Someone to punch. I was so indescribably furious at the state of my life that I didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't believe Pauline had cheated on James with Dean. I couldn't believe that he was the boy from Beauxbatons. That James knew and didn't tell me. No wonder he was a wreck when it came to her. He was walking around Hogwarts with a physical reminder of the reason he was fucked over. I felt lividly indignant on James' behalf.
How dare Dean think he could just use me to hurt James like that? How dare he feel like could he kick a man when he was down?
'I'm going to kill him,' I said abruptly.
Jane smirked, like a self-satisfied cat. 'This party might actually be fun now ...'
I stormed up to Dean. He looked up at me, lifting his hand for the drink I never brought him, and his easygoing smile flickered into bewilderment as he registered the state I was in.
I threw my drink straight into his face.
Dean roared and shot to his feet, wiping his face furiously, blinking at me with pure disbelief and rage.
'What the fuck!'
'You're the fuck!' I shrieked dementedly. Everyone was utterly still, watching us in shock. 'You think I wouldn't find out that you slept with Pauline?! Who the fuck do you think you are! You—you creep! I can't believe you thought you could use me to fuck with James! God, you're pathetic! There's something seriously wrong with you, you know that!'
'Kit.' Eve was suddenly behind me, grabbing my arm. I tried to yank it back, letting out a noise of outrage and frustration as I lanced a white-hot, simmering look at Dean. He was watching me with disgust and incredulity. Like I was the mental one. 'Kit, we should—'
'You're disgusting.' I was so enraged I was seeing red. 'You're so fucking weird. You probably thought I was some naive little idiot, swooning and simpering over you! Did you just think you could ask me to your party, have your way with me and dust yourself off for a job well done?! God, I am so fucking sick of people thinking I can't see through their bullshit!'
'You're crazy,' he hissed, eyes darting to everyone watching us.
'You're fucking crazy, you single-celled fucking troglodyte!' Someone let out a low whistle of approval. 'You're sick in the head. I don't know who or what made you think it was okay to use someone for whatever fucking reason but you are disgusting!'
Dean's expression blazed with fury, nostrils flaring.
'Kit, let's go.' This time it was Peter, who was much stronger than me and sounded a lot firmer than Eve. He pulled me away but I still stood my ground, facing Dean. 'Kit—we're going.'
'You're a shit kisser by the way,' I hissed.
After one last searing look at Dean, I let myself be dragged away by Peter.
I couldn't find anyone anywhere.
No one was at dinner—not even Jane.
I wouldn't let myself panic because I didn't know—I didn't know what the real repercussions were, you know? Like, had we misjudged Creevey and overreacted because he had a tattoo of the Deathly Hallows?
Maybe Jane was right—he could have easily gotten it for fun as a teenager or something.
Even Dad had rolled his eyes and muttered something about the creepy Creeveys when he'd found out Dennis Creevey was our new DADA Professor … Mum had smacked him, telling me that the Creeveys may have had a slight obsession with Uncle Harry in school, but they were good people. Creevey's brother had died in the War, for Merlin's sake. He probably was trying to help Cecily. And we'd dumped him unceremoniously in the lobby of St. Mungo's like a sack of potatoes.
I bit my lip, standing in the middle of the Great Hall aimlessly.
So what if Creevey was coming back?
He was still a Professor here and it was good news that he'd survived … that he'd survived Cecily. We should be happy. And when he came back, maybe we could explain to him what had happened and he could—he could help us figure it out. Cecily had said that he wanted to help her and instead of listening to her, Jane and I let our thoughts run amok.
And yeah, sure, maybe it was weird that he'd asked her revisit one of her worst, most triggering memories but … but if he didn't know for sure that she was an Obscurial, or had Obscurial tendencies, didn't make sense for them to do that? And Cecily was expelled that very same day, so neither of them had any time to process what they'd discovered … he must have felt sick with guilt and horror. Why wouldn't he feel compelled to find Cecily, to help her? He was DADA Professor—he probably knew more about this than all of us combined, even with Jane's brain on our side.
We suspected him of being evil because of a stupid tattoo.
Merlin, we were such idiots.
I turned as Scorpius ran up to me.
'What the hell?' he panted, handing me my bag back. 'What happened?'
'I—' What could I say to explain my abrupt lapse into madness? 'I don't know. I … I don't know.'
Scorpius stared at me for a long, hard moment—then his expression softened. His gaze swept around the Great Hall, over the bustle and hustle of dinner time rush hour, before meeting mine.
'You wanna eat?'
I considered him.
Whatever it was that I … felt for Cecily … it was just as mad as thinking Creevey was evil … I was confused and … and ever since the miscarriage, I knew I wasn't myself … I'd thrown myself into helping Cecily believing it would absolve me of my past mistakes towards her … I wasn't jealous of Charlie or nervous around her because I … No … If my heart raced or I felt my stomach squirm around her it was because I … I wanted her to forgive me and like me as a friend … that's all …
'Yes,' I forced out, my mouth sour with the sharp tang of the lies I'd told myself. 'Yeah. Let's eat.'
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