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Infamous by R o s m e r t a

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 11
Word Count: 37,088
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Spoilers

Genres: Humor, Romance
Characters: Harry, Oliver, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 12/07/2012
Last Chapter: 09/29/2014
Last Updated: 09/29/2014

Summary:


{flawless banner by asphodel @ TDA}
The wizarding world thinks Hazel Wood is the girl who stole James Potter’s heart. The tabloids say she’s the girl who stole James Potter from his ex-girlfriend—Britain’s sweetheart. Now, Hazel is thrust into the limelight as the new “It Girl” everyone loves to hate.

But no one knows Hazel’s biggest secret: she's really in love with Al Potter.
8,000+ reads! <3


Chapter 1: A Few Of My Problems (And A Snitch Ain't One)
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{amazing CI by Lady Asphodel @ TDA}

*             *             *             *             *

My first problem, which has plagued my entire existence, is the fact that my name is Hazel Wood.

I’ll explain. Let’s assume you and I have just met (which I suppose we have—pleasure, by the way). For obvious reasons, I introduce myself as Hazel Wood.

That’s a nice name,” you might say.

“Thank you,” I would respond (I’m quite polite). “I suppose it is.”

The pair of us would continue to chatter away like the oldest and dearest of chums. Then, perhaps, you become so captivated by the charming, magnificent—and, let’s face it, extremely modest—creature standing before you that you simply must know more about her. “So, Hazel,” you’d say, “where do you hail from?”

“Derbyshire,” I would respond, in a sure-to-be futile attempt to cling to any apparent dignity I might have for a few more precious moments.

“Oh, how lovely! I have a cousin in Derby!” you might exclaim. “Where about in Derbyshire?”

This is where we get to the tricky part. In all likelihood, I would try to distract you from the question. I may point at the empty air behind you and screech, “Oh, look, a Blast-Ended Skrewt!” so that I could dash away the moment you turned round (childish, yes, but surprisingly effective).

For our purposes, we’ll assume that you’re smarter than the average hippogriff and aren’t fooled by my clever antics. In that case, I would do a lot of coughing and grumbling and you’d have to say something like, “Sorry, didn’t catch that?” approximately seventeen times.

But, eventually…

“Hazelwood,” I would mumble, refusing to meet your eyes.

At this point, a multitude of things could occur. Understandably, you could be quite confused. “No, I got your name,” you’d explain, speaking extremely slowly since, clearly, I have the mental aptitude of a mountain troll. “I was asking where you’re from.”

To which I would, naturally, reply, “Hazelwood,” and we’d go round in circles for Merlin knows how long, like one of those bloody Muggle vaudeville shows.

Perhaps you comprehend the absurdity of the situation immediately, but you’re the sort who’s too nice to comment. “Oh,” you’d say. “How…lovely.”

However, it’s rather likelier that you would commence laughing like you’d just heard the most brilliant punchline of all time (yes, a real riot; it’s only my life). Of course, you might subject me to some wisecrack to the effect of “Which came first?” in which case—bravo, you, for being equally witty as the 234,348,103,457 people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting before you.

Maybe I was someone like Voldemort in a past life, or maybe my parents just think themselves hilarious (which seems rather likely). In any event, suffice it to say that I loathe meeting new people—not to say that you’re not perfectly lovely, of course.

Anyway, let’s move on.

My second problem is none other than Lily Luna Potter.

“Oh, but Lily is such a doll!” you might say (in which case you really don’t know Lily at all).

“Is she now?” I would reply. “Then how might you explain the 253 detentions, seven broken bones, twelve near-expulsions, 34 minor explosions, one major explosion, 3,986 wedgies, and infinite noogies that I’ve suffered at her hands?”

“Oh, my!” you might exclaim (or perhaps you’re more of the “Bloody hell!” sort—I really don’t know, we’ve only just met, after all). “Why on earth would you have to endure all that?”

“Because,” I would be forced to respond, “Lily Potter is my best friend.”

At this point, you’d most likely think me a bit touched in the head. Actually, that part probably isn’t just hypothetical.

Perhaps I am a bit touched in the head. That really isn’t hypothetical, either.

Right, let’s just say the hypothetical scenarios are done for now (so you can stop asking yourself, “But do I really sound like that?”).

I have known Lily Potter literally my entire life. Our parents used to play Quidditch together back in school, and now my mum and her dad work as Aurors, so our families are quite close. I know her better than anyone else on the planet, and I can safely say that Lily is the world’s greatest criminal mastermind. Seriously, she could probably rob Gringotts or blow up the Ministry of Magic and never get caught. Fortunately, she hasn’t used this (frankly, quite terrifying) power for evil—yet. Which is probably why she managed to trick the Sorting Hat into sticking her in Gryffindor rather than Slytherin. When it comes to Lily’s schemes, I’ve played the roles of faithful sidekick/partner-in-crime and innocent victim equally over the last fifteen years.

The other problem with Lily (because of course all that isn’t enough) is the fact that she comes in a package deal that includes her entire. sodding. family.

You’d have to have been living under a rock for the past twenty-odd years to not know about the Wotter clan (Weasleys/Potters and their various offspring, for those of you who have done). Not one of them can visit the bloody loo without someone snapping a photo of the momentous occasion and slapping it on the cover of the latest issue of Witch Weekly with some asinine headline like “[Insert Wotter clan member]’s Fifth Whiz of the Day: Tiny Bladder or Raging Firewhisky Addiction to Blame?” Various publication have even featured photos including me, immortalized for all eternity as “Lily Potter’s Unidentified Friend” (no autographs, please). Mercifully, the wards surrounding Hogwarts keep out the pesky paparazzi, though the occasional story does leak out.

The point is, while I adore (almost) every member of the Wotter clan, I’ve hardly had a moment’s peace in all my fifteen years. I suppose when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t want it any other way; sometimes, though, it just becomes exhausting.

My third problem arose the very moment James Potter bestowed my first kiss upon me—in the middle of the Great Hall for the entire bloody school to see.

“How romantic!” you might say (perhaps we weren’t quite finished with our make-believe conversation after all). I would assure you that it was anything but, partially on account of the fact that I was not a willing participant in said kiss. “But who wouldn’t want to kiss James Potter?” you’d probably ask. “He’s so dreamy!” (Though I sincerely hope you don’t go about using words like ‘dreamy’ in everyday conversation. Unless you were born before 1952, in which case, carry on.)

Sure, to the untrained eye, James Potter may seem like the ultimate get: a 6’2”, handsome, muscled Quidditch phenomenon who also happens to be rather intelligent and filthy rich (I know, I know, he sounds like the sodding prize on one of those cheesy Muggle game shows where the announcer keeps adding, “But wait, there’s moreeee!”).

That’s all well and good, but James Potter likely isn’t the annoying, mocking, fat-headed older brother you neither had nor wanted. Our relationship is thusly: he is a complete and utter prat at all times, and I merely deign to tolerate him on a daily basis. It’s managed to work out quite nicely—until now. That one, tiny, meaningless, insignificant kiss changed the entire trajectory of my existence.

(Okay, perhaps that’s a bit much, but I can’t help that I have a flair for the dramatic.)

“Just why would a silly little snog be so detrimental to one’s life?” you might ask.

Which brings me to my fourth problem: I am madly and hopelessly in love with one Albus Potter.

Somehow Lily has yet to pick up on this fact, and I haven’t the faintest idea how that’s even possible. I mean, granted, it’s not like I (visibly) swoon every time Al enters the room or anything, but there are little things I do semi-consciously, like laugh maniacally at his lame jokes or stick out my chest a bit when he’s around (yes, maybe that does make me a total slag—what’s your point?). In any event, I’m grateful for her cluelessness because I get the feeling that her reaction to me dating her brother would be rather…unpleasant. You see, the pair of us have been waging a lifelong prank war against Al (and James, and Freddie, and essentially every other Wotter clan member), and, knowing Lily, she would view such a thing as the ultimate betrayal—her best friend sleeping with the enemy, metaphorically speaking (*cough* or not *cough cough*…what?). And, trust me; you do not want to be on Lily Potter’s bad side.

Anyway, by this point of our hypothetical conversation, you’d probably be rather confused. “Albus Potter?” you’d ask. “The brother of James Potter?”

“The very same,” I would have to respond.

“But that makes no sense!” you might exclaim in frustration (I don’t blame you). “If you’re in love with Albus Potter, then how does a cheeky, arrogant little git like James Potter come to snog a darling girl like you, Hazel?”

Well, my new friend, I’m so very glad you asked…

*             *             *             *             *

I suppose, in the interest of our newfound friendship—and for you to better understand my story, of course—that I should tell you a bit more about myself.

My full name is Hazel Ophelia Wood (so clearly going by my middle name was never a viable option). I’m fifteen years old and have just begun my fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where I am a Gryffindor like my parents, Oliver and Alicia. Surprisingly, I was also made prefect this year, which I can only assume is yet another blatant and sure-to-be fruitless attempt by the Headmaster, Professor Longbottom, to keep Lily in line.

I’m an only child, and—though my name suggests otherwise—my parents and I are quite close. Mum and I are more like sisters than mother and daughter, and I am a total daddy’s girl; the two of us share the same (hysterical, of course) sense of humour and love of Muggle classic rock music, which Mum forever laments introducing to the pair of us.

Mum, as I’ve already mentioned, is an Auror alongside Lily’s father, and Dad works in the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry. Dad used to be the Keeper for Puddlemere United, and was apparently a real “heartthrob” (Mum’s term, obviously, not mine) back in the day. All sorts of tawdry articles were written about him in rags like Witch Weekly, but from the time he and Mum were married and he was deemed officially off the market, the only bad press Dad really got was about his infamous temper on the Quidditch pitch. When my parents found out Mum was pregnant with me, Dad took the Ministry job and they decided to move to little old Hazelwood in the hopes of sheltering me from that harsh limelight.

To my parents’ utter delight, I took to a broom from a young age like a Niffler to a shiny new Galleon, and have been a Chaser on the Gryffindor house team since second year. Lily, of course, is also a Chaser. Due to our lifelong BFFLitude (it’s a thing—look it up), the two of us read and feed off each other so well that we’re virtually unstoppable on the pitch. I love nothing more than flying; soaring through the clouds with my robes billowing in the wind and my hair streaming out behind me is the world’s greatest cure-all.

Speaking of my hair…I have this ‘thing’ about it, as Lily likes to say (when she’s not referring to my ‘hair thing’ as a psychopathically obsessive fixation). Actually, it’s irrelevant what Lily chooses to call my ‘hair thing’ because its sheer existence is entirely her fault.

When Lily and I were six years old, James had infuriated Lily in one way or another (as usual), and (as usual), Lily came up with a ‘brilliant’ reprisal. See, their mum, Ginny, during her professional Quidditch days, got hooked on a magical body hair removal lotion called ‘Hair-B-Gone’ (clever, I know). It’s some heavy-duty stuff that, once applied, instantly causes the hair to fall out and prevents it from growing back for three full months. Apparently pro athletes in the wizarding world use the stuff all the time because the lack of hair on their arms and legs supposedly allows them to fly more quickly or some crap like that. All I know is Lily and I once watched Mrs. Potter use it on her legs before an impromptu trip to the beach and thought it was one of the coolest things we’d ever seen.

Anyhow, noting that all three of her children exhibited a marked propensity for mischievousness, Mrs. Potter kept the bottle of Hair-B-Gone in the highest cabinet in her bathroom. Lily’s scheme involved us somehow swiping the Hair-B-Gone and coating it on James’s pet cat, Mr. Sniffles. To a couple of six-year-olds, I suppose it would seem like a brilliant, foolproof plan.

It wasn’t.

Obviously, we were much too young to use Accio, so, after much debate, we (meaning Lily) decided that one of us would stand on the other’s shoulders to reach the cabinet. After much more debate, we (meaning Lily) determined that I would serve as the base while Lily climbed atop my shoulders. Figuring out the actual logistics of attaining this position was somewhat more difficult, but eventually we succeeded. Lily was able to reach the cabinet, but only just. Standing on my shoulders, her ankles firmly in my grasp, Lily stretched her arm out to grab the bottle—

—and somehow knocked it out of the cabinet instead. As it plunged downward, the bottle tilted, the stopper came loose, and my head was doused in sticky, thick, goopy, green Hair-B-Gone. I shrieked like someone had just set Fiendfyre on me, flung Lily off my shoulders, and rushed to the bathtub to wash it out. Unfortunately, the Hair-B-Gone worked much too quickly for that; I looked—quite ironically—like a hairless cat for three entire months. Also unfortunately, Mum and Dad found this hilarious and took far too many photos of me during that time. They still like to take the piss by bringing the album out every once in a while, particularly when we have visitors.

My hair has never been cut since, and I steer clear of all methods of magical hair removal. I’m too grateful for the existence of my luscious mane of waist-length, mahogany-coloured hair to let it squander. So my ‘thing’ is that I’m super…protective of my hair. Yeah, let’s go with ‘protective.’ Essentially, if you come within a ten-foot radius of me and there are scissors in your hand (or anything even remotely resembling Hair-B-Gone, for that matter), I will Bat-Bogey Hex the crap out of you and run away screaming like a banshee.

Consider this your warning.

Thankfully, I haven’t had any experiences quite so scarring as far as the rest of my appearance goes. I somehow got Mum’s tan complexion and Dad’s freckles, though neither of them knows where my blue eyes came from—they’re dark and stormy and perfect for my patented Death Glare. My nose is a bit too straight for my liking, but I suppose I’m not completely unfortunate-looking. I’m fairly lanky for 5’7”, but don’t let that fool you; I can pack it away like nobody’s business. I once beat James in an eating competition by consuming an entire treacle tart in one sitting (just do yourself a favor and never ask me what happened approximately twenty minutes later). This is probably why the Weasley family matriarch and I get on so well; Nana Molly loves to cook, and I love to stuff myself silly. Suffice it to say that I absolutely adore spending holidays at the burrow.

Besides flying, my hair, eating, and having random make-believe conversation with perfect strangers, of course, my other true love is reading. Books are the perfect escape from reality, and I am constantly losing myself in them.

Which is how I came to be sprawled on a scratchy old blanket next to the Black Lake in early September, just reading and minding my own business…


Chapter 2: The Kiss
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{amazing CI by Lady Asphodel @ TDA}

Author's Note: I'm really glad you all seem to like Hazel so far.  I added a bit more to the first chapter, so if you haven't read the longer version, you may want to go back and take a look before you get into this one.  Thank you so much for reading! <3

*          *          *          *          *

It was a warm, beautiful day. The cool breeze over the lake was tickling my bare arms and rustling the pages of my book as the sun reflected brightly on the gently rippling water. I was so wrapped up in The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle (hey, I never claimed all my reading was intellectually stimulating) that I hardly noticed Lily had suddenly appeared before me and was now frantically waving her arms in front of my face.

“Hazel, I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” she exclaimed.

“Mmm,” I replied, too caught up in Martin's adventures to do more than half-listen. “I’ve been here.”

“Yes, I’d gathered,” Lily snapped. 

She sounded grumpy, but I couldn’t be too arsed by it at the moment. “Good, good,” I murmured, still reading (Who keeps a guinea pig as a pet?! This bloke was just too bloody funny!).

“Hazel, look at me!”

My eyes barely flickered up to her face. “Okay,” I said, quickly returning to the book (Oh, that Martin with his skateboard—incorrigible!).

“No, Hazel,” she sighed, plucking the book from my hand, ignoring my protestations. “Really look at me.”

I did.

“Notice anything…different?” she inquired mildly.

Lily’s gorgeous auburn hair normally swung past her shoulders and reached the middle of her back. Today, it was standing straight on end. She looked like someone in one of those old Muggle cartoons who’d just been electrically shocked.

I wrinkled my nose. “Too much product?”

“No, you buffoon!” Lily smacked me—not-so-lightly—on the back of the head with my book before flopping down beside me on the blanket, exasperated. Her new hairdo didn’t budge.

“James, Al, or Freddie?” I asked.

“Yet to be determined.”

I poked at Lily’s hair. It might have almost broken my finger. “Well, whatever they used, they need to let your Uncle George know. If he incorporates it into the WonderWitch line, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes will have the market cornered on hairspray,” I told her.

“You’re not helping.”

“Oh, I guess I must have missed your request for assistance, what with all the name-calling and violence.”

Lily turned her head and scowled at me. I gave her the Death Glare right back. She sighed. “Will you give it a rest with the chronic bitchface, Hazel? It’s going to get stuck that way.”

“I’ll have you know that CBF is a serious medical condition, Lily,” I admonished her. “It’s not to be taken lightly. There’s no known cure, you know.”

She chuckled and rolled over onto her stomach, kicking her legs around in the air, before getting down to business. “Right. Since we can’t pinpoint the perpetrator, I’m thinking we just need to nail all three of them with one big prank.”

I sighed before joining her on my stomach, chin propped up on my hand. The wind caused the ends of my hair to dance around my face. I glanced over at Lily as I pushed it back behind my shoulders, noting that she did not have any similar issues. “What’ll it be this time?”

Lily looked thoughtful for a moment, tapping her index finger against her pursed lips. “Hmm. I’m thinking we’re going to need Roxy’s Pygmy Puff and a large quantity of Bubotuber pus,” she decided. I didn’t even bother asking. It was best not to know exactly what I was being required to do until the last possible moment. Lily got to her feet and brushed herself off, though I have no idea why she would bother being concerned with the rest of her appearance when everyone was going to be staring at her head anyway. “Let’s go back to the dorm so I can grab the Cloak and you can get your dragon-hide gloves.”

I groaned and shielded my eyes from the bright sunlight as I squinted up at her. “Can’t we at least eat dinner first? I feel like this probably isn’t something I’m going to be able to handle on an empty stomach.”
 
Lily frowned down at me. I pouted back at her. “Fine,” she conceded, before grabbing me by the arm and yanking me off the ground unceremoniously. I should really work on finding a best friend who's slightly less rude.

We were on our way to the Great Hall when someone called out, “Oi, Lily! Trying something new with your hair?”

Lily and I both whirled around, my long hair flying out behind me, and hers…well, not. James was approaching us, broom in hand, his own ink-couloured locks looking even more windswept than usual. He seemed unable to keep the wide grin off his face and the laughter out of his playful hazel eyes. Lily, her light brown eyes flashing ominously, brought her foot down on his, hard, the moment he was within stomping distance.

“OW!” he cried. For a little girl, Lily packs a mean wallop. “What was that for?”

Lily snorted derisively. “Like I don’t know you had something to do with this, James Sirius Potter!” She pointed to her head (which I found quite unnecessary, actually). “You could at least have done Hazel too so I’m not the only one walking around looking like a complete ninny.”
 
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about, sister dear,” James replied calmly, “but I’ve no desire to be murdered in my sleep.”

“Aw, Jamesie, you wouldn’t have to worry about that!” I assured him.

“No?” He eyed me suspiciously.

“Of course not! If you even considered messing with my hair, I wouldn’t dream of affording you the luxury of a quick and painless death,” I told him sweetly.

“You scare me,” he informed me. I batted my eyelashes at him in response.
 
“Are you going to fix this or not?” Lily interrupted. “It’s been four hours already!”

James smirked. “Sorry, Lils. You’ll have to take that up with Al and Freddie.”
 
“Speak of the devils.” I gestured to the troublemakers in question as they approached the three of us, schoolbooks in tow (which I found rather confusing).

“Hullo, girls,” Freddie greeted us, flinging his arm around Lily’s shoulders. As he stood at James’s height—nearly a full foot taller than Lily—he would normally use the top of Lily’s head as a convenient armrest. Since the state of Lily’s hair raised her full height to Freddie’s eyeballs, that was not currently an option. Freddie's own dark, tousled hair had been inelegantly removed from his scalp during some sort of drunken hex-a-thon with James and his other dormmates a few weeks previously, and was just starting to grow back into some semblance of normalcy. This unforunate turn of events had done nothing to deter his fan club, however; with his smooth, caramel skin and light-coloured eyes, Freddie was undoubtedly one of the most handsome boys at Hogwarts, hair or no hair. The entire female population was already in mourning over the fact that this was James and Freddie's seventh year (excepting, of course, Professor McGonagall—despite the fact that she had stepped down as Headmistress, she likely couldn't wait to rid herself of the pair of them).

Albus, who had just begun his sixth year, mirrored Freddie by swinging his own arm around my shoulders, grinning at me cheekily. Dear Merlin. How could he not hear my heart nearly pounding out of my chest? There was only about a five-inch difference in our heights, so I didn’t have to crane my neck back like I was viewing a particularly tall skyscraper to look at his face (unlike Lily, who was currently doing so in order to glare menacingly at Freddie). I managed to tilt my chin up and smile back at Al, who threw me a careless wink. It had approximately the same effect on me as a well-placed Jelly-Legs Jinx.

Everyone always said Al looked just like his father, right down to the emerald-green eyes glinting behind his slim, wire-rimmed glasses. I could never understand why he didn't get nearly as much attention from Hogwarts' female population as his brother and cousin. Not that I'm complaining—first, because I wouldn't put it past myself to lose my cool and get into some hysterical bitch-fight with one of Al's admirers, and second, because we had enough issues as it was with James and Freddie's popularity (for example, the Great Love Potion Epidemic of 2022, during which we all had to take turns taste-testing the gits' food for two months).

I’d been smitten with Al for so long that I can’t even remember how or when it began.  Whenever he put his arm around me like this, though, it would always remind me of my first year at Hogwarts. Early on, some nasty Slytherin girls in Al’s year had somehow found out about the “thing” with my hair. They took to cornering me in the bathrooms, tugging on my pigtails as they threatened to curse me in my sleep so that I’d never be able to grow hair again. After one such incident, Al happened to be walking past the loo as I came shuffling out, tears spilling down my cheeks. Once he figured out what had been going on, he draped his arm around me protectively and marched straight up to the girls, who were standing a little way down the hall, laughing. Rarely have I seen Al so angry. He yelled at them for several minutes, until the lot of them were well and truly ashamed of themselves (to this day, none of them can look me in the eye). Al made sure they each apologized to me before he led me away to the kitchens for some hot chocolate. I’d already had a crush on him long before then, but from that moment, I was a goner.

I was snapped out of my reverie by Al’s deep voice. “James, Serena’s looking for you.”  Lily and I groaned loudly while James scowled and mussed his dark, already-mussed hair, his hazel eyes flashing with anger and not a little annoyance. “Sorry, mate,” Al mumbled, casting those gorgeous green eyes downward as he ran a hand through his own dark locks.

Serena Shacklebolt was a sixth-year Ravenclaw and the daughter of Kingsley, the current Minister for Magic and a great friend of the Wotters. Like the Wotters, Serena regularly got an enormous amount of press. Unlike the Wotters, Serena could do no wrong in the eyes of the media. With her beautiful dark complexion, big brown innocent doe eyes, and cherub face, she quickly became wizarding Britain’s sweetheart at a young age. Practically everyone adored her. 

There was just one problem: she was a complete and utter twat.

The Wotter kids and myself haven’t the slightest clue how Serena has managed to fool an entire nation of wizards into seeing her as anything other than the vile, manipulative, cruel, heartless bitch that she is. Unfortunately, even James had fallen under her wicked spell for nearly four years. Every sordid detail of their relationship—or the tabloids’ version of it, anyhow—was splashed across the pages of newspapers and magazines everywhere. Naturally, whenever something went awry, James was pinned as the bad guy. Over the years, no matter how many times Serena cheated, instigated massive blowouts over nothing, or dumped him out of sheer boredom, James was painted as the heartbreaker; an incurable ladies’ man.

The idiot finally wised up about six months ago and ended things with Serena for good.  Predictably, Serena refused to accept the fact that anyone would have the audacity to break up with her. Over the past six months, she had managed to wrangle James into several compromising positions conveniently photographed by paparazzi, and ordered her minions to leak stories of their "pending reunion" while threatening any female who dared speak to James within an inch of their lives. Serena always hated that I was perpetually hanging around the Wotter clan, so even I wasn’t exempt from these guerilla tactics (though Lily and I quickly discovered that a few well-placed Stinging Hexes soon sent the minions scurrying back to their evil dictator). Serena often sought out James to ensure that everybody saw them together in public, while simultaneously trying to weasel her way back into his arms.

In short, we despised this bitch.

“Why won’t she just move the fuck on and let me be?” James lamented for what must have been the billionth time. “She had no problem being with other guys when we were together; I don’t see what’s stopping her now.”

It’s her sense of entitlement.” Lily sighed, moving to flick her hair back out of habit and failing miserably. “She thinks she should have whatever she wants because she’s Serena bloody Shacklebolt, and you took that away from her.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Then there’s also the fact that she’s the twattiest twat in all of twatdom.”

James laughed and shoved Al away so he could put his own arm around me instead (speaking of twats…). “Leave it to good ol’ Hazel to tell it how it is.” I shot him a look that clearly said, Duh.

"Shall we eat, boys and girls?” Freddie rubbed his palms together excitedly, books shoved carelessly under his arm. Like me, Freddie was perpetually hungry. We’re practically soulmates in that way.

“Onward!” James pointed to the castle and dragged me with him toward it. I could hear Al and Lily bickering behind me as he insisted that her hair looked no different than normal, and she threatened to hex him into oblivion. “Seriously Haze,” James mumbled. “What am I supposed to do?”

I glanced up at him, slightly taken aback. Rarely had I heard or seen James so downtrodden; he was generally far too busy being a world-class git for that. James and I may have our moments (and they’re usually 24 hours a day), but when it comes down to it, he’s family. I loved him and the rest of the Wotters more than life itself and, like Lily, was ferociously protective of the lot of them (almost as protective as I am of my hair…almost). I really wanted to help him get out of this funk, and I hated that Serena twatface Shacklebolt had put him there. “James, you just need to date someone else,” I told him. “Once she sees that you’ve moved on and she can’t intimidate you into a relationship with her, she’ll tire of her little games and leave you alone.”

James scoffed. “Easier said than done. She’s terrified nearly every girl in this school not related to me—none of them will even look at me!”

“Are you sure that isn’t simply due to their good taste?” He used his free hand to poke me in the ribs, hard. “Okay, okay.” I thought for a moment. “Is there anyone in particular that you fancy right now?” I asked. James’s face reddened slightly. “Out with it!”

"You know that Hufflepuff in Al's year—Gemma Tate?”

 I did. Gemma Tate was adorable—curly blonde hair, big hazel eyes, and very petite. She was also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Unfortunately, that made her an easy target for Serena and her cronies. “Well, Serena’s obviously going to try to intimidate any girl you date at first,” I began.

James nodded miserably. “I know.”

“Do you think she’d be able to intimidate Gemma?”

James snorted. “Of course! Gemma’s far too sweet for her not to.”

“Do you think that would keep Gemma from dating you altogether?”

“That’s the whole problem!” We arrived at the Great Hall and James pushed open the doors, subjecting us to the sudden noisy din of everyone sitting down to supper. “It probably would.”

“Well, then, she sucks,” I informed him bluntly. James and I stopped just inside the entrance of the Great Hall to continue our conversation as Lily (hair once again flowing over her shoulders), Al (frowning as he investigated the large crack now visible across his glasses, likely courtesy of his loving sister), and Freddie made their way toward the rest of the Wotter clan already chowing down at the Gryffindor table. “I’m sorry, James, but you need someone who isn’t afraid of Serena, or who is and just doesn’t care because you mean more to her than that. After everything Serena’s put you through, you at least deserve that much.”

James finally withdrew his arm from my shoulders and turned to look at me directly, shocked. “Why, Hazel Ophelia Wood!”

I narrowed my eyes at him.  “Stop it.”

“I’m so touched!”

“I hate you.”

“That may be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me!”

“Do you want me to hex you right now?”

Apparently so, because James then commenced pinching my cheeks. “I knew, somewhere, deep down, you didn’t really find me so fatheaded and annoying.”

I was just thinking how lovely it was (relatively speaking, of course) that James was acting normal again when I spotted her. “Oh, Merlin’s loose hairy--" I started. James continued grinning at the Death Glare across my face—until he realized it was no longer directed at him. He whirled and saw what I was looking at—Serena Shacklebolt herself waltzing toward us. A huge, fake smile was plastered on her face, but her dark eyes glittered dangerously.

“James,” she called from a few feet away, though we were both already staring at her. Of course, this drew the attention of the students at the tables closest to use. “What do you think you’re doing?” she hissed once only the two of us were in earshot.

James looked at her blankly. “Talking to Hazel. Not that it’s any of your business.”

“Of course it’s my business!” Serena was fuming. “Do you have any idea how you’re making me look by being all over…her?” She spat out the last word as though it were poisoned and turned to fix her glare on me for the first time.

I smiled at her sweetly as I dipped into a low, mocking curtsey. “Good evening, Your Twattiness,” I said politely before rising. “It’s splendid to see you as well.”

Serena’s eyes narrowed as her glare turned to one of pure malevolence. “Excuse me?”

I cleared my throat and began to repeat myself, very slowly. “I…said…’Good…evening—'“

“Serena, I don’t care,” James cut me off. “You’re the one making yourself look like a fool because you won’t just accept the fact that we’re done and move on.” James had raised his voice by now and a large portion of the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables were staring at the three of us.

Serena tore her eyes away from mine and began to laugh as though this were the most amusing thing she’d ever heard. “Oh James, I’ll never move on. And neither will you.” She looked immensely pleased with herself. “I’ve made damn sure of that,” she added in a dangerously low voice.

James licked his lips nervously. “You’re wrong. I have moved on.”

Serena flipped her dark hair behind her shoulder and raised one eyebrow (bitch—I’ve always wanted to be able to do that). “You’ve…moved on,” she repeated doubtfully.

 “A bit slow on the uptake, isn’t she, Jamie?” I stage-whispered to him. Serena shot daggers at me while James ignored my comment.

“Yes,” he said. “I have. You can’t intimidate every girl in Britain to stay away from me, you know.”

Serena scoffed and gave him a look that clearly said, Wanna bet? “Who is she then?  Surely you can’t be dating…her.” She hurled another glare my way.

“Ha-zel,” I said slowly, pointing to myself. I rolled my eyes before suddenly realizing thebitch was actually trying to insult me. “Wait, wha—“

“As a matter of fact, I am,” James cut in quickly. I gaped at him in disbelief for a moment before quickly snapping my mouth shut and deciding to go along with it. James clearly needed all the help he could get to escape Serena’s evil clutches.

I began to nod vigorously as Serena glanced at me, then back at James before throwing her head back and laughing loudly. By now the entire Great Hall was practically silent, hanging on to every word of our conversation. “James, if you think for one second that I’m going to believe you’re dating your kid sister’s friend—“

I was too busy thinking of a clever retort regarding the fact that Lily and I were only a year younger than Her Twattiness to notice James take a deep breath and turn toward me. It was only when he grabbed the back of my head that I glanced at him in alarm, saw the manic look in his eye, and registered what was happening as James’s lips crashed down onto mine.

For a moment, I was too stunned to respond. This was how my first kiss was going down? I mean, seriously? Then James snaked his free arm around my waist and pulled me against him tightly. “Please, Hazel,” he murmured against my lips. I found myself wrapping my own arms around him as I finally began kissing him back. His tongue darted out and over my bottom lip, coaxing my mouth open so that it could graze against my own. 

Sodding hell, I realized after a few moments, I’m making out with James Potter in front of the entire bloody school! He seemed to come to his senses as well—we both pulled away, short of breath but grinning madly, as the Wotter portion of the Gryffindor table erupted into cheers and wolf whistles. I glanced behind James and saw that Serena had disappeared. I smiled up at him smugly and he gave me a discreet low five.

“If you two are quite finished.”

I spun around to find Lily scowling at James and me, arms folded across her chest.

Bollocks.


Chapter 3: Plans
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{amazing CI by Lady Asphodel @ TDA}

*          *          *          *          *

“Lily—“

She ignored me and stormed out of the Great Hall. James and I exchanged an anxious glance before moving to follow her.

The moment the Great Hall doors shut behind us, I attacked James—punching, kicking, scratching, and biting at whatever I could reach. “OW!” he cried, holding up his arms to protect his body from my wrath. “Hazel!”

A group of second-year Hufflepuffs passed by, looking downright terrified at the scene before them. I Death Glared at them and they scurried away (I know, I'm a fantastic prefect). “You—complete—prat—James—POTTER!” I seethed, accentuating each word by lashing out at him before clenching my fists at my sides furiously. “How dare you kiss me in front of the entire bloody school, including your sister!And your brother, I thought. “Without my permission!”

“Oh come on, Hazel, you didn’t seem to mind that much at the time.” James waggled his eyebrows at me suggestively and I immediately resumed my bodily attacks. “OW! Okay, okay, Hazel, I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” he yelled when I didn’t stop. He finally managed to grab my arms and pin them behind me. I Death Glared up at him as he pulled me close against him again. “Seriously, Hazel. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I just got so desperate to be rid of her, and maybe a little carried away—“

Maybe a little carried away?!”

“Well, okay, I did get kind-of-a-lot carried away! But after everything you said earlier…” He trailed off.

“I didn’t mean for you to date me!” I exclaimed incredulously.

“I know that!” he yelled back. “But you’re not afraid of her! And you were the closest proximate female who wasn’t related to me!”

“How flattering.”

James sniggered. “You’re just going to be upset with me no matter what I say, aren’t you?”

“Pretty much.”

“Will you at least stop attacking me if I let you go?”

I continued glaring at him. He pouted back at me. I finally sighed, resigned. “Fine.”

James unpinned my arms, then quickly wrapped me up in a bone-crushing hug. “I really am sorry, Hazel.” He pulled away a bit and rested his forehead against mine, deep amber eyes gazing down into my own as his fingertips gently caressed the small hairs at the back of my neck. “But I can’t thank you enough for helping me out back there.”

My skin tingled where he touched it—I hated that the git really knew how to turn on the charm. I sighed again. He’s lucky he’s so bloody adorable (do not tell him I said that) and the entire country would hate me for messing up the git’s face (oh wait, they were going to hate me already anyway thanks to Serena bloody Shacklebolt). “You’re welcome, James.” He squeezed once more before releasing me. “Just give a girl a bit of warning next time.”

He flung his arm around my shoulders and grinned cheekily. “So there’s going to be a next time?”

I elbowed him in the ribs as hard as I could and got a satisfactory yelp in return. “Come on. Let’s go face our impending doom.” We trudged off in search of Lily.

*          *          *          *          *

Lily, as it transpired, had sought refuge in the kitchens. It had taken us nearly an hour to find her, since a certain handy map was currently in her possession. After James and I had no luck in the common room, dorms, Astronomy Tower, or Potions classroom (she’s a regular little mad scientist, that one), we trooped downstairs, tickled the pear (not a euphemism, thank you), and were welcomed into the warm, cosy kitchens by the scent of freshly baked bread and cooked cinnamon apples. I suddenly realized I still hadn’t eaten and was starving. Once the house elves led us to where Lily was sitting, slumped against the wall and moodily picking at her food, I asked them to bring a couple of plates for James and me. I sat down beside her. “Lil? You okay?”

She sighed. “Yeah. Sorry I stormed off like that. I just…couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

James sat down, cross-legged, on her other side. “I’m sorry, Lily. I really didn’t mean for that to happen. Serena just got to me.”

“I know.” Lily smirked. “That part was brilliant actually, you should have seen her face before she took off.” Her own face fell again. “I just don’t want to think about my brother and my best friend snogging.”

“It won’t happen again,” I quickly promised her.

Lily looked at me in disbelief. “Are you mad? Of course it’s going to happen again!”

“Huh?” James and I gaped at her, completely lost.

“You two are pretending you’re dating, are you not?”

James laughed. "No, Lils! That was just a one-off to get Serena off my back.”

"Always the charmer," I mumbled.

The house elves reappeared with our plates. After thanking them profusely (catch more flies with honey, and all that—though I haven’t quite worked out why you’d want to catch flies), James and I dug in as Lily snorted. “Are you honestly enough of an idiot to believe Serena will just leave you be after one little snog?”

James’s smile faltered and he shot me a worried glance. “You don’t think so?”

"She kind of has a point, James,” I reluctantly agreed around the mashed potatoes I was shoveling into my mouth (I know; I’m lovely). “Serena is evil incarnate. Look at everything she’s done over the past four years and all of her harassment since you broke up with her. No way will she give up that easily.”

James groaned and slumped against the wall, head in his hands, plate forgotten. I took the opportunity to heap his potatoes onto my own plate while he wasn't looking. “So what am I supposed to do now?”

“Keep pretending to date Hazel, obviously,” Lily replied, shoving most of a biscuit into her mouth (so dainty, our Lilykins). “As disgusting as it was, that kiss got Serena to lay off, at least for the time being. She knows by now that her intimidation tactics don’t work on Hazel, so if you two carry on long enough, Serena will eventually move on to her next victim,” she reasoned.

“But I don’t want to date Hazel!” James exclaimed. I crossed my arms and gave him the Death Glare. “No offense, Haze, but…you know I fancy someone else.”

“Which we will absolutely be discussing later," Lily told him, "but that’s why Hazel would be the perfect transition girlfriend. It’ll eventually get Serena off your back, and everyone will see that you’re done with her for good. Then when you and Hazel ‘break up’”—she used air quotes here—“whatever unfortunate, witless girls you’ve somehow managed to charm won’t be afraid to date you any more.”

James pondered this all for a moment.  He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “I guess you’re right, Lils.”

She scoffed as she smothered butter on another bisuit. “Of course I am.”

James glanced up at me. “What d’ya say, Haze? Be my fake girlfriend?”

“I don’t know, James,” I began slowly. “I just went with it back there because you kind of put me on the spot…”

“Come on, Hazel, do you have any idea how much this is going to piss off Serena? It’ll be brilliant!” I gaped at Lily in astonishment, my feeble brain still unable to process the fact that she was suddenly on board with all this.

James crawled toward me on his knees, hands clasped at his heart and a pleading, puppy-dog look on his face. “Please, please, please?”

I hesitated. In truth, I didn’t mind the idea in general—it actually sounded like quite a lot of fun, especially since I knew it would really get Serena’s goat. I couldn’t help but think of Al, though.

James had flung himself across my lap by now, still pouting up at me. I rolled my eyes at him. As long as Al knows it’s all for show…”Fine,” I conceded. “I’ll be your pretend girlfriend.”

James sprang upright and enveloped me in a tight hug. “Oh thank you, thank you!” he fake-sobbed. “I’ve always dreamed of the day a gal would say those words to me!”

I shoved him off of me and he fell over. “Keep it in your pants, Potter, it’s not Lily we’re trying to fool.” James laughed from where he lay sprawled on the floor.

Lily wrinkled her nose. “What I really can’t believe about all this is that you let my stupid, smelly brother be your first kiss.”

I felt my face flush as James shot up, mouth agape. “That was your first?”

I shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “It’s not a big deal.”
 
James smacked his palm to his forehead. “I am such a prat.”

Lily and I both gave him looks that clearly said, Well, duh.

*          *          *          *          *
 
As it turned out, Lily’s “genius” reprisal against the boys for the hair incident involved a large-ish swamp of Bubotuber pus (rather reminiscent of the antics of her uncles, Fred and George, all those years ago, which were legend now). Somehow, I managed to persuade her that since we had managed to pinpoint Al as the culprit in this particular situation, we should just target him and save the more dramatic theatrics for another day (hey, I may be in love with the guy, but chicks before dicks, and all that rubbish).

Luckily, the portion of the plan involving Roxy’s Pygmy Puff was based on Al’s inexplicable fear of the furry little creatures…which is how, later that night, Lily and I ended up hunched under the invisibility cloak with Walter in tow as we crept into the sixth-year Gryffindor boys’ dormitory for what must have been the billionth time.

“Ya!  YA!”  Most of the boys were lounging around on their beds, reading or chatting, but Al and Rowan Finnigan were brandishing their wands like swords (get your mind out of the gutter!) in the middle of the large room. Swoon. Lily and I side-stepped them and the various textbooks, clothing, and other random junk strewn about as carefully as possible (seriously, how is their dormitory already this disgusting so early in the term?) and, while the boys were preoccupied with their various activities, I gently placed Walter in the crease formed by the bottom of Al’s pillow meeting the top of the comforter. To me it seemed as though the clash of Walter’s bright violet fur against Al’s scarlet and gold bedding was painfully visible, but I knew that no one would notice unless they were hovering almost directly over the bed. Lily and I scarpered off to the side, nearly under Frankie Longbottom’s bed next-door to Al's, and waited.

It didn’t take long for Al to deliver the “killing” blow and for Rowan to fall back onto his own bed, presumably “dead.”  “YES!” Al whooped. “I am VICTORIOUS!” After a few victory laps around the room, basking in the glory of his dormmates’ amused applause, Al moved to collapse on his own bed—then froze.

“Al?” Frankie asked, glancing up from his Herbology textbook.

In response, Al let out a high-pitched squeal (I never claimed to go for the manly types) and backed up a couple of steps. “P—p—p…” he spluttered. Then, he was gone, screaming his head off as he flat-out sprinted out of the dormitory.

Frankie, Rowan, and the others all looked at each other in confusion before rushing after Al.

Phase one, complete.

“Hurry!” Lily hissed.  We remained under the invisibility cloak, just in case, as we shuffled over to Al’s shower kit and located his bottle of body wash. Lily pulled on my dragon-hide gloves as I unscrewed the top of the bottle and siphoned out most of the liquid inside with my wand. Lily had previously added a pinch of dandelion root—stolen from Slughorn’s stores, of course—to the vial of Bubotuber pus she now held, which had alleviated the worst of the typically noxious odor. We hoped, once mixed with the rest of the body wash, that the scent of Bubotuber pus would be undetectable.

“Shit!” I heard footsteps outside the dormitory. “We gotta go!”

“Almost done,” Lily whispered back, as she finished pouring the contents of the vial into Al’s body wash. I tapped the bottle with my wand, muttered a couple of quick charms that rendered all the liquid inside the same color and consistency, and shoved it back into Al’s shower kit as Lily scooped Walter off the bed. She and Walter had just disappeared back under the invisibility cloak as the door banged open and Rowan, Frankie, and Alex Harris reentered the dormitory.

“I dunno,” Rowan was saying. “He managed to get out something about his bed before he fainted, so I just thought we could check...”

He fainted?! Lily grabbed my hand and squeezed, hard. We determinedly looked away from each other for fear of bursting into uncontrollable giggles. As the two of us were now seated on our bums, we slid backwards very slowly as the boys came toward us. While they were rummaging through the bedding and hangings and discussing Al’s panicked state, we got to our feet and tiptoed quietly out of the dorm.  

Once we reached the safety of our own empty dormitory (I assumed Roxanne and the other two girls in our year, Ruby Harper and Amelia Jordan, had gone down to the common room to ascertain the source of all the screaming), we collapsed on my bed and shook violently with the laughter that we’d been holding in since Al’s first shriek.

“Bloody hell…”

“I thought I was going to have to Silencio myself…”

“Did you see his face?!...”

“I can’t believe he fainted…”

“AHEM.” Lily and I raised our heads toward the intruder. Roxy was leaning in the door frame, arms crossed, a small smile playing at her lips. I always marveled at how remarkably similar she looked to her brother, with the same tanned skin and sparkling blue-green eyes. “What are you two doing with Walter?”

I looked over to the end of the bed, where my enormous tabby-Kneazle cross, aptly named “Kneazle,” was batting Walter around like her own personal cat toy. “Just wanted a quick snuggle, Rox. He’s so fluffy!” Lily exclaimed before tossing Walter at her cousin.  He let out a squeak of terror as he flew through the air, before his owner caught him deftly (impeccable Quidditch skills run in the Wotter family).

“Uh-huh,” Roxy responded, now stroking Walter’s violently violet fur. “And I suppose neither of you have the slightest clue why Al came running into the Common Room, screaming like a banshee, and promptly passed out?”

I inadvertently let out a quick snort before burying my face in my gold-encased pillow. “Nope, not the slightest clue, Rox,” Lily managed to deadpan. 

Roxy studied us for a moment. “Right. Anyway, Hazel, your gentleman caller would like a word.” She couldn’t help but smirk.

I rolled my eyes. We had told most of the Wotters about James’s and my make-believe relationship, which they found to be quite hilarious. Of course, they were all sworn to secrecy, but this didn’t stop them from taking the piss in private. I gave Kneazle a head-rub before passing her off to Lily, her arch-frenemy, then rolled off my bed and slipped my feet into a ratty old pair of slippers. “He says to meet him at that new statue of Merwyn the Malicious,” Roxy called after me as I left the room.

I climbed out of the portrait hole and padded toward the statue, which stood outside the Muggle Studies classroom on the second floor. It was still about an hour before curfew, so there were quite a few people milling about. I couldn’t help but notice several stares and whispers in my general direction as I passed my fellow students.

That was new.

I arrived at Merwyn’s statue. No sign of James. “The git,” I grumbled under my breath. Just then, a hand covered my mouth as an arm firmly gripped me about the waist and lugged me into the small alcove behind the statue. 

“Was that entirely necessary?” I hissed as James released me, grinning.

“Of course.”

I studied him a moment, deciding he was almost as cute as Al—almost—and I could certainly do far worse as fake boyfriends go. Then I narrowed my eyes at him. “What do you want?”

James’s grin disappeared. He shuffled his feet nervously and looked down. I followed his gaze downward and noticed that he was now holding a single lavender tulip—my favourite flower, though I hadn’t the faintest idea how or why James would know that. He noticed that I had seen the tulip and reached out, offering it to me. I accepted it and looked at him curiously.

“I just felt so awful taking your first kiss away from you like that, Hazel,” he said softly.

I felt my face begin to flush again. “Really, James, it doesn’t matter—“

“Yes it does, Hazel, and I’m sorry.” I had never heard James apologize so much in such a short amount of time; he was usually much too busy being as pratty as possible. He took a deep breath. “I really appreciate what you’re doing for me, and since you’re going to have to be kissing me a lot anyway, I just wanted to give you a real, proper first kiss.”

My heart fluttered inexplicably. I had known, deep, deep, deep down, that James wasn’t really as much of a git as he liked to come off, but I had never seen this side of him before. I was speechless.

James took my lack of response as consent. We were already nearly pressed up against each other in the tiny alcove anyway, but he slipped his arm around my waist and drew me even closer to him. My breath hitched as he smoothed my hair back and gazed down at me. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his as I breathed in his aftershave—something woodsy and strangely familiar that I found rather comforting. James gave me a tiny smile before he gently cupped his hand around my face, and drew my lips to his own.

The kiss was sweet and tender. Unconsciously, I wrapped my arms around James’s neck as it deepened, our tongues exploring each other’s mouths. We stood there for what could have been minutes or hours before James finally pulled away and looked down at me, smiling. He pressed a lingering kiss to my forehead. “Thank you Hazel,” he whispered. The feel of his lips against my skin set my heart fluttering again. Before I had time to properly react, he was gone.

I leaned against the wall of the alcove and slid down to the floor, my fingers to my lips, where James’s had been just a few moments previously. My other hand clutched the long stem of the beautiful tulip.

What in the name of Merlin’s hairy armpits just happened?


Chapter 4: Rumour Has It
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{amazing CI by Lady Asphodel @ TDA}

  *          *          *          *          *

“LILY—LUNA—POTTER!!!!!!”

Lily and I glanced up from our tomatoes and bacon the next morning to find Al storming into the Great Hall, much to the amusement of his peers.  Al could have easily scarpered off to the hospital wing early this morning and avoided so many prying eyes, but we’d known he’d be far too furious for that.  It was a real testament to how bad I had it for the guy, I thought, that I still would have gladly jumped him at that moment, in front of hundreds of people, with enormous, oozing, yellow boils bursting from all visible portions of his body.  I tried not to think of the not-so-visible portions as Lily fell off the bench, convulsing with laughter.  After a glance down at her, I shrugged; I couldn’t be arsed to help her back up when there was bacon at stake.

Dominique, who had barely batted an eye at this turn of events (if that tells you anything about how often these things tended to happen), folded her copy of The Daily Prophet back to page seven and shoved it in front of me wordlessly.  I rolled my eyes.  She was obsessed with reading that old hag Rita Skeeter’s gossip column.  I couldn’t figure out why—she had ripped on Dom and her older sister, Victoire, more times than I could count.  The two of them were undeniably beautiful with their tall statures, long, golden hair, and brilliant blue eyes, and had been hailed as fashion trendsetters in the past few years, but of course that hadn’t stopped dear ol’ Rita from posting photos of them as examples of “What Not to Wear.”

“Third paragraph down,” Rose, one of the quieter Wotters, said to me as she arrived at the Gryffindor table and motioned for Dominique to scoot over.  Her bushy red hair was pulled back into a low ponytail, her freckled nose crinkled and warm, chocolate-brown eyes watching me worriedly as I sighed and picked up the paper.

I tuned out Lily and Al’s bickering as my eyes scanned the page until I found what they wanted me to see: a fuzzy photo of my long hair swinging round my waist as I held on to James’s neck while we snogged behind the statue of Merwyn the Malicious.  What the hell?, I thought.  Beside the picture was a very short article:


                                James Potter: Back to His Heartbreaking Ways?

Just like a dragon can’t change its scales, James Potter seems incapable of abandoning his old philandering habits.  This photograph, submitted by an anonymous Hogwarts student, was taken in the castle last night, and features James Potter, age 17, kissing a girl who is clearly not his longtime love Serena Shacklebolt, age 16.  The “lady” in question is apparently one Hazel Wood, age 15.  The pair was also seen locking lips in the Great Hall earlier yesterday evening in a much more public display of affection.  The wizarding world seems to know little of the fifth-year Gryffindor home-wrecker, daughter of notoriously temperamental Puddlemere coach Oliver Wood, but this reporter is determined to uncover just what the young Ms. Wood is all about.


I glanced back up at Dominique and Rose.  “Home-wrecker?  Laying it on a bit thick, isn’t she?”

“Who is?”  James plopped down beside me on the bench and gave me a swift peck on the cheek as though it was the most natural thing in the world.  I was too engrossed in the article’s implications to even be embarrassed about last night’s mini-makeout session.  I had been eternally grateful that Lily was sound asleep by the time I’d made my way back to the dormitory and hadn’t seemed to think of questioning me about James’s intentions this morning.

I snorted.  “Rita Skeeter, of course.  Who else?”  I handed the paper to him and went back to nibbling at my bacon.  What did she mean, she was going to uncover what I was all about?

James sped through the article and tossed the paper back down on the table, chuckling.  “Well, I suppose that would explain all the staring.”

“Huh?”  Only then did I notice that students sat at every table were whispering and shooting looks over in James’s and my direction.  I was a bit annoyed before reminding myself that this was the plan—everyone was supposed to think James and I were dating. 

“So that’s where you went last night,” Lily commented, seemingly quite disgusted.  She grabbed the paper and began poring over the article as she sat back down on the bench.  I glanced around to find that Al had disappeared, likely to the hospital wing to get rid of his new disfigurements.

Just then, Serena Shacklebolt burst into the Great Hall with a copy of The Daily Prophet in hand and huge crocodile tears streaming down her cherub face.  I rolled my eyes.  Is this bitch for real?  She made her way over to the Ravenclaw table, where she sat amongst her peers, receiving soothing pats on the back as James and I now received poisonous glares from various corners of the Hall.  I glimpsed a small, satisfied smile on Serena’s face, which spurred me to turn to James, grab him by the tie, and plant a long, lingering kiss right on his lips.  I noted his amused expression and a strange glint in his eye when I pulled away before giving Serena a little wave and turning back to my breakfast, ignoring Lily’s faux vomiting.  The look Serena gave me in return was murderous.

*           *           *           *           *

It only took a few more days for me to find out what Rita Skeeter meant.  I entered the dormitory after classes to find that Roxy had left a dogeared copy of the latest Witch Weekly on my bed and written “page 23” on the cover.  Lily and I plopped down on the bed and turned to page 23:


                       WHO IS HAZEL WOOD?  By Rita Skeeter and Miranda Jacobs


I wrinkled my nose.  Miranda Jacobs was just as bad as Rita Skeeter.  A collaborative effort on their part could not mean good news for me.  My Quidditch team photo was plastered beneath the headline.  I could see myself waving and grinning like a fool out of the corner of my eye as I continued to read the article:

 
Meet Hazel Ophelia Wood, the 15-year-old witch who has captured James Potter’s heart—while completely ignoring the fact that he was already spoken for.  It seems that Ms. Wood has gone relatively unnoticed in the wizarding world thus far, which begs the question—what could she be hiding?

Ms. Wood hails from Hazelwood


I groaned.  “Now the whole world knows my shame!”  Lily quickly shushed me.


—a small, half-Muggle village in Derbyshire.  She is the daughter and only child of Oliver Wood, the famed Puddlemere United coach and former Keeper, and Alicia Spinnet-Wood, an employee of the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry of Magic.  Like her parents, Ms. Wood plays for the Gryffindor Quidditch Team—which just happens to be captained by none other than James Potter.  Ms. Wood seems to be a rather bright girl, and was named prefect this year—again, like James Potter.

So what was it that brought Ms. Wood and Mr. Potter together—Late-night prefect duties?  Extra Quidditch practices?  According to an insider, Ms. Wood has been a particular friend of Lily Potter, James’s younger sister, for many years, and has simply been biding her time.

“It was pretty clear Hazel’s had a thing for James for quite a while.  She’s become a bit more of a slag the past few years, though,” the insider informs us.  “Always wearing a little more makeup, a little less clothing.  She’s always been around—it was just a matter of time before James noticed her.  Serena was always afraid of this happening.  She’s so modest, you know—she just can’t compete with a girl like Hazel who just puts it out there.

“Not to say that Hazel’s not pretty,” the insider goes on.  “She’s just so much more obvious about it than Serena.  It’s quite pathetic how hard she tries, honestly.”

When pushed for details about Ms. Wood’s personality, a second insider informed us that she “is not what you would call ‘personable’—she doesn’t have a lot of friends outside the Weasleys and Potters.”  (In typical fashion, the Weasleys and Potters have declined to comment for this article.)


“Never mind that we constitute approximately three-quarters of the bloody school,” Lily muttered.  I shushed her this time.


By contrast, Ms. Shacklebolt is known for her friendliness and bubbly personality.

 
Lily and I both snorted at that one.
 

Though Mr. Potter admittedly has his faults, he is, without a doubt, a charming young man with a bright future ahead of himMr. Potter and Ms. Shacklebolt have long been seen as the “prince” and “princess” of the wizarding world.  The pair have been dating for nearly four years. 

So what is it that Mr. Potter sees in Ms. Wood that would cause him to abandon his long-term relationship with the sweetheart of wizarding Britain?  Perhaps Ms. Wood’s “obviousness” extends to more than her looks alone.  Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure—these reporters are going to keep an eye on this newly developing romance.
 

I threw the magazine to the side and sighed.  “So, essentially, it’s just an article about how big of a slag I am.”

“Essentially,” Lily agreed.

“Brilliant.”

*           *           *           *           *

When Lily left the dormitory for the dungeouns do some extra Potions work with Slughorn (I’d long ago accepted these disappearances as a fact of life and stopped making sexual innuendos—mostly due to the fact that, quite frankly, it was too disgusting to think about), I headed down to the common room.

"Ughhhh, the things I do for you!” I complained, marching over to where James, Freddie, Al, and Hugo were gathered and plopping down next to James on a comfortable sofa near the fire.

He grinned and slid his arm around me.  “Read the article, then?”

“Perfect for my big media debut, don’t you think?”

Al looked up from where he was sprawled across the floor, reading the Witch Weekly article.  Only the nastiest of the Bubotuber pus boils were still visible on his arms.  His expression seemed to darken at the sight of James's arm around my shoulders, but I chalked that up to my overactive (and overly hopeful) imagination.  “Honestly, it’s not that bad, Hazel.”

I gaped at him.  “Not that bad?  She told everybody I’m a total slag!  For Merlin’s fucking sake, my mother reads that magazine!”
 
"But we all know you’re not a slag, Hazel!” Hugo exclaimed from his spot on the floor beside Al.  Despite the fact that Hugo was in our year (and my prefect counterpart), Lily and I treated him as we would a little brother.  Though Hugo complained about this fact incessantly, he did little to change his role; he knew he needed a bit of mothering.  His messy ginger hair and the smattering of freckles across his face left no doubt that he was Rose Weasley's actual little brother; the only difference was Hugo's bright blue eyes.

“Well, not everyone does, apparently,” I mumbled.  “Fucking ‘insiders.’”

Freddie snorted.  “You know the ‘insiders’ were just Serena’s minions—Daphne Hilliard and Pippa Fawcett, no doubt—doing her bidding as usual.  Besides,” he grinned, “you definitely won’t have any trouble getting a boyfriend after James now.”

I threw a pillow at his head as the four boys laughed loudly, attracting the attention of even more people sitting around the fire.  I bit my lip and lowered my voice.  “You lot don’t think I really…erm…” I stuttered to a halt and looked down at my hands.  Gross—I hated feeling vulnerable.  It was so at odds with my reputation of being a total badass (yes, I’m perfectly content with my self-delusions, thank you).

James immediately picked up on what I was asking.  “Hazel, you are not even remotely ‘obvious’ in the way they were making you out to be.”

“Yeah,” Al piped up.  “Serena clearly had the minions tell the reporters that because she’s always been jealous of how everyone thinks she’s just adorable or something while you’re the sexy one.”

I’m pretty sure my heart literally stopped beating.   I stared at Al.  “The…sexy one?” I managed to get out.

Al, realizing what he’d said, immediately flushed bright red and looked back down at the magazine.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see James watching him strangely.  I was so focused on the top of Al's head that I barely heard Hugo’s and Freddie’s reassurances around me.

“Well, look at you, Hazel!” Hugo said.

“Yeah, it’s not like you’re trying to do it or anything, it’s just how you are!” Freddie put in.

If Al’s words hadn’t still been ringing in my ears—“you’re the sexy one”—and I’d been more aware of what was being said, I would have been highly uncomfortable with this conversation by now.  The only reason the four of them were even saying things like this to me was because no Wotter females (read: Lily) were around to tell them off.  Luckily, Dominique chose that moment to join us.

“Article?” she asked succinctly, likely noting my crestfalledn face.  I nodded.   “Well, it’s bollocks,” she concluded.  “But you knew they were going to paint you as differently from Serena as possible.  In real life, you’re not a slag, and you don’t dress like one, thanks to my impeccable taste.”

I rolled my eyes, but was secretly grateful.  It was true, anyway—Dominique, who was two years our senior, had taken on the role of the domineering, bossy older sister in Lily’s and my lives (as well as Rose’s, and Roxy’s, and Molly’s, and Lucy’s…), and basically our entire wardrobes and skin care routines were attributable to said bossiness.  It was as though she couldn’t bear to be publicly associated with the lot of us unless we were sufficiently presentable by her standards (which, come to think of it, is probably actually the case).

“And it’s not that you’re not personable,” Dom continued, “you’re just not approachable.”

“Wait, what?”  I turned to look at her.  “What do you mean, not approachable?”

Dom shrugged.  “Your Chronic Bitchface.  You just look like you’re an arsehole all the time, so no one takes the time to talk to you and figure out that you’re not actually an arsehole.”  She looked pensive for a moment.  “Well, you are, but not in the way people think.”

“Gee, thanks, Dom.”  Her return smile matched my sarcastic tone, and she ruffled my hair affectionately before seating her lithe body in an armchair next to the sofa.  “I still don’t like how they made it seem as though I’ve just been lurking around, waiting to pounce on James at the first opportunity.”

Hugo sniggered.  “I’m surprised Serena’s lackeys knew that many words in the first place.”

I glanced over at Al and saw that he was still refusing to look up from his magazine.  James noticed my gaze and quirked an eyebrow at me.  I looked down quickly and leaned my head against his chest to distract him.  I felt his fingertips resting on my shoulder a moment later, tracing small patterns that tickled the sliver of bare skin between my tank top and my hoodie.

“So, Haze,” Freddie shot me a wicked grin.  “When are you going to start spending your evenings in our dormitory?”

James started laughing.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Al’s head shoot up.  “Um, what?” I asked Freddie.

“Oh come on, even our angelic little Serena was known to stay the night in our dorm every once in a while.  She probably would have done more often if she wasn’t a Ravenclaw.”

“That is true, Hazel,” Dom put in.  A sly grin flashed across her face, but it was gone as soon as I glimpsed it.  “No one will ever be persuaded of your little romance if you aren’t spotted sneaking out of James’s room in the wee hours of the morning.”

“Are you sure?” Al spoke for the first time since he’d called me sexy.  “Everyone who doesn’t really know her is already going to think she’s a bit of a slag after this article…” (Thanks a million, Al—what happened to it not being so bad?)

Freddie snorted again.  “She’s not doing any different than most other fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-years in this school.  It’ll be fine.”  Al chewed his lip slowly, looking unconvinced.

I groaned.  “Why can’t you just come to my dorm?”  I poked James.

“I have no desire to know what my little sister is doing in there most nights, thank you very much,” James responded.  “And it’s a lot easier for the girls to get into the boys’ dormitories.”

I sighed.  “Fine,” I conceded before waving my finger at him.  “But no funny business!”

He grinned mischievously.  “I wouldn’t dream of it, love.”

*           *           *           *           *

All I could think of during the next hour or so was the fact that 1) Albus Potter thought I was sexy (or, at least, sexier than Serena Shacklebolt—still a win in my book, however small) and 2) he clearly had some sort of issue with me spending the night with his brother, however platonically.  Believe me, I am hardly the type of girl to gush and squeal over a bloke because he deigns to give me the time of day, but the idea that Al even considered me in that light made me feel indescribably giddy.  And also totally lame for feeling indescribably giddy.

After explaining the situation to Lily, who seemed even less thrilled than I was about my impending sleepover, I turned up in the seventh-year boys’ dormitory a while later, completely covered in long-sleeved, plaid flannel pyjamas and a big fluffy robe.  I hadn’t bothered to remove my bra, either—I didn’t want James getting any crazy ideas.  I was already unaccountably nervous about staying the entire night with a boy in a bed with zero adult supervision.  It didn’t help that said boy was James Potter.  Although, I didn’t find him (in theory, of course) nearly as desirable as Al, he was, apparently, quite attractive.  As previously mentioned, the female population of Hogwarts in general seemed to think him even more so than Al, which, to me, just meant they were all as completely brain-dead as I’d always believed them to be. 

I gave myself a little pep talk (it’s not just perfect strangers I have these imaginary conversations with, you know), and decided everything would be fine.  I had never been nervous to be around James in my life (excepting, of course, when I knew a prank was coming), so why should I start now?

James laughed when he opened the door to reveal my bundled-up self.  “Don’t trust me then?”  He winked.

“Never.”

He pulled at the top of my robe a bit and began fiddling with the buttons of my pyjama top.  “You could at least make it look a bit more convincing,” he muttered.
 
I allowed him to unbutton three of them (seeing as how they went up to my chin) before swatting his hand away.  James smirked, grabbed my hand, and led me into the dormitory, past all the other boys, who were looking at me with interest (except for Freddie, who obviously knew the real nature of our relationship and just threw me a cheeky wink), to his bed situated at the very back of the oversized room. 

The others were still watching us curiously when James suddenly picked me up and threw me down onto the bed before crawling on top of me and kissing me deeply.   I felt myself flushing and pinched his thigh as hard as I could in warning.  He jolted upright and grinned down at me.  I gave him my best Death Glare as he turned to the dorm at large and said, “Right.  ‘Night, chaps!”  He threw them a devilish wink before flicking his wand at the bed hangings, closing the curtains around us and producing a Silencing Charm. 

As soon as we were out of sight (and hearing), I kicked him in the ribs and he fell to the bed, laughing.  “Oh, come on, Hazel, have a bit of fun with it,” he admonished me, tapping my nose with his index finger.

I rolled my eyes.  “We can have plenty of fun without you being a world-class git.”

“I beg to differ.”  James grinned at me before removing his shirt and leaning against the headboard, arms behind his head.   Though, like me, he was rather lanky for his height, his biceps bulged in a way that even I could appreciate.
 
Must you do that?” I asked him.
 
“I can’t sleep with my shirt on, it’s so uncomfortable!" he whined.  "We could stay up all night talking, if you’d rather.  Although I’m sure you’d have some difficulty concentrating…”

“Yeah, yeah, everyone thinks you’re fit, we get it,” I mumbled, taking off my robe and nothing more. 

“Well that’s unfair,” James pouted.  I smacked him in the chest, which only caused him to laugh louder.  “All right, all right.  I promise you, I will be the perfect gentleman.”  I looked at him doubtfully as he pulled the covers over both of us, but I lay back with my head on the pillow and closed my eyes.

When I opened them a few seconds later, James was hovering over me.  “Can I help you with something?” I inquired archly.

He chuckled softly.  “Nope.”  He leaned down and pressed another one of his lingering kisses to my forehead, before pulling back and looking me full in the face.  His eyes darted briefly to my lips and my heart jumped inexplicably.  For one wild, half-confused moment, I could have sworn that he was going to kiss me again, but then he scooted closer to his edge of the bed, as far away as possible, and smiled at me.  “Good night, Hazel.”

I smiled back at him, relieved the moment had passed.  How silly of me—of course we were only saving the snogging and such for public forums.  “Good night, James.”


Chapter 5: Friends With Benefits...Sort Of
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{amazing CI by Lady Asphodel @ TDA}

*          *         *          *          *

I dreamed of Al. 

When I woke up, his body was pressed against mine, his breath tickling the back of my neck, his arm wrapped tightly around my waist underneath my pyjama top, as if he’d never let go.  I smiled to myself and nestled back into him…

…before realizing it was James who I was in bed with.  My eyes popped open, but before my brain had a chance to really process this information, the curtains were wrenched back and Freddie appeared before me, clad in nothing but pyjama pants and grinning like a fool.  “Aw, look at Hazel and ickle Jamie-kins!” he crowed, clearly pleased by what he’d found.

Unfortunately, this did little to rouse James, who merely groaned semi-consciously before burying his face into my neck, his lips grazing my bare skin.  I tried to wriggle out of his vise-like grasp, to no avail.  “Help?” I implored Freddie weakly. 

He considered this for a moment, an evil glint in his light-coloured eyes.  “Right.  For immunity from your next prank.”

My eyes widened.  No way would Lily agree to that.  But Freddie didn’t necessarily know that.  “Hmm,” I pretended to deliberate, hemming and hawing.  “I don’t know, Freddie…”

“You could very well be stuck here all day, you know.”

“Done,” I told him quickly.  I could sort that out later.  Hopefully.

“Excellent.”  Freddie grinned as he leaned down, grabbed me round the waist just above James’s arm, and wrenched me out of his grasp.  I tugged my pyjama top down as Freddie set me gently on the floor.  The only thing James seemed to notice was that his teddy bear had disappeared, because he immediately latched on to a pillow to cuddle instead.

“Thanks, Freddie,” I said, grabbing my robe in preparation to hightail it out of there.

I should have known it wouldn’t be so easy.  Freddie easily mirrored my steps so that he was blocking my path.  “So,” he began conversationally, crossing his arms and leaning against James’s bedframe, “how was the sleepover?”

I narrowed my eyes at him.  “Platonic, thanks.”

“Mm-hmm.”  Freddie studied his nails casually (aren’t girls supposed to be the ones who do that?).  “Well, I’m sure you won’t mind, but that’s not what I’ll be telling the rest of the school.”  He met my eyes and grinned wickedly while I scowled back.  “Now, off you get!" he fluttered his hands as he motioned me away.  "We have Quidditch practice at 10:00, and I must awaken Princess Jamesie.”

I trudged across the boys’ dormitory, which was blessedly empty—until the bathroom door opened and Charlie Thomas emerged, wrapped only in a towel round his waist, dark skin glistening with droplets from his shower.  He beamed at me, and I managed to return his smile weakly before averting my eyes so as not to ogle his perfectly chiseled abdomen.  Damn.  Does this mean I’m “one of the guys” now?  That they were all going to be running about in their underoos and ignoring the fact that an actual female was present?  For Merlin’s sake, I was in a (fake) relationship, not dead.

I left the dorm just as Freddie yelled something incomprehensible in James’s ear, and the rude awakening caused James to start screaming.  I smirked to myself.  He sounded even more like a girl than Al had.

*             *             *             *             *

As it transpired, my status as James’s supposed girlfriend did nothing to free me from his tyranny on the Quidditch pitch.

"WOOD!!!!  WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING???  DO YOU WANT US TO LOSE TO RAVENCLAW?!?  YOU WILL NOT LEAVE THIS FIELD UNTIL I SEE FIVE IMPECCABLE SLOTH GRIP ROLLS!!!!”

Charmer, that one.  He was really lucky I’d left my wand in the changing rooms.

Al flew up beside me, grinning and mussing his dark hair.  “At least he doesn’t play favorites, eh?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied dryly, pushing my hair back from where the wind was whipping it around my face, “we wouldn’t want that.” 

Al chuckled appreciatively, his emerald-green eyes gleaming in the blazing sunlight as he swung his Beater’s bat round in circles.  Merlin, I loved Al’s laugh.  The sound seemed to come from somewhere deep within him, which only made it all the more genuine.

Al was like that—a genuine bloke.  It was a bit odd to think that despite their similar physical features, big brains, and wicked senses of humour, he and James were actually quite different.  James was, in general, in the habit of being the most ridiculous human being on the planet, and a loud-mouthed one, at that.  Al was much more quiet and reserved—he started off a bit shy around new acquaintances, but was warm and caring once he opened up.  When you were talking to him, his gaze would be so intent as to make you feel like everything you had to say was of great significance.

By contrast, most found James's arrogance and ostentatiousness rather off-putting (or attractive, depending on the IQ level of the individual in question).

I suppose, growing up in James's shadow, Al really couldn't have turned out any other way.

Somehow, I knew better than to allow myself to become completely entranced by Al while flying fifty feet in the air (believe me, I’m just as impressed with myself as you are).  “Want me to hit a few Bludgers your way so you can practice the roll?” he asked.  “I wouldn’t put it past James to keep you out here all day and night if it’s not to his exacting specifications.”

“Oh, I am fully aware of that fact,” I mumbled, clutching my broom between my thighs so I could sweep my hair out of my face with a spare rubber band.  “But yeah, actually, Al, that would be great, if you don’t mind.”

He shrugged.  “It’s no problem.  I need to work on my aim, anyway.”

By the time practice ended a little over an hour later, I had performed not five, but seven of the most perfectly executed Sloth Grip Rolls Britain has ever seen (did I mention how incredibly modest I am?).  Al and I high-fived when we hit the ground.  “That was brilliant!” he exclaimed.

“Well, I suppose I’m particularly motivated when my life is at stake,” I replied.  “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were actually trying to put me in the hospital wing!”

Al laughed and swung his arm around my shoulder casually.  “I would never!”  I could feel my face growing hot, so I was somewhat relieved when we reached the changing rooms and he released his grip on me.

I emerged a few moments later to find Lily and James at each other’s throats.

“IF YOU DON’T DEFLATE THAT GIANT, UGLY HEAD OF YOURS—“

“I DON’T BLOODY CARE THAT YOU’RE MY SISTER, I’LL KICK YOU OFF—“

“I’M TELLING MUM—“

Lily’s fist was clenched around her wand at her side.  This couldn’t possibly end well.  I had barely taken a step in their direction before Freddie swooped down and steered me back toward the castle.  “Shall we not?”

“They’re probably going to kill each other, you know,” I pointed out.

Freddie waved a hand dismissively.  “Right.  Well, survival of the fittest, and all that.”

Al, Frankie, and Charlie exited the changing rooms a few moments later and joined Freddie and me on our ascent back to the castle.  “What shall we do on this lovely Saturday evening, gents?” Charlie inquired.  I coughed pointedly and Death Glared at him.  “…and lady,” he added sheepishly.  (Yeah, that’s what I thought.)

Freddie pretended to ponder Charlie’s question for approximately 2.4 seconds before suddenly “remembering” that he and James had leftover Firewhiskey from the last bash they threw in the Gryffindor Common Room.

“I’m in,” said Charlie, high-fiving Freddie.

“Samesies,” Frankie agreed, running a hand through his short, light-brown hair.

Freddie turned to me.  “What d’ya say, Haze?  Have a few drinks, make a few bad decisions?”

I rolled my eyes.  “I can’t.  I’m going to the library—I have an Ancient Runes project to finish” (I know, it’s a huge mystery as to why I haven’t had a boyfriend—fake or otherwise—before now).

Freddie, Charlie, and Frankie groaned in response.  “Come on, Hazel!” Frankie nudged me teasingly, a huge grin on his freckled face.  “You’re practically throwing away your youth!”

“Thanks for that,” I told him, “but Professor Babbling is already up my arse about my grades.  I need to do really well on this assignment.”

“Actually, I need to go to the library as well,” Al put in quickly.  “I still haven’t finished that Herbology essay your dad assigned last week,” he said to Frankie.  The other three boys complained loudly as Al turned to me.  “Want to go together?  It’ll be awfully lonely in there on a Saturday night, you know.”

Okay, I am all about keeping my cool in these types of situations, but it took me a few seconds to pull my shit together this time, so I literally pinched my own arm to make sure this was actually happening.  Which is probably the lamest thing I’ve ever done, so I really hoped it was as discreet as I thought it was.  I glanced up to find Frankie looking at me strangely.  Whoops.  Guess it wasn’t.  “Sure,” I (somehow) managed to reply casually as my insides flailed about anxiously.  “Meet you outside the portrait hole at 7:00?”

Al grinned at me.  “It’s a date.”

(....aaand cue Jelly-Legs Jinx in full effect.)

*             *             *             *             *

He was already waiting for me when I climbed out of the portrait hole at precisely 7:06 (because obviously, I was far too busy and important to be on time to an event as trivial as a study date with the most beautiful boy to ever exist).  “Sorry I’m late.”

Al turned to face me.  “Hey!” he greeted me brightly.  “That’s all right, I only just got here.” (Of course he did.)  He looked adorable in jeans and a dove-grey henley t-shirt that somehow only made his eyes look even greener.

We chatted aimlessly as we made our way up to the library and settled ourselves at a small table near the Restricted Section, but were silenced by Madam Pince’s (much less effective, if you ask me) version of the Death Glare (also, let’s get real; that bitch is at least 1,000 years old if she’s a day—what in Voldemort’s reach was she still doing at Hogwarts?).

For quite a while, Al and I sat across from each other, engrossed in our respective assignments, but meeting each other’s gazes occasionally and exchanging little smiles (and yes, maybe my stomach did this little fluttery-type thing each time—shut your piehole).  To be honest, I was surprisingly comfortable with Al, considering how I felt about him.  Maybe I was just used to him being around, or maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I’d already reconciled myself to the fact that "we" would never happen, that he saw me as another younger sister and nothing more.  I’m actually quite proud of myself for not being quite as mental as most girls my age; in no way was I labouring under the delusion that Al would wake up one day and realize he couldn’t live without me, and ask me to elope at my earliest possible convenience so that we could have lots of sex and babies.  I knew how the world worked—not everyone got their happily ever after.

That’s not to say, of course, that I didn’t get a tiny thrill every single time I felt his eyes on me.

At some point I threw down my quill and groaned in frustration.  I just really could not wrap my head around some of this Ancient Runes stuff (and, okay, maybe Al’s presence was just a tad distracting).  Al glanced up at me.  “What’s wrong?”

“Ancient Runes makes me hate my horrible life.”

The corners of Al’s mouth turned upward slightly.  “A bit dramatic, aren’t we?”

“Never.”

He was still looking at me bemusedly.  “I have an O.W.L. in Ancient Runes, you know.”

I smacked my forehead.  “Duh, I’d totally forgotten!”  I turned on the puppy dog eyes with accompanying pout (if only my seduction techniques were even half as effective).  “Pretty pleeeeease help me?”

Al sighed at put down his own quill.  “How could I possibly say no to a damsel in distress?”  He scooted his chair around the table and leaned over my parchment until our arms were nearly touching.  I couldn’t help but inhale the scent of him (I know, I’m a creep; sue me).  He smelled so different from James; like a strange mixture of pepper and citrus that instantly set my heart racing.  “Here,” he said, pointing at something I’d written.  I jolted back to reality.  Right, homework, focus.  “You’ve put the symbol for ‘ice’ when you really need the symbol for ‘hail.’”

I frowned at the parchment.  “Isn’t hail just chunks of ice?” I pointed out.

“Well, yes, but—“

“Look, I put the symbols for ‘ice’ and ‘falling’ and ‘sky’ so what more could you possibly want?”

Al chuckled and leaned back in his chair, arms behind his head.  His leg brushed against mine, giving me goosebumps all over.  Thank Merlin I was wearing a jumper and jeans.  “Why are you taking Ancient Runes, anyway?”

I shrugged.  “I think it would be cool to be a Curse Breaker.”

He looked impressed.  “Really?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s actually really cool, Hazel.”

I flushed.  “What about you?  Why did you take it?”

It was Al’s turn to shrug.  “I don’t know, just for variety, I suppose.”  He gazed up at the ceiling pensively.  “Trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.”

“Figured it out yet?”

“Nope.  Maybe one day.”  He sat upright again and grinned at me.  “Ready to call it a night?”

“Let’s go.”

As we trudged back to the common room, I felt Al glancing at me out of the corner of his eye.  “What?” I asked.

He shrugged again.  “I just miss you, Hazel.  I feel like we never get to spend any time together these days.”

Okay, no, seriously.  This time my heart really stopped.  He missed me?  I swallowed.  “I know,” I responded.
 
Al smiled down at me.  “We’ll just have to nerd out again soon.”
 
I laughed, hoping I sounded casual while my heart soared.  “Deal.”

As we reached the portrait hole, Al hesitated before turning to me.  “Look, Hazel,” he began, running his fingers through his hair (ugh, why can’t I do that for him?), “I think it’s really great what you’re doing for James.”

“You do?” I breathed.

“Yeah.  I just…” Al trailed off, then looked directly at me.  “I’m just worried, you know?”

I studied his face, confused.  “About what?”

Al sighed.  “After those articles came out…I just want you to be careful.  You’re not used to the media being all over you, and I hope you’re prepared for how nasty it can get.”

I dropped my gaze to my feet and shifted uncomfortably, though I was honestly touched by his words.  “I know.”

“Good.”  Al sounded relieved.  “Because the press will follow you everywhere, so you won’t be able to set up every ideal photo opportunity like you two did the other night—“

My head snapped up.  “What are you talking about?”

He furrowed his brow.  “The picture of the two of you kissing in The Daily Prophet.”

“Oh,” I laughed.  “That wasn’t a setup.”

Al continued to frown at me.  “Oh.  Well I mean, I just assumed…it just all seemed a bit too convenient, you know?  That someone just happens to be walking down that corridor at that time of night and happens to have a camera and happens to take a peek behind that statue?”

It took a few moments for Al’s words to sink in.  He was right.  I was an utter fool.

And I was going to murder James Potter.

"Hazel?"  Al was watching me with concern.  "Everything all right?"

"Peachy," I assured him with a big, fat, fake grin.  "Thank you Al, this has been most enlightening."  I abruptly spun round, told the Fat Lady "Crumple-Horned Snorkack," and climbed through the portrait hole, a rather perplexed Al close behind me.

The common room was rather noisier than usual for a Saturday night. Gryffindors were lounging about everywhere, and most of the older ones seemed to have a cup full of some substance that looked suspiciously like Firewhisky in his or her hand.  I spotted James swaying about near the wizard's chessboard with quite a few of the Gryffindor boys and made a beeline for him.  His eyes lit up when he caught sight of me approaching.  "Haze!" he exclaimed, snaking an arm around my waist and planting a sloppy, wet kiss on my eyeball (clearly romance isn't dead). "Where have you been?"

I shrugged nonchalantly.  "Just finishing some homework."

"Well, I missed you!" he proclaimed.

"Yeah, me too."  James was too pissed to notice the Death Glare.  "Hey, since we both missed each other just so much today"--I'm not sure how I got the words out around my gritted teeth--"why don't we go over there and chat for a bit?"  I gestured to the couch situated in the far corner of the common room.

James nodded eagerly and followed me across the room while the group of his very mature friends and relatives cat-called after us.  The moment I had seated myself on the couch and James had collapsed beside me, he began attacking my face with his mouth.  I shoved him away roughly.  "NO!"  I scolded him as I would Kneazle.  "Get off me, you big oaf!"

James was taken aback.  He gazed at me, seemingly confused and somewhat hurt, like a toddler when you took his favorite toy away.  "We're not snogging?"  It appeared that this was almost too much for his brain to process.

"No," I told him firmly.  "I need to talk to you."

"Oh."  He slumped down into the cushions, clearly disappointed, and rested his head on the back of the couch.  "I thought that was like, code, or something."

I rolled my eyes and toyed with the frayed hem of my jumper and chewed my lip as I considered how to broach the subject.  "Look, I need to know if that kiss behind the Merwyn statute was a setup."

"Huh?"  James's eyes were closed now.  "Whatchu talkin' 'bout?"

He was just barely able to speak English.  Bloody fantastic.  I sighed. "Did you set up the whole thing so someone could take our picture and send it to the Prophet?"

"Why yew thin' tha'?" he practically gargled.  I was losing him, but for some reason I desperately wanted to know the answer.  It made me feel...I don't know, betrayed, that James might do something like that without telling me.  Especially after how sweet he had been that night.

"Al just pointed out how it all fit, that someone was just there at that particular moment with a camera in hand--"

"Al?"  James's eyes flew open.  He attempted--I think--to wave his hand dismissively, but only succeeded in lifting it approximately six inches above his lap before it flopped back down again.  "'S jus' jealous."

I rolled my eyes again.  He was officially talking nonsense.  "Okay, let's just discuss this tomorrow."

"'Kay."  James's half-shut eyes swept over me again and he grinned lazily.  "Yer perty."

...and he's out.  What an idiot.  I covered ickle Jamie-kins with a nearby blanket as his random gurgling noises turned into thunderous snores (highly attractive--am I a lucky fake girlfriend or what?), bade the group of onlookers good night (noting that Al had disappeared), and made my way up the stairs toward my dormitory.

There, in my bed, only a few short feet from her own, was a second drunken Potter.

Merlin, I couldn't get away from these people.

The dormitory was dark, and Amelia and Ruby were nowhere in sight.  Roxy smirked at me from where she was reading by wandlight in her bed on the other side of Lily's.  "I tried to get her to walk a little further, but she refused."

I rolled my eyes.  "No surprise there."  Lily was well-known in our dormitory for her drunken obstinance.

My best friend was still fully dressed in her courduroys, hoodie, and trainers (fashion choices by which Dom would be absolutely appalled).  I pulled off my jumper, revealing the soft camisole underneath, and replaced my jeans with my favourite Quaffle-print pyjama shorts.  Kneazle was less than pleased about whatever turn of events had rendered Lily unconscious in our bed, and swished her tail in irritation while her golden eyes bored into my skull.  I scratched her under the chin in an attempt to appease her as I sprawled next to Lily and poked her in the side.  Slowly, Lily opened one eye to peer at me.  "You're back."

"So are you," I returned.  "Where have you been all day?"

Somehow, despite Lily's mostly incoherent ramblings, I managed to glean the tale of that day's little misadventure.  It seemed that after the rest of the team had left the Quidditch pitch that morning, James had challenged Lily, proclaiming that he could play Chaser and Seeker simultaneously and no one would even miss Lily's presence.  Unfortunately for him, James was flying round Lily in circles during said proclamation, like the stupid great prat that he is, so naturally, Lily nailed him with a Tickling Hex and, naturally, James promptly fell off his broom and tumbled to the ground.

Lily, of course, knew she'd be hit with detention if James went to the hospital wing and told Madam Pomfrey what had happened (obviously, she would never believe that a Quidditch superstar like James Potter would just fall off his broom of his own accord). After much negotiation, James agreed to let Lily patch him up the best she could, so long as she would accompany him to Hogsmeade, buy a load of Butterbeers, and help transport them back to the Gryffindor common room, where they drank approximately 834,584,230,423 of them.  What a lovely little family outing for the pair of them.

"Why weren't you in the common room?" Lily questioned me after finishing her tale.

"Al and I went to the library to catch up on some homework."

Lily's one eye seemed to narrow itself at me suspiciously.  "Al?"

I looked back at the eye quizzically.  "Yeah?"

She pondered this for a moment before coming to the only conclusion that seemed to make sense in her Butterbeer-addled brain.  "Are you dating my brothers?"

"Yep," I replied dryly.  "Sure am."

Lily's eye simply gazed at me in wonder.  "You know, we could be sisters."

"Beg pardon?"

"If you marry them," she clarified.  "James and Al.  Except they're both my brothers."

"You don't say."

She moved her head back and forth in what I assumed was an attempted nod.  "I do say. So we'd be, like, sisters squared."

"That makes total sense," I humoured her.  Kneazle, though still thoroughly disgusted by Lily's presence, had apparently resigned herself to the fact that she would be sharing the bed with both of us and was now snuggled against my chest.

"I know."  Lily sighed as her eye drifted shut again.  "Haze?" she murmured sleepily a few moments later.

"Hmm?"  I could feel my eyelids growing heavy as well.

"You're the tits."

I smiled before drifting off.  "Right back at ya, Lils."

 *             *             *             *             *
 
Author's Note:  Hi, all!  I wanted to give you guys some more Al time (as requested!) so I hope you enjoyed this chapter.  Thank you so much for the favouriting and the reviews--you have no idea how happy it makes me :)
 


Chapter 6: It Rhymes With Witch...
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{amazing CI by Lady Asphodel @ TDA}

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When you find yourself in the market for a new pet, an important consideration to keep in mind is how well the beast will fit into your preferred lifestyle.  For example, if, like any normal teenager, you fancy a bit of a lie-in on weekends, you would be ill-advised to purchase, say, a cat/Kneazle hybrid who likes to think of her owner as her personal human punching bag whenever she sees fit.

I share this observation with you in the hope that you will learn from my mistake.

I groaned as Kneazle continued batting playfully at my face.  "Honestly?" I asked her, cracking an eye open.   She gleefully swatted my eyeball in response.  "Wicked creature," I muttered contemptuously.  I extricated myself from bedsheets and cat and glanced around the dormitory to find it empty except for Lily beside me, snoring soundly while sprawled on her stomach.  "Li-ils," I sang softly, giving her an experimental poke.

"Mmph."

"Wakey, wakey!"  I began shaking her gently.

"I hate you."  One hand slid out from underneath her and began flailing around beside the pillow, grasping at empty air.

I poked her in the head repeatedly.  "Can't hex me.  Your wand's on the floor."

Lily let out a string of garbled curses and burrowed deeper under the covers as she placed the pillow over her head.   I sighed.  At least I tried—now she couldn't blame me later when she got cranky without her daily bacon fix.  I showered and dressed quickly.   As I exited the dormitory, I shot one last look at my bed.  Kneazle had positioned herself in such a way that the first thing Lily would see when she emerged from her pillowy lair was a pair of large, golden eyes peering back at her, which would no doubt scare her shitless.

Okay, I kind of love the fact that my cat is such an arsehole.  Like mummy, like kitty, I suppose.

I arrived in the Great Hall to find that, just as I'd feared, the boys and Dom had hoarded all the bacon at the Gryffindor table and were scarfing it down as quickly as humanly possible.  Freddie in particular was inhaling rashers at a rather alarming rate that I admittedly found quite impressive.  I bade everyone good morning as I swung a leg over the bench between James and Louis, across from Al.  James greeted me happily while inhaling a variety of breakfast meats and puckered up his lips for a kiss.  My nose wrinkled at the crumbs tumbling out of his mouth.  "Pass," I commented dryly, reaching toward his plate.

"Oy!"  James slapped my hand away. "You can have my bacon when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."

"I imagine that will be quite easy, since your cold, dead hands will be covered in bacon grease," I pointed out as I loaded up on scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and toast.  "You're surprisingly chipper this morning."

"Hangover potion.  Duh," he told me around mouthfuls of food.  So attractive, that faux beau of mine.

Just then, the owls swept in with the morning post, and I spotted Nargle, our family owl, gliding toward me.  "Hello, handsome," I cooed at him as I plucked the letter from his leg. I stroked Nargle's soft brown feathers and fed him a bit of toast before unfolding it, excited to hear from my parents but dreading what they would have to say about my recent and very public life choices.


Dearest Hazel,

I can't believe you've been off at Hogwarts for nearly three full weeks now and haven't found the time to write your dear old mum and dad.  Don't you know that we just sit about the house, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for our darling girl to recall our existence?  Are you just too busy with your new celebrity to do us any such kindnesses?

Yes, we've read the articles.  Forget to tell us something, sweetheart?

Your father is not pleased.  I do believe your lack of beaux thus far had lulled him into a false sense of security regarding your "virtue" as he so eloquently puts it (don’t worry, I’ve already made it perfectly clear that he’s not to go about saying things like that in your presence).  We adore James, of course, but it was all a bit unexpected.  In fact, I'd always assumed it was Al you fancied. 
Just goes to show what I know, I suppose.

The village has been crawling with reporters trying to get the odd interview with us, and the neighbors as well.  Rita Skeeter herself arrived on our doorstep the day before yesterday and had the audacity to ask for an exclusive on my
—and I quote—"floozy daughter."  Interestingly, she happened to drop by the same evening the Potters, Ron, Hermione, and a few other friends had come round for dinner, and before I even had the chance to tell her where she could stick her Quick-Quotes Quill, Hermione appeared beside me, holding an empty jar she’d just grabbed from the pantry.  Rita Skeeter took one look at her and bolted.  I haven't a clue what all that was about—though Hermione, Ron, and Harry all seemed greatly amused by it—but the old hag can still run fairly quickly.  Harry and Ron helped your father cast some protective charms around the village to keep the nosy wizards at bay so the Muggles won't be disturbed.

Your father and I know better than to believe the filth churned out by the likes of Rita Skeeter and Miranda Jacobs, but please be careful, darling.  People used to write all sorts of nasty things about your father back in his days as Puddlemere's Keeper; some reporters just have no sense of common decency.  You are without a doubt one of the strongest people I know, but that doesn't mean some things can't ever become rather overwhelming, even when you're as tough as dragon hide.  Don't forget that we are ALWAYS here for you.

All right, then
—enough lecturing.   How are classes?  I expect they're gearing you up for O.W.L.s by completely freaking you out, as usual.  Any big plans for your birthday next month?  We love you and miss you so much already.  Don't forget us little people!  Hope to hear from you soon.

All my love,
Mum

P.S.  Kiddo
—Kindly inform James that the fact that I've seen him in nappies won't stop me from hexing him into oblivion if he does you wrong.  Harry and Ginny approve.  Love you loads, Dad


I smiled at the sight of Mum's loopy, neat cursive and Dad's slanted, much sloppier handwriting.  I always missed them when I was at Hogwarts, and they knew it whether I remembered to write or not.  I usually didn't (I know, I'm a horrible daughter).

At some point I became aware of the fact that James was reading the letter over my shoulder, chomping loudly all the while.  I made a mental note to tell Mrs. Potter all about her eldest's appalling manners next time I saw her.  That would be good for a few laughs at James's expense.

The barbarian in question shuddered visibly as he stuffed three slices of toast in his mouth simultaneously.  "I'd forgotten how scary your dad can be," he told me between bites.

“Well, it doesn’t seem to be spoiling your appetite,” I noted, smiling a bit.  I suppose Dad would seem rather intimidating to a boy I was "dating."  In addition to being large and burly, and thus rather physically imposing, he was known for having a short fuse; like I said, the vast majority of Quidditch articles written about him in recent years were based on incidents during which he'd lost his temper on the pitch and been ejected from games.  I had actually been rather surprised when Rita Skeeter hadn't commented more on my father's reputation in her little "biography" of me, but I still expected her to dredge it up at some point.  (Hooray, something else to look forward to!)

Nargle glared at me impatiently.  I sighed and pulled out a quill and parchment.  Of course my parents had instructed him not to return without a reply so I didn't have time to "forget" to write them.  They knew me so well.


Mum and Daddy,

Darlings!  It's a good job you wrote when you did
—I've been so busy and important with all sorts of things floating about in my big, fat head that I'd simply forgotten all about the two of you!

I'm sorry for not telling you about James sooner, but it all just sort of happened very quickly and there's been no time.  Don't worry about him, though
—he's well aware that Dad will make good on those threats if he's not on his best behaviour!

I'm sorry for all the reporters bugging you as well.  I'd also apologize for being such a "floozy" but that seems more like the result of bad parenting, and therefore not particularly my fault.   Seriously though, I know Rita Skeeter and those other idiots can get pretty nasty, but I'll try my hardest not to let them get to me.

Predictably, O.W.L. year sucks.  Perhaps I'll just drop out of school and marry rich instead, what do you think?

My birthday happens to fall on a Hogsmeade weekend this year, so that's really the only excitement around here...though I am holding out for that pet dragon I've been asking for since I was three (hint, hint!).

I promise I'll try to write you little people more often.  I love and miss you both so much I can't even stand it!

Hugs and kisses,
Your darling Hazel


I chewed my bottom lip thoughtfully as I pored over what I had just written.  I really hated lying to my parents about the whole James-being-my-boyfriend thing, but I didn't really think they'd like or understand the situation, especially given the fact that adults were generally blind to Serena's utter twattiness.

I also felt extremely guilty about the fact that my newfound “celebrity” was directly impacting them, something I hadn’t considered before the latter article came out (yes, I know, I’m the worst).  It made me feel slightly better to know that Dad, for one, was more than used to it.

"I forgot your birthday's coming up!"

I jolted.  I'd failed to notice James was yet again reading over my shoulder.  Honestly, doesn't the nosy prat ever just mind his own business?

"October 8th, right?" Al spoke up from across the table.

I glanced at him in shock.  "Yeah."  The corners of my mouth curved upward slightly.  I mean, of course I knew that Albus Severus Potter's birthday was April 23rd, he was quite partial to the colour orange (but not the fruit), his favorite meal was steak and kidney pie, and he had a highly unnatural fear of miniature Puffskeins (I just know you're all "stalk much?" right now and the answer is yes, yes I do), but it never occurred to me that he might commit similar information about me to memory.  He gazed at me for a moment, grinning adorably, before returning to his breakfast.  My stomach fluttered as James frowned over at Al.

"Hogsmeade weekend.  Excellent."  Freddie rubbed his palms together in his mischievous way, which always made him look rather like some evil villain from a Muggle comic book, or a mad scientist.  "We can take care of all the necessary provisions in the village that day for a massive rager that night."  Freddie easily got more excited about such celebrations than the birthday boy/girl him/herself.

James's eyes lit up at this suggestion.  "Brilliant."  Rumbles of agreement came from around the table as he stood up and stretched, yawning hugely.  "Now if you'll excuse me, I must be getting back to my warm, cosy bed."

"I'll come with."  I finished tying my letter to Nargle's leg as he gobbled up a last scrap of toast in a manner that would make even Freddie jealous, gave me a love peck on the hand, and soared away.   When I glanced up, Al had a strange look on his face, but James and Freddie were grinning cheekily.  I groaned in realization.  "Knock it off!  I just meant I'd walk back with you."

"Sure, sure," James responded airily.  "You know, you are my girlfriend now, Hazel.  There's no need to be so embarrassed by the fact that you find me irresistible."

I Death Glared at him as he flung an arm around my shoulders carelessly and steered me toward the doors.  "What I find difficult to resist, darling, is the constant urge to hex the living daylights out of you."

As we exited the Great Hall, I couldn't help but notice all the staring and whispering behind cupped hands.  I could feel my face flush a bit; this was way more attention than I'd gotten for simply being Lily's BFFF (that's Best Fucking Friends Forever, for those of you not in the know) and Oliver Wood's daughter.  I risked a glance over at the Ravenclaw table and found Serena Shacklebolt shooting daggers James and me.

Clearly, there was a storm brewing.

As James and I traipsed back to the common room, I thought again of how to broach the subject of The Kiss Heard Round The World.  "James," I began tentatively.  "I need to talk to you about something."

In an astonishing display of something resembling sensitivity, James appeared to pick up on my serious tone.  "What's wrong?"

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  "Look, that kiss behind the Merwyn statue—"  I hesitated, biting my lower lip.

"Yeah?"

I sighed.  "It just all seems a bit too convenient."

James furrowed his brow in confusion.  "What does?"

"That someone just happened to be passing by that particular spot, at that exact time, with a camera, and decided to take a peek behind the statue..."

I trailed off as James stopped abruptly in the middle of the corridor, staring at his feet.  "And you think that I just set you up for a good photograph for the press."  It wasn't a question.

"What?  No, I don't think that, I was just asking if—"

"Maybe one of the other blokes heard me telling Freddie that I wanted to give you a proper first kiss and thought it would be a riot.  Hell, it may have been Freddie himself.  But I had nothing to do with it, Hazel."  He began walking again, quickly, refusing to meet my eyes.

He was right.  Now that I thought about it, this whole thing had "Freddie" written all over it.  "James, wait."  I rushed after him and grabbed his arm.  He turned and finally fixed his gaze on me.  To my great surprise, he looked deeply hurt.

  "I know I'm a reckless, arrogant prat, but I do try to do right by the people I care about.  I thought you knew that about me.  I wanted to do something nice for you, Hazel.  To let you know how much I appreciate you. That's all."

I remembered how sweet he had been that night and how touched I had been by his gesture.  Merlin, now I felt horrible.  "James," I said softly, "I'm so sorry—"

He held up a hand to stop me.  "It's fine.  I suppose I can't blame you."  I just watched him miserably as he sighed deeply and ran a hand through his dark, messy hair.  "I think I'm going to go take a walk around the grounds."

"I thought you were going back to bed."

He gave me a sad, sort of half-smile.  "Suddenly, I'm not so tired any more."

And with that, he was gone.

Godric, now I was the twat.

 *             *             *             *             *

I spent that afternoon and evening in the common room, working on various class assignments and generally socializing with the Wotters and Co.  James joined us a few hours after our conversation, still looking a tad forlorn, but greeted me with a reassuring smile and swift kiss on the cheek.  I had known he’d bounce back quickly, as always, but I still felt a bit guilty for doubting him in the first place.

At half seven, Lily (who had finally arrived downstairs around four and announced that she and Kneazle were “in a fight”—news that I can’t say would have upset Kneazle very much) reminded me that I was, in fact, a prefect, and was scheduled to make the rounds that night.  “Shit,” I muttered, slamming my Charms book shut and getting to my feet.  “Coming, Hugh?"

Hugo, the other fifth-year Gryffindor prefect (I use the term "prefect" as loosely as possible here), glanced up at me, wearing a horrified expression very similar to what one might expect if I had suggested he jump in the Black Lake and snog the Giant Squid.  Assuming that was a “no,” I took my leave.

My stroll around the castle’s stony corridors was largely uneventful…at first.  I had just finished shooing away some giggling third-year Slytherins from tormenting Sir Cadogan (poor bugger) when I heard a noise in a nearby broom closet that sounded suspiciously like human bodies thrashing about.
 
Ah, yes, the “fun” part of prefect duties.

In all honesty, I couldn’t give two Grindylow shits if people wanted to do their funny business in random cupboards; I never gave detentions for it.  That being said, I am the nosiest person on the planet, and always felt the need in these situations to satisfy my curiosity about who was doing what and where and with whom.  However, before I could peek inside this particular broom closet, the door flew open and a tall, gangly boy with a mop of platinum blonde hair tumbled out.  He took a few seconds to gather his bearings before noticing my presence.  “Oh, hullo there, Hazel,” he said casually, as if we’d just happened to run into each other in Diagon Alley or something, “You’re looking well."

I suppressed a smile.  “Hey, Scorpius.  Fancy meeting you here.”
 
Scorpius frowned down at me.  “What’s got your wand in a knot?“
 
"What makes you think it is?”

He shrugged.  “You just always look like you’re ready to curse the eyebrows off someone.  Perpetually pissed off.”
 
"I’m not,” I insisted.  “This is just my face.”

Scorpius was busy straightening his disheveled shirt and trousers, seeming to have already lost interest in our conversation.  He knew I wasn’t going to hand him a detention anyhow; this was far from the first time I’d caught him in a similar situation.  Thankfully, he had on quite a bit more clothing than usual this time.  “You should probably work on that,” he commented dryly.  “Well, see you later.”  He took off in the direction of the dungeons, hands in pockets, whistling a merry tune. 

My brain had barely registered the fact that a second perpetrator must have been involved when I heard her voice from behind me.  “You have that annoying habit of being everywhere I’d prefer you not to be.”

I turned to face her.  “Well, you have that annoying habit of existing in general, so I’d call it even.”
 
Serena scowled.  “I suppose you just can’t wait to tell James all about this.”
 
"What, that you’re a fake, petty skank with zero sense of morality?  Pretty sure he received that memo quite some time ago.”  I rolled my eyes.  “I know this may be hard for you to wrap your head around, but we actually do have other things to talk about.”  I started walking away from her.  “As lovely as this has been, I have to finish my rounds."

Serena quickly caught up and matched my pace.  Damn her long, graceful legs.  “What the fuck is your problem, anyway?”
 
“You mean besides your aforementioned existence?”
 
She scoffed.  “You just have to have a smartass response to everything, like you’re so above it all that nothing fazes you.”

I rolled my eyes again.  “I’m failing to grasp how that’s a problem.”

“Why don’t I explain, then?”  Serena suddenly rounded on me, cutting off my determined path down the corridor.  I'd never noticed before now that she was a bit taller than me.  She took a few steps toward me menacingly, until our faces were mere inches apart, and poked my sternum with her index finger angrily.  “You took something that belongs to me, and I intend to get it back.  I don’t care what it takes.  You can sit there and tell yourself all you want that nothing will get to you, but I will break you.  Believe that, bitch.”
 
I was too taken aback by her sudden ferocity to give an immediate response.  Generally if Serena wanted me threatened, she sent one of her minions to do her dirty work—she'd never actually approached me herself.  And now that she had, she was kind of...well, terrifying.  Before I could collect my bearings, Serena had spun on her heel and strutted away.
 
Words really cannot even begin to describe how much I hate that bitch.

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Author's Note: I know nothing too exciting happened in this chapter, but I wrote nearly the entire thing on my iPhone, so I'm pretty damn impressed with myself anyway.  Hazel's epic birthday weekend up next.  Reviews inspire me!  You're all bloody amazing, thanks so much for reading!  <3


Chapter 7: Can't Tell Me No
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“Wake up, wake up, WAKE UP!” Lily sang one Saturday morning a few weeks later, as she bounced on my bed like a toddler with a sugar rush.
 
I groaned loudly and slung an arm around Kneazle, who was busy giving my best friend one of her patented expressions of great disdain—the kitty version of my Death Glare (I must say, I was quite proud).  “It’s my bloody birthday, you daft bint.  Aren’t I entitled to a bit of a lie-in?”

“Nope,” Lily informed me cheerily as she flung back my comforter.  I instantly curled myself into the fetal position, shivering, while Kneazle outright hissed at her (good kitty).  “We have far too much to do today!”

I sighed in defeat, knowing there was no arguing with her about this.  I actually despised my birthday (well, except for the parts where I received fabulous presents and some sort of cake, and got to boss everyone about for 24 hours), which Lily had never understood or accepted, and annually attempted to rectify.  She just couldn't seem to grasp the fact that no matter how fabulous that one day out of the year was supposed to be for you, something always happened to render you disappointed in the end.  I swung my feet off the bed and trudged toward the bathroom.  “I’ll take care of breakfast!” Lily called as I shut the door, turned on the hot water, and stripped off my pyjamas, yawning hugely.

When I emerged in a cloud of steam twenty minutes later, clad in my bathrobe and ratty slippers, the dormitory was filled with balloons and a large, blinking banner reading “HAPPY 16TH BIRTHDAY, HAZEL!”  Sitting on my bed was a plate piled high with bacon, which Kneazle was eying hungrily, and several brightly wrapped presents.  I couldn’t help but smile at my dormmates gathered round.  “You lot are incorrigible.”

“You’re welcome,” Roxy replied. 
 
“Now open them!” Ruby demanded.

I pulled Kneazle into my lap and chomped on the delicious bacon as I began unwrapping my gifts.  Ruby and Amelia had gotten me a collector’s set of The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle, including several issues that I’d never read before.  Roxy gave me an inordinate amount of the latest products from Weasley’s Wizards Wheezes, and laughed when both Lily’s and my eyes lit up.  “You can’t use these on Freddie,” she warned us, “he’ll know exactly where you got them!”

Finally, I opened the box from Lily, to find two silver necklaces nestled in a bed of tissue paper.  Together, the pendants shaped a large heart reading “BEST BITCHES.”  “Turn them over!” Lily told me excitedly.  I did, to find that she had charmed the backs to display one of my favourite photos of the pair of us making an assortment of silly faces at the camera back in second year.  It was set up so my half of the necklace would display the portion of the picture featuring Lily, and vice versa. 
 
I laughed and hugged her tightly.  “This is awesome, Lils!”

She squeezed me back.  “Happy birthday, Haze!”
 
I thanked the other girls as well, hugging them in turn.  The five of us lounged on my bed, discussing our plans for Hogsmeade, as Kneazle batted around the shredded wrapping paper and ribbons.  My usually disgruntled cat had an expression of sheer kitty joy on her face—she probably thought it was her birthday come early.  After a while, Roxy glanced at her watch and informed us that we’d better get a move on.

I used a drying spell on my still-damp hair and applied a bit of makeup, then donned my cosiest sweater—a cashmere, V-necked affair in a creamy, off-white colour—and favourite dark, skinny jeans before pulling on a pair of light brown, knee-high leather boots.  I swept my long hair over my shoulder so I could do up the clasp of my new necklace, and grinned when I saw Lily wearing her matching one.  “Ready?” she asked.

I quickly grabbed my olive-green peacoat and a matching set of beige flip-top fingerless gloves, slouchy hat, and scarf (courtesy of Mum, naturally—clearly I would never be so practical), made Amelia and Ruby promise to meet us at Three Broomsticks later in the day, and followed Lily and Roxy out the door.
 
Waiting outside the Great Hall, as we’d planned the previous evening, were Al, James, Freddie, Dom, Rose, Molly, Hugo, Louis, Charlie, Rowan, Frankie, Ally Longbottom (Dom’s best friend and fellow seventh-year Gryffindor), and the Scamander twins (sixth-year Ravenclaws and resident weirdos).  Molly’s younger sister, Lucy, was also with them, but as a second-year, she was too young to accompany us to Hogsmeade, and settled for giving me a shy hug before scurrying away (she’s quite adorable, considering the fact that her parents are right prats).  Amid choruses of “Happy birthday!” and other such greetings, our caravan set off for the village.

Lily and I exchanged sly glances as she chatted up one of the Scamander twins along the way (I never did learn the difference between the two because frankly, I just can’t see any reason—did I mention I’m a terrible person?).  Lily had been working her way back and forth between the Scamanders since the beginning of fourth year, shamelessly snogging one of them before moving on to the other, then back again (although I’m pretty sure a few times they managed to trick her, so she thought she was making out with Lorcan when it was really Lysander, and vice versa—she can’t be much better than I am at telling them apart).  Clearly, James and Al had no clue of their little sister’s antics, given that 1) Lorcan and Lysander were still alive and 2) they were being allowed to accompany us to Hogsmeade.  I find it adorable how ridiculously protective those two nitwits are of Lily, though she’s just bloody annoyed—I mean, the girl can clearly take care of herself, but that’s not the point.

James and I were walking together, holding hands (shut up—the media had been reporting about us “still going strong” so we were keeping up appearances and all that), but he was engaged in conversation with Charlie and Freddie on his right while I chatted with Dom and Ally on my left.  I adored Ally—she was an absolute doll, which perfectly contrasted Dom’s rather domineering personality.  Despite this fact, Ally was often the one who kept Dom in check when no one else could, for which all the Wotters were eternally grateful.  She was also funny as hell, which was probably why Freddie had been crushing on her for Merlin only knows how long.  Like her younger brother, she had warm, dark eyes, a smattering of freckles across her dainty nose, and light-brown waves framing her heart-shaped face.  As Ally was usually Dom’s “plus-one” to family events and Frankie was Al’s, Professor Longbottom and his wife, Hannah, also spent many holidays with the Wotter clan (thankfully, Neville knew the lot of us well enough to not expect anything even remotely resembling our best behaviour outside Hogwarts—or inside it, for that matter).  The Scamanders and their parents would show up occasionally as well, which was always good for many, many laughs, to which they were eternally oblivious.

We spent the afternoon terrorizing the shopkeepers of Hogsmeade with our loud, boisterous group.  I ate my weight in ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s (which, FYI, is a completely normal, almost daily occurrence for me) and amassed a large collection of Chocolate Frogs and Pumpkin Pasties at Honeyduke’s.  At some point, James and Freddie took their leave, claiming they had some business to attend to, and would meet us at Three Broomsticks.  After a few more stops, we decided it was time to hit the pub before we had to head back to the castle.

As the rest of us traipsed into Three Broomsticks, Al grabbed my arm.  “Can I talk to you outside for a second?” he asked quietly.  I nodded and followed him round the corner, where it was a bit more private.

Al cleared his throat before speaking.  “I know we all agreed to do your presents later, but I just…well, I wanted to give this to you now,” he shifted nervously as he produced a tiny, wrapped box from the pocket of his coat and thrust it into my hands.  “Happy birthday.”

I peeled back the wrapping on the box, opening it carefully.  My breath caught as I pushed away the tissue paper to reveal a thick, turquoise and silver ring with some odd-looking engravings round the inside.  “Al—“

“Look,” he said excitedly, pulling it out of the box and turning it so I could examine the etchings more closely.  “It’s like one of those Ancient Runes artifacts.  You just line up these little dials on the inside”—he spun them round so I could see that the engravings moved together to form various runes—“and it will help you translate what they mean.”  As he spoke, the rune he’d created dissolved into another etching depicting “ice.”  I smiled, thinking about our study session in the library.  When Al was done showing me how the ring worked, he took my left hand and slid it onto my right index finger, where it fit perfectly.

“Al, it’s amazing!  Where ever did you find something like this?”

He ran his fingers through his dark, tousled hair.  “Well the ring itself was easy enough to find, but as for the dials…I sort of…made it myself.”

My heart leapt at his words.  He’d made this for me?  “Fucking hell, you’re brilliant,” I breathed, fingering the exquisite turquoise.  I looked up at him, smiling widely.  “I love it.”

“Really?”

“Al, it’s perfect!”  I threw my arms around his neck.  “Thank you so much!”

He laughed and wrapped his arms around my waist, squeezing tightly.  “You’re welcome,” he replied.  “I’m just glad you like it.”  I inhaled deeply (and creepily), breathing in that spicy, citrusy scent of him that I loved, not wanting to let go.  Just then, I heard a strange clicking noise behind me and felt Al tense up.  “What was that?” he murmured as he pulled away from me.
 
Before I could respond, James chose that moment to sneak up behind Al and pounce on his back, bringing the pair of them tumbling to the ground.  James laughed maniacally as Al wrestled against him.  “Geroff!”  They were mid-tussle when I heard the clicking sounds again.  I spun round in time to see a tall, thin figure dashing behind a tree approximately ten metres away. 

“What the actual fuck?” I squinted my eyes, taking a step in that direction.
 
“What are you staring at?”  I jumped as Freddie appeared beside me, a quizzical expression on his face as he glanced from me to the tree and back again.  I could hear Al and James still grunting and giggling like loons behind me as I explained the strange clicking noises and the person who was now hiding behind the tree.  Freddie’s brow furrowed as he gently pushed me backward.  “Stay here,” he ordered quietly.

Freddie tiptoed toward the large oak.  He wasn’t any more than a couple of metres away when I heard the loud snap of a twig being crushed beneath his trainers, followed quickly by the unmistakable crack of someone Apparating away.  I ignored Freddie’s previous warning and ran over to him.  We peeked behind the tree together.  Nothing.

“Oi!  Can we get some drinks now, birthday girl?”

I turned to see James and Al standing to brush themselves off before James reached down and grabbed a few packages he’d set on the floor.  I noticed for the first time that Freddie was holding some as well.  “I thought you’d never ask.”  I gestured to James and Freddie’s full arms as I began to Scourgify bits of mud off Al's and James's clothes.  “Get all your ‘provisions’ then?”

Freddie grinned wickedly.  “Of course.”
 
“By the way, you’re never allowed to leave me unguarded in Hogsmeade again,” James complained to me.

Al chuckled.  “Serena cornered you, then?”
 
“Which means she must have used Daphne and Pippa to distract our dear Freddie here,” I guessed, patting my favorite Weasley on the back affectionately.  Unfortunately for Freddie, Daphne Hilliard and Pippa Fawcett, Serena's most notorious minons, were quite attractive, and everyone knew a pretty girl was Freddie’s biggest weakness.

Freddie shrugged good-naturedly in response.  “What can I say, I’m powerless against them!”
 
“I’ll say.  It took a good ten minutes after I’d escaped Serena’s clutches and run away for him to even notice I was gone!” James whined.

The four of us laughed as we entered the Three Broomsticks and made our way to the group of tables pushed together by our friends, clicking noises and strange darting figures forgotten.  James snaked his arm around my waist and pulled me closer so he could give me a peck on the cheek.  “What were you and Al talking about outside?”
 
“If you must know, nosy, he was giving me my present.”  I held up my left hand so that James could see the ring glinting on my thumb. 

“Oh.”  His expression darkened a bit.  “That was nice of him,” he said woodenly.

I studied James for a moment.  He looked rather nice today, in jeans and a white button-down shirt under an olive green jumper, but now he also seemed…irritated.  “Why are you being weird?”

“I’m not!”  insisted quickly, running a hand through his mussed hair in a gesture exactly like Al's a few minutes prior.  “I just thought we were doing presents later, that’s all.”  He offered me a half-hearted smile as he pulled out a chair for me at one of the tables.

I found myself sitting between James and Freddie.  James’s hand rested casually on my thigh, which he would squeeze every once in a while as he smiled at me affectionately (all right, it was kind of adorable—I’ll give him that).  Amelia and Ruby had joined in, and the lots of us took up well over half the pub.  Apparently we were a bit intimidating for the new waitress, because after awhile, Madam Rosmerta herself came over to inquire after another round.  For an older gal, she definitely still had it going on.  I wondered idly how many push-up bras the woman actually owned.

“All right there, Fred?” she asked, winking rather flirtatiously as he took a sip of his drink.
 
Apparently this caught Freddie off-guard, because he immediately flushed and spit out his mouth full of Butterbeer—all over my lovely sweater.

Madam Rosmerta and half our group guffawed loudly as I looked down at myself, then raised my Death Glare to meet Freddie’s eyes.  “Shit, Hazel!”  He seemed to be stifling a laugh himself.  “I’m so sorry—“

"Ugh.  Be right back."  I rolled my eyes and smacked Freddie over the head lightly as I stood up and made my way toward the loo to clean up.  I had just shut the door behind me when I heard sniffling coming from inside one of the stalls.  “Hello?” I called tentatively, venturing toward the toilets.  “Are you all right in there?”

“Oh,” a small, (thankfully) female voice responded.  “Yes, sorry, please don’t mind me.”  More snuffling noises followed as she blew her nose.

I sighed.  “Darling, no one wants to be crying alone in the loo of a dingy old pub.  At least come out here so  I can try to feel a little less helpless.”
 
The girl let out a watery chuckle.  “I suppose you’re right.”

I mentally rolled my eyes.  Clearly, this chick didn’t know who she was dealing with.  “’Course I am.  Come on, now.  Out you get.”

I heard the click of the latch just before the stall door opened to reveal the slight figure of Gemma Tate.  Her blond curls were disheveled, her eyes rimmed red, and her cheeks streaked with fresh tears, but she offered me a small, shy smile, which I returned.  “Hazel, right?”  I nodded.  “Well, you’re very persuasive, Hazel.”
 
I grinned at her.  “I know.”  I reached into the nearest stall and tugged out a sizable mound of tissue to hand to her.  “Do you want to talk about it?”
 
She shook her head, then stopped and shrugged her shoulders.  “It’s nothing, really.”  I was just…sort of dating this bloke, and I really liked him.  He invited me to Hogsmeade today, then told me he’s been…seeing someone else.”  She sniffled again, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.  “I just wanted to get away from him, so here I am.”

“Blimey, I’m sorry, Gemma.”  I placed a hand on her shoulder in a gesture I hoped was comforting but in reality, knowing me, was likely quite awkward.
 
“’S all right,” she replied, dabbing at her eyes.  “I’ll get over it soon enough.  It just…hurts right now, you know?”

I nodded sympathetically.  “Look, why don’t we get you all cleaned up, and then you can come join my mates and me for a few Butterbeers.  Help get your mind off things.”

“Oh, Hazel, that’s awfully nice of you, but I can’t imagine I’d be very good company right now.  I don’t want to spoil your fun.”

I snorted.  “Okay, well, first of all, it’s my birthday, so technically you’re not allowed to tell me ‘no’ today,” I informed her.  “Secondly, have you met the Wotters?  There’s no possible way you can hang around the lot of them for more than two minutes without laughing your arse off.  It’s a scientific fact.”

Gemma let out a giggle and held her hands up in defeat.  “All right, all right.  I’ll join you, if you insist.”
 
“I do.”
 
She gave me a grateful smile before putting her arms around me.  “Thanks, Hazel.”

“No problem.” 

I gave her a few awkward pats on the back before pulling away (I'm really bad with new people).  It was only then that her eyes drifted down to take in the state of my sweater.  “Um, not to be rude or anything, but what the bloody hell happened to you?”

I groaned.  Thank goodness she’d noticed—I’d nearly forgotten why I’d visited the loo in the first place.  “Fred Weasley happened to me,” I told her.  “Watch out for that one.” 

Gemma laughed, and the two of us turned to the mirror as we began to straighten ourselves out.  “I heard you’re dating James Potter these days,” she commented as she attempted to flatten out some stray curls.

“I’m pretty sure the entire wizarding world has heard that,” I replied dryly, attempting to siphon Butterbeer off my sweater with my wand.

She laughed again, and I couldn’t help but smile at her in the mirror.  Gemma really was a sweetheart, and her high, tinkling laughter was infectious.  “Well, how’s that going for you?” she asked.

I shrugged nonchalantly, thinking of how James truly felt about Gemma.  “It’s all right.  James is great, of course, but it’s nothing too serious—just a bit of fun, you know?”

Gemma was far too nice to comment on my supposed “homewrecking” and all that rubbish, but the two of us continued exchanging small talk while we made ourselves look presentable.  A few moments later, I led her over to our tables.  “OY!” I called over the din.  “If you lot don’t know her, this is Gemma Tate.”  Gemma gave the group a shy little wave as various Wotters and hangers-on greeted her.  “She’ll be joining us, so try not to scare her away too quickly.”  I ignored the range of insults flung back at me as I shoved Gemma down into my chair (I know, I’m a wonderful new friend), next to James, whose eyes lit up immediately.  I stole another chair from two wizards who were too drunk to take any notice, and inserted myself between Dom and Hugo (as far from Freddie "Human Volcano" Weasley as possible), since Lily was too busy making eyes at Scamander #1 to pay me much attention (Scamander #1, by the way, was what I had dubbed the twin wearing a blue sweater, while Scamander #2 was in red—if only I could convince them to color-code themselves in such a manner every day).
 
Hugo slung an arm around my shoulders when I took a seat and waggled his eyebrows at me suggestively.  “Hey girl,” he teased.

I wrinkled my nose and shoved him away.  “Stop being a creep,” I scolded him in a big-sisterly fashion.  I lowered my voice.  “Why aren’t you talking to Millie?”
 
Hugo flushed a bit and shot a quick glance over at Amelia, who was tossing her strawberry-blonde waves over her shoulder as she and Ruby laughed at something Louis had said.  “Come on, Haze,” he mumbled.  “I don’t stand a chance with her.”

“You’re an idiot,” I informed him.  “You will hang out with her at the party tonight, understood?”
 
“You’re going to play the ‘birthday’ card if I say no, aren’t you?”

“You bet your arse, I am.”  I smiled and ruffled his hair affectionately as he turned to join Louis, Amelia, and Ruby in their conversation.  On the other side of Ruby, Roxy was chatting animatedly with Rowan, who looked as though he was in heaven (and, luckily, was completely oblivious to Freddie’s malicious glares in his direction).

I smiled to myself and took a sip of my Butterbeer as I continued surveying the tables.  I noticed Al watching James and Gemma with some interest before I caught James’s eye.  He grinned hugely and I winked at him.  Thank you, he mouthed at me when Gemma’s head was turned.
                                                                                                              
I rolled my eyes back at him.  Invite her to the party, I mouthed back.  Apparently, this thought hadn’t occurred to James, as the expression that overcame his face clearly implied that I was nothing short of a genius (I mean, duh, but still).

Honestly, what would these lunatics do without me?

*             *             *             *             *

Author's Note: Ugh, sorry this chapter was a bit filler-esque—again—but I felt it was necessary to set up for the party in the next one, so please forgive me.  Reviews inspire me, and I would love to know your favourite quotes, characters, moments, etc.  Thank you so much for reading!  <3


Chapter 8: Birthday Cheer(s)
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Author’s Note: For some reason, I felt the need to give the party a soundtrack.  Feel free to ignore that, if you wish—it’s not integral to the story or anything (and obviously, I own none of the songs).

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I raked in the usual birthday haul from the Wotter clan—books, WonderWitch products, and the like.  James waited until the rest had scarpered off to start getting ready for the party before seating himself beside me on one of the common room couches and thrusting a smallish wrapped box into my hands. He wriggled around as I pried back the paper, unable to conceal his excitement.  I laughed at him as I finally removed the lid of the box to reveal a dainty, silver charm bracelet.

I lifted it up to inspect the various charms.  There was a broom, a Quaffle, a set of books, a cat who looked a lot like Kneazle, a banana split, a Dungbomb (I cracked up at that one), and even a tiny hairbrush.  I glanced up at James to find him watching me, eyes twinkling.  "I tried to think of everything I knew you liked," he explained.  "Is it all right?"

"It's lovely," I informed him, slightly taken aback by his thoughtfulness, but giving him a swift peck on the cheek.  "I adore it.  Help me put it on?"  I twirled the bracelet around on my wrist after James did up the clasp.  It was such a sweet gift.  "What's this one for?" I asked, noticing a small sapphire charm.

James shrugged.  "It just reminded me of your eyes."

My heart seriously melted.  Could he get any more bloody adorable?  I quickly wrapped my arms around him.  "Thank you so much, James.  This means a lot to me."

"Anything for you, Haze," he mumbled into my hair as he squeezed me back.

*             *             *             *             *

Given the state of the dormitory when I returned, you'd think a herd of centaurs had just come barreling through.  Clothes were strewn about everywhere, and my dormmates were running about frantically in their bras and knickers with their hair half-curled.

"Haze, your parents' presents came!" Lily informed me as she wrapped a few auburn strands around her heated wand, pointing in the direction of my nightstand.

"Did you open them already?"

Lily snorted in disbelief.  "Of course.  What kind of friend do you think I am?"

I leapt over piles of discarded dresses and makeup and jumped up on my bed, where I found a new set of Chaser's gloves and a beautiful pair of studded earrings made of opal, my birthstone.  To top it off, a miniature Hungarian Horntail was stomping ferociously across my nightstand, stopping every few seconds to breathe a bit of fire into the air.  I smiled and shook my head.  I suppose that was Mum and Dad's idea of getting me the pet dragon I'd always wanted.  Kneazle was unsure what to make of it.

"What are you wearing tonight?"  Roxy interrupted my thoughts.

I shrugged and made my way over to my trunk, tossing a few things here and there (hey, they'd already mucked up the place; I may as well contribute).  “I love this skirt,” I told her, holding up a sequined miniskirt decorated in dazzling patterns of cobalt blue, silver, gold, and bronze, “but I never know what to wear with it.”
 
“I’ve got just the thing,” Lily cut in.  She rummaged in her trunk for a few moments before chucking a tank top in my direction.  It was black, sleek, and strapless, with a built-in bra.  It would clearly go well under the skirt, and be quite comfortable too, but…

I looked at it doubtfully.  “Don’t you think this would be a bit…much?”

Lily stood up and sighed, knowing precisely what I was getting at.  “Hazel, there are only three occasions during which it is perfectly acceptable for you to dress like a total slag, and no one can say a word about it.”  She held up her fingers to tick them off.  “One, your birthday.  Two, your best friend’s birthday,” she gestured to herself (thanks, Lil—I would have been so confused, otherwise), “And three, Hallowe’en.”  She bent down to sift through the knickers in my trunk (the girl really has no boundaries), thrust a pair of my favorite boyshorts into my arms along with the skirt, and began shoving me toward the bathroom, apparently signaling the end of this particular discussion.

The outfit turned out to be slightly more slutty than I would have liked, but I was a tad mollified by the fact that Lily was taking full advantage of her Slaggy Dress Code Rule #2.  Her dress was very fitted, cream-colored on top, and sleeveless with a deep V (paired with her favourite push-up bra, naturally).  At the waist it became a skirt of golden sequins that ended about mid-thigh.

No doubt about it: her brothers were going to flip their shit.

I glanced in the full-length mirror beside my bed.  Ugh, my hair looked simply awful after wearing a hat all day.  I looked over at Amelia and Ruby, who seemed to be putting the finishing touches on their makeup.  Amelia's hair was falling in beautiful curls around her shoulders.  "Millie!" I whined in her direction.  "Will you make my hair as pretty as yours?"

Amelia laughed as she gave her mascara wand a final flick and put the tube away.  "Of course, birthday girl!"

The five of us were able to get ready much more quickly when we helped each other out.  In no time at all I was slipping on my favorite black suede booties, loading up on my new birthday bling, and we were headed out the door.

Many of the Wotters and various older Gryffindors were lazing about the common room before the party.  James and Freddie were situated near the fireplace, a few feet away from each other, trying to throw popcorn into each other’s mouths.  What looked like several bags’ worth of cooked kernels already lay at their feet.  I rolled my eyes and made my way over to them.
 
“Everything all set, then?” I asked.  James and Freddie turned as one to respond to me, but were apparently too taken aback by my ensemble.  Slowly their eyes traveled downward and rested somewhere below my neck.  I cleared my throat pointedly. 

“Huh?” Freddie grunted.

“What was that?” mumbled James, completely missing his own mouth with a piece of popcorn.

“Oi!  Eyes up here, you gits!” came a voice from my left.  James and Freddie’s eyes only shifted marginally to their right, before realizing it was Lily who had suddenly appeared beside me. 
 
“AHHH!” they screamed in unison.
 
“MY EYES!”  Freddie cried, covering his face with his hands and running away.  Being unable to see where he was going, he stumbled over an assortment of furniture during his frantic escape.
 
“LILY LUNA POTTER!”  James thundered once he had somewhat recovered from his initial scarring.  “What in Voldemort’s reach is that?!?”  He pointed a shaking finger toward her outfit.

Lily rolled her eyes, unperturbed by such behavior.  “It’s called a ‘dress,’ dipshit.”

James remained unconvinced, and glanced around the common room wildly until he spotted his brother playing wizard’s chess with Hugo.  “Al!” he yelled.  “AL!  Come quick!”

"LILY!”  Al rushed to James’s side.  “What in the name of Salazar Slytherin's pink Pygmy Puff pyjamas do you think you're wearing?!"

"Go upstairs and change, straight away!" James ordered.

Oh, bollocks.  I left Lily to fend for herself.  James and Al knew what they were in for if they pushed her too far; they had found themselves at the receiving end of Lily's brutal Bat-Bogey Hex more times than I could count.  I approached Freddie, who was sat in an armchair, grimacing and rubbing his shin.  "What, running about like an idiot without being able to see where you're going didn't work out for you?"  I feigned shock.

Freddie shot me a dark look.  "You're lucky it's your birthday and I have to be nice to you."

I sniggered and plopped down next to him.  "I've been meaning to ask you something."

Freddie sighed.  "I knew this day would come."

I stared at him quizzically, almost afraid to ask.  Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me.  "And which day is that?"

He sighed again, as if he was bearing the burdens of the entire world on his shoulders, before resting a hand on my own shoulder.  "Look, James is my cousin and my best mate.  I mean, I can't blame you for being attracted to me—let's face it, who isn't?—but it would just be weird, Hazel—OW!"  He grimaced again, this time rubbing the spot on his arm where I'd slugged him.

"Are you quite finished?" I asked.

"Never."

"Brilliant.  Can we be serious for a moment, please?"

Freddie made a horrified face, but when I Death Glared back at him, he relented.  "Go on."

"You know that photo in the Prophet of James and me snogging?"  Freddie nodded, giving me a "duh" look, so I went on.  "Did you have anything to do with that getting into the papers?"

Freddie frowned at me.  "Of course not.  What would make you think that?"

I sighed.  "It's just that I know James told you his...plan for that kiss beforehand, and it just seemed like the type of thing you'd find hilarious."

Freddie laughed at this.  "Well I'll have to agree with you there; normally I would.  But I actually thought it was a decent thing James was doing, and I didn't want to cock it up for the pair of you."

I narrowed my eyes at him.  "Really?"

Freddie threw his hands up.  "Really!  Do you want a pinky swear?"

"Yes."  We hooked pinkies, each kissed our own thumb, licked our right palms, situated them as if we were going to shake hands, and slapped them together three times before flicking each other in the forehead.  This ritual was Wotter tradition, its sanctity outweighed only by the Unbreakable Vow.

"I guess that settles that, then."  I stood and stretched, satisfied.

Freddie jumped up, grabbed the discarded bag of popcorn from the floor, and offered me his arm.  "Shall we?"

I grinned and took his proferred arm.  "We shall."  The two of us made our way back over to the Potters and sat ourselves back down as closely as possible outside the range of flailing arms and legs.  The popcorn was delicious.



*            *             *             *             *




**{Soundtrack: MIA, “Paper Planes”}**


In the end of course, Lily had gotten her way (yes, her Bat-Bogey Hex is that good), and an hour later, the party was in full swing.  The lights were low, and scores of colourful mini-lanterns were floating about the common room, adding a mysterious glow to the whole place.  All the furniture had been shoved up against the walls, and a makeshift deejay booth had been set up in the corner.  The music was thumping.  DJ L-Weez (as Louis has requested to henceforth be known) was playing an amazing mix of wizard and Muggle hits, and people were dancing up a storm.

The seventh-year boys had taken it upon themselves to create what they claimed Muggles call "Jello shots," except that each type of shot had a different magical effect.  One was blue and made your hair glow in the dark for a few minutes, while an orange one caused steam to shoot out your ears.  Everyone had a blast figuring out what each colour did.

I spent the earlier hours of the night spinning around the makeshift dance floor with my dormmates, Dom, and Ally.  We even managed to get Rose and Molly to loosen up a bit and join us.

At some point Gemma turned up.  She laughed when I threw my arms around her, but returned the hug (I blame my over-friendliness on the red shots).  "Happy birthday, Hazel!"  I quickly grabbed her by the hands and dragged her out to join the rest of the girls.  Gemma and I had a brilliant time attempting to cha-cha about the room, giggling our arses off, with Lily, Dom, and Ally laughing at the pair of us.

James and Freddie, of course, appeared every once in a while to furnish us with fresh libations.  They were hesitant to dance at first; instead, I would periodically spot Freddie getting on hands and knees behind a random victim who happened to be standing, while James would push said victim backwards so they toppled over the kneeling Freddie.  James and Freddie would reward themselves with high-fives before moving on to other such jackassery.

 

**{Soundtrack: Foxy Shazam, “Killin’ It”}**

 
The boys were much easier to coax onto the dance floor after a few Butterbeers.  I glanced around at one point while dancing with James to see Freddie with Ally, Al with Gemma, Roxy with Rowan, Charlie with Dom, Frankie with Ruby, Hugo with Amelia, and Lily with a Scamander (unfortunately, the twins had changed clothing after Hogsmeade, so I was back to square one at identifying them).  I smiled widely at Al, glad he was helping Gemma feel welcome in our little group.  He gave me a small, half-hearted smile in return.

Sometime later, we were all dispersed throughout the common room, drinking, dancing, playing games, talking, or just snogging.  I couldn't find Lily anywhere and assumed she had copped off with the Scamander (or his twin).  I spotted James and approached him as Victim #47 toppled over Freddie and to the floor.  "You know what I just realized?" I asked him.

James slapped Freddie's open palm as he slid his arm around my waist.  "What's that, love?"

"I never got any cake today," I pouted.



"Right.  Well, we'll be needing to rectify that immediately," he told me seriously.  "Think you can get the cloak from Lils?"



I shrugged, deciding not to mention the fact that his sister had disappeared with one of the twins.  "I know where she keeps it, I can just get it myself."

James grinned.  "Perfect."

Once I retrieved the invisibility cloak, James and I pushed our way through the crowd until we reached the portrait hole.

"Ready?" he asked.  I nodded.  James threw the cloak over the pair of us, grabbed my hand, and led me outside.

As we snuck down the corridor toward the kitchens, I heard a scuffling sound, followed by a girl's giggle.  James pulled up short, eyes glinting mischievously.  We were both listening to see where the sound was coming from when the girl whispered, "Come on, we should get back to the party."

Just then, a tapestry a few metres down the corridor was thrust aside to reveal Gemma.  James stiffened beside me as she began to drag out her companion by the hand.

It was Al.

*            *             *             *             *

James and I were silent on the way to the kitchens and back.  My own heart was in my throat, and I squeezed James’s hand tightly every time I glanced up to see his stony expression.

"Hey," I tugged his arm lightly as we arrived back at the portrait hole.  "I'm really sorry."

James shrugged as he stared at his shoes.  "It's not your fault.  I've got no claim on Gemma.  I never even told Al that I liked her."

I chewed my bottom lip, wishing I knew how to comfort him, especially when I was so upset about the situation as well (though I obviously couldn't let James know that).  "You're not allowed to be sad on my birthday, you know."

James lifted his chin and gave me a small smile.  "Is that so?"

I nodded vigorously.  "Yep.  Come on!"


**{Soundtrack: J-Kwon, “Tipsy” (Club Mix)}**

 
I pulled James back into the common room, yanked off the cloak, and deposited him at the drinks table with Freddie while I snuck the cloak back into Lily's trunk.  "Now," I said to Freddie when I returned to the boys, "James needs some cheering up, immediately if not sooner."

Freddie raised an eyebrow at me.  "And what do you suggest?"

I thought for a moment.  In all honesty, I wasn't a big drinker.  That very night was probably the most I'd ever had, and even then I was only marginally tipsy.  But now, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to forget.  I didn't want to let my birthday be ruined, for once.  "Shots!" I finally shouted.

"Shots!" they agreed.

I tried one of everything, even downing a bit of Firewhiskey, which was atrocious (James and Freddie couldn't stop laughing at the faces I making—nothing new there, I suppose).  The three of us were laughing about everything and nothing, and for a while I forgot all about Al.

Lily appeared at some point, Scamander in tow, and dragged us back out to the dance floor.  It was a true testament to how drunk James was that he didn't comment on the Scamander's hands roving his little sister's body.  Perhaps he was a bit distracted by the fact that my back was pressed into his chest, his hands were clinging to my waist, and his own hips were grinding into me as we moved in sync to the fast beat of a Muggle hip-hop song.  I leaned back against James with my eyes closed and hooked an arm behind his neck, reveling in my intoxication.  Things were getting a little fuzzy, but I definitely remember James's hands roaming lower, sitting in just the right place on my hips, as he pulled me even closer.  His body felt so nice against mine.   Being in his strong, Quidditch-toned arms right then made me start to think that just maybe his female fan club was actually on to something... 


**{Soundtrack: Phillip Phillips, “U Got It Bad”}**
 

DJ L-Weez switched to a slow song, and James gently turned me round to face him.  I looked up into his eyes, feeling a bit dizzy, and smiled as he gazed back down at me.  "Hi," he said.

"Hi," I replied.

"Having a good birthday?"

"The best."  I rested my head against his chest, and he laid his down on top of mine.  As we turned slowly, my body feeling a bit sluggish, I saw Al holding Gemma, her head on his shoulder and eyes closed.

Okay, maybe not the best.

Suddenly, I was exhausted, and felt way too drunk to remain upright.  "Can we sit down?" I asked James.  He nodded and led me over to one of the couches that had been pushed to the side of the room to make way for the party.  We sat beside each other, and I draped my legs over his lap as he slid his arm around my shoulders.

"You know, you're probably the best fake girlfriend I've ever had," James commented.

I grinned at him.  "Why is that?"

"It's your bloody birthday and you're the one trying to cheer me up!"

I shrugged.  "Did it work?"

"A little," he replied softly.

"Good."  I leaned up and pressed my lips to his jawline, only a few inches from his mouth.

"Thank you, Hazel."  James planted a kiss on the tip of my nose.  "Happy birthday."
 
*             *             *             *             *

I was woken by strong arms around me, pulling me up off one of the couches.  I managed to take in the dark common room, bodies and furniture strewn about haphazardly, before my head started to spin and I had to close my eyes again.  Voldemort’s saggy left tit, I was still drunk as fuck. 

I snuggled against James’s chest and allowed him to carry me up the stairs (apparently, they don’t turn into a slide when the bloke is being a real knight in shining armour) and into my dormitory before placing me gently on my bed.  I wondered vaguely where Kneazle might be and if Lily had made it back to the dorm as I felt my blankets being wrapped around me.

“Good night, Hazel,” he whispered, bending down to press a kiss to my forehead.

“No, stay with me, James,” I murmured.

I could feel his hesitation, which I vaguely realized was quite odd.  “Actually, it’s Al.”

“Okay,” I replied easily, though I was somewhat nonplussed, “Stay with me, Al.”

He cleared his throat.  “That’s probably not a very good idea, Haze—“

“But it’s my birthdayyyy,” I whined softly.

I heard his low chuckle in response.  “Really?  You’re going to pull that card?”  I cracked an eye open and pouted at him.  He exhaled dramatically, resigned.  “Fine.  Shove over.”  I smiled and complied happily as he slipped off his trainers and slid under the covers, jeans and all.  He rolled over to face me and pushed a few stray locks out of my face.  “Happy?” he asked me softly.
 
“You have no idea,” I murmured back as I felt myself starting to drift away again.
 
The last thing I remembered was Al putting his arm around me and drawing me closer to him, until the length of my body was flush against his, with my head nuzzled into his chest and his face buried in my hair.  Maybe it was part of my dream, but I could have sworn I heard him say, “Actually, I think I do.”


Chapter 9: Aftermath
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I opened my eyes next morning to find myself face-planted in a puddle of my own drool.

Lovely.

How did I even get back to the dormitory last night?  The last thing I remembered...

I bolted upright before immediately grasping my in both hands head and sinking back down into the pillow, teeth gritted against the pain.  I managed a sideways glance toward the opposite side of the bed to find it empty.  Even Kneazle was nowhere to be seen.

I didn't know whether to be insulted or relieved.  Did I actually beg Al to stay the night with me?  Merlin, I am never drinking again.

It was then I realized I was wearing only Lily's strapless tank top and my boyshorts.  I could not immediately recall removing my skirt the previous night, but I imagined it would be quite embarrassing once I did.  I closed my eyes with a sigh.  Well, on the bright side, I was probably the only person who could say they'd shared a bed with all three Potter offspring.  I reckon there must be some kind of award for that or something.

The sudden creak of a floorboard pierced the silence of the dormitory.  I cracked an eye open.  Curious, I reached out a languid hand to flick back the bed hangings and craned my aching head just enough to peer between them.

There she was.  Still dressed in her party attire, pumps in hand and a guilty expression on her mascara-smeared face, clearly trying to sneak past me into her own bed, where she had just as clearly not slept the night before.

Too stunned and generally nonfunctional for words, I simply raised my eyebrows when she caught my gaze.  She sighed, ostensibly at the knowledge that the jig was up, and crossed to the trunk at the foot of her bed.  After some rummaging around, she came to perch beside me on my bed, having replaced the pumps in hand with a vial of liquid.  I perked up immediately at the sight of the familiar "baby shit gold" hue (as Dad would say) of a restoration potion (read: hangover cure).  We sat in silence for a few moments, sharing swigs of the vile stuff and allowing the morning-after haze to subside somewhat.

"What time is it?"  I finally yawned.

"Just past daybreak."  She was uncharacteristically quiet, but I attributed that to the hangover.  It wasn't until she tossed the empty bottle onto her own bed, slid under the covers of mine, and swiveled her big doe eyes toward me that I knew something was wrong.

"Lils?"

"I slept with him," she blurted out, then gasped as if the enormity of the situation had just hit her.  "Godric, I slept with him!"

"You slept with Godric Gryffindor?"  On some level I realized this was a physical impossibility (all the Time-Turners in the Department of Mysteries were smashed by Mr. Potter and Co., duh), but my still-foggy brain was having trouble processing what she was trying to tell me.

Exasperated, Lily buried her face in my pillow.  "Lysander, you twat."

"Ohhh-kayyy," I murmured, still a bit slow on the uptake.  "And by 'slept with him' you mean..."

"I had sex with him, Hazel."  Her voice was still muffled by the pillow, but I heard her plainly enough.

"Oh."  All eloquence, per usual.  We were both silent.  After a moment she turned to face me again.  I appraised her, the familiar and comforting wild red hair, wide brown eyes, and wiry frame of my best friend.  Lily, no longer a virgin?  I wondered idly what that was like.  I mean, physically, she seemed the same...

It took me a few seconds to register that she was looking at me rather expectantly.  "Well," I said slowly, suddenly realizing how many questions I had, "Are you okay?  I mean, was he nice to you and everything?  Did it hurt?  Did you..." I broke off and cleared my throat, hoping not to sound like an anxious parent.  "Did you use protection?"

The corner of her mouth twitched upward at that.  "Yes, Mum, we were very safe."  Lily pursed her lips together, as if in thought.  "And it did hurt a bit at first but he was really sweet.  It's just...weird to think about I guess.  I'm not even really sure how I feel about him, you know?"  She rolled onto her back and sighed as her eyes fluttered shut.  "As cheesy as it sounds, I always pictured my first time being with someone I really love."

I did too.  Instinctively, I reached out and squeezed her arm in what I hoped was a reassuring manner.  She smiled faintly and moved her other hand to cover my own but her eyes remained closed.  "Let's just go back to sleep for awhile, okay Haze?"

"Okay, Lils."  She held my hand a little tighter before we dozed off.
 
*             *             *             *             *

When we finally crawled out of bed and made our way downstairs for dinner, I couldn’t help but notice that the stares and whispers around me had grown more pronounced.  Dozens of pairs of eyes turned to watch Lily and me pass as we crossed the Great Hall toward the Gryffindor table and seated ourselves among various members of the Wotter clan.
 
“Oh, hey, Hazel!” Roxy greeted me uncharacteristically brightly, which only served to increase my suspicions. 

“Er—Hi, Rox,” I replied.  “What’s up?”

“Oh nothing, nothing,” she said. I glanced around and noticed that many of her family members were being particularly careful not to make eye contact with me.

I sighed and folded my arms across my chest.  “Okay, seriously, you lot,” I addressed the table at large.  “What’s going on?”

Naturally it was Dom who relented and, without speaking, thrust a copy of the latest Witch Weekly issue under my nose.  “Page 17,” she said resignedly.



I hurriedly flipped to the page in question.  Though I knew what to expect, my heart still sank as I read Rita Skeeter’s byline and began skimming the article below.


The wizarding world's most notorious homewrecker has struck again.  This time, however, the relationship she's ruined is a brotherly one.

It seems James Potter can't take his eye off new gal-pal Hazel Wood for even a moment.  During a school trip to Hogsmeade yesterday afternoon with his lady love, Ms. Wood was seen canoodling with none other than Albus Potter, the younger brother of James.  The two were caught in a rather compromising position just outside the Three Broomsticks, as captured by our photographer below.


I scanned down the page to see a photo of me throwing my arms around Al's neck and hugging him tightly.  I suppose that explained the odd clicking noises.


Unfortunately for these less-than-discreet lovebirds, James Potter caught the pair in the act.  He then physically attacked his younger brother, resulting in an all-out Muggle-style duel in the middle of the village.


Below was a picture of Al and James wrestling around on the ground.  I knew they had been laughing their arses off at the time, but their faces weren't visible in the photo.


It seems that James Potter has a few tricks up his own sleeve, however.  We can exclusively report that Mr. Potter attended a secret rendezvous with former flame Serena Shacklebolt during the Hogsmeade outing as well.

"He clearly wants Serena back," says one insider.  "He knows that dating Hazel was a mistake.  But Serena's not quite sure if she's ready to trust him again.

"I don't think that means he'll end things with Hazel right away," the insider speculates.  "I mean, she's been spotted leaving James's dormitory early in the morning, and last night she was all over him at a party.  It's pretty obvious why he's still with her."


I couldn't finish the article.  The prickling at the backs of my eyeballs caused my vision to blur, and I threw the paper to the floor.  Clenching and unclenching my fists, I glared at the table in front of me and willed away the tears.

The thing was, I couldn't care less what people like Serena Shacklebolt think of me.  But when it was out there in print for the world to see—a world which happened to include my own parents—it was a lot harder to take.

"Hazel?"  James's voice was filled with concern, which only made it harder to swallow the lump that had arisen in my throat.

I closed my eyes for a moment.  You are not going to cry, I scolded myself.  Not here.  Slowly, I raised my head.  Serena was sat at the Ravenclaw table, unabashedly staring at me while leisurely picking at the plate in front of her.  She thought I was going to break down right then and there, and she wouldn't miss that for the world.

I would not give her that satisfaction.

I glared back at Serena, the meanest Death Glare I could muster.  After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only ten seconds, she shrugged and looked away, as if to say, Oh well, maybe next time.

As the rest of the Great Hall slowly slid into focus, I realized that Serena wasn't the only one paying close attention to the Gryffindor table.  My glance fell on several students studying me and wearing various expressions, from loathing and disgust to curiosity and amusement.

What was I, a dancing bear in the bloody circus?

"Haze."  James's voice was quiet, and I realized that he had retrieved the paper and quickly scanned the article during my silent battle of wills with Her Twattiness.  "Hazel, I'm so sorry.  I never meant—"

"It's fine," I cut him off and stood abruptly.  "I'm just going to...I have to...I need to...Kneazle needs a bath," I finally blurted.

Lily raised an eyebrow at this but said nothing.  She knew I had never once been successful in bathing Kneazle in my life, and that I needed to be alone just then.  I ignored James's confused expression and, as calmly as I could manage, strode toward the entrance to the Great Hall.  My hand was on the door when it suddenly opened to reveal Al.

Of course.

"Oh, Hazel!  Um, hi," he stuttered, apparently unable to look me in the eye.

I couldn't deal with this right now.  "I have to go," I snapped before moving away from him.

Now Al looked confused, and maybe even a little...hurt?  "Oh.  All right then, guess I'll see you later," he said, but I was already gone.

I rushed down the hallway, trying to ignore the snickering and whispers.  At one point, however, a vaguely familiar third-year Ravenclaw muttered something that sounded a lot like "skank" as I fled by her.

"Your mum's a skank!" I called back over my shoulder.  (Not my best work,  I’m well aware.)

I didn’t have any particular destination in mind, but it wasn’t until I had climbed several flights of stairs and stood breathless before a trapdoor that I realized the refuge I sought was in the old Divination classroom, which had been abandoned for several years (old Trelawney wasn’t as adept at climbing ladders as she used to be).  I made my way into the silent, dusty room and curled up by a large window overlooking the grounds.   As I watched the blazing sun sinking beneath the far-off trees of the Forbidden Forest, I thought of Mum’s words in her last letter to me.  You are without a doubt one of the strongest people I know.  Serena could throw everything she had at me; I wasn’t one to be bullied around.

The moon was high in the darkened sky when I finally heard the creak of the door behind me, followed by a quick murmur and rustling of paper as the Marauder's Map was shoved hastily back into a cloak.  I didn't have to turn to know who had come to find me.

Lily hauled herself up onto the window seat, and the pair of us sat in silence for an interminable amount of time.  When I finally met her gaze, the usual mischievous gleam in her eye had returned. I smiled in spite of myself.

"Enough," she said, throwing an arm about my hunched-up shoulders.  "For both of us.  What does Dom always say about moping?"

"One who cries over spilled potion is a basic bitch who has no fun," I recited dutifully.

"Exactly."  Lily grinned and pulled me closer.  "And these two bitches could not be less basic.  So now, I think we require a good night’s rest…because tomorrow, it’s pranking time."

*             *             *             *             *

It was just past curfew when we reached the Fat Lady, who scowled at our tardiness before admitting entrance to the common room.  James, who had been sat in a cushy chair next to the fire looking rather morose, jumped up when he saw Lily and me clambering through the portrait hole.   The prospect of prank-planning the following day had cheered me up a bit, but I still had no desire to rehash the Witch Weekly article contents with anyone just yet.   I made a beeline toward the stairs leading to the girls’ dormitory, but James had strode across the room and grabbed my arm before I could make my way up the stairs. 

“James—“ Lily began in a warning tone.

To my surprise, James was able to silence his sister with one fierce look.  Lily gave me an apologetic glance, shrugged her shoulders, and made her way up to our room, leaving me alone with James’s hand still grasping my wrist.  I sighed in resignation before turning to face him, a fake smile plastered on my face.  “What’s up?”

What’s up?” he repeated incredulously.  “Hazel, that article—“

“Is nothing I shouldn’t have been expecting from Serena,” I finished for him.  “It’s fine, James.”

He shook his head so hard I thought he might make himself dizzy.  “It’s not fine,” he insisted.  “I can’t let this happen to you just because I can’t deal with my own…romantic issues.”

“It’s not just about that anymore,” I assured him.  “She’s made this personal.  You’ve known me my entire life—do you honestly believe I’m just going to stand down and let her treat both of us this way?”

James ran a hand through his already tousled hair, his typical nervous gesture.  “Haze, surely—“

“Just tell me one thing,” I interrupted.  He gave me a wary look before nodding and gesturing me to continue.  “Did you plan that meeting with Serena in Hogsmeade?”

James shook his head just as fervently as before.  “I swear to you I did not.”

I studied his earnest face for a moment and decided he was telling the truth.  “Okay, then.”                      

“Why?” he asked.

I shrugged.  “If I’m going to keep this up, I just want to make sure there’s a better reason than my own stupid pride.”

James looked at me, uncharacteristically serious.  “I don’t want to get back with her, Hazel.”  His brow furrowed.  “Can I ask you something now?” 

“Shoot.”

He hesitated for only a moment before blurting out quickly, “Is there something going on between you and my brother?”

It was my turn to stare at him incredulously.  “What?

James shrugged sheepishly, suddenly very interested in his trainers.  “I just…wanted to make sure that article was all rubbish.”  He glanced back up.  “Rita Skeeter does get it right every once in a while, you know.”

“There is nothing going on between Albus and me,” I told him firmly.  Unfortunately, I added silently.

James looked relieved and flashed me a crooked grin.  “Oh, good!” he said.  “I—er—just didn’t want to be kept out of the loop,” he added hastily.

I thought he was acting like a real weirdo—seriously, even more so than normal—but I realized at that moment how absolutely exhausted I was from all the emotions that had been running so high all day.  “Yes, well, glad we got that sorted,” I yawned.  “See you in the morning?”

“Sure thing,” James said.  He quickly grasped the back of my head and pulled my mouth to his.  “Good night, Hazel,” he whispered before releasing me and loping off the boys’ dormitories.

“Good night, James,” I called after him, but he was already gone.  A renewed flurry of whispers had broken out amongst the few Gryffindors remaining in the common room at this sudden display of affection.  As I shuffled toward the girls’ dormitories, I glanced around and saw Albus, sitting in the chair next to where James had been, fixing me with an impenetrable gaze.  Before I had much time to wonder, the door to the stairwell shut behind me, and I climbed wearily up to my bed.

*             *             *             *             *

Author's Note:  I'm sorry for the short chapter--and the inexcusably long wait--but I'm just getting back into writing and trying to see how it goes.  I'd love your thoughts!


Chapter 10: I've Got Mail
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The torrent of owls surrounding me at breakfast next morning sent all thoughts of pranking straight out of my head.

"What in Voldemort's reach—" I shrieked as a heavy envelope plopped into a nearby pitcher, drenching Roxy and me in pumpkin juice.

Lily dove for a letter that had fallen to the floor beside me—its deliverer had relinquished it immediately upon spying the platter of toast—and ripped it open.  "Hate mail!" she announced gleefully, as the little owl pecked at some crumbs and hooted blissfully.

"You can't be serious," I groaned.

"Ooh, here's a good one!"  Hugo had snatched up another letter and began to read aloud in an exaggerated cockney accent.  "Dear Ms. Wood, You are an abominable girl and should be strung up by the thumbs for your homewrecking ways. I will be writing to Argus Filch about arranging this sort of punishment, as he was a most excellent disciplinarian in my Hogwarts days. Sincerely, Gladys Gudgeon."

"Dear Ms. Wood," Freddie read in a haughty tone, "As if it wasn't bad enough for you to break up James Potter and poor sweet Ms. Shacklebolt, you had to go and mess around little Albus Potter like a common scarlet woman. You should be ashamed of yourself! Signed, Veronica Smethley."

"I reckon this one probably has some bubotuber pus in it," Rose chimed in, shaking an envelope whose contents were sloshing about.  "Mum says she used to get letters full of it when people thought she was dating Uncle Harry and that international Quidditch bloke at the same time."

“VICTOR. KRUM.” Hugo was generally less than tolerant of his sister’s complete indifference to all things Quidditch.  Rose merely shrugged and tossed the pus-filled envelope aside before reaching for another letter.

“Don’t look now, but Her Twattiness really seems to be enjoying the show,” Lily murmured.  “Better pretend this doesn’t bother you.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” I answered—much to my surprise—truthfully.  Why should I worry about what some silly housewitches think of me?  If they honestly had nothing better to do than read Rita Skeeter’s rubbish and write letters to a perfect stranger, then I can’t be arsed to care one way or another.  And the letters were a bit funny, weren’t they?  I grabbed the nearest unopened one.

“Dear Ms. Wood,” I read aloud in the most affected voice I could muster, “Though objectively speaking you may be somewhat good-looking, I have nevertheless  come to the conclusion that you must have bewitched the Potter boys with a powerful love potion—it is the only explanation for their behavior.  Would you mind very much sending me your recipe at your earliest convenience?  My address is enclosed. Much obliged, Romilda Vane.”

By the time we had to be off to our first classes of the day, the Wotters and I were howling with laughter.  As I stood and grabbed my bag, I caught a quick glimpse of Serena storming out of the Great Hall, looking as though she had just smelled something particularly foul.

*             *             *             *             *

After dinner that evening, Lily scarpered off to the dungeons to “get brewing” on our prank (isn’t she clever?). This made me nervous, as Lily’s potion brewing generally indicated some elaborate plot on her part invariably ended up being much more trouble than it was worth.  I assumed, however, that her lightning-fast disappearance also had something to do with Lysander Scamander's new favorite pastime—pacing in front of the Fat Lady looking like the saddest house-elf—and kept my mouth shut.

To avoid the now-constant murmurs above everything else, I headed to the library with my Ancient Runes textbook and a couple rolls of parchment in tow, ready to tackle the two-foot essay Professor Babbling had assigned for next class. I had just settled into my favourite spot near the back when Al materialized beside me.

"Hey," he whispered. "Mind if I join you?"

I gestured to the seat opposite me and he sat, seeming a bit nervous. Though he had joined in the hate mail reading at breakfast that morning, the pair of us hadn’t really talked since the sleepover incident.  I, however, was determined to act as though nothing had changed.  I shot him a broad grin and went back to Ancient Runes, trying to pretend his presence had no effect on me despite my quickening pulse.

Hardly a minute passed before a paper bird fluttered down onto my parchment. The corners of my mouth turned upward as I unfolded the creature and read what Al had written.  Are you sure you're okay?  Those letters didn’t bother you?

I'm fine, I wrote underneath. I glanced up at Al, whose brow was furrowed at a book in his lap. You've seemed a bit grumpy lately though, I scrawled hastily. What's up with you?  I refolded the bird and blew it back over to Al.

When it came back, he had written, I am not grumpy! with a very silly drawing of an old man's cranky face beside it. I stifled a giggle.

We continued passing the note back and forth for awhile. Finally I wrote, Are you in a better mood yet? Because I think I can help.

Al smirked as he scribbled his response.  Oh yeah? How’s that?

I know exactly how to make you laugh.

He considered this for a moment, bemused, before it suddenly hit him.  He looked up in terror just as I directed my wand at him under the table and whispered, "Rictusempra!"

If there is one thing in this world that Albus Potter hates more than oranges, Pygmy Puffs, and bubotuber pus combined, it is being tickled.  Relentlessly, unapologetically tickled.

His realization of my intent, a millisecond before the charm hit him, was enough of a warning that Al was able to clench his mouth shut; instead of laughing out loud, he squirmed about in his chair and made odd whimpering noises.  I, on the other hand, nearly fell out of my chair trying not to laugh—and that was without the Tickling Charm.  After a few moments, I decided he had suffered enough, but ran behind the nearest bookshelf and hid before pointing my wand between two dusty old tomes and whispering, “Finite Incantatem!

Al gasped for air and immediately leapt out of his chair to plow after me.  Stifling more laughter, I ran as quickly as possible to the next aisle, narrowly missing the Dancing Feet Spell aimed between shelves.  I knelt down at the end of the row after that and peeked out behind the shelf.  Al’s foot was just visible from his hiding spot at the opposite end of the row.  “Langlock,” I whispered, but Al darted out of the way just in time.

I took off again, sprinting as quietly as possible until the shelves opened up to reveal a display of dozens of books on invisibility.  As I ducked behind the display, however, I heard Al whisper, “Flipendo!”  I darted back out and threw myself on the floor as the piles of books flew off the display case and noisily knocked into the shelves behind them. 

Al’s eyes met mine.  “SHIT!” we whispered simultaneously.

He grabbed my arm and wrenched me off the ground as Madam Pince’s voice became audible.  “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF ALL THIS RUCKUS?”  The thunk of her cane was too close for comfort as Al started to run down the nearest aisle, dragging me behind him.  We both knew it was a lifetime of detentions if that old biddy caught us.

At the end of the row, we turned a sharp corner, breathing heavily, and Al shoved me unceremoniously into an alcove half-hidden by an abandoned old bookshelf before folding himself in after me.  I let out a yelp as his enormous foot came down on mine. He immediately clapped a hand over my mouth. "Sorry," he mouthed in response to my reproachful glare. For good measure, I stomped on his foot—hard—and slapped my hand over his mouth before he could react.

By the time Madam Pince had hobbled over to the fallen display, some twenty feet away from our hiding spot, Al and I were shaking with silent laughter.  “Teenagers,” we heard her mutter as she took out her wand and went about setting the display to rights.  “When Argus had more say around here…”

I glanced at Al and rolled my eyes.  He crossed his and wiggled his eyebrows around, almost making me lose it.  In response, I licked his hand that was covering my mouth and almost burst out laughing again at Al's wrinkled nose. He swiped the same hand across my entire face, effectively covering me in my own saliva.  I gasped in surprise and released Al in order to wipe my face with both hands, but before I could retaliate, Al, smirking, grabbed both of my wrists and pinned them to the wall behind me. I was suddenly aware that my entire body was pressed up against him. My heart was thumping in my chest like a caged hippogriff, and not for fear of Madam Pince's wrath. Al met my gaze, and slowly his smile faded.

I'm not sure how long we stood like that, breathing like we had both just run a marathon; dimly I was aware of Madam Pince muttering to herself as she stumped back to her desk, but still neither of us moved.  After an eternity, Al swallowed, hard, and tipped his face toward mine.

THUD.

Al released my wrists as if they had scorched him and jerked away as a vaguely familiar giggle floated toward us from a nearby aisle.  Ignoring the sudden stab of disappointment, I poked my head out of our hidey-hole and spied Gemma Tate rounding the corner toward us, followed closely by a book-laden James.  Gemma spotted me immediately, waved cheerily, and bounced over, but stopped short, seemingly bewildered, when Al tumbled out of the alcove behind me.

James pulled up next to Gemma, huffing and puffing under his load of books. "What are you two doing?" he hissed.

"Hiding," Al whispered back.  "Pince was on a rampage."

"Yeah," I piped up quietly.  "Er—someone knocked over a display, made a terrible racket."

"What about you two?" Al countered.

"Oh, I just ran into James in the corridor and it turned out we were both headed to the library for some Divination books," Gemma positively beamed, clearly having decided there was nothing at all odd about this situation.

I narrowed my eyes at James suspiciously.  I had never known him to voluntarily enter the library in his entire existence, and I was absolutely positive that he had not taken a single Divination class since his third year.

"Well, I think we have everything we need," James whispered quickly, craning his neck sideways to catch a glimpse of his watch. "It's just about curfew.”  He turned to Gemma.  “Shall we check these out, then I can walk you back to your dorm?"

"Don't be silly, James!" Gemma gave him a playful slap on the arm. "You go with your girlfriend.  I'm sure your brother wouldn't mind walking me back."  She turned her radiant smile to Al, who returned it with a weak grin of his own as James's face fell.

"Sure," Al said easily. "Hazel and I just have to grab our stuff. We'll meet you up front."



Al and I didn’t speak as we recovered our belongings and shuffled toward the front desk, where Madam Pince was still muttering under her breath as she released her precious books into the hands of Gemma and James.

“Well then,” said James, perfunctorily taking my hand as we stepped back into the corridor, “see you around, Gemma.”
 
She gave me a quick squeeze before she and Al trotted off together.  “’Bye Hazel, James!”

Al and James did some manly nodding-at-each-other thing and we went our separate ways.  I could hear Gemma’s ringing laugh as we moved away from each other, and briefly wondered what she and Al could be talking about.  In all my mortification over the past few days—and there had been a lot—I had completely forgotten about seeing Al and Gemma in the corridor during my birthday party.  Did he like her?  Were they dating?

After a few moments I recalled the Potter still holding my hand in his own, and chanced a glance up at him.  James looked forlorn and lost in thought.  I nudged him with my elbow and he looked down at me.  “Hi,” I said.

He gave me a wan smile in return.  “Hi.”

“So,” I said conversationally, “Divination?”

“Best subject there is, in my humble opinion.”

“Uh-huh,” I replied.  “And you just happened to run into Gemma in the corridor?”

He shot me a look of mock indignation.  “Now just what are you suggesting, Hazel Wood?”

“Oh nothing…just that you may or may not have borrowed a certain Map from your dear, sweet sister.”

“Well, you’re wrong about that,” he said.  “I don’t have any dear, sweet sister.  AHHHH!”

Lily had chosen that moment to sneak up behind James and jump on his back.  “What’s this?” she shrieked over James’s exaggerated wails as she grabbed at his untidy hair.  “No dear, sweet sister?”

“All I meant was—AHHH!” he yelled again as she yanked particularly hard on one of his beloved locks, “I meant I have the dearest, sweetest sister there ever was!”

Lily smiled malevolently.  “That’s what I thought.”  She thrust her hand into James’s cloak pocket and retrieved the “borrowed” Marauder’s Map before sliding off his back and linking her arm through mine.  “What’s up, Haze?” she asked.  “Where you been?”

“Library,” I responded dully.  “Did you finish—“

Lily silenced me with a look, but James immediately cottoned on.  “Finish what?”

Lily tossed her long, auburn hair over her shoulder and continued marching toward the Fat Lady.  “Just some Astronomy homework.”

James smirked.  “You forget I had the Map, my dearest, sweetest, sister—I know you were brewing something down in the dungeons,” he told her.

Lily scowled as we reached the portrait hole.  She released me and clambered through before her brother could ask any more questions. 

Unfortunately, that only left him…me.  “Hazel?  What’s going on?”

I gave a huge fake yawn and looked pointedly at James’s watch.  “Oh, Merlin, look at the time!  No wonder I’m so exhausted.  Sweet dreams, Jamesie!”  I crushed my lips against his before he could reply and scampered off to bed.

*             *             *             *             *

Author’s Note:  I know, two short chapters in a row, but I had them combined at first and it seemed too long to me.  I promise the next one will be back to normal. :)  Thanks for bearing with Hazel and me, everyone!


Chapter 11: Victorious
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Author’s Note: This one goes out to newgenerationlover, in the hope that she will forgive me for constantly toying with her emotions. 

*             *             *             *             *


 
It was easy to put thoughts of Al and Gemma from my mind over the next few weeks, especially because I was scrupulously avoiding talking to Al at all costs. I was convinced the almost-kiss that night in the library had been nothing more than a figment of my hyperactive imagination, and felt a little embarrassed. Plus, our match with Ravenclaw was fast approaching, and James was even more of a raving lunatic than usual. If he wasn't screaming his head off at us during practices, he could be found hunched over scattered bits of parchment in the Gryffindor common room, muttering to himself about various plays.

"I reckon a bit of snogging might do him some good," Freddie commented as he, Lily, Dominique, and I were sat by the fire watching this pathetic display the week before the game. It was late, and the common room was empty but for the five of us. "But in the meantime, good show." As to be expected, Freddie was halfway through an extra-large bowl of popcorn.

"Cobbing!" We all jumped as James suddenly threw his hands in the air then started scribbling furiously, as if this particular Quidditch foul were the key to unlocking all the secrets of the universe.

Lily sighed and made to scoop some popcorn out of Freddie's bowl, but he quickly swiped it out from beneath her reaching hand. "As much as I hate to say this, Hazel," she commented, shooting Freddie a withering glare, "I think it's seduction time."

"Um, what?" I yelped. "I don't—"

"Oh, relax," said Dom, who had clearly already determined this to be a fantastic idea and was deftly undoing the first few buttons of my Oxford. "Just entice him up to bed. He needs to rest before one of you lot snaps and strangles him. I don't want to be the one to explain that to Aunt Ginny, do you?" She yanked me to my feet and rolled up my skirt twice, still ignoring my protests. "Now," she continued, fussing with my hair a bit before attacking my face with some lip gloss and a large powder puff she'd just pulled out of her pocket (seriously?), "flounce on over there and sit in his lap and distract him a bit. Once you've got his—er—attention, I'm sure he'll go quietly." She gave me a shove toward James and I went, glaring back at Dom reproachfully.

"James? Darling?" I began tentatively as I approached him.

James swiveled his red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes to meet mine. His hair was even more disheveled than usual from shoving his hands through it repeatedly. "Porskoff Ploy," he spluttered urgently.

Okay, this was serious. I cleared my throat and stepped forward, placing a placating hand on his shoulder, but he had already turned back to his work. I looked at the others desperately. Freddie was still chomping on his popcorn, grin as wide as ever, Lily was biting her fist to keep from laughing, and Dominique was gesturing wildly, trying to give me instruction.

I took a deep breath. Time to bring out the big guns. In one swift move, I shoved James's chair away from the table and swung my leg over him, sitting on his lap while facing him. For a moment, he was too surprised to do much but some more spluttering as his eyes flickered down to my half-exposed chest and back to my face. I took advantage of his momentary confusion to grab his head in both my hands and crush my lips against his. He tried to protest, but I nipped his bottom lip and slid my tongue into his mouth, and he was miraculously silent. After a moment, he sighed against me, the tension in his shoulders relaxed a bit, and he slid his arms around my waist as he returned the kiss. Victory.

I pulled away and leant my forehead against his. "Let's go to bed, okay?" I whispered. James stared at me a moment, a bit dazed, and I held my breath. Finally he nodded, and there was a whoop from the nearby couch (along with some fake gagging, courtesy of my bestest friend in the whole wide world).

James's other roommates were already snoring as I led him across the dorm and sat him down gently on his bed. His eyes never left my face as I undid his shirt with trembling fingers. (I mean, really? The first time I undress a boy it has to be 1) James fucking Potter, 2) in a completely nonsexual situation, and 3) as directed by his family members? What is my life?) I pulled the shirt off his broad shoulders, trying to ignore his gorgeous chest and perfectly sculpted abdomen. I glanced down at the pants he was still wearing and quickly decided there was no way in hell I was ready to brave those sons of bitches. As I softly pushed him back onto his pillow, he swung his legs up onto the bed obligingly, still staring at me almost incredulously. I leant down and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Good night, Captain," I whispered.

As if those words broke his quasi-trance, James finally hitched up the corner of his mouth in an adorable smile. I could tell he really was exhausted and made to close the bed hangings, but James's hand suddenly shot out and grabbed my wrist. "Stay with me, Haze," he murmured.

I jolted inwardly at the echo of those words I had whispered to Al on my birthday, thinking he was his brother, but I nodded at James and crawled into the bed fully dressed.  I drew the curtains around us before curling up beside him, not quite touching. To my surprise, he put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me toward him, until my head was leaning on his chest. I tensed, unnerved by this closeness. As he traced tiny circles on my arm, though, I began to relax. I trusted James, I realized, much to my surprise.

So I snuggled into his warm, bare chest and allowed myself to be lulled to sleep by the steady beat of his heart. 

*             *             *             *             *

Captain-terventions were required on my part three more times that week, but thankfully without such drastic measures; there was no straddling and only one additional night of cuddling.

My nerves didn't get the better of me until the night before the match, when I lay tossing and turning in my own dormitory. Finally, around midnight, I crept out of bed, grabbed the Invisibility Cloak from Lily's trunk, and tiptoed out of the room.

Instead of the empty common room I'd been expecting, however, I found Al and Frankie embroiled in a game of wizard's chess in the corner. Frankie spotted me and waved me over before I had the chance to throw the Cloak over my head and hide.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Frankie asked, still concentrating on the chessboard. 



"Nah,” I replied.  “I was thinking about heading up to the Astronomy Tower for a bit of star-gazing.  Helps relax me sometimes, you know?”

“Well,” Al stood and stretched languidly as Frankie’s queen beat the shit out of Al’s knight. “I’m not quite ready to turn in yet.  Fancy some company?”

Sure!” I tried to sound enthusiastic as my heartbeat quickened. 

Frankie let out a huge, gaping yawn and stood as well.  “I’m off to bed, mates.  Don’t stay up too late—James is liable to have a coronary as it is.” 

He bid us farewell and Al turned to me.  “Ready?”


We were quiet on the way to the Astronomy Tower, out of necessity if nothing else.  Still, as we crept down the corridors under the Cloak, Al brushed against me with every step, and I was sure he could feel the goosebumps racing up my arm.

When we finally made it to the top of the castle, Al threw the Cloak off and I collapsed onto the enormous pile of pillows covering the balcony of the Astronomy Tower, tilting my chin up toward the sky. I sighed deeply as Al lay down beside me. “It’s beautiful tonight, isn’t it?” I asked him.  It truly was; the stars were as bright as ever and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.


“Yeah, it is,” Al agreed.  “Look how bright Venus is!” For a while, we just pointed out various planets and constellations, laughing at our impromptu Astronomy class and general nerdiness.

“So,” Al said after a bit as he rolled on his side to face me, “what do you think our chances are tomorrow?”

I smirked.  “Do you really want to talk about Quidditch right now?”

Al hesitated for a beat.  “No,” he admitted quietly. As I turned to look at him, a wisp of hair fell over my eye.  Before I could do anything about it, though, Al reached out, seemingly almost unconsciously, and tucked the tendril behind my ear.  He was so close, I could feel his warm breath on my cheeks, see the spark of his emerald eyes despite the darkness.  Those same beautiful eyes flitted briefly to my lips—

"Al?" I blurted out before my brain could stop me.

He drew back, looking a bit surprised. "Yeah?"

"Do you...I mean...," I swallowed and tried again. "Are you and Gemma..."

Al sighed and rolled onto his back, folding his hands behind his head. "Gemma isn't over her last boyfriend. I don’t think she’ll be dating anyone for a while."

"Oh." Despite the flood of relief, I couldn't help feeling that same stab of disappointment, like something had been on the verge of happening between Al and me and quickly been ruined.


We laid side-by-side in silence a few moments, before Al finally spoke.  “We should probably get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”

I agreed, and we crept back to the common room in silence. Al smiled as he whipped off the Cloak again outside the dormitories and handed it to me. “G’night, Haze.”

“Night, Al.” I watched in confusion as he slipped through the doorway and out of sight.

*             *             *             *             *

We were getting our asses whooped. Serena Shacklebolt, in spite of being a complete twat, was a damn good Keeper, and I was playing like shit.

The constant taunting wasn't helping matters, either.

"Not such hot shit now, are you, Wood?" Serena called as she blocked yet another shot.

Within seconds, Amelia Jordan’s voice echoed over the pitch.  “AND SCAMANDER SCORES! 270 TO 110, RAVENCLAW!”

"Too busy whoring around to practice, I suppose."

Fuck this bitch. Lily and I locked eyes.  She was obviously thinking the same thing, because nodded to me then swept off to the side of the pitch, veering around to approach the goalposts from the back.

“IT LOOKS LIKE THE OTHER SCAMANDER HAS SEEN THE SNITCH! BUT JAMES POTTER IS IN HOT PURSUIT!”

My heartbeat quickened. If we played it right, we might actually be able to pull this off, after all.  I spun around quickly and caught Frankie’s eye. He had already seen what Lily was doing and figured out our plan. In seconds, he had intercepted the Quaffle that Lorcan Scamander was passing to Leanne Davies and thrown it to me above the fray.

I caught it and turned back toward the Ravenclaw goal. Teeth gritted, I zigzagged through the players as fast as I dared. Everything was a blur; I only had eyes for Her Twattiness.


“Aw, the little skank has come to play!” Serena cried maliciously as I swerved to a stop in front of her.

“No, you evil twat,” I yelled as I threw the Quaffle toward the hoop farthest away from Serena. “I came to win.” 

Serena’s outstretched hand just missed the Quaffle as it sailed through the goalpost.

"WOOD SCORES! 270 TO 120, RAVENCLAW!"

(Quick side note: Can someone just kill me now? Because I have never said/done anything that badass before in my entire life and can only assume that I’ve just peaked at sixteen.)

"SCAMANDER’S CLOSING IN ON THE SNITCH!”

Serena smirked.  “Nice try, loser. You’re still not going to win.”

But before she could even register what was happening, Lily, who had caught the Quaffle on the other side of the hoop and was soaring toward me at breakneck speed, passed me the ball and I shot it through the same goal it had gone through seconds before.


Serena hadn’t even realized we scored when Amelia shrieked, “BUT POTTER GETS THERE FIRST JUST AS WOOD SCORES A SECOND TIME! POTTER’S GOT THE SNITCH! POTTER’S GOT THE SNITCH! GRYFFINDOR WINS, 280 TO 270!!”

"SUCK ON THAT, SHACKLEBOLT!" Lily shrieked as she swooped in front of Serena's face, cackling with glee. I flew at my BFFL and we chest-bumped mid-air before soaring to meet our teammates on the ground.

James was whooping as he dashed toward me; before I knew it he had lifted me above his head and was twirling around.  I laughed as my feet slid back to the ground.  "You were brilliant!" he crowed, then surprised me by leaning down and planting a none-too-gentle kiss on my lips.

A giddy sort of giggle escaped me before I could squash it.  "What was that for?"

James ran his hands through his hair, giving me a sheepish grin.  "Sorry, got caught up in the moment I suppose."  I couldn't tell whether the flush in his cheeks was due to excitement or something else entirely.  "Besides," he added in a lowered voice, "Dom reckons we need to step up the PDA a bit so no one thinks things have cooled off between us."

“Is that so?” I smirked up at him. 

“Yep,” he replied. Then we swept off the field, arm in arm with our teammates.
 
*             *             *             *             *

When we got to the common room, I immediately slumped down on one of the couches that Louis had already pushed against the wall. I was exhausted from the previous night’s lack of sleep, but adrenaline was still coursing through my veins from the win. Less than five minutes later, I felt someone sit on the couch beside me, and instinctively knew it was James.

"So," he said, passing me a Butterbeer and taking a swig of his own, "how 'bout that PDA?"

I shook my head at him, but felt the corners of my mouth turning upward just the same. "You're impetuous."

"True, true," James said seriously. "But to be fair, I'm also really ridiculously good-looking."

"You know," I commented as I sipped my Butterbeer, "it's probably your unwavering humility that I find most attractive."

"Aha! So you do find me attractive!"

"Let's not get carried away," I interposed quickly, but he was already grinning as he took the Butterbeer from my hand and set it on a nearby table with his own.

"But getting carried away," he argued, pulling one of my legs across his knees and tugging me into his lap as he bent his head to whisper in my ear, "is exactly what I want to do." Despite the shiver his warm breath sent across my bare skin, I rolled my eyes. James pulled back to give me a mischievous wink before lowering his lips back to my ear and leaving a trail of kisses along my jawline. By the time he reached my mouth, my arms were wrapped around his neck and I had lowered all resistance.

I pressed my lips against his, hard, and within seconds the kiss deepened. It was intense, like nothing I had ever experienced before. I didn't even think to stop him as his calloused hands slid into my robes, one skimming under the hem up my bare thigh and the other running slowly up and down my body before gripping my waist. In fact, I didn't think about anything except for JamesJamesJames…until I heard the slow clap.

James and I broke apart, panting, and our eyes met for a brief second in which I could tell he was just as dazed as I felt. What the hell was that? Just as quickly, I turned around and saw Dominique applauding.  Al, standing alongside her, was apparently in the midst of some sort of coughing fit.  And Freddie, natch, was shoving popcorn into his gaping mouth.
 
“Oi, Dom! I was watching the show!” he cried.

"How do you just always have popcorn at the most opportune times?" I demanded as I scrambled off James's lap. My skin still felt scorched by James's touch.


Just then—"Hazel!"

I turned to see Gemma approaching me with her signature grin. "Hey, G," I replied weakly.

She embraced me and squeezed tightly. "You were so good out there today!" Gemma greeted everyone else and perched herself on a nearby armchair. "My friend Wren dragged me up here. She wanted to come—er—congratulate Charlie." She gestured embarrassedly to the far side of the common room, where Charlie Thomas was entwined around a slight girl with caramel-coloured hair.

"Listen, I'm just going to run upstairs and take a"—very, very cold—"shower," I said. "I'll be back in a bit." My eyes flitted briefly to James, who was gazing at me inscrutably, before I took off for the dormitory.

As the freezing water poured over me, I thought about what had just happened with James in the common room. I mean, there was no denying he was a beautiful specimen of the male gender, but I couldn't understand why I'd suddenly let him get me so worked up. Especially considering what might have almost happened with Al last night.

In the end, I chalked our hormonal aggression up to the post-game adrenaline and decided to put it from my mind. I dressed quickly in leggings and an oversized jumper and made my way over to my bed, where Lily was stretched out and scratching Kneazle's ears. Kneazle was purring contentedly due at such unwarranted affection.

"You can't avoid him forever, Lils." I had glimpsed Lysander downstairs in spite of Ravenclaw's loss and was sure this was the reason behind Lily's sudden interest in snuggling Kneazle.

"Watch me," she replied unconcernedly.

I sighed. "You're not coming downstairs at all?"

"Oh I am," she assured me. "With the Cloak. I have to go to the dungeons to check on our...little project."

I crossed my arms and leant against a bedpost. "Any chance I get to find out what that project is any time soon?"

She considered this a moment. "Well, no time like the present, I suppose." She hopped off the bed, much to Kneazle's chagrin, and started rustling in her trunk. "Besides, it's almost ready."

Lily threw the Cloak over us and, for the second time in 24 hours, I snuck out of the Gryffindor common room with a Potter.  As we made our way out the portrait hole, I spared a quick look around and saw Gemma chatting animatedly with Al where I had left them. James was nowhere in sight.

We crept to the dungeons, and Lily directed me into a small room branching off of our usual Potions classroom.  She closed the door and pulled off the Cloak before prancing excitedly to a cupboard in the corner.  I followed warily.  My eyes widened as she opened the cabinet.

"Lils," I said slowly, "is that what I think it is?"

"Depends," she responded slyly. "What do you think it is?"

The smell, the colour, the consistency—it could only be...

I closed my eyes in disbelief. "Polyjuice Potion."

Lily clapped her hands together and cackled evilly. "That's right, Haze. Shit's about to get real."


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