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Complicated by mymischiefmanaged

Format: Novel
Chapters: 32
Word Count: 125,311
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Romance, Angst
Characters: Harry, Oliver, Pansy, Albus, James (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, Rose/Scorpius

First Published: 07/09/2014
Last Chapter: 08/07/2016
Last Updated: 08/01/2017

Summary:
The Dobby Awards: Winner - Best Dialogue | The Golden Paw Awards: Winner - Best Dialogue | Gryffindor Story of the Month
Banner and Chapter Images by Roisin



"and I think it was the shock of his kindness that finally made me lose control"

A story of complicated friendships, dysfunctional families, incompetent aurors and a surprise ally in Albus Severus Potter.


Chapter 1: Welcome to the Madhouse
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A/N: If you’re new, welcome! Hope you enjoy reading. If you’re rereading, I’ve been editing so you might notice some small changes. Currently undergoing edits so at the moment there are some inconsistencies with the names of some of the background characters and similar, but shouldn’t be anything that gets in the way of understanding the story! Hope you enjoy it!


Chapter One: Welcome to the Madhouse


I hate Christmas. It’s supposed to be this sentimental, special, most wonderful time of the year: parties for hosting, marshmallows for roasting and all that jazz. People talk about family and festive spirit and good cheer and all sorts of nauseating things that, when it comes down to it, are pretty meaningless.

For me, Christmas means squeezing into whatever size-too-small formal dress my mother’s bought for me this year, buying expensive gifts for relatives I strongly dislike, and spending a whole day in the madhouse with people that mean nothing to me.

It’s always the same. Every single year. Mum ends up crying some time between arriving and having christmas lunch; Dad drinks too much and pretends it’s not his fault she’s crying until he can’t pretend any longer and just vanishes; Aunt Katie tries to act like nothing’s wrong and attempts to make us all sing carols; Uncle Oliver shouts, usually at Mum but sometimes at Dad; the moron sits still and looks generally moronic; and I end up escaping to Scor’s house and spending the evening drinking with him and Cassie. When we were younger, we sat on Scor’s roof with mugs of hot chocolate. Now, we’ve moved on to Firewhiskey.

“Olivia, sweetheart, are you nearly ready? We need to leave!” Mum called up from the bottom of the stairs. My mother’s voice manages to waver even when she’s shouting.

I ignored her and stood up, scowling into the mirror. Mum installed a full wall of mirror in my bedroom when I came home after my first term at Hogwarts. She was excited about me meeting that nice boy Scorpius Malfoy and decided the thing to do was to give me a constant reminder of my flaws so I knew which areas to work on to win his heart.

Scor thinks it’s funny. He’s been one of my best friends since Mum ushered me into his carriage on the Hogwarts Express on our first day of school, but neither of us have ever wanted anything more. And him and Cassie are sickeningly in love. Mum has so far managed to completely ignore this relationship and blithely continues to insist that we’d be perfect for each other.

I pulled this year’s dress off its hanger. I hadn’t looked at it properly when Mum gave it to me and I glared at it now, wrinkling my nose. It was green velvet with a silver collar: Slytherin colours. It probably wouldn’t be very popular in the madhouse.

The beaded collar scratched my neck as I tugged it on over my head. As expected, the dress was much too tight, but I managed to squeeze into it and it looked passable, cinching me in at the waist and then flaring out over my thighs. If I’d made it myself I would have cut the sleeves off at the elbow instead of the wrist, but at least it would keep me warm.

I half-heartedly brushed my hair until it was fluffy around my face, stabbed myself in the eye a few times with my mascara and then ran down the stairs. Mum raised her eyebrows at me as I pulled on a leather jacket and boots and I stuck my tongue out at her, feeling a cruel satisfaction when she winced.

“Are you finally ready? Great. Let’s move,” said Dad.

He looked tired and his christmas tie was wonky. The santa-hat-wearing hippogriffs flying over it were glaring up at him, struggling to fly straight on the lopsided fabric. I have suspicions that Dad hates christmas just as much as I do. It’s the only day he’s actually forced to spend time with us and can’t disappear off. Katie would kill him if he didn’t turn up.

“I was born ready,” I said. Dad sighed. I rolled my eyes.

I pushed past him and stepped into the fireplace, taking a handful of Floo powder out of the silver box on the mantelpiece. Our fireplace is freakishly clean and my scuffed boots looked out of place in the gleaming grate. Mum refuses to use it for real fires because she thinks the soot might ruin her clothes when she uses the Floo, and the maid has to clean it every time we travel. We have the only fireplace I know that you could probably eat out of.

I dropped the powder and it burst into flame around me. The green fire blurred into my dress, making the velvet flicker and shine. It was an interesting effect. I would have liked to look at it for longer, and maybe try painting it later on, but the unimpressed expressions across my parents’ faces suggested it would be wise to hurry up.

“14 Puddlemere Close,” I said, pulling a face to demonstrate my displeasure about the plans for the day.

I don’t like travelling by Floo. It makes me feel sick and I’m rubbish at climbing out the fireplace at the other end without falling over. Unfortunately, I don’t have my apparition license yet and Mum won’t let me fly on days I’m supposed to look presentable, because it apparently messes up my hair.

I clenched my eyes shut as I span in the flames, trying to ignore the nausea rising through my stomach, and then promptly fell out of the fireplace and onto the floor when the spinning stopped and the fireplace deposited me in Aunt Katie’s kitchen.

“Olivia! I was just saying you should all be arriving soon,” Katie said, standing up to greet me.

I scowled up at her from where I lay on the floor. She offered me a hand. I reluctantly let her help me up and found myself forced into an unwelcome hug. She squeezed me tightly while I stood, arms pinned to my side, waiting for her to let go.

“It’s so good to see you,” she beamed, finally releasing me. “Jason’s in the sitting room. He’ll be looking forward to saying hello.”

I didn’t want to go and see Jason, but the flames behind me had lit up again, signalling an imminent arrival. I decided I’d rather talk to the moron than spend any longer with either of my parents, so I took the chance to escape.

I found the moron lounging across the whole sofa in the sitting room, reading Quidditch Weekly and taking notes in the threadbare sketchbook he’s been carrying around ever since he made the Gryffindor team in his third year.

“Hey, Moron,” I said, jumping onto his legs without bothering to ask him to move.

“Hey, Bitch,” he said, not looking up from his magazine but moving his legs from under me so they didn’t get squashed.

Jason’s the year above me at school and I think Aunt Katie still holds out hope that we’ll become great friends. It’s not going to happen. We don’t acknowledge each other unless we have to and I think the vast majority of the school doesn’t even realise we’re related.

“Reading that rubbish won’t make you a better player, you know,” I sang, plucking the magazine from his hands and flicking through it.

“I don’t need to be a better player,” Jason said, flushing red. “I’m reading it to help me be a better Captain.”

I laughed, loudly and deliberately.

Oh? You made Captain?” I let my voice drip with sarcasm. “You should have said. I had no idea.”

“Of course,” he said coolly.

He leaned forwards and tried to grab the magazine from me. I lounged back, lifting it out of his reach and fanning myself with it.

“Scor’s captain too,” I told him. “He’ll be so pleased you got it...it’ll make Gryffindor much less of a threat.”

“Whatever.”

We’d had this conversation multiple times since the summer. I took every opportunity to wind Jason up about Quidditch. It wasn’t exactly difficult, especially after he’d lost his first match against Ravenclaw just before the holidays.

“Personally, I would have thought Potter was the obvious choice. I know he’s your best friend so it’s a little awkward, but you should really hand over the badge. James wants to play professionally as well, doesn’t he? And he’s a much stronger player.”

“Shut up.”

“Good leadership skills too. He’s got that natural authority that can only come from being the son of the Chosen One. It would have made much more sense to choose him, really. Everyone’s been saying it.”

“Seriously, shut up.”

“Ooo, or his younger brother could have been a good choice? I know it’s unusual to appoint a sixth year when you have two seventh-year-aspiring-pros on the team, but he plays very well and he’s much more likeable than you. Yes, I think Albus Potter would have been a rather more popular choice for captain.”

Shut up, Bell.”

“Aw, Wood, did I touch a nerve?”

He snatched back the magazine from me and turned away, furrowing his brow and making an unconvincing, transparent attempt to look like he was concentrating. I sat in silence for a while, weighing up the pros and cons of stealing his sketchbook. He’d potentially hurt me for it, but it would get a funny reaction from him and Scor would be interested in seeing his notes. Katie called us for lunch before I made a decision.

“Try not to eat too much, Wood,” I said cheerfully. “Your broom won’t be able to get your fat arse off the ground much longer.”

He sighed and looked critically at me. “Look, Bell, I get it. It must be exhausting hating yourself so much. But taking it out on me isn’t going to change anything and it isn’t going to make you feel better.”

He pointedly stepped in front of me to leave the room. I stuck my tongue out at his retreating back but it didn’t really make me feel better. He’s not supposed to get the last word in when we argue.

And I don’t hate myself.

I deliberately stepped on the back of his foot as I followed him through to the Dining Room.

However much I hate going to the madhouse, I can’t deny that it’s beautiful. Uncle Oliver’s the Manager and ex-Keeper of Puddlemere United Quidditch Team and Aunt Katie’s the general editor of Quidditch Weekly, making them some of the wealthiest people we know (which is really saying something, given the stuffy pureblood socialite circles my mother was brought up in and still invites round regularly for champagne tea).

The Dining Room is huge and airy, with large glass doors leading out onto the Quidditch Pitch behind the house. Katie always makes sure they have several massive christmas trees, coated with snow and lit with real fairies, and holly adorns the walls. This year, the tree nearest me was decked in tiny bells that tinkled and sang as I walked past.

In comparison to the artificial tree and black holly wreath my mother gets out each year for christmas, Katie manages to make the madhouse look pretty appealing.

“There you are. I hope you’re hungry,” Katie said, smiling and gesturing to the seat beside Jason.

Jason mimed vomiting as I sat down. Everyone else either didn’t notice or didn’t want to cause any conflict by mentioning it.

“Olivia actually won’t want much to eat. She had a large breakfast. So did I,” Mum said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

I opened my mouth to correct her. Having woken up five minutes before we left the house I hadn’t eaten yet and was starving, but Mum silenced me with a look. I’ve learnt not to argue with her about food. It only ends in tears. Usually hers.

“Oh, okay,” Katie said, looking disappointed and passing me a much emptier plate than the one she’d offered Jason. “Well, do let me know if you’d like seconds.”

Jason didn’t look at me but he picked up one of his yorkshire puddings and dropped it onto my plate when my mother was looking in the other direction.

We ate in tense silence, everyone unwilling to break it because silence is infinitely better than the shouting that was sure to follow anyone’s voice.

Eventually Dad coughed. “So, Oliver...How’s work?”

Oliver looked relieved. As conversation topics go, this was a pretty safe one.

“Same as usual. It’s looking like it’ll be a big year for the club, but we’re facing some changes. Charon’s getting married and thinking of starting a family so he’s not planning on playing full-time when the season finishes. It means a starting spot will open up, maybe for a Hogwarts grad. It’s exciting stuff.”

He spoke for a long time. Contrary to his beliefs, it wasn’t exciting stuff. Nobody was really listening except Jason, who was hanging onto his father’s every word even though I’m sure he’d heard it all before. His Quidditch obsession borders on unhealthy. I took advantage of his intense concentration to steal three of his roast potatoes.

“Jason’s actually Quidditch Captain for Gryffindor this year,” Oliver said, looking proudly at his son.

“I remember hearing that at the beginning of the year. Congratulations,” Dad said, still clinging to the normalcy of the conversation.

“Thanks,” said Jason, puffing out his chest. “It’s a real honour, of course, especially given that it’s the very position Dad held when he was at Hogwarts. And Gryffindor looks like a strong team this year. We’ve got James Potter and Siobhan Moran as Chasers, so they obviously come from big Quidditch families, and a spot for someone else but I’ve got my eye on Aidan Coote. And Quinn and Lavinia have been working brilliantly together as Beaters. Plus we’ve got Albus Potter, who’s pretty much the best Seeker Hogwarts has ever seen.”

I coughed pointedly. Jason ignored me.

“He’s genuinely spectacular. I never saw Harry Potter play, obviously, but Dad says Al’s even better.”

“Yes, yes, Potter’s very good. It’s a shame he can’t keep up with Scorpius, really,” I said delicately, as if the point was obvious and a little embarrassing.

“Don’t be stupid. Al’s much more talented.”

“Last term’s matches beg to differ,” I said with a tiny shrug. “Scor caught the snitch within ten minutes of our Match against Hufflepuff. If Al had managed the same in yours against Ravenclaw you might be beating us in the league table. As it is…” I let my voice trail away.

“Scorpius Malfoy?” Oliver tensed. “I remember his Dad. He played Seeker for Slytherin when I was at Hogwarts. Bought his way onto the team.”

“That’s not true,” Mum said, eyes widening. “He was a wonderful player.”

“Nah. Pansy, I know you two were friends, but you have to admit he wouldn’t have made the team if he hadn’t bought them all the latest Nimbus,” Oliver said, shaking his head. “Little git that he was.”

“Draco Malfoy is, and always has been, a good man,” Mum said, her voice rising in pitch and shrillness.

“Debatable,” Katie murmured, reaching out to put a hand on her husband’s wrist.

“Well, that’s just not true,” Oliver said.

“It is. He’s a wonderful man.” Mum actually had tears in her eyes which I think was a bit of an overkill.

“How dare you say that in front of Katie? Do you not remember what he did to her?” Oliver looked furious.

“He did what he had to do. He was just a child.”

“So was Katie and she spent six months in St Mungo’s and lost her chances at a career in Quidditch because of that necklace. I don’t know what decisions Malfoy’s made since then, but don’t you dare say he’s always been a good man. Not in this house.”

Silence again. It’s pretty much the default at our family dinners.

I took a carrot from Jason’s plate and chewed it slowly, watching our parents deal with the new stress they’d brought to the table.

“Even if he was a better Seeker, your Chasers wouldn’t be able to compete with ours,” Jason said in a transparent attempt to ease the tension.

He looked at me, eyes wide, pleading with me to respond. I took another one of his carrots and considered my options. Katie had turned white and was gripping Oliver’s wrist uncomfortably tightly. Mum looked like she might cry. Next to her, Dad was studiously eating his lunch as if nothing had happened.

“Rude,” I said, prodding Jason with my fork. “Oz and Kai are telepathic geniuses, and I’m flawless.”

“Whatever. Your aim’s all off,” he grinned.

We slipped back into easy insults, letting the horrible atmosphere dissipate. I suppose he’s not always a moron.

When our plates were empty and Katie had tried and failed to get us to join in with a spontaneous rendition of ‘God rest ye Merry Hippogriffs’, we moved back into the Sitting Room to open presents.

The christmas tree in the Sitting Room was even bigger than the one in the Dining Room and towers of beautifully wrapped, jewel-coloured gifts lay underneath it. I sat down in the armchair closest to the tree and Jason squeezed in beside me, squashing me into the arm of the chair and ignoring my discomfort.

Katie waved her wand and the presents divided themselves between the six of us. My pile was rather smaller than Jason’s but that wasn’t unexpected. Mum and Dad aren’t very good at gift-giving, or at general demonstrations of love and affection.

Jason tore wrapping paper off his presents without waiting for anyone else, opening boxes and boxes of brand new Quidditch gear. I rolled my eyes at him even though he wasn’t looking, and started to open my own gifts.

Mum gave me her usual batch of make up, weight loss kits, appetite-suppressing potions, too-small clothes and a compact mirror. I’m not sure whether she realises she’s given me the same presents every birthday and Christmas since I was eleven, but I’ve never bothered pointing it out. I chuck them all in the bin as soon as I get to Hogwarts anyway, unless Cassie wants any of them.

Dad’s gift was a slight improvement on the previous year - he actually gave me a present instead of awkwardly taking twenty galleons out of his wallet when Katie asked where my gift from him was - and I halfheartedly thanked him for the broom polish and Keeper gloves. I know it’s the thought that counts but it’s a bit disappointing that he still has no idea what position I play.

“Here, Moron. Christmas present for you.”

I chucked the gloves onto Jason’s lap, not bothering to detach Dad’s card. Jason frowned at the card for a moment, gave my dad a withering glare, and then nodded.

“Cheers. Take this Quaffle. I’ve got six.”

I took the Quaffle he handed me, smirking at the note from some adoring girl tagged onto it. Jason is oblivious to girls. He’s oblivious to everything except Quidditch and James Potter.

“Thanks,” I said. “Good doing business with you.”

For a strange moment he gave me an open, honest smile, and then the moment flickered and died and he went back to his presents.

I didn’t get much else. Aunt Katie and Uncle Oliver gave me some money to ‘put towards something special’. Kai and Oz, my fellow Chasers on the Slytherin team, sent me chocolate. Scor and Cassie would give me their presents in person. I lounged back in the armchair to wait for everyone else, making sure to dig my elbows sharply into Jason’s side as I tried to get comfortable.

“Pansy? What’s wrong?” Katie sounded tentative.

I looked up, dreading whatever emotional outburst I was about to witness. Mum was crying. What a surprise.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Mum said with a watery smile that dissolved into a sharp, shuddering sob. “I just…after eighteen years of marriage I would have expected a Christmas present.”

Katie turned to glare at Dad. Dad looked uncomfortable and tried to shift away from his sister’s threatening gaze.

“I just didn’t know what you’d like, Pansy,” Dad said with a large, desperate, false grin. “I’ll get you something tomorrow, yeah? We can go together.”

“So...you just couldn’t find anything? That’s it?”

“Yeah. Just…couldn’t find anything.”

“You didn’t see anything I might like?”

“Exactly.”

Mum stood up, quivering and furious. “I saw the bracelet, Andrew.”

Dad’s smile faltered, but he made a valiant attempt to look confused. “Bracelet? What bracelet?”

“The diamond and fairy gold bracelet in your bedside table.” Mum’s voice was icy.

Dad didn’t say anything. He didn’t look confused anymore.

“It’s funny, really, hearing that you couldn’t find anything I’d like...that you didn’t know what I’d want. I’ve always liked diamonds. I adore fairy gold. I would have loved a bracelet like the one you bought and hid away in your bedside table.”

Dad still didn’t reply. He’d turned a horrible shade of beetroot.

“So tell me, Andrew...if you haven’t given the bracelet to me, and you haven’t given it to Olivia, who have you given it to?”

Silence. Again.

“Oh, Andrew,” Katie finally breathed, looking at Dad with disappointment.

“I…erm…I was going to tell you,” Dad stammered, gaze desperately shifting between his sobbing wife and his terrifying older sister.

“Tell me what, exactly?” Mum glared at him, and for the first time I could remember her voice was totally clear and free from any nervousness.

“I just…she’s…gods, Pansy, this is hard for me.”

“Hard…for you?” Mum looked at him. And looked at him. And looked at him.

And then she broke.

She sat back down, gasping for breaths through her sobs and shaking her head again and again. Oliver awkwardly put an arm around her and looked horrified.

“Come on, Pansy. Don’t do this,” Dad said. “It’s not like you and I are in love.”

“Andrew!” Katie looked shocked.

“Well, we’re not. We were so young when we got together. And everyone was confused after the war. She’s been in love with another man since before I even met her. Oh, don’t give me that look. We’ve all heard the way you talk about Malfoy.”

“Shut up,” I said, not turning away from Mum’s shaking body.

“Oh, don’t you start on me as well.”

“I said shut up. Stop talking. Right now.”

Jason put down the gloves he was still holding and squeezed my hand. I didn’t pull away.

“Olivia, I know you’re upset,” Kate said.

“NO. I’m not upset. I’m…I’m angry. Just...stop it. All of you. Stop dragging me into all your bullshit.” I stood up as well.

“Olivia…”

“I’ve had enough. I can’t be bothered to do this right now.”

I turned around, feeling very melodramatic, and marched out of the room. Somebody was following me but I didn’t turn around. It was probably Jason trying to be friends now that I was some kind of damsel in distress and needed a hero. Classic Gryffindor.

“Olivia, wait!” Katie’s voice made me pause.

I looked back at her without saying anything, waiting for her to try to tell me it was all going to be okay. I didn’t know why she tried. I didn’t need her help. I wasn’t upset. I was actually surprisingly okay. I just wanted to get out of the madhouse.

“Olivia…I know you don’t think of us, of me, as your family, but I promise that’s how we see you,” Katie began.

I laughed quietly. Jason categorically does not see me as family, and I’m pretty sure Oliver forgets who I am the moment I leave the house, despite my drunken father’s spontaneous decision to name me after him.

“Look,” Katie continued. “I know you might not want to hear this right now, but I just want you to know that we do love you. However you’re feeling, and however much you think you don’t need us or don’t want us, there will always be a place for you here if you need it. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need my help, or to come and stay if things get hard at home. I promise you’re always welcome.”

I looked at her. She looked angelic, with her tiny figure and large eyes, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to reject her offer of kindness. Instead, I nodded sharply, opened the front door and left the house.

I knew exactly where I needed to go. Christmas is always the same after all. Granted, this year was a variation on the theme. Mum actually had a good reason to cry and even Aunt Katie couldn’t pretend nothing was going wrong, but to all intents and purposes it was pretty similar.

I flicked my wand at the battered door of the broomshed and watched the lock click open. Technically I’m not of age yet, but the madhouse is a magical household and nobody was going to find out. I took the first broom I set my hands on, not really caring who it belonged to, and mounted it, rising slowly into the sky.

The broom shook a little. It was one of their old spares, which was probably for the best. Oliver and Jason would have killed me if I took one of their racing brooms and I’m too young to die at the hands of angry Quidditch-obsessed family members.

I turned the broom south, towards London, towards Scorpius and Cassie. Cassie would find this whole saga funny and Scorpius would give me a drink and tell me to forget all about it.

The wind blew my hair back and the cold froze my fingers to the broom, and my smile grew bigger and bigger as I sailed through the sky, away from the madhouse and towards the only two people in the world that really felt like my family.





Chapter 2: The Chosen Son is Single Again
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Chapter Two: The Chosen Son is Single Again


“See, this is why I don’t have parents,” Cassie said, breathing smoke out in perfect rings before returning her cigarette to carefully painted lips. “Too much bother.”

She’s always saying things like that. It’s not true. Cassie has no parents because her father drank himself to death and her mother ran off without saying where she was going. Cass lives with her older brother because she has nowhere else to go, not because she made this brave, fun decision not to be with real grown ups. But I know she still feels fragile about it so I always let her make it sound like it was her choice. And I suppose her point still stands: Cass doesn’t need to spend Christmas with weepy relatives in the madhouse.

“If it hadn’t been so tragic it would have been quite funny,” I said, plucking the cigarette from her fingers for a puff and then handing it back.

“Sounds like it kind of was,” Cassie said with a wicked grin.

Scorpius laughed but shook his head at the same time. I think he sometimes wishes we took our problems more seriously. He worries about me. But he knows better than to say so. He wrapped his arms around Cassie’s stomach and pulled her back to lean on him. She gave him a lazy kiss on his jaw and he let out a low groan.

“You’re terrible,” I said, smiling at her.

“You flatter me, darling.”

“Don’t let it go to your head.”

We were on the rooftop of Scor’s house. His parents fixed it up with heating charms so we could use it all year round and it’s something of a tradition for the three of us to spend christmas night up there with a large bottle of Firewhiskey, exchanging gifts and gazing down at muggle London. Mr and Mrs Malfoy turn a blind eye to what Scorpius does as long as I’m there doing it with him. I’m not sure they really trust Cass, but they know my parents and reason there’s a limit to how much trouble Scor and I can get into together.

I let out a long, hissing sigh and chewed on my lip. Cass gave me a look.

“Oh, for goodness sake, Ollie,” she said. “Cheer up already. Less than two more years now and then you can move out and get a flat with me.”

“Can’t wait.”

“It’s going to be fabulous,” Cassie drawled. “You can be in charge of decor and I’ll be in charge of the housewarming party. And also I get to be in charge of the drinks cabinet. We’ll have muggle wine and smoke on the balcony in the evenings and if you like we can keep our address secret so your parents can’t find you.”

“Sounds dreamy,” I said. “I wish we could graduate now.”

“Not too long to wait,” Scor said with a grin. “And in the meantime we have Firewhiskey.”

He passed me a full glass and I drank it in one go. Cassie cackled and then passed me her own glass to drink as well.

“Drink it quickly,” she instructed. “I’m tired of this misery.”

“You’re so kind and considerate, Cass.” I poured the drink down my throat.

“Considerate is my middle name.”

“So is this the worst christmas so far?” Scor gave me a questioning glance.

“Potentially.” I shrugged. “I’m having another drink. Want one?”

Scorpius gave a small incline of his head and I filled a glass for him, pushing it across the floor towards him. He picked it up with the hand that wasn’t tangled in Cassie’s hair and took a large gulp.

“Cass? Drink?”

“Um,” she looked thoughtful for a moment. “Actually no. I think I’m done for tonight.”

“Who are you and what have you done with Cassandra Selwyn?”

She laughed and pouted. “I’m just happy with my cigarette for now.”

“Whatever. I’ll have your share of the alcohol.”

“It’s probably for the best,” Scor said. “Do you remember how much Cass threw up last year? I had to tell Mum and Dad she had food poisoning.”

He gave Cassie an affectionate smile and kissed her hair. I still find it strange to see the way he behaves with her. Scorpius Malfoy is not known for his displays of affection, but he always makes an exception for Cass.

Cassie tilted her head back and laughed. I like her laugh. It isn’t elegant at all, but she looks beautiful and the chaotic giggles are infectious.

“Love Christmas,” she said, shaking her head so that the curls of her hair Scorpius wasn’t already clutching unfurled over his wrist and chest. He kissed her forehead tenderly and for a moment I felt like I was intruding, like I shouldn’t have come, but then Cass turned back to me with a wide grin.

“Here,” she beamed. “A gift from your favourites.”

She rummaged in her handbag and tossed me a misshapen parcel. It was wrapped in shocking pink tissue paper covered in glittering silver stars and messy strips of Spellotape. Her messy handwriting was scrawled across it in black marker pen: We love Ollie. Happy Christmas. From Cassie and Scor xxxx.

I slid my fingers under the spellotape, trying not to tear the paper too much, and carefully pulled open the tissue paper to reveal a large, square sketchbook and a tin of pencils.

“Thank you,” I said, trying not to sound emotional.

It was just a sketchbook. It shouldn’t have made me want to cry. But after my gifts from my parents had, once again, shown how little they really knew me, this present meant a lot.

“It’s from Creevey and Thomas,” Scorpius said, not looking away from Cassie as he spoke. “The sketchbook never ends. It just keeps adding pages when you get to the back. And the pencils should never need sharpening. We thought it might keep you occupied in all the time you’re spending not studying for NEWTs.”

“I love it. You two are the best.”

“We know,” Cassie said in a singsong voice. “You’re extraordinarily lucky to have us.”

“She knows that,” Scor said, grinning at me. “She doesn’t need you to remind her.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and looked down at the sketchbook and then back up at my friends, chewing on the end of one of my new pencils as I watched them. I carefully marked out the line of Cassie’s shoulder on the first blank page in the book.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve drawn Cassie. She’s my favourite model. Her face is so dynamic it’s easy to let her character shine through in the drawing, and she’s usually happy to sit for me. I get her to model whenever I make clothes as well: she makes everything look good.

“Think we’ve lost her for the rest of the night,” Scorpius murmured into Cassie’s neck.

“I mean, that was my plan all along,” Cassie said with a laugh. “Didn’t want to have to actually talk to her. That would be asking too much of me.”

“Be nice, Cass,” I said.

Cassie laughed harder. “Nice? Really? It’s like you don’t even know me, darling.”

I shook my head and smiled. ‘Nice’ isn’t really a word anyone uses to describe Cass, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about people. We’ve been friends since our first night sharing a room at Hogwarts, both dizzy with our newly discovered freedom, and, however she behaves towards other people, I never doubt that she really loves Scor and me. She can be cutting, and I understand why people are intimidated by her, but she’d be upset if she thought she’d genuinely hurt somebody. I’m lucky to have her as a friend.

The sketch came together quickly, figures almost creating themselves on the paper. Drawing isn’t difficult with such beautiful people. Cass is all golden hair and curves, and Scor looks a little bit like some kind of marble statue, with his pale skin and chiselled features. My pencil glided easily across the page, curving around their intertwined limbs, picking out important details: the slope of his nose against the curve of her head; the way her whole hand grasped one of his fingers, like a small child; the single curl of her hair that spilled down inside the collar of his shirt.

I had assumed they were staying still on my behalf, so that I could draw them without the distraction of motion, but when I put down my pencil they still didn’t move. They were completely lost in each other. He was murmuring gentle words into her ear and stroking the back of her hand with his thumb. Her face was turned into his chest.

They’re my best friends in the world, always have been and probably always will be, but there are some moments in which they should be left alone, even by me, and this was one of them.

I poured myself another drink and crawled across the cool tiled floor to lie on my tummy at the edge of the rooftop, turning to a new sketchbook and starting to map out the silhouetted London buildings beneath me.

It felt good to be there, still in the nighttime with the two people I loved most, away from the chaos of my family. I lay still in contentment and drew the star salted sky, smudging graphite over my hands and wrists and feeling my eyelids grow heavier, heavier, heavier.

When I woke, I was cocooned in a thick quilt in the middle of the king-sized bed of the Malfoy guest room. I was still fully dressed and had a headache worse than the time Scor let our Beaters use me for target practice.

I groaned and buried my face in the silk pillowcase for a moment, breathing in the scent of lavender and pixie dust and letting my body sink deeper into the mattress. I’ve always liked sleeping at Scor’s house. The Malfoys understand comfy beds. I have suspicions that one of Cassie’s main motivations for sleeping with Scor is that she gets a good night’s sleep at his house.

A loud, inelegant snore interrupted my feeling sorry for myself and I turned my head (ouch) to see Cass lying beside me. Her slinky dress from the previous night was crumpled on the floor and she lay sprawled on top of the duvet in one of Scor’s T-shirts and black lacy knickers. Her eyeliner was smudged under her eyes and her hair was spread out around her. I seriously doubted she’d been next to me the whole night. She had almost certainly left Scorpius’s room in the early hours of the morning so his parents wouldn’t know they’d shared a bed.

She snored again and I suppressed a giggle. I am consistently amazed that somebody so astonishingly beautiful can make such horrendous noises when she sleeps.

I rolled over and blew gently into her face. She groaned and opened one eye into a narrow, vicious slit.

“Ew. It’s you.”

“Morning sunshine,” I sang, reaching out to ruffle her hair.

“Go away.”

“You’re a charmer.”

“I mean it.”

“I know.”

“I will hex you.”

I laughed. “That would involve you getting out of bed to pick your wand up from across the room.”

Cassie contemplated this. “I will punch you in the face.”

I know her well, better than to take this as an empty threat, and made the pragmatic choice to roll away from her towards the safety of the edge of the bed.

“Fine. I want to track down coffee. Just thought I’d let you know where I’ll be.”

Cassie closed her eyes again, lashes long and pale. “Whatever.”

“Love you, Cass.”

She didn’t reply. She’s never really been a morning person.

I rubbed my eyes and clambered out of bed.

My tights from the previous night were looking distinctly worse for wear with a thick ladder up one leg from my flight here, and my formal dress was uncomfortable after wearing it for so long.

I stopped off in Scor’s room on my way downstairs. He was still fast asleep, looking childlike and uncharacteristically angelic, both arms wrapped around the enormous, expensively vulgar toy hippogriff he’d had since he was little. I quietly pulled on some pyjama bottoms and a Tutshill Tornadoes hoody from the pile of dirty laundry on his floor. The boy’s a slob.

It felt better to be wearing something comfy, and the fabric still smelt faintly of the fresh citrus in Scor’s favourite shower gel.

I didn’t expect anyone to be awake when I went downstairs. I stay at the Malfoys’ London house a lot in the holidays and am almost the only one around in the mornings. Astoria suffers from horrible headaches, an after-effect of something terrible in the war that I’ve always been too scared to ask Scor about, and Mr Malfoy’s usually left for his job at Gringotts by the time I wake up.

It came as a surprise to see Draco Malfoy sitting at the breakfast table, feet up on one of the chairs while he read the Daily Prophet. I’d forgotten he probably wouldn’t be working on Boxing Day.

“Good morning, Olivia,” Mr Malfoy said, glancing up from his paper. “Coffee?”

“Yes please. You’re a lifesaver.”

He poured me a cup of rich, steaming liquid and pushed it across the table towards me . I took this as an invitation to sit down, taking the seat opposite him and clinging to the coffee like a lifeline. He turned back to his paper. Mr Malfoy isn’t really one for smalltalk.

I sipped my coffee, drinking it black, and satisfied myself with reading the back page of his paper. It’s usually the worst thing in the whole paper - a gossip column by some godawful elderly witch called Rita Skeeter - and nobody under the age of forty takes it at all seriously. But I didn’t think Mr Malfoy would take too kindly to me moving next to him to read the serious articles over his shoulder.


The Chosen Son, Single Again

Well, it seems things are never peaceful in the Potter Household, and this time it’s younger son Albus Severus we need to keep an eye on, as our sources tell us he’s finally ended long term on-off relationship with fellow Gryffindor Lavinia Buchanan.

“It’s devastating for Vinnie,” one close friend of the pair tells us. “Albus has always implied he sees marriage in the cards for them, but apparently not.”

Another reliable source draws our attention to the Gryffindor Quidditch Team, of which both Potter and Buchanan are members: “I don’t know what this will mean for the team. Lavinia can’t even be in the same room as Albus at the moment. Who knows how she’ll manage playing on the same team as him?”

One observant coworker here at
The Daily Prophet has remarked that it “seems a case of very square quaffle, very round hoop.”

We asked Gryffindor Captain Jason Wood for his thoughts on this latest tragedy for the young Mr Potter and how it will affect his team. He has as yet declined to respond.

Unfortunately that’s all the details we have right now, folks. If you hear any news about our favourite Hogwarts Seeker and how he’s coping at this hard time, contact Rita Skeeter by owl at
The Daily Prophet, London Headquarters.

For now, good luck to all you single ladies looking to bag yourself a Potter boy. Both sons are now officially on the market.

You heard it here first.



“Oh, for Salazar’s sake,” I said when I’d finished reading the article. I know Potter’s dad is the saviour of the wizarding world and whatnot, and I had a personal interest in him and Buchanan breaking up from a Quidditch point of view, but it hardly belonged in the national news.

Mr Malfoy looked amused at my outburst and turned the paper over to see what I’d been reading.

“Skeeter, of course,” he sighed. “Upholding her duties of keeping us informed about all the movements made by the Potters. I’m surprised you’re interested, Olivia. Wouldn’t have thought Albus Potter was your type.”

He grinned. The smile made him look at least five years younger. I could sort of imagine what he might have looked like at school, back when my mum was infatuated with him.

I found myself laughing. “Mr Malfoy! Did you just make a joke?”

“Yes, I suppose I did,” he said, still laughing and looking unreasonably proud of himself. His pleased expression made me laugh harder.

“Morning, Ollie. What’s so funny?”

Scorpius strolled into the room, heading straight over to the table and pouring himself a coffee, adding copious amounts of milk and sugar. He was wearing tracksuit bottoms and no shirt, very obviously displaying a hickey on his shoulder. I made the sensible decision not to point it out to him. I’m a firm believer in it not being my fault if Scor’s parents find out how often him and Cass share a bed.

“Olivia’s scouting out potential dates in the gossip column,” Mr Malfoy said, still looking amused as he passed Scor the article.

Scor skimmed over the column, scowling.

“She’s calling him our favourite Hogwarts Seeker? Rude.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Mr Malfoy said. “Skeeter’s not exactly known for her tact, and she’ll publish anything. I used to feed her fake stories about Potter and Granger when I was at school.”

I laughed but wasn’t at all sure that he was joking. For all my mother’s rambling insistence that Mr Malfoy has always been a wonderful man, I know more than enough to realise he was pretty unpleasant in their schooldays. And if he was making up gossip about Gryffindors and selling them to national newspapers, I have no doubt that Mum was there beside him. She still despises Hermione Granger-Weasley.

“Alright, Dad,” Scor laughed. “Setting a good example as always. It’s a wonder I turned out as well as I did. Toast, Ollie?”

He opened the fridge and looked critically at its contents.

“Nah, I’m fine,” I said, watching Scorpius proceed to put toast in the toaster for me anyway.

“Don’t be silly,” he said. “It was a trick question. Everyone always wants toast. Nice outfit, by the way.”

“I’ll give it back,” I said, tugging on the fraying threads on the cuffs of his jumper. “My christmas dress wasn’t comfy.”

“Don’t worry about it. Think that hoody’s too small for me anyway. Keep it.”

“Cheers. It’ll cheer Mum up after yesterday. She loves it when I wear your clothes.”

“I’m sure she does,” Scorpius smirked.

“Speaking of your mother,” Mr Malfoy interrupted. “Isn’t that her owl?”

He nodded at the window. I followed his gaze.

“Yeah.”

I got up to let the owl in. I decided I was better off not knowing how Mr Malfoy recognised Mum’s owl.

“Oh no.” I took the scarlet envelope the owl offered me. “Scor, I need a favour.”

“Sure. Anything,” Scorpius said, looking up from buttering my toast.

I offered him the Howler hopefully.

He burst out laughing.

“Nice try. No. Absolutely not. Your Howler. You deal with it.”

He pulled himself up onto the kitchen counter and took a large bite of toast.

I attempted puppy dog eyes.

“But you said you’d do anything.”

“True,” he said, looking completely remorseless. “But I’m a Slytherin, remember? No need to be chivalrous or keep to my word.”

“You’re the worst,” I muttered.

He laughed, spitting out several crumbs of toast onto the clean kitchen counter.

“You’re genuinely so mean,” I whined. “I don’t know why I keep you around.”

“It gives you social status,” Scorpius said, completely straight faced.

“Sure, sweetheart. You keep telling yourself that.”

“You should probably open that,” Mr Malfoy said, frowning at the envelope as it started to smoulder.

“Do I have to?”

“It’ll only be worse if you leave it.”

“Okay…here goes.”

I slid my finger under the flap of the envelope and it leapt into life in front of me.

“OLIVIA CELESTINA BELL, you have some EXPLAINING to do young lady!”

My mother’s voice is never particularly frightening, but it’s still unpleasant to have her constant, grating sadness amplified to fill a whole room.

”I’ve been so worried about you! And I NEEDED you last night! You saw what happened yesterday! HOW COULD YOU DISAPPEAR LIKE THIS? HOW COULD YOU LEAVE ME ALONE AFTER THAT?!

“I’ve been all by myself. Your father’s vanished and hasn’t bothered telling me when to expect him back. And you know I don’t feel comfortable around Oliver given his feelings about Draco and my school friends. This is extremely selfish of you. COME HOME IMMEDIATELY!

“Make sure you eat a high protein breakfast, darling.”


The Howler hovered in the air for a moment and then burst into flame, scattering in ashes down to the floor.

I frowned at the pile of ash, nudging it with my big toe. This wasn’t the first time my mother had decided a Howler was the most appropriate form of communication, but it was somewhat embarrassing to have opened it in front of Mr Malfoy.

I only noticed that I was standing still with my mouth open when Scorpius jumped up behind me and crammed a piece of chocolate covered toast through my lips. I struggled to swallow it and then turned around to glare at him.

“What?” He grinned at me, speaking through his own mouthful of toast. “High protein breakfast.”

“Aw, Scor, honey, did nobody ever teach you what protein is?”

“Must have slipped my dietitian's mind.”

“Along with all the advice about drinking and smoking?”

“I heard they were good for you.”

I reached out and took the rest of the toast from his hand. It was tastier than I’d anticipated.

“Jason’s stopped drinking,” I told him. “So he’s in better shape for Quidditch.”

“Yeah, well, Jason also has the brain capacity of a flobberworm.”

I spat out my toast, laughing, and Scorpius looked a little bit disgusted.

“Are you going to go home then? Sounds like your mum wants you.”

“You’re just scared she’ll turn up here to pick me up.”

“Yep,” Scor agreed. “I’m not ashamed. She’s frightening. Are you going to go?”

“Yeah, I guess I should,” I said ambivalently.

“Good luck,” Mr Malfoy said. He still looked faintly amused by the whole Howler incident.

“Thanks. Um, sorry about all that.”

“Trust me, Olivia,” Mr Malfoy laughed. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard one of your mother’s Howlers.”





Chapter 3: Albus Potter Has A Hero Complex
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Chapter Three: Albus Potter has a Hero Complex


For the rest of the holidays, I kept time spent with my parents to an absolute minimum, sleeping at Scor’s or Cassie’s as much as I could. Mum and Dad were dancing around each other, alternating between being overly, unconvincingly civil, and snapping at each other. I preferred to stay out of it.

I’d apparently promised several months ago to revisit the Madhouse and spend New Year’s Eve with my messy family but, when the night came, I stepped straight into the fireplace without bothering to tell them where I was going.

My parents were both sitting on the sofas by the fireplace but neither of them tried to stop me as I chucked a handful of Floo powder into the flames and called out Cassie’s address.

Their glazed, disappointed faces faded as the world blurred around me and I started to spin.

“You, my friend, are late,” Cassie sang, catching me as I fell out of the fireplace at the other end of the Floo.

She was wearing a very black, very short dress with very shiny, very tall silver shoes, and she was drinking something bright red and fizzy. She was swaying a little in her shoes and her drink was splashing violently from side to side, but she somehow managed not to spill any of it.

“Drink,” she instructed, pushing me towards a table littered with colourful bottles.

I poured myself a gillywater, taking time to add lime and Firewhiskey, and to properly salt the rim of the glass. I knew that later on I’d probably lower my standards for drinking, but it was nice to start by treating New Year's like a special occasion and drink something classy.

“Everyone’s in the lounge,” Cassie told me. “Come.”

She reached out a hand and I took it, letting her drag me into the main room of the tiny apartment she shared with her brother Andreas.

Scor was lounging back on the battered leather sofa next to Andreas, both of them scowling like it was a competition. A guy I vaguely recognised as having been in Slytherin when we were younger was sitting on the floor, leaning against the empty, dusty bookshelf and smoking.

The flat was tiny but what it lacked in size it made up for in location. It was just off Diagon Alley and felt like an exciting place to be. And Cass and Andreas both didn’t invest a lot of time and energy into decor, so they didn’t exactly need a bigger place.

“Hey, Ollie,” Andreas said with a lazy smile. His eyes were a little unfocused in a way that probably didn’t come from alcohol alone. I decided not to mention it. If her brother’s use of recreational magic didn’t bother Cassie, it shouldn’t bother me.

“Who’s your friend, Andi?” I asked, nodding across the room at the mysterious smoking man.

“This is Sebastian Pucey. Seb, this is Olivia Bell.”

Sebastian looked me up and down, face frozen in an elegant sneer. Something about the way he looked at me made me feel strangely exposed. I stood up a little bit straighter.

“Pleasure to meet you, Olivia Bell,” he said, voice low and husky. “Looking forward to getting properly acquainted.”

“You’re a Pucey? So you’re related to Cesario? In fourth year?” I asked, deciding against joining in with the flirty tone.

Sebastian looked irritated but accepted the change in mood.

“He’s my half-brother. You know him? I thought you were older.”

I shrugged. “We play Quidditch together. He’s a pretty good Keeper.”

“Not good enough,” Scor joined in. “Ollie’s good at sneaky shots. Cesario’s slow to see what she’s planning in training. He needs quicker reflexes.”

“Be nice,” I told him. “He’s only little.”

I squeezed onto the sofa between Scorpius and Andreas, trying not to spill my drink on either of their legs.

Cassie plonked herself down on the floor and leaned back against Scor’s knees, demanding that he stroke her hair.

“Drink quickly,” Andreas said, draping one arm around my shoulders. “This new club’s opening down the road tonight. We thought we should investigate.”

He was holding his own bottle of Firewhiskey, drinking it neat, and topped up my drink with it.

I leaned against him and frowned. “I’m not seventeen yet. They won’t let me in.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Sebastian said smoothly. “I know the owner.”

“Don’t worry, Ollie,” Cassie said, tipping her head back over Scor’s knee to look up at me. “It’ll be fun. We haven’t been dancing for ages.”

“I’ll take you home if you decide you’ve had enough,” Scor said quietly.

“But you won’t have had enough,” Cassie said sharply. “Come on. Drink up.”

“You’re all such terrible influences.” I wrinkled my nose and forced myself to swallow the rest of what was now a fairly horrible drink.

“Nah, you just have catching up to do,” Andreas said, refilling my glass. “We’ve all been here for an hour already.”

When I didn’t immediately drink, Andreas lifted my glass up towards my lips. I scowled at him and he wiggled his eyebrows.

“Okay,” Scor said, looking businesslike. “We have a New Year’s tradition. We make resolutions before we go out and then we have to complete them before midnight.”

“Isn’t that not really how New Year’s resolutions work?” Andreas raised an eyebrow. “Pretty sure they’re for the new year.”

“Don’t be boring,” Cass said, sticking her tongue out at her brother. “We like to do things differently. We make the resolutions now and then we have three hours to do them. It’s our last chance to try something new this year.”

“Whatever. You start then,” Andreas said.

“With pleasure,” Cass said. “This year I’m going to punch a Gryffindor.”

“Not allowed, love,” Scor laughed. “You’ve done it before. It has to be something new.”

“True. A Ravenclaw, then.”

“You’ve done that too.” I nudged her with my foot and took a swig of my disgusting drink.

“Have I really? Damn, I’m good,” Cass said. “I forget how hilarious I am. I guess it’ll have to be a Hufflepuff.”

“Good luck with that,” Scor smirked. “You seriously think we’ll find any Hufflepuffs in a club?”

“You’re so right. Okay, this year I’m going to...get someone older than forty to buy me a drink.” Cass grinned mischievously.

“Do you have to?” Scor frowned.

“Absolutely yes.”

“Couldn’t you just punch someone older than forty?”

“I’ve probably done that too.”

“But do you really have to go and flirt with old men?”

“Stop making a fuss,” Cassie laughed. “It’s just a drink, Scor. Anyway, your turn now.”

Scorpius frowned and fiddled with Cassie’s hair.

“Go on,” she said, sounding bored.

“This year I’m going to, um,” Scor said, looking down at his hands. “This year I’m going to tell somebody I love them.

Nobody spoke.

I waited to see if Cassie would say anything but she just took a gulp of her drink and looked down at the floor.

Scor looked uncharacteristically insecure, taking his hands out of Cassie’s hair and playing with his fingers instead.

“This year I’m going to kiss somebody I’ve just met,” I said, speaking up before the silence had a chance to grow more painful.

Scor shot me a grateful, slightly uncomfortable smile, and Cass laughed.

“You’re so boring, Ollie,” she said. “Sleep with someone you’ve just met instead.”

“She’s made her resolution now,” Scor said. “She’s not allowed to change it. That’s the rules.”

“Alright,” Sebastian grinned. “I’ll go with that one. This year I’m going to sleep with someone I’ve just met.”

He shot me a somewhat predatory grin. I gave him a half smile back.

“Andi. Your turn.” Cass looked accusingly at her brother.

Andreas rolled his eyes. “This year I’m going to go to a new club. This game’s stupid.”

“You cheater,” Cass gasped. “Make a real resolution.”

“Nah,” Andreas smirked. “I heard it was against the rules to change a resolution. Come on. Let’s go out.”

“Ollie needs to finish her drink,” Scorpius said.

“You’re so slow, Ollie,” Cass said. “Drink up. I want to dance.”

She finished off the rest of her own drink and clapped her hands together.

I took another gulp of my drink and winced.

“You finish it,” I told her. “It’s too strong. And I can’t drink as much as you can.”

Cassie shook her head and cackled.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “I brought my own drinks and finished them. Come on. You’re letting the side down.”

“Well, you can carry me home when I pass out,” I said, forcing myself to drain the rest of the glass.

“I look forward to it,” Cass said.

Scor laughed and kissed Cassie’s forehead. She grinned up at him and then clambered up to her feet.

“Come on team. Time to go.”

Cass slid an arm around my waist and kissed my cheek sloppily. I grinned and wrapped an arm round her shoulders. We don’t usually have a particularly touchy-feely friendship but it’s fine when we’ve been drinking.

She dragged me to walk ahead of the guys, both of us clinging to each other and laughing.

A man across the street whistled at us and Cass blew him a kiss and tried to wink, squinting in a way that would make somebody less beautiful look ridiculous. The man looked amused and turned a corner.

“Nice winking skills,” I said. “He looked pretty impressed.”

“I thought so. My skills of seduction are unparalleled.”

“It amazes me that he managed to resist.”

“He’ll probably dream about me tonight,” Cass smirked.

“Probably definitely.” I tripped over slightly and Cassie grabbed my arm. I kissed the air in the general vicinity of her face. “You having a nice night, Cass?”

“It’s New Year’s Eve. Of course I am. Everything is lovely jubbly.”

“Good for you. You’re not worried about what Scor said?”

“What is there to worry about?”

“Well...you heard him.”

Cass stopped walking and looked at me, pouting slightly. “Yeah, I heard him. Does it matter?”

She doesn’t try to sound bitchy. She just isn’t used to thinking too deeply about her feelings. Or about anyone else’s feelings.

“He said he was going to tell someone he loves them, Cass,” I said. “And he doesn’t love me, and he doesn’t love Andreas, and he doesn’t love that other guy. I can’t remember that other guy’s name. What’s his name? Anyway, by process of elimination I conclude that this means he loves you. And he’s going to tell you that. Tonight.

“I know he loves me.” Cassie shrugged. “He can tell me if he wants to.”

“But you don’t love him back?” I stuck out my bottom lip and gave her a hugely exaggerated sad face.

Cass sighed.

“Come on, Ollie. We’re both too drunk to have this conversation. Well, mainly you. You’re too drunk to have this conversation. We can talk about it another time.”

She leaned into me for a moment. She was warm and her hair tickled my face.

“But Cass, this is important.”

“You know what else is important?” She grinned conspiratorially. “Dancing.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “This is very true and right. Wait. No. Stop changing the subject. This is about Scor. You might make him sad.”

“He’s a big boy. He’ll be okay.”

“Cass…”

“He’ll be fine, Ollie,” she said, voice suddenly colder. “I think I know him a little better than you do.”

“If you say so.”

“I could do without your judgement, Ollie,” she snapped. “I can look after myself.”

She was cross with me and I didn’t want her to be, but I also didn’t want to back down and apologise when I knew I was right. I love her but I love Scor too and it isn’t fair for her to act like his feelings don’t matter. Cass struggles with getting close to people and I understand that, probably more than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to hurt Scorpius.

I could see her tight frown and sighed. It wasn’t worth a fight, and my thoughts were jumbled up with Firewhiskey. She might not have been right to ignore the problem, but she was right about it not being the best time to talk about it.

“I know you can look after yourself.” I gave in.

“Good,” she said, brightening. “Look. We’re here.”

She nodded across the street to a club called ‘Pumpkin Carriage’. Its name was lit up in muggle-style lightbulbs and the door was open to reveal smokey purple light. A long queue snaked its way from the door all the way down the road and around the corner. Lots of the people queueing looked like they were recent Hogwarts graduates, with a few familiar faces from school obviously hopeful to get in despite being underage.

“It looks so full,” I said, spinning around and getting read to go back to Cassie’s flat. “We should just have a sleepover and get drunk. A much better plan.”

Cassie shrugged and grabbed my hand, turning me back around and dragging me towards the door, not bothering to join the queue. She has the easy confidence that comes from being extraordinarily and effortlessly beautiful, and it’s hard to argue when she has a plan.

A bulky man with a violet skull tattooed across his face held up a hand to stop us walking through the door. I tried to hide behind Cass. The man was scary. But she pulled me back out to stand next to her. She looked ready to argue with the scary man but was saved the necessity of doing so by a hand at her shoulder. Andreas’s friend. The one with the name I couldn’t remember.

“They’re fine, mate,” he said. “They’re with me.”

The scary man raised a tattoo-covered eyebrow but nodded, stepping out of the way to let us past. Andreas’s friend put an arm around my waist to guide me inside. We waited just by the door for Scorpius and Andreas to catch up, and then Cass led us towards the bar.

“I’ll get the first round of drinks,” she called over her shoulder as she pushed in front of us to head over to the bar.

The crowd parted around her, the tinted lights above her illuminating her golden head in vivid shades of blue and green and red. The men she pushed past watched the sway of her hips, their dance partners dragging their faces back to look at them instead. Cass swayed past them, ignoring their gazes.

“She’s really quite something, your sister,” friend-whose-name-I-couldn’t-remember said, leaning towards Andreas.

“She’s also really unavailable,” Scorpius glared.

“No need to get possessive,” friend-whose-name-I-couldn’t-remember said with a mocking smile. “Just making an observation.”

“Well, don’t.” Scorpius was glowering and I rested a hand on his arm for a second. He doesn’t usually show a lot of emotion, but when he loses his temper he loses it badly. And Cass breaks down his barriers like nobody else can. It wouldn’t be the first time he lost it with someone for talking about her.

“Breathe, Scor,” I muttered. “You know she only has eyes for you.”

He nodded once - a stiff, quick, Malfoy-speciality nod that showed he wasn’t happy but was enough to reassure me that he wouldn’t do something stupid - and I let go of him.

Andreas looked amused. He’s always enjoyed it when Scor’s uncomfortable.

“Chill, Scorp,” he said. “We’re all friends here.”

Scor ignored him. He doesn’t like being called Scorp. And he doesn’t much like Andreas.

“Yeah. Chill, Scorp,” said friend-whose-name-I-still-couldn’t-remember.

Scor had one fist clenched, making his already pale knuckles unnaturally white. I shook my head at him. The motion made me feel dizzy. I didn’t like Andreas’s boring friend. He was making Scor sad. And Scor deserved only lovely feelings.

“You’re being mean,” I said, looking suspiciously at Andreas’s boring friend. “Who even are you?”

“Don’t be rude, Ollie,” Andreas said, reaching out to ruffle my hair. “You’ve spent all evening with him.”

“Ah, but I do not know what name he is known by,” I said loftily. “It’s something pretentious and stupid like, um, Salisbury, or Sylvester, or Shithead.”

Andreas snorted. Scor looked a bit happier.

“Oo, I know. It’s Satan, isn’t it?” I looked at Andreas’s friend, feeling unreasonably proud of myself.

“Sure, honey. It can be Satan if you want it to be,” he said, looking bemused.

Any remaining tension was eased by Cass staggering back to the group, tripping over her heels but still managing to balance a tray of full-to-the-brim shot glasses without spilling any of the precious liquid.

“I’ve got us all different colours to suit our sparkling personalities,” Cass said cheerfully. “Scor, you get green, because you love Slytherin more than the rest of us do and I like you best in green boxers. Andi, you get pink because you’re not particularly manly and you need to be more comfortable with that.”

Andreas stuck his tongue out at his sister, then caught Satan’s eye and blushed.

“Sebastian,” Cass continued. “You get blue because you seem quite boring like a Ravenclaw.”

I laughed, delighted that Cass had also realised how boring he was.

“He’s not called Sebastian,” I said. “He’s called Satan. Aren’t you, Satan?”

Satan smiled and nodded patiently. “Apparently so, yes. Olivia has decreed that I’m now known as Satan. Does that make me any less boring?”

“Nope. You still get boring blue,” Cass said, pushing the glasses towards the guys, leaving three shorts of opaque white liquid and two of flaming black on the tray.

“Guessing I get the white ones?” I reached for a glass. Cass usually drinks whatever she thinks looks most exciting, and the deep black liquid coated in dancing flame definitely met her usual criteria.

“Nope. Not tonight,” she said, firmly pushing my hand onto one of the black glasses. “I get white ones. To match my angelic soul.”

She picked up one of her own drinks. “Cheers. To another year of being fabulous.”

I drank both shots in quick succession. They burnt my throat and I wrinkled my nose at the sting, but they left a thick, not-unpleasant treacle flavour on my tongue.

Cassie quickly swallowed her third drink and then beamed at the rest of us.

“Okay, gentlemen,” she said. “Ollie and I have an important date with the dancefloor. We’ll come and find you later.”

Scor sighed and kissed her forehead, obviously resigned to spending another night with Andreas. Cass blinked up at him and he smiled a smile he saves only for her.

“Go have fun,” he told her, nudging her towards me.

I followed her through the crowds to the middle of the dancefloor, recognising a few faces from Hogwarts but not bothering to acknowledge them. When Cass seemed satisfied that we were in the direct centre of the room she turned to face me, resting her hands on my shoulders to dance together.

When I’m sober I find it stressful dancing with Cassie. I’m not even close to being as beautiful as she is, and she makes even the most ridiculous dance moves look sexy and skillful. When I’m less sober I stop feeling self-conscious and don’t care that I don’t look as good as she does.

I jumped up and down, swishing my hair back and laughing at Cassie’s sultry poses.

“You’re a terrible dancer, Ollie,” she laughed.

“You’re wrong.”

“Nope. You’re really, truly…”

“Wonderful? Beautiful? Fabulous?”

“Atrocious at dancing.”

I stuck my tongue out. “You don’t mean it. You love my dancing.”

She shook her head. “I’m genuinely a little bit embarrassed to be seen with you right now.”

She’s pretty but she’s mean. I told her so. She laughed again.

“When you say embarrassed, you mean joyful, right?” I grinned.

She scoffed. “I don’t do joyful. I do cool and cutting.”

This is very true. It’s good that she recognises this quality in herself.

“And joyful?” I tried hopefully.

“If you say so,” Cass sighed. “Look. Hot middle-aged man.”

She pointed towards the bar, where a tall man with chiseled cheekbones and silver-streaked hair was leaning forwards and talking to a pretty barmaid who must have been half his age.

“Look. Your hot boyfriend.” I pointed to the other side of the dance floor, where Scorpius was standing and talking to Andreas and Satan, one eye watching us.

“Haha. I’ve not forgotten about him, I promise,” Cass said. “I just need to get someone to buy me a drink, remember? Come.”

She started to walk away without waiting for me to agree. I reluctantly stopped dancing and struggled to keep up with her, pushing through crowds of dancers who didn’t move away from me as easily as they did from her. Cass’s crazily high heels kept the top of her head in sight.

By the time I reached her, Cass was already talking to the man, batting her eyelashes and biting her lip and asking him to surprise her with something exciting to drink.

The man gave the barman a signal, and he brought over a bright green frothy drink in a tall, thin glass.

“Thank you,” Cassie drawled, turning away from the man and linking her arm through mine to walk away from him.

The man called out indignantly but Cass kept walking and he didn’t try to follow. When we glanced back he was already talking to another girl, who didn’t look much older than us. We stood at the edge of the dance floor and Cass tipped back her head and laughed.

“There we go,” she said, sounding pleased. “Done my resolution for another year. Here, have the drink.”

She passed me the ominous looking green liquid. The glass was cold.

“What? Why?” I tried to give it back to her.

“Because you’re funny when you’re drunk,” Cass laughed, voice trailing away as she looked at something over my shoulder. I turned to see Scorpius watching us.

“Go, Cass,” I instructed. “It’s nearly midnight. I know you want to be with him.”

I gave Cassie a gentle push in Scor’s direction.

“Are you sure? You’ll be alright by yourself?”

Cass was already walking away from me, so I didn’t take her reluctance particularly seriously.

“I’ll be fine,” I said to her retreating back, but I don’t think she heard me.

I downed the drink she’d given me, suddenly deciding Cass was right and more alcohol probably was a sensible suggestion, and then turned to head back onto the dancefloor.

I found my way blocked by a person.

“SATAN! It’s you!”

Satan shook his head, looking amused, and took my arm.

“Hey, Olivia. Have you been abandoned?”

“Cassie’s got other fish to fry,” I whispered loudly.

“Other fish to what?”

“Plenty of other fish in the sea.”

I didn’t have a clue what I was saying. The drink had gone to my head unexpectedly quickly.

“You’re a strange one, Olivia Bell.”

“That’s unkind. It’s no wonder you’re named after the devil.”

“It’s not unkind. You are strange. It’s ten to twelve on New Year’s Eve and you’re talking to me about fish…”

“Fishes. Because there is more than one fish,” I said proudly.

I tried to pull Satan onto the dancefloor - dancing is very important to me - but instead found myself stumbling. It was like my feet weren’t attached to me anymore, and my legs felt horribly heavy and unfamiliar. The floor was dangerously close to my face when Satan’s arms tightened around me and he pulled me back to my feet.

“Careful, Olivia Bell,” he said, not letting go of me. His face was very close to mine.

“I’m always careful,” I said.

“Sure. So tell me...have you kissed that person you’ve just met yet?”

I blinked at him. His eyes were very dark. Very very dark.

“No. Not yet.”

“You need any help with that?”

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t remember how to use words.

His arms were warm and strong, still holding me up. I thought I’d fall without them.

I rested one hand on his chest, trying to keep myself standing straight.

And then he kissed me.

His lips were rough and forceful. He slipped his tongue into my mouth and tightened his grip around my waist. It felt more intense than kisses I’d had before.

I tentatively lifted my own arms and tried to put them around his neck. My hands were shaking even though I told them to stop, and I found it hard to judge where he was even though my eyes were open.

Around us, I could hear people counting down to the New Year.

The sound was muffled. It felt wrong. I didn’t like what was happening.

As the room around us exploded into cheers and shouts of ‘Happy New Year’, Satan backed me against the wall behind us, his hands moving up below my top.

I tried to pull away from him, or as far away as I could get given that he was pressing me into a wall.

“Stop...I don’t...what are you doing?”

“What you wanted me to,” he breathed, hands moving higher up my back.

“I don’t...No. I don’t want this.”

“Don’t be silly. We’ve been flirting all night.”

His hands were too high up now, and moving round to my front. The world was blurry around me and I couldn’t focus properly on his face. My head was spinning.

“I don’t feel right,” I tried to tell him, but I’m not sure it came out clearly. “I think something was in my drink.”

I don’t know if he heard me. He didn’t act like he’d heard me.

“I think...I think I want to find Scorpius now.” I couldn’t think straight.

“Come on, Olivia,” he said. “We’ve hardly got started.”

And then his tongue was back in my mouth and his hands were roaming again.

I tried pressing my hands down against his chest but he didn’t budge, so I did the only thing I could think of and bit down on his tongue. Hard.

Merlin swore. Loudly.

“What was that for? Bitch.”

I get called ‘bitch’ a lot. I’m in Slytherin. It comes with the territory. But this time it made me feel scared.

“Just...leave me alone,” I mumbled, fumbling with the wall behind me, trying to find something to hold onto.

“Aw, you don’t mean that,” Satan said, leaning towards me again.

I scrambled sideways, nearly falling over.

“Is there a problem here?”

Satan took a step back. I shuffled further along the wall to get away from him and looked round to see who’d spoken.

Albus Potter.

Well, that makes sense. Gryffindors love a chance to save the day.

“There’s no pwoblem, pwetty boy,” Satan said with a sneer. He was slightly less intimidating now that his bitten tongue made his words unclear.

Potter didn’t acknowledge him and instead looked at me with wide, worried hazel eyes. His black hair was messy around his face and he looked kind.

“Bell?” He said softly. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said, glaring at him because it’s very important to glare at Gryffindors.

“You didn’t look fine.” His voice was quiet and understanding. For some reason that was hugely annoying.

“I’m...I’m okay, really.”

Unfortunately, my insisting I was okay coincided with another wave of dizziness and nausea, and Potter had to step forwards to hold me up. It slightly undermined my point.

“Look, I should take you home,” he said. “Where are your friends? Are Malfoy and Selwyn here?”

He set me back up on my feet and then stepped away to look out into the crowd.

“Look, Potter,” Satan said, voice now back to normal. “I get that Daddy’s famous and it’s made you think you can butt into everyone else’s business. But she said she’s fine. Go away.”

Without really thinking about it, I took a step away from Satan and towards Potter.

Potter put a gentle arm around my shoulder. I didn’t want to shake him off.

“I suggest you back off,” Potter said, calmly looking straight at Satan. “She’s my friend. She’s underage and she’s not sober. You’re not going to hurt her.”

I don’t know what planet Potter’s been living on, but ‘friend’ is definitely pushing it. I’m not sure we’ve actually ever spoken, and if we have I can say with certainty that we won’t have exchanged any nice words.

“Al? What’s going on?”

Great. More Gryffindors.

James Potter and Louis Weasley stepped between Potter and Satan, followed by none other than the Moron.

The Moron looked surprised to see me.

Figures. I was surprised to see him too.

“Hey, Moron. Figured you’d be sipping champagne at the Madhouse roundabout now,” I said, trying to be witty but still slurring my words.

“Didn’t want to risk running into you,” Jason said coolly. “Looks like I made the wrong decision though.”

“Looks that way,” I said.

I tried to pull away from Al but immediately fell over again. He pulled me back up to my feet, looking anxious.

Jason stepped forward and put an arm round me on my other side.

“What’s happening, Al? You two okay?” He looked over my head to give Albus a worried look.

“Bell was just having some trouble from this loser,” Potter said, nodding towards Satan.

“Right. I’m the loser,” Satan said, but he looked bored now and wasn’t really putting any effort into insulting Potter.

“Think it’s about time for you to get moving,” Jason said pointedly. “Leave my cousin alone.”

Satan shrugged. “Whatever. You’re not worth it anyway, Olivia Bell.”

I watched him turn his back on us, and then leaned on Albus’s shoulder, embarrassed to find tears stinging my eyes. All four Gryffindor boys crowded around me, asking if I was okay and if I needed anything and how I was going to get home. Even the Moron seemed concerned.

Stupid Gryffindors. Stupid Albus Potter and his stupid hero complex. I was fine.

“Ollie! We’ve been looking for you.”

Cassie pushed through the Gryffindor swarm, dragging Scor behind her.

“What was happening with Sebastian?” Scor asked. “I tried to come over but it was hard to get past everyone during the countdown.”

“You shouldn’t have left her by herself, Cassandra,” Potter said. I wondered how he was on first name terms with Cassie. He hadn’t called me by my first name.

“Ollie can look after herself,” Cassie said. “She’s not a Hufflepuff, Albus. Keep your knickers on.”

She tucked her arm through mine and kissed my cheek, pulling me away from Potter.

“It’s not a joke,” Potter said, stepping forward. “She looks like she might have had a spiked drink. She shouldn’t have been dealing with that by herself.”

“She’s fine,” Cass said, rolling her eyes. “She just can’t hold her drink.”

Potter looked at me, as if waiting for me to contradict her, but I kept quiet.

Big Potter (James) put a hand on his brother’s arm.

“Come on, Al. Let’s go home. She’s with her friends now. Cassie will look after her.”

Thank you, James,” Cass said. “Listen to your big brother, Albus.”

She smiled sweetly. None of the Gryffindors moved.

Scor took my arm, the one Cassie wasn’t holding.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said. “I’ll make you tea.”

I nodded and tried to move with him, but Smaller Potter (Albus) gave me a look that held me still for a moment.

“You sure you’re okay, Bell? It’s okay to feel upset.”

“Of course she’s okay,” Cassie answered for me. “She’s a Slytherin. She doesn’t need saving. Come on, Ollie.”

I didn’t look back at the others as we walked away and out of the club.

As soon as we got outside and down the street, I dropped to my knees and leant forwards to throw up. Cassie sighed and knelt down beside me to hold back my hair. Scor rubbed my back.

“How come you’re on speaking terms with the Potters?” He asked Cassie while I vomited.

“Prefect rounds,” Cassie said. “James had the bright idea of matching up prefects from different Houses for patrols, and lucky me got matched with Albus. Albus insisted it was weird to spend several hours a week without calling each other by name.

James Potter was Head Boy and his brother was a prefect. But this didn’t actually explain why she also called Big Potter by his first name. Prefects didn’t spend that much time with the Heads. I was too busy throwing up to ask about it though.

“I forget you’re a prefect, Scor said, frowning. “Bloody stupid decision on Slughorn’s part.”

“Apparently it was process of elimination. Alani said she was too busy with her debating and her studies to take on something else, and Titania’s too superficial and silly and would have no authority. Emilia never talks, and Ollie’s not bright enough.”

“Don’t be mean, Cass.” Scor sounded tired.

“What? Ollie doesn’t mind. Her grades speak for themselves.

“Well, maybe you should ask what Ollie thinks, instead of deciding for her.”

His voice was tense. Maybe his declaration of love didn’t go so well. Or maybe he was just worried about me.

“Why, that’s a very good idea, Scorpius,” Cassie said sarcastically. “I will ask her. Just as soon as she’s finished puking up her guts and can talk again.”

This seemed to remind Scorpius that I was currently being sick, and he went back to rubbing my back.

When I’d finished emptying my stomach, I shakily got up up to my feet. Scor put an arm around my shoulders.

“Are you alright?” He said seriously, nudging my shoulder. “Potter thought your drink was spiked?”

“I don’t know. Maybe, yes. I was suddenly just a mess.”

“It was probably that weirdo who bought me the green drink,” Cass said, tiptoeing along the curb of the pavement in front of us, holding her arms out on either side like a tightrope walker. “Trying to get lucky with me.”

“It’s not funny, Cassie,” Scorpius sighed. “It’s serious.”

“I’m okay,” I told him. “It’s all fine now.”

“And with Sebastian?” Scor asked. “You’re sure you’re okay?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “He was just...persistent.”

“You should have gone for it,” Cassie said. “Sebastian’s hot.”

“He also wanted significantly more than I did.”

“But he was fun and attractive and interested.”

“Leave it, Cass,” Scor snapped.

Cassie didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure if she was annoyed with us or whether she’d just decided she was bored of the conversation.

“Love you, Cass,” I called, my voice hoarse from throwing up.

She smiled and reached back to hold my hand.




Chapter 4: Shopping with Scorpius Malfoy
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Chapter Four: Shopping with Scorpius Malfoy


Shopping with Scorpius Malfoy is, and I’m saying this as politely as I can, bloody challenging. He takes a good half an hour to choose a pair of jeans and much, much longer if he thinks he needs new shoes. And it’s not just that it takes him a long time to choose. Everything he picks up comes with a long commentary about whether or not it brings out his eyes and whether it looks classy enough without making him look like, and I quote, “a posh Malfoy brat”.

I’m not really sure why I put up with him. Especially when I just need to top up my school supplies, which we end up doing together every holiday the day before term starts. For some reason I never learn, which is why I was sitting on the floor outside ‘Flickerus Fowler’s Robes for Fashionable Young Wizards’ by myself while Scor tried on his eighth shade of navy blue dress robes.

I’d waited outside the changing rooms with him for the first few pairs, nodding sagely when he commented on the quality of the fabric, and trying (and failing) not to laugh when he accidentally tried on a pair of women’s padded-chest maternity dress robes that had been left on the wrong rack.

After pair number five I’d had enough. All the robes looked exactly the same anyway and Scor didn’t even need new clothes. We’d been through exactly the same routine in the summer and, despite his insistence that he’d grown half an inch, the four sets of robes Cass and I helped him buy for the start of sixth year still definitely fitted him.

I sloped out of the shop while he was still in the changing rooms and spent twenty minutes buying paint brushes in Creevey and Thomas. When I got back Scor still hadn’t left the shop so I sat down on the floor outside, leaning against the wall and entertaining myself by imagining him monologuing about different robes without anyone listening.

In future I might charge him for my company on these outings, with a bonus rate once he exceeds a time limit. It would also be a pretty good way to sort out both our money problems. Scor has much more gold than he knows what to do with anyway.

I yawned in what I told myself was a very attractive way, then lay down on the pavement, ignoring the damp paving stones from last night’s rain.

“Ollie!”

“Hey, Ollie!”

I groaned, recognising the voises. I kept my eyes closed, imagining that it made me invisible, and braced myself for the arrival of Slytherin’s resident delinquents.

“Ollie! What are you doing on the floor?”

“Don’t ignore us, Ollie dearest. We will lift you up.”

“Let’s do it. We can kidnap her.”

“Looks like Malfoy’s trying on dresses so that’ll buy us some time. He won’t even notice she’s gone.”

They both sounded unreasonably pleased with themselves, finding themselves hilarious as usual.

“Quick, before he comes out and sees us.”

One of them grabbed both of my wrists, bony fingers digging into my flesh, while the other one caught my ankles with large hands. I found myself lifted off the ground before I had time to properly kick them.

Bugger.

I opened my eyes to glare at my captors.

Kai Montague, one of my fellow Slytherin Chasers, beamed down at me. He was tanned and cheerful after spending the break so far in Hawaii, and he was wearing very tight dark jeans, a cream blazer, and a gold ivy-shaped earring that curled around the top of his ear before snaking its way down through the pierced lobe. Kai and his sister have the unfair good fortune of having their Polynesian mother’s stunning looks and their French father’s bank account and fashion sense. Kai at least used to have gappy teeth, but ever since he figured out a charm to straighten them he’s lost his shyness and has smiled at every opportunity. A nicer human than me might describe it as sweet: it’s rare to find such a smiley Slytherin.

“And she awakens!” Kai crowed, swinging my wrists from side to side.

“She lives!” Ozan Suvari, our other Chaser, shouted from my feet.

“This is a day for celebration indeed,” Kai said, grin widening. “We should high five.”

“Definitely high five,” Oz said with a thoughtful expression. Don’t be deceived. I’m pretty sure Oz isn’t really capable of actual thought. His father owns a magic carpet company back in Turkey, and Oz is a sneaky billionaire who doesn’t need to take anything seriously or put any real effort into anything except Quidditch.

“Maybe we should even go in for a manly cuddle…” Kai said

Oz nodded seriously. “Yes. This does seem to be the appropriate time for a manly cuddle. Let’s do it.”

They were still holding me in the air. I opened my mouth to tell them not to drop me in their rush to cuddle but didn’t quite get the words out in time. Kai let go of my wrists and I landed uncomfortably hard on the ground.

“Ouch.” I ended up sitting in an icy puddle, the grimy, freezing water seeping through my jeans.

“Sorry, Ollie,” Ozan laughed. “We thought you liked lying on the ground. You looked so peaceful before we picked you up. We felt guilty for spoiling it.”

“We figured you’d want to go back to the ground as soon as possible,” Kai added.

“This was the quickest way to put you down.”

Both of them looked down at me with wide eyes and large smiles. For a six-foot-two slightly overweight bald black guy and a five-foot-ten skinny fashionista they manage to be strangely adorable.

I glared back at them. My bum hurt and I was freezing.

“Is that an affectionate glare I spy?” Kai tipped his head to one side.

I glared some more.

“Looks pretty affectionate to me. A loving glare, I’d say,” Ozan said with a serious nod. “I think she must have missed us.”

Kai offered me a hand to help me up, still smiling like an imbecile.

I bit his finger.

“Hmm, she seems just as bad tempered as she was when we saw her last,” Kai said, examining the bite marks.

“We should train her better,” Oz said. “Imagine what it would be like to have a friendly Chaser to work with.”

He lifted Kai’s hand to his lips and kissed the bite mark better. Kai flicked his nose.

I pushed my palms into the frozen ground to lift myself to my feet.

“Shut up. What are you two losers doing here?” I ran a hand through my hair as I spoke, trying to look like I hadn’t just been lying down in a puddle on the floor.

“Alani needed quills and I felt like getting out of the house,” Kai said, draping an arm around me and tightening his grip when I tried to shuffle away.

“Is she here then?” I gave up trying to escape and leaned my head against his shoulder. He was warm and I decided the January chill was a good enough excuse to go against my usual no-excessive-human-contact-while-sober principle.

Alani, Kai’s twin sister, is one of the girls in my dorm at Hogwarts. When she’s actually around and isn’t rushing between the Library and all her societies we get on okay, but Cass thinks she’s boring so we don’t have a lot to do with each other. It’s always nice to run into her though.

“Yeah,” Kai said. “She’s just in Quibble’s Quills. We were going to go with her but then we saw your lovely self lying on the street.”

“We worried that you might have died,” Oz said bluntly.

“And we knew Scorpy would be too busy admiring his reflection to notice,” Kai added.

I snorted with laughter. Scor wouldn’t find it funny but it was true. I’m not sure he’d notice a full blown death eater attack if it happened while he was trying on clothes. He definitely wouldn’t notice me freezing to death outside.

“So we saw it as our duty to come and investigate,” Oz said, looking proud of himself.

“Would be a shame to have to replace you for Quidditch, afterall,” Kai said with a yawn.

“And we might miss you a bit,” Oz said, reaching out to ruffle my hair.

I scowled at him.

“You’re so friendly and lovable. It reminds me why I like being your favourite human being in all of the world,” Kai said. “And here comes my lovely sister. Hello, sister mine. Did you get everything you need to satisfy your inner Ravenclaw?”

I turned to smile at Alani. She’s not as ridiculously friendly as her brother and her fierce ambition is a bit hard to get along with - she wants to get an internship with the Department of Mysteries after graduation, which is about as competitive and difficult as it gets - but there was no reason not to be nice. Her heart’s in the right place.

Alani nodded, lifting a large bag emblazoned with the peacock feather logo of ‘Quibble’s Quills’.

“Obviously,” she said, rolling her eyes at her brother. “Hello, Olivia. Nice Christmas?”

“Don’t ask,” Scorpius said, coming out of Fowler’s robe shop empty handed. Apparently none of the robes he had tried on were worth actually purchasing. “She’ll start whining and we won’t be able to make her stop. Hi, you lot. Ready for Quidditch this term?”

“Captain! May I just say, it’s such an honour to be here in your presence,” Kai said, reaching out to shake Scor’s hand.

“An honour indeed. Will you sign my chest?” Oz undid the top few buttons of his shirt.

Scor let them both throw their arms around him, remaining rigid while they planted sloppy kisses on each of his cheeks.

“Are you quite done?” He raised his eyebrows when neither Kai nor Oz let go of him.

I don’t know how either one of them ended up in Slytherin. They’re much too cuddly.

“Aw, I guess we can be,” Oz said, stepping away from Scor. “Wouldn’t want to upset you, Captain.”

Kai stuck out his bottom lip but then also let go.

“Ollie, you’re a mess,” Scor said, looking me up and down. “You look like a niffler got hold of you. What happened while I was in there?”

Kai raised his eyebrows, trying to look innocent.

“We rescued her, Scorpy,” Oz said. “The kidnapping could have been extraordinarily dangerous had it been successful.”

Kai nodded enthusiastically. “We were quite heroic, really.”

“I see. Sounds plausible,” Scor said. “You okay, Alani? Having a nice day out with these idiots?”

Scor and Alani are usually on pretty good terms when Cass isn’t around. They both get a bit nerdy and excited about books.

“Ah, you know,” Alani said, looking fondly at her brother and his friend. “It’s good to get them out of the house every so often. Give them some air.”

“I don’t know how you deal with it,” Scor said. “It’s hard enough having them on my Quidditch team and keeping my sanity. Luckily we’ve only got two more terms with Oz before he graduates.”

“Aw, Scorpy,” Oz said. “It’s sweet of you to be keeping track. I know you’ll miss me desperately.”

Kai nodded solemnly.

“I’ve got the date marked in my calendar with a big yellow smiley face,” Scor said.

“To remind you to organise my leaving party? How kind. This is so unlike you, Scorpy,” Oz said.

Scor didn’t reply.

“It’s alright, Ozzy,” Kai said. “I’ll make sure you get your leaving do. I’ll bake a big cake with good riddance iced on the top.”

“Thanks, mate. Knew I could count on you.”

“I’d forgotten how annoying these two are together,” I said to Alani. “Well done you for turning out so sensible after sixteen years living with Kai. How have you done it?”

“Sedatives,” Alani said with a mischievous grin. “Scorpius, Titania’s meeting us here in a minute if you want to make yourself scarce. I mean, you’re very welcome to stay, but…”

Titania Urquhart is one of the other girls in our dorm. She’s great fun, completely mad, and has dance moves to rival Cassie’s, but she’s also had an unhealthy obsession with Scorpius since Day One at Hogwarts. None of his attempts to discourage her affections have been successful and her persistence in, well, stalking him, has been pretty damaging to any potential friendship we might have had. She and Cassie despise each other, and Scor won’t go near her.

Alani’s best friends with Titania, but she understands that Titania’s insane behaviour annoys Scorpius so she does her best to keep them apart as much as possible.

“Oh, Salazar, I can see her. Come on, Ollie. By guys.” Scor grabbed my arm.

I glanced over my shoulder and caught sight of Titania’s afro curls bouncing towards us before Scor dragged me backwards into the closest shop.

“Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes?” I raised an eyebrow. “Thought we didn’t come in here?”

“I can’t go back into Fowler’s when I just refused to buy anything,” Scor said. “And there wasn’t time to go anywhere else. I can’t deal with Urquhart right now. Here, get behind this shelf. Don’t let her see us.”

Scor pulled me between a shelf of false cigarettes - look super stylish and cool without damaging your lungs. Recommended for athletes who want to look rebellious without sacrificing their health - and a row of squeaking orange and turquoise pygmy puffs.

“You want to get me a pygmy puff, Scor?” I picked up one of the puffs and poked its tummy.

“Not even slightly,” Scor said, peering worriedly between the boxes of false cigarettes to see if he could spot Titania.

“But why? They’re so cute and fluffy.”

“Cute and fluffy makes me feel a bit sick,” Scor said. “And you know you’re not to e trusted with live animals.”

“Don’t be mean. My owl’s still alive.”

“Only because he eats my breakfast every morning.”

I contemplated this. My owl, Harvey, enjoys a piece of Scor’s toast every morning when we’re at school. I’m not sure what he eats in the holidays. But he’s stayed alive for five years so he’s doing okay.

“I can look after animals,” I insisted.

“Remember when your mum gave you a hamster?” Scor looked at me seriously.

“Shush, we don’t talk about that.”

“I’m not getting you a pygmy puff, Ollie. If you ask very nicely I might get you a box of false cigarettes.”

“Ew.”

“Not tempted?”


“I mean, it’s a nice offer, but a few pretend cigarettes just aren’t up there with a pygmy puff as potential gifts.”


I kissed the pygmy puff’s tummy and put it back down on the shelf where it was immediately surrounded by its colourful siblings. I felt a bit sad to let it go.

“It’s not a bad idea, though,” Scor continued. “We all need to work on our fitness for the Ravenclaw match this term. We might be able to run faster if we stop smoking.”


“Scor, I’m not going to smoke pretend cigarettes,” I said, shaking my head. “If you want me to stop smoking for Quidditch then I’ll just stop.”


“Promise?”

“Whatever.”

“Shake on it?”

I reached out and halfheartedly shook his hand. He’s got what he calls ‘the Malfoy handshake’, which essentially means he’s very good at crushing your fingers. It works well for intimidating fellow Quidditch captains, but is less enjoyable when he’s shaking my hand.

“We should maybe make an unbreakable vow,” Scor said.

“Yeah, I’m not going to do that.”

“But it will motivate you.”

“And then tomorrow night when we get back to Hogwarts Cass will offer me a smoke, I’ll forget all about the vow and have a puff, and then I’m dead.”

Scor nodded thoughtfully. “You could try saying no to Cass?”

He looked at me. I looked back. And then we both started laughing. Nobody says no to Cass. She is masterful at getting what she wants.

“Okay,” he said through his smile. “Maybe no unbreakable vow. But I like this smoking ban. Might impose it on the whole team.”

“Cass won’t like it if both of us quit properly.”

“She’ll be fine. She can smoke to her heart’s content. I’m not stopping her.”

“She’ll corrupt you!”

“She can try," Scor said, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that completely contradicted his aristocratic features. "Have you heard from her in the last few days?”

“I haven’t, actually. I think she’s a bit annoyed with me,” I said, thinking back to Cass telling me not to question her about Scor. “She’s not answered any of my owls.”

“Join the club.” His smile vanished.

“Did your declaration of love not go well?” I shuffled a bit closer to him.

“I don’t know,” Scor said. “She basically just ignored what I said and went to sleep.”

“Sorry, Scor. Don’t take it to heart. You know what she’s like. It just takes her a while to figure out her feelings.”

“Yeah, I know. Thought I’d give her some space to think about it.”

“It’ll be fine. We’ll see her tomorrow for school.”

“Exactly. I’ll just wait till then. I figured she’s probably having a great last few days of holiday with Andreas.”

“I’ll bring her chocolate tomorrow for the train in case she’s still in a bad mood with me,” I decided. “Is Titania still out there?”

I nodded to the window. Scor stood on tiptoes to look over a box of daydream charms at the gaggle of Slytherins outside.

“Yep,” he said sadly. “She looks worryingly like she might be searching for someone which, based on past experience, doesn’t usually work out well for me. We may be trapped here for some time.”

He sat down on a crate of skiving snackboxes. I sat on the floor next to him, leaning my head back onto the crate. He brushed a hair out of my eyes and I yawned.

“Attractive, Ollie.”

“Be quiet.”

“It was a compliment.”

“No seriously, be quiet. Someone’s coming.”

We both went silent as footsteps approached, coming to a halt on the other side of the pygmy puffs. I leaned forwards and could see a pair of scuffed white trainers and a pair of girls’ doc martens from under the shelf.

“Please. Talk to me,” a girl was saying. It too breathy to be Titania's voice. Scor breathed an obvious sigh of relief.

“What is there to say?” Albus Potter’s voice.

“I don’t know, Al, but you can’t just ignore me forever. You’re important to me. I’m not going to let you just walk out of my life.”

“I can’t do this right now.”

“But I need you to talk to me. I can’t deal with you being this cross and just not saying anything. After everything we’ve been through! It’s not fair.”

“Seriously, Vinnie? You want to talk to me about fair?”

“Don’t be angry.”

“Don’t be…of course I’m angry, Vinnie.”

“But…”

“Are you really going to argue with this? Come on, you’re not an idiot. You really thought giving a load of newspapers an exclusive about my many, many flaws as a boyfriend was going to get us back together?”

“I didn’t…what…you’re being mean, Al.”

“No, I’m really not.”

“Stop being upset with me.”

“Are you really surprised that I’m upset? Look at this stuff, Vinnie.”

We could hear the rustling of paper before Potter’s voice spoke again, in a slow, clear accent that suggested he was reading from something.

“Al’s always uncomfortably aware that his Father has left him pretty big shoes to fill, and unfortunately the combination of his constant desperation to please and his struggle to meet the expectations of the people who respect and admire his Father leaves him utterly incompetent when it comes to relationships.”

“Al…I didn’t say that. Those aren’t the words I used…”

“It’s an interview with you, Vinnie. You went to them and offered to do an interview about me. Look, it gets worse…He’s always looking for excuses to play the hero, hoping that people will notice him and he might finally get some of the publicity he feels like he deserves. Unfortunately, underneath it all he’s a scared little boy who can’t properly communicate with anyone outside his abnormally large family. He doesn’t know how to get close to people he doesn’t share blood with, and when he tries to he disappoints them immensely.

“Stop it. I never wanted you to read this. I just needed the money.”

“I’m sure you did. That’s why you’ve gone to the three biggest newspapers in the country and given them a half page photograph of your face to go next to your interview.”

“I don’t…”

“Here’s my favourite bit. Look, Vinnie, here at the end. Ultimately, Albus is always going to be constrained by the fact that he has no sense of who he is beyond the fact that he’s a let down to his far superior family.

“Albus…”

“I don’t want to talk to you, Vinnie. I don’t know how to talk to you. This is…you’ve taken everything I’ve ever spoken to you about, everything you know I worry about and all the things that scare me, and you’ve given them over for the whole wizarding world to read.”

Silence. I knew I shouldn’t be listening to this but now that we’d sat here for so long we couldn’t really let them see we were there. Next to me, Scor was wide eyed.

Potter continued. “I trusted you, Vinnie. I thought I could talk to you about this stuff.”

“You can, Al. This was…it was a mistake. Of course you can talk to me about this. You can talk to me about everything. I love you.”

“No, you don’t. If you loved me you wouldn’t have done this to me.”

“But…”

“You’ve kindly pointed out that I can’t get close to people outside my family. You ever wonder why that is?”

“I don’t…”

“You ever consider that it’s maybe because of two-faced, fame-hungry, manipulative frauds who pretend to care about me so they can make a load of money spilling all my secrets to the world and get their face splashed across the national news?”

“You ended it, Al,” Lavinia burst out. “You broke up with me. I was upset. I made a mistake. Are you going to punish me forever?”

“This isn’t just a mistake. This is more than that,” Potter said slowly. “Look, my Dad warned me about the consequences of being part of my family. I’ve always known to be careful about people who just want to be near me because of my name. I just…I just wish I’d realised you were one of them a bit sooner.”

“But I love you.”

“And I love you.” Potter’s voice cracked. “At least I thought I did.”

“We can still make this work.”

“No. No we can’t. This is it, Lavinia.”

“But…”

“I think you should go. I don’t have anything else to say to you.”

“Al…Albus.”

“Pretty sure he told you to leave,” a girl said. I watched her brown heeled boots cross the room to stand next to Potter.

“I don’t see how it’s any of your business,” Lavinia said.

“He’s my cousin and you’ve been completely awful to him. This is our uncle’s shop. Now get out before we have you escorted from the premises.”

“Fine.”

The black stilettos turned away, clacking on the floor as Lavinia Buchanan moved towards the door.

I risked peering around the shelf to see who the brown boots belonged to and so which of Potter’s cousins had come to rescue him.

“You okay, Al?” Rose Weasley put an arm around her cousin.

Potter leaned his head onto Weasley’s shoulder and took a deep, shuddering breath.

Scorpius grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back from the shelf before either of them saw me.

“I just…didn’t think she’d do that, you know?”

“I know,” Rose said soothingly. “I know.”

“Hurts.”

“It’s okay to be hurt. She’s been important to you for a long time and she’s done something really terrible.”

“Does Louis know?”

“Yeah. I think the whole family knows, to be honest. Lou doesn’t get back from France until this evening but Victoire’s going to apparate him to yours the second they’re in the country. He told me to pass on some pretty colourful descriptions of Lavinia and said to get you a hot chocolate on him.”

“Thanks, Rosie. For being here.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m always here, you know that. And Lou will be too, as soon as he can.”

“Love you.”

“I love you too. Now let’s go and get that hot chocolate.”

We waited a few moments for them to leave and then Scorpius helped me stand up. I wasn’t sure whether he’d mention what we’d overheard. Scor’s had his fair share of people passing on gossip about him to newspapers, and I know he struggles with people comparing him to his Father. I wasn’t sure he’d like having this in common with Albus Potter.

Scor looked back through the cigarette shelf to the street outside. “I think she’s gone. Come on. Let’s get out of here. I can feel myself getting less intelligent the longer we spend inside this place.”

Apparently Scor didn’t want to talk about what we’d heard.



Chapter 5: In Which Cassie Misses The Train
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]





“And you must write to me this term, darling. Let me know everything that’s going on between you and Scorpius, and you know you only have to ask if you’d like me to send you a new dress or something to make you pretty…oh, Olivia, I miss you desperately when you’re gone, you know that, darling, don’t you?”


I murmured some kind of vague response. I find it difficult to listen to my mother’s goodbyes. They drag on for a very long time.

 
“You’ll be coming home for Easter, won’t you? Of course you will. You mustn’t leave me alone. You know what your Father’s like. He didn’t even come to see you off today. I expect he’s with her.

 
Excellent. It’s always good to be sent off to school with a quick discussion about Dad’s rapid decline into a despicable human being.

 
“I mean, I don’t want to go on about it, darling. You know I’d hate to burden you with my problems. Scorpius is waving you over, Olivia. Here, give me a kiss.”

 
I stayed still to let Mum kiss my forehead. She held a hand to my cheek for a moment, looking down at me (she wears very high shoes) with forlorn eyes. Her pale pink lipstick had smudged a little onto her teeth. I didn’t point it out.

 
The whistle blew, signalling five minutes until the train departed, and Mum jumped and let go of my face.


“You’ve messed up your hair, darling,” she said, taking a comb out of her pocket and attacking me with it for a minute. “There you are. Now you look beautiful. Have a lovely year. Don’t forget to write.”

 
“Bye, Mum. I’ll see you at Easter.” I thought about giving her a hug but wasn’t sure she’d ever let me go so settled for a strange, jerking nod towards her before dragging my trunk towards the train, struggling not to drop my owl cage.

 
Scor saw me struggling with my trunk and shouted out to me to wait. I watched him kiss his mum goodbye and shrug at something his Dad said before jogging to catch up with me. He wasn’t carrying a trunk. Mr Malfoy always makes sure they arrive at Kings Cross early enough to load Scor’s trunk into a carriage before saying goodbye. 

 
“Long time no see,” Scor said when he reached me, nudging me with his arm. “Here, I’ll take the trunk.”

 
He lifted up my trunk with relatively little effort and I rearranged my owl cage in my arms so it was less precariously balanced. Mercury, my owl, looked at me suspiciously. I stuck my tongue out at her. I get unreasonable levels of satisfaction from being rude to her. She ruffled her feathers and looked unamused.

 
“I got the back carriage,” Scor was saying, pushing past smaller students to get down the corridor on the Hogwarts Express. 

 
“Is Cassie there?” 

 
“Cassie’s never here earlier than two minutes to eleven,” Scor said. “She has a prefect meeting for the beginning of the journey so won’t see us until later anyway. We always sit at the back, though. She’ll know where to find us.”

 
“I’m getting withdrawal symptoms.”


“From Cass?”

 
“Yep. I’ve had nobody to bitch with since New Year’s.”

 
Scor raised an eyebrow. “Some people might say that bitching isn’t a necessity.”


“Those people haven’t met my mother.”
 

“This is a valid point.” Scor slid open the door to a compartment. I could see his trunk already up on the luggage rack, S.H.Malfoy embossed on the side in glittering silver. He lifted my trunk on top of his and then flopped onto a chair, putting his legs up on the seat opposite.


I sat down on the other side of the compartment and put my feet up next to Scor as the train started to move. I get closer and closer to being late every year. I blame my mother and her excessively time consuming goodbyes.

 
Scor reached up to take a newspaper down off the luggage rack.

 
I sighed. “I hate that Cass is a prefect. The train’s no fun just with you.”

 
“Aw, thanks, Ollie.”

 
“It’s true. You’re just going to sit and read the paper and be all grown up and dull. I miss gossiping and eating chocolate all journey.”

 
He opened the paper and started to read. I spent a long time drawing swirls in the condensation on the window. When everywhere on the window in reach was full I looked back up.
 

“Scor?”
 

“Mmhmm.”
 

“Scor…”

 
“Mmm…”

 
“Don’t you miss spending the whole journey with Cass?”

 
“Mmm.”

 
“Will you buy me a hippogriff?”

 
“Yahuh.”
 

“I was thinking you could pay for me to go on holiday with Cassie this year?”
 

“Sure.”

 
“Are you listening at all?”

 
“Mmm.”

 
“I slept with Potter.”

 
“WHAT?”

 
“Hello. Nice to know you’re capable of communication.”

 
“You slept with Potter? Smaller Potter?”

 
“Yeah, it was great. Veeery satisfying.”


“Are you serious? You slept with Albus Potter? For Merlin’s sake, Ollie.”

 
“Calm down, Scor. Of course I didn’t.”
 

“But you just said…”

 
“You were ignoring me. I needed to get your attention.”

 
“Bitch.”

 
“You love me.”

 
“Keep telling yourself that.”

 
“Aw, don’t be cross. You were being rude and not listening to me.”

 
“Right. He’s in the Prophet again,” Scor said, waving the newspaper.


“Who?”

 
“Smaller Potter. More stuff about him and Brogan. I don’t know why it’s supposed to be interesting.”
 

Scor passed me the paper, pointing to a large photo of Albus Potter trying to shield his face from the camera. 

 
“I guess they like having something to write about him. It’s normally Big Potter that causes the gossip, isn’t it?”
 

“Yeah. They’re really giving him a hard time of it. Damn, never thought I’d feel sorry for a Potter,” Scor said with a frown.


The carriage door slid open and Esther came in, followed by Clara Zabini. Esther mouthed an apology to Scorpius, who shuffled closer to the window and further from Clara.

 
“Is it okay if we sit here?” Clara gave a simpering smile. “Everywhere else was full.”

 
“It wasn’t full, Clara,” Esther said. “You just didn’t want to sit with any of the people in the carriages with space.”

 
“Well, yeah. It was a choice between you two, Laura Brogan and her gaggle of hags, or Amethyst Twine,” Clara said, lifting my feet of the chair and sitting down next to Scorpius. He shuffled away from her slightly. “We sat with Twine for ages but you know what she’s like. I didn’t want to do a whole journey in silence.”


“We left our trunks in with her in case there wasn’t space anywhere else, but it was beyond awkward sitting with her. I swear she’s worse than she used to be. The dorm’s going to be weird this term,” Esther said.

 
Scor was scowling. I looked at him and mouthed “Be nice”. He smirked.
 

“How was your Christmas, Scorpy?” Clara moved a little closer to him.
 

Esther caught my eye and grinned, taking a seat next to me.

 
“It was decent. Cass stayed with me most of the time,” Scor said, not looking at Clara.

 
“Do your parents not mind?” Esther spoke up when Clara looked unsure what to say.

 
“Nah, they know there’s no point trying to stop us seeing each other and they’d rather know where we are. Dad loves Cass. She makes him laugh. I think Mum’s a bit less sure; she always thought I’d end up marrying Ollie, but she can see that Cassie makes me happy,” Scor said, talking enthusiastically. Cassie’s his favourite topic of conversation.
 

“Where is she? We assumed she’d be sitting with you,” Esther said.

 
“Prefect meeting,” Scor grunted, looking back at his newspaper.


“They finished ages ago. We ran into my brother on our way over here and he said they were done,” Esther said.

 
“She probably ran into someone on her way back,” Scor said, looking unconcerned. “Did Joe get that new broom he wanted for Christmas? I forgot to ask yesterday.”
 

“Oh, yeah he did. The Wanderer. He loves it.”

 
“That’s good. He’s too tall now for the Comets I think. They’re made for a stockier build. His balance was off last term and that’s not what we need for the Ravenclaw match.”

 
“Yeah, he said it’s a lot better on the Wanderer, and he can accelerate quicker as well,” Esther said. “Oz has been round a lot to work on high speed passes. They reckon they’ll be able to get the Quaffle halfway down the pitch in a few seconds and then Olivia can wait nearer the goals without being marked.”

 
“That’s brilliant. We’ll definitely work on it. Oscar’s good at throwing over long distances and if the Ravenclaw Chasers aren’t focussing on Ollie at the beginning of the run she’ll be able to shoot. Of course, we won’t be able to use the same play many times in a game without them catching on but it’s a good one to keep in mind.”
 

After ten minutes of talking about Quidditch tactics we were joined in the carriage by Joe and Oz, who enthusiastically joined in with the conversation. 

 
Clara sighed, flicked her hair back and opened a copy of Witch Weekly, leaning on Scor’s shoulder to read. She didn't really understand Quidditch and couldn’t see why it mattered to the rest of us. Scor frowned at her but chose not to cause conflict by making her move. I noticed Esther smile at him gratefully.

 
“I want to practice the Porskoff Ploy this term, Scor,” I said when Joe had finished running through his list of reasons why the Wanderer was a stronger broom than the old Firebolts. “Even Hufflepuff can do it better than we can. It’s embarrassing.”

 
“True dat,” Oz said with a solemn nod. 

 
“Never say that again,” Joe advised. “I agree, though. We can be sure the Claws will have some new tricks. We can’t play the same way we played against Hufflepuff.”

 
Scor opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the door opening again.

 
“What are you doing here?” He rearranged his features into a cold sneer. When he does that it reminds me how happy I am to be on his good side. He doesn’t make a good enemy.

 
James Potter didn’t look phased by Scor’s hostility. He glanced around the compartment and when he spoke it was to me rather than Scor.

 
“Bell. Do you know where Cassie is?”

 
“We’ve not seen her all day. Why?” I looked at him curiously.

 
“She didn’t turn up to the prefect meeting.”

 
“Why do you care?” Scor was scowling again.


“I’m head boy, Malfoy. I need to make sure all the prefects are doing their jobs properly. Cassie can’t do that if she doesn’t turn up to the meetings.” He looked frustrated and ran a hand through his hair, messing it up so he looked like he’d just been flying. “Look, if you see her later can you tell her to come and find me?”

 
“Will do,” I said.


“Not making any promises she’ll bother, though,” Scor said. “Don’t see why she’d go out of her way to talk to you.”


“We’ll let Cassie decide whether it’s worth it, shall we?” James’s voice was cool. He turned back to me. “Bell. Jason said to give you this from his Mum.”
 

He passed me a cardboard box and then left the compartment without closing the door behind him.
 

“It’s lucky he’s pretty,” Clara said, standing up to close the door. “Otherwise he’d be completely intolerable.”
 

“What’s in the box, Ollie?” Scor leaned forward.

 
I took the lid off the box and found three silver photo frames. One contained a horrible picture of the whole family eating Christmas dinner. I wasn’t looking at the camera, instead trying to steal Jason’s mince pie. Jason was looking moronic. Mum had tears in her eyes. Dad was red faced. Oliver was shaking with anger and Katie was beaming but holding tightly onto Oliver’s hand. She must have set up a camera to get a full family photo. 

 
I put the picture back in the box and looked at the other two. I hadn’t noticed either of them being taken. One showed me squeezed onto an armchair with Jason, tucking my hair behind my ear while he offered me a Quaffle. The Christmas tree twinkled in the background and we were surrounded by ripped wrapping paper. The other showed Aunt Katie pulling me into a hug next to the fireplace. Looking at these two pictures you wouldn’t realise how dysfunctional the family really is.
 

“Family photographs. That’s not very you, Ollie,” Joe said with a smile.

 
“I expect the whole box will stay under my bed all year. “I don’t particularly want a reminder of this year’s Christmas fiasco.” I turned to look at Scor. “That’s strange that Cass wasn’t at the prefect meeting.”

 
Scor frowned. “Yeah. She must have missed the train. I guess she’ll need to get the knight bus or something.”

 
“She won’t like that at all.”

 
“No. Maybe it’ll encourage her to start being on time,” Scor said with a sigh.

 
“I seriously doubt it,” I said.
 

Joe laughed and then changed the conversation back to Quidditch, a topic that lasted us the majority of the remaining journey.
 

Cassie wasn’t at Hogwarts when we arrived and didn’t turn up during the feast. I sat between Scor and Joe, slapping Joe when he repeatedly pulled my hair and stole bits of my dinner because he couldn’t be bothered to reach across the table. 

 
It felt strange to go back to the Common Room after the feast without Cass. I sat with Scor on a plushy green sofa near the fire, chatting about nothing in particular, neither of us acknowledging that our main reason for staying up was that we were waiting for Cassie.

 
“We should go for a run tomorrow morning,” Scor said, looking at the fireplace rather than at me.
 

“Haha. No.” I leaned back on the sofa and stretched my legs out across his lap. He glared at my toes.

 
“Come on, Ollie. I need you in good shape.”

 
“You saying I’m not in good shape already?” I jabbed his thigh with my toes and smirked when he winced.
 

“We’ll be able to play better if we’re in better fitness.”

 
“But running is evil.”

 
“Ollie…” Scor raised an eyebrow.

 
“It’s so horrid. Don’t make me do it.” 

 
“I can’t make you. I just…I really want to win. This is my first real chance to prove I’m good, to show that I can do this, that I’m not…”

 
He didn’t finish his sentence and I didn’t ask him to. I know Scor wants to show people he’s a different person to his Father. He arrived at Hogwarts to find that everyone had preconceived notions of who he was, and has spent the last six years trying to carve a reputation based on his own achievements. The Quidditch Cup is a chance to do this.

 
“Fine. We can go for a run.” I said, sticking my tongue out at him. 

 
“Good girl.” Scor smirked.

 
“You did that on purpose!”

 
“Did what?”
 

“Guilt tripped me into saying I’ll go running.”

 
“I did nothing of the sort,” Scor said, not trying to hide the laughter all over his face.


“You’re so mean. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

 
“Whatever.”

 
“Scorrr, I don’t want to go running.”

 
“It’ll be good for you. I’ll give you a chocolate frog afterwards.”
 

“I like those.” I grinned.
 

“I know you do. Look, I’m going to go to bed. When Cass gets here tell her she can come wake me up if she wants.”

 
“Ew.” I stood up at the same time as Scor.

 
“Be nice,” Scor said, reaching out to ruffle my hair quickly. “Meet here at seven to run.”

 
I glared at his back as he headed up the stairs to his dormitory, and then opened the door to my own. Clara and Esther were unpacking and giggling. The curtains around Amethyst’s bed were closed. My owl, Mercury, was perched in her cage on my bedside table and my trunk had been left at the end of my bed. I opened it, vaguely thinking about getting ready for bed.


Clara looked up from unpacking her trunk, holding a red sparkly top on a wooden hanger. “Oh. It’s just you. We thought Cassie might have arrived.”

 
“She’s not here yet,” I said, frowning at her and then waving my wand at my trunk. “Accio pyjamas.”

 
My pyjamas flew out of the trunk and landed over my head. I spat the stripy cloth out of my mouth and started to get changed.

 
“Do you know where she is?” Esther asked once I’d pulled the pyjama shirt on. 

 
“Cass? Nope.”

 
“Well, aren’t you worried?”

 
“She’s always late for everything,” I said with a shrug.

 
“But she’s not been late for school before,” Esther said.

 
“There’s a first time for everything.”

 
“You think she’s okay, though?” 

 
“Yeah,” I said, nodding. “Yeah. She’ll be here tomorrow.”
 

“Okay. So, I saw you were sitting with Scorpius downstairs,” Clara said, closing the lid of her trunk and sitting on the edge of her bed. “What were you talking about?”

 
“Not much.”

 
“Did he mention me?” Clara looked hopeful.
 

“No. We were waiting for Cass,” I said, ignoring the way Clara’s face crumpled in disappointment. She knows how Scor and Cassie are. I don’t know why she still thinks he might be interested. “I should get some sleep. We have class tomorrow and I want to go for a run.”
 

I bounced onto my bed, closing the curtains around me and climbing under my covers. I closed my eyes and let myself sink into the pillow, pulling the green sheets up around my shoulders and rolling over to cocoon myself in duvet. 

 
It felt strange to be at Hogwarts without Cass. I’d never slept in the Slytherin Dormitory without her before, and I missed her. Usually she’d be sat at the end of my bed, making plans for the new term and rolling her eyes at Clara’s comments. I missed her.
 

When the dormitory was finally quiet I sat up. I couldn’t sleep and Esther’s concern had shaken my confidence that Cassie would turn up the next day. 
 

I reached for a quill and my sketchbook, tearing out a piece of paper and chewing my lip while I thought about what to write.

 

 

Dear Cassie,

 
Missed you on the train today. We had to sit with Zabini and Montague. You would have hated it. 

 
Where are you? I’ve not heard from you for nearly a week now. Are you okay?

 
It’s strange in the dorm without you. I can’t sleep here without your snoring.  

 
I guess I’ll see you tomorrow? Or are you still on holiday or something? Let me know okay? I need you here. Scor’s making me go for a run tomorrow. I need you to remind him that exercise is a waste of time and all that jazz.

 
Love,

 
Ollie xx

 

 
Part of me felt silly sending the letter. Cassie would be fine. She was always fine. I didn’t need to check up on her, but I still found it much easier to sleep after watching Mercury fly away with the folded over piece of parchment.

Chapter 6: In Which Slughorn Makes A Choice
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Going running with Scor really, truly makes me want to kill myself. Or at least kill him. After running halfway round the lake my face was bright red, dripping with sweat, and I felt like someone had hit me with a well aimed jelly legs hex. I flopped onto the ground, resting my forehead on the frosty grass, welcoming the cold. 

 

Scor kept running. Because he’s evil.

 

I lay still, slowly letting my breathing regulate itself. I was wearing black leggings and a loose white T-shirt that I think belongs to Cassie, and as I caught my breath I started to realise how cold it was. I shakily got to my feet, cursing Scorpius, and then promptly sat back down again. Moving felt like far too much effort.

 

After a (long) while Scor turned up again, having run around the whole lake since I gave up. The lake is massive. I don’t know how he does it. The boy’s a machine.

 

“I despise you,” I said, burying my head back in the grass.

 

Scor dropped down beside me. He’d run three times the distance I had and was hardly even out of breath.

 

“Come on, fatty. I want to have breakfast,” he said, poking my ribs.

 

I rolled over and glared at him. He grinned, flashing his irritatingly bright white teeth, and picked me up, draping me upside down over one of his shoulders.

 

“What are you doing? Put me down, Scor,” I whined, talking into his lower back where my head had ended up.

 

“I’m hungry,” Scor said, starting to jog back towards the castle without putting me down. “If I wait for you to regain the use of your legs we’ll miss breakfast.”

 

He didn’t listen to my complaints and I contented myself with pulling faces at his back.

 

When we got back to the castle I waited for Scor to put me down. He laughed and ran faster, heading straight for the Great Hall.

 

“SCORPIUS MALFOY. Put me down! I’m serious.” 

 

I kicked his chest, swinging my legs to make carrying me more difficult, but he didn’t let me go until we reached the Slytherin Table, where he dropped me down onto a bench and sat next to me.

 

“Olivia, you look awful,” Clara Zabini said, raising one perfectly shaped eyebrow. She was carefully eating teaspoons full of pink grapefruit and didn’t look at all impressed by my entrance to the Hall.

 

“Well, someone made me go for a run and didn’t give me time to have a shower afterwards,” I said, elbowing Scor and taking a sausage from his plate.

 

“It’s good for you, Ollie,” Scor said with a shrug. “And it’s good for my team.”

 

I took another sausage.

 

Scor stuck out his bottom lip. “There’s literally a plate of sausages in front of you. Why take mine?”

 

“Tastes better.” I grinned.

 

“Whatever.” Scor refilled his plate and I took a piece of his toast.

 

“What do we have first today?”

 

“Potions in fifteen minutes,” Clara said, playing with her hair and watching Scorpius rather than me. “You should probably run and get dressed quickly.”

 

“Yeah, I guess,” I said with a yawn. 

 

I took another piece of toast from Scor and ambled back to the Common Room, where a few late risers were still sitting, bathed in the slightly eerie green light from the lake. After the war there was some talk of moving us to another area of the Castle. Apparently our cold living area might have been a contributing factor to how many Slytherins felt angry with society. Anyway, the story goes that the other potential Common Rooms they considered put up a protest and disappeared as soon as they were suggested. The Castle doesn’t like change, so we’re stuck shivering together with the damp and the dark. Cassie says it’s a bonding experience.

 

The Dormitory was almost empty, with the exception of Amethyst Twine, who sat staring into space on the edge of her bed and didn’t acknowledge me. Her eyes were outlined with heavy black liner and her hair was greasy and unwashed. Esther and Clara were right. She was more strange than she’d been before sixth year. She used to just be quiet. Now she was quite creepy.

 

I rummaged in my trunk for my robes, having not unpacked properly the night before, and changed quickly without bothering to shower, instead pointing a quick hygiene charm at myself. I really don’t know how people live without magic.

 

It took me a while to find my potions textbook. I hadn’t bothered to bring it home over the holidays and had no idea where it had disappeared to. It eventually turned up underneath Cassie’s bed, beside a pair of discarded silver stilettos she’d borrowed from me several months ago and a crumpled packet of fake cigarettes from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes.

 

I picked up the book and left the room, suppressing a sinking feeling when I looked at the collage of photographs above Cassie’s headboard that made if feel like she was here even though she still hadn’t turned up.

 

By this time I was late for Potions and had to run down the Dungeon corridor, which wasn’t easy after the morning’s run had made me incapable of properly using my legs. 

 

When I reached the classroom I took my usual seat behind Scorpius and Joe’s table. The desk was empty - Cassie’s chair next to mine remaining unfilled - and I started to unpack my Potions equipment, resigned to spending the lesson working by myself. Slughorn was insistent that we stayed in the same seats all year so we kept the same partner.

 

I worked slowly on the ‘Silencing Solution’ Slughorn instructed us to make, chopping ingredients into uniformly sized chunks and keeping the flame the exact shade of indigo the textbook described. I like Potions. It feels almost like a kind of art.

 

The room was a hubbub of low chatter but I tried to ignore everything going on around me as I focussed on my potion. I was already at a disadvantage with twice as much work because my partner wasn’t there - not that Cassie’s much help anyway - and I didn’t want my grade in my best class to go down now that we were working towards NEWTs.

 

In front of me, Scorpius and Joe were tossing approximate quantities of different things into their cauldron and looking apprehensively at the thick black smoke belching out of their cauldron. Scor’s usually extremely methodical with his work but he’s never had much patience with Potions. Joe just likes to take any excuse to make mess. The smoke made my eyes water but I tried not to let it disturb my concentration.

 

“Albus, my lad, what’s going on here then?” Slughorn’s booming voice made my focus waver and I looked across the room.

 

Albus Potter was sitting in his usual seat next to Laura Brogan at the front of the class. He was shaking with anger, fists clenched over the desk, and Brogan had tears trickling down her cheeks.

 

“Come on now, Albus. Let’s resolve this before you mess up your potion. You two are my best Potioneers! Can’t have this lovers’s spat getting in the way of your work,” Slughorn said, patting Potter’s shoulder with a meaty hand.

 

I frowned. My potions are nearly always the best in the class after Rose Weasley’s, but Slughorn is adamant that Potter must have inherited his Father’s ‘natural, outstanding skill’ and is therefore the best in the class.

 

“I’m sorry, Horace,” Potter said, taking a deep breath.

 

All the Potter/Weasley clan are on first name terms with most of the teachers, and while the majority of the staff still insist that they are called ‘Professor’ during term time, Slughorn likes to see himself as their friend and enjoys their use of his first name. I suppose I can’t blame them for having famous parents who invite their old teachers round for dinner, but it’s somehow very irritating.

 

“I don’t think I can work with her,” Potter continued. He still looked furious. His voice was louder than was appropriate and his cheeks were flushed.

 

“Well, m’boy, I suppose we can do something to sort that out if you’re really sure,” Slughorn said, glancing around the room. “There’s a spare seat next to Miss Bell. Why don’t you move your things over there for today, hmm? Or maybe for the whole term. We don’t want your girl trouble interfering with your talent, now, do we?” Slughorn gave a loud laugh and shook his head, chuckling at his own words.

 

Potter nodded quickly and stood up, knocking his chair over behind him. He picked up his things and crossed the room, slamming his books onto the desk beside me and taking a seat. A copy of ‘Witch Weekly’ was visible beneath his textbook. The cover photo was a large picture of Potter’s face (complete with lipstick stain on one cheek and a sheepish grin) below the headline ‘Harry’s Son - Heartthrob or Harlot?’. Well, that explains what him and Brogan were arguing about then.

 

After a few moments the class went back to work, realising that the drama was over. Potter and I worked in silence but fell into a sort of rhythm that made the potion come together more quickly than I would have expected. He stirred while I chopped and added ingredients. 

 

I hate to admit it but he makes a much better partner than Cass, who brings chaos with her as soon as she enters a room.

 

I was carefully adding banshee hair, the final ingredient, when Scor leaned his head back onto our desk.

 

“Alright, Ollie?” He’d obviously given up on his potion, which was now making sneezing noises while Joe poked it with his wand with a curious expression.

 

“Mmhmm.” I was concentrating on adding the hair at the right intervals while Potter stirred.

 

“Recovered from the run?”

 

“Not even slightly,” I said with a smile, adding the last of the hair.

 

“Potion going okay with this idiot as your partner?” He smirked.

 

“Nearly done,” I said, poking his forehead with a quill. “Go away. I can feel your potions incompetence sabotaging my work.”

 

Scor laughed and leaned further back to give me a huge, innocent grin before turning to Potter.

 

“Honestly, Potter,” he said with a yawn. “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. So she realised your surname’s the only thing you’ve got going for you…”

 

Potter’s jaw clenched and he started to stir our potion faster than the instructions said to. I frowned at him but didn’t say anything.

 

“Really,” Scor continued. “I’m surprised it took her so long. Everyone else already knew you don’t measure up to your parents.”

 

Potter took a deep breath and stirred more quickly, clearly unwilling to give Scorpius a response.

 

“It’s not like you can blame her for doing what she did. She wasted a hell of a long time in a relationship with you. Might as well make some money from it,” Scor said with a lazy grin.

 

“Potter, stop stirring,” I said, reaching a hand out towards the spoon. “It’s dangerous to over-mix it now the banshee hair’s gone in.”

 

He ignored me and Scor gave a cruel laugh, clearly enjoying the effect he was having on Potter.

 

“Stop it, Scor. It’s not funny anymore,” I said. “Potter, seriously, stop stirring…”

 

There was a bang and then an awful wail began to sound from our cauldron. The whole class had covered their ears within seconds, including Slughorn at the front. The look on Potter’s face suggested he’d had no idea this could happen. So much for Slughorn’s insistence that he has natural potions ability. 

 

I forced myself to remove one of my hands from my ear to lift my wand, murmuring ‘Silencio’ again and again, but nothing happened. 

 

I watched the cauldron in horror, the sound building until my head was ringing even with both my hands pressed tightly over my ears, and then the whole thing shattered, leaving Potter and I both covered in sticky purple potion, and the wailing stopped.

 

Slughorn slowly lumbered through the mess towards us.

 

“Oh ho,” he said with a chuckle. “Miss Bell has kindly demonstrated to the class the dangers of over-mixing potions containing banshee hair.”

 

I glared at Potter. Of course Slughorn was going to act like this was my mistake.

 

“I’m afraid I’ll have to give the two of you of you zero marks for your work today. I can’t give anything more without a potion to see,” Slughorn said, fingering his moustache with one hand. “Don’t worry, Albus. I’ll write a letter to your Dad letting him know this isn’t reflective of your performance as a whole. I haven’t heard from him in a while so it’s about time I sent him a note anyway.”

 

Potter muttered a thank you but his scowl suggested he wasn’t that grateful for Slughorn’s offer.

 

“Miss Bell, could you stay behind after class for a quick word?” Slughorn said. 

 

I sighed and nodded.

 

“Good girl,” he continued. “The bell’s going to ring in a few minutes so I suggest you get this mess cleaned up. For homework you can both write me an essay on the uses and dangers of banshee hair.”

 

I glared at his back as he walked away. 

 

Potter turned to me. “Bell, I’m really sorry.”

 

“I told you to stop stirring,” I said, pointing my wand at the gooey mess on my robes to clear it.

 

“I know. It’s completely my fault, I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said, messing up his hair with one hand. “I’ll buy you a new cauldron.”

 

“Forget it,” I said, clearing the mess of cauldron and potion off the floor with a sweep of my wand as the bell signified the end of class.

 

I packed my books up into my bag and resignedly made my way to the front of the class to speak to Slughorn. To my surprise, Potter followed me.

 

“Ah, yes, Miss Bell,” Slughorn said, sitting himself down in the leather armchair behind his desk to look at me.

 

“It wasn’t Bell’s fault, Horace,” Potter said, shuffling from foot to foot beside me. “The potion was perfect until I messed it up right at the end, and she did tell me to stop stirring. She deserves a high mark. It should be me who’s in trouble.”

 

I was surprised. I hadn’t expected him to bother sticking up for him.

 

“Always so noble and modest, taking the fall for your friends,” Slughorn said, shaking his head and smiling at Potter like he was a small child or some kind of pet. “Your Father was exactly the same. I’m sure if it was your mistake it was an accident, Albus. Nobody’s in trouble.”

 

“Oh. Right. Thanks,” Potter said. “We should probably go, then. We could use our free period to make a start on that essay.”

 

“That’s m’boy,” Slughorn said. “But I do still need to speak to Miss Bell about something else. Run along now, Albus. Make sure to drop by for tea after school some time this week.”

 

“Will do,” Potter said, but I noticed he looked unhappy about the offer. 

 

Slughorn waited for him to leave the room before turning back to me.

 

“Now, Miss Bell. I trust you had a good Christmas?”

 

“It was alright,” I said, wondering where this was going.

 

“Yes, yes, of course. Good to see your parents? I taught them both when they were here, of course. Both lovely students, although I never would have imagined they’d get married!”

 

He didn’t wait for me to answer.

 

“Well, Miss Bell, I wanted to talk to you about Miss Selwyn.”

 

“About Cass? What about her?”

 

Slughorn reached a pudgy hand across his desk and took a piece of crystallised pineapple from a box in front of him, dropping it onto his tongue. He didn’t speak again until he’d swallowed it.

 

“As your Head of House, I am responsible for the well being of Slytherin students. I was wondering if you knew where Miss Selwyn might be? She hasn’t given us any reason for her absence,” Slughorn said, licking his lips between words.

 

“Um, I’m not sure,” I said hesitantly.

 

“Don’t be afraid to tell us. You’re only doing it to look out for her. We’ve been in touch with her Mother and she doesn’t have any idea where she might be. It’s very important that we know her whereabouts so we can make sure she’s safe.”

 

“I really don’t know. She doesn’t live with her Mum though. You should ask her brother, Andreas. He might know,” I said.

 

“Ah yes, I remember Andreas. He was one of my favourites during his time here,” Slughorn said with a smile. “I’ll drop him a line to see if he has any ideas.”

 

He looked like he was waiting for me to speak but I didn’t know what to say so just nodded.

 

“Miss Selwyn is still underage,” Slughorn eventually continued. “So it is really in her interest for us to know where she is. If you know where she might be or why she’s not here you really do need to tell us. If we can’t find her soon then we’ll have to treat it as a missing persons case, which is a very serious business. Can you think of any reason she might not have returned to school?”

 

“I really don’t know, Sir,” I said, chewing on my lip. “I’ve written to her to ask where she is but she hasn’t replied.”

 

“I see,” Slughorn said slowly. “Well, do let us know if you hear from her. She’s a lovely girl and an asset to Slytherin house.”

 

“I will,” I said, knowing that if Cassie didn’t want to come back to Hogwarts there was no way I’d make her.

 

“Now, there is the matter of Miss Selwyn’s prefect duties. Until she returns, I think it’s best if you take over from her.”

 

I looked at him with a frown. “Me? Is that a joke?”

 

Slughorn laughed loudly. “No, Miss Bell. It is not a joke. There’s a meeting with the Head Boy and Head Girl this evening in the prefect common room. They’ll explain your duties to you.”

 

“But…why would you want me to do it?”

 

“I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t,” Slughorn said. “You might not have grades as high as Miss Selwyn’s, but your marks in Potions and Charms are consistently good, and you’ve been a valuable member of the House Quidditch team. I think you’ll perform admirably in the role of prefect.”

 

“Do I have to?” I wrinkled my nose, thinking of what Scor would say. We’d always laughed at Cassie for being made prefect.

 

“Yes, I rather think you do,” Slughorn said, smiling. He had icing sugar from his crystallised pineapple caught in the whiskery hairs of his moustache. It made me feel a bit sick.

 

“Okay. So…there’s a meeting tonight?”

 

“Yes, in the prefect Common Room. If you don’t know where to find it, ask one of the other prefects. Albus will be able to show you. Him and Rose are the Gryffindor sixth year prefects. Or Mr Montague from your own House.” Slughorn reached for another piece of pineapple and I could see he was waiting for me to leave.

 

“Right. Okay. Thanks, Professor,” I said, unsure what I was thanking him for. I didn’t want to be a prefect, and I was still annoyed with him for blaming me for the exploding potion. 

 

He continued to eat crystallised pineapple without looking at me, and it was very clear that I was dismissed.

 

 

Dear Cassie,

 

Not going to reply to my very thoughtful and loving letter? 

 

That’s fine.

 

Not like I wanted to hear from you anyway…

 

Seriously Cass, where are you? Are you coming back? I know it’s only really been a day, but it doesn’t feel right being here without you. 

 

I had to work with Smaller Potter in Potions today. Do you feel guilty about leaving me here yet? No? That’s alright, I know guilt’s something you try not to associate with yourself…but he did explode my new cauldron and got me zero marks for the lesson.

 

Please come back soon. I need my Potions partner and best friend back! Plus Sluggy’s making me take over your prefect duties while you’re not here. I can pretty much hear you laughing at me. Stop it.

 

He asked where you were. Sluggy, I mean. I think the teachers might be worried. I’m not worried…yet…but it would be good to hear from you just to know that you’re okay.

 

Anyway, I have to go to Charms now so I can’t make this a long letter. That doesn’t mean I’m not expecting a proper reply!

 

Miss you and love you,

 

Ollie xx

Chapter 7: In Which There Are Prefect Patrols
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“This really isn’t a joke? You actually can’t make Quidditch practice because you’ve got a prefect meeting?” Scor looked at me incredulously.

“Saying it more times won’t make it go away,” I said, yawning as I checked my watch. “And Joe has the meeting too so you were always going to be a Chaser down today.”

Scor looked furious, muttering to himself about flakey team mates and supposed to be my friends. We’d had the same conversation about six times while we sat in the Common Room trying to finish our homework - well, he tried to finish his homework. I practiced sketching his concentrating face - and it didn’t seem to be sinking in any more easily.

I ignored his grumpiness and instead watched Joe and Oz playing exploding snap. They were both very bad at it, so the game ended up being more about who could dodge the most explosions than about who was better at cards. Joe had lost half an eyebrow and Oz’s robes had caught fire more than once.

Clara and Esther were sitting with them, cheering whenever the cards exploded. I noticed Esther glancing at Oz more often than she looked at her brother, blushing whenever he looked up and caught her eye.

When Joe had lost half of his remaining eyebrow he stood up, gave an exaggerated stretch and sauntered over to the desk I was sat at with Scor. Oz called out that he was a coward and a sore loser, but was quickly silenced when the whole deck of cards blew up in his face, leaving him coated with soot and coughing.

“You ready to roll, little prefect?” Joe leaned over my sketchbook, tilting his head upside down to look at me.

“Little prefect?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you’re a lot shorter than me. That makes you the little prefect and me the large one,” Joe said with a grin. “We should go. Molly gets extra grumpy when people are late for the first meeting of term.”

“Molly…?”

“Weasley,” Joe said. “Head Girl. Honestly, Ollie, do you pay any attention to what goes on in this school?”

“She’s up to date on Quidditch,” Scor said, cheering up a bit. “And let’s face it, nothing else is important.”

“Touché,” Joe said. “Come on, Ollster. Let us depart.”

“If you call me Ollster again I swear to Salazar I will hurt you,” I said, but I followed him towards the door, leaving my books out on the desk next to Scor.

The prefect common room was on the sixth floor, behind a portrait of Wendolyn the Weird giggling in the middle of a bonfire. Joe had to cough several times before she looked at us.

“Now really, Mr Montague…bringing a lady friend to the prefect common room? You should be ashamed. It’s not a dating venue…” The rest of her words were drowned in a high peal of laughter as the tickling flames were apparently too much for her.

“She’s a prefect, Wendy,” Joe said seriously, rolling his eyes at the portrait. “And we have a meeting. Can you let us in?”

Wendolyn continued to laugh, throwing her head back and not acknowledging Joe’s presence.

“WENDY! Come on. We’re going to be late.” Joe raised his voice in a way that wouldn’t seem like a shout from anyone else, but it was noticeable because it’s so unusual for him to get cross.

“Oh, okay. No need to make a fuss,” Wendolyn said with a sigh. “Password?”

“Ubi caritas,” Joe said confidently.

“Right you are,” Wendolyn said, swinging open to reveal a door. “Enjoy the ‘meeting’, my lovelies.” She put her fingers up in air quotes around the word ‘meeting’, apparently not believing Joe’s insistence that this was not a date.

We went through the door and entered a large, round room. Silk drapes in the four house colours hung from the ceiling to the floor, giving the room a bright, warm atmosphere. On the ceiling enchanted silhouettes of a lion, raven, badger and snake circled each other, illuminated by an orangey light the source of which wasn’t clear. Huge enchanted windows showed views I was sure weren’t anything to do with Hogwarts, and comfortable looking couches were dotted around next to desks.

A huge round table was placed at the centre of the room, surrounded by squashy arm chairs. Most of the chairs were full. I could see Potter and Weasley sitting across the room, as well as some other familiar faces. Joe headed towards a green armchair opposite Potter, and I took the seat next to him opposite Weasley.

When the remaining chairs had filled, a tall ginger girl who I took to be Molly Weasley (based on her freckly skin and the shiny ‘Head Girl’ badge pinned neatly to her chest) stood up. The seat next to her remained empty and she scowled at it before speaking.

“Hey, guys. Thanks for coming. I know it’s the first day back but it’s good to get started straight away. First thing’s first, this is Olivia Bell.” She gestured towards me. A few people turned round. “Cassandra Selwyn isn’t back at school yet, so Olivia’s going to be taking over her duties while she’s not here. I’m sure you’ll all help her out if she has any questions.”

“Where’s Selwyn?” A fifth year Slytherin girl asked. “When will she be back?”

Molly frowned. “That doesn’t matter,” she said. “We’re not here to gossip. I just wanted to explain why we’ve got a new prefect this late in the year. Anyway, patrols will continue as they did last term. James thinks it’s good to mix up houses so we’re keeping Gryffindor with Slytherin on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Fifth years take the 8-9 slot, sixth years take the 9-10, and us seventh years get the late rounds. I’m giving seventh years the Sunday evening patrols as well so everyone else gets a night off.”

A seventh year boy banged his head onto the table, yawning pointedly. Molly glared at him.

“I’m sure we can find someone else to take your badge if you don’t want it any more, Smith.”

The boy frowned and sat up straighter. Molly cleared her throat before continuing.

“It’s already half eight so I don’t think fifth years need to bother with patrols tonight, meaning we’re starting with sixth year Gryffindors and Slytherins. Al, you were with Cassandra last term so I’ll trust you to show Olivia the ropes. Remember, you’re really only there to put people off trying to sneak out, but if you do see any rule breaking report it to me at the end of the night and I’ll take points of the relevant house or pass it on to a teacher if I need to.”

“And we can leave at eleven?” Potter asked his cousin.

“Come back here first to give me a report, and then I’ll dismiss you soon after. Is everyone clear on the plan for the term? I’ll send you all an updated timetable to make sure you know when you’re needed,” Molly said.

There was a chorus of agreement and Molly smiled. She was quite pretty. I was surprised I’d not noticed her before.

“Good. I think that’s all I really needed to say tonight. Sixth year prefects, you’re on duty from now on. Don’t go easy on people just because it’s the first day back. Bonus points if you can find my idiot cousin and whoever he’s snogging instead of turning up to the meeting he’s supposed to help run,” Molly said.

Potter snorted with laughter. “If James doesn’t want to be found we don’t stand a chance.”

“See it as a challenge,” Molly said. “He’s Head Boy. It’s not okay for him to just skip meetings. Now get to work, you lot. Al, do make sure Olivia knows what she’s doing. I’m putting you in charge of helping her out with anything she needs. She’ll want the passwords to the bathrooms as well.”

“Will do,” Potter said with a smile in my direction.

I yawned without covering my mouth and put my head down on the table in front of me. Joe slapped the back of my head and I elbowed his chest.

“Come on, Olivia,” a girl’s voice said. “Al’s a lazy bugger. Patrols won’t be much effort with him.”

I looked up to see Rose Weasley smiling at me, Potter by her side.

“Right,” I said, yawning again. Prefect patrols with Potter really didn’t appeal to me.

“If he gets too irritating just let me know,” she said, still smiling. “I’ll swap with him and we can patrol together instead.”

I wasn’t sure why she was being so friendly. It was like Potter telling Slughorn the potion was his fault. They’re strange, the Potter/Weasley clan. Cassie calls them the Wotters. She says they’re frustratingly friendly and even more frustratingly famous.

“Go on, Ollster,” Joe said, shoving me towards Potter. “Meet back here after patrols?”

“Why?” I tried to raise an eyebrow at him. I’m unsure whether I was successful. Raising just one eyebrow is tricky. “You still not know the way to the Common Room, Joey?”

He laughed and shook his head. “I just wouldn’t want you getting lost. We need you in practice tomorrow morning. Come on, Rose. Let’s go search some broom cupboards.”

I watched him leave, one arm draped casually around Weasley’s shoulders, chatting easily and making her laugh. Joe’s good at being everyone’s friend. Cass says it means you can’t trust him.

“You ready, Liv?” Potter held out a hand to help me up.

I didn’t take his hand, standing up by myself and stretching. “Liv?”

“Sure. Olivia’s a bit of a mouthful,” Potter said, running a hand through his hair and not looking me in the eye. “You can call me Al, if you want.”

“Whatever,” I muttered. “Let’s get this out of the way.”

We covered most of the seventh floor in silence. I made no effort to start a conversation, and Potter seemed happy to stay quiet. We found a couple of third year girls out of bed, drinking hot chocolate from the kitchens and chatting. Potter grinned and told them to get to bed before he knew who they were to report them. They ran away giggling and he picked up the two mugs of hot chocolate they’d left behind, offering one to me.

“Thanks.” The hot chocolate had cream and marshmallows on top. I slurped it happily. Cream is delicious. My mother would be horrified.

“So, how’s prefect life treating you?” Potter licked cream off his upper lip.

“Cass can’t get back soon enough,” I said, managing a small smile in his direction. “This isn’t exactly what I had planned for sixth year.”

“Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the job either,” he said. “But my brother and cousin are the heads so I don’t have a lot of choice. Molly would kill me if I didn’t do patrols.”

“But your brother wasn’t even at the meeting?”

“He’ll be off with some girl. Beats me why they made him head boy. If we find him in a cupboard somewhere Molly will destroy him.”

“She doesn’t seem like the destroying type.”

“Trust me, she’s scary. It’s not worth making her angry.”

He grinned again, then pressed a finger to his lips, nodding towards a broom cupboard across the corridor.

I shrugged. I wasn’t particularly bothered about catching couples who were trying to find some alone time after dark, but from what I’d heard that was the bulk of the job.

Potter flicked his wand and the cupboard door flicked open, exposing a dark haired girl and a blonde guy, both in Gryffindor ties.

Potter dropped his hot chocolate. The china cracked as it hit the floor, spilling dark liquid out over the wooden boards. He didn’t even seem to notice, staring fixedly at the two people in the broom cupboard.

I looked back at the couple and it didn’t take long to realise why.

“Al,” Laura Brogan stood up, biting her lip while she buttoned up her shirt. “Um, look, it’s not what it looks like…”

Potter didn’t even acknowledge her. He was staring at the boy who stepped out behind her. His face was white and his fists were clenched like they’d been in Potions before he exploded the Silencing Solution.

“What the fuck, Louis?” His voice was low and expressionless, but his anger and hurt was written all over his face.

Louis Weasley pushed a hand through his blonde hair in the same way I’d noticed Potter do, and shook his head slightly, seemingly lost for words. His tie was loose around his neck and his shirt was untucked. He’s part veela, and his looks weren’t helping his case.

Brogan stepped closer to Weasley, resting a hand on his arm. He shook her off and looked back at Potter.

“Al, please don’t get cross…don’t be sad. You’re my best friend, mate, you just…don’t hate me. Please.” Weasley’s words were slurred and for the first time I noticed the bottle in his hand.

Potter still had his wand out from unlocking the door, and Weasley’s gaze was fixed on it. Brogan shrank back from them both, tear tracks glistening down her cheeks.

I took a deep breath and stepped between the two boys.

“We can’t take points,” I said, looking straight at Louis Weasley. “But we’ll be reporting this to the heads at the end of the night. It’ll probably be ten points each from Gryffindor for being out after curfew and another twenty for the alcohol. My guess is that you’re looking at at least two detentions each as well.”

“Right. Look, Al…” Weasley tried to sidestep around me to reach his cousin.

I stepped in front of him again. “Just go back to your common room before it’s worse than two detentions. You’re not supposed to be here.”

I was surprised by the authority in my voice. In truth I didn’t have any idea what the protocol was for students drinking after curfew, but I could see that Potter was shaking and wanted to get the others away before he lost his temper. I wasn’t about to get in the middle of a Gryffindor fight.

“Come on, Louis,” Brogan said, reaching out her hand. “Bell’s right. We should just go.”

Weasley didn’t take her hand, but he nodded and turned to follow her. He looked back at Potter and opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something else, but I glared at him and he instead followed Brogan down the corridor.

“Shit.” Potter looked pale, and slid down the wall behind him to sit on the floor next to his broken mug.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so just awkwardly stood next to him, watching him run his hands through his hair and press his fingers against his forehead.

“Shit,” he said again, leaning his head back against the stone wall behind him. “Shit, he’s my best mate.”

“I’m sure…there’s some kind of explanation,” I said, feeling stupid even as I spoke. I’m terrible at giving sympathy, especially to people I don’t know very well.

“Well, yeah, he was drunk,” Potter said, a deep frown creasing his forehead. “Lou’s always drunk. But…well.”

“That’s not an excuse,” I finished for him.

“Exactly. Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Sorry,” he said, breathing out slowly. “Sorry. I just can’t believe this.”

“That’s kind of fair enough. You just saw your ex and your cousin-slash-best friend making out,” I said helpfully, sitting down beside him.

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s pretty much what just happened,” Potter said, swearing under his breath again and leaning his head against my shoulder.

It was strange, sitting so close to him. I hardly knew him at all.

Usually I’d tell him to get a grip on himself. I don’t like being too physically close to people, and I definitely didn’t want to be in this position with Albus Potter…but something stopped me. It felt like this stuff between him and Brogan had been everywhere in the last few days, and it wasn’t fair on him.

I guess I felt sorry for him, or something, because I put an arm around him and let him press his forehead against my neck, breathing deep breaths to calm himself down.

After a few minutes he pulled away, looking very red faced and shaken.

“Thanks, Liv. I’m really sorry about all this…I, um, well, it’s just been a bit hard recently. Sorry for dragging you into it.”

“It’s fine.” I pulled myself up to stand, still leaning against the wall.

“And thanks for sending them back to the Common Room. I wasn’t thinking straight.” He looked anxious, worried that I was going to be angry with him, but I didn’t feel angry at all.

“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it…Al.”

He looked surprised at my use of his first name but didn’t mention it, instead slowly standing up next to me and putting an arm around my shoulders. He pulled me into a quick hug, just for a few seconds, and then let me go.

“I really appreciate it. Shall we call it a night? We don’t need to tell Molly we didn’t bother with the sixth floor.”

“Sure,” I said with a small smile.

We walked back to the Prefect Common Room, talking quietly and about nothing important. Al didn’t mention what had happened and I thought it was probably best not to bring it up again. He kept a hand on my arm while we walked and I didn’t shake him off.

When we reached the Common Room we found Rose and Joe had already returned and were talking to a furious Molly Weasley. Rose turned and flung her arms around Al’s neck, making him trip backwards slightly.

“Oh, Al. Louis came and found me. He’s a wreck. Are you okay? I’m so sorry.” She spoke quickly, her cheek pressed against his, rubbing his back soothingly.

“It’s fine, Rosie. You can let me breathe now.”

“I didn’t think he’d do that. I’ll talk to him about it. He’s drunk, of course. I’ve been saying he needs to cut down for months. But he’s devastated, Al, he really is. And Laura! Well, we already knew she was a bitch.”

I laughed at her use of the word ‘bitch’. Somehow it seemed strange coming from Rose Weasley, top of the class in all subjects and teacher’s pet. I guess she’s different when it comes to defending her cousin. I can’t imagine being that close with the Moron.

Neither of them noticed me laugh but Joe caught my eye and winked.

“You two might as well head off. It’s nearly ten already,” Molly said with a sigh, watching her cousins. “Thanks for filling in, Olivia. It’s good to have you on board.”

Rose and Al both called out their goodbyes as we left. Al managed to sound cheerful and friendly despite the events of the evening, and I smiled at him before following Joe through the portrait.

“Eventful night?” Joe looked at me.

“Something like that.”

“How was it with Al? He’s a good laugh, isn’t he?”

“He was alright, actually. Cass always complained about him after their patrols.”

Joe frowned. “Yeah, well…Cassie tends to see the worst in people.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I stopped walking to look at him.

His eyes widened. “No, Ollie, I’m not trying to be mean about her. Cassie’s great. It’s just, you know…” His voice trailed away and he gave a hand gesture as if to say the end of his sentence was obvious.

“What?”

“She doesn’t have much nice to say about people, other than you and Scor, I mean,” Joe said quietly. “There are lots of people in the school you’ve never bothered to get to know because Cassie’s told you they’re not worth knowing, like Al and Rose.”

“Cassie’s my best friend, Joe,” I said coldly.

“I know. I know. Look, forget I said anything. I just meant I could see you and Al being friends, now that you’re getting to know each other.”

“Now that Cassie’s not here, you mean?”

“That’s not what I said, Ollie,” Joe said calmly, with a sigh.

“It’s what you meant, though.”

I started walking again. After a few paces I realised Joe wasn’t following, and turned around.

“Come on,” I said, giving him a small smile. “I didn’t mean to have a go at you. I just…I really miss her.”

“I know,” Joe said, recognising that this was as close to an apology as I was going to get. “It’ll all work out, Ollie. You’ll see.”

He ruffled my hair and linked his arm through mine for the walk back to the dungeons.

Chapter 8: In Which Questions Are Asked
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Dear Cassie,

We’ve been back at school for a week, now. Where are you? Are you getting these letters? I can kind of imagine you sitting somewhere sunny with a cigarette, reading my words and then tossing them in the sea and letting them float away. You don’t like taking things too seriously.

I know you won’t like that I’m starting to worry. But I can’t help it, Cass. This is the longest I’ve gone without speaking to you since we were eleven. It’s hard not having you here.

Scor’s been super grumpy. I don’t know if he’s written to you? He probably has, but he wouldn’t tell me about it. He misses you, obviously. If you don’t want to write back to me then maybe you could at least write to him?

It’s been strange here. I’ve ended up spending a load of time with Albus Potter?! Not quite sure how it happened - I blame you. I’ve got prefect patrols with him and he’s my potions partner. He’s actually alright. Surprisingly so.

If you’re getting these letters could you write back? Please? Just to let me know you’re okay.

I hope you’re having a wonderful time wherever you are, breaking hearts and drinking cocktails and pretending to be royalty.

Miss you,

Ollie xx


I sealed the letter and gave it to Mercury to deliver to Cass. He always came back without the letters so he must have been taking them somewhere, but I didn’t know if they were being read.

Scor was tapping his foot impatiently, always keen to get to breakfast early, so we left the Owlery quickly and made our way down to the Great Hall.

“She won’t write back, you know,” he said as we sat down.

“What?”

“Cass. If she hasn’t replied by now she’s not going to.” He sounded bitter and didn’t look at me as he loaded his plate with eggs and bacon.

I poured a glass of orange juice and held onto the cup without drinking.

“Why would you say that?”

“Because it’s Cassie. Look, she’s either able to reply or…not able to reply,” Scor said with a swallow. “I, well, I can’t think that she’s not able to reply, so let’s say she’s capable. If she hasn’t done it already it’s because she’s bored of us or whatever. She’ll be enjoying the idea of us worrying and thinking about her, and she’ll think it’s mildly entertaining that she’s caused a fuss, but she won’t care enough to contact us.”

I wanted to tell him to shut up, that what he was saying wasn’t true, but I couldn’t. He knows Cass just as well as I do, probably even better.

An owl dropped two envelopes down onto the table in front of me.

I turned to grin at Scor. “Speak too soon?”

He turned over the envelopes and shook his head when he saw the handwriting. “They’re not from Cassie. Your parents. A letter from each.”

“Ew.”

“You want me to read them for you?” Scor put down his coffee cup.

I nodded and took a gulp of my orange juice. Letters from my parents are a horrid start to the day. I usually try to avoid them.

Scor slid his finger under the flap of an envelope and glanced over the contents before reading the other. I munched on marmalade toast and watched the owls above us.

“Well, it’s nothing too bad,” Scor finally said, looking away from the letters and back at me.

“Mum suggesting weight loss potions?”

“Little bit,” Scor said with a grimace. He thoroughly disapproves of my mother’s parenting techniques. “She seems to think I might take a bit more notice of you if you lose a few more pounds.”

“I see. Is that true?” I took another piece of toast.

Scor reached out and pinched my cheek. “Nah. You look lovely.”

I smiled.

“You’re all cuddly looking. Like a pygmy puff,” Scor said, beaming like this was a compliment.

“Pygmy puffs are spherical, Scor.”

He nodded seriously and then laughed. “You’re gorgeous, Ollie. You know that. You definitely don’t need to lose weight. If I didn’t have Cassie I’d go out with you right now, if you weren’t, well, you’re just also my…you know.”

“Sister-type-thing?” I spoke with my mouth full.

“Yeah. It would be weird. And I find it pretty repulsive how you speak with food in your mouth, so that would be a problem for our hypothetical love,” he said, grinning. “The rest of her letter’s pretty much the same as usual. She misses you, she hopes you’re not forgetting about your skincare regime….blah blah blah….she loves you and could you write back soon.”

Scor scrunched one of the letters into a ball.

“Fantastic. And Dad?”

“Says he needs to talk to you as soon as possible.”

“About what?”

“I don’t know. That’s all he says. Dear Olivia, I need to talk to you as soon as possible. From Andrew.” Scor scowled at the letter as if it had offended him. It probably had. Scor’s parents always make a point to say they love him in their letters. Apparently Mr Malfoy’s father didn’t show him enough affection when he was growing up, and he’s resolved to do the opposite for his son. It makes Scor furious that my father doesn’t say he loves me.

“Chuck them both. I might write back to Mum at some point but Dad can be left alone to think about his life choices,” I said, finishing my toast. “What class do you have?”

“Free period. I’m going to go flying. Come?”

“Nah, I’ve got Herbology. I should probably go now. Walk with me?”

“Haha. No. Dropping Herbology was one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ll see you in Transfiguration after.”

I stuck my tongue out at him and lifted my bag onto my shoulder. Herbology’s another lesson I usually share with Cassie, and it wasn’t much fun without her. Joe had moved from his usual spot to work with me but I missed my best friend.

When I arrived at the greenhouses most of the class was already there. Joe waved me over and passed me the protective gloves I’d left behind last lesson.

Professor Longbottom stood at the front of the class, pruning a wilting flutterby bush while the rest of the class filed in, and then looked up.

“Okay team,” he said with a smile, stroking the flutterby bush with one had. “Today we’re, erm, polishing the venomous tentaculas.”

He frowned as the whole class groaned. Polishing the venomous tentaculas is difficult. It involves focus, otherwise you’re at risk of getting badly bitten, and you have to avoid being slapped by fanged tentacles because the plants are very ticklish. We’d learnt how to deal with them the previous term and none of us particularly wanted to revisit the topic.

“You know the drill,” Longbottom said. “Get into groups of four. The polish is on my desk.”

Al and Rose came over from their place across the room.

“Partners?” Rose smiled while she put on her gloves.

“Of course,” Joe said, beaming. He likes working with Rose because she gets him good marks.

I held back the points of the tentacles with Joe, letting Rose mix the polish and Al carefully brush it down the underside of the plant.

Venomous tentaculas need regular polishing to protect them from parasites and make them more resilient to the weather. I’m generally of the opinion that we should forget the polishing and just let them die. They’re evil. But apparently Professor Longbottom doesn’t agree.

When we’d covered about a quarter of the plant, Longbottom came over to see how we were doing, making approving noises.

“This all looks good. Maybe the four of you should work together more often. You’re getting a thicker coat than usual. How…?”

“I added another block of resin to the polish,” Rose said with a smile. “I thought if it was thicker the plant would be more water-resistant and then might need polishing less often.”

“That’s a brilliant idea, Rose. Your Potions talent coming into play, I see,” Longbottom said with a proud smile. He’s another teacher that’s like family to the Wotter clan.

“It was just a thought,” Rose said, her cheeks flushing pink.

I could imagine Cassie’s response to this exchange, her scorn at Rose’s fake modesty, and the favouritism offered by the teachers. But this time it didn’t seem that way at all. Rose had done some good work and it had been acknowledged.

“If you carry on like this all four of you can expect very good marks in this class,” Longbottom said, watching Al trickle polish over some of the exposed veins on the tentacula. “That looks really good, Al.”

“Thanks,” Al said, putting down his brush to grin at his teacher.

“I’ve actually been meaning to talk to you. Your parents said you might be struggling with all this gossip in the news,” Longbottom said.

Al looked uncomfortable and gave an awkward shrug. “It’s not ideal.”

“I remember Harry struggling with something similiar in our fourth year,” Longbottom said. “They’re horrible, these journalists. You’re just a kid.”

“It’s fine. It’ll go away,” Al said.

“That’s the spirit.” Longbottom smiled. “Well, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Don’t forget that I’m your godfather as well as your teacher.”

Al grinned. “I’m fine. But thanks.”

Longbottom turned away to help Clara Zabini, who’d been scratched by the edge of her plant, and Rose smiled at Al.

“He’s just looking out for you,” Rose said, rubbing Al’s arm.

“I know. Maybe I’ll ask him to put Louis in some kind of revolting detention, harvesting bubotuber pus or something.”

“Maybe you should give Louis a break. It’s been a week, and he’s really sorry,” Rose said, watching Al sadly.

I felt sorry for her, having her two best friends and cousins arguing like this. Rose, Al and Louis were as much a trio as Scor, Cassie and I, and it couldn’t be easy for her to see them hating each other.

“He should be really sorry.” Al glared at the tentacle he was polishing and it curled dangerously towards him. Joe caught it in his gloved hand and pulled it flat.

“He was blind drunk. He hardly even remembers what happened.”

“That doesn’t make it any better. He should stop fucking drinking if he does things like this,” Al said, his temper visibly starting to rise. I took a step away from him.

“Well, yes,” Rose said quietly. “We’ve all been telling him that for months. I don’t know why he does it. But maybe you could at least speak to him?”

“No,” Al said shortly.

Rose looked like she might say something else, but then the door to the greenhouses opened and Professor McGonagall swept in, glancing around the room before turning to speak to Professor Longbottom.

“Neville,” she said crisply. “Could I borrow Miss Bell? I’d like a word with her in my office.”

Joe looked at me questioningly and I shrugged. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I wasn’t sure why I’d need to talk with the Headmistress.

“Of course. Leave your things, Miss Bell. Unless you think she’ll be gone the rest of the lesson?” Longbottom directed his question to McGonagall.

“Leave your things. We shouldn’t be too long,” McGonagall said.

I nodded and followed her out of the room, aware that I was being watched by the majority of the class. It was unusual to be pulled out of class.

“What’s this about, Professor? Did I do something wrong?” I really wasn’t sure why I’d need to speak to her.

“It’s nothing to worry about, Bell,” she said, her voice making it clear that it wasn’t worth asking questions.

I followed her up to her office, genuinely confuse about what I was doing. Part of me kept thinking back to my father’s letter - I need to talk to you as soon as possible - but marching up to the school and pulling me out of class wasn’t really his style, and anything that demanded such drastic measures would surely have been mentioned in my mother’s letter as well.

When we arrived at McGonagall’s office the door opened in front of us and Scor stepped out, looking furious.

I caught his hand, wanting to ask what was wrong, but he shook me off.

“I’ll talk to you in Transfiguration,” he said, his voice quiet and cross, walking away without giving me the chance to respond.

McGonagall and I entered the office and I winced when I saw the two Ministry witches sitting by her desk. They both looked young and friendly, and smiled as we walked towards them, but I couldn’t think of any good reason why I needed to meet with them.

“You must be Olivia. I’m Elena,” one of the witches said, holding out a hand for me to shake. She had thick red hair and a complexion that wouldn’t look out of place on a Weasley, but I was pretty sure none of them were called Elena.

“And I’m Clementine. It’s lovely to meet you,” the other witch said with a smile. “We work with the Magical Law Enforcement Department at the Ministry.”

My thoughts were still on my father and his letter. Magical Law Enforcement. What in Merlin’s name had he done?

But that couldn’t be right. Why would Scor be questioned about my father?

“We wanted to have a quick chat with you about your friend Cassandra,” Clementine said, a wide, false smile pasted onto her face.

“What about her?” I frowned, unsure why Cassie would be anything to do with MLE.

“Sit down, sweetheart,” Clementine said, patting the chair beside her.

I remained standing.

“It’s nothing for you to worry about,” Elena said quickly. “Cassandra’s underage, so her…disappearance has to be taken seriously by the Ministry.”

“Right.”

“We’ve been told you’re close friends with her. We thought you might have some ideas about where she could be?” Elena seemed more professional than Clementine, her eyes were serious and her smile genuine.

“I already told Professor Slughorn I don’t know where she is,” I said, watching Professor McGonagall to see if she’d tell me I could leave. She gave a small shake of her head and I sighed.

“Yes, we’ve heard that,” Clementine said. “But we want to be really clear that we’re not trying to get you or your friend in trouble. We’re looking out for her safety.”

“We need to be able to account for all underage witches and wizards so that we know they’re safe,” Elena said. “If it’s really true that nobody knows where Cassandra is then the matter needs to be taken very seriously.”

“I said I don’t know, and Scor doesn’t either.”

“Yes. We’ve spoken to him,” Clementine said.

“So can I go now? I have class,” I said.

“You really don’t have anything you’d like to tell us? Don’t be nervous. By helping us you’re helping Cassandra,” Clementine said, beaming. It must be tiring to hold on to such a wide smile.

“I don’t know where Cassie is. She’s not responded to any of my letters.”

“Okay. Well, thanks for trying,” Elena said with a soothing smile. “We’ll keep you informed of any developments in the case.”

I didn’t like that they were referring to Cassie’s disappearance as a ‘case’. It made it sound like she was in danger, or at least in some kind of trouble.

“Do you have any suggestions of anyone we could speak to who might know more?” Clementine looked at me, seeming disappointed in my lack of knowledge. “Maybe she’s confided in somebody else?”

“She’s my best friend and Scor’s girlfriend. I don’t know why she’d talk to someone else,” I snapped, suddenly feeling defensive.

“Of course,” Elena said, shooting Clementine a glare. “We’ve spoken to her brother as well, and he’s said the same as you.”

“Her mother was completely unhelpful,” Clementine said quietly, with a scowl.

“Yes. Well, thank you for your time. I’ll leave my contact details with Minerva. Please do get in touch if you hear anything from your friend,” Elena said, standing up and reaching to shake my hand again.

“Can I go back to Herbology now?” I directed the question at McGonagall rather than Elena. She gave a small incline of her head and I left without saying anything more to the MLE workers.

They’d annoyed me, questioning me in a way that made it clear they thought I was lying to cover for Cass. I kind of understood why they’d think it - if Cassie had told me where she was and didn’t want to be found, I would absolutely keep it a secret from the teachers and the MLE workers - but given that she hadn’t decided to keep me informed their questioning felt insulting.

I was in a bad mood when I got back to Herbology. Al put a hand on the small of my back, obviously meaning to be comforting, but I stepped away from him without acknowledging it.

“What did they want, Liv?” Rose spoke carefully, obviously recognising that I was cross and not wanting to make it worse.

“MLE officers. They were asking about Cassie,” I said, grabbing one of the tentacula tentacles so Joe could polish it.

“Do they know where she is?” Joe put down the brush he was holding to look at me.

“Of course not. If she doesn’t want to be found they’re not going to find her,” I said dismissively.

“So what were they asking?” Joe looked confused.

“They think I know where she is. They want me to tell her.”

“So did you tell them anything?” Joe stepped closer to me, recognising my anger. The tentacle squirmed in my hand and I tightened my grip, careful to avoid the thorns. I hadn’t put my gloves back on yet and their scratches could be dangerous.

“Obviously not.”

“Do you know anything?” Al said.

No. I don’t know, Potter,” I said, frustrated. “And I’ve told them that. She hasn’t bothered to let me know where she is, or if she’s okay, or if she’s planning to come back. I don’t know. And I don’t know why they’re bothering to ask.”

I squeezed the tentacle I was holding without thinking, and it flicked out of my hand before gripping my wrist in its fangs. I let out a small scream and Al was immediately by my side, trying to pull back the plant.

“Diffindo,” Rose muttered, cutting through the other end of the tentacle so Al could pull my arm out of its grasp.

My wrist was purple and swollen, already pulsating strangely in the bright greenhouse light.

Longbottom rushed over and looked dismayed.

“Miss Bell! You need to get straight to the hospital wing before the poison gets too far into your bloodstream,” he said, looking flustered. The venomous tentacula is, unsurprisingly, venomous, and it was no surprise that he was panicking. “Um, oh no, why weren’t you wearing gloves? You need medical attention immediately. Erm, Al, go with her, won’t you? Make sure Madam Bulstrode knows what happened?”

“Sure,” Al said, grabbing my good arm and dragging me towards the greenhouse door. I was feeling woozy and was grateful for his support.

Joe shouted out that he’d pack my stuff up for me and Al thanked him on my behalf, which was good because I wasn’t sure I’d manage to get the words out.

We pretty much ran to the hospital wing, Al not letting go of me. Venomous tentacula bites are pretty treatable if you get to a healer quickly, but can be fatal if left too long.

Waves of dizziness kept hitting me, and in the end Al shrugged and picked me up, carrying me the last few staircases to the Hospital Wing.

I sat down on the bed he placed me on and held tightly onto his hand, vaguely aware of him telling Madam Bulstrode what had happened. His voice was anxious and low, and he squeezed my hand as he spoke.

Then a potion was poured down my throat, making me feel for a moment like my insides were on fire, and the world came back into focus.

Al was beside me, looking worried but grinning.

“Welcome back, Liv,” he said.

“Hi,” I said shakily. “So, um, I take it you shouldn’t hold onto the venomous tentaculas too tightly?”

“It would seem so,” Al said.

Madam Bulstrode tutted. “I don’t know why they keep those things in the school. You could suffer much more than this from one of those bites. It’s irresponsible.”

Madam Bulstrode is an enormous woman with a mean face. Most of the school hate her, but she was a Slytherin herself and has always had a soft spot for us. She’s alright really, a little obsessed with the welfare of her cat, but her heart’s in the right place and she’ll always turn a blind eye when we sneak in to steal her hangover potions.

“I’ll have a word with Professor Longbottom about this, mark my words,” she said loftily, wrapping a bright white bandage tightly around my wrist and sealing it with her wand.

“Nah, it was my fault,” I said, leaning back into my pillows. “I wasn’t being careful.”

“If you say so, dear,” she said with a frown, and then the door opened and she turned to help a green-faced first year being escorted in by the flying teacher.

I realised I was still holding Al’s hand and quickly let go.

“You didn’t need to come with me. I was fine,” I said, not looking directly at him.

“Course you were. That’s why I had to carry you halfway here when you collapsed,” Al said. I could practically hear him rolling his eyes.

“Well, you didn’t need to stay.”

“It’s no problem. I wanted to make sure you were okay. Anyway, it got me out of Transfiguration,” he said with a grin. “And I haven’t done the homework so I was looking for an excuse.”

“Have we missed Transfiguration? I didn’t realise we’d been here so long.” I’m not very good at Transfiguration. Scor sits with me and helps me. Missing the first lesson back probably wasn’t ideal.

“Nearly. Bulstrode says we should stay here until lunch to make sure all the poison’s completely left your system. You feel okay?” He looked concerned and reached out to squeeze my hand again.

“Yeah, I’m completely fine. I should have been paying better attention.” I pulled my hand away from him. I was cross with him for being overly concerned, but was more cross with myself for letting my frustration about Cassie interfere with my concentration. It had caused me a lot of unnecessary pain and I hated that Al Potter had needed to help me.

“Nah, don’t worry about it. You’ve been having a rough time. Everyone gets distracted. We’ve still got fifteen minutes till lunch. You want to play exploding snap?”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Al saying I’d been having a rough time, given that he’d spent the term so far reading horrible stories about himself in gossip columns and discovering his ex-girlfriend in a broom cupboard with his best friend, but I didn’t think there was much point telling him that.

We spent the remaining time in the Hospital Wing playing exploding snap with a pack of cards so old that most of the explosion charms had worn away, making it much less dangerous than usual, and then left for lunch together. I thought Al would leave to find his Gryffindor crew, but he seemed perfectly happy to stay with me, laughing and chatting about Longbottom’s reaction to me getting bitten.

“I love the guy, but really,” Al was saying. “How did he fight in a war? With that kind of response to a crisis? I mean…” his voice trailed away.

I looked up and it was immediately obvious why he’d stopped talking. Scor was standing outside the Great Hall, arms folded, a scowl etched deeply onto his face.

“Malfoy. Hi,” Al said, clearing his throat. He sounded guilty, like he’d been doing something wrong. I could kind of understand the feeling. The look on Scor’s face wasn’t a happy one.

“Where have you been?” Scor didn’t look at Al, instead choosing to glare at me. “Why weren’t you in Transfig? I wanted to talk to you.”

“Hospital Wing. I got bitten,” I said, lifting up my bandaged arm to show him.

Scor’s eyes widened slightly but he still looked angry.

“You could have told me.”

“I’ll just, erm, see you later,” Al muttered, squeezing my arm briefly before rushing to get into the Hall and away from us. I waited for him to get inside before glaring back at Scor.

“How could I have told you? That’s not fair, Scor. I missed one lesson. What is there to be angry about?”

“I’ve been waiting for you. I didn't know where you were, and didn’t know who I could ask, and then you’re laughing with Potter?”

“Yes. Potter took me to the Hospital Wing because I had venom running through me and needed to get there as soon as possible. You really have a problem with that?”

“I…venom?”

“I got bitten. I told you that. Now are you going to tell me what’s wrong? Or are we going to stand here and fight about nothing because you’re in a bad mood?”

Scor hunched his shoulders, suddenly looking defeated.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

It’s unusual for him to apologise, so I stepped towards him and put my good arm around his waist, giving him a kind of half hug.

He put one arm around my shoulders and drew me closer. “I just wanted to talk to you about the MLE officers. They were asking me about Cassie. A lot. It felt like I was in trouble or something and I wanted to see what they said to you, and then I couldn’t find you, and…”

I’d forgotten how scared Scor is of Magical Law Enforcement. When he was little they used to go round to his house all the time to check up on his father. It was some kind of condition of his not going to prison after the war, and Mr Malfoy would always be terrified before their visits. He’s done his time now and they don’t check up on him anymore, but Scor has a lot of memories of being a little boy watching his father falling apart, and his fear of the officers who used to scare his daddy hasn’t gone away.

“It’s fine, Scor,” I said, pulling away from him and smiling. “Don’t worry about it. Come on. Let’s get some lunch.”

I could feel Al watching me from across the Hall, concerned, but didn’t look back at him as I sat down with Scor, complaining about Clementine and her fake smile and Elena’s pretend concern. A little part of me felt guilty for ignoring Al after all his help, but Scor had been my friend for a long time and I wasn’t really sure I could talk to both of them.

“Are you listening? Ollie?” Scor poked me with his spoon.

I jumped. “Sorry. Drifted away. What were you saying?”

“We should have known that officer would be useless. She looked like a goddamn Weasley,” Scor said with a laugh.

I laughed halfheartedly along with him, but nothing about his comment really felt funny.



Chapter 9: In Which Scorpius Is A Moody Cow
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As the weeks went by with no sign of Cassie, I started to accept that I was stuck spending increasing quantities of time with Albus Potter. Between prefect patrols, Potions classes and his ability to turn up wherever he wasn’t really wanted, it was inevitable that I would see quite a lot of him.

Something I hadn’t anticipated was the arrival of Rose Weasley in my life.

Rose seemed happy enough to take the few prefect meetings we’d spent together, and the occasional Herbology lessons we’d ended up working as a four with Al and Joe, as an invitation to a new friendship. She took Al’s friendliness as a sign of approval, and frequently joined Scor and me in the library or at mealtimes, hilariously not recognising Scor’s intense dislike of all things Weasley.

“Hey, Liv. Malfoy,” she said, sitting down with us at the Slytherin table for lunch and helping herself to pasta. Her hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun, and her bag was open because it was too full of books to zip shut.

“Hi,” I said. I looked pointedly at Scor but he grimaced and didn’t say anything.

“So, Liv. Laura Brogan’s been asking me about you,” Rose said.

Another thing Rose had decided not to recognise was my dislike of Al’s adoption of ‘Liv’ as a nickname. I’d always been ‘Ollie’ to my friends, and ‘Olivia’ to everyone else. ‘Liv’ felt strange and unwelcome. I didn’t bother correcting her, too preoccupied with the fact that Laura Brogan had deigned to take an interest in me. It couldn’t mean anything good.

“What? Why?” My mouth was full of mashed potato.

Across the table, Scor looked disgusted. His parents brought him up to have better table manners than I have.

“I’m not really sure. It’s nothing to worry about. I’ve been telling her you’re absolutely wonderful.”

“So she probably hates me?” I wrinkled my nose. Laura Brogan seems to hate most people.

“Oh, almost certainly. I told her Al thinks you’re prettier than she is,” Rose said in a matter of fact voice.

Scor laughed and then coughed to disguise the fact he’d found her funny.

The strange thing is that I think Scor and Rose would actually get along very well if he was willing to try. I find Rose a bit irritating. She’s a bit too nice and a bit too clever and while she’s not exactly boring I don’t have enough in common with her to find her interesting. Scor’s different. I think he’d quite enjoy having a friend that takes life a little more seriously than Cass and I do. If he didn’t have such strong principles against being friends with Gryffindors I expect he’d quite enjoy Rose’s company.

“So, what brings you over to Slytherin Land today?” I asked.

“Lou keeps trying to talk to me about Al, which is tricky because, you know, Al refuses to let me do anything to help. I figured if I was over here he might take a break from pestering me,” Rose said.

Something I do admire about Rose is how good a friend she is to Al. I’m pretty sure part of the reason she was spending so much time with me is that she was going insane trying to keep both her best friends happy at the same time. It would have been much easier if she had given in and passed on the messages Louis asked her to, but since Al had asked her not to get involved she had refused to take any part in her cousins’ argument. She could have been a Hufflepuff with that level of loyalty.

“Doesn’t look like it,” I said, looking up to see Louis Weasley heading towards us.

Scor groaned and shuffled down the table to talk to Oscar King. He tends to just leave when the quantity of Gryffindor becomes too much for him.

“Eurgh. I suppose it’s not worth me trying to escape?” Rose looked longingly towards the door to the Hall.

“No chance you’ll make it,” I said, shaking my head and laughing. I like her a lot more when she shows a glimpse of her bitchy side.

“Rosie Posie,” Louis said, kneeling down on the floor behind us and giving Rose puppy dog eyes.

“Hello, cousin dearest. What can I do for you today?” Rose didn’t seem at all affected by Louis’ pleading expression.

I was impressed. Maybe it’s easier to resist his veela power when you’re related to him. I’m pretty sure I’d have done anything he asked me to if he gave me that look.

“Do you love me, Roe?” Louis was continuing with the full force of the puppy dog eyes. Apparently he hadn’t clocked the whole family-immunity-to-veela-charm thing.

“Supposedly,” Rose said drily.

“You look very beautiful today. Have I mentioned how you’re the most beautiful of my cousins? I probably have. I don’t see why I wouldn't have done. And you’re the loveliest as well. The most absolutely lovely.”

“Spill, Lou. What do you want?” Rose gave him a bemused smile. “And if it’s to try to get Al to talk to you, you know I won’t do it.”

“But…”

“I’ve tried. But you really hurt him. If he doesn’t want to forgive you then that’s his decision,” Rose said with a small shrug.

“Please, Rosie? I’m desperate. I’ll do all the work in Potions today! And I’ll do your homework for you for the rest of the week.” Louis somehow managed to widen his eyes even more. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible. I guess the kid just has freakishly huge eyes.

“Why would I want you to do that? I’m top of the class in all my subjects, and you’re averaging a P,” Rose said, shaking her head.

“Oh yeah. Forgot about that.” Louis shrugged.

“If anything I know I’ll be the one doing your homework this week.”

“You don’t have to do it for me. But I might need some moral support. Actually, I’m going to need you to help me with that Charms. It makes no sense, the stuff about the porcupines, or was it concubines? Or maybe I was dreaming…”

His voice trailed away for a moment, and then he suddenly looked alert.

“But that’s not the point. Look, Roe, I really need to talk to him. He’s not letting me speak. He goes to bed really early and leaves the room before I wake up so I don’t have a chance to talk to him in the dorm, and he’s ignoring me the rest of the time too. Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“No. There’s really not. I’ve tried, I have, but I think you just need to wait for him to deal with it by himself.” Rose looked apologetic even though her words were completely reasonable. She has a strange quality of feeling guilty whenever somebody else is upset, despite it having nothing to do with her. It’s like she’s the polar opposite of Cassie.

Louis visibly deflated, standing up and brushing dust from his robes. He stood there for a moment, looking utterly dejected, and then his expression cleared and he turned to me.

“You. Liv. That’s your name, right?” He turned to Rose, who nodded, and then he looked back at me. “Yeah. You. You’ve been spending a lot of time with Al, haven’t you? With your prefect stuff, and you sit with him in Potions now, don’t you…”

I watched him, unsure where this line of conversation was going.

“You could do it!” Louis smiled at me, turning on the veela charm and making my legs feel wobbly even though I was sitting down.

If I was cleverer I’d do some research into veelas after Hogwarts. It’s not fair for them to have that kind of power. There must be some way to turn it off. If I figured it out I’d be doing everyone a favour. Maybe Rose could do it. She’s brainy.

“Do what?” I narrowed my eyes at Louis.

“Talk to Al!” Louis looked proud of himself. “You need to tell him how sorry I am, and how I’d been drinking that night and Laura manipulated me and I know it’s not an excuse but it’s hopefully an explanation.”

He looked really quite distressed, and I felt a bit bad for him. What he was saying did seem to make sense.

He kept talking. “And you need to tell him I haven’t been getting drunk by myself since then and he’s my best mate and if he wants I’ll do a dance for him in front of the whole of Gryffindor house to prove that I’m sorry.”

“Right…” I was genuinely confused. Weasleys have strange notions of what it means to be sorry.

“And I’ll eat an acid pop,” Louis added as an after thought. “And he can bite me, if he wants.”

“What?”

“Shut up, Lou,” Rose said. “You’re giving Liv a bad impression of our family. Reasonable people don’t use pain to resolve conflict.”

I didn’t think there was any point mentioning the multiple times Scor had told the beaters to solely target Oz and Joe in practice because he was finding them irritating. I’m very familiar with the whole using pain to resolve conflict technique. It was the dancing to prove that you’re sorry that was confusing me.

“Hmm? You don’t mean that. I’m the pride and joy of our family,” Louis said, frowning at Rose. “But you’ll talk to him, Liv? I really appreciate it.”

“I can try. But I don’t see why he’d listen to me if he didn’t listen to Rose,” I said.

Louis gave a whoop and lifted me up off the bench and into an uncomfortably tight bear hug. He swung me from side to side, kissing each of my cheeks in turn before finally setting me back on my feet.

“You are a wonderful human being,” he said, planting a quick kiss on my lips.

I wiped his kiss from my mouth, mildly disgusted by it.

“That’s not okay, Lou. She didn’t want that,” Rose said, rolling her eyes. “This kind of behaviour is why people don’t like you.”

“People love me,” Louis said. “Don’t they, Liv?”

“Whatever.” I was rapidly tiring of his company, even with the veela thing.

“Told you so. I’m just a loveable kind of guy. Now tell me, Liv, what’s your favourite thing about me? Is it my smile?”

Rose didn’t look up from her breakfast, but carefully pointed her wand directly at Louis’s forehead. He didn’t look scared at all. I don’t know why not. I’d be terrified.

“Silencio,” Rose said calmly. “Come on, Liv. Let’s get to Potions.”

Louis trotted along beside us, poking Rose every so often in an attempt to make her give him his voice back. It was interesting seeing the dynamic between them. It brought out a side of Rose I hadn’t seen much before.

We were ten minutes early, a side effect of going to places with Rose Weasley. We weren’t allowed to go into the classroom before Slughorn arrived because of all the expensive/dangerous ingredients we might steal/destroy, so Rose and I leaned against the wall outside while Louis jumped up and down in the hope one of us would take pity on him and remove the silencing charm.

A few other people started to arrive, including Scor and Joe as well as (to everyone’s delight) Laura Brogan. She noticed me standing next to Rose and immediately made her way over to us. She had deep shadows under her eyes, and her usually flawless make up was smudged.

“Olivia,” she said with a sigh that sounded like I’d disappointed her. “I’ve been meaning to have a little chat with you.”

“Why?” I couldn’t think of any good reason why Laura Brogan would be meaning to have a ‘little chat’ with me. We’d gone nearly six and half years without any contact and I saw no reason for that to change now.

“Well, I thought, given our, erm, situation, we should probably straighten a few things out,” she said. She gave a small, patronising smile, but her eyes were worried and I was pretty sure she was just trying to look confident and like she had the upper hand in the conversation.

“Our situation?” I had no clue what she was talking about and didn’t really care.

“Yes. Our situation. I mean, it’s been hard for me. I’m guessing it’s hard for you too. And I’ve noticed how much time you and Al have been spending together, of course.”

“Of course.”

“And, you know Al and I were together for a long time, of course, and I suppose I just thought…well, if we’re going to get along then you and I really need to be totally straight with each other.” Laura tossed her head a little, letting her hair hang down her back in a dark glossy wave.

She’s very beautiful. I suppose that’s why so many people don’t recognise her terrible personality.

“Right…” I really didn’t know where this conversation was going, and kind of hoped Slughorn would turn up early.

“So, I mean, I really do need to ask. What exactly is going on between you and my ex-boyfriend?” Laura put a hand on the wall beside me. She was standing a bit uncomfortably close. I shuffled away from her and towards Rose, who looked like she was finding the whole situation amusing.

“Honestly?” I looked straight into Laura’s huge blue eyes. Maybe her and Louis bonded over eye size.

“Honestly.”

“Well, we haven’t really talked about it much, but we’ve been having lots of passionate sex in broom cupboards,” I said, mimicking Laura’s smile.

“You…wait, what?” The smile slipped from her face.

“Oh, yes, I mean, if I’m going to be totally straight with you, it doesn’t mean anything,” I said cheerfully. “Al just mentioned he’d had some pretty disappointing sex in the past and I wanted to change that for him.”

Laura Brogan looked like she’d swallowed something unpleasant, and then her expression shifted and she just looked upset.

Behind her, Louis had tears of silent laughter streaming down his cheeks.

“Oh, look, Slughorn’s here. We should probably get inside,” Rose said, pushing me past Laura before she hurt me or something.

Rose was grinning too. I suppose her friendship with Brogan had taken a pretty rapid decline when Laura broke up with Al.

Al himself arrived as late as he possibly could without actually being officially late.

He slid into the chair next to me, ruffling my hair as he sat down. He doesn’t really understand personal space. I was quickly realising that this seemed to be a Gryffindor trait.

“Sorry. I skipped lunch to go for a fly and lost track of time,” he muttered.

I shrugged and rested my head on the desk. I didn’t really care whether he was late or not.

Slughorn was at the front, bumbling on about the Befuddlement Draught we were going to make, and how he’d actually been a good friend of the guy that invented it, or maybe a good friend of a relative of the guy that invented it, or maybe he was a relative of the guy that invented it. I wasn’t quite sure. I wasn’t really listening.

“Um, Liv?” Al poked me with his wand. It turned my sleeve bright orange. I turned to glare at him but he looked so horrified by what he’d done that there was no point.

“What?” I couldn't be bothered to get my wand out my bag so I took his and turned my sleeve back to normal.

“Why’s Laura giving you devil glares?”

I looked over to Laura Brogan’s desk. She’d been sat by herself ever since Al had moved next to me. Al was right. She kept looking over at us, at me, with a glare that could probably kill puppies. Or small children.

“Ah,” I said, as if that answered his question.

He didn’t seem to accept that and continued to watch me, waiting for an explanation.

“I, erm, might have told her we were sleeping together.”

“WHAT?”

Slughorn momentarily stopped lecturing to look over at us and Al seemed to realise how loudly he’d spoken.

“I never cease to be surprised by how well connected you are, Sir,” he said with a vague smile towards Slughorn.

Slughorn took this as a prompt to launch into a description of all the people he’d helped ‘become who they are today’, and Al looked relieved and turned back at me.

“You did what?”

“She was questioning me about why I was spending time with you. So I told her we were sleeping together.”

“Right.”

“And, erm, I also might have told her it was because you were disappointed by your sex life with her,” I said, wincing as I spoke. I wasn’t sure he’d be very happy with me. It had seemed funny to irritate Laura Brogan, but I didn’t really want to annoy Al as well.

Al looked confused for a moment, and then his face cracked into a wide grin.

“Bet she didn’t like that,” he said.

“No, I don’t think she did.”

I was quite worried he was going to get cross. I’d seen his temper and I wasn’t sure I wanted it directed at me. But suddenly he was laughing. Really, really laughing. Tears were running down his cheeks and people were staring, but he just kept laughing harder and harder.

“Um, Al? Are you okay?”

He shook his head, hardly able to breathe through his laughs, and buried his face in his arms on top of the desk, his whole back shaking. Slughorn decided to ignore the disruption, telling us to start working on our Draughts, but most of the class was distracted by the ridiculous sounds coming from Al Potter.

I spent the rest of the lesson trying to calm Al down enough that he could safely brew a potion, and by the time the bell rang to signify the end of the lesson we were both laughing hysterically.
Slughorn sighed when he came over and saw our non-existent potion, and set us both an extra essay for homework, explaining the importance of focus when potion brewing.

I walked with Rose and Louis to Transfiguration. Louis was ecstatic that I’d annoyed Laura Brogan. I don’t really understand how he came to be in a compromising position in a broom cupboard with the girl. He despises her. He tried to make me come and sit with him so he could continue to recall the conversation and speculate over what exactly Laura Brogan meant by ‘our situation’, but I shook my head and took my usual seat next to Scor instead.

There’s a limit to how much of my time I’m willing to spend with Weasleys.

Scor didn’t speak to me for the whole of Transfiguration. I wasn’t quite sure what I’d done to annoy him, but I’d realised a long time ago that the easiest way to deal with him when he’s in a bad mood is to wait for him to calm himself down.

It wasn’t ideal for me, though. Transfiguration is my worst subject. I only got through my OWL because of all the help Scor gave me, so trying to get through a class without him talking to me was pretty pointless. Professor Humphrey could have been saying anything. It all sounded like gobbledygook to me. When it got to the end of the lesson and Scor hadn’t so much as looked at me, I decided it was probably time to take action. There’s only so much patience I can have with him.

I grabbed his sleeve as we left the classroom, pulling him back to make him talk. He’d rushed from Potions to Transfiguration without walking with me like he usually did, and it just felt strange to have sat next to him for an hour without any form of communication.

“Oi,” I said when he tried to keep walking. “Stop with the silent treatment.”

“Oh, have you decided we’re friends again now?” His voice was dripping with sarcasm in the way that only a Malfoy’s voice can.

“What are you on about? We’re always friends.”

“Hasn’t seemed that way lately,” Scor grumbled. He seemed to have adopted a pretty much permanent scowl, and I liked him less for it.

“What?”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

I sighed. He’s intolerable when he gets into these moods. Usually I leave him to Cassie to sort out.

“Obviously I don’t know what you’re talking about, Scor, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“Go away then. I know you’d rather be spending time with your other friends.”

“Are you serious? What other friends? You know I’ve basically got you and Cass.” I was cross with him. The boy’s an idiot.

“Shut up, Ollie.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up. You’re making no sense.”

He was upsetting me. It was starting to feel like an actual argument, and arguing with Scor was one of the worst feelings in the world. Cassie and I regularly ended up screaming at each other, it was part of the deal of being her friend, but that had never been the kind of friendship I had with Scor.

“You’ve had no time for me recently, Ollie,” Scor said. “You’ve been off with Joe, and Albus Potter, and bloody Rose Weasley. I’ve hardly seen you.”

“That’s not fair.” I was hurt. Apart from prefect patrols and the lessons I was seated with other people for, I spent almost all my time with Scor.

“Isn’t it? I’ve swear I’ve spent more time by myself in this place over the last few weeks than I did in the last five years,” Scor said.

I opened my mouth, ready to tell him that this couldn’t be true, but then I thought about it properly.

He might be a moody cow, but one thing Scor most definitely is not is a liar. His parents have always made sure to be 100% honest with him about their own lives and have made sure to teach him not to get caught up in lies. If he said he’d been by himself a lot recently, he probably had been by himself a lot recently.

And when I started to think about it, I realised it was true.

I usually thought of Scor and Cassie as my only real friends, but when it came down to it there were other people I got along with and could hang out with. Esther and Clara were perfectly friendly and happy to include me in whatever they were doing, even if it was just whining about Amethyst Twine and her strangeness. Two years of playing the same Quidditch position as Oz and Joe meant my friendship with them was pretty much solidified, much more so than their friendship with Scor was, anyway. And if I was really desperate I could always find the Moron. We share blood. He’s obligated to spend time with me if I’m lonely.

Scor didn’t have these links. He got along okay with the other Slytherins, but would never spend time with them if I wasn’t there. Most people in other Houses tended to avoid him because he was a Malfoy. They’d heard stories about his family and didn’t want to get involved with him. It didn’t bother Scor. He was happy enough to spend his time with Cass and me. If one of us was busy the other would usually be around, and so long as we had each other none of us were ever lonely. Now that Cassie was gone that had changed.

It hadn’t occurred to me to wonder what Scor was doing while I had prefect patrols, but now he’d made me think about it I realised he was probably spending that time completely alone. And having random Gryffindors invading our space at mealtimes made him really uncomfortable. It wasn’t just that he disliked them on principle. He found their company unsettling, and I hadn’t been taking that into account when the Wotter clan turned up.

I hadn’t been doing it deliberately, but I couldn’t deny the fact that I’d been neglecting my oldest friend.

“I’m sorry, Scor. I didn’t think…” I hadn’t actually said the word ‘sorry’ to him (or to anybody) for a long time, but I thought it was probably appropriate.

“It’s alright. Not your fault,” Scor said, but his expression suggested he was still sulking.

“I should have realised. You know you’re the best friend I have in this place.”

“Hasn’t felt like that lately,” Scor said with a half-smile.

“I am sorry.”

“It’s okay, Ollie. I shouldn’t be taking it out on you. I just…I really miss her.”

“Me too.”

We stood in silence for a minute, and then Scor smirked.

“And seriously, Ollie. Ditching me for Gryffindors.”

“Shut up.” I pushed him gently.

“Aw, are you embarrassed?”

I glared at him.

“You are embarrassed.” He looked delighted.

I glared at him some more.

“Never mind,” he said. “Let’s do something fun tonight. We could go flying? We haven’t done that yet this term. Quidditch practice doesn’t count. We used to fly together all the time.”

I winced.

“Um, could we maybe fly tomorrow?” I hated myself for saying it.

“Why not tonight? It’ll be fun,” Scor said. “You love flying.”

“I know. It’s just…I have prefect patrols tonight. With Al.”

Scor looked like he was holding back from shouting. He probably was.

“We could go flying first, though? As long as we’re done by about half eight it’ll be fine? I really would like to go.” I knew I was sounding desperate, but that was okay. I just wanted to find a way to remove the hurt expression from his face.

“Forget it. It doesn’t matter,” Scor said. “I need to get some books out. I guess I’ll see you at dinner.”

I watched him walk away and, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I might cry.

Dear Cassie,

Please come back. We need you.

Ollie x


Chapter 10: In Which Quidditch Is Played
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Luckily Scor’s love for Quidditch overrides his hatred for Gryffindors, meaning in the run up to the Slytherin/Ravenclaw match his bad mood was down to stress about the match rather than down to being angry with me. It suited me just fine.

“This isn’t just Quidditch,” Scor said, pacing up and down in the changing room as we waited for the match to start. I’d painted green and silver stripes across his face and he’d charmed his hair green with a silver streak to match. Slytherin are good at displays of house loyalty.

“I’m confused,” Oz said, scratching his head and yawning. “What is it, then?”

Scor glared at him.

“Seems to me,” Joe said, lounging against Oz while I painted his face to match Scor’s. “That Quidditch is exactly what this is.”

“It’s like you read my mind, Joey,” Oz said, putting his arms around Joe’s chest to give him a cuddle.

“Shut up!” Scor was looking a bit red faced for a Malfoy, and Joe and Oz seemed to realise that it was probably in their interests not to annoy him.

I finished painting Joe’s face and put my paints down. I’d already done my own face and Oz’s, and the rest of the team had done their own, streaking war paint across their cheeks rather than going for a full face of make up like I did. I get overexcited with face paint and like to use as much as possible.

Joe wrapped his arms around my tummy and leaned his cheek against my back, probably smudging paint across my Quidditch robes. I tensed but didn’t move away. There’s no point trying to stop Joe being affectionate. It just confuses him.

“Right,” Scor said. “This match is important. Ravenclaw are a much better team than Hufflepuff. You saw their match against Gryffindor. Their Seeker might have just got lucky, but their Chasers are good. Toby, you’re going to have your work cut out.”

Toby Carter, our keeper, gave a sullen nod from the corner of the room. He’s a very talented keeper but he’s always sulking and doesn’t really contribute charisma to the team. Scor quite likes him, though. Scor likes grumpy people.

Scor kept talking and I closed my eyes. I was much too sleepy for Quidditch. I’d been awake since some ungodly hour because Scor liked to go flying early in the morning before matches. He said it helped him assess the conditions, or something. I was still feeling like a terrible friend so it was easy for him to pressurise me into going with him.

I yawned and let my head loll back onto Joe’s shoulder. Joe leaned further back into Oz so that the three of us were all in some kind of strange cuddle. He likes things like that. Weirdo.

Joe absentmindedly tugged on a strand of my hair that was coming loose from my ponytail. I wriggled away to stop him and he held onto me more tightly.

Behind us, Oz had started snoring.

“CHASERS. Dammit. We have a Quidditch Match in TWENTY THREE AND HALF MINUTES! Why are you NAPPING?”

I opened one eye and narrowed it at Scor. He had a weird pulsing vein in his forehead. Attractive.

“Sozzles, Cap’n,” Oz said through a yawn. Behind me, Joe was shaking with restrained laughter.

“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? What have I been telling you do, Ollie?” Scor glared at me.

I sat up, pulling myself out of Joe’s arms, and looked sleepily up at Scor.

“Um. Win?” I grinned at him hopefully.

“Yeah. You better,” he said. He was still glaring but his voice was softer. “Get lots of goals, you three.”

“We always do,” I said with another yawn.

“Yep. Goals are kind of our speciality,” Joe said.

“Alright,” Scor said, looking suspicious. “Well, realistically, Gryffindor are our main threat for the cup. True, they lost to Ravenclaw last term, but talent wise they’re a stronger team. Ravenclaw just got lucky for the snitch. That means the main aim for today’s match is to win by a wide enough margin to prepare ourselves for our Gryffindor match next term. Gryffindor will probably flatten Hufflepuff so we need to make sure our total points are higher than theirs before we have to play them.”

“We can beat the Gryffies any day,” Derek Rider, one of our Beaters said with a shrug. “Half their team are girls.”

“Hey now, let’s not say things we might regret,” I said, turning quickly to face him and trying to look intimidating, which was somewhat difficult when my eyes were pretty much glued closed with sleepiness and my face was coated with paint.

I’m not a fan of our Beaters. Derek Rider and Alex Arram are both in fifth year, and demonstrate the side of Slytherin I’d rather not see. I keep telling Scor to kick them off the team but he seems to think they’re a valuable asset.

“Go easy on the sexist comments, Rider. I won’t hold Ollie back if she decides to hex you,” Scor said, looking frustrated. “Anyway, the fact one of their Beaters is a girl didn’t stop Gryffindor keeping control of both bludgers for 75% of our match against them last year.”

“That was only because of Freddie Weasley,” Alex said sulkily.

“Most of their direct contact hits came from Leila Spinnet, actually,” Scor said. “So there goes that theory.”

“Yeah. Take your misogyny elsewhere, Beaters,” Oz said, lounging back in his seat. “Spinnet could take you any day. You’re an embarrassment to the team.”

Derek stood up abruptly, looking furious. “You’ll regret that, King.”

Oz pulled Joe in front of him. “Don’t hurt me. Take Joey instead. He’s less pretty.”

“You think this is funny?” Alex clenched his fists, standing up next to Derek.

“Reckon he needs us to wipe that smile off his face,” Derek said.

“Why? Are you finding it distressingly attractive?” Oz widened his grin.

“Looks like it,” Joe said, throwing an arm around Oz’s shoulder and messing up his hair.

“You saying I’m gay?” Derek pulled his wand out of his robes.

Oz raised his eyebrows. “So what if I am? You look pretty close with Alex here.”

Alex pulled out his wand as well. “How dare you…”

Oz made no movement to get out his own wand, and instead quite happily smacked a kiss onto Joe’s cheek. I wasn’t really sure what he was trying to achieve by winding up Alex and Derek, but also wasn’t that bothered. They hadn’t even sat their OWLs yet. There was no way they were going to win if they actually tried to hurt Ozzy.

Scor was jumping up and down looking agitated, obviously unsure how he was going to go about breaking up a fight between his Beaters and Chasers.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, shut up.”

Everyone turned around, shocked at Toby’s voice. He was still sitting in his corner, but it was definitely him that had spoken.

“Don’t we have a Quidditch match to play?” Toby said quietly.

Scor turned bright red. I think he might genuinely have forgotten that we were about to play Ravenclaw.

“Right. Yes. Thank you, Toby. Everyone sit down,” Scor said. “Um, okay, we’ve got seven minutes. So, erm…”

He looked like he was panicking. He probably was. Scor puts a lot of thought into his pre-match speeches, and he wouldn’t have been prepared for the interruptions.

“You were saying we need as big a point margin as possible,” I said, nodding towards him. Oz and Joe sat back down next to me.

“Yeah. I was. Right. So, like Ollie said, we want to win this by as many points as we can. That way we’ll have more leeway when it comes to the Gryffindor match next term. Ideally I’d like to win this one by 300 points,” Scor said, returning to his business like captain voice.

“Three hundred? You’re insane,” Oz said, crossing his arms. “Come on, we’re good but we can’t score thirty goals. Look at what we’re working with! We’ve got Ollie as a chaser.”

“You say that like I didn’t score five goals more than you in the Hufflepuff match,” I said, pulling a face at Oz.

He laughed and reached across Joe to ruffle my hair. “We wanted to let you feel special.”

“Stop getting distracted, all of you,” Scor said, frowning at his watch. “We have five and half minutes. I’m not insane. And you're an idiot. I’m not asking you to score thirty goals. I’m asking you to score at least fifteen more than the Claws so I can catch the snitch.”

“Hmm, you make an interesting point,” Oz said. “Fifteen goals, you say?”

“Fifteen more than the Claws,” Scor said with a nod. “And then I catch the snitch.”

“And what if you don’t catch the snitch?” Alex still looked cross.

“I will catch the snitch.”

“But what if you don’t? What if they get there first?”

“They won’t,” Scor said confidently. “Okay team. Let’s do this.”

“Win by 300 points, then party in the Common Room,” Oz said, pulling himself up off the bench. “Piece of cake.”

“It’s not a piece of cake. I have to keep you lot fifteen goals ahead,” Toby said. “Stop acting like this is going to be easy.”

“He didn’t say it was going to be easy. He said piece of cake,” Joe said.

“Yeah. Because there will be cake at the party in the Common Room,” Oz said, nodding and pulling what I’m sure he thought was a wise face.

“For the love of Salazar, shut up,” Scor said from the door. “Get out here right now. Merlin, I don’t know how you all ended up on the team. Come on, Ollie.”

I picked up my broom and hurried over to him, gently leaning into him for a second.

“It’ll be alright, Scor. Breathe.”

“Just…get lots of points, okay?” He spoke to me in an undertone, obviously having given up on trying to get the others to take things seriously.

“Course I will. You too,” I said with a grin, following him out the door.

And here come the Slytherins. Captained by Scorpius Malfoy, this is the team currently in the lead for the cup. After a huge win last term against Hufflepuff, I’m sure I’m not the only one excited to see them play again.

Lucy Weasley’s chirpy voice rang out from the Commentator’s box. I was glad it was her. She’s usually pretty good about remaining unbiased, unless we’re playing Gryffindor, in which case the talons come straight out. Other commentators are more likely to bring their dislike for Scor (and Slytherin in general) into their commentary.

So let’s hear it for the Slytherin Team! Carter, Arram, Rider, Montague, King, Bell, aaannnd Malfoy!

Lucy waited for the cheers from the Slytherin section of the stands to fade away. The other three quarters of the crowd had obviously decided to support Ravenclaw.

And from the other side we have the RAVENCLAWS! After their success last team against, erm, well, Gryffindor, who were just having a bad day, the Ravenclaw team are currently looking at second place! This is sure to be a good match. Both teams will be anxious to maintain their winning streak.

So that’s Quigley, Marlow, Marlow, Davies, Bryce, Peakes, aaaannnd Bones! This is Captain and Keeper Aimee Quigley’s last year at Hogwarts, so we can guarantee that she’s looking to win today!


Scor stepped forward to shake the Ravenclaw captain’s hand. I don’t think he realises he does it, but he has a different walk when he’s captaining the team. Usually he’s very straight-backed and elegant, but on the Quidditch pitch he has more of a swagger. Cassie pointed it out to me after the first match he captained, and after that it was impossible not to notice.

And the players launch into the air. Montague and King are having a bit of a cuddle. Apparently it’s one of their good luck rituals. And now their Captain’s looking pretty angry so I think that, yes, they’ve now moved apart to get ready.

Bell and Davies fly to the centre, ready for Madam Chang to release the balls. They’ve both been playing for years now, of course, so this isn’t the first time they’ve come face to face in this position.

AND THE BALLS ARE RELEASED! The Quaffle’s been thrown up, looks like Davies, no, BELL with the quaffle. Bell passes backwards to Montague, who sends it straight back to her, and Merlin, look at that girl fly. You can’t fault her technique. It’s moments like this that it’s not hard to see how she’s related to Gryffindor captain Jason Wood. Both of them look more comfortable in the sky than on the ground. And Marlow, Clovis Marlow, that is, is going in for a bludger. He’s hit it towards his sister…interesting tactics, okay, and Cecily Marlow has now hit it. That’s clever! Passing the bludger to your teammate. Look out, Bell!


The bludger smacked into my ribcage with a dull thud, and I dropped the Quaffle, cursing.

“You okay, Ollie?” Scor was immediately by my side. It’s kind of scary how quickly he can move when he’s on a broom.

“Yeah, think so,” I said, my voice coming out in a bit of a gasp.

“No broken ribs?” He looked concerned. For a moment I felt touched, and then I remembered this was Scorpius-Malfoy-Quidditch-Captain, not Scorpius-Malfoy-Best-Friend. If he was concerned it was because he was counting on us scoring fifteen more goals than Gryffindor and didn’t want any injuries to prevent that.

“Nah, pretty sure it’s just going to be a nasty bruise.” I pressed down on my side to make sure it felt normal, and gave Scor a reassuring nod.

And that’s Bryce of Ravenclaw with the Quaffle, Bryce with the Quaffle. And Montague tries to intercept her pass to Peakes but has to swerve to avoid an EXCELLENT bludger hit by Clovis Marlow, and Peakes has the Quaffle. Peakes in possession, Peakes in possession, and he shoots…AND CARTER SAVES IT!

That was an AMAZING save by Slytherin’s Toby Carter. Pity for Carter that there aren’t scouts here today, or he’d probably be set for a try out for next year.


I sped away from Scor, to about halfway down the pitch, waving to Toby. He winked, raised his arm as if to pass the Quaffle to Oz, and then sent it soaring towards me.

It smacked into my side where the bludger had hit, making me wince, but I tucked it under my arm and was headed back towards the Ravenclaw goals before their chasers even realised the Quaffle hadn’t gone to Oz.

And that’s Bell in possession again, looks like that hit didn’t affect her determination! Peakes is trying to catch up, but there’s a big gap there. And Bell aims, she shoots…And Bell scores! That’s 10 points to Slytherin! Slytherin are in the lead, 10-0.

I punched the air and spun around to grin at Scor. He gave me a nod of approval. Joe was hand jiving at the other end of the pitch.

Quigley looks pretty cross, she passes to Bryce. Bryce passes straight to Davies, but KING intercepts. And now King with the Quaffle. King. Montague. King. Montague. King. Man, it’s like these two can read each other’s minds. King aims, he shoots…he, wait, he passes to Montague, who SCORES! Brilliant tactic, whoever came up with that one. Feigning shooting and then passing so your fellow chaser can score. Some intense planning has gone into both teams’ game plans today. So that’s 20-0 to Slytherin!

The match was easier than I’d expected it to be. Toby played a fantastic game, only letting in two goals, and one of them was an impressive penalty he couldn’t possibly have saved. Something wasn’t hanging together properly in the Ravenclaw team. Although their Beaters weren’t prejudiced idiots, and their Chasers were all very good individual players, they didn’t work together like we did, and after an hour we were winning 160 points to 20.

And that’s King with the Quaffle. King is now flying backwards and waving at Davies. Davies, erm, doesn’t look very happy, probably understandably. And King throws the Quaffle over his shoulder…what? Not sure why…and, wow, Montague catches it. I swear these two have some kind of telepathic connection. it’s like they’re brothers. Or soul mates or something.

Joe blew a kiss to Lucy Weasley and tossed the Quaffle to me. I caught it and flew sharply upwards, ready to drop it to Oz when he reached me.

And Bones of Ravenclaw looks like he’s seen the snitch! He’s DIVING. THE SNITCH HAS BEEN SIGHTED. If Ravenclaw catches the snitch now, they’ll win by ten points. Malfoy’s there right behind Bones, though, and we all know how fast he can fly.

All the players had paused in the air to watch the seekers’ dive. If Scor didn’t manage to catch it, we’d lose the match. If he did catch it, we’d win by 290 points. Something about that irritated me. Scor wanted to win by 300.

I glanced over at Quigley, who was hovering by the left goal hoop and watching the seekers, both hands splayed over her eyes so she could watch nervously through the gaps between her fingers.

I looked down at Oz. He wasn’t watching the seekers, and was instead looking straight at me. When I made eye contact with him, he gave me a slow, deliberate wink.

I shrugged and threw the Quaffle, watching it sail across a third of the pitch and fly neatly through the middle hoop.

Woah! Unexpected move there from Olivia Bell! But what a throw! Thats 170-20 to Slytherin.

Scor noticeably sped up, reaching out in front of Bones. Scor’s arms were longer, and he veered slightly to the right, grabbed at the air in front of him, and then threw both arms up into the air.

And Scorpius Malfoy has caught the snitch! Slytherin win by 300 points! What an amazing game. I don’t think we were expecting that result today. It’s going to be hard for Ravenclaw to maintain second place in the cup after this performance.

Oz darted upwards and grabbed the top of my broom, pulling me behind him towards the ground. I stopped listening to Lucy Weasley, and instead focussed on Scor’s smile.

“You did it, Ollie! I knew you would. Eight goals by yourself!” Scor grabbed me in a quick hug as soon as I landed. I winced as he squeezed my bruised ribs, but he let go of me quickly and turned to congratulate Toby.

Joe and Oz were doing some kind of victory handshake that ended in a giant hug. Both of them looked overjoyed, and I realised with a small pang of sadness that Oz only had one more Quidditch match with us before he graduated.

I smiled at the team, and watched Scorpius turn to shake Quigley’s hand. She looked disappointed but she gave him a small smile and said well done. They’re okay, really, Ravenclaws. Gryffindors would be trying to say we’d cheated.

Scor looked as though he was going to come back and talk to me, but his gaze stopped on a point in the crowd instead. I walked over to him and looked in the direction he was staring.

Two wizards in auror robes and a witch were striding towards us, stony faced and serious looking.

I recognised one of the wizards as Teddy Lupin, whose face was familiar to most of the wizarding world (his parents were war heroes and he's Harry Potter's godson. Fame comes with the territory). It was strange to see him without his blue hair and casual smile. The witch was one of the idiots who’d questioned Scor and I about Cassie. Clementine or something. Her hair was carefully curled and, unlike the aurors, she was smiling.

Scor was shaking next to me, and I put a hand on his arm, trying to reassure him. The whole school was still in the stands from the match, and it would be the wrong time for him to show how much the presence of Law Enforcement officers bothered him. He had enough rubbish spread about him as it was.

The aurors kept walking, looking straight at us, which I thought was strange. Professor McGonagall was hurrying behind them, talking furiously and looking frustrated. As they came closer we could make out some of her words.

“Now, really, was it quite necessary for you to take him straight from the pitch?.”

Scor’s shaking intensified and I held his hand.

“It’ll be okay, Scor. They’re not here for you,” I said, trying to make my voice soothing. “It’s nothing to worry about. You’ve not done anything wrong. You don’t have to talk to them.”

It seemed I was wrong, though. Teddy Lupin stopped next to us, looking slightly awkward.

“Erm, Scorpius Malfoy?” He looked at Scor with an apologetic expression. They’re cousins, and although their families aren’t exactly close it was obviously a strange situation for Teddy.

“You know that’s me,” Scor said, his voice wavering. He held onto me more tightly.

“Mr Malfoy,” Clementine said with a smile. Her voice was full of all the fake friendliness I’d noticed in her before. “Lovely to see you again. Would you follow us please?”

“What? Why?” Scor sounded terrified.

I pulled his hand to let him stand a little way behind me.

“Just come with us, yeah? Let’s not cause a scene,” Teddy said. He had a few strands of blue in his hair, and I guessed he’d had to quickly change into a more professional look and hadn’t properly looked in a mirror.

“I…why?” Scor was squeezing my fingers uncomfortably tightly. It hurt more than the bludger hit had.

“Please, mate,” Teddy said. He looked embarrassed.

“It’s alright, Scor,” I said, leaning into him to show him more support. “I’ll come with you, kay?”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” the other male auror said with a disdainful glance down at me. His mouth was a thin line across his face and his voice was completely expressionless.

“Why not? He wants me there,” I said, offering the auror one of my best glares.

“Can’t do it,” Teddy said with a wince. “He’s a suspect. We need to take him in by himself.”

“Mr Malfoy, would you kindly follow us without complaint? I can assure you, this will be a lot more difficult if you continue to object.” The serious faced auror was pulling what he obviously thought was a professional expression, but he looked mean.

“But you haven’t told me WHY,” Scor said, his voice rising with his panic.

I could feel other students staring at us, trying to figure out what was happening. Behind us, the rest of the Quidditch team was listening closely to the conversation.

The serious faced auror looked almost surprised by Scor’s anger, and gave a small incline of his head, as if he was giving in to something.

“Scorpius Malfoy. You’re wanted for questioning about your whereabouts on 2nd and 3rd January. You may appoint a lawyer for the meeting if you so wish,” he said.

“Why would I need a lawyer? Why do you care where I was?”

“We have new evidence that has shown it is necessary to question you in relation to the disappearance and suspected abduction of Miss Cassandra Selwyn.”

Scor turned chalk white.

He let go of my hand.

I felt myself sway on the spot, and then Scor had stepped away from me and towards Teddy Lupin.

Well. Fuck.


Chapter 11: In Which Slytherins Speculate
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I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I watched Teddy Lupin gently lead Scor away from the pitch, tilting his head to talk to his cousin. Scor’s robes were muddy, and one of his hands was still clutching the snitch he’d caught. His shoulders were hunched and beneath his face paint he looked utterly dejected.

The euphoria I’d felt when I landed after the match had completely faded. I crossed my arms tightly across my chest and took a few deep breaths, blinking slowly like an idiot. I think people were trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t focus on what they were saying.

Scor had been taken away for questioning about Cassie’s disappearance.

They were acting like he was a suspect.

Scor had been taken away by MLE officers and aurors.

He’s terrified of law enforcement.

I took a shaky breath and dug my fingernails into my forearm, trying to calm down. I didn’t know what to make of what had just happened.

“Come on, Ollster. Let’s get you inside.” Joe’s voice. Next to my ear. I squirmed away from him.

“No point worrying about it right now,” Oz said, draping a muscular arm around me. “Come on.”

It was strange to see them together without smiling.

Joe put one arm around me from the other side, and I let my fellow Chasers lead me back towards the Castle.

We usually went back to the changing rooms after a Match, wanting to get changed and have a quick team debrief, but Oz and Joe seemed to have decided that it would be better to go straight back to the Common Room. I didn’t question it. It would have felt horrible to go back to the changing rooms without Scor.

Esther and Clara hurried out of the stands to meet us as we left the Pitch. Clara had thick green and silver eye make up on, and both of them were wearing Slytherin scarves.

“What happened? Why did they take Scorpius away?” Clara looked anxious, pulling strands of her hair with her fingers. She had green nail varnish on too, decorated with tiny silver snakes. It was quite beautiful. “Is he going to be okay? What’s going on? Did they explain?”

She sounded like she really was concerned. Maybe her obsession with Scor is about more than just his looks after all. Or maybe she was just worried she wouldn’t get to drool over him for a few hours.

“Erm, we’re not sure. They took him for questioning,” Joe said with a frown, tightening his grip around my waist.

“About Cassie?” Esther spoke to her brother rather than to me. Her voice was soft but clear.

“Yeah. They said something about new evidence,” Joe said. “Scorp looked pretty scared.”

It was unsettling to hear Joe Montague talking so seriously about something. A big part of me wanted him to crack a joke and give Oz a kiss, but I knew he was worried and wouldn’t be able to act like he usually did.

“So he’s a suspect? But everyone knows Scorpius wouldn’t hurt Cassie,” Clara said.

“Wouldn’t he?” Esther looked unsure. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Scorp, but…if the aurors are treating him like a suspect then they must have reason to suspect him.”

“And Cassie’s good at rubbing people up the wrong way,” Joe said, frowning.

“That she is. Plus Scorp’s definitely got a nasty side,” Oz said. He looked anxiously down at me after speaking, and his voice was apologetic.

“It’s not impossible that he’s got something to do with her not being here,” Esther said thoughtfully.

“Stop it.” I pulled away from Joe and Oz. “Of course Scor didn’t do anything. They just want him to answer some questions. Just…just leave it. He’ll be back soon.”

None of my fellow Slytherins tried to stop me as I strode away from them, back towards the pitch. I didn’t want to listen to their speculations on where Cassie was and whether Scor had anything to do with it. None of them knew Cass and Scor like I did. They had no right to be talking about it like they had any idea what was going on.

I dragged myself halfway up the Quidditch stands.

The wind had picked up since the match and was driving tears out of my eyes. It was kind of a relief. If my tears were because of the wind I didn’t need to worry about whether I’d be crying without it.

I sat down on one of the plastic chairs and drew my knees up to my chest.

It was strange, waiting by myself, knowing that Scor was somewhere being questioned. I remembered how pale he was after the last time he’d spoken to MLE officers about Cass. It definitely wasn’t going to be good now that they were treating him more like a suspect.

A suspect.

I didn’t really know what to make of it. In my head, Cassie was still sitting on a beach somewhere tropical and working on her tan. But people sitting on beaches working on their tans don’t have MLE officers searching for them. They don’t have their boyfriends being taken away for questioning about their disappearance.

I rested my cheek against my knee, ignoring the fact that my face paint was smudging onto my leg.

The weather hadn’t felt so bad when I was flying, but now that I was sitting still on the ground I realised just how cold it was. I blew on my hands and then wrapped my fingers up in my sleeves to try to keep them warm.

I’m not sure how long I sat there.

It was cold and miserable and I suppose I didn’t really want to be by myself, but I knew I didn’t want to spend time with anyone else either. I also knew that when Scor came back he’d come straight here. All his things were still in the changing rooms. And he’d want to see me. I wanted to see him.

I squeezed my eyes shut and pulled my robes more tightly around myself to keep warm.

“Ollie?” Scor stood at the bottom of the Quidditch stands, still white faced and shaking.

I stood up and pretty much flew down the steps to meet him. I almost threw my arms around him, but suddenly wasn’t sure that I wanted to, and took a step back to look at him.

“What happened?” My teeth were chattering, making it hard to speak.

“They were asking me things, like, a lot,” Scor said. He looked almost like he was in pain.

“They said there was new evidence? Do you know what it is? Is Cass okay?”

“I don’t know, Ollie. It doesn’t sound good.” Scor took a shaky breath. “They found her locket.”

“What? Where?”

Scor gave Cassie a locket for Christmas last year. It’s silver and chunky, and has a picture of the three of us inside, glaring at the camera and then dissolving into laughter. It’s the only jewellery Cass ever let Scor buy for her, and I’d never seen her take it off.

“In a muggle underground station,” Scor said bitterly.

“Cass doesn’t get the tube.”

“No,” he said with a grimace.

I looked at him for a moment. I thought he might have been crying. His eyes looked swollen.

It was starting to rain. I let the ice cold drops fall on my cheeks, mingling with the tears the wind had pulled from my eyes and swirling down my cheeks.

“It doesn’t mean anything, Scor. Maybe…maybe it got stolen, or something.” I frowned at him, aware that my words weren’t really a comfort.

“Why would someone steal it and then leave it at King’s Cross?” Scor gave a horrible half smile.

“I just meant…there’s no reason to think the locket turning up means anything bad,” I said. My voice sounded unsteady and it wasn’t just because of the shivering.

“It was broken,” Scor said. His voice was flat and he didn’t make eye contact.

“But that still doesn’t mean…”

“The chain was broken, and it had strands of her hair caught up in it. The aurors say it looks like it was pulled off her and then thrown away.” Scor closed his eyes for a second when he finished speaking.

“Maybe…maybe she pulled it off herself?”

“Why would she do that?” Scor glared.

“I don’t know. If she was upset, or didn’t want to wear it, or…I don’t know.”

“You think she was upset with me and decided to throw it away,” Scor said.

I reached out for his arm but he took a step backwards. The rain was getting stronger and my robes were getting heavier as the water seeped through them.

“I didn’t say that, Scor,” I said quietly. “I was just saying there might be an explanation.”

He shuffled from side to side and sighed shakily before opening his mouth again. When he spoke his voice was heavy and expressionless.

“They found her blood on the chain.”

“They…what?” It felt like something had lodged in my throat. Something that was sharp and rapidly expanding.

“There was blood on the chain. And they…they think it was me. They think I did something to her. They kept going on about statistics, and how often it’s the boyfriend, and how the fact it was a gift from me makes it more suspicious.” His words were tumbling over each other, almost too quickly for me to process. “Ollie, they think I hurt her! They think I hurt Cass! And they say they don’t have any evidence against me but they’ll be watching me carefully and…and I don’t know what to do. What the fuck do I do?”

He looked up at me for a moment. I couldn’t figure out his expression. He was terrified and devastated and furious all at the same time and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

He was terrified and devastated and furious and he was the number one suspect in my best friend’s disappearance.

My best friend’s disappearance.

He was being watched carefully.

I stared at him.

He blinked once at me, and stared at the ground.

I watched him as he pressed his fingertips carefully against his cheek as if to make sure it was still there.

And then I watched him draw his hand away quickly and clench his fist around the fabric of his robes.

And then I watched him look back up at me, shaking his head desperately as if I could say something to make it all better.

And then I ran away.

I could hear him shouting for me to come back but I didn’t look round. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I didn’t want to stop. I ran into the castle, past the tide of students making their way into the Great Hall for dinner, and up the staircase towards the first floor.

I didn’t stop until I crashed straight into somebody.

“Liv,” Al said, grabbing my arms to hold me steady. “I’ve been looking for you. Are you…what’s happened?”

I shook my head quickly. I was still shivering and my robes were soaked through from the rain. I tried to move away from him, but Al held tightly onto my arms, watching me carefully.

“Godric, you look freezing. Do you want my cloak?”

I didn’t say anything, but I let him carefully slide my sodden Quidditch robes off my shoulders. It didn’t make much difference. The leggings and top I wore underneath were also drenched from the rain.

Al pulled off his own dry cloak and carefully wrapped it around me. It was toasty and soft, and must have had several warming charms on the fabric.

He looked concerned, more concerned than he’d been when he had to carry me to the Hospital Wing, and I think the shock of his kindness was what finally made me lose control.

I let the hot tears dribble down my cheeks and breathed in rough, desperate breaths between sobs that racked my whole body. A small part of me registered that I didn’t really want Albus Potter to be the one to see me fall apart like this, but once I’d started crying I couldn’t stop.

I expected Al to leave. It wasn’t his responsibility to deal with me having a full on breakdown in the middle of the school, and I can’t have been very good company. I fully expected him to awkwardly make his excuses and then go to dinner. Or Gryffindor tower. Or anywhere else.

But he didn’t. He stepped closer and put both arms around me, coccooning me in his arms and cloak.

For somebody that generally hates physical contact, I seem to spend a ridiculous quantity of time in Al Potter’s arms.

I buried my face against his neck, letting my tears fall onto the collar of his shirt even though they’d mixed horribly with my face paint and were sending trickles of green over the white fabric. He tightened his grip around me and kissed the top of my head, stroking my wet hair with one hand.

“I’m here. It’s okay. Whatever’s happened, it’s going to be okay. I’m here. You’re okay.”


Chapter 12: In Which Breakfast is Traumatic
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I don’t know how long I stood in that corridor with Al Potter’s arms around me. It felt like all the tears I hadn’t let myself cry over the last few years were coming out at once, and for some reason he was the one to wipe them away. 

Eventually, I pulled away from him. I opened my mouth, unsure what to say, and he shook his head and took my hand. 

“Come on. I’ll walk you back to your Common Room.”

He squeezed my fingers reassuringly and I followed him along the corridor. I was still wearing his cloak. Some small voice in my head suggested giving it back to him, but the words didn’t reach my lips.

We stopped outside the stone wall that leads to the Slytherin Dungeon. Al reached out with the hand that wasn’t holding mine, and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.

“It’s late. You should get some sleep.” He kept his hand in my hair for a moment longer than felt natural, before dropping it back to his side.

I nodded. I knew I should thank him for putting up with me but it didn’t feel easy. 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said.

I nodded again.

Al finally dropped my hand. “If you need to talk tonight feel free to send me an owl.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay.” He gave a small frown and turned to walk away.

“Al,” I said, calling him back.

He turned his face back to look at me.

“Um. Thank you.” 

Al gave a small grin. “It’s no problem. I’ll see you in the morning.”

I watched him walk away. I wasn’t really sure I wanted him to leave, but it didn’t seem fair to ask him to stay. I murmured the password to the wall behind me and it slid open.

Joe and Oz were sitting by the fireplace. Joe was asleep against Oz’s chest, and Oz had a lazy arm draped over his shoulders. When I walked in Oz looked like he wanted to say something, but I shook my head and headed straight towards the dormitories.

I didn’t speak to any of the girls when I got inside. Amethyst looked at me curiously, and Esther gave me a reassuring smile, but I closed the curtains around my bed and lay down, wrapping myself up in Al’s cloak under the duvet, letting the sound of the swishing lake water outside lull me to sleep.

When I woke up the curtains around the other beds in the dormitory were closed. Esther and Clara were either already at breakfast or still asleep, and I’ve learnt not to question why Amethyst spends most of her time behind closed drapes. 

The only open curtains were those around Cassie’s depressingly empty bed. I swallowed and ran to the shower, turning the water up as hot as it could go and forcing myself to stay under the water until my skin was pink.

I pulled on a pair of jeans and one of Cassie’s red jumpers, leaving my hair wet from the shower and not bothering to put on any make up. Everything felt like more effort than it was supposed to. 

The Great Hall was only half full, and had its lazy, Sunday morning feel. I glanced around the room but couldn’t see Al, so sat down at the Slytherin table next to Clara and opposite Scorpius. He was drinking a mug of black coffee and reading the Sunday Prophet. His hair was messy and he had dark shadows under his eyes. He didn’t look up as I sat down.

Clara smiled. “How are you? Did you sleep well?”

“Yeah. Okay.” I knew she was waiting for me to talk about everything that had happened the previous day but I also knew I wasn’t going to tell her anything.

“Post’s here,” she said with a jerk of her head towards the sky.  

I frowned at the two letters that fell down in front of me. At the beginning of term I’d been anxious to open every letter straight away, desperate for some kind of word about Cassie. Now I felt ambivalent. 

I turned over the envelopes and sighed. My parents.

Scor was watching me but didn’t offer to help so I slid my finger under the flap of the first envelope.

Olivia,

I really do need to speak to you. Can you let me know when would be a good time for me to floo the school? There are things you need to know.

Best,

Andrew.

I pointed my wand at the piece of paper and set fire to it. A meeting with my dad wasn’t really what I wanted at the best of times, and definitely wasn’t going to happen now. 

My mother’s letter was more problematic. She’s so pathetic that I feel bad ignoring her words, even though they rarely make me fell good.

Olivia sweetheart,

How are you? I haven’t heard from you for such a long time darling, I’ve been worried. 

How are your classes? Are you making sure you get enough vitamin C? I read an article in Witch Weekly explaining how getting lots of vitamin C gives you thicker hair and helps prevent premature greying. Make sure you have a glass of orange juice with breakfast. You’ve got such lovely hair you should be doing everything you can to protect it.

I’d love to see you and have a little chat about everything that’s been going on at home recently. Let’s meet up in your Hogsmeade weekend next week? A new juice bar has opened up next to that lovely little cafe we used to go to. Apparently you burn more calories drinking their Celery Shake than you get from it. Let’s meet there at two on Saturday? I know it’s Valentine’s Day but it really would mean so much to me to see you. I hear so little from you nowadays. Feel free to bring that nice boy Scorpius along with you.

I love you darling. See you on Saturday,

Mum xx


I put my head down on the table on top of the letter. An outing with my mother. Wonderful.

“What’s wrong? Is it bad news?” Clara looked mildly interested rather than concerned.

“Just my mother. She wants to meet up next Hogsmeade trip.”

“Oh. The one on Valentine’s Day?”

I didn’t respond.

Clara kept talking. “I’ve been looking forward to that one. It’s always really special. Scorpius, would you like to go with me?”

Sensing danger, I looked up.

Scor had put down his coffee cup to look at Clara, hints of a cruel smile flashing across his face.

“Excuse me?” He raised an eyebrow.

“There’s a Hogsmeade trip next week. On Valentine’s Day. I thought you might like to go with me?” Clara smiled and tilted her head, letting her hair swing forwards. 

“Why the fuck would I want to do that?” Scor kept his voice level but there was no hiding the malice in his words. 

“I…I just thought…” Clara’s eyes widened.

“You just thought while my girlfriend, who I’ve been with for a bloody long time, which you haven’t seemed to notice, and who I fucking love, is fucking missing…you just thought you’d see if I’d like to spend Valentine’s Day with you.” Scor spat out his words, anger carved into his whole face.

Clara’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m…I’m sorry. I was only asking. I…” She lifted a hand to quickly brush the tears away from her face but it was a pretty futile attempt.

“Well, you shouldn’t have,” Scor was shouting now. “I don’t like you. I don’t want to be near you. And I definitely don’t want to go on a fucking date with you just because Cassie’s not around. I’m in love with somebody else, and even if I wasn’t I would never, ever want to be with you.” 

Clara sat completely still, tears running down her cheeks.

The whole Hall was silent, and I could feel people staring over at our table.

After what felt like an age, Joe stood up.

“Come on, Clar,” he said, resting a hand on Clara’s shoulder. “Let’s get some air.”

Clara stood up and took Joe’s hand, walking out of the Hall without looking back at us.

I turned back to Scor. He was shaking with anger and his own eyes were looking red and watery.

“Scor…it’s going to be okay,” I said, reaching across the table to squeeze his hand.

He drew his arm away from me and stood up.

I stood too. “Come on, Scor. Talk to me.”

“Why?” He gave a horrible, strangled laugh. “What can I possibly say?”

“You’re upset. You need to talk to someone. And I’m your…”

Don’t.” Scor cut me off. “Don’t say you’re my friend. You’ve made it pretty fucking clear that that’s not the case. You think I hurt her! ” He was shouting again, and I took a step back.

“Scor…”

“No. Don’t talk to me. I don’t want to hear it.”

“Please…”

He looked at me for a moment but I wasn’t really sure he was seeing me. He was pale and furious, and both his hands had clenched into fists.

“You know what?” His voice was quiet again but he might as well have been shouting. The whole Hall was quiet and would hear whatever he had to say either way. “You can just get the fuck out of my life.”

He turned away and stormed out of the Hall, slamming one of the huge heavy doors behind him. The crash as it hit the door frame resonated for a few moments, in which none of the usual chatter started up again.

I chewed my lip, unsure what to do, and stared down at my feet.

I wasn’t sure what I’d expected to happen. Scor has always had his own problems. His family name has left him insecure, and he struggles to make friends. He’s always needed me, probably much more than I need him, and my running away from him was never going to fail to hurt him.

But I somehow hadn’t realised just how angry he’d be.

I could feel the flush creeping up my cheeks. Everyone had seen him shout at me. They all knew that the close knit friendship group I’d always been so proud to have had fallen apart.

It was too much to get my head round. Cassie was still missing. And Scor was furious. And I was alone. 

A hand touched my elbow.

“Hey, Liv. Can you come help me with some Charms homework?” Rose Weasley’s voice.

“We can show you Gryffindor Tower,” Louis said cheerfully from my other side.

“I…okay.”

Rose looped her arm through mine and leant her head against me for a moment, soft red hair tickling my neck.

“Thanks. I just can’t figure out this vinegar into wine malarkey. It should make sense and I’ve definitely got the wand movement right but mine just turns to water. I saw that you got it in class. I don’t understand why it’s not working for me,” Rose said, going straight into her usual practical but friendly chit-chat. 

“It’s because, Rosie,” Louis said solemnly. “You’re not very bright.”

Rose leaned across me to punch his chest.

Louis caught her hand and grinned, lifting his own hands. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

“Lou, I saw your vinegar turn into ice and then explode,” Rose said, shaking her head. “I don’t think you’re in any position to insult anybody else’s intelligence.”

Louis stuck his tongue out.

“How come you were so good at it? You got it straight away,” Rose said, glancing at me.

I frowned. Cassie had insisted we learned how to turn vinegar into wine back in fourth year so we had an endless supply tucked under her bed in the dorm. I wasn’t sure Rose would approve, and also wasn’t sure whether I wanted to talk about Cass.

“I don’t know. I guess it just clicked for me,” I said quietly.

“I hope it will click for me. Imagine. Vinegar into wine. I wouldn’t have to keep sneaking into Hogsmeade to get drunk,” Louis said dreamily.

Rose stopped walking. Her wand was out in seconds and against her cousin’s throat. She’s quite scary sometimes, Rose Weasley.

“Louis Aurelien Arthur Weasley,” she hissed.

Louis let out an audible gulp.

“You have messed up your relationship with your best friend and have made everything horribly awkward for the rest of us because you didn’t stop drinking when we asked you to. You are a hideous and selfish and irresponsible drunk, and you’re not going to be drinking any more at least until you’ve fixed things with Al. I’ve got half a mind to go to Professor Tibble and tell her you shouldn’t be allowed access to this spell.”

Louis looked frightened. I didn’t blame him.

Rose shook back her hair and smiled. “Come on. Let’s get back to the Common Room. Al should be there, Liv. I’m sure he’ll want to see you after we’ve done our Charms.”

I wasn’t sure why she felt the need to tell me this, but it lifted some of the anxiety that was pressing down on my chest so I didn’t question it.

“Here we are.” Rose stopped outside a portrait of an enormous woman wearing horrible pink satin, staring at a glass of wine.

“Password?” The Fat Lady didn’t look up from her glass.

“Grawp,” Rose said cheerfully.

The Fat Lady nodded and the whole picture frame swung backwards to reveal an archway. I saw her take a swig of her wine as we stepped through.

We were in a round room draped with scarlet tapestries and curtains. The squashy armchairs looked significantly comfier than the ones we have in Slytherin, and a fire was crackling in the fireplace. I could see a few faces I recognised. The Moron was sat on a window seat near the fireplace, with Dominique Weasley lying across his lap, and James Potter was curled up in an armchair with a Quidditch Magazine. The whole room felt warmer and more relaxed than the Slytherin Dungeon, and I tried to swallow my jealousy.

Next to me, Louis reached out and squeezed my arm.

“Olivia Bell. Welcome to Gryffindor Tower.”


Chapter 13: In Which Louis Weasley Dances
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It was strange, how quickly I adapted to spending my free time with the Gryffindors. I’d spent so long spending all my time with the same two people that it surprised me how easy it was to suddenly have another group of people who were happy to spend time with me. The Potter/Weasley clan is so massive that they were happy to include a few extra people, and it was easy to forget about how shitty the rest of my life was when I was curled up next to what I’m fairly sure is the biggest and cosiest fireplace in Hogwarts.

“How was Quidditch practice?” Al was supposed to be working on a Potions essay, but kept looking anxiously up at me as I sat opposite him, still in my sports kit. I couldn’t bring myself to follow Scorpius back to the Common Room, and had ended up in Gryffindor Tower for the third evening that week.

“Mm, same as usual. Scor was a jerk,” I mumbled. I was exhausted and bruised from a relentless Quidditch practice in which Scorpius had released ten bludgers rather than the usual two. Derek and Alex had tried their best but had ended up being yelled at for not protecting the rest of the team better. Scor was brilliant at inflicting his bad moods on everybody else, and was refusing to let any of us try to talk to him about it. I’d run straight back to the Gryffindor Common Room.

“Sorry about it,” Al said, wrinkling his nose. He obviously didn’t know how to deal with the fact that the people I loved most in the world had left me, but it was sweet of him to try. “What are you doing, Rosie? Can you stop doing whatever it is and help me with Potions instead?”

Rose laughed. She was lying on her tummy on the rug next to the fireplace with a huge scroll of parchment and a quill. “I’m making a spreadsheet.”

“For what?”

“Potential people James is sneaking off to meet,” Rose said with sheepish grin. “What? I want to know! He’s never been this secretive about a girl.”

“Oo, let me help.” Al slid off his chair to the floor next to Rose and leaned over her shoulder.

“Right, so I’ve made a list of all the girls from fifth to seventh year, minus the ones we’re related to,” Rose said, pointing at the list.

“What do the different colours mean?”

“Blue is standard. Red means they’re already in a relationship. Green means they’re not James’s usual type.”

“Surely you should strike off the ones already in a relationship?” I moved up so I could see the list.

Rose and Al glanced at each other and then both laughed and shook their heads.

“James lacks morals,” Rose said.

“He literally has no sense of right and wrong,” Al agreed. “Maybe we should highlight the girls in relationships. They’re probably more likely. It would explain why he’s sneaking around instead of bragging about it in the Common Room.”

“This is true,” Rose said. “So anyway, this leaves us with fifty four girls to choose from. I doubt he’d see more than four girls at once, so we need to eliminate at least fifty of them. Oi, Jason!”

My idiot cousin had just entered the room, hand in hand with Dominique Weasley. I’d never really realised they were so close. Dominique is super terrifying and beautiful, and definitely much too amazing to be hanging out with the Moron all the time. But somehow they were inseparable. Probably because of Quidditch. I scowled at him as he headed over. He raised his eyebrows when he noted my presence, but didn’t comment on it.

“What’s up, Rosie?” He sounded friendly, almost kind. It was strange and not nearly as moronic as I would have expected.

“Who’s James seeing? Can you help us cut down the list?”

“Nah. We’ve been asking him most days and he hasn’t given us any clues,” the Moron said with an apologetic shrug.

“But you’re his best friend,” Rose moaned. “How are we supposed to work this out if even you have no ideas?”

“It’s not any of the seventh year Gryffindors,” Dominique said. It was maybe the first time I’d ever heard her speak. Her voice was much lower than I’d expected. Sultry, I think Cass would call it. “The girls in my dorm are just as confused as we all are.”

“Yeah, it’s none of the sixth years either,” Rose said, scribbling out some of the names on her list. “So that takes it down to forty five girls it could be. Dammit.”

“Are you sure it’s a girl?” I frowned.

Both Al and Rose looked shocked. More shocked than I would have expected.

“You think it’s a guy?” The Moron raised his eyebrows.

“Sure, why not?”

“But it’s James.” Rose chewed her lip.

I shrugged. “I would have thought it would make sense. It might explain why he’s not telling any of you.”

“Fuck,” Al said quietly.

I looked at him sharply, ready to get cross with him for being prejudiced. It shouldn’t be a problem for him if his brother’s seeing a guy, and I was surprised he’d react like that. In my experience, Slytherins are usually the most bigoted. At a push, I might have expected it from the Moron. I didn’t expect it from Albus Potter.

“We hadn’t thought of that. That’ll raise the number of possible people to over a hundred,” Al continued, lying back onto the rug. “Rosie this is an IMPOSSIBLE TASK!”

I laughed. I should have known it wasn’t a problem for either of them in principle. They were just being nosy. And that was nothing new.

I watched them laughing together on the rug. Al snatched the chart from Rose and started adding the names of ‘fit guys’ who might be James’s type. I felt a little bit left out, but it was nice to be with them rather than by myself. It took some getting used to spending so much time with a friendship group who were predominantly from the same family.

Rose grabbed the spreadsheet back from Al and stuck her tongue out at him. He didn’t react.

“You okay, Al?” Rose rolled back over to follow Al’s gaze and find out why he was suddenly distracted.

“He’s such a twat,” Al responded, jerking his head towards the portrait hole.

I looked over and sighed. Louis had just climbed through the portrait hole, followed by a giggling Laura Brogan.

“I thought he hated her,” I said.

Everyone hates her,” Rose said with a nod. “But Louis’s easily distracted. If she’s been offering him sex he’s probably forgotten how much he despises her. I’m a bit disappointed in him. Do you want me to say something, Al?”

Al shook his head but the scowl on his face didn’t relax.

“Do you want to go? We have prefect patrols in ten minutes anyway,” Rose said.

“Yeah. Maybe. Sorry, I’ve been no fun recently,” Al said.

Rose ruffled his hair. “Yep, you’re a total bore.”

I thought I should maybe say something. Al had been so kind to me about everything going on with my friends, and I’d almost forgotten that he had his own problems. But before I could come up with some kind of reassurance, we were interrupted by a shout from the other side of the room.

“Just stay away from me!” Louis had turned bright red. It was almost unattractive. But not quite. He’s still got the creepy veela blood. And eyes.

Laura Brogan, to her credit, didn’t flinch. She reached out and took Louis’s hand with a patronising smile. “Don’t make a scene,” she said, her voice a warning.

“I’ve told you to leave me alone!” Louis tugged his hand out of Laura’s.

“Shut up, Louis,” Laura said, rolling her eyes. “I’m all you’ve got.”

“I DON’T WANT YOU.”

I slid off my chair and onto the floor next to Al, tentatively putting a hand up to rub his shoulder. He was staring at his cousin with an unreadable emotion on his face.

“You don’t mean that,” Laura said. Got to give the girl credit for her persistence. She was brazenly denying what Louis was saying.

“I do! Stop following me around! Stop acting like we’re a couple. Stop acting like we’re friends. Stop acting like I chose you.” Louis looked like he might burst into tears.

“Louis,” Laura said patiently. “You’re not thinking rationally. You broke off from your best friends to be with me.”

“No I fucking didn’t. You lied to me when I was drunk and manipulated me into getting with you. I never would have done that if I’d realised what was happening!”

“I stuck by you when all your friends gave up,” Laura said. “You owe me.”

“They didn’t give up. They’re angry because I was an idiot. And I was an idiot because you’re a conniving bitch. Just stay the hell away from me.”

“Fine,” Laura said coolly. “Your call. But don’t come crying to me when you realise you’re completely alone.”

She held her head up high as she walked away from him and up the stairs that led to the girls dormitory. I was actually kind of impressed. No part of her acknowledged that she’d just been publicly humiliated. I suppose she was confident she’d be able to spread some kind of lie about what had happened before the rest of the school heard.

Louis stood still for a minute, taking deep breaths and not paying attention to the muttering going on around him. When he’d calmed down, he strode quickly over to where we sat. Rose stood up to greet him. Al stayed on the floor, so I stayed with him.

“Albus, I’m really, truly sorry,” Louis said, looking straight down at Al.

Al turned his face into my shoulder and didn’t acknowledge Louis. I wasn’t sure what he wanted from me, and ended up just sitting in rigid stillness while he leant against me.

“You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, and I can’t believe I managed to mess it up so astronomically. I was drunk and Laura told me nobody apart from her found me attractive. She said she could help me. And it was fucking stupid. I wouldn’t have listened to her if I was sober. But for some reason at the time the things she was saying made sense. I’ve never regretted anything more, Al, I mean it. I’m so, so unbelievably sorry.”

Al still didn’t respond.

“What do I have to do to show you I mean it?” Louis sounded desperate. “I’ll do anything. I mean it. I’ll buy you anything, or go anywhere with you. Or you can hex me, if you want. That’s okay. I deserve that. Or punch me.”

Dominique let out an audible sigh, shaking her head at her younger brother.

“Please! I’ll do a dance for you, if you like. In front of the whole Common Room.” Louis was speaking quicker than usual. I was surprised by how nervous he was.

“You’ll do a dance,” Albus repeated, lifting his face from my shoulder. “What?”

“I don’t know. I just thought a little bit of humiliation might make up for some of my shitty behaviour,” Louis said with a shrug. "It was a stupid idea.”

“Do it,” Al said, pushing his palms against the floor so he could stand up. I stood with him, feeling like a bit of an idiot sitting on the rug by myself.

“Are you serious?” Louis looked confused.

“Dance for me,” Al said with a smirk.

“Albus,” Dominique said sharply.

“No. It’s a good idea,” Al said. “Go on, Louis.”

“I…really? Dance?”

“Sure. Show me you’re sorry.”

I frowned at Al. I wasn’t really surprised he’d decided to talk to Louis - I think he was probably just bored of fighting - but it was unlike him to actually take some kind of revenge.

“You don’t have to dance, Lou,” Rose said, looking at Al in exasperation.

“No. It’s cool. I’ll do it,” Louis said. He clambered up onto the desk Al had been sat at before getting distracted by Rosie’s spreadsheet. He tapped his wand to his throat, muttering something, and when he next spoke his voice boomed out to the whole Common Room. “Um, excuse me, everyone? Can you all hear me? Okay, right, I just wanted to say that I dedicate this dance to my amazing, unfortunately named cousin, Albus Severus Potter.”

Gryffindors around the room looked up in interest. If we’d been in the Slytherin Common Room somebody probably would have hexed him off the table by now, but Gryffies are strange, and instead chose to cheer him on as he waved his hands in the air and started to dance.

There’s something special about watching a seventeen year old, male, part-veela Gryffindor jumping up and down and hand jiving on a desk. He kept going for a good seven minutes, tunelessly humming along to his awkward dance moves. I watched him with my eyebrows raised. Dominique looked severely unimpressed. Rose had taken out a wizarding camera and was beaming like a child in Honeydukes. And Al…well, Al was smiling. And it was good to see him smile.

When he’d apparently decided he’d done enough to redeem himself, Louis took an elaborate bow and jumped off the desk to tumultuous applause.

“Can we be best friends again now please?” He looked straight at Al, his words tumbling out of his mouth quicker than he seemed able to control them.

Al gave a small nod.

Rose burst into tears.

Al and Louis both looked confused. Al poked Rose’s arm and she swatted his hand away.

“Give him a hug. You two are both so stupid,” she wailed.

Al laughed and pulled Louis into a hug. Louis was a little bit shorter than him, and reached up to fit his arms around his cousin’s shoulders. After a moment, Rose burrowed under their arms to join in, looking overjoyed to have her best friends back again.

I watched them, unsure what I was doing, and then turned to leave the Common Room.

“Where are you going?” The Moron stepped in front of me. I’d forgotten he was there.

“Um, Owlery. I need to send a letter. Tell Al I’ll see him later?”

The Moron nodded and I pushed past him.

I didn’t know where else to go, so once I was out of the Gryffindor Common room I decided I might as well do what I’d told him I was doing and actually send a letter.

The Owlery was completely empty. I whistled to Mercury and he soared down to me, pecking my shoulder before landing. I hadn’t seen him much over the last few days, and he was probably cross.

“Hang on. I’ll write a letter for you,” I said to him, pulling a screwed up ball of parchment out of my pocket and smoothing it out on the windowsill.

I chewed my lip for a few minutes, wondering whether there was even any point writing to Cassie after what the aurors had been saying, but then I shook myself out of it. She was my best friend.

Dear Cassie,

I miss you I miss you I miss you. I’ve never felt so alone.

I don’t know what I can say to make you come back.

Sorry for being so needy. Please reply if you can.

Love you always,

Ollie xx


I looked at the words I’d just written. Cass wouldn’t like them. She liked funny, sarcastic letters, not declarations of problems and clinginess. But it was what I wanted to say to her so I rolled it up tightly and attached it to Mercury’s leg.

“If you find her, give her hug for me, yeah?” I said as Mercury lifted his wings and glided away from the tower.

A cough sounded from right behind me and I jumped, spinning round so quickly I almost lost my balance.

“Erm, sorry,” Al said, looking embarrassed. He was so close to me I was surprised I hadn’t realised he was there.

“What are you doing here? I thought you were having your emotional reunion.”

“We have patrols. Jason said you’d be up here,” he said.

“Oh. Right. Forgot about that.” I yawned. I still hadn’t really adjusted to having to do prefect duties.

“Look,” Al said. “Um, okay, don’t be cross, but I saw what you wrote in that letter.”

“You what?”

“I didn’t mean to. You didn’t hear me come in, and I thought I’d let you finish before distracting you. And then, I don’t know, I somehow ended up reading it over your shoulder.” Al grimaced and seemed to shrink away from me. 


A small flare of anger burst up inside me, but I somehow couldn’t be bothered to get cross. It was hardly the worst thing that had happened recently, and there was nothing in the letter I really cared about Al seeing.

“I just…is that actually how you feel?” Al still looked nervous.

“What?”

“Alone,” Al said quietly.

“Um. Well, yeah. I only have two friends in this place. One of them’s missing and the other one hates me with a passion.”

“To be honest, Liv, if you actually believe that I’m fucking offended,” Al said.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you seriously think Selwyn and Malfoy are still your only friends? I mean, have you even noticed how much time we spend together?”

I frowned. I knew I spent a lot of time with Al, but that was because of Potions, and patrols, and because I’d been helping Rose out with some of her Charms. It wasn’t the same as spending time with Scor and Cassie. Al and I had just been thrown together a lot. But then…I quite liked the time I was with him.

“I…I don’t know. What are you talking about?”

“Liv, you’re my friend.”

“But you’ve got Rose and Louis,” I said, confused.

Al looked frustrated. “Yes, and last I heard there wasn’t a rule saying you could only have two friends. Look, you’ve helped me out a lot through all this rubbish with Lou, and I know I’ve helped you too. And I like spending time with you. And so do Rosie and Lou. I’m pretty sure that’s how friendship works, no?”

I thought about it for a moment. “Are you sure?”

“Am I sure what?”

“That we’re…friends.”

He laughed. “Of course I’m sure, Liv. How many times do we need to hang out with you before you realise we actually like it?”

“I like spending time with you too,” I said quietly.

“Well, that’s a relief,” Al said with a grin. “Look, come here.”

He opened his arms and I hesitated for a second before stepping into them, letting him cocoon me. He was warm and he smelt like broomstick polish and it was just, well, nice.

“Sorry,” I said, thinking about the letter I’d just sent. “For running off. And for sending that letter. I thought, I don’t know. I saw you with Louis and Rose and I just figured you wouldn’t want me there.”

“Don’t be an idiot. Now, I’ve been meaning to ask you what you’re doing about Hogsmeade this weekend. Are you going?”

“Not sure.”

“Come with me? Rosie’s helping our cousin go wedding dress shopping, and Louis will probably have a date. Please don’t make me be that one weirdo who has to go by himself.”

I laughed, and then cursed. “Eurgh, I actually can’t. I forgot I have to meet my mum. It’s going to be awful.”

“Oh, well, maybe I’ll see you after?”

“Yeah. I don’t know how long it’ll take.”

“If not we can just do something later on. But it would be nice to see you.”

“Trust me, I’d much rather meet up with you. I really don’t want to go, but I should see how she’s doing. Normally I take Scorpius for moral support, but I suppose that’s not really an option this time.”

Al nodded and squeezed my arm.

“Um, I don’t suppose you’d like to come?” I looked at him, suddenly hopeful. “I mean, it’ll be horrid, it will, and you probably have things you’d rather be doing. But…I mean, if you don’t have other plans…it would be nice to have a friend there.”

I chewed my lip, feeling strangely worried about hearing his reply, but Al just grinned.

“Sure. I’m a big hit with other people’s mums.”

“Thank you. So much. I’m kind of dreading it a little bit.”

He laughed. “It’s cool. That’s what friends do, right? Now come on, we really should do our patrols. We’re already twenty minutes late.”

“Yeah. Hey, maybe we’ll catch your brother and his mystery girl,” I said, following Al out of the Owlery.

“Or guy,” Al said, nodding.

He held his hand out and, without even really thinking, I grabbed onto it.


Chapter 14: In Which Things Get A Little Bit More Complicated
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“You have snowflakes in your hair,” I said, watching Al skidding along the path. He was wearing a thick knitted red jumper he said his Granny had made for him and his Gryffindor scarf was tucked into a huge coat. He’d been wearing a hat too, a ridiculous woolly thing with a pom pom on top, but had quickly pulled it off and put it over my own head when he caught me shivering.

“That’s a very observant comment, Liv,” Al said with a grin. “Extremely observant, for you. I’m quite proud.”

“Shut up. I’m observant,” I said, thinking about the abandoned sketchbook under my mattress in the Slytherin Dormitory. I could be observant when I tried.

“Mmhmm. It’s bloody freezing.” Al kicked a piece of snow in front of him. It had been a ridiculously cold February.

“I told you that,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I don’t understand why we didn’t take the carriages? They’re like, you know, a warm way to get to Hogsmeade.”

“Fresh air’s good for us. And I like the snow. It’s pretty. We’re nearly there now, anyway.”

Al caught my hand and pulled me forwards. I slid on the frosty ground and he grabbed my arm to stop me falling.

“Now, where are we meeting your lovely mother?” Al suddenly looked serious as we crossed through the kissing gate that marked the edge of Hogsmeade village. The metal of the gate was icy cold, and he held it open for me when I drew my hand back.

“There’s this juice bar,” I said, grimacing. I’d forgotten Mum’s ridiculous idea of what a nice day out was. “I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s next to Puddifoot’s.”

“A juice bar, you say?” Al looked amused.

“According to Mum you burn more calories drinking one of their celery shakes than you get from it.”

“Right,” Al said. “Do you think they have hot chocolate? With extra cream and marshmallows? And maybe chocolate bowtruckles?”

I shrugged. “I seriously doubt it.”

Al swore and I laughed. Having him there with me had lifted some of the anxiety that had pressed down on my chest since Mum’s letter requesting the meet up. I was glad he’d agreed to come along, even if he did make me walk for ages through the snow.

“I’m surprised it’s so busy today. I would have thought people would be put off by the cold,” I said, nodding to the crowded street ahead of us.

Al shook his head. “It’s Valentine’s Day. They’re making the most of a chance to display their love to the world.”

“I don’t get the point.” I squinted through the snow to look at the couples we walked past. They all looked happy, I guess, but I was pretty sure they’d be just as happy inside. In the warmth.

“Course you don’t. You’re a Slytherin. It’s probably not your kind of thing. You know, love. Romance. General cheerfulness.”

I punched Al’s arm and he laughed.

“But seriously. If you love each other why do you need a day to declare it? It’s just an excuse for the shops to sell ridiculously expensive products lovesick teenagers feel an obligation to buy,” I said, feeling a little bit sick after spotting a girl carrying a gigantic pink teddy bear.

“I don’t know. I think there’s something nice about it. It’s like…a demonstration of the fact you care about each other, you know?”

Al flushed red. It could have been because of the cold but I generally don’t give people the benefit of the doubt so decided he was probably embarrassed about his lonely heart.

“So did you come here last year with Brogan?” I wasn’t sure whether the question was inappropriate, but was suddenly intrigued. The idea Al buying horrid Laura Brogan a giant teddy bear was a little bit repulsive.

“Yeah,” Al said quietly, looking down at his feet as he continued to shuffle through the snow. “And the year before.”

“I forget how serious you two were,” I said with a frown.

“So do I, sometimes.”

“I don’t get how it worked. You’re so…nice. And she’s…well, really…really…not.”

“She’s not always been like this.” Al ran a hand through his hair, shaking out snowflakes.

“Oh. Is she one of those complicated ‘mean girls’ who turns out to have a deep, dark back story that makes it all understandable?”

Al raised an eyebrow at me. I tried to smile in an endearing way that would make my words sound less cruel. It would be more than a little bit awkward if she was one of those complicated mean girls who turns out to have a deep, dark back story that makes it all understandable.

Al opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the dulcet tones of one Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy.

“Going for a nice snowy walk on Valentine’s Day? Charming.” Scorpius was wearing a thick black coat I hadn’t seen before, buttoned up to his neck around his Slytherin scarf. He was by himself and walking in the opposite direction to us, presumably heading back to Hogwarts already. I was surprised he’d come to Hogsmeade at all, given his general mood, but I suppose everybody has to occasionally take advantage of the opportunity to stock up on school and Quidditch supplies.

“Scor…” I wasn’t sure what to say to him. He’d had nothing but snide comments for me recently and, while I desperately wanted to somehow fix it all, I couldn’t really see how to go about making it feel like it used to.

“Leave it, Bell,” he said. I winced. Calling my by my last name was a first.

Al looked up sharply. “It’s not…”

Scor interrupted him. “Save yourself the effort of explaining. I don’t really care. Have fun on your…date.”

We watched him trudge away through the snow, back towards the Castle. I shivered and crossed my arms around my coat, tucking my hands into the ends of my sleeves to warm them.

“Sorry, Liv,” Al said softly, stepping closer to me. “Do you want to go after him?”

I contemplated his suggestion.

Making up with Scor sounded nice, really nice, but thinking about it practically I just wasn’t sure what I could say to make it happen. Scor was still furious with me for running away from him that night, and was choosing not to listen any time I tried to explain that it had been a mistake.

I shook my head. “No. I’m supposed to meet Mum. And I’m not sure it would help anyway.”

Al seemed to think about saying something else, but instead linked his arm through mine and pulled me gently along the street.

“Is it this place?” He came to a stop outside a bright pink shop called ‘Charmers and Shakers’. A large poster of several bikini-clad, laughing witches drinking milkshakes was lit up in the window. A poster outside surrounded by floating silver hearts declared that they had ‘Valentine’s Specials’ available.

“Probably,” I said gloomily. “Might as well get this over with.”

I pushed open the glass door and Al followed me through. We were immediately waved over by Daphne Greengrass, my mother’s best friend from school and my godmother. She was sat with Mum in a booth in the corner, both with glasses full of thick, green liquid. Neither of them seemed to have started to drink.

“Olivia, darling,” Daphne said, standing up to greet me. “Lovely to see you again.”

She pressed a kiss to each of my cheeks and gestured for me to sit down. I rubbed my cheeks with the back of my hand, glaring at the smudge of purple lipstick that came off on my skin.

“Hello, Mum,” I said, sliding into the booth to sit opposite my mother. Al sat down beside me.

“Olivia. You’re not alone,” she said, her eyes gliding over to Al. If she found Scorpius’s absence strange, she chose not to mention it.

“Well,” I said coldly. “You brought your back up, I brought mine.”

Her eyes widened a little but she didn’t speak.

“Aren’t you going to introduce your friend, Olivia?” Daphne looked obnoxiously cheerful.

“Oh,” I said. I’d sort of forgotten they hadn’t met Al before. They probably knew he was (son of the saviour of the Wizarding World and all that), but they were pureblood witches. They demanded proper introductions. “Um, this is Al. Albus Potter. He’s in my year at school. Al, this is my mum and her friend.”

“I didn’t know you knew the Potters,” Daphne said.

I yawned and ignored her.

“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Albus. I’m afraid to say I’ve read quite a bit about you recently in the papers.”

Al looked taken aback. “Yeah, that happened,” he said.

“It seems to have died down a bit now, though,” Daphne continued, not registering Al’s discomfort.

“Yeah. They get bored quickly,” Al said.

“Yes,” Daphne said. “Well, in my experience it’s best to just try not to think about these things too much. People forget about it all in the end. How’s Scorpius, Olivia?”

Daphne is Scorpius’s aunt. I don’t think she sees him very much, though. Their families don’t really get along, and she seems to get most of her information about him from me.

“He’s…okay,” I said, feeling uncomfortable.

“I heard about everything going on with Cassandra,” Daphne said, her voice dropping to a hushed whisper. “Awful business. How’s he managing?”

“Was there some reason you asked me to come, Mum?” I turned to face my mother, bored of Daphne’s nosy smalltalk. “I was under the impression you wanted to talk.”

“Yes,” she said, looking startled. I waited for her to elaborate but she stayed silent.

“Well, do you think you might want to get to the point any time soon?”

My hand was resting next to my leg under the table. Al moved up so our knuckles brushed against each other. A very small part of me felt guilty for bringing him into such a tense situation, but a bigger part of me was just glad to have him next to me.

My mother, predictably, burst into tears. It’s her default action.

“Oh, Pansy darling, it’s going to be alright,” Daphne cooed, conjuring a box of tissues and pushing them along the table.

Next to me, Al looked incredibly awkward. I suppose it made sense. He hadn’t witnessed Mum’s multitude of outbursts over the years, and probably thought this was out of the ordinary.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I tapped my fingers on the table. It squished slightly under my fingertips, the pink plastic folding as I pressed it down.

Mum plucked a tissue out of the box Daphne had conjured, and loudly blew her nose. Daphne looked mildly repulsed but, to her credit, continued to rub my mother’s back.

“Well?” I didn’t feel at all guilty. She was being ridiculous.

“It’s…it’s your father,” she said, her words jolting through her sobs.

“Naturally.”

“He, well, he’s…he’s left me.” Her voice rose to a high pitched wail.

I blinked. I hadn’t actually expected that one. Granted, my parents had always had their problems (to put it lightly), but they tended to just pretend not to have noticed them. They’d both been Slytherins in their time at school, and were experts at concealing what was really going on so that they could put on a more respectable front. I kind of thought they’d stay together forever, bitching and screaming at each other until the end of time.

“He left?”

Under the table, Al caught my hand. I didn’t shake him off.

“He said that he couldn’t be around me anymore,” Mum said, her voice prim and laboured.

“He never deserved you, Pansy,” Daphne butted in. “I’ve been telling you that for years. You’re the best thing in his life. If he wants to lose you then he’s even more of an idiot than I thought.”

Mum smiled weakly through her tears. Daphne always knows what she wants to hear. It’s probably the only way they’ve managed to stay friends when they’re both so irritating.

“But where’s he gone?” I couldn’t get my head round the idea that Dad was no longer in our house, drinking huge mugs of chai tea and painting the corridors bright colours. I’m not sure why it hurt. I don’t even like the man most of the time. But somehow the idea of him somewhere else, in another house, doing the same old things was strangely painful.

“Where do you think?” Mum sounded bitter. She took a sip of her horrid green juice and pursed her lips.

I shrugged.

“He’s moved in with her. With the mistress,” she said, spitting out the words.

Well, should probably have guessed that one.

“Apparently they’re getting engaged,” Mum said, tears welling up in her eyes again. “As soon as the divorce goes through. Engaged. And Olivia, darling, you’ll never guess who she is.”

“I don’t really care,” I said. I was surprised by how cold I sounded.

“Oh, I think you will care when we tell you,” Daphne said. She looked kind of like she was enjoying the drama. She probably was. Her life is hardly fascinating.

“No, I really don’t want to know. He chose to leave us, that’s fine. I don’t have to care who he’s left us for,” I said.

“Don’t be so rude, Olivia,” Daphne snapped. “This is extremely hard for your mother.”

“Hard for her? This is pretty fucking hard for me,” I said, shocked by the sudden explosion of fury inside me.

“Olivia,” my mother said. She looked alarmed.

“You just…” I squeezed Al’s hand tightly. I wasn’t sure what words I was even looking for, but somehow they started to spill out. “You just call me here to tell me this rubbish, but you’re not doing it because you care about me, you’re doing it because you want me to sit and bitch with you and make you feel better about the fact Dad couldn’t stand to be around you anymore.”

Daphne tried to say something but I cut across her, not wanting to listen to any more.

“And you haven’t even thought about the fact it might be difficult for me, too. It hasn’t occurred to you to think maybe this will upset my daughter. It’s all about you. It’s all always about you.”

Nobody spoke. Al’s hand tightened around mine.

“You don’t even ask how I am,” I continued more quietly. The outburst wasn’t really making me feel any better. “I’ve had a shitty term. Everything’s falling to pieces and all you can talk about is how you’re struggling. I can’t…I just…I can’t do this.”

I shoved past Al to get out of the booth, and then pretty much ran out of the cafe, slamming the door behind me. The glass trembled ominously but I didn’t stop to check whether I’d broken it, instead running as fast as I could down the street through the snow. It felt like I’d spent an awful lot of time running away from things recently, but no part of me wanted to stay.

“Liv! Olivia!”

I slowed down a little bit to let Al catch up, stopping completely when I skidded dangerously on an icy stone and wobbled.

I suddenly felt stupid. It was snowing and cold and I’d left my gloves on the table in the cafe. I shouldn’t even have been surprised by what Mum had told me, and definitely shouldn’t have reacted the way that I did. But for some reason it all felt like a huge problem.

“Hey.” Al caught up to me and his arms were immediately around me, hands rubbing my back to warm me up.

I shivered against him and let my head flop against his shoulder.

“I’m really sorry,” I mumbled against him.

“Come on,” Al said. “I know where we should go.”

I followed him back down the street, bowing my head against the cold. Bits of snow were getting caught in the gap between my chin and my scarf, and I felt shivery and disgusting as well as extremely guilty.

Al opened the door to Honeydukes and I raised my eyebrows. A sweet shop? It was, as Al probably should have anticipated, packed with couples from third and fourth year, buying each other heart shaped boxes of chocolates.

I waited for Al to change his mind, realising how ridiculously busy the shops was, but he didn’t say anything so I followed him in, scowling at the crush of people pressing against me.

“This way,” Al said, nodding towards the counter. I kept close behind him as he went weaving through the crowds.

“Mr Potter. Nice to see you again,” the wizened man at the till said. His smile revealed yellowing teeth but he looked friendly.

“Hey, Ambrosius. This is my friend Liv,” Al said brightly. “Could we maybe sit in your cellar? It’s busy up here but we’re in need of some of your wonderful hot chocolate.”

“Of course. You know the way,” the man said with a nod. “I’ll bring you some things down if you like. On the house.”

Al looked kind of embarrassed. “No. I’ll pay,” he muttered.

“We all owe your family a great debt in this village. It’s my pleasure,” the man said. “You two head down there. I’ll be with you in a sec.”

Al walked round to a staircase by the side of the counter and looked expectantly back at me.

“You seriously want us to go down there?” I pulled a face. It looked gloomy and kind of horrible. The boy’s insane.

“Yup. It’s quiet and there’s chocolate.”

I frowned, mulling over the suggestion, and then shrugged. I didn’t have much to lose, and didn’t really fancy being around people right now. I stepped past Al and carefully climbed down the wooden staircase.

When I reached the bottom I found myself in a softly lit cellar. Large wooden crates lined the walls. The floor was dusty but somehow the room was still welcoming.

Al stepped down beside me and grinned.

“What do you think? Good hideout?”

“Sure,” I said, walking across the room to sit down on one of the crates. “Do you come here often?”

“Sometimes. There’s a passage from here up to the school. It got closed up during the war but they didn’t renew the charms for ages after and James figured out a way to open it again.”

“So we can get straight back to school through here?”

“Yup. And Ambrosius turns a blind eye. That’s the guy that owns the shop. He fought in the Battle of Hogwarts and has a massive crush on my dad, so he lets us come and go when we want.”

Ambrosius hobbled down the steps a few minutes later, wobbling a tray of hot chocolate and various sugary snacks in his shaking hands. Al stood up to take the tray from him and thanked him before sitting back down with me.

“Now,” he said. “Would you like to talk about what happened in there?”

I thought about his question.

If I was with Cassie or Scorpius I would almost certainly have launched into an angry tirade against my mother, insulting her for crying and bemoaning the fact that I still had a year and a half before I could move out. But I wasn’t sure Al would really be impressed to hear it. He was looking at me with quiet concern, worried that I was actually sad rather than just angry, and I felt like I’d be letting him down somehow to use his offer to listen as an opportunity to bitch.

“Nah. Can we just eat chocolate?” I looked at him hopefully, wondering whether he’d press the subject.

“We can absolutely just eat chocolate,” Al said with a nod. “I’d recommend the bouncing brownies for a mood lift.”

I smiled and shuffled along the crate to sit closer to him.




After several hours and more chocolate consumed than I wanted to think about, Al swished his wand to wash up our plates and left some gold coins on the crate he’d been sitting on. I didn’t ask why he was leaving the money. I’d seen his face when Ambrosius insisted that we shouldn’t pay.

Al showed me through a trapdoor and along the passageway back to the school. It was long and kind of horrible, but infinitely warmer than walking outside would have been. We came out somewhere along the third floor corridor.


“Thanks, Al,” I said before turning away from him. “Really, thanks. For everything today.”

Al just grinned. “I had fun. Sort of. See you tomorrow?”

I nodded and turned away. I hadn’t really been in the Dungeons much over the last few days, and wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. After spending so much time in the warmth of Gryffindor Tower I wasn’t too keen on going back underground to our own gloomy Common Room, but I didn’t want to outstay my welcome in somebody else’s Common Room, and it felt like it was probably time to give Al a break.

The Slytherin Common Room was quiet. A few couples were sat together, holding hands and whispering to each other. I’d forgotten it was Valentine’s Day.

My boots were still wet from the snowy run through Hogsmeade earlier in the day, and I left a thin trail of icy water behind me as I traipsed across the room towards the fireplace. It seemed tiny compared to the one in Gryffindor Tower, but was better than nothing.

A blonde head poked out from the sofa in front of the fire and I sighed.

I wasn’t ready for a confrontation, and almost turned round. But I wanted to sit by the fire, and I didn’t want to intentionally avoid him. Besides, he was maybe the only person in the whole castle who would properly understand what had happened with my mother. I wanted to be able to talk to him about it.

“Hi, Scor,” I said quietly, plopping down onto the seat next to him.

“How was the date?” He spoke without looking at me, instead staring coldly into the flames in front of him.

“It wasn’t a date.” I waited for him to reply but he didn’t so I kept talking. “And it was actually a really shitty day. I met my mother and she told me…”

“Sorry,” Scor interrupted. “I shouldn’t have asked.”

“But…”

“I should have been clearer. I don’t really care about how your day was.” Scorpius stood up. “And I don’t really care about you. Not anymore. Good night, Bell.”

I felt…icy, as I watched him leave. Like everything had gone cold. I wasn’t sure why I kept trying to make things better with him. It was just that he was Scorpius. He was supposed to always be there. And he’d decided not to be.

But maybe I was the one that decided not to be there for him. I ran away first.

I let out a single, agonising breath that sort of felt like it should have ended in tears, and then took a deep breath and got up. It seemed like just going to sleep was the best idea.

The dormitory was empty, which I’d kind of expected. It was still quite early. The sight of Cassie’s bed sent a dull thud of sadness through me, but didn’t affect me as much as it had done earlier in the term.

I sat down on my mattress and stared straight ahead of my for a moment. A single photo frame stood on my bedside table - silver, with a laughing picture of Cassie, Scor and I inside. They’d given it to me in third year, and I’d treasured it ever since. I leaned back on the bed to look more closely at the picture, trying to somehow see something in our younger faces to explain how we’d ended up where we were today. Cassie’s arm was draped loosely around me, her hand appearing over my other shoulder, silver painted nails visible against my collarbone. My head was tilted into Scor and he was blowing a stray strand of my hair out of my face. There wasn’t anything to see. We just looked young. And happy.

Without thinking, I reached out and picked up the picture, holding my breath as I watched our smiles.

And then I hurled it across the room.

The glass shattered against the wall and I heard a gasp from the doorway. I looked up to see Amethyst Twine, standing in the door with a hand over her mouth. She was wearing horribly smudged eyeliner and her hair was long and greasy. A nasty, twisted part of me wanted to comment on it, but I couldn’t even be bothered to be mean.

“What are you looking at?”

Amethyst shook her head and mumbled something about being sorry.

I glared at her. I’d perfected my glare a long time ago, and she looked suitably awkward.

“Just mind your own business,” I said, pulling the curtains of my bed closed around me.


Chapter 15: In Which The Moron Has A Heart
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It seemed like my friendship with Scorpius was completely and irretrievably over.

He scowled at me whenever we were in the same room and made a point of making it so obvious I was unwelcome that I didn’t want to go near him.

And it hurt.

I knew him well, really well, and I never would have thought he could discard me so thoroughly. It was surprising how easy he found it to act like we didn’t matter to each other.

I started skipping Quidditch practice to avoid having to see him, and the Gryffindors helped me move seats in the classes I shared with him so that we didn’t have to sit together. Louis took Scor’s place beside me in Charms and Al moved over in Transfiguration. It left Rose sitting next to Scor in both classes but she took it in her stride, treating him with a kind of passive aggressive friendliness that made him clench his jaw. I sat at the Gryffindor table during mealtimes, clutching Al’s hand under the table when Scor walked past, and spent my evenings either in Gryffindor Tower or the Library, only returning to my own Common Room when it was time to sleep.

And somehow, through it all, I was okay. I don’t know if it was Slytherin survival instincts, or the fact I had accidentally acquired a completely new set of friends over the term, but I was doing what I’d never thought I’d be able to do: I was living without Cassie and Scor.

Near the beginning of March, I found myself eating breakfast by myself at the Gryffindor table. It was a Saturday and I’d overslept. It looked like the Gryffindors must have already eaten but I didn’t really fancy sitting anywhere near Scorpius.

I didn’t bother opening the letter that arrived in my dad’s handwriting, instead screwing it up in my hand and dropping it into my bag. He’d been writing to me every day since I’d met with mum in Hogsmeade but I hadn’t really wanted to know what he had to say to me. I focussed on my breakfast instead, oblivious of everything going on around me until a loud cough sounded in my ear.

“How goes it, cousin dearest?” The Moron dropped down into the seat next to me.

I wrinkled my nose at him and didn’t respond.

“You okay?” He tipped his head in my direction, making it clear he demanded an answer.

“Why are you here?” I frowned at him.

“I belong here, love,” he smirked. “It’s my House. The better question would be why you’re here, but I’ve decided I need to get used to it. It doesn’t seem like you’re in any rush to get back to the snakes.”

I rolled my eyes and reached for a waffle.

“But seriously,” Jason continued. “How is everything?”

I put the waffle down on my plate and turned to look at him. “Why are you asking? We never talk at school.”

“I, um, well, I heard about everything that happened with your dad. I wanted to check that you’re okay.” Jason looked almost embarrassed. This whole looking out for each other thing he seemed to be trying was new to us both.

“Did Katie send you?”

Jason winced. “Little bit. She said that I’ve known you since you were born and that I need to look out for you now that her brother’s being a fucker.”

“Aunt Katie used the word fucker?”

“That might have been me paraphrasing.” Jason grinned.

“Well, it’s nice of her to care, I guess,” I said. I poured almost half a jug of maple syrup over my waffle and took a bite.

“Are you okay, then?”

“I’ll be fine. Look, you don’t need to sit with me. You can tell your mum you did your job and checked up on me.”

Jason looked confused for a moment. “No, Olivia. She wrote to me to tell me you dad had left and you might need some support. That doesn’t mean I’m only here because of her. I want to know how you’re doing.”

I chewed on my fingernail for a moment before responding. “You don’t care.”

“Why would I not care?”

“Because caring’s not what we do. We argue and insult each other,” I mumbled through a mouthful of waffle.

“Come on, that’s not true,” Jason said. “We’ve known each other our whole lives. Of course we care about each other.”

I shrugged. “Speak for yourself.”

“You saying you wouldn’t be bothered at all if my parents were going through a break up? Or if you thought I was sad for some reason? You wouldn’t come and see how I was?”

I shrugged again.

“That’s bullshit. Last year when Dad had that Quidditch accident you flew up to Gryffindor tower and burst in on James in the shower to ask him if I was okay.”

“You have no proof of that.”

“James told me,” Jason grinned.

“He’s an unreliable source. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Whatever,” Jason said. “Point is, we’re allowed to talk to each other and be friendly sometimes. Like it or not, we’re family. I’m going to come and see how you’re doing when bad stuff happens.”

I watched him carefully, and eventually gave a slow nod.

“I’m okay, I think.”

He pulled a face and I laughed.

“I mean, it’s strange,” I continued. “Like…he’s Dad. And he’s always been a bit useless but this is kind of a new level. But like, well, I don’t know. A lot of bad stuff has been happening recently and I guess this just doesn’t feel like the worst of it. I’m more worried about nobody having seen any sign of Cass. And about Scor hating me.”

Jason nodded and then reached out to put an arm around me. He intensive exercise regime for Quidditch has given him huge, bear-like arms, and the weight around me was surprisingly comforting.

“Merlin, Liv, this term’s not been easy on you,” he said.

It was the first time he’d called me Liv, and it kind of felt nice. I sort of wanted to stay and talk to him for a bit, maybe catch up on how his term had been, but Joe had walked over from the Slytherin table and was waving to get my attention.

“Oi, Ollie, stop flirting and get up,” Joe called.

“Don’t be disgusting. I’m not flirting. He’s my cousin.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Joe smiled. “I thought it looked unusually cuddly for you. Didn’t recognise you from behind, Wood. But seriously Ollie, get up. Scorpy says if you miss another Quidditch practice you’re off the team.”

“I’m not dressed for it,” I said.

“Doesn’t matter. It’s just practice. You can definitely wear your jeans. Come on.”

I moaned pathetically and Joe crossed his arms tightly to glare at me.

“Don’t do that. You have to come! He’s been so grumpy recently it’s almost certainly not an empty threat when he says he'll chuck you off. And I really don’t want to have to learn to work with another Chaser.”

I stuck my tongue out but stood up anyway. “Sorry, Moron. Duty calls.”

I don’t know why I bothered apologising. If there’s one thing my cousin respects it’s Quidditch training. He nodded vaguely and gestured for me to follow Joe out of the Hall.

“Thank Salazar, I thought I was going to have to carry you there,” Joe said, linking his arm through mine. “Scorpy was practically spitting fire when you weren’t there at the beginning of practice again.”

“I don’t think he can really blame me. He’s not exactly made it a hospitable environment.”

“Yeah, he’s being a right nightmare. The boy needs a slap across the face. But it’s not worth getting kicked off the team over.”

“Mmm.”

“I mean it, Ollie,” Joe said. “The way he’s behaving is despicable, but you can’t let it interfere with your happiness. You love Quidditch.”

“It’s not despicable. He’s my best friend.” I unhooked my arm from Joe’s so I could walk at my own pace.

“Doesn’t stop him being a rubbish human being.” Joe shrugged.

I took a deep breath. “That’s mean, Joe. He’s having a tough time. You know how he feels about Cassie. She’s, well, she’s everything to him. And he’s been trying really hard to cope with her not being around. It’s understandable that he’s a bit on edge.”

“I think he’s more than on edge,” Joe muttered. I ignored him.

“And then obviously everything’s made much worse by the fact half the school thinks he had something to do with her disappearance. You know what it’s like. He’s a Malfoy. He’s dealt with people assuming the worst about him for years. But this is a new level. And then, um, well, you know, it’s not like I’ve helped by ditching him for the Gryffindors.” My voice trailed off into silence.

Joe stopped walking so abruptly that for a moment I kept going on without him, until he reached out and grabbed my arm, spinning me round to face him. He placed a hand on each of my shoulders and looked at me, his eyes serious.

“No. Listen to me, Ollie. You have done nothing wrong.”

I tried to shrug him off but he didn’t move.

“I mean it,” he said. “I know you’re feeling guilty, and yes, maybe you didn’t handle it in the best way after they questioned him. But you can’t make excuses for him. He’s choosing to behave like this and it’s his responsibility. Not yours.”

I bit my lip and shook my head.

Joe sighed. “You have every right to make new friends. Honestly. And Potter’s crew seem good for you. I mean, I know you’re sad at the moment, but you’re more relaxed at the same time. They bring out a different side of you. It’s nice.”

He waited to see if I wanted to say anything and then carried on talking when I didn’t.

“Anyway, that’s not the point. What you need to understand is that no matter how bad Scorpius is feeling, and no matter how much support he needs, the way he’s treating you isn’t acceptable. He can’t be cross with you just because things aren’t going his way. You’re wonderful, and you’ve always been really good to him. Really, Ollie, you’re an amazing friend. And if he can’t see that then maybe it’s for the best that you’ve met some people who can.”

I nodded slowly. “Um. Thanks. That made me feel a bit better.”

“I just want you to be happy, Ollster.” Joe ruffled my hair.

“You’re so nice. How are you in Slytherin? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“A lot of people say that. I don’t know. I wanted to be in Slytherin, so the hat said I could be.”

“Really? You wanted it? Nobody wants to be a Slytherin.”

“Well, Esther got sorted first, and I was always going to follow her wherever she went,” Joe shrugged. “She’s my sister. So I told the hat thank you very much for offering to put me in Hufflepuff but I actually didn’t really fancy it. And the hat said that was okay. So here I am.”

I linked my arm back through his to start walking again. “I never knew that about you.”

“I don’t really broadcast it to the general public. But for the record, I think I made the right choice.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I like being around Esther. And our Quidditch team’s fantastic. And, I mean, if I was in Hufflepuff I guess I might never have met Oz.”

“Well, we’re very happy to have you,” I smiled.

“I know that,” Joe laughed. “Anyone would be happy to have me. Look, we should walk faster. At the moment we’re at severe risk of death by angry blonde man’s tantrum.”

We rushed down to the Quidditch pitch and ignored Scor’s swearing at us as we rose into the air. It felt good to be flying again, even if I did have a tyrant shouting at me the whole time, and I was glad Joe had made me come.

After twenty minutes in the air Scor gave a shout for us to drop to the ground.

“What the fuck are they doing here?” His voice came out as a bit of a growl.

“There’s no rule against sitting in the Quidditch stands,” Oz shrugged. “Nothing we can do about it.”

“But they’re spying. I don’t want them here fucking up our chances,” Scor said.

I followed his gaze over to the Quidditch stands and sighed when I saw Al and the Moron sitting cheerfully in the front row.

“I’ll go ask them to leave?” Oz suggested. “Not sure I can make them if they don’t want to go, but if it’s really bothering you I can see what they say.”

Scor nodded slowly. “Tell them it won’t be pretty if they try to stay.”

I frowned. “They’re not actually doing anything wrong. We’ve watched Gryffindor practices loads of times.”

Scor didn’t acknowledge that I’d spoken. “Hurry up, Oscar. I want to get started again.”

“Yeah okay. Come with me, Ollie? They know you better,” Oz said, ignoring Scor’s use of his full name.

I trotted alongside him as he strode over to where my idiot cousin was sitting. Jason had his ragged Quidditch notebook open on his lap and smiled a goofy grin as we approached.

“Alright?” Al called.

I stuck my tongue out at him. “What are you doing here?”

“Getting some fresh air.” Al stretched his arms up above his head and beamed.

Oz narrowed his eyes. “You’re spying.”

“Not spying,” Al said. “Supporting.”

“So if I opened that notebook I wouldn’t find notes on our plays?” I nodded towards Jason’s book.

“Jace just likes sketching. He thinks the sunlight on the Quidditch pitch is particularly beautiful today and he wanted to try to capture it in charcoal,” Al said seriously.

“Jason doesn’t have an artistic bone in his body.” I rolled my eyes.

Al gasped. “That’s a very hurtful thing to say. It’s his passion, Liv. He dreams of being an artist.”

Oz chuckled. “Well you can’t blame a man for following his dreams. But seriously guys, Scorpy might kill somebody if you don’t find somewhere else to sit. He’s not at his most reasonable at the moment.”

Al stood up and frowned. “There’s no rule saying we can’t sit here.”

I pushed his chest gently. “Come on. It’s not worth fighting over. Go do something fun.”

He stuck his bottom lip out and I laughed.

“Seriously. He might hurt you. Or me,” I said.

“I reckon I could take him,” Al said.

“You might get a chance to test that theory. He’s coming over now,” Oz sighed.

I watched Scor make his way across the pitch, fuming. Joe was walking backwards in front of him, making elaborate hand gestures that probably weren’t helping to calm Scor down.

“They’re just leaving, Scorpy,” Oz called out. “We’ll be back in a sec.”

Scor scowled. “You’ve taken four minutes out now. If you don’t start taking this more seriously you’re off the team.”

“Are you serious?” I took a step towards him. “You asked him to get them to leave, even though they’re not doing anything wrong by being here. And now you’re cross that he took time off practice to do what you told him to?”

“Don’t talk back to me, Bell,” Scor scowled.

“You’re not even using her name anymore? Merlin, you’ve got issues,” Jason muttered.

Scor’s cheeks flushed red. I waited for him to respond but he stayed silent for a moment.

“I’m not trying to undermine you, Scor,” I said quietly. “But part of being captain is being a good leader, and to do that you need to have some more patience with us.”

“So I should just let you get away with what you want? I should let Oz and Joe piss about cuddling in the sky instead of practicing their plays? I should just let you keep skiving off practice because you’re too busy shagging Potter to turn up? I should…”

Al lifted his hands. “Hey, nothing’s happening between us, Malfoy. That’s not…”

“I DON’T CARE,” Scor cut across him. “This is none of your business. This is between my team and me. The problem, Bell, is that you lack commitment.”

I opened my mouth but wasn’t really sure what to say. “Um, I don’t know, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d want me around.”

“I don’t,” Scor said frostily. “But this isn’t about what I want. It’s about what’s best for the team, and you’ve shown that you clearly don’t give a shit about us recently. I don’t need players like that. Not this year.”

I wasn’t quite sure how it had all escalated this quickly, but that seemed to happen all the time with Scor. He’d started off being cross about Al and Jason watching but now he was angry about something completely different. If Cass had been there she might have been able to distract him enough to calm him down, but the rest of us were completely unable to help and just had to watch him explode.

“You know what…I’m done with this,” Scor said. “You’re off the team.”

“What?” Joe spun round to face him. I was glad he’d spoken because I had no idea what to say.

“She’s screwing us all over and she’s not what’s best for the team. Come on. The rest of us should get back to practice.” Scor looked determined. “I’ll organise try outs this week to replace her.”

“Well, if she’s off the team I’m off the team,” Joe said. He took a few steps forward to stand next to me. “I’m not carrying on without her.”

“Don’t be silly, Joe,” I muttered.

“I’m not being silly. It’ll be no fun without you on the team. We’ve always done this together. I’m not wasting my time on a team that’s no fun to be part of. If you go, I go.”

“Same goes for me, I guess,” Oz sighed, also stepping forward. “Can’t be dealing with these anger management problems anymore.”

“You don’t have to…” I spoke softly and trailed off when Joe shook his head.

“Good luck beating Gryffindor with no chasers, Scorpy,” Joe shrugged.

Scor’s fists were clenched and I looked at the pale white of his knuckles for a moment, watching them tremble slightly. His whole stance screamed with rage but I felt like underneath it all I could detect something else. Some kind of vulnerability. His eyes looked watery and I wasn’t sure whether it was because of the cold or because he was trying not to cry. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.

I chewed on my lip. I didn’t want to start feeling sorry for him, not when he was behaving like this. But it was hard not to care.

“You have one more chance. If any of you fuck up again I will kick you off,” Scor said finally. He took a deep breath and looked pained as he spoke. “Okay. I’ve had enough of this for today. See you all on Monday morning.”

I watched him shuffle away, his pristine green robes trailing in the mud on the floor. He was still holding his broom and let it drag across the grass behind him. I wondered what it would be like to chase after him. I could grab his arm and pull him back to me, force him into a hug until he let me talk to him properly again. I wondered whether I’d be able to get through to him if I tried a bit harder. Maybe I could be his best friend again. But instead of following him I let myself turn away.

“You okay?” Al reached out to me.

“Mm.” I leaned back against him, turning my face against the side of his chest.

“We need to do something about this,” Joe said. “There must be a way to get him to stop acting like this.”

“Not sure what we can do, mate,” Oz said. He flung his arm around Joe’s shoulders and nuzzled his forehead for a second with his nose. Joe laughed and pulled away.

“He’s never been this bad before,” Joe said.

“He’s never had to be without Cassie before,” I murmured.

Nobody seemed to know what to say.

Chapter 16: In Which Al Sits Still
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I rummaged through my trunk and threw some things into my school bag: chocolate frogs still left over from the christmas presents Joe and Oz had sent me, an old tartan blanket Scor bought when we first started doing all nighters on our birthdays, a warm jumper, and some other snacky things I’d collected from the kitchen earlier on. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. Usually, I would have carefully planned the whole night with Scorpius and Cass and we would have been collecting supplies from a long time in advance, but the idea of carrying on with our tradition had only occurred to me that morning and I hadn't had time to be more methodical.

Once my bag was crammed full of a whole load of things I wasn’t sure would even be useful, I stood up and glanced at the mirror on the wardrobe door. I hadn’t washed my hair for a few days and it hadn’t even occurred to me to put on makeup recently. The girl looking back at me from the glass was recognisable as myself but I sort of wished she wasn’t. I’d lost weight with the stress of the term and generally looked like a bit of a mess.

Cass would have been cross with me for neglecting to put any effort into my appearance. I could imagine her chastising me: charming my hair to look shiny and smooth and throwing me her new favourite shade of lipstick, insisting that I needed to look presentable before leaving the dormitory and being visible to the wider world. I chewed on my lip and pushed thoughts of what my best friend would have said out of my head. She wasn’t here to care, and Al wouldn’t mind whether I had makeup on or not.

I threw my bag over my shoulder and left the dormitory. It was nearly curfew but nobody tried to stop me as I walked out of the Common Room. With a start, I remembered that I was a prefect now. Technically, I was allowed to be out at night.

Al was waiting for me in the Entrance Hall like we’d agreed. He was wearing black jeans with a white shirt and looked significantly smarter than I did. I hoped he hadn’t put a conscious effort into looking good. He grinned as I approached and gave me a quick hug.

“So, what’s the plan? You wanted to do something in recognition of Miss Selwyn’s birthday,” he smiled. He looked cheerful but his words were voiced carefully and I knew he was trying to gage how I was feeling.

“Um, yeah,” I mumbled. “We kind of have a tradition, for our birthdays, you know?”

Al nodded encouragingly, waiting for me to explain.

“We’ve done it since Cass’s birthday in second year. We go out to the Shrieking Shack. There’s still furniture and stuff inside, and we light a fire and bring snacks and have a bit of a sleepover out there,” I explained. I thought the whole thing might sound silly to Al, but he smiled and didn’t show any sign of thinking it wasn’t a good idea.

“So, you want to go out there tonight?” He didn’t sound judgemental. He just seemed to be seeking clarification of what I wanted.

“Erm, well, you don’t have to come, of course,” I said, stumbling over the words as they left my mouth. “I thought I’d like to go, you know. It’s been strange not having her here. And, I don’t know, I felt like it might be nice to do one of our things even though she’s...wherever she is.”

Al put a hand on my arm and smiled an easy smile. “Liv,” he said, cutting me off from my ramble. “If you’re happy to have me there I’d love to come with.”

We walked out to the Whomping Willow without being stopped. Both of us were prefects and it still wasn’t quite curfew but I was relieved that nobody asked us where we were going. I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to come up with an excuse.

Al levitated a stick to poke the knot in the Whomping Willow that made it freeze. I’d forgotten that he would know how to do it. It was his family that had been involved in all the stories about it after all. We had only found out how to get into the shack through the Weasley family: Al’s cousin Roxanne was dating Clara’s older sister, and news of some of the secrets of Hogwarts had filtered back to us.

The tunnel to the shack was narrow and the ceiling was so low in places that we had to crawl. When we were younger and had first started coming out here we had been able to get by just bending over in the lower places, but that wasn’t an option any more. Al was quite a bit taller than me and the whole thing seemed like more of a struggle for him but he didn’t complain.

I lit my wand when we reached the shack, straightening my back to stand up properly as we entered the building. I heard Al mutter Lumos behind me and the light of his wand joined mine.

It was grubbier than I remembered it. The dust across the floor was so thick that it lifted in small clouds as we walked across the bare floorboards and left footprints behind us. A row of footprints were already visible across the room from some other visitor. I supposed the secret passageway was no longer the big secret it had once been.

“So, erm, what do we do?” Al sounded worried.

I wasn’t sure whether he was scared of the building or just anxious about what was expected of him. Whichever it was, I understood. It seemed silly to have brought him here. When I used to come with Cassie and Scor it was fun, an adventure. Now, it seemed like a strange way to spend a night, sitting amongst the cobwebs in the darkness. I watched Al carefully, but he didn’t show any sign of irritation.

“We usually go and sit upstairs. There’s still some furniture and stuff, and a fireplace. We’ve done quite a lot of cleaning as well so it’s not as gross. I mean, it’s still not great, but it’s not like this. And we light a fire and then it feels nicer, you know,” I said, very aware of the fact I seemed to be talking too much.

A loud crash sounded from up the staircase and both Al and I jumped. I looked at him nervously and he took a small step so he was standing in front of me, as if he was protecting me from whatever was up there.

“What was that?” My voice sounded small.

“I don’t know,” Al whispered. “Maybe we should get out of here.”

I was about to agree when a sob sounded from the same direction. It was a familiar sound and I knew I was going to have to follow it. I stepped out from behind Al and he grabbed my arm.

“Liv, what are you doing? We should go back to the castle,” he said. His eyes were wide and concerned and his hand was warm against me.

“It’s okay. I promise,” I said, trying to make my voice sound reassuring as I pulled away from him.

I hurried up the stairs as quickly as I felt safe to. The staircase was old and I was reluctant to run in case the moulding wood crumbled beneath me. At the top of the stairs I paused, looking into the room I’d been in so many times before.

A fire was already lit in the grate, flickering happily, oblivious to the gloom of the rest of the room. The floor was cleaner up here. I’d been telling Al the truth when I said we’d cleaned it. The whole place felt painfully familiar, full of memories of laughter with Cassie. I took a step forwards and chewed my lip as I looked at the figure curled up in the armchair.

“Scor,” I breathed, letting my bag slide off my shoulder and drop to the floor.

He turned slowly to face me and I tried to stay calm. His eyes were rimmed with red and then surrounded by dark, bluish circles. His hair was unwashed, and he was pale even for a Malfoy. He was holding a large, half-empty glass bottle of an amber liquid I didn't recognise. His sobs didn’t stop as he looked at me. They racked his whole body, lifting his shoulders and shaking his chest. His cheeks were wet with tears he made no move to wipe away.

“Hey,” I said quietly.

He looked like he might be thinking about saying something to me. I waited for him to speak, watching his struggle to come up with the words, hoping that this might be the moment he broke the silence that had grown between us. But his eyes left me as footsteps sounded from behind us. As Al entered the room, Scor’s expression shifted from devastation to fury.

I watched my ex-best friend stagger to his feet. He shot me a vicious glare and then pushed past me, swaying as he climbed down the stairs. I knew I should help him. He was in no state to safely get himself into bed and I didn’t want him to get into trouble on his way back to the Common Room. But he’d looked at me with such pure hatred that I found myself frozen to the spot.

We waited until we heard the door to the shack slam shut and then I collapsed onto one of the threadbare arm chairs, dazed and shocked.

Al took a few uncertain steps towards me. One of his hands was in his hair, awkwardly messing it up as if he was desperate for something to do with himself.

“Do you want to go back to the castle?” His voice was anxious.

I shook my head but didn’t speak. I was biting my lip again and didn’t want to stop to open my mouth.

“Is there anything I can do?” Al tried again.

I took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter. “Um, there’s, um, there’s food in my bag,” I stammered, trying very hard not to cry. “Maybe you could…”

“I’ll get everything out,” Al smiled. He picked up my bag from where I’d left it in the doorway and sat down in a chair opposite mine to look through it.

I focussed on taking deep breaths. I’d lost control around Al too many times and didn’t want this to be another outing that ended with my sobbing into his chest. I’d known the evening was going to be hard. Cassie’s absence hadn’t become any easier to deal with as time had passed, and going to this place I’d always been to with her was always going to be hard. But seeing Scor had brought up a lot of feelings I didn’t want to deal with in that moment. I supposed I should have guessed he might be there. Cassie’s disappearance was even harder for him than it was for me. It made sense that he would be struggling to deal with her birthday.

“I thoroughly approve of your snack choices,” Al grinned. He threw me a chocolate frog and then continued to take out things from my bag.

I unwrapped the frog and stunned it when it tried to leap away. It felt unreasonably satisfying to bite its head off and the chocolate made me feel a little bit better.

“What’s this?” Al tugged a book out of my bag and gave me a questioning look.

I’d forgotten my sketchbook was even in there. I hadn’t drawn anything since coming back to school without Cass and her christmas present to me had been left neglected in my schoolbag, forgotten underneath stacks of parchment and chunky textbooks.

“Is it a sketchbook?” Al turned the book over in his hands and ran his thumb down the spine.

I nodded. “Cass and Scor gave it to me for christmas.”

“I didn’t know you could draw,” Al said. “Can I look?”

I shrugged. “Go for it. I can’t really remember what’s in there. It might not be any good.”

“I’ve always wished I could sketch,” Al confessed as he opened the book. “My cousin Freddy’s fantastic at art, and he used to draw us dragons and things to stick up on our walls. When I was little I used to try join in, but I’ve always been rubbish.”

I smiled and leaned forward so I could see my sketches from several months ago as Al looked at them. They filled a surprising number of pages considering that I'd only used the book for a couple of weeks. They started with rough sketches of Cassie and Scor on the Malfoy rooftop, and then moved through a series of landscape sketches and watercolours before returning to portraits, almost exclusively of Scorpius and Cass but with a few appearances from my parents and some of the other Slytherins.

“Liv, these are fantastic,” Al said, bending his neck so he could look at a charcoal drawing of Scor more closely. It was one of my favourites. His head was tilted back in laughter and the fine lines of his hair smudged into the background where I’d accidentally dragged my wrist across the parchment. I’d drawn it on New Years Day when we’d gone to his house for lunch after leaving a grumpy, hungover Cass to go back to bed. The memory made me feel a jolt in my stomach. It had been the last time I’d properly seen her.

“I had no idea you were so talented,” Al continued. “I’ve never seen you draw.”

“I don’t do it so much anymore,” I said, still looking at the drawing of Scor. “I guess I haven’t really felt like it much this term.”

“Could you...do you think you could draw me?” Al asked. He looked almost excited by the idea which seemed strange to me. All my old friend were used to me drawing all the time and wouldn’t have thought it was a big deal for me to sketch them.

“Um, yes. I guess,” I said.

Al’s eyes widened. “Sorry. That was so insensitive of me. You literally just said you haven’t felt like drawing recently. I shouldn’t have asked. Obviously you don’t have to draw me.”

“Al,” I cut him off. “Stop apologising. I’d like to do it.”

“Are you sure?” Al looked hopeful. “You sounded like you didn’t really want to.

“Course I am. I was just being a pain. Chuck me the sketchbook.” I held out my hand to take the book from him and then sat back in my seat. “Is there a sketching pencil somewhere in that bag? There are usually a few under everything else.”

He reached back into the bag and then threw a pencil at me. I caught it, relieved that I had good instincts from Quidditch. It was one of the pencils I’d been given for christmas, and I would have been upset if the lead had shattered.

‘So, erm, what do I do? Do I have to do anything?” Al sounded dubious, which I thought was a bit unfair given that the drawing had been his own request.

“You’re fine. Just sit comfortably because it might take a little while,” I said. I opened the sketchbook to a blank page and then looked carefully at Al.

It felt oddly personal to be looking at him like that, which was unexpected. Usually, I drew people I’d known for a really long time, so I decided that it probably just felt different because he was a relatively new addition to my life. I chewed on my lip as I looked at him, and then started to slide my pencil across the page, outlining the smooth curve of his jawline and the roundness of his nose.

“Can I talk?” Al asked, cocking his head to one side. “Or will that distract you?”

I laughed. “You can talk, but you don’t have to tilt your whole head while you do it. I can’t draw you if you’re moving.”

“Oh,” Al frowned and straightened his head back. “Sorry. I’ll sit still.”

He clearly meant his words quite literally because he sat up straight, keeping his whole body rigid and only moving his eyes every so often in an attempt to see what I was doing. I smiled and started to shade in messy tufts of his hair, dragging the pencil out in chaotic lines to get across how out of control it always looked. It felt good to be drawing again and I found I quite liked drawing Al. It was very different to drawing Scorpius. Scor was all sharp lines and angular features, where Al’s face was softer, kinder.

“Are you nearly done?” Al asked after a chunk of time had passed.

I frowned at my drawing before replying. I’d drawn his face in quite a lot of detail, with messy, jagged lines of hair encircling it. His neck and chest were indicated in lighter lines, trailing off into a rough sketch of his shirt and the chair behind him.

“Yeah, I guess,” I said. I was never really sure how to say a drawing was done but I supposed this was good enough. It looked like him, at least, and I quite liked the shading and the detail in his eyes.

“Can I see?” Al still didn’t move, obviously worried about disrupting my work.

I passed him the sketch and he finally relaxed as he took it. I watched him nervously as he stared at the drawing, and then his whole face lit up.

“This is genuinely astonishing,” he grinned, looking back up at me. “Honestly, Liv. This is amazing. Can I keep it?”

“Do you think you could duplicate it? I quite like keeping a copy of everything I draw,” I said.

Al nodded and tapped the drawing with his wand, looking delighted when an exact copy appeared beside it.

“It’s fantastic. I love it,” he said earnestly.

“Thanks,” I smiled. “And thanks for asking me to do it. I’d forgotten how much I love it.”

“Sketching?”

“Yeah. I used to draw all the time. Somehow this term it's slipped away from me a bit,” I murmured.

“That’s okay. I think we always find a way back to the things we love,” Al said.

I looked at him. It seemed an unusually poignant thing for a seventeen year old boy to say. Al’s cheeks flushed, and he broke our eye contact before I did.

“Anyway,” he said, sounding embarrassed. “Shall we eat something? You’ve brought an impressive amount of food.”

“Snacking is one of my main talents,” I said.

Al laughed and passed me a pumpkin pasty.

“Seems like you have quite a lot of talents, Olivia Bell.” His eyes flitted over my sketch of him again before focussing back on my face.

I smiled and gave a kind of awkward shrug, unsure how to accept the compliment. He didn’t look away and we ended up making eye contact for an uncomfortable amount of time. It sort of felt like one of those moments that could have turned into something else. He was leaning forward in his seat and I could imagine shifting to the edge of my own to come closer to him, although I wasn't sure what would happen next if I did. Instead, I looked away and reached for another chocolate frog.

Al leaned back, a small frown briefly visible on his forehead before he rearranged his face into a relaxed smile. “So, any fun plans for the holidays?”

I sighed. The holidays weren’t something I really wanted to think about. “I don’t know. I’m going home. But Dad’s obviously not going to be there, so I suppose that’s a bit strange.”

“It’ll be nice to see your mum, though,” Al said through a mouthful of chocolate.

I raised my eyebrows. “You’ve met my mother, Al. It won’t be nice at all.”

He laughed and shook his head. “I know you love her deep down.”

“Maybe. Very, very, very deep down,” I conceded. “What about you? What are your plans?”

He started to describe the Potter family Easter celebrations to me and I curled up in my chair to listen. He was obviously excited to be going home: he couldn’t stop talking about it once he’d started. His whole face was lit up with excitement and he looked almost embarrassed about the fact he couldn’t stop smiling. I started quickly sketching him again, trying to capture his enthusiasm.

I found myself quite content, sitting in the dusty room with Al Potter. It couldn’t have been more different from my usual nights there with Cassie and Scor. We were completely sober, and we were talking about things we loved and things that excited us, rather than creating scathing commentaries of people we knew. I missed Cassie’s cutting humour, and Scorpius’s quiet care, but being with Al was nice in a different way.

After a while, I closed my eyes, letting the sketchbook drop down onto the seat beside my leg. Our conversation had trailed off and had left us in comfortable silence. I had expected Al to suggest that we go back to the castle but it seemed that he was just as happy to stay a bit longer as I was.

I let myself relax, and at some point I must have fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes again my back was stiff and dusty light was filtering through the boarded up windows. I sat up straighter and stretched out my arms, disorientated until I saw Al in the chair opposite me. His eyes were closed and his head was resting on his forearm, leaning against the arm of his chair. He looked younger while he slept. His cheek was squashed against his arm, distorting his face a bit, and he was smiling a wider smile than usual. I wanted to pick up my sketchbook and draw him again, but a glance at my watch told me that we didn’t have much time.

“Al.” I nudge his shin with my toe. He groaned and turned his face away from me so I kicked him.

“Ow!” He sat upright and scowled at me.

“Sorry,” I said brightly. “I needed you to wake up.”

“What’s the time?” He mumbled groggily.

“Not sure. But it’s light outside and I have to finish packing before going home.” I bent down and started to pack up the bag I’d brought with me the night before.

“Oh. Packing,” Al repeated after me. “I’ve not done any of that.”

I zipped up my bag and frowned at Al. “You’ve not done any?”

Al shook his head. “I didn’t plan to stay out all night. Thought I’d get it done when we got back.”

“Maybe you can get Rose to help?” I suggested. “She seems the type to know all those clever spells that do things for you.”

“Yeah, she’s fantastic, but I’m not sure it would be worth it to see her face. She gets super cross with us for being disorganised,” Al said. “I think I’m going to have to just do it. It’s cool, I didn’t unpack properly at the beginning of term so lots of my stuff’s still in my trunk anyway.”

“You’re a mess,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Come on then. We should get back quickly if you still need to do all your packing.”

He sighed but stood up and followed me back through the shack and into the tunnel. At first. he grumbled because his back was stiff from the old armchair and he didn’t want to do his packing, but I used the leftover chocolate frogs to bribe him into walking more quickly and smiling again. He was hardly even being grumpy - his bad mood didn’t even come close to Scor’s furious insults or Cassie’s tantrums - but I found I missed his excessive cheerfulness when he was complaining, and chocolate was the way to get it back while we walked to the castle.

The other girls in my dormitory were all already up when I tiptoed into the dormitory, still smiling from the warmth of Al’s hug when he left for Gryffindor Tower - I was feeling unusually affectionate and for some reason the hug had made the world feel a bit nicer.

“And what time do you call this?” Clara asked lazily. She was lying on her back in her bed but the curtains were open and the closed trunk on the floor showed that she'd already been up for a while to finish packing.

“Where were you, young lady?” Esther looked sleepy. She’d moved the carefully folded pile of clothes she’d set out the day before onto her mattress and was slowly starting to get dressed.

Both of them wore identical grins and I pulled a face. I’d known that they’d want to interrogate me about my whereabouts. Usually nobody else would care where I’d been if I didn’t come back for a night, but that was because Cassie’s bed would also be empty and they’d know I was with her and Scor. Now, my absence implied a story. And a story implied gossip, which Clara Zabini adores.

“More importantly, who were you with?” Clara rolled over to lie on her front and propped her face up on the palms of her hands to look at me, batting her eyelashes as she waited for my response.

I shrugged and opened my trunk to find something clean to wear. Unlike Esther, I hadn’t had the foresight to leave out things I still needed when doing my packing.

“Nobody important,” I shrugged. I pulled out the clothes nearest the top of my trunk and started to get dressed, ignoring Esther and Clara’s questioning.

“You’re wearing a red jumper,” Clara giggled. “Gryffindor colours. Is there a reason for that?”

I stuck my tongue out at her and headed into the bathroom with my toothbrush.

Once inside, I took as long as possible to wash my face and do my make up. I didn’t really feel like walking down to the station with Esther and Clara, and definitely didn’t want to spend the whole journey home with the two of them. The time I’d spent with the other girls during Cassie’s absence had made me fond of them, and I enjoyed their company, but I still didn’t find it easy to join in with their girl talk. I wasn’t sure how I felt about their intrusive questions, and their certainty that something was happening between Al and I made me uncomfortable.

I waited until Clara had called out that they were heading down to the train, gave it another minute, and then went back into the dormitory to pack my last few things and close my trunk. I felt a bit guilty for avoiding the others, and was slightly worried that I’d end up regretting my decision if I ended up sitting by myself all the way back to London. Being completely honest with myself, I recognised that my choice might have something to do with a desire to sit with the Gryffindors instead, but I tried not to think about that too much.

I checked under my bed one last time, and then struggled to pick up my trunk so I could drag it out of the room. As I headed towards the door, I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror on the wardrobe door, snug in my scarlet jumper. Gryffindor scarlet. Clara had been right. For some reason, the thought made me smile.


Chapter 17: In Which It All Goes Wrong
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Every so often something happened that meant it was impossible to ignore the way things had changed, and the lump in my throat that I couldn’t seem to shake when I thought about it. Getting the Hogwarts Express home with neither Cassie nor Scor in my compartment was one of those experiences.

I dragged my trunk from the Entrance Hall down to the horseless carriages, stumbling a little on the rocky ground. I was one of the last people down there and I expected to sit by myself because of it, but Rose and Louis leant out of a carriage to wave me over.

Lou pointed his wand at my trunk and muttered a spell, and it shakily rose into the air and levitated towards the carriage. I thanked him as I climbed in.

“Don’t say thank you,” Rose frowned as the carriage started to move. “He’s only doing it because he thinks it’s manly.”

Louis puffed out his chest. “It is manly. I’m being...what’s that word?...chivalrous.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Liv was perfectly capable of carrying her own trunk. It’s patronising to assume she couldn’t do it just because she’s a girl.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of what Rose was saying. Scor had always carried my trunk for me, and I’d never thought anything of it. I suppose he was doing it because he felt it was expected of him, or something, but usually it had just felt like he was doing it because he was my friend and wanted to help. I thought that Louis was probably the same.

After thinking for a moment, I realised that Rose was watching me, waiting for my input.

“Oh,” I said, unsure how to join in with this conversation. “Um, I really didn’t mind.”

“I wasn’t assuming she couldn’t do it because she’s a girl.” Louis slid down his seat so his bum drooped over the side of the chair and then stuck his tongue out at Rose. “I was being nice. That’s what kind people do.”

“And you’re a kind person now?” Rose raised an eyebrow.

Louis nodded enthusiastically and then turned to me. “How’s everything going, Liv? Our cousin didn’t come back to the dorm last night.” He waggled his eyebrows and grinned.

I laughed. “I’m alright, thanks. You?”

Louis sat up straight again. “Noo, Liv, you’ve misunderstood. I only asked you how you were as like a decoy question. I actually just want to know what happened between you and Al last night.”

“Louis,” Rose hissed. “You don’t have to answer that, Liv. Lou understands that it’s actually your business and not his.”

I laughed again and shrugged. “It’s okay. He can ask. Nothing happened. We were just talking and then we fell asleep.”

Louis screwed up his face into a half glare and then pressed his cheek against the window to watch Hogwarts fade into the distance, apparently bored of the conversation. I followed his gaze and watched the castle, smiling a little at the sight of the turrets disappearing into the fog above us.

Rose watched her cousin for a moment and then gave me a bemused sort of a smile. “Look after Al, Liv,” she said. “He deserves somebody kind.”

I nodded. I don’t tend to consider other people’s relationships very much, and especially don’t consider what kind of relationships people deserve, but the idea that Al should be with somebody kind is completely uncontroversial. The boy’s probably the nicest person in the world.

When the carriage came to a stop, Louis took my trunk in one hand and his own in the other, pulling a face at Rose as he dragged them towards the stationary train. Rose rolled her eyes again and cast a featherlight charm on her own luggage, carrying it out of the carriage with ease. I wished I’d thought to cast a charm. It would have made the whole thing a lot easier, and then Louis wouldn’t have had to help me.

“Al was on a carriage further ahead, I think,” Rose said to me as she pulled her trunk towards the doors. “So he said he’d get us a compartment. He’s probably asleep, to be honest, he looked exhausted when he got back, but I reckon people respect him enough to give him space and keep the compartment free.”

“It’s probably full of Laura Brogan,” Louis muttered under his breath.

Rose heaved her trunk up the step onto the train, and then drew her wand and cast a banishing charm. I wasn’t sure where she’d sent it. It had probably gone somewhere clever, given that it was Rose Weasley’s idea. I glanced at Louis, who looked as confused as I felt and continued to drag both our trunks along by hand.

“That doesn’t even make sense, Lou,” Rose said, speaking more clearly now that she wasn’t struggling with her trunk. “What’s probably full of Laura Brogan?”

“The compartment Al’s saving,” Louis said, as if this was obvious. “If he’s fallen asleep alone in a compartment, Laura Brogan has almost certainly found him.”

“Don’t be silly, Louis,” Rose said, peering through a window to see who was in the compartment to our left. “Laura understands that it’s over between her and Al. She’s got better things to do than waste her time sitting with him watching him sleep.”

Rose wandered ahead of us, looking through the windows to either side of us. I hung back with Louis.

“Is that true? Has Laura finally accepted that it’s over?” I asked him, curious.

Louis shrugged. “Fuck knows. She’s genuinely insane. No idea what’s going through her head.”

“But has she stopped trying to talk to him?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Louis said thoughtfully. “She’s not been around so much. I’ve hardly seen her the last few weeks.”

“When Rose was just talking,” I started, lowering my voice. “Well, she sounded like....” I trailed off, unsure how to finish my sentence.

Louis tilted his head and frowned at me. “Sounded like what?”

I chewed my lip, trying to work out how to phrase it. “Um, well, she kind of sounded like she knows Laura quite well? Like she might like her?”

I watched Louis carefully as he pondered his reply. He didn’t look cross, but I thought he might not really have liked what I’d said. Laura was pretty much number one on his enemy list, and had hurt Al really badly. My wondering whether Rose, their cousin, might not hate her after all probably wasn’t something he wanted to hear.

“I don’t know,” he said finally. “It’s hard to say how Rose feels about her.”

I waited for him to carry on. When he didn’t continue, I asked him what he meant.

“Well,” he said with a frown. “Rose and Laura used to be pretty good friends. I mean, Laura was probably Rose’s best friend, outside the family at least. And they’re in the same dorm. Rose knew Laura ages before she got involved with Al. And Laura’s been through a pretty shitty time....”

He paused for a moment, obviously trying to figure out what to say. “Yeah, well, Laura’s had a hard time, and obviously Rose was around for lots of that and tried to be supportive. And then when Laura did all that stuff to Al it was a bit like a bit of a betrayal to Rose, you know? I mean, she hurt Al, obviously, but I don’t think any of us realised until recently how much she upset Rose as well. And now that Laura and Al aren’t fighting very much, well, I guess it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if Rose was starting to remember that she kind of cared about Laura once. I guess. I don’t know.”

I nodded, slowly, trying to give enough of a physical response to excuse the fact that I didn’t really want to reply. I’d been vaguely aware that Rose and Laura had been friends, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that it might mean Rose was still looking out for Laura. I suppose I understood it, though. If Cass and I had fallen out, I’d still have cared if she was hurting, regardless of what she’d done.

Louis was still looking at me. “Look,” he said. “It’s not really worth thinking about. Everything with Laura’s pretty fucked up, and none of us really count her as our friend anymore. Especially Al. Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh,” I said. “I wasn’t worried. Just interested. I didn’t know you all when you used to be friends with her.”

“Well,” Louis said. “Things have changed a lot. A lot of rubbish happened with Laura, even before the whole shitstorm went down with Al. It’s not like things are ever going to go back to how they were. I try to just move on and forget about it. It’s not worth it.” He stopped walking for a moment to catch his breath, and then continued, dragging both our trunks behind him. “Look, Liv? Would you mind not mentioning to Rose that we talked about this? I think she still gets kind of sad about Laura, and I don’t want her to think we were gossiping about it, or whatever.”

I nodded. “Okay. I mean, yeah. Sure. Of course. I won’t mention it.”

Louis gave me a small smile.

“Thanks for telling me,” I said. “I guess I was just wondering how Rose was so sure that Laura wouldn’t be in there with him. It makes sense, thinking about how they used to be good friends.”

Louis opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by Rose calling us over.

“Hurry up, Louis, Liv. I’ve found Al. In here.” She jerked her head towards the compartment to her right, and then slid open the door.

Louis and I sped up to catch Rose up, and then followed her through the door and into the compartment. I tried not to think about the fact it was the back carriage, where I usually sat with Cassie and Scor. It felt different with the Gryffindors anyway; it was more cheerful, somehow.

As Rose had predicted, Al was asleep in the corner of the compartment. His head was tipped back, pressed into the groove between the edge of his seat and the glass window. He was smiling in his sleep.

Louis ruffled Al’s hair before taking the seat opposite him, and Rose sat down next to Louis, leaving the space next to Al for me. I sat cross legged on the chair and then took out my sketchbook, balancing it on my lap.

“I didn’t know you drew, Liv,” Rose said, leaning forward to have a look at the open book I was holding.

“I used to sketch a lot,” I explained. “And then somehow this term it’s not really been happening. I’m trying to start again.”

“Is that Al?” She turned her head to try to see the sketch more clearly. It was a rushed, messy drawing, completed the previous night when I’d already started to fall asleep, but something in the movement of the lines managed to show Al’s smile, and the chaos of his hair. “It’s fantastic,” Rose said.

“Can I, erm, can I draw you? Is that okay?” I looked hopefully at her.

“Noo, draw me,” Louis said before Rose could speak.

“I could draw both of you?”

“Oo, yes please,” Rose beamed. “Is it okay if we’re sleeping for the drawing, though? I’m shattered.”

I laughed and nodded, and Rose drew her legs up to her chest and forced her head under Louis’ arm to lean against his chest. Louis prodded her in a halfhearted attempt to make her move, and then pulled her closer and leaned his cheek against her head. I smiled and started to draw.

After three or four sketches, when my hands felt heavy and my head felt blurry, I decided to give in to the fact my body was objecting to only having three hours sleep. I closed the sketch book and laid it carefully down next to me, and then rested my head against the back of the seat and closed my eyes. Everybody else in the compartment was already sleeping, and I listened to their even breathing as I let myself fall asleep.

My dreams were a confusion of laughter and swirling colour. I could see Cass, somewhere in the distance, and could hear her derisive laughter. Every time I stepped closer, she seemed to move further away. I ran towards her, trying to reach out but never getting any nearer, and then it became hard to walk. I looked down and realised I was stepping through paint; thick oil paint that stuck to my shoes and made the floor sticky. I took a bigger step and then slipped and fell into the paint, my hands covered in stains of pink and green. I turned one hand over in the paint, and realised I was clutching something sharp in my fist. I opened my hand and found Cassie’s locket pressed against my palm, the silver chain coated in clotting red paint. And then the red paint started to run down my wrist and I suddenly became aware of how horribly blood-like it was, and my arm was coated in red and I looked down and the rest of my body was red too…

I woke up with a jolt, my breath quick and sharp. I looked down at my hands and swallowed with relief to find them clean.

“You alright, Liv?” Al murmured sleepily.

I nodded. “I’m fine. Just a strange dream.”

“This is what we get for staying up so late,” he smiled.

“Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so tired,” I said, flexing my fingers to reassure myself that they weren’t stained with paint, or with anything else.

“Come here.” Al reached his arm out to me. “We’re not even halfway there yet. We’ve got lots of sleeping time.”

I hesitated, watching his hopeful expression, and then shrugged and shuffled along the chair towards him. He curled his arm around my shoulders, resting his hand against my forearm, and I tucked my face against his chest, under his chin. He was warm, and sitting wrapped up against him felt safe. I closed my eyes again and this time my dream were much sweeter.

When we reached London, I was woken up by a flash of light. I screwed my eyes shut tighter and turned my face further into Albus.

“Too bright,” Al mumbled. “Turn the light off.”

There was another flash and I opened my eyes to see what was going on.

Rose was stood uncomfortably close to us, holding a camera and beaming. “Sorry. I just realised we were stopping and had to get a picture of you two before we moved. You looked super sweet and I promised Aunt Ginny I’d get some nice photos of Al this year.”

“I tried to stop her,” Louis said.

“That’s a lie. He told me I should write on your faces before taking the photo,” Rose corrected. “Anyway, we’re at King’s Cross.”

I sat up properly and looked out the window, surprised that we’d already arrived. The train had slowed to a stop as we were talking, and now I could see that other students were already unloading their trunks and leaving the train to meet their parents. I yawned and stood up.

“You need a hand with your trunk?” Al was already lifting it down from the luggage rack Louis had put it up on.

I thought about Rose’s comments earlier on, and shook my head. “I’m good. I’ll just charm it to make it lighter.”

I concentrated hard and cast a featherlight charm, like I’d seen Rose do earlier. When I picked up the trunk, it felt weightless.

“Oo, that’s clever,” Al said, looking impressed. “I don’t know why that’s never occurred to me.”

We left the compartment together, and climbed out of the train and onto the platform. Al was immediately waved over by his mother. I looked in the direction he was waving in, and saw that Aunt Katie was standing with Al’s family. Not being able to see my mum, I headed over with Al.

“Olivia.” Aunt Katie pulled me into a hug and kissed my cheek. “It’s lovely to see you. You look well.”

I gave her a small smile and shrugged my way out of her hug. I suppose it’s nice to have a family member you don’t detest, but I’d never really liked her constant physical affection. Next to us, Al was kissing his mother hello. He grabbed my hand and pulled me over. I let go as soon as his fingers loosened.

“Mum, this is Liv,” Al said. “She’s the Slytherin we’ve decided to adopt.”

“I’ve heard all about you,” Al’s mum said with a warm smile. I felt my cheeks flush. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me. She was hardly scary. But I suppose she is Ginny Weasley.

“I was surprised Al would want to be friends with a Slytherin, you know,” Ginny said. “We usually prefer not to associate with them.” Her eyes were smiling but I wasn’t sure how to respond.

Thanks, Mum.” Al’s sister Lily had arrived pulling her trunk and a very grumpy looking owl. Her green and silver Slytherin tie was untied around her neck, and she glared pointedly at her mother. I’d forgotten Lily Potter was a Slytherin.

Ginny laughed and flung her arms around her daughter, almost childlike in her enthusiastic hugging. Lily scowled but let her mother hug her.

“Now,” Katie said, turning to me as Ginny and Lily’s reunion continued. “Have you seen my son?”

I looked around the platform, trying to catch sight of the moron. For a minute, I couldn’t see him anywhere. And then suddenly it would have been impossible not to.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Katie sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Is that our darling sons?” Ginny said, one perfectly arched eyebrow raised.

“Do you even have to ask?” Katie laughed a little.

Al let out a snort of laughter as he noticed his brother, flying along the platform with the moron. They’d both tied their trunks to their brooms, but the trunks were dangling dangerously below them as the flew, and people on the platform were having to leap out of their way to avoid being hit. The moron’s cat was draped around his neck, hair standing on end and looking terrified. James Potter’s owl flew between them.

The two boys lowered and came to a stop when they reached their mothers.

“You’re a moron,” Katie said, frowning at her son.

I beamed. I’d never heard Katie describe him as a moron.

Jason caught my eye and laughed, obviously recognising my delight in his mother’s choice of language.

“Come on. We should get home. Oliver said he’d leave work early and pick up something for dinner. He’s looking forward to seeing you,” Katie said with a smile.

“Alright. Is Liv coming?” Jason nodded towards me.

Katie looked surprised by his use of a shortened name for me, but didn’t mention it. She looked at me. “I don’t know. You’re very welcome to join us, Olivia. Did you have other plans?”

“Thanks, but Mum’s coming to get me. I think she’s just been delayed,” I said.

“Are you sure? I can send Oliver a patronus asking him to get some extra food for you?”

“I’m really okay. Mum’s coming to get me,” I repeated.

“Okay sweetheart. If you’re sure. I’m sure we’ll see you later on in the holidays,” Katie smiled. “Now come on, Jason. Say your goodbyes.”

Jason turned to James and stuck his tongue out, and then turned back to his mother. “Can James come for dinner, if Dad’s going to be home? He wanted to ask him about some Quidditch stuff.”

Katie agreed, and after Ginny had complained that James didn’t love her enough, and Al had checked at least three times that I really did have somebody coming to collect me, they all apparated away, leaving me with my trunk and my owl.

I looked at Mercury. “Come on. Let’s find Mum.”

The platform was almost empty now, and there was no sign of her, so I dragged Mercury and the trunk through the barrier and into the main station. Mum didn’t seem to be anywhere in King’s Cross. I searched for her for at least half an hour, and eventually had to accept that she wasn’t there. She must have forgotten to come and meet me.

I rummaged in my pocket for my purse, and was relieved to find a few coins of muggle money. I struggled to manoeuvre my things over to the ticket machines, and bought a travel card for the tube. After a last quick glance around the station, I dragged my stuff down an escalator and found the right platform for the Victoria line.

The tube was quick but busy. The time I’d spent looking for my mother had meant rush hour had started, and the tube was full of busy looking people in smart muggle suits, none of whom looked happy to share their tube with a now very angry owl. I tried to cram my trunk into the corner of a carriage, and leaned against it with a very fat man’s legs pressed against me, and a young woman’s breath tickling my shoulder.

It was only a few stops to Finsbury Park, and I was desperate to get off the tube by the time we got there. My house is only a short walk from the station. I ignored the glares from the people around me and shoved past them with my trunk, walking more quickly the closer I got to home.

When I entered my road, it occurred to me that something might be wrong. None of the muggles that lived on the street were outside, and nobody was turning from the busy road near the station around the corner onto my street. It was almost like they couldn’t see that the street was there, even though usually it was crowded and lively.

I tentatively continued with the walk down the road. It was unnaturally quiet, and I wasn’t sure why. As I followed the road around the bend, I realised that something had happened. Something had happened inside my house. I could see the mint green of healer uniforms, and the dark green flickering light in the window that meant the floo must be lit.

I left my trunk where I’d been standing, and quickened my step. When I reached the end of my path, I hesitated, and then pushed open the gate. A woman was standing in the pathway with her back to me, her shoulders shuddering with sobs.

“Um, excuse me?” I took another step closer. “What’s going on?”

Daphne Greengrass turned around. Her eyes were red and her usually immaculate hair was straggly. It looked like she’d been running her hands through it.

“Daphne? What’s happened?”

She didn’t say anything. I took another step forward and tried to push past her, to get into the house and understand why there was a person in a Healer’s uniform with their head stuck through the fireplace, on full view through the front window.

“Let me in. What’s happened? Let me in. I live here.”

Something in the urgency in my voice seemed to get through to Daphne, and she grasped my shoulders, her fingers digging uncomfortably into my flesh.

“No,” she said, her voice sounding strangled. “No, darling. No. You can’t.”

I felt myself deflate. “But...why? What’s happened?”

Daphne shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut to let another tear roll down her cheeks. “Oh, Olivia. It’s your mother.”

“What about my mother?”

“I came to meet her earlier. We were going to come and collect you from the station together. But she didn’t answer the door. I kept knocking. And then, well, I have a spare key, of course. I’m her best friend. So I remembered I had the key, and I turned the key in the lock, and I opened the door. And you have to understand….”

“Oh, get on with it. What. Has. Happened. To my mother?” I glared at Daphne, hating her for being so pathetic, furious that she was still talking but I still had no idea what was going on.

“But...oh, Olivia…”

What? Tell me.”

Daphne bit her lip and widened her eyes. She looked pathetic.

“Olivia. Your mother…”

I rolled my eyes and glared at her again. Daphne drew in a deep breath and then nodded slowly.

“She’s dead.”







Chapter 18: In Which It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better
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My mother was not dead, as the healer who rushed over to give Daphne a calming draught managed to explain. She’d had a lot to drink and had then swallowed three times the recommended daily dose of slimming solution, triggering heart palpitations and a collapse. She wasn’t quite in a stable condition, but the healers were hopeful. Daphne had found her unconscious and had somehow recognised somewhere in her idiot brain that she needed to call the healers. In her state of shock, she’d refused to listen to the healers telling her Mum was still alive.

Daphne didn’t apologise for giving me the wrong information. She didn’t even acknowledge that she’d informed me of my mother’s death for no reason. She gave me a halfhearted pat on the shoulder, tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear with a frown, and then disapparated without saying anything.

The healer who had come to talk to us looked at me, obviously feeling awkward.

‘Erm...I should get back inside. They might need my help. We’re going to transport your mother to St Mungo’s as soon as she’s stable.” He smiled an awkward half-smile, and turned slightly as if to walk back into the house.

He obviously wasn’t sure whether it was okay to leave me outside alone, because he hesitated before moving.

“Yeah, you should get back to her. Erm, do whatever it is that you need to do. I’ll just...I’ll wait out here,” I said, feeling like a total idiot.

He nodded and then rushed back to the house. I kicked a stone by my foot, unsure what to do with myself.

A hoot sounded from the other side of the road and I glanced up. Mercury was still sitting in his cage. I sighed, feeling guilty. The road was still empty of traffic, so I wandered back over to my luggage. I sat down on my trunk and lifted up Mercury’s cage to open the door. Mercury flew out and landed on my leg, his talons scraping the skin on my knee.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I shouldn’t have left you by yourself for so long.”

Mercury dug his talons in more deeply. If he was a human he’d definitely be a Slytherin. Not that I can judge.

I rummaged in my pocket and found an owl treat. Mercury gave me a disdainful look, but took the treat.

“Look,” I said. “You can go, if you want. Go to Aunt Katie’s, yeah? The Moron will know who you are. He can look after you for a while.”

Mercury looked at me reproachfully.

“Go, you idiot,” I said. “It’s not like you’re having much fun here.”

He hooted and then lifted his wings, scratching my knee once more as he ascended. I watched him fly away, and then lay down to rest my back against my trunk.

I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. It didn’t seem like the healers needed me, but I wasn’t really sure whether it would be okay for me to leave. And even if I did leave, I had nowhere to go. The Malfoy house was my usual escape, but it was hardly like I’d be welcome there anymore. But I didn’t want to sleep in my house, knowing what had happened in there during the day. I felt completely lost. So I decided to just stay where I was.

Hours passed. The green light in the window of the house flickered out, meaning the healers were no longer using the floo, and a few minutes later the nice healer I’d spoken to stepped out of the front door and apparated away without acknowledging me. The house looked empty. But I still didn’t get up. Something was stopping me.

If he hadn’t come to get me, I might have stayed there all night. I didn’t even realise he’d arrived until he cleared his throat.

“Olivia?”

I opened my eyes and sat up. “Daddy?”

“Oh, sweetheart.” He sat down on the trunk next to me and gave me a hug. I shook against his chest for a moment but didn’t let myself cry.

“How did you know I was here?” I asked when we pulled apart.

“It finally occurred to Daphne Greengrass that I might be interested to know that my wife was in hospital,” he said. “She’s an absolute idiot. She didn’t even mention that you’d been here until I asked who’d collected you from school. I asked her where you’d gone afterwards, and she mentioned that you might still be here. So I thought I’d come and get you.”

“I didn’t know where to go,” I whispered.

“You can come home with me,” he said.

I felt relief flood through me. I hadn’t really realised how nervous I was about where to spend the night. It was only when he removed the problem that I recognised how worried I’d been.

“You don’t have your apparition license yet, do you?” He asked.

I shook my head. “We’ve had lessons but I can’t take the test until I’m seventeen.”

“Of course. I’d forgotten you weren’t of age yet.”

It wasn’t really surprising that he didn’t know how old I was. Usually I’d make some kind of snarky comment about his lack of knowledge about me, but I decided it didn’t really matter in that moment.

“Best take you by side along, then,” he said, standing up. “Here, take my hand. I’ll hold onto your trunk.”

I let him hold my hand tightly, and closed my eyes as he spun. The air felt tight around me, pressing down against my skin, and I felt like I was being pulled through some kind of suction. When the pressure eased, I opened my eyes, watching the blurred surroundings become focussed.

“This is where I live now,” Dad said, dropping my hand.

I glanced around. We were in an airy room with hardly any furniture. A grand piano sat in one corner in front of a large window, and one wall was covered with framed black and white photographs. The same woman appeared in most of the pictures. I was too far away to see her clearly, but she looked vaguely familiar. It didn’t seem like the kind of place my dad would live. He’d painted every single room in our house a different bright colour, and liked to fill all available space with trinkets he’d picked up from his travels. I was surprised that he’d be living somewhere so minimalistic. It was the kind of sophisticated cool that Cass or someone, or maybe Laura Brogan would have appreciated. But it wasn’t like my dad.

“We’re going to redecorate,” Dad said, seeming to understand what I was thinking. “I haven’t lived here very long.”

I nodded. It didn’t really matter. It had been his choice to move out. He didn’t need to offer explanations for the decor of his new home.

“Honey?” Dad called out. “Olivia’s here.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have to meet the mistress. I suppose it shouldn’t really have been surprising, given that she lived there, and I was going to be staying, but for some reason she hadn’t entered my mind.

“Just coming,” a woman’s voice called from somewhere outside. I thought I might recognise the voice but couldn’t place it.

“You’re going to love her,” Dad told me, beaming. I didn’t smile back but he didn’t seem to realise, and kept talking. “She’s wonderful. She works with Magical Law Enforcement, so she’s got all sorts of Ministry contacts she could set you up with if you’re interested in looking into careers. And she has a daughter who must be around your age. I’m sure you two will get along. You’re going to really like it here.”

I glared at him. “Seriously? You’re choosing today to talk to me about how wonderful your new woman is?”

He looked puzzled. “I only thought you’d want to know what she’s like. She’s very beautiful. I still can’t quite believe that she wants to be with me.”

I rolled my eyes and turned away from him. There was no point trying to get him to understand that it might be inappropriate to talk about his new lover while his wife was in his hospital after what looked like an attempted suicide. And there was no point trying to get him to understand that the daughter he’d had with said wife might not want to hear what he had to say anyway.

“There she is.” Dad’s voice filled with a warmth I hadn’t heard from him before, and I turned round to see who had brought it on.

The woman in the doorway was beautiful, he was right. She had long curls of chestnut hair hanging down past her shoulders, and wide set deep blue eyes. She probably wasn’t much younger than my mum, but she had definitely aged much better. She was distressingly gorgeous, and distressingly familiar.

“I know you,” I told her.

“Yes,” she said. “We’ve met.”

I frowned, still trying to place her, and then let the frown deepen into a scowl. “You’re that bitch who asked me questions about Cassie.”

Olivia.” Dad looked shocked. I didn’t understand why he was surprised by my words. It wasn’t exactly likely that I was going to be polite to the woman he’d left us for, especially given that she was the same woman who’d been investigating Cassie’s disappearance.

“Oh, it’s okay, Andrew,” she said with a simpering smile. “Olivia’s had a difficult day. It’s understandable that her temper might be a little fractious.”

I scowled at her some more.

“That doesn’t excuse her rudeness,” Dad said. “Olivia, this is my girlfriend, Clementine.”

Something about the word ‘girlfriend’ made me hate her even more. The idea of Dad having a girlfriend was disturbing, and Clementine’s soppy smile as he spoke made it worse.

“Right,” I said, ignoring the hand Clementine held out to me.

“I hadn’t realised the two of you had met already,” Dad said questioningly.

“Oh,” Clementine smiled again. “We haven’t met properly. I just had to ask Olivia a couple of teensy questions about Cassandra Selwyn. We didn’t have time to really get to know each other, though.” She beamed at me.

Dad nodded. I wondered why he’d never mentioned that his girlfriend was working on looking for Cassie. It must have occurred to him that it was something I’d be interested to know.

“So, Olivia, what would you like to do? I could make us all some dinner?” Clementine was still smiling.

I frowned again. I didn’t want to eat dinner with Clementine from magical law enforcement. I didn’t know whether she was still involved in looking for Cassie, but I remembered how patronising she’d been when I’d met her before. And I hated that she must have known who I was when we’d spoken, and yet hadn’t mentioned anything about my dad. I just wanted to curl up somewhere by myself and to try not to think about my father’s new life, or my mother alone somewhere in a hospital bed.

“Um, actually, I’m quite tired,” I said. “Where am I sleeping? I think I’ll go to bed.”

Dad looked awkward. “Ah, well, of course we hadn’t realised you were going to be staying, Olivia. This has all been a bit of a shock, naturally.”

Clementine pressed a finger to his lips and spoke instead. “My daughter’s your age. She’ll happily share her room with you. She’s out running at the moment but should be back soon. It’s the second door on the right upstairs. Feel free to use anything of hers that you need. We’ll sort out your own bed as soon as we can.”

I nodded and picked up my trunk again, leaving the room as quickly as possible. I knew that Clementine was trying to be nice, but everything about the encounter had felt unpleasant. I dragged my trunk up the stairs and pushed open the second door on the right.

The room obviously belonged to a teenage girl. Most of the room was taken up with a massive bed, covered with cream pillows and a thick, turquoise throw. The walls were covered with pictures of things Clementine’s daughter was obviously interested in. The back wall was plastered with posters of wizarding bands, and a few muggle film posters. The wardrobe was mostly covered with a large mirror, but I could see a chart to one side of it, tracking whatever Clementine Junior had been eating and the exercise she’d been doing. A large desk sat to one side of the room, with photographs pinned up to a noticeboard behind it. It was the only area of the room that I liked the look of, and I made my way over to see what the girl and her friends looked like, wondering whether I’d recognise her from Hogwarts.

I suppose I probably should have realised that things were only going to get worse, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to worry about the identity of Clementine’s daughter. I’d been a little preoccupied thinking about other things.

Looking at the smiling photos flickering on the wall, I wished I’d thought more closely about what it meant when Dad said Clementine’s daughter was my age. If I’d actually thought about what he was saying, I might not have been so shocked to find myself staring at hundreds of photographs of Laura Brogan.

I frowned at the pictures. They somehow didn’t seem to match up with the Laura Brogan I knew and hated. Almost all of them showed her laughing or smiling, usually accompanied by Rose and Al. The pictures near the bottom showed her and Rose as beaming eleven-year-olds with their hair in plaits. A photograph towards the centre focussed on Laura in maybe fourth or fifth year, when she’d grown a bit and her hair had finally reached her waist. The Laura in the picture had her arms loosely draped around Al’s shoulder on one side and Rose’s in the other, and she kept turning to kiss Al’s cheek. I smiled as I saw Al screw up his face in laughter as he pulled away from her kiss, but the sight of it made me feel a bit strange. The only photo that wasn’t from Hogwarts was a large black and white muggle picture, showing a young Laura Brogan next to Clementine and a man I assumed was her father. He was holding her hand and grinning down at her. It was strange to see a static photograph in the middle of all the movement, but I could see why Laura liked the picture. All three of them looked happy.

There was a gap on the wall big enough for one picture, and I thought a photograph must have fallen off, or maybe been pulled down. I glanced down at the desk in front of me and found an upside down picture that looked the right size to have originally been on the wall. I turned the photograph over and swallowed.

The picture was of Al and Laura, but Laura’s face was hardly visible. She was kissing Al’s neck, and then reaching up to kiss just under his earlobe, and he was laughing and wriggling, his hand tangled up in her hair. He squirmed to one side and I almost laughed to see him pull away from her, but then he pulled her closer into him and peppered her forehead with kisses. They looked beautiful together, and sickeningly in love. The Albus I knew was overly friendly and cheerful, and I’d always thought he was happy, but I’d never seen him the way he was in this picture. He looked different, more peaceful, and his smile looked more genuine than I’d ever seen it in real life.

I put down the photo, suddenly feeling queasy. The whole day had been overwhelming, and Laura Brogan’s bedroom was probably the last place I wanted to end it in. I turned around to look at her bed, wondering how I felt about having a nap in the same place she slept, but was saved from having to make the decision by a shout from Clementine downstairs.

“Olivia? There’s tea for you down here. And Laura’s home! Come and join us. I’m sure she’d love to meet you.”

I hardly knew the woman and I already hated her. I didn’t understand why she was trying to be friends, and didn’t think she should be expecting me to spend time with her and her daughter. I was only there because my mother was so ill. She shouldn’t have been treating it like some exciting bonding activity. And I’d already told her I just wanted to go to sleep.

My father’s voice joined Clementine’s, calling up to me with a frustrated tone. “Come on, Olivia. Clementine’s making an effort, here. Don’t shut yourself away up there.”

I gasped. Somehow my father’s words had made my general discomfort about the events of the day shift, and I no longer felt sick. Suddenly I just felt pure fury. It wasn’t fair that I’d had to come home to parents who hadn’t even wanted to see me. It wasn’t fair that my mother had hurt herself so I couldn’t stay with her. It wasn’t fair that my father had moved in to his new house, with his new girlfriend and his new daughter, and it wasn’t fair that this new daughter was Laura Brogan. It wasn’t fair that I was expected to just fit in with the mess that everybody else had created, and suddenly I knew that I needed to get out of the house.

I took an unsteady step towards Laura’s door, and then stopped. I didn’t want to see them, any of them. I stood still on the spot for a moment, panicked thoughts skimming through possible solutions to my problem, and then my mind somehow fixed on a memory.

I just want you to know that we do love you. However you’re feeling right now, and however much you think you don’t need us or don’t want us, there will always be a place for you here if you need it. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need my help, or to come and stay if things get hard at home. I promise you’re always welcome.”

I knew where I needed to go, and I needed to go as soon as possible. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and concentrated as hard as I could, knowing that it was stupid, dangerous and illegal to even be trying to do this. None of that mattered to me in this moment, and I sighed with relief as I spun around and felt the world disintegrate around me.

When I came to a stop outside the Madhouse, I was almost overwhelmed by intense pain. I glanced down and winced at the sight of my left arm. Lots of the skin had peeled away, and probably an unhealthy amount of blood was dripping down towards my hands. I clenched my teeth and decided to ignore it. I was lucky not to have splinched myself worse, and at least I’d ended up where I wanted to be. I took a step forward and pressed down on the doorbell.

Nobody answered for a few moments and I stood swaying on the spot, tears prickling the back of my eyes. My arm was throbbing and it was making me feel dizzy. When Jason eventually opened the door I swayed dangerously close to him and he gripped my arms to hold me up. I was vaguely aware of James Potter standing behind him, but I ignored his presence and focussed on my cousin’s worried eyes.

“Liv,” Jason breathed. He looked frightened, maybe. “Fuck. You’re hurt. Let’s get you inside.”

He gently tugged me through the door and turned me round to walk next to him. He kept one arm around me but the walk still felt difficult. James seemed to notice this and took my other arm, and the two boys steered me into the kitchen.

Jason pushed me into a chair by the kitchen table and then turned to James. “I’m going to find Mum. Stay with her.”

James nodded and pulled out the chair beside me. He sat down next to me and put a hand on my uninjured arm. We didn’t speak. I didn’t want to cry, and felt like the tears might be unavoidable if I opened my mouth. It’s not like I would have had much to say to James Potter anyway.

“Olivia,” Aunt Katie said from the door. “God. Hang on. Okay, you’ve splinched. Here, I can fix this. Stay still.”

She knelt down beside me and drew her wand, carefully pointing it at different areas of my injured arm. I watched curiously as my skin seemed to slowly knit itself back together. James let go of me and stood up to stand with Jason while Katie healed my arm.

“Sorry,” I whispered.

Aunt Katie looked confused. “You don’t need to apologise. We’ve all splinched at some point. I wish you hadn’t illegally apparated here, though. I could have come and collected you if you wanted to visit.”

“I’m sorry for being here, for interrupting, I know you don’t want me,” I said, the words bubbling through my lips without me even thinking about them or meaning to speak. “But everything’s fucked up and I didn’t know what to do and I, I don’t know, I didn’t know where to go. And Mum’s in hospital and I couldn’t stay at home and she wasn’t at the station. And then Daphne said she was dead but she wasn’t dead but maybe she will be soon. And I went with Dad but it turns out he lives in the same house as Laura Brogan now. And it all felt wrong and I couldn’t be there and I didn’t know where to go but I knew I had to go somewhere and…”

I paused to catch my breath, searching my scattered thoughts for more words to explain why I’d turned up at her doorstep in a mess. Katie didn’t seem to care about my unexpected appearance, though, and she didn’t seem to be annoyed by my incoherent rambling. She just pulled me into a tight hug and held me close. Her hair smelt nice, like some kind of honeysuckle, and I stopped talking and focussed on breathing instead.

Behind Katie, Jason and James both looked shocked. Jason was watching me in shock, and James looked like he was thinking about something.

“I”ll be right back,” James said.

Jason turned to face James, obviously about to say something, but James disappeared with a loud ‘crack’.

Jason frowned at the empty space his best friend had recently inhabited, but he didn’t seem overly concerned by it. He walked closer to Katie and I and knelt down beside me, taking the hand that James had recently dropped. His hand was warm and rough, and my fingers unintentionally tightened around his.

“I’m not sure what to do,” I confessed. I still hadn’t let myself cry, but I felt completely overwhelmed. Their company was comforting but hadn’t managed to calm me down.

“Let’s not worry about it for now,” Katie said soothingly. “You know you’re always welcome here. We’ll make sure everything’s okay.”

Jason didn’t say anything but he squeezed my hand and I appreciated the gesture.

There was a loud ‘crack’ and I jumped. Katie let go of me to turn around, and looked confused when she saw that James had returned with his brother.

“I thought you might want…” James started to speak, but was cut off by Albus pushing past him.

“Liv,” Al said, reaching out to me. He didn’t say anything else, but somehow he was still exactly who I needed. I stood up and let him hold me close, his fingers splayed out across my back as he gripped onto me with all the security I felt like I needed. I slowly reached up with my own arms, curling them around his neck and letting one hand brush against the back of his neck as I dropped my forehead down onto his chest. And then I finally let the tears start to fall.



Chapter 19: In Which Al Talks
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A/N: The ‘sensitive topic’ warning is definitely applicable to the conversation at the end of this chapter. I hope that it won’t be upsetting, but please read with caution.



Al had some kind of hushed conversation with Katie above my head, using one hand to stroke my hair while they spoke. Usually I might have listened to what they were saying (given that it was almost certainly about me) but my head felt foggy and I thought I’d prefer to focus on how Al’s shoulder felt firm against my forehead. He was warm and steady, and his hold on me didn’t loosen even though it felt as if we’d been stood there for a long time.

“Okay,” Al said quietly, still stroking my hair. “Yeah, I’ll take her up.”

He shifted a little and I gripped onto him, not wanting him to leave me. Everything felt complicated and stressful and I felt like the whole chaotic trauma of it all would come rushing back as soon as he let go.

“It’s alright,” Al murmured into my hair. “I’m not going anywhere. Katie thought you might want to go upstairs so you can rest.”

I scrunched my hands up into the shirt he was wearing and burrowed my face further into his chest. I was vaguely aware that James and Jason were probably watching me fall apart, but in that moment the fact they were there didn’t matter to me.

“Come on. I’m coming with you,” Al said. He carefully manoeuvred me towards the kitchen door, managing to move us both despite my vice-like grasp.

“Let me know if I can do anything to help,” Katie said softly, despite sounding like she felt entirely helpless. She’s the kind of person that always feels obligated to try to make things better. A bit like Al.

When we left the room, Al prised my fingers from his shirt so he could hold onto my hand. I didn’t want him to stop hugging me but decided that the hand holding was probably okay too, so I let him gently tug me towards the stairs.

“Katie says there’s a guest room she keeps set up for you, in case you ever want to stay,” Al told me as we walked. “Do you know which room it is? I think she’s right. You should lie down for a bit. You hardly slept last night and this has all been a lot to take in. We can figure something out after you’ve had a bit of a sleep.”

I nodded. My brain seemed to have stopped working, and in the absence of clear thought I decided it was safest to just trust Al’s choices. He was possibly the best person in the world so it was definitely a sensible choice.

Al peered through several doors before obviously concluding that he’d found the right one and dragging me through it. It was the room I’d slept in on the few occasions my parents had successfully convinced me to spend the night at Katie and Oliver’s and it felt comfortingly familiar. The walls were painted a sunshine yellow and sky blue curtains concealed the french windows out to the balcony. It was probably the architectural equivalent of Aunt Katie’s personality.

“Here. Lie down,” Al said, nodding towards the bed.

I felt a bit stupid lying down in front of Al but couldn’t be bothered to disagree with him. I awkwardly perched on the edge of the bed and then leaned back into the fluffy pillows, my back still rigid. Al watched me for a moment with a thoughtful expression and then bounced down onto the bed next to me.

“You’re an invader of personal space,” I told him, my voice coming out in a jagged whisper.

“A personal space invader,” Al agreed with a grin. He pulled me into him so that his chest was pressed against my back, and then wrapped one arm under my neck and the other around my tummy.

I wriggled against him for a moment, feeling like I should at least put up some vague pretence of not wanting the physical contact, and then relaxed into his arms.

“Sleep,” Al instructed. “I’ll be here whenever you wake up.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” I yawned.

“Whatever,” Al laughed. His breath tickled the back of my neck and I squirmed, making him laugh harder.

I wasn’t sure when exactly I had stopped crying but my face was comfortingly dry. I rested my cheek against the crook at the inside of Al’s elbow and closed my eyes. I could feel his breathe in the movement of his chest more than in the air against my neck, and the even rhythm lulled me into a calm I hadn’t felt since leaving King’s Cross earlier in the day. I knew that at some point it would all come rushing back to me and I’d feel awful again, but for now I was happy to lie still with Albus Potter.

Sleep was disjointed but comforting. I woke several times, once to the sight of Katie standing in the doorway looking anxious with a mug of tea clasped between her hands, but every time I startled awake I was soothed again but Al’s warmth around me. It was easy not to think too deeply or worry too much, and over the course of the night I think I managed to gain back the sleep I’d lost. At some point I must have drifted into a deeper sleep because it was a complete surprise to me when I opened my eyes and found sunlight streaming into the room.

I screwed up my eyes, waiting for them to adjust to the light, and sleepily smiled when I noticed Al still beside me.

“You’re awake,” he told me.

“Yes.”

“How are you feeling?”

He looked strangely concerned, and for a blissful moment I had no idea why. And then it all forced itself back into my head and my breath caught in my throat in a painful rasp. Some of the pain of feeling must have found its way onto my face because Al kept his worried eyes fixed on me as he reached out to stroke my cheek with his thumb. It was only when he touched my skin that I realised I was crying again.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

It was nice that he made it a question; much kinder than ploughing straight into the discussion. His kindness really should have stopped surprising me by now, but maybe it was just hard to get used to.

I shook my head and Al gave a small nod of understanding. Instead of speaking, he pressed both of his hands against the side of my head so he could use his thumbs to brush away the tears. I watched him watch me, and for a moment neither of us moved. It was an odd feeling, keeping eye contact for so long with somebody I was starting to feel I knew really well, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

I could feel my face rearranging itself into a small smile as I looked into his eyes, admiring the tiny flecks of gold and hazel that made him so interesting to draw. Keeping his eyes on mine, he tilted his head closer, so that our noses gently brushed against each other. I waited, wondering if he might come even closer. When he stayed still I decided to take the initiative and leaned further forward to touch my lips against his.

Al’s response was slow but confident. His arm wrapped more closely around my waist as his mouth moved against mine. I put a hand up into his hair and rolled further into him without letting go of the kiss. We’d never been like this before but it somehow still felt familiar. It was warm and tender and kind and I smiled against his lips as I wrapped one leg around his waist.

And then he pulled away from me. The movement was abrupt and unwelcome, and for a moment I tried to continue the kiss but then he turned his face away and I knew it was over.

Heat rushed to my face, boiling my cheeks from the inside, and I rolled onto my side so I could curl up into a ball without looking at him. It had been a stupid idea to kiss him. He’s too cheerful, too sweet, too good to want something like that with me. I bent my knees all the way up to my chin and clutched onto my legs as if making myself as small as possible would mean he couldn’t see me.

“Liv. Don’t hide.” Al’s voice came quietly, cautiously. “Talk to me.”

I screwed myself up into a tighter ball.

“Please,” Al said. “Don’t ignore me. How can I look after you if you’re not speaking to me?”

He rested a hand on my shoulder. I shook him off but slowly unfurled myself so I could look at him. He looked strangely worried. I wasn’t sure why.

“Are you angry with me?” Al propped himself up on one arm as he spoke.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Why are you sorry? You’ve done nothing wrong.”

“I’m embarrassed,” I muttered. “I should have realised you wouldn’t want that. I’m sorry.”

I tried to turn my face against my pillow but Al caught my chin and stopped me.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” he breathed.

I rolled my eyes and shifted backwards so that his hand dropped from my face. I knew he probably felt guilty for making me sad, but it wasn’t his job to try to fix it. He was too nice.

“Honestly, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for,” Al continued.

“But you didn’t want...to be like that with me. I shouldn’t have…”

“Be like what with you? Kiss you?” Al cut across me. “Liv, of course I want to be like that with you. I want it more than I’ve wanted anything for a long time.”

I frowned at him. “But then...why…”

Al sighed and slid an arm under my back to hug me again. “I’d love to keep kissing you. Really, I would, and it was bloody hard to stop. But I don’t want it to be like this.”

“Like what?” I could feel my cheeks starting to flush again.

“Liv, I’m here because you were so upset yesterday that you splinched yourself illegally apparating here. You’ve had a really traumatising time and right now what you need me to be is your friend. It’s not right for me to take advantage of you when you’re feeling like this.”

I stiffened. “What if I don’t want you to just be your friend? You’re not taking advantage of me if I want it too.”

Do you want it too?” Al looked unsure. “Because this is the first time you’ve really acted like you do. Would you be feeling like this if you hadn’t had such a shock yesterday?”

I contemplated his words. I’d never really thought about what I wanted from Al, but now that we’d had the kiss I couldn’t imagine not wanting more.

“I want you,” I said. “Whether or not I’m sad. And my being sad shouldn’t make a difference to you anyway. You shouldn’t get to decide what’s best for me.”

He looked thoughtful. “That’s true. I don’t want to seem like I’m telling you how you should live your life. That isn’t what I meant to do at all. I just...if we’re going to do this I want it to be good, you know? I don’t want to risk losing what we have because we tried to take it further when you weren’t ready.”

“Why do you get to decide I’m not ready, though?”

“I don’t. I promise that’s not what I meant. But you’re sad, Liv. You’re sad and I want to help make that better for you, and I just would rather wait until you’re back to being happy before making a choice like this, just in case you feel differently when everything else is a bit happier.”

“Okay.” I snuggled back against him. “Okay, but I won’t feel any differently.”

“I hope you don’t,” he said. He kissed my forehead with a gentle, barely there sort of a kiss. I smiled.

Aunt Katie knocked at the door and then poked her head round to tell us that breakfast was ready if we wanted it. We were both still in our clothes from the previous day and had nothing to change into, so we got up straight away to join my family downstairs in the kitchen.

Oliver was standing by the hob with a flowery apron tied around his waist. He was cooking pancakes and then levitating them from the hob to the table. I wasn’t used to seeing him in a domestic role - he was usually at work when I was round, and christmas dinner was always Katie’s domain - but he looked like he was enjoying it.

James and Jason were sat next to each other at the table. James had his head against Jason’s shoulder and his eyes were closed but he was managing to eat his pancakes so obviously wasn’t actually asleep. Jason gave us a bleary eyed grin and a small wave as we entered the room. I decided that Katie had probably woken them both up. Neither of them looked at all ready to be awake.

“I thought you would have gone home,” Al said, sitting down opposite the other boys and leaning forward to poke his brother.

James opened his eyes and shrugged. “Jace promised he’d be big spoon if I stayed round. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Al laughed and took James’s plate, helping himself to the pancake he had been eating. James pulled a face but didn’t complain.

Katie pulled the chair next to Al out from the table and gestured to me to sit down.

“What would you like to eat? Pancakes? Oliver’s burning most of them but hopefully he’ll manage a good one soon,” Katie smiled. “Or there are yoghurts on the table.”

She didn’t wait for me to respond before carrying on talking. She obviously felt worried about what she was saying but thought it was important, and the breakfast offer must have been a flustered attempt to make it sound like normal everyday conversation.

“I got up early this morning and went round to Andrew’s, I mean, to your dad’s. I thought you’d want your things and might not be in a rush to go back there,” she said, looking nervous.

“Oh. Thank you.” I’d completely forgotten that I’d left my trunk and Dad’s, so it hadn’t occurred to me to worry about how to get it back. It was kind of her to think of it.

“It’s no problem. You could have borrowed clothes, I suppose, but I thought it would help you feel a little more comfortable here to have your own things,” Katie said. “Anyway, I’ll take them up to your room now. Just give me a call if you think of anything you need.”

She squeezed my shoulder as she walked past me and I felt unusually grateful for it. Everything about Katie was kind, and I was really relieved that I’d been able to stay with her.

I took the seat next to Al and picked up a yoghurt from the middle of the table. I wasn’t sure how I felt about eating but it seemed like a safe place to start. I peeled off the lid and then looked up to see James and Jason both looking at me, obviously concerned.

“I’m fine,” I told them. I picked up a spoon and ate a tentative mouthful of yoghurt. It was strawberry flavour, and reminded me of breakfast at Hogwarts.

“You’re fine?” Jason repeated.

“Yep.”

“Okay,” he sighed. “We don’t need to talk about it if you don’t want to. Do you guys have plans today? James suggested playing some Quidditch if you’re free?”

I nodded. Quidditch with the Gryffindors sounded strangely appealing. James Potter was a fantastic chaser and I was kind of intrigued by the prospect of playing with him when we weren’t in competition.

“Great,” James said with a grin. “I can get some of my cousins round to make up the teams. Reckon we can get by with two chasers and one beater on each team?”

“Yeah. Dad will play keeper, won’t you Dad?” Jason called over to Oliver.

Oliver burned his hand in his rush to turn around and swore before nodding eagerly.

“Brilliant,” James said. “Liv, be on my team? You always fly so well, I want you on my team. And then Roxy will be up for it. And Lily. And then Freddie and Uncle George will be keen for beater if they’re around. Who plays seeker apart from Al? We need another one. I could ask Dad?”

Jason nodded. “Yeah, or Lysander might be around?”

“Nah, his parents have dragged him off on one of their weird expeditions. He’s never free in the holidays. Al, have you got any suggestions?” James turned to his brother.

“I don’t know,” Al said. “Liv, can we talk outside for a minute?”

I frowned at him. He looked confused and I wasn’t sure why, so I nodded and followed him out of the room.

“We can go in the garden, if you want?” I suggested. “It’s pretty out there.”

We walked outside and sat down on the swings near the broom shed. It was one of the few places I’d actually enjoyed spending time with Jason as kids, and it was nice to be back there.

“What’s up?” I asked, swinging gently but keeping my toes on the floor.

“Do you really want to play Quidditch today?” Al looked straight into my eyes.

“Sure. I love Quidditch.”

“But don’t you think you might want to be somewhere else?” He spoke quietly, obviously finding something about the discussion awkward.

“Like where? I’ve got nowhere to go.” I kicked off from the ground so I could swing a bit higher. A breeze brushed my hair back from my face and I tilted my head back to enjoy it. It felt like it was probably about to rain but for now it was wonderful.

“Okay, I’m just going to say it. I thought,” Al said, and then paused as if trying to work out how to say something. “...I thought you might want to go and visit your mum.”

I slammed my feet down onto the ground to stop the movement of my swing, and turned my body to face him.


“What?”

“Well, she’s in hospital, isn’t she?” Al was looking down at the floor. “Do you not want to visit her?”

“Why would you think I’d want to do that?” The wind had picked up now, and my hair was blowing back even though i was staying still.

“I’m sorry,” Al said quietly. “I just...I couldn’t imagine not wanting to see my mum if she was in hospital. I didn’t mean to be telling you what to do again.”

He looked dejected and I found myself wanting to make him feel better. Something had changed inside me and it suddenly felt like I had a responsibility to keep other people happy. To keep Al happy. I didn’t like it when he wasn’t smiling.

“No, don’t be sorry,” I said. “You’re being kind. I, um, well, I can’t really imagine going to see her today. That’s all. I don’t know how I could do it.”

“Why’s that?” Al looked reassured by my honesty, and it made me feel like talking to him properly was the right thing to do.

“Because she overdosed, Al.”

“Yeah.” He managed not to look like the conversation was making him uncomfortable. “Yeah, she did. And I’m sure it’ll be hard for you. But I can come with you if that helps.”

“It looked like she did it on purpose,” I said, not sure he was understanding what I was saying.

Al didn’t say anything but he reached out and took my hand, waiting for me to keep talking.

“Al, what if she did it on purpose?” My voice cracked but I managed not to cry. “What if she wanted to die? What if she wanted to leave me?”

He squeezed my hand. I squeezed back.

“How can I go and visit her, knowing that she might have deliberately tried to leave me?” I whispered.

Al didn’t reply for a moment and I wondered whether I needed to repeat myself. It was windy now and it was possible that my quiet confession hadn’t been audible. But then Al sighed and I realised he had just been trying to determine his words.

“If she did do this on purpose then you have to understand that it doesn’t mean she wanted to leave you.” He wove his fingers through mine so that our hands were linked more tightly.

“How did you work that out?”

“Because it’s true,” he said. “People that hurt themselves...they’re ill, Liv, and they need support so that they can start to feel better. If she really did do it on purpose then yeah, maybe in that moment she might have felt like she wanted to end it all. But if that’s the case it’s because she’s really struggling at the moment. It doesn’t affect how much she loves you.”

“But if she loves me I don’t understand why she’d try to leave me alone,” I said. “It doesn’t make sense.” I tried to keep my mouth in a half smile but my lower lip wobbled dangerously and I had to bite down on it to make sure I didn’t cry. I felt like I’d probably done enough crying.

“No, it doesn’t make sense,” Al agreed. “But lots of things don’t make sense when people are struggling with their mental health. These kinds of problems just aren’t rational, and it might be that your mum’s finding it difficult to think clearly right now.”

“Maybe,” I said, unconvinced.

“And surely that’s a good reason to go and see her?” Al suggested. “Just for a little bit, so that you can be there for her while she tries to figure this out. And I promise I’ll be here for you while you do that.”

“Maybe,” I said again. “How do you know all these things?”

“What things?”

“About mental health,” I frowned. He seemed very sure of what he was saying, and I didn’t understand how he could have such a different outlook to my own.

“Oh,” he said, chewing the inside of his cheek. “Erm, I guess it’s something I’ve had some experience of.”

It was starting to rain but neither of us made any move to go inside.

“You’ve had mental health problems?” I was surprised. Al always seemed so...whole. And happy.

“No, not really. Not me,” he said, shaking his head. “No. But a good friend of mine has suffered a lot over the last few years. And it’s hard to watch her suffering.”

“Is she....like Mum?”

“Maybe. I don’t know your mum very well. This girl, my friend, she...it’s hard to explain. She used to be so full of joy all the time. Like, probably the first thing you’d say about her is that she was cheerful. And it meant she was kind and fun and everyone she knew just loved her. But something deep down obviously wasn’t quite right, and after a long time I started to realise that underneath all the smiles she was really tearing herself apart.”

I thought about Mum’s tendency to brush everything aside and try to pretend it was fine, to call my dad’s cheating on her a ‘situation’, and to keep putting on her horrible lipstick even though nobody was going to see it. But then other days she made it so obvious that everything was wrong and cried for no reason and made a huge fuss out of nothing. She didn’t really sound like the girl Al was describing.

“And it took me too long to realise it, but she was hurting herself, a lot,” Al continued. “And she started to get more and more anxious, and harder and harder to be around. Occasionally she’d be the same way she used to be, you know, all smiles and fun, and it would be great. But then suddenly she’d shift into this other person and curl up and cry and it would be impossible to get through to her. And she stopped eating properly, and started to be snappy and cross and sometimes kind of mean. And it was just really...difficult.”

He paused. There were tears pooling in the corners of his eyes. I stroked his hand and he gave me a small smile.

“I mean, at this point everyone had realised something was wrong, and lots of us were trying to help her. Her mum took her to all these specialist psychologists, but she didn’t want to talk to them so there was only so much they could do. And in the mean time she just kept getting worse. Until one day she decided she didn’t want to do it anymore...and, well, she was home alone and found some of her mum’s prescription medicine.”

“She killed herself?” I realised I sounded blunt and tactless, but I was somehow simultaneously horrified and enthralled by his story.

“She tried.” He swallowed. “Her mum got home and managed to get her to hospital in time. I visited her in there. It was awful. She was still so distressed, and it was horrible seeing how sad she was and not being able to change it. But I’m glad she at least knew that I was there for her if she wanted me, even though I couldn’t fix the problem. I still don’t think she’s really back to normal, even though she’s started to act a bit more like her old self. I really wish I could help her more.”

“But you wouldn’t be able to. Nobody could,” I said. “Lots of the time all you can do is try to support somebody. You can’t fix their problems for them.”

“I know. But it’s kind of hard to accept that sometimes.”

I nodded. “I know. But I’m sure she appreciates what you’ve done for her, even if she is still finding it all difficult.”

“I hope so.” Al gave me a smile that didn’t look very genuine.

“How do you know her? Is she at Hogwarts?” I asked, suddenly scared that he might be talking about somebody I knew: Rose, or maybe one of his other cousins.

He shook his head quickly. “No. My parents sent me to muggle primary school and I met her there. We still see each other lots in the holidays.”

It was raining more heavily now, and my hair was starting to feel heavy with water. We stayed out on the swings even though the ground at our feet was getting muddy. Raindrops landed on our clasped hands and I shifted my fingers to squash the water between our skins.

“Al?” I said after a contemplative silence.

“Mmm?” He still looked lost in thought.

“I think maybe tomorrow I’d like to go and see Mum. I would really appreciate it if you could come with me, if that would be okay.” I didn’t want to ask too much of him, but he had offered to come earlier on, and it didn’t feel like something I was able to face on my own.

“Of course.” Al turned to look at me again. He didn’t look happy, exactly, but I thought his expression could be described as hopeful.

“But maybe today we could play Quidditch with the others? When it stops raining, I mean. I don’t usually get to play much in the holidays.”

Al grinned and stood up, pulling my hand to bring me up with him. He put his arms around me and I wrapped my own arms around his waist. Our clothes were damp but neither of us minded, and we stood there for a long time, tangled up in each other while the rain poured down around us.









Chapter 20: In Which It Keeps Raining
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Oliver threw his broom across the garden and then lay down in the mud in a strop. Jason skidded to the floor next to his father, unable to speak through his laughter.

“I still think you cheated,” Oliver said sulkily.

“They didn’t cheat, Oliver,” Harry Potter laughed. “They just have a bit of an age advantage.”

I still couldn’t quite believe I’d been playing Quidditch with Harry Potter. James had convinced him that he wanted to join in with the game and he’d happily joined us for the morning, eager to see some more of his children, who still hadn’t returned home from Puddlemere.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Oliver rolled onto one side, getting mud in his hair.

“Means we’re getting old,” Harry sighed.

Oliver stuck his tongue out and didn’t reply. Jason was still laughing but had managed to catch his breath a bit.

“Anyway, I have to get going. Work calls, I’m afraid,” Harry said, pulling a face.

Most of the reinforcements James and Jason had tracked down to complete the Quidditch teams nodded and agreed that the time had come to leave. Lily Potter gave me a cheery wave before leaving with her father, which took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure I’d actually ever spoken to her. Al’s cousin Roxanne gave James a big hug and took her girlfriend’s hand to apparate away.

“Don’t suppose you’d be up for a rematch?” Oliver sat up, looking hopeful.

“Dad, you’ve just lost the majority of your team,” Jason rolled his eyes. “And James and I were going to meet some people in Diagon Alley this afternoon anyway.”

Oliver looked hopefully at Al and me, although I wasn’t sure what exactly he expected us to offer. A three person Quidditch game was hardly going to be much fun.

“Would love to, but there’s actually somewhere Liv and I need to be,” Al said apologetically.

Oliver groaned and rolled over on the ground so his face was against the mud. Jason and James knelt down either side of him, murmuring words of concern. The huge grins pasted to their faces showed the falsity of their sympathy, but Oliver was soon laughing and pulling his son down into the mud beside him.

“We should get going, Liv,” Al told me, checking the time. “Visiting hours end quite early on Sundays.”

After taking some time to shower and rummage through my chaotically packed trunk for a respectable dress to wear to see my mother, I met Al by the door to leave for St Mungo’s. It was raining again and we stood in the doorway for a while, unwilling to step outside.

“You can’t apparate, right?” Al checked with me, reaching out to hold me hand.

I shook my head. “Still sixteen. Hence the splinching last night. Can you?”

“Yeah. My birthday was before christmas so I took the test at the Ministry in the holidays. I can take you by side-along?”

When I nodded, he gripped my hand harder and closed his eyes to concentrate. I was sort of surprised that I trusted him to take me somewhere by side-along apparition, but maybe I just trusted him with anything by this point. I winced as we were sucked into a narrow tube of air, but Al’s hand stayed warm against mine and I didn’t fall when we landed in the lobby of St Mungo’s.

I hadn’t been to St Mungo’s many times, and when I had visited it had never really been for anything serious. Last year when Oliver had a quidditch accident I’d had permission to leave school to visit, but I’d spent most of the time sitting in the cafe eating jelly with Jason. We’d known he was going to make a full recovery so I hadn’t really noticed the disconcerting, unstable atmosphere in the hospital. I hadn’t payed attention to the Healers gathered in corners, whispering anxiously and fading into silence as visitors passed them, and I hadn’t noticed the swathes of lost looking people, wandering the corridors in obvious distress.

This was the first time I’d really recognised the intense sadness in the wizarding hospital, and I gripped Al’s hand more tightly as he asked the receptionist where he could find Pansy Bell.

“Are you family?” The welcome wizard was a spotty boy who looked hardly older than us and was chewing gum as he spoke. He looked me up and down in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, and I felt Al tense slightly beside me.

“I’m her daughter,” I said quietly.

The boy nodded and didn’t take his eyes off me. Al put an arm around my shoulders.

“Right. Third floor. She’s in the McKinnon ward,” the boy said. He smacked his lips as he chewed his gum. I looked away.

“Thanks,” Al said.

Still holding hands, we walked away from the welcome wizard. There was a long queue for the lift so we turned and started to climb the stairs. The third floor wasn’t too high up in the building but I was aware that I was deliberately dragging my feet in an attempt to delay our arrival. Al must have realised what I was doing but he didn’t mention my slow pace until I came to a complete stop outside the door to the third floor.

“Liv,” he said quietly.

I shook my head. I wasn’t really sure what was going on in my body that had made me stop walking. I didn’t feel the same kind of devastated confusion I’d been struggling with the previous day and I’d been sure that visiting my mother was a good idea. Something about it suddenly felt too difficult.

“Do I have to do it?” I asked Al.

My voice was quiet and pathetically desperate. I knew it wasn’t Al’s job to tell me what I should do but I somehow wanted the responsibility to lie with somebody other than myself.

Al shrugged. “Of course not. You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“But you think I should see her.”

“If I was in your position I know that I’d want to see her,” Al said. “But I can’t tell you what’s best for you. And I’m not going to make you do anything if it’s upsetting you. I just want you to feel better.”

I didn’t reply. I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Do you want to go back? I can take you back,” Al said, sounding nervous. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have suggested we came. It should have been your choice. I…”

“Shush, Al,” I said, managing to laugh at his nervousness. “It’s fine. I just needed to put my thoughts back together for a minute. I’m alright. I can do this.”

“You sure?” He looked relieved but uncertain.

I nodded. “Yeah, I need to do this. Come in with me?”

“Of course.”

I pushed open the door in front of us and took a step through. The third floor of the hospital was for Potions and Plant Poisoning, and lots of the patients we walked past were almost comical, wandering around in fits of uncontrollable giggles, or smiling dazed smiles as they crawled along the floor. I ignored them, knowing that the story behind the closed doors in the corridor would be very different. Plant poisons could be entertaining, but they were more often very dangerous, and potions could be even worse. I took Al’s hand again as we walked to the end of the corridor and found the McKinnon ward for self-inflicted potion abuse.

As we reached the door to the ward I was aware of Al glancing at me but I didn’t make eye contact and didn’t hesitate to enter the ward. A smiling Healer greeted us almost as soon as we entered the room.

“Can I help you? I’m Healer Robins. You must be here to visit someone?” Her eyes flickered from me to Al and widened with recognition but she didn’t acknowledge that she knew exactly who he was. I liked her.

“Erm, we’re here to see my mum. Pansy Parkinson? She came in yesterday,” I mumbled.

“Oh, yes. She’s in the bed at the end. I think she’s sleeping at the moment, but you’re very welcome to go and see her, of course,” Robins said with another smile. “Let me know if there’s anything I can get for you.”

My feet started to carry me towards the bed before my brain had really caught up with the words Robins had said. Al thanked her and then walked with me.

The bed Robins had indicated was surrounded by a thin, mint green curtain, hanging from a wobbly rail near the ceiling. I edged around the curtain rather than opening it. For a moment, Al stayed where he was. I reached back and pulled him through with me, unwilling to go through this encounter alone.

My breath caught in my throat at the sight of my mother in the bed in front of me. She looked achingly familiar at the same time as seeming frighteningly different. Her eyes were closed but her eyelids were strangely translucent. Her skin looked doughy across her face, and then papery and dry around her hairline. She was tiny in the bed. She’d lost weight since I’d seen her in Hogsmeade.

I stepped closer to the bed and then tentatively perched on the edge of the mattress and put my hand over Mum’s. Her skin was cold against mine and I wanted to draw away, but then her fingers curled against mine and she held onto me. I glanced back to her face and forced a smile when I realised her eyes had opened.

“Olivia.” Her voice was weak, trembling, but still she sounded like herself.

“Hey, Mum,” I murmured. “How are you feeling?”

“Oh, I’m alright. The Healers say I just need a few weeks of rest here when they can take care of me, and then I shouldn’t do anything strenuous for a while after that. Daphne’s suggested that we holiday somewhere warm once I’m out of hospital, so that will be lovely. I’ll have to buy a new swimming costume.” She was smiling as she spoke but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

I shifted uncomfortably on the mattress, still holding onto her hand even though I wanted to get back up. It didn’t surprise me that she was avoiding properly talking about what had happened but the fact I’d expected it didn’t make it much easier to hear.

She kept speaking, seeming not to mind that I hadn’t responded.

“Daphne’s suggested Barcelona. I’m looking forward to a few weeks of sangria in sunny squares, and relaxing on the beach. It’s a shame you’ll be back at school and won’t be able to join us.”

“Yeah, that’s a shame.” A holiday with Daphne and my mother sounded awful, but there didn’t seem to be any point in being unkind to her, not when she was so unwell. I resigned myself to simply saying what I knew she’d want to hear.

“How is school? I’ve not heard from you for so long. How’s Scorpius?” Mum looked genuinely interested.

“Um, he’s okay. Stressed about Quidditch but he’s having a nice time.” I avoided looking at Al, knowing that he’d be puzzled by my not mentioning that Scorpius and I weren’t speaking. He’d met my mother before but wouldn’t understand how much easier it was to avoid speaking honestly to her. Cassie or Scor would have immediately recognised what I was doing and probably could have joined in with the conversation to take some of the pressure off me.

“That’s good. You should hold on to him, Olivia. He’s a lovely boy. And so handsome. You’re very lucky to have a Malfoy in your life.” Her fingers momentarily tightened around mine, feeling stronger than they had before.

I made a mumbling sound of agreement, hoping that she’d change the subject quickly. I’d never liked talking to Mum about Scorpius. She was so convinced that we ought to end up married that it had always been difficult to convey our actual relationship. It was much harder now that there wasn’t any relationship at all to talk about.

“I’m actually very tired, sweetheart,” Mum said, her smile fading. “I hate to have to ask you to leave, but…”

“Oh.” I let go of her hand and sat up straighter. “Oh, of course. That’s fine. I just...I wanted to see you, after what happened. But yeah, you should definitely get some sleep if you need to.”

“It was lovely of you to come and visit,” she said sleepily.

“I’m your daughter.” My voice was hardly even a whisper but I knew she could hear me.

“Yes. Thank you, sweetheart. Now, you go and enjoy your holidays with your friends. Send my love to Scorpius.” She rolled her head to one side. The movement seemed strange, more free than her motions usually were, but in a way that was disconcerting rather than reassuring.

I stood up and took a few steps across the room, ending up closer to Al. He stepped forward and put a hand on my shoulder. The gesture was comforting without suggesting anything more and I was grateful for it.

“Bye, Mummy,” I called back as we started to leave the room.

Her eyes were tightly closed so I didn’t expect her to reply, but she called my name and I paused to hear what she wanted to say.

“You should get some new conditioner, sweetheart, at least before you go back to school. The ends of your hair are looking dry.”

“Oh. Um, sure. I’ll do that.”

“You’re so pretty. You’ll never be prettier than you are now. Make the most of it.” Her voice was faint again. “Enjoy your holidays, and school.”

It was a fairly unsubtle invitation not to visit again and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but I knew she wasn’t trying to be unkind.

“Bye, Mum.”

We left the hospital without speaking to each other. I knew Al well enough to realise that he wouldn’t think any less of me after witnessing the visit but I also knew him well enough to realise that he’d be worried about me. He’d wanted me to see my mother to get some closure, or to learn more about how she’d ended up there. Her rushed small talk hadn’t exactly changed anything.

The welcome wizard gave us a small nod as we left. I didn’t smile back but Al gave him a wave before taking my hands to apparate us back to puddlemere. I closed my eyes as he spun round, not wanting to witness the hospital dissolve into space around us, and focussed on the feel of his hands in mine.

When we shuddered to a halt in the pathway outside the Madhouse, we were both immediately drenched. I’d forgotten that it had been raining when we left, and now the rain had grown heavier. We were lucky it had stayed dry for Quidditch. The ground around our feet was thick with mud and it was the kind of rain that found its way into crevices of my skin, dripping into my ears and around the corners of my eyes so that I felt like I could be crying.

“We should get inside. This is horrible,” Al laughed, shaking his head so that water droplets spilled out of it.

He took a step forward but I grabbed his arm to hold him back.

“Al…”

He looked back at me. “You okay?”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

“For what?”

“For being there today. For getting me to go. Thank you.” I pushed my sodden hair back behind one ear. It was a nervous motion, something to do while I waited for his response.

“You don’t need to thank me. I didn’t really do anything.”

“You got me to visit, though. And you were right. I do feel better.”

“Yeah? I was worried you wouldn’t. I’m sorry you didn’t really get a chance to talk to her about what happened.”

“No, it was fine. It was great, actually. I just needed to see that she’s still herself, I think. I was worried she’d be different. And now that I’ve seen her it feels like it’s going to be okay, you know? I feel calmer.”

I smiled at him through the rain and he smiled back.

“I’m glad,” he smiled.

We stood there for a few moments, ignoring the water soaking through our clothes and running down our skins. Both of us were still smiling which was probably a bit silly because nothing had really changed, but it somehow felt like things were different. I was feeling more positive, more hopeful. And it was because of Al.

I put my arms up and he came forward so I could put them around his neck. I pressed my forehead against his chin for a moment, my ear against his collarbone. I could feel his heart beating against my chest and everything about him felt warm, comforting, alive. I wanted to tilt my head upwards but wasn’t sure how, and then it didn’t matter because he’d lifted one hand to my chin and moved it for me.

The kiss was gentle and sweet. It felt different to the kiss yesterday, when I’d been so overwhelmed by everything that I’d just wanted to feel something. This time I focussed on Al, on the feel of his skin, and the comfort of his arm around my lower back. It didn’t last long but it was perfect, and when we broke apart both our smiles were even wider than they’d been before.

“It’s getting cold. We should go inside,” I said.

“Yeah.” He brushed another quick, chaste kiss onto my lips, and then we walked together down the path and rang the doorbell.

Jason answered. He was still wearing the tracksuit bottoms he’d worn for Quidditch earlier, but had taken off his shirt. He had a bruise on his collarbone from Al’s cousin Freddie catching him with a well aimed bludger, and he kept reaching up to anxiously rub the bruise. He looked worried, somehow, and not all that happy to see us.

“You alright, Jace?” Al had obviously noticed his discomfort.

“Yeah, yeah,” Jason nodded. “It’s just...Liv, you’ve got a visitor. I told him I wasn’t sure you’d want to see him, but he wanted to wait for you”

My father. I’d known he’d turn up at some point. Katie would have let him know that I was safe and with her, and he was obviously going to want to know what was going on. I wasn’t sure I was ready to see him right that moment though.

“Oh, um, where is he?”

Jason gestured towards the kitchen, and followed me down the corridor beside Al. It felt safe having them there. Not for the first time, I was struck by how much everything had changed since christmas. The fact I had Jason Wood and Albus Potter either side of me to make sure I was okay wasn’t really something I could have predicted, but I liked the way it made me feel.

I stepped into the kitchen and then immediately stopped in the doorway. I understood why Jason hadn’t been sure I’d want to see my visitor. The boy standing by the sink was not somebody I’d expected to see.

“Ollie.” Scor’s voice was warm, warmer than it had been in a long time, and he took a step towards me. “Merlin, Ollie. I don’t even know what to say.”

He was fidgeting, constantly moving his hands, twisting his fingers and turning the ring on his thumb. He looked tired but his eyes were kind and he seemed closer to my Scorpius, the Scorpius I’d always known, than to the cruel person he’d been recently.

“Aunt Daphne visited today,” he continued. “And, well, she told me what happened. And I didn’t know what to do. I had to see you. I...Ollie, I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” I was surprised by the steadiness of my voice. It didn’t match the churning in my stomach when I looked at him.

“Sorry about your mum, about everything with your parents. Sorry that you can’t stay at home. Sorry that Daphne was so unhelpful. Sorry that...well, mostly I’m sorry that you haven’t been able to talk to me about it.” He reached up to his head, tucking his fingers into his hair in the way he always did when he was nervous. “I’m so sorry, Ollie. I’ve been such a bad friend. I’m so sorry.”

He watched me with desperate eyes, clearly unsure what else to say. My mouth curved into a smile without me meaning to do it, and I took a step forward. He grabbed me and held onto me, and when his cheek touched mine I could feel it was wet with tears. It was this more than anything that made me want to accept the apology. Scorpius Malfoy didn’t cry, at least not in front of people, and definitely not in front of Albus Potter. I returned his hug.

“I’m so sorry,” Scor said again. “I love you so much. I’m so sorry. I’ve really missed you. I’m sorry.”

I kissed his cheek. He was still mumbling apologies.

“Scor,” I stopped him talking. “Scor, it’s okay. It’s alright.”

“I love you,” he repeated.

“I love you too.” I kissed his cheek again and then pulled back from him. His eyes were red but he was smiling and he squeezed my arm before letting go of me.

As I stepped back, Al took a step forward and put an arm around me. I leaned into him and nuzzled his shoulder for a second. Scor’s eyes widened.

“So, erm…” Scor gestured towards Al and me. “This is how it is, then?”

I smiled. “Be nice, Scor. I kind of like him.”

Scor nodded. He looked determinedly at Al and then raised a hand.

“I don’t think we’ve ever properly been introduced,” he said.

The formality in his words nearly made me laugh, but it showed that he was taking it seriously so I held back.

“I’m Scorpius Malfoy. Ollie’s best friend...well…” He looked back at me, suddenly nervous again. “Well, I’m…”

“My best friend,” I agreed. Scor looked grateful.

Al watched me for a moment, his expression blank. I met his gaze and gave him a small shrug. Al turned to Scorpius and took the hand he’d been offered.

“Albus Potter. Nice to meet you.”


Chapter 21: In Which There Isn't That Much Hope
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I spent the rest of the holidays at the Madhouse with Aunt Katie, Uncle Oliver, the Moron and their steady stream of visiting family friends. Scor had tentatively suggested that I move my things to Malfoy Manor to stay with him, but I thought it was better to take our rekindled friendship slowly. We both needed some space while we figured out how to slot back into each other’s worlds. Besides, I liked that I was staying somewhere Al felt comfortable visiting.

The rest of the break passed quickly and in a surprising sense of calm. I sat on the swings outside with Al when he came round, our fingers linked together as we talked about anything and everything. Jason practiced Quidditch moves with me, gently encouraging as I twirled in the air, attempting Gryffindor moves that were unlike my usual flying style. He was strangely supportive, given that I was technically the competition, but he always insisted we returned to the ground as soon as Scor turned up. Letting the Slytherin captain see his moves was obviously a step too far.

As long as I didn’t think too much about my parents, I felt strangely okay. I visited my mother two more times, once with Al and once with Scor. Nothing changed. She was awake and smiling, chatting blithely about holiday plans and beauty regimes. Neither of us talked about what had happened but I’d decided that it was maybe better that way. I had other people to talk to when I needed to.

I didn’t speak to my father at all. He did turn up to Puddlemere once, banging on the door and calling my name while we ate our breakfast. I froze in my seat. Aunt Katie glanced over at me and then calmly stood up and walked quietly out of the room. We all strained our ears to hear the whispered argument going on in the corridor, and jumped as the front door slammed. Katie came back to the breakfast table without mentioning the fact she’d just kicked her younger brother out of her house, and Jason squeezed my hand under the table.

The day before we returned to Hogwarts, the doorbell rang while I was outside flying with Jason. Everyone else was out, so I lowered myself towards the ground.

“Leave it. Nobody important rings the bell,” Jason said. He flopped sideways off his broom with his legs bent over the wood so that he dangled upside down beneath it.

“That’s very obviously not true.” I rolled my eyes. “I’ll get it.”

Jason tensed and pulled his body back up to sit on the broom. He didn’t bother holding onto it properly once he was sat up, instead using his hands to mess up his hair.

“Fine. Come back and fly after?”

“Sure.”

I dropped my broom on the ground and wandered through the house to the front door. I liked how comfortable I now felt there. It was a happy place to be.

“Ollie,” Scor said as soon as I opened the door. He lifted one arm to hug me and then looked unsure and lowered it back to his side. We were still trying to figure out our friendship. After all the horrible encounters since christmas it was hard to go straight back to the way we’d been before.

“Hi. You okay? I’m flying with Jace, if you want to join.” I smiled more widely than I needed to, trying to emphasise that he was welcome and I was happy to see him. It was strange seeing him uncomfortable around me.

“Oh. I should have realised you’d be busy. Erm, don’t worry. I’ll just see you on the train tomorrow?” He took a step back.

“Don’t be silly, Scor. Come in.”

He stayed on the doorstep.

“Scor? Seriously, come in. What’s wrong?” I wasn’t sure what to say.

He sighed. “It’s nothing, don’t worry. I just, there’s somewhere I thought I should go, before we go back to school, you know? I think I’ll regret it if i don’t go. I need to at least ask if he knows anything. I thought you might want to join. You know him better than I do. And he’s the closest link we’ve got to her, right? I don’t know. But you’re busy. Don’t worry about it.”

I took a deep breath, feeling like an idiot. Of course there was somewhere he needed to go. Somewhere we needed to go. I couldn’t believe I’d been self centered enough not to think of it myself.

“Don’t be silly, Scor. Obviously I’m coming with you. Just let me grab my coat.”




Diagon Alley was busy. It was the last day of the holidays and flustered mothers were dragging their school-age children around the shops, replenishing supplies and getting robes altered. I linked my arm through Scor’s as we zigzagged through the crowds. Neither of us spoke. It was hard to know what we’d say.

We both paused outside the flat, frowning at the shiny black door. The building felt achingly familiar but horribly difficult to enter. I jumped when Scorpius lifted a finger and pressed the bell.

Andreas’s voice came from somewhere inside, muffled but audible. “Fuck. Babe, can you get it? I can’t find my shirt.”

Scor frowned at me and I shrugged. A strange bump sounded from the other side of the door, followed by footsteps. We both took a step back as the door opened.

“Hey. Sorry. Andy will be out in a sec...Olivia?”

Martin Flint stood just inside the door. He somehow looked different from the boy I’d met at New Year. His hair was a bit longer and flopped over his forehead. He was wearing a striped shirt but hadn’t matched the buttons up when he’d put it on, so one side dangled lower than the other. A circular mark that looked like it had been made by someone’s teeth stained the side of his neck.

“Erm, hey. Can’t say I expected to see you.” He bit his lip, looking amused but maybe a little bit worried at the same time.

“Martin Flint, right?” Scor frowned. “Didn’t we meet you at New Year? You’re the creep that wouldn’t leave Ollie alone.”

Martin winced. “Not my finest moment.”

“What are you doing here?”

Martin tipped his head from one side to another, humming as he tried to think of an answer. He was saved the trouble of replying by Andreas’s voice from inside.

“Sorry about that. Who was it? Are you coming back to bed?”

“Erm, no,” Martin called. “They’re still here. You might want to come out.”

Scor’s eyebrows lifted and he looked at me with a smirk. A startled giggle escaped through my lips. I lifted a hand to my mouth, trying to conceal my laughter, but Martin’s sharp intake of breath showed that it was pointless.

“Sorry,” I muttered, managing to suppress my laughter. “Sorry. I just...you and Andreas? I didn’t see that coming.”

“Understandably,” Andreas said, stepping around Martin to see us. “Ollie. Scorp. Hi. It’s good to see you.”

He put his arms out and pulled me into a quick hug. When I stepped back, he reached out to shake Scor’s hand.

“Last day of the holidays, right?. I guess I should have expected to see you two at some point. Come in.”

We followed him through to the cramped living room, none of us speaking. A lump had materialised in my throat, making it hard to swallow. I felt like a horrible person. Andreas thought it was obvious we would have come. How had it not even occurred to me to visit Cassie’s brother? Why had I needed Scor to turn up and remind me?

“Sit down,” Andreas said, vaguely gesturing towards the sofa.

Martin hovered awkwardly in the doorway. When Andreas didn’t say anything, he looked at Scor and me. “I’ll make some tea, shall I? Or a cake, maybe? I don’t know. Something. I’ll, um, I’ll be back in a bit.”

He left the room before any of us could reply.

Andreas screwed his face up and looked at me. “So...yeah.”

“You’re with Martin? Since when?” I wanted to laugh again.

“A while,” Andreas said. “We were still figuring some stuff out at New Year. He was pretty confused and got much too drunk.”

“I noticed.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay,” I shrugged. “Nothing bad happened.”

“No, it’s not okay.” Andreas shook his head. “It was completely inexcusable. But it came from confusion, not malice. He’s good, once you get to know him.”

“I’m sure he is.” I smiled.

Scor coughed and Andreas turned away from me to face him.

“But you didn’t come here to talk about my love life, did you?” He kept his eyes on Scor.

Scorpius didn’t say anything. I wanted to help him out but wasn’t sure how.

“I don’t know where she is,” Andreas sighed into the silence. “I’d tell you where to find her if I could. I swear I would.”

“You live with her. How can you not know where she’s gone?” Scor didn’t sound angry, just heartbroken.

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her since New Year’s Day. She said she was going to yours.”

“And you didn’t think to check?”

“Why would he, Scor?” I cut in. “Cassie was always round at yours.”

“Exactly. It was nothing out of the ordinary. I didn’t even know to be worried until she didn’t come and pick up her stuff for the new term.” Andreas looked down at the floor. “And even then I just assumed she was being chaotic. I had no idea she was actually missing until the school got in touch.”

“That’s fair. It wasn’t really out of character. We assumed she’d just missed the train at the beginning,” I said. Scor nodded.

“And you don’t know where she really is?” Andreas’s question was directed towards Scor.

Scor flushed red. “No.”

“None at all? I thought you might have some idea. You know her better than anyone.”

“I said no,” Scor snapped.

Andreas lifted his hands into the air, recognising that he’d somehow offended his sister’s boyfriend. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Really. I’ve been telling them all along that you have nothing to do with her going missing.”

“You have?” Scor looked surprised.

“Course I have. I know you. And I know my sister. There’s no way you’d hurt her.” Andreas spoke simply, like it was obvious.

“I appreciate that.” Scor spoke quietly. I reached out and took his hand and he squeezed my fingers.

“They said they’re not interested in you as a suspect anymore, though, right?”

I looked at Scor, curious. This was a development I hadn’t known anything about.

“They didn’t put it so nicely when they spoke to me, but yeah, essentially,” Scor agreed. “Apparently they rushed to conclusions they had no evidence for.”

“You didn’t tell me that.” I raised my eyebrows.

Scor shrugged. “It didn’t occur to me to say. It’s not exactly come up in conversation.”

A rush of guilt flushed over me again and I didn’t reply. How had we not been talking about Cass?

I was aware of Scor’s eyes on me. He probably knew how I was feeling but he didn’t mention it. Instead he turned back to Andreas.

“I guess we should get going, then. I kind of knew you wouldn’t have any more information than we do. I just...I couldn’t not ask, you know?”

“Of course,” Andreas said. “Hold on for a moment. I have something for you.”

He stood up and left the room. We heard him muttering something to Martin and then listened to his footsteps down the corridor.

Scor squeezed my hand again but neither of us spoke.

It was uncomfortable. I didn’t like being there, in that room filled with memories of Cass, with no way of knowing where she was. Without even looking for reminders of her, my eyes had already been drawn to the smudge of silver by the fireplace where she’d spilt half a bottle of nail polish, and the lipstick kiss on the mirror she’d cast a permanent sticking charm on to wind up her brother. I thought I should say something to Scor to distract him from the feel of her, but if I’d noticed these things I was sure he was just as aware of her presence.

Andreas reentered the room but didn’t sit down.

“Here. The officers returned it a few weeks ago. You should have it.” He held something out to Scor.

Scor reached out and let Andreas drop the locket into his hand. I remembered him telling me they’d found it broken, covered with blood, but the necklace he was now clutching was clean and mended. Somebody must have restored it. Scor stuffed the chain into his pocket.

“It finally occurred to somebody to test when the blood was from, and it had been there since before she disappeared,” Andreas said. “I don’t know how or why, but somehow she must have bled onto the chain while she was still here, and then it ended up at King’s Cross.”

I frowned. “So when they thought someone had hurt her…”

“...They didn’t really have any evidence at all,” Andreas finished my sentence. “That’s one of the reasons they’re not looking at you with suspicion any more, Scorpius. They no longer have any real reason to think she’s been harmed.”

“How did they not realise that before they started questioning you?” I was angry, thinking of how hurt Scor had been. It wasn’t fair that they’d acted like he’d done something. And it had nearly made me lose him.

“I don’t know,” Scor shook his head. “And they’re no closer to figuring out where she is than they were back in September. The whole thing’s been a complete shambles.”

“Agreed,” Andreas said. “And now that her birthday’s passed they’ve taken some of the officers off the case. She’s not underage anymore so it’s lower on their list of priorities.”

“How can they do that?” It felt like something caught in my throat as I spoke, and I coughed to try to clear it.

“I don’t know. Look, can we not talk about it right now? I’m sorry,” Scor was starting to look distressed. “It just...it’s not like we can make a difference by talking about it.”

“Course,” Andreas agreed. “I keep letting myself get angry with them over how they’re dealing with it all, but there’s nothing we can do to get them to handle the case better.”

I nodded. It was frustrating but out of our control. And it wasn’t like we had any better idea than the MLE officers did about how to deal with Cassie’s disappearance. It was like she’d vanished.

“Do you want to stay for tea? I think Martin might have been serious when he offered to bake,” Andreas grinned.

I glanced up at Scor. I didn’t particularly want to stay but I was happy to do whatever made Scor feel better.

He shook his head. “Thanks, but I think we should probably head off. Got to pack for tomorrow and stuff. I just needed to see you, you know? Just in case.”

“Of course. Well, I’m glad you came. It’s been good to see you. Sorry I couldn’t give you what you wanted,” Andreas said.

“Stay safe, Andy,” I said, forcing a smile and then standing up on tiptoes to give him a hug.

“You too. Enjoy Hogwarts,” he smiled.

Martin managed to give us a wave from the kitchen door but still looked too embarrassed to come out and properly say goodbye as we left the flat and stepped back into Diagon Alley. We hadn’t been inside for long, but it was no longer peak shopping time and the street was emptier than it had been when we arrived.

“I thought I’d feel better,” Scor said as we started to walk. “I’ve been waiting to be able to talk to him. I thought it might help to give me some kind of closure. But it’s just reminded me how horrible this all is.”

“I know,” I said. “I know exactly what you mean.”

He stopped walking and put an arm loosely around my shoulders. I let my head rest against his shoulder and we stood like that for a moment, both thinking about Cassie.

“Thank you for coming with me. I wasn’t sure you’d want to,” he said.

“Of course I wanted to. I’m sorry I didn’t think to suggest it.”

I felt his small shrug against me. “You’ve had a lot going on. Don’t worry about it.”

“I wish she’d just come back now,” I whispered.

“I know. Me too.” He stepped back from me and reached into his pocket, pulling out the chain of the locket. “Here, you should have this.”

He passed the locked over to me. I held onto the chunky silver, rubbing my thumb over the grooves in the metal.

“Are you sure? It’s yours. You gave it to her.” I bit my lip.

“Keep it,” he said. “I want you to have it. You’ve been missing her just as much as I have.”

I nodded, still chewing my lip. Scor took the locket out of my hand and draped it around my neck. The weight of it was comforting, and I tucked it down the front of my dress, feeling the cool silver against my skin.

Scor smiled at me but it was a hollow kind of a smile and it didn’t really make me feel any better.

“Keep it safe for her, yeah? Until she comes back.”

I was at risk of crying so didn’t say anything, and instead reached out to him for another hug.

“Of course. Until she comes back,” I nodded.



Chapter 22: In Which Lies are Told
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Returning to Hogwarts sandwiched between Al and Scorpius made me feel better than I had in a long time. I heard more than a few whispers about the new truce between the two of them. I suppose it wasn’t really surprising - people were always going to be interested in a Potter and a Malfoy spending time together - but we all just happily ignored it. They weren’t exactly friends, but they seemed happy to coexist, which was probably big progress for Scor.

A few weeks after our return to school, Scor took a big new step and ventured up to the Gryffindor Common Room. People seemed to think this was a noticeable event.

I was sat near the fire, trying to read a book while Louis plaited bits of my hair and Jason narrated extracts of Aunt Katie’s last letter. All of us were half asleep after having stayed up most of the night to listen to the England/Australia friendly quidditch match, and the warmth from the fire made it hard to stay awake.

When the room jolted into a sudden jarring silence I might not have noticed why, had Rose’s voice not carried on through the quiet.

“But that’s such an interesting theory. The bezoar has intense magical properties, obviously, but nothing I’ve come across really goes into detail about why it does, or how it works. If the magic comes from somewhere other than the stone itself then maybe it can be replicated somehow without the whole messy creation process.” Rose sounded excited.

I looked up to see who she was talking to. Nobody could keep up with Rose when she got started talking about the nature of magic.

“Well, fancy that,” Louis muttered. “Seems your Malfoy’s capable of holding a conversation with Rosie Posie. Gotta respect that.”

Jason snorted with laughter and the sound caught Rose’s attention. She waved at us and then grabbed Scor’s arm to pull him over.

Scor looked a little flushed, almost nervous, and I moved up on the sofa to make space for him to sit down next to me. I’d asked him to come and sit with us in Gryffindor Tower before but he’d always made some excuse as to why he couldn’t make it. This was actually a really big step for him. I felt quite proud. He sat down, squashed between Louis and me, and I forced my head under his arm so that he’d hug me.

“Scorpius was looking for you,” Rose smiled. “I managed to persuade him to come up here and find you. I’ve heard it’s much warmer than the snake pit.”

I nodded and Scor grinned.

The room was starting to fill with low chatter again as people realised nothing dramatic was going on. As the conversation bubbled up and grew louder, I could feel Scor relax beside me and slump back into the cushions.

“Esther found this in your dorm,” Scor said, reaching down to pull something out of his schoolbag. “And I realised I hadn’t seen you draw since christmas. It felt important to give it to you.”

He thrust the sketchbook into my arms and looked at me with a hopeful expression.

“I’ve been drawing a bit,” I told him. “Not much with you, I guess.”

He winced and I chewed my lip. I hadn’t meant to sound mean but it was true. I’d been drawing with Al and Rose and Louis.

I flicked through the sketchbook pages. The images were almost exclusively of Al, laughing and pulling faces and flying with Jason.

Scor leaned over to look at the sketches, his chin on my shoulder.

“They’re brilliant, Ollie,” he said. I could feel his grin against me.

“Thanks. Here, let me draw you.” I drew my feet up onto the sofa and kicked his leg gently to move him back so I could see him.

“Could we do it later?” Scor looked almost guilty. “I was talking about Transfiguration with Rose on the way up here and she said she’d help me out with a few of the concepts that I’ve been struggling with.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Scorpius Malfoy accepting help from a Gryffindor?”

He shrugged. “I figured they’re not so bad. They seem to have been good for you.”

I grinned and nodded. “Okay. I need to go to the Owlery anyway.”

“To write to Cass?” Scor’s eyes narrowed.

“Mmm.”

“Ollie, are you sure you want to do that? She’s not written back all year. What makes you think it’ll be any different now?” His voice dropped so that the few eavesdroppers still nearby couldn’t listen to our conversation.

“I just...I wanted to tell her that the aurors aren’t looking at you anymore. She’d want to know,” I muttered. “I couldn’t sleep last night so I wrote it all down.”

“Did you tell her Albus talked to his dad about it and got Harry Potter involved? Not sure she’ll be that keen to hear that,” Scor scoffed.

I shrugged again. “I just want to keep her updated.”

Scor sighed and ruffled my hair before pulling me towards him for a brief hug.

“Okay, Ollie. You want me to come with you to post it?”

“Nah, I’m good. Let Rose wow you with her Transfiguration skills. I’ll see you later.”

I shoved my sketchbook into my schoolbag and stood up, patting Scor’s head as I walked past him. Rose almost immediately took my vacated seat and started using very magical sounding words I didn’t understand. I smiled. Scor loved Transfiguration. It was good for him to actually be on speaking terms with someone he could talk to about it.

“Mind if I join you?” Jason stood up.

“You need to go to the Owlery?” I was surprised. He’d just received a letter from home and I hadn’t seen him write a response.

Jason rocked from one foot to the other and screwed up his face into an almost thoughtful expression. I frowned and then nodded for him to join me. We didn’t talk until we’d left the portrait hole.

“You okay? You need to talk?” I asked once we were outside.

Jason nodded slowly. “I find myself in the unusual position of having a problem I think you’re the only one who will be able to understand.”

“Ooo...are you asking me for advice?”

“Yeah. Thought it was time to take this whole friendship thing to the next level and talk about feelings.” Jace knocked his shoulder against me.

“Aw. I would love to talk to you about feelings.” I shoved him back.

“Brilliant.”

“Are you okay? Does this mean something actually serious is happening?” We’d been joking but it was true that Jason had never really sought me out to talk about his problems. I didn’t know whether I should be worried.

Jason ran a hand through his hair and scrunched up his face again. “Mmm...not sure. Maybe I’m being silly.”

“Jace...tell me.”

He reached into his cloak and pulled a folded piece of parchment out of his pocket. He seemed unsure about whether to pass it to me but when I reached out he slid it into my hand. I stopped walking to read it.


Dear Mr Wood,

I’m writing on behalf of the Montrose Magpies to thank you for attending our tryouts last month. It was a pleasure to meet you and I speak for the whole team when I say how truly impressed we were by your performance.

Having watched several of your school Quidditch matches myself as well as being present for your tryout, I am confident that you would make a fantastic addition to our team.

I would therefore like to formally offer you a position with the team as junior reserve keeper, commencing immediately after your graduation. As you are aware, the position is usually an unpaid three month trial during which you would practice working with the team. In light of your fantastic tryout, I would like to reduce this trial period to one month, with a view to promoting you to reserve keeper at the end of that month.

I do hope that you’ll take us up on this offer. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you have about the position.

All the best,

Leonie Campbell (Manager)



I finished reading and then looked up at Jason.

“Jace, this is fantastic. They want to take you on as a reserve a month after graduation? That’s almost unheard of.”

Jason nodded.

“Why the Magpies?” I wondered. “Their game’s pretty different to your dad’s team.”

“Yeah. That’s why I wanted to play for them,” Jason said. “I knew being a Wood was going to have an impact on how the professional teams look at me. And I didn’t want to feel like they’d only taken me on because of dad. I knew the Magpies wouldn’t do that. They’re one of the few teams that have had hardly anything to do with him.”

That made sense. When he’d made the Gryffindor team in his second year, Jason had put up with his fair share of people saying he’d only made it because of who his father was. He wouldn’t want that from his whole career.

“So what’s the problem?” I asked. “This is such good news. What did you need to talk about?”

We started to walk again, dawdling in the direction of the Owlery.

“I didn’t expect it to be so easy, you know?” He said. “I thought I was going to spend the next few years going to hundreds of different tryouts. It didn’t occur to me that I’d get an offer from the first trial I went to. So I never really thought about what it would actually be like to start the actual job.”

“You must have a pretty good idea of what it’ll be like, though, right? I mean, this is the world you’ve grown up in.”

“Yeah,” he cut across me. “But that’s why I feel weird about it. Like, my whole life this has been what I’m going to grow up to do. I’ve never really considered anything else. I just assumed I wanted to be a quidditch player like dad.”

I mulled over his words for a few steps. I’d known Jason nearly his whole life and he’d never mentioned any kind of insecurity about his love for quidditch. Even when we’d been toddlers flying was all he could talk about.

“You’ve seen what it’s like at home,” he continued. “Dad can’t go more than twenty minutes without mentioning Quidditch. And mum doesn’t talk about it much but everyone knows she’s still devastated that her injury meant she couldn’t play professionally. I’ve grown up basically thinking it’s the only thing I could possibly end up doing.”

We’d reached the Owlery. Mercury swooped down to me almost as soon as we entered the room. Jason smiled and petted her, pulling an owl treat out from somewhere in his pocket to give her.

“Okay. Here’s a thought experiment,” I said, feeling more than a little bit like I was starting to ramble but figuring it was probably worth a try. “Imagine that you wake up one morning and everyone else has disappeared.”

“Where are you going with this?” Jason looked bemused. “That’s a horrible idea.”

“Yeah. Bear with me. So you wake up and everyone else has disappeared, and obviously you’re all sad and lonely and don’t have your cuddly Gryffindor pals to make it better. But once you’ve stopped crying…”

“I don’t cry.”

“Shut up. Once you’ve stopped crying, you realise you’re going to need to find some way to keep yourself occupied or you’ll go insane. What do you fill your time with?”

Jason was very obviously trying not to laugh at me, but he played along and thought for a moment. “Erm, flying, I guess. Not quidditch, because obviously there wouldn’t be anyone to play with. But I’d fly.”

I felt triumphant. “That’s what I thought you’d say.”

“How is this relevant though?”

“Because you’d fly even if nobody was around to see it. You love it. It’s not just about other people’s expectations.”

I took out the letter I’d written for Cass and passed it to Mercury. She looked disdainfully at it until Jason offered her another treat, and then she pecked my hand and flew away with the letter. I wished I had a way to ask her where she was delivering them all. Tracking owls is illegal. Apparently it’s an invasion of privacy or something. But it would be really useful.

“But I know I love flying,” Jason said, bringing my thoughts back from Cassie. “What I’m not sure about is whether making a career out of Quidditch is the right thing for me.”

I watched Mercury until she was out of sight and then turned back to Jason.

“Okay. Another thought experiment. You go off out into the world after graduating and do something that isn’t Quidditch, I don’t know what, but something you quite like. But you still love Quidditch, obviously, so you go and watch matches. And at some point you’re watching the Magpies play. How do you feel?”

“Jealous,” Jason answered immediately.

“Why?”

“Because...I’d be watching from the stands when I could have been out there flying with them,” he smiled. “Liv, you’re a genius. Thank you.”

“So you’re going to take them up on the offer?”

He nodded, his smile slowly stretching out into a full on beam, and then he grabbed me and smothered me in a bear hug.

“Ew. Let go of me,” I managed to say through a mouthful of his cloak.

He squeezed me one more time and then let go. “Sorry. Got overexcited.”

I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Have you told anyone else about the offer?”

He shook his head. “Not yet. Wanted to figure out what I was doing with it first.”

“You should go and tell James, then. He’ll be excited. He wants to play too, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah, he’s got his eye on the chaser spot opening up in Puddlemere. I reckon he’s pretty well placed to get it.”

“Go and find him. He’ll want to know before it becomes gossip.”

“I’ll tell him later. He’s supervising prefect patrols tonight.”

“Fuck.”

“Did you forget about prefect patrols again?” Jason smirked.

“Always. I need to run. But well done well done well done. I’m super proud of you.”

“Thanks. I’ll see you later.”

I could hear him laughing behind me as I fled the Owlery. I was the worst prefect ever. Slughorn must have been seriously regretting his decision to get me to replace Cassie. I nearly always forgot about patrols and never helped out with anything that wasn’t compulsory.

Running was grim. A sad consequence of my months without Scorpius was that nobody had been forcing me to do any exercise in my free time, meaning that a sprint through the castle felt embarrassingly difficult. Wanting to make life easier for myself, I veered left towards a tapestry shortcut Al had introduced me to.

I pulled back the tapestry and stepped through the gap in the wall, into a short, wide stone passageway. I paused for a moment to press my forehead against the cool stone wall. I really needed to start going jogging again. I shouldn’t be this hot after a three minute run.

When I’d caught my breath I made my way over to the tapestry on the other side of the passage. I reached out a hand to pull back the fabric and then froze at the sound of shouts from the other side.


“Just leave it, Al. You don’t understand what it’s like.”


James’s voice. And he was angry. I toyed with the idea of stepping out to offer Al my support, but then he responded with equal venom in his voice and I decided it would be best to just stay put.


“Don’t tell me to just leave it. This has gone too far.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about the fact you promised you’d sort this out ages ago and yet you’re STILL sneaking out all the time. I’m so unimpressed, Jay.”

“Just back off.”

“At some point you do realise you’re going to have to face up to what’s going on? You’re not making this any easier for yourself by sneaking around behind everyone’s backs. What do you think Dad’s going to say when he finds out?”

“He’s not GOING to find out.”

“Do you really believe that? How CAN you believe that?”

“I’m done talking about this, Albus. It’s none of your business.”

“Jay...don’t be like this.”



Al’s voice cracked as he finished speaking and I shook myself. I couldn’t keep standing there listening while he was upset. I pulled the tapestry back properly and stepped out.

Al and James were facing each other, standing a few metres apart. James’s fists were clenched and Al’s eyes were wet. They both looked at me as I stepped through the tapestry.

“What’s going on?” I stood beside Al, brushing my arm against his.

“Nothing,” James said, looking away from me to glare at his brother.

“You shouldn’t sneak out again. You’re meant to be supervising patrols,” I told him, deciding that there wasn’t much point trying to pretend I hadn’t overheard their conversation.

James let out a bark of laughter and shook his head. “Whatever.”

“I mean it. It’s against school rules. And you’ve got responsibilities here.”

“I appreciate your concern,” James said with an eye roll. “But what I do really isn’t anything to do with you.”

“James…”

“Just let him go,” Al sighed, wrapping his hand around mine.

James nodded at his brother and then turned away, heading back through the tapestry I’d just come from. Al squeezed my hand and turned so he could rest his chin on my head.

“Sorry about that,” he mumbled. “Now I’ve made us late for patrols.”

I shrugged. “I nearly forgot about them anyway.”

He laughed. “Course you did.”

“I think Molly just expects me to be at least twenty minutes late now. But what was that, Al? I’ve never heard you two talk to each other like that before.”

Al shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it does. It’s made you upset. What’s going on?”

He took a deep breath and then sighed. “I wish I could tell you, Liv, I do. But it’s just not my secret to tell.”

I looked up at him. He looked sad; sadder than I’d seen him since the beginning of the year after everything happened with Laura. I wanted to keep pushing him, convinced that he wouldn’t be able to keep something a secret for long, but it didn’t seem fair. Instead, I tilted my chin and pecked a kiss against his lips.

“Well, I’m glad to see you two are taking prefect patrols so seriously.”

I pulled away from Al and turned around to see Molly Weasley further down the corridor. Al and I both gave her what were probably completely identical sheepish expressions.

“Sorry, Mol,” Al said. “We’ll get started now.”

“Have you seen James? He missed our meeting again,” Molly said with a frown. “I don’t know where to find him.”

I opened my mouth to tell her James had gone out, but Al stepped on my foot so I closed it again.

“Yeah, I was just with him. That’s why we were running late,” Al said. “He said to tell you he’s not feeling very well tonight so won’t make it.”

“He’s ill again?” Molly looked like she couldn’t decide whether to be concerned or suspicious.

“Yeah,” Al said confidently. “He’s ill.”



Happy Christmas! I hope you’re all having a lovely holiday and taking lots of time to relax and eat unreasonable quantities of food.

THANK YOU to all of you who have been reading and reviewing. I really, really appreciate it.

Emma xx











Chapter 23: In Which There Are Surprises
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I’ve never been that sure why birthdays are such a big deal, but Scor, Cass and I make them fabulous. We’ve always kept our birthdays pretty quiet. We don’t feel the need to tell everybody else what’s going on, or to broadcast to the rest of the world how happy we are to be another year older, but then we’ve always been able to have a fantastic time just the three of us, hanging out in the shrieking shack and drinking in another year of age.

Turning seventeen without Cass was always going to feel strange, but I was determined to make it okay. I had Scor back, after all, and a whole group of new friends. I felt kind of optimistic about coming of age, and felt like it could be a happy day despite everything that had been happening recently. Even if so far nobody had even acknowledged that it was my birthday.

We were at Quidditch practice. I was kind of glad to be flying. If everyone was going to forget it was my birthday I could at least be doing something I actually enjoyed. And it was nice to be surrounded by the team.

I was suddenly distracted from thinking about my depressing ageing by the appearance of a bludger dangerously near my face. I swung sideways and skidded halfway off my broom before catching myself. I slid back onto the wood, trying to be as graceful as possible, and smiled at Scor as he sped to my side.

“You alright? I told them to aim for the Keeper and Seeker. The bludgers shouldn’t have been that near you.” He was obviously ready to get angry at our incompetent Beaters.

“I’m fine,” I shrugged. “Just took me a bit longer than it should have to notice it.”

“Okay,” Scor nodded. “Good. Well, it’s good practice anyway, I guess.”

“You okay Ollster?” Joe shouted over from the other side of the pitch. “Think that was my fault. Derek was admiring my stunning physique and forgot about his job.”

Derek was quick to zoom upwards towards Joe, scowling. Scor gave me a nervous glance and we both flew over to join them.

“What did you say about your physique?” Derek grunted, obviously trying to sound threatening.

Joe stuck his tongue out and let himself roll backwards to hang off his broom.

Oz flew up to join us. “You alright, Derek? That bludger came worryingly close to Ollie. Did Joey’s good looks distract you again?”

Derek’s fists were clenched. I contemplated intervening before things got nasty, but then it was always quite amusing to watch Oz and Joe wind our Beaters up.

“Stop it,” Derek scowled.

“Good comeback,” Oz nodded. “Well done.”

Alex flew over, finally seeming to decide it would be worthwhile to stick up for his friend.

“Just because you two can’t keep your hands off each other doesn’t mean the rest of us care what you look like,” Alex said.

Derek nodded. “Yeah. If you think you’re both so attractive, why don’t you just get together already?”

Joe’s eyes widened. He was still upside down hanging off his broom, but managed to offer Oz a kind of upside down shrug.

“Well, we are together,” Oz said.

“What?” Alex looked genuinely shocked. He’s an idiot.

Joe pulled himself up to sit back on his broom and flew closer to Ozzy.

“Are you joking?” Derek looked mildly disgusted.

Oz frowned and then reached out to Joe, who flew happily into his arms. Their kiss was fierce and looked like it was actually probably quite dangerous, given that we were all thirty feet off the ground. When they finally pulled apart, both Alex and Derek looked horrified.

“So, erm,” Alex sounded awkward. “Er...not joking, then?”

Joe rolled his eyes and grabbed Oz’s hand, glaring at Alex, waiting to be challenged again.

Next to me, Scor coughed. “Let’s call it a day, yeah? Great flying, everyone.”

I flew to the ground with Oz and Joe. The three of us waited on the grass for Scor, who had flown over to let Toby know practice was over. Alex and Derek caught the bludgers and put them away, leaving the pitch without bothering to talk to the rest of us. I put the Quaffle away and closed the box of Quidditch balls. By the time I’d finished, Scor had landed and was waiting next to Oz and Joe.

“You alright?” I asked Joe. I knew Oz would be fine, but Joe had always been unsure about really showing people their relationship.

“Yeah, think so.” Joe reached for Oz’s hand again. “I mean, it’s not like we were hiding it, really. We just...let people think what they wanted to.”

“And they obviously didn’t want to think we were together,” Oz said darkly. I wasn’t used to him sounding so serious.

“Well...Slytherins,” Joe shrugged.

“Don’t worry about it. People won’t mind. And if Alex and Derek are idiots about it Scor will kick them off the team, won’t you Scor?” I said cheerfully.

Scor glared at me. “We’ll see.”

“We should get going anyway. Do some damage control. Esther’s going to be furious that I came out without her being there,” Joe said.

Oz slung an arm around Joe’s shoulder and Scor and I watched them head off towards the castle.

“That was eventful,” I commented.

“I hope they don’t fuck up my team,” Scor said.

I elbowed him. “Don’t be stupid. They’ve been together for over two years. People knowing about it won’t change anything.”

“It better not. We can’t afford any mistakes in the Gryffindor match.”

“Whatever,” I elbowed him again, just for the sake of it. “So, are we going to the Shack tonight?”

Scor frowned. “What?”

“For my birthday. Are we going to the Shack?” I knew he wouldn’t have actually forgotten it was my birthday, but I wished he’d acknowledged it a little bit more than this.

Scor’s face flooded with worry. “Oh...ah, Ollie, I’m so sorry, I just assumed you wouldn’t want to do it this year.”

“Why? We always go.”

“Yeah but...I don’t know. I just figured, without Cass, I don’t know, I thought you wouldn’t want to do anything big. And I told Rose I’d work on that Transfiguration essay with her tonight.”

I picked up my broom and put it over my shoulder so we could start to walk back towards the castle. I didn’t want to be bratty but was genuinely quite shocked that Scor would put his homework plans with Rose Weasley over our birthday traditions.

“I’m sorry, Ollie,” Scor said. “Look...erm...let’s just quickly go to Gryffindor so I can tell Rose we’ve got plans. And then we’ll do it, yeah? You’re right. We should go to the Shack. We always do.”

“Don’t be silly. You’ve got to write your essay. That’s fine,” I snapped. I knew I was being difficult but I couldn’t help but feel annoyed.

“Well, we could pick up Rose and then go to the library? And then as soon as I’m done we can go to the Shack?”

I ignored him and sped up. It was starting to drizzle and I told myself I was walking quickly to avoid the rain rather than to avoid my best friend.

“Come on, Ollie. Don’t ignore me. I’ve only just got you back,” Scor said desperately.

I felt mean and slowed down again.

“Okay,” I said. “Sure. Let’s do that.”

I didn’t talk to Scor as we started the climb up to Gryffindor Tower. I could feel him watching me every so often, probably trying to work out how he could stop me from being annoyed, but I didn’t make eye contact.

When I reached the portrait of the Fat Lady a little way ahead of Scor, I didn’t wait for him to catch up.

“Grawp,” I snapped at the Fat Lady.

She completely ignored me.

“Excuse me?” I waved a hand near her face. “I just gave you the password.”

She looked down on me - literally, looked down on me, because she was high up - and narrowed her eyes.

“The password changed this morning,” she said loftily.

“What?”

She ignored me again.

“Oh, come on,” I glared at her. “I’m sorry I was rude. Please can you let me in now?”

I could hear footsteps approaching, and turned round to glare at Scor.

“She won’t let us in,” I said. “So good luck getting your stupid notes of Rose.”

Scor didn’t look at all affected by my childishness, and instead just grinned.

“Nah, they changed the password today,” he said with another grin.

“How come you’re the expert?” I narrowed my eyes. I didn’t understand why he’d know about a password change when I didn’t. Why hadn’t Al told me?

Scor stepped forward to stand in front of the Fat Lady. She smiled at him. She likes him more than me.

“Happy Birthday, Ollie,” he said.

I turned to tell him to hurry up and give the password already, but then the portrait swung forward and I was overwhelmed by shouts of “Surprise!” and “Happy Birthday!” from inside the Common Room.

I looked at Scor. “What’s happening?”

“Sorry. I told Potter you wouldn’t like everyone pretending your birthday didn’t matter. But he insisted on organising a surprise party,” Scor shrugged. “I was kind of worried you’d be so cross you’d refuse to come.”

“Al organised this?”

“Yeah,” Scor nodded. “Yeah. He seems pretty fond of you, you know? Come on.”

He grabbed my hand and pulled me forwards, pushing me through the portrait hole and into Gryffindor Tower.

As soon as I landed on the carpet, Louis Weasley poured a bucket of confetti over my head.

“You’re a grown up, Liv!” He shouted, obviously delighted.

“And now she’s a grown up with confetti all tangled in her hair,” Rose said, stepping forward and picking some of the paper out of my hair. “Happy Birthday, beautiful.”

I smiled as she hugged me, and then looked around the rest of the room.

Gryffindor Tower looked a bit like the way Slytherin did when we had Quidditch parties. Someone had set up a long table near the window, stacked with bottles of butterbeer and other mysterious drinks, next to piles and piles of food. A puzzled-looking house elf was perched on a stool behind the table, serving plates to students who came near. In another corner of the room, Fred Weasley was poking a wizarding wireless with his wand, beaming when music came blasting out of it. The rest of the room was packed with students, most of whom I didn’t even know, but those nearest me made me smile.

The moron was stood next to James Potter, both grinning at me. Just behind them, the Slytherin Quidditch team were all huddled together next to Esther and Clara. Esther was clinging onto Joe’s hand and standing pointedly between him and the Beaters. Clara was batting her eyelashes and edging closer and closer to Toby Carter. Rose and Louis had already pounced on me, but now Al joined them and they took a step back to give us some space.

“Happy Birthday, Liv,” Al said. He looked kind of nervous, like he was worried I wouldn’t be happy. It was sweet.

“Happy Birthday to you too,” I said.

He laughed. “Several months late, I’m afraid. Today’s your day.”

I reached out and tucked my arm through his. He kissed my forehead and then grinned at Scor.

“Well done for getting her here. I kept panicking and thinking she might run off somewhere else.”

“It was a massive challenge,” Scor said, flicking my shoulder.

I stuck my tongue out at him and held Al’s arm more tightly.

Scor laughed and then turned to say something to Rose. I tilted my head to kiss Al’s jaw.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Al smiled and turned to quickly kiss my lips.

“It’s okay? You like it?”

“Of course I like it! Did you think I wouldn’t?”

He shrugged and pulled me closer. “I don’t know. I wanted you to be with all these people who care about you, you know? But then you lot have your own traditions and I didn’t want to be the one to mess that up. I asked Malfoy about it and he thought it would be alright, though.”

“You talked to Scor about it?”

“Yeah. It seemed like the safest thing to do. I didn’t want to drag you along to a surprise party you’d hate. You don’t hate it, right?”

“Of course I don’t hate it,” I laughed, kissing him again. “Although maybe a little tiny bit of a warning would have been nice. I’m still in my Quidditch clothes.”

Al pulled away and looked me up and down, and then shrugged. “You look great, I think. But yeah, I should have thought of that. You want to wear a dress or something?”

“Just something clean would have been nice,” I said, but then stopped because Al was starting to look worried. “It’s no problem though. This is perfect.”

“Did you say you wanted a dress, Liv?” Rose turned away from Scorpius to look at me. “You should have said. Here, come with me.”

She reached out a hand and I took it without really thinking, giving Al an awkward wave as his cousin dragged me away.

“I have ridiculously many dresses,” Rose told me. “You should borrow one. I think I’ve got something green.”

“The fact I’m Slytherin doesn’t mean I have to wear green all the time,” I laughed.

“But it looks nice on you,” she said. “Come. This way.”

I followed her up a spiral staircase and through a door. The room she took me into looked completely different from my dorm in Slytherin. It was round, with large, evenly spaced windows from floor to ceiling, and the beds were huge and squashy. Not for the first time, I felt a small stab of jealousy. It’s no wonder Gryffindors are all so cheerful: they’re warm and comfortable all the time. I can only imagine what Hufflepuff must be like.

Rose jumped onto one of the beds and lay on her tummy on the mattress, leaning over the side of the bed to rummage through a trunk.

“Still haven’t unpacked properly,” she said, wincing slightly. “I need to sort my life out. I’m a walking disaster.”

I looked at her incredulously. “Are you serious? You’re Rose Weasley.”

She flopped onto her side to raise an eyebrow at me. “And?”

“You’re top of our year. And you managed to sort out Louis’ drinking problem. And you look after everyone. Out of everyone I know I think you’re the least like a walking disaster.”

She laughed. “Perhaps. But we know some idiots. And I don’t think you should give me too much credit for sorting out Louis’ drinking problem. Al says he’s been practicing turning water to wine when he thinks everyone’s asleep.”

I shrugged. “Can come in handy.”

Rose rolled her eyes and leaned back over her bed to pull something out of her trunk. When she sat up, she was clutching something floaty and green.

“Here. Mum bought it for me last christmas. It’ll look nice on you.”

She threw the dress across the room. It was a terrible throw, but my Chaser reflexes kicked in and I lunged forward to catch it.

“Did you want a shower?” Rose asked. “It sounds like someone’s in there at the moment, but we can wait. You can borrow my shampoo.”

“Nah, it’s fine. I just felt like spending my birthday wearing Scor’s trackies wasn’t ideal.”

“Fair enough,” she agreed. “I’ll let you get changed then. Come downstairs soon. Fred was saying he wants to get the dancing going.”

I watched her leave the room and then sat down on her bed to pull off my tracksuit bottoms. They were an old pair of Scor’s and were torn and stained. I folded them up and left them on the floor by Rose’s bed, folding my T-shirt on top of them. I figured Rose would give them back at some point.

The green dress was slippery and hard to put on. I pulled it over my head and then battled with the zip at the back for an embarrassing amount of time, getting it caught in my hair and struggling to get the angle right to pull it all the way up. But once the dress was actually on it was comfortable, and I let myself do a little twirl to see it flare out around my thighs.

“What are you doing here?”

I hadn’t noticed the sound of the shower stopping, but the voice from the bathroom doorway made me groan. I turned around to look at Laura Brogan but didn’t bother answering her question. She was wrapped up in a small towel, her hair wet and straggly over her shoulders.

“Seriously. Why are you in my dormitory?” She walked over to the bed next to Rose’s and picked up a satin dressing gown from the floor beside it, tugging the sleeves over her arms and tying the sash around her waist before looking at me.

“I was borrowing a dress from Rose,” I said slowly. “I’m going now.”

“Well, hurry up then. You’ve already outstayed your welcome,” she spat out.

I frowned but started to walk to the door. I put my hand out to turn the handle and then paused.

“I don’t know why you have to be so mean all the time,” I said without looking back at her. I wasn’t sure what made me say it, but I couldn’t help myself. “I’ve never done anything to you. Why do you have to be so nasty to everyone?”

“Excuse me?” Her voice was cold.

This time, I turned to face her. “You’re mean to people. You manipulate them and take advantage of them and when that doesn’t work you just bully them. Why? How does that benefit you?”

“You have no right to say that to me,” she snapped. “You’re standing here, in my House, in my room, insulting me.”

“What do you expect? You’ve been horrible to people. To people I care about.”

“Like who? Al?” She let out a bitter laugh. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“And to me. You’ve never said anything nice to me.”

She laughed again and sat down on the edge of her mattress. “And what did you want me to say?”

“I don’t know. But I never did anything wrong.”

“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe not. I can see how you’d feel like that.”

I didn’t reply. I was too startled by the fact she’d listened to what I’d said. It didn’t seem like anything I’d seen from her before.

“The thing is…” she said, hesitating for a moment before continuing. “The thing is, I didn’t try to be horrible to you.”

And then it was my turn to laugh.

“No? So why did you feel the need to interrogate me about Al when I hardly even knew him? Just to be friendly?”

Her face crumpled a little. I almost felt guilty.

“No, I...I don’t know. It was difficult.”

“You were acting insane.”

“I know,” she whispered, and then seemed to shake herself so she could speak audibly again. “Not my finest moment. But you understand, right? I mean, you’re going through the same thing. Our parents...I didn’t know how to deal with it.”

“Our parents?”

She put one hand into her wet hair, tugging her fingers through her tangles. She looked anxious, less composed than I’d ever seen her.

“Mum and your dad,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mum doesn’t usually date, and then suddenly there’s this new guy in the house helping her decorate all our upstairs rooms and cooking dinner and weirdly being there at my birthday and I just…”

“He was there at your birthday?” I interrupted her. Why was he there at her birthday? He hadn’t even written to me for mine.

“Yeah,” she said, not seeming to recognise why it had bothered me. “Yeah, I don’t know why. I guess Mum thought that was a nice thing or something. She adores him. And I keep trying to get her to notice that I’m not okay with it, but she just acts like I haven’t said anything. I don’t know.”

I watched her. She was shivering a little, her wet hair presumably making her cold, and had tucked her hands into the loose pockets of her dressing gown. She’s tall, quite a bit taller than me, but perched on the edge of her bed she looked smaller.

“I don’t like it much either,” I eventually conceded.

“I know you don’t. I’m not trying to make it sound like it’s easier for you than me. But I miss my dad, you know? So much. He died when I was little, and mum’s always talked about him and made it feel like he’s a part of my life, and now it’s just like she doesn’t want to mention him any more.”

Her eyes were starting to water. I took a small step backwards. It felt wrong to be seeing her like this. Laura Brogan isn’t supposed to do vulnerable and sad.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be. I wasn’t trying to make you pity me.” She sat up a bit straighter. “But can you see why it’s been hard? Your dad was just everywhere over christmas, and then I got back to school and suddenly you were everywhere too. Al was fawning over you and then Rose wanted you as her best friend and then you were hanging out in our Common Room all the time, and then having your birthday in the Common Room, and then I come out of the shower and just want to go to bed but you’re here, where I sleep.”

She stopped to catch her breath, looking faintly surprised by how many words she’d just said.

I took another step back, not sure what I was supposed to say.

“So...I get that you think I’ve been mean,” Laura said. “But it didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been difficult. It feels like you’ve taken my family from me, a bit, and my friends, and now you’ve taken Al too.”

“I didn’t take Al,” I said, suddenly irritated with her again. “You two broke up ages ago. Before I even knew him.”

“But you don’t understand how it ended. You don’t know what happened.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, surprised by my conviction. “I know how you treated him after. And it was awful.”

“You wouldn’t sound so sure about it if you knew how he was to me. But you probably don’t want to hear it.”

“Whatever.”

“You’re in the middle of your own wonderful love story now, aren’t you? Everyone’s talking about it...how sweet you are, how kind he is. Nobody cares about my story anymore. You don’t want to know.”

“It wouldn’t change anything. I’m happy.” I put a hand onto the doorknob, ready to end our conversation. It was the longest I’d ever spoken to Laura for, and I was ready to go back and celebrate with my friends.

“No? I’m surprised. From what I heard, you were pretty unimpressed with your dad for having an affair. I thought you’d have a big problem with cheaters,” she said.

I let go of the door. “What?”

“He didn’t tell you, then? He didn’t mention how two-and-a-half years into our relationship he slept with someone else because he was bored?”

“No,” I muttered. “He didn’t mention that.”

“Pity. Everyone’s been saying it’s sweet how he talks to you about everything,” she said, and then reached over to her bedside table to pick up a hairbrush.

I watched her start to brush her hair, trying to process her words. It had never occurred to me that Laura might have her own side to the story. I felt stupid for never thinking about it. Her and Al always used to look pretty happy together. It made sense that something must have happened to make it go bad.

Laura wasn’t looking at me anymore, instead choosing to look down at her knees while she brushed her hair.

I contemplated saying something else, asking her to explain herself, or even apologising for making her feel like I was taking things from her, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak.

Instead, I wrenched open the door and slammed it shut behind me.


Chapter 24: In Which Olivia Likes Cuddles After All
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“I always knew he was a scoundrel,” Scor said, peering at me through a gap in his cushion fortress. The old bed in the Shrieking Shack had no sheets. Scor had attempted to conjure a pillow for himself but his wand had somehow given him twelve elaborately embroidered cushions instead.

I reached out and took one of the cushions, cuddling it against my chest and retreating further into the quilt Scor had conjured for me.

“He’s meant to be nice,” I said in a small voice.

Scor’s expression softened.

“I know, Ollie. Here, have more whiskey.”

I took the bottle he offered me and propped myself up on one elbow so I could drink. It burned my throat but I still took several gulps before Scor peeled it out of my fingers and hid it back inside his cushions.

“Why is he not nice?” I asked him, wriggling across the mattress so we were closer together.

“I don’t know,” Scor said. “I’m not sure what to say.”

“I thought he was nice.”

I was aware that I was repeating myself but the combination of my confusion and the firewhiskey I’d consumed meant that I didn’t care.

“Look,” Scor said, knocking over one of his cushions so he could see me better. “You don’t actually know what happened. Maybe Brogan was lying.”

“She wasn’t lying,” I said, shaking my head against the bare mattress. “I know she wasn’t.”

“Well, then maybe there’s more to it. You didn’t talk to her for long. Maybe there’s a reason for what happened.”

“Maybe,” I moaned and then turned my face into the bed. “But I don’t know what to do! I can’t be with someone who does something like that. I just can’t.”

My voice was muffled by the mattress but Scor obviously heard me because he ventured out of his cushions and slid one of his arms under my head, gently pulling me closer so I could rest my face on his chest.

“I thought he was making me happy,” I confessed, lifting my hand so I could hold onto Scor’s fingers while they rested against my shoulder.

“He was. He does make you happy,” Scor said. “And Ollie, you know I hate to speak in favour of Potter, but I think he’ll probably carry on making you happy if you give him the chance.”

“How can I? You know what my dad did, and you’ve seen what it’s done to my mum. I don’t want somebody who behaves like that in my life.”

“But you don’t really know that Potter did behave like that,” Scor pointed out. “Even if she was telling the truth, Brogan didn’t give you any details, and you dragged me out of Gryffindor without even telling Potter what was going on. He probably hasn’t even realised you’re angry.”

“I didn’t want to talk to him. Too cross.”

“I know. But it’s possible that if you talked to him he’d be able to explain.”

I frowned and then let go of Scor’s fingers so I could prod his chest. He grabbed my wrist with his other hand and held it in the air so I couldn’t poke him.

“When did you become wise and reasonable?” I asked him. “This advice is very unlike you.”

“Probably around about the time I realised I’d lost my best friend because I jumped to conclusions and didn’t bother trying to sort things out before getting furious with her,” he said.

“Hmm. I suppose that does make sense,” I yawned, feeling like the whiskey was filtering through to my brain. “I also blame your new friendship with Rose Weasley. She’s always boring and wise and reasonable.”

“I can be wise without Weasleys,” Scor said.

“Mmhmm.”

“I can.”

“Sure. Keep telling yourself that and maybe one day it’ll be true,” I said, managing to squirm my fingers out of his grip so I could poke him.

“So…” Scor pushed me off him so he could roll onto one side and give me a serious look. “Will you talk to him? To Potter?”

“What’s happened to you? I thought you hated him. Why are you sticking up for him?”

He rolled his eyes. “I’m not sticking up for him. But I’ve seen you two together. He makes you happy, and I don’t want you to lose that.”

“But he cheated on…”

“I know,” he cut across me. “And you have every right to want to end it. But...just hear his side of the story first, okay? Please?”

“Okay. Only because you asked nicely. And only if you let me have more whiskey.”

“Deal,” he grinned.

He pulled the whiskey out from under another one of his cushions and gave it back to me. This time, I finished off the bottle.

“Good work, Ollie. Great life choices. Get smashed before trying to have a serious conversation with your boyfriend,” Scor said.

“I’m full of good life choices,” I agreed happily. “Escort me back to the castle!”

Scor laughed and pushed me so that I rolled off the bed and onto the dusty floor. By the time I managed to get myself sat up, he’d come round to help me stand.

“Come on then,” he said, wrapping an arm around my waist to support me as I stumbled.

I spent the whole walk back to the castle being irritating, alternating between being delighted that Scor had gone drinking with me on my birthday and being devastated that Al had disappointed me. To his credit, Scor took it all in his stride and just let me talk, catching me every time I looked at risk of falling over.

As we approached the doors, Scor pulled me back. I started to ask why we weren’t moving but he put a hand over my mouth and nodded towards the now moving doors. He let go of me and I followed his gaze. A person slid out between the heavy wood, looking furtively from side to side. As they stepped forward, they were illuminated for a moment by the light from inside the castle.

“Potter?” I called out. “What are you doing?”

James Potter jumped and turned around, obviously trying to work out where I was. I stepped towards him, wobbly on my feet. Behind me, Scor let out an audible sigh and then followed.

“Doesn’t matter,” James said. “Where did you go? My brother’s been going insane.”

“That’s why I’m seeking him out,” I said brightly. “Get it? Seeking? Like in Quidditch.”

James looked puzzled but shrugged. “Right. He’s in Gryffindor Tower...where you left him. He just went up to his dorm.”

“I must find him! Scorpy, take me to Gryffindor!”

“Eurgh, fine,” Scor said, putting a supportive hand against my back as I swayed towards him.

James was watching us, eyebrows raised. “Have you been drinking? I swear you were both sober last time I saw you.”

“Only a little tiny bit,” I told him. “It’s my birthday, you know.”

“I know,” he sighed. “It’ll take you ages to get up to Gryffindor in this state. Borrow my broom.”

He took out his wand and waved it. The wood seemed to blur as it moved through the air, and I blinked slowly to try to make my vision clear again.

“Um, Potter, you haven’t got your broom with you,” I said, in a slow, patronising voice, and then promptly squealed with delight as his broom flew down from the building above us.

“I have now,” James said. “Take it. Al’s window is the second one down in the Tower. He sleeps with the windows open so you’ll be able to get in.”

He glanced at his watch. “I have to go. Just leave the broom with my brother when you’re done.”

He hurried away from us, cutting across the grounds and into the darkness. I didn’t bother thinking about where he was going, and instead admired his broom.

“Okay. I’ll fly up and meet you later,” I told Scor.

“You are so much more drunk than I am,” Scor said, shaking his head. “I’m not letting you fly.”

My lip wobbled and Scor sighed.

“Here,” he said, taking the broom out of my hands. “I’ll fly. Get on behind me.”

I beamed at him and climbed onto the broom, wrapping my arms around his back as he kicked off from the ground. It was windy and I could feel my hair tangling around itself, whipping my neck and catching the cold air. I put my forehead against the back of Scor’s neck and smiled to myself because I love being in the sky. For the moment, it was easy to forget my worries about Al.

And then we stopped outside an open window, and Scor slowly edged the broom forwards into the room inside.

“What the hell are you doing? Do you mind?” A dark haired boy said, sitting up in bed to scowl at us.

“What’s going on?” Al’s voice came from the other side of the room.

The drawn curtains around one of the other beds opened and I felt something catch in my throat as Al stuck his head through them. His hair was messy and he was dressed in the same clothes he’d been wearing at the party.

“Liv?” He said, scrambling out of his bed. “What are you doing here? I was looking for you. I didn’t know where you’d gone.”

“Um...I came to find you,” I said.

“But why did you leave in the first place? I thought you were happy to have the party. I wanted it to be something special for you.”

“It was,” I said. I turned to Scor, hoping for support, but he just shrugged, so I carried on talking. “It was lovely. I was happy. But then I had a conversation with Laura…”

“I should go. I’ve got reading to do,” the dark haired boy said abruptly. “I won’t be back for a few hours.”

We all watched him leave and then Al looked at me, obviously worried.

“Whatever she said, I can explain. It’s complicated, but I can explain,” he said.

“Okay. Explain then.”

“Now?” Al looked surprised. “Erm, okay then.”

He looked awkward for a moment, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, and then Scor moved behind me.

“I should go,” Scor said. “I was just escorting drunk Ollie here so she couldn’t get lost. This is your brother’s broom. Can I just leave it here?”

Al nodded.

“Will you be okay?” Scor muttered. “I can stay if you need me to.”

“I’m fine,” I whispered. “But thank you.”

Scor squeezed my hand as he passed me, and then followed the other boy out of the door.

Without Scor, I could feel myself swaying on the spot.

Al stepped forward and took my arm, helping me walk to his bed and sit down on the mattress. I expected him to sit next to me but he didn’t, and instead sat cross legged on the next bed along.

“Are you sure you want to do this right now?” He asked, concerned. “I don’t know how much you’ve had to drink. You can sleep if you want to? We can talk tomorrow.”

“No. Tonight. Explain.”

“Okay. What do you need me to explain?” He sounded calm but I could see that he was nervous.

“Everything.”

“Everything?”

“Yes,” I was sure. “Tell me everything. You never talk about you and Laura. I want to understand what happened.”

He sighed and messed up his hair. “Okay. Alright. Everything.”

“Everything,” I agreed and lay back on his bed, keeping my face turned towards him.

“Right,” he said. “So what you’ve got to understand is that Laura hasn’t always been like this.”

I thought back to my conversation with Louis on the Hogwarts Express, and nodded. Louis had explained how she’d changed. And it made sense. Al wouldn’t have liked her so much if she’d always been this mean.

“She used to be...nice. And fun,” Al continued. “And...I don’t know how to describe her. But she made me happy. My parents liked her, and nobody could come between her and Rose, and even Lily thought she was good for me.”

“I saw pictures of you two at her house. When Dad took me there,” I told him.

“Yeah? I didn’t know that.”

“It made me feel strange. You looked so in love.” If I hadn’t been drunk I probably wouldn’t have made the confession.

“We were,” Al said. “I really did love her. A lot.”

“So what happened?”

“Her father died,” he said. “And then everything went wrong.”

I frowned. “She said he died when she was little.”

Al nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think that’s what she tells people so they don’t ask too many questions. If she makes it sound like it happened a long time ago they don’t realise how much it’s still affecting her.”

“How did he die?”

“He was a muggle,” Al said with a shrug that would seem thoughtless if his face wasn’t so contorted with obvious worry. “And they have a lot of illnesses we just don’t think about. He had lung cancer.”

I recognised the word ‘cancer’ and swallowed. Poor muggles. Poor Laura.

“This was last year,” Al continued. “Just before the summer holidays. He’d been sick for a while but we never really talked about it, and then he suddenly got worse and a few days before the holidays Laura’s mum came to pick her up because he’d died. She didn’t even get to say goodbye. None of us had realised how ill he really was.”

He paused for a moment and put his head in his hands. Part of me wanted to tell him he didn’t have to talk about all this. It was obviously upsetting him, and I didn’t want to make him relive things that had hurt him. But I needed to know. I needed to understand. So I waited for him to carry on.

Al lifted his head again to look at me. “And for a while Laura seemed strangely fine. We all thought she was dealing with it really well. But she wasn’t at all…remember I told you about my friend? Over the holidays?”

“From your primary school?”

“Yeah,” he said. “She wasn’t from my primary school.”

“That was Laura? She tried to kill herself?”

Al took a deep breath before nodding. “I didn’t want to tell you her story. So I said it was a muggle girl you wouldn’t know. But yeah, that was Laura.”

“Al, I’m so sorry,” I murmured.

“Don’t be. You couldn’t have known.”

“So what happened?”

“After he died, she seemed fine. I said that. And we thought maybe she was going to be okay. She had all of us, and was letting herself have fun. But then...it was Louis that realised. Of course he realised - he spends enough time hiding his alcohol consumption to notice when someone else is doing the same.”

“She was drinking? And you didn’t know?”

“I don’t understand how we didn’t notice,” Al said. “As soon as Lou said it, it just seemed obvious. She was so excited about things and so happy and she was actually behaving really recklessly, doing stupid things like walking out of lessons because she couldn’t be bothered to concentrate. And then it turns out she wasn’t just drinking, she was casting all kinds of charms on herself to keep her mood okay, and she had some kind of pill that some muggle guy gave her.”

“Muggle drugs? But that’s so dangerous.”

“I know. And the more we found it, the more there seemed to be. She was a mess and it was frightening, but every time any of us tried to talk to her about it she’d deny everything and then get even worse.”

He breathed deeply again and squeezed his eyes shut. I wondered if he was trying not to cry.

“It makes me feel like such a bad person when I think about it,” he said.

“Why? You couldn’t have helped. That’s what you told me after what happened with my mum. All you can do is offer your support.” I sat up so I could look at him properly.

“And I tried. I really did. But she was being horrible. She was just insulting me every time I tried to talk properly to her, and disappearing all the time, and she’d ignore me for weeks at a time if she didn’t feel like being in a relationship. And somewhere along the way it all got too much and I just...didn’t love her anymore.”

“That’s understandable, Al,” I said.

He nodded but didn’t look that convinced.

“I tried to break up with her just before the christmas holidays, and she just ignored me.”

“Ignored you?”

“Yeah. Completely ignored me. I explained that I was finding it hard and that I felt bad but knew I couldn’t be with her anymore, and I gave her this long speech about how I’d always love her and would always be there to support her, but couldn’t do the relationship anymore. And then when I finished she just smiled at me and told me she didn’t agree. And then she kissed me and said she loved me and would see me after christmas.”

“She told me you cheated on her,” I said. The whole story he’d just told me was horrid and made me understand him better, but it still didn’t explain my conversation with Laura.

He winced. “I’m getting to that.”

My heart plummeted down inside my chest. “So it’s true?”

“I’m not proud of it. I’m really not. I wish it hadn’t happened.”

“But it did?”

“On the first night of the holidays I went out with Lou and James. To Pumpkin Carriage, that place I met you at New Years? Louis decided the solution to all my problems was to get unbelievably, overwhelmingly drunk, and James fully supported the plan. He was in a pretty bad mood about some of his own problems, and Louis’s always up for drinking, so by the time we got there none of had a clue what was going on. I can’t even remember meeting the girl.”

“But you slept with her?”

He half shook his head and then shrugged. “That’s what she said the next day. I think I did. I woke up next to her, anyway. Luckily James had thrown up all over the kitchen table so my parents were distracted by that and didn’t notice her sneaking out of the house.”

I mulled over his words. It made sense. Laura had been telling the truth but everything was a bit more complicated than I’d realised. I pulled Al’s quilt over me to make myself a cocoon and then looked back at him so he could finish the story.

“I told Laura straight away, and broke up with her properly. And then...well, you know what happens next. I told you already. She found some of her mum’s prescription medicine and got rushed to hospital after a suicide attempt.”

This time, his blinking didn’t stop his tears. I reached out a hand and he reached out his from the next bed along, linking our fingers together between the mattresses.

“And then she got out of hospital and that’s when all the horrid newspaper articles started,” he said. “And then I started talking to you after New Years and I suppose that’s it”

He watched me for a little while, letting our linked hands sway together in the gap between the beds.

“Are you angry?” He asked.

I contemplated his question. I knew that I was still not sober, so maybe I’d feel differently in the morning, but I couldn’t feel any of the fury that had filled me after talking to Laura earlier in the night.

“No,” I decided. “Not angry.”

He gave me a watery smile. “Okay. That’s good. So, um, I have a question.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Do you want to go to Hogsmeade with me next week?”

I smiled sleepily. “Of course.”

“Great.”

I yawned and Al stood up, coming to sit on the edge of the mattress I’d claimed.

“Do you want me to walk you back to your Common Room? It’s late. And you’re still drunk.”

“Nope. I’m staying here,” I told him. “Your bed is comfy.”

“Oh really? So where am I staying?” He looked amused but it was a valid question.

“You’re cuddling me. All night.”

He laughed at lay down next to me, letting me flop onto him so he could hold me.

“I thought you were a Slytherin and didn’t do physical affection?”

I yawned against him and hugged his tummy.

“I’ve decided it’s not so bad.”

He kissed my forehead and used one hand to stroke the back of my head, his fingers running through my hair until I fell asleep.




Chapter 25: In Which Mysteries Are Solved
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“It must be nice to have a reason to get up in the morning,” Clara said. “I’m going to stay in bed in my pyjamas all day. On account of the fact that I am apparently completely undesirable and don’t have a date.”

Esther rolled her eyes and threw a teddy bear at her friend. “I told you to come with me.”

“But you’re leaving early for Charms Club,” Clara whined. “And I just have no desire to be part of that.”

“Stop being pathetic. I’m meeting the boys for a drink first. Obviously you can join us,” Esther laughed.

“And then get left alone with Hogwarts’s resident cutest couple when you come back to school? No thank you,” Clara said, shaking her head. “I’ll content myself with making sure Olivia looks gorgeous for her date and then I’m going to paint my nails and nap and maybe get a little bit tipsy by myself.”

I frowned. I wasn’t sure I wanted Clara to make me look ‘gorgeous’. Her commitment to make up was a little bit frightening.

Clara sat up, looking businesslike, and looked me up and down. “You can wear my red skirt. And a black top and your heeled boots. You’ll look like you but with a touch of Gryffindor.”

“That sounds like a terrible perfume advert,” I said, wrinkling my nose, but I took the skirt.

Esther giggled and then put on a sultry voice. “Eau de Potter. You...but with a touch of Gryffindor.”

“I can see it selling well,” Clara grinned. “Brush your hair, Ollie. And then you’re good to go.”

“What? No contouring tips?” Esther looked genuinely shocked. “Who are you and what have you done with Clara Zabini?”

Clara shrugged. “Potter’s already smitten with her. It makes my job easier.”

I smiled and pulled on a pair of tights. Earlier in the year, Clara’s willingness to comment on my love life would have annoyed me. Now, the idea that she thought Al was ‘smitten’ with me made me feel kind of warm and happy. I still felt a little bit sad that I didn’t have Cass there to throw inappropriate underwear at me and tell me she was disappointed in me for going out with a Gryffindor, but I was having a nice time with Esther and Clara.

“I should go,” I told them. “I said I’d meet Al in the Entrance Hall at ten.”

“Have fun!” Esther beamed. “Tell us all about it later.”

“Make sure you spare a thought for me, all alone in the lonely dormitory,” Clara pouted. “While you’re off enjoying your date.”

“You might not be alone,” Esther pointed out. “Amethyst Twine will probably be around.”

Clara stuck her tongue out and threw her weight back down onto her bed. “Oh, god. What did I do to make the universe hate me so much?”

I laughed and gave her a small wave before putting my coat on, wrapping my Slytherin scarf around my neck and leaving the room. The Common Room was quiet. People had either already left for Hogsmeade, or were treating themselves to a long lie in at the weekend.

I ended up half running up to the Entrance Hall. I couldn’t help myself: I was excited.

In some ways, I’d been feeling a little bit ambivalent about Al recently. I was still distinctly unimpressed with him for getting drunk and cheating on Laura, and I wasn’t sure I liked that he had told me Laura’s secrets when she hadn’t told me herself. But then it was hypocritical of me to have any kind of problem with it. I was queen of drinking to avoid my problems. And if he hadn’t told me about Laura, I wouldn’t have known to trust him again. I was mostly just letting myself be happy with him without thinking about it all too much. I couldn’t expect him to be perfect all the time. And it was nice to have a date I was looking forward to.

Al slung an arm around my shoulders when I reached him, and gently kissed my forehead.

“You look lovely,” he said, squeezing me. “Thank you for coming out with me.”

“That’s alright,” I grinned. “I figured I might as well actually spend a bit of time with you.”

He laughed and we climbed into one of the carriages waiting outside the castle. I’d suggested walking, remembering from our Valentine’s outing that Al liked the walk, but we’d decided we’d rather save our energy for when we actually got there.

“This feels a bit different to last time, doesn’t it?” I said as the carriage pulled away. “Last time we came to Hogsmeade you were coming with me to meet my mum.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I was super nervous.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I’d only just got you to admit that we were friends, and then you invited me to come and meet your mum. On Valentine’s Day,” he laughed. “I couldn’t work out if it was meant to be a date or not. And then Malfoy walked past us and was so rude. It was scary.”

“Sorry.” I snuggled against him and looked out the window of the carriage, feeling smug as we past trickles of students who had decided to walk. “Things have changed a lot, haven't they?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t really feel like the same person I was at the beginning of the year.”

“I like the person you are now,” I smiled, and then bit my lip because I was worried I’d sounded stupid.

“I like the person you are too.”

I smiled and squeezed Al’s hand.

It felt easy and nice. And I think if somebody had told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be happy with something easy and nice, I’d have said that was boring. But it wasn’t. Being with Al made it feel like life didn’t have to be difficult. And I needed that.

We bought a packet of chocolate bowtruckles from Honeydukes and wandered in and out of different shops, sucking on their legs as they tried to wriggle away.

“Shall we get a drink and then maybe go for a walk?” I asked when we’d exhausted all of the shops.

“Yeah. Broomsticks?”

“Yep. I want a Butterbeer.” I took his hand again and we forced our way into the crowded bustle of The Three Broomsticks.

Al pushed forward towards the bar, leaving me to scout out a table. We’d made a mistake, shopping before going to the pub. It always filled up quickly on Hogsmeade weekends. The way to get a seat was to come here first and visit the shops later on.

“Ollie! Over here.”

I looked up at the sound of Scor’s voice, and smiled with relief when I spotted him at a table near the window, squashed between Rose Weasley and Oz. Joe and Esther were sat at the same table, but there were still two seats free so I headed towards them.

“I thought you were going to be in the library all day,” I said to Scor, sitting down next to Esther.

“I was. But it got boring after about five minutes,” Scor shrugged. “And Rose was in there so we thought we might as well come and get a drink.”

“Library days always seem like a good idea until you realise that everyone else is outside having fun,” Rose said.

“We think they did it on purpose. This is clearly a date we interrupted,” Joe said, leaning over Esther so he could give me a conspiratorial grin.

“Yep. They looked quite smiley in here before we arrived,” Oz agreed. “We felt a bit mean intruding.”

“We did it anyway, though. Because it’s funny,” Joe grinned.

I noticed Al at the bar and stood up to wave at him. He smiled when he saw me and hurried over. Despite the crowds, people parted to let him through.

“I couldn’t see you,” Al said when he reached us. “I worried you might have ditched me.”

He slid a butterbeer across the table towards me and then sat down next to me. I shuffled closer so that our legs touched and his smile widened.

“I feel bad for not making Clara come along,” Esther said quietly. “I didn’t realise we’d all end up together. She’ll feel left out.”

“She’s probably had half a bottle of wine by now,” I laughed. “I doubt she’ll mind.”

“Maybe. But we’re all out here having a nice time. She’s in the castle by herself. Maybe I should see if we can get a message to her or something.” Esther looked doubtful. She’s too nice for her own good. Just like her brother.

“Oh god, please don’t,” Scor groaned. “I cannot face a whole afternoon with Clara Zabini.”

“Don’t be mean, Scor,” I said.

He raised an eyebrow at me and I chose to take a slurp of butterbeer rather than explain myself.

“Aw, look who’s grown up,” Joey said with an affectionate glance in my direction. “Ollie’s learning to be nice to people.”

“We thought you hated Clara. Didn’t expect you to stick up for her,” Oz added.

I shrugged. “I never hated her.”

“Sure you didn’t,” Oz said, clearly unconvinced.

“I didn’t! Why do you think I did?”

“Well, until this year you spent a lot of time acting like she didn’t sleep in the same dorm as you,” Esther said tentatively. “I think the boys just mean...it might not have been obvious you didn’t hate her.”

“No, I...well…” I wasn’t sure what to say. For some reason their comments were making me very defensive.

“What Ollie’s trying to say,” Scor cut across me. “Is that she didn’t have any strong feelings about Clara. But Cassie hated her. So Ollie was mean out of loyalty.”

I frowned at Scor, surprised by his frankness. He caught my eye and a flash of something that might have been guilt passed over his face. He looked down at the table.

“Well. Cass hates lots of people,” I said, and then turned to Rose. “Where’s Louis?”

Rose laughed. “Eurgh. He was meant to come with me today but he disappeared off with some girl instead. That’s why I was in the Library.”

“I don’t know why we bother making plans with him,” Al said. “This has happened pretty much every Hogsmeade trip since fourth year.”

Rose nodded solemnly and Esther giggled.

Joe glanced at his watch and swore. “Oz and I have to get going. We have lunch reservations for ten minutes ago.”

Oz poured the rest of his drink down his throat and then stood up. The two of them squeezed past us on their way out, waving and rushing their goodbyes.

Esther sighed. “That’s probably my cue to leave as well. I’m kind of regretting saying I’d go to Charms.”

“Skip it,” I shrugged. “Nobody will mind.”

“I can’t do that,” Esther shook her head. “I need it on my record for when I apply for graduate courses.”

She climbed over us and paused to button up her coat before waving and following her brother out of the pub.

“She stresses me out when she starts talking about courses and jobs,” I said. “Let’s never grow up.”

“I like this plan,” Rose agreed.

I smiled at her and then glanced at Al to find him watching me. Under the table, he slid a hand across to squeeze my knee. I put my hand over his and laced our fingers together.

It was nice that all the people I liked were getting along, but I was starting to wish we hadn’t run into the others. I’d wanted to go for that walk with Al, but that would mean leaving Rose and Scor alone, and they didn’t really know each other that well. Al kept pulling faces at me and I thought he was probably thinking the same thing.

Eventually, Rose raised her eyebrows at us both and rolled her eyes.

“Go,” she said. “We’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, please just go and do whatever it is you wanted to do,” Scor nodded.

“Honestly. We’ll be fine,” Rose repeated. “We’ll talk about Transfiguration for a bit and then maybe buy some chocolate and then head back to the castle. You two should go and enjoy your date.”

She sounded sincere but I still hesitated.

“Are you sure?” I kept my eyes on Scor.

He looked mildly amused. “Certain.”

I smiled at Al and we stood up together. Scor and Rose were both very obviously trying to hide the fact they wanted to laugh at our reluctance to leave. Al flicked Rose’s forehead and then took my hand again.

“Maybe they’ll fall in love,” I said, once we’d left the pub and were alone together.

“Not sure Uncle Ron could survive Rosie dating a Slytherin,” Al laughed.

“I take offence.”

“Nah. My parents are fine with it. Besides, the hat thought about putting me in Slytherin.”

I stopped walking to give Al a disbelieving look. “Are you serious? You’re absolutely not a Slytherin.”

He kept a straight face for a few seconds and then his mouth broke into a wide smile. “Yeah, that wasn’t true. I think what it actually said was that it would have loved to put one of Harry Potter’s children in Slytherin, but had rarely seen somebody less suited than me. And then we had a battle about whether I should be a Hufflepuff or a Gryffindor.”

“Joe was nearly a Hufflepuff too,” I said, assuming Joe wouldn’t mind me passing it on. He hadn’t seemed to view it as a secret when he’d told me. “And I guess the hat got its way when your sister came along.”

“Yeah. Lils was always going to be a snake. She’s one of the most manipulative people I know.”

“But she always looks so sweet!”

“That’s part of the act,” he told me. “Where are we going?”

I looked around. While we were talking, we’d wandered further along the road than students usually came on Hogsmeade weekends, and had started to pass houses rather than shopfronts.

“Exploring. I like it here.”

Al looked a bit worried. “I think we should go the other way.”

“Don’t be boring.” I pulled him along beside me.

“Okay,” he said. “I seem not to be able to say no to you.”

“As it should be,” I beamed.

We walked in silence for a few minutes, swaying our hands forwards and backwards. Al kept nervously pushing his hair away from his face, and the gesture made me smile. I wasn’t sure why he was nervous but it was sweet.

The sun was shining and I unwound my scarf, shoving it into my bag. We were moving into spring and, while Hogsmeade was always chilly, the sun made it bright and cheerful. I couldn’t stop smiling and felt a little bit silly.

“I like today,” Al said. “Let’s stay here and not go back to school.”

“You love school.”

“But if we go back, Rosie will make me do my Transfiguration homework and then she’ll want to talk about it. And that would be awful.”

I laughed. “Nah, she’s got Scor now. They can talk about Transfiguration.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I just didn’t see that one coming. I thought Malfoy would refuse to have any kind of civil friendship with somebody from our family.”

I shrugged. “He’s trying. He’s changed a lot. I think you’ll really like him if you get to know each other a bit better.”

“I do like him,” Al said. “And I think it’s great how much he obviously cares about you.”

We kept walking, even though we were definitely out of the village now. The path we were on was getting narrower, and there were fields either side of us, every so often punctuated by small cottages and occasional large houses. I’d never come this way with Cass and Scor. We always kept to the shops.

Al was starting to look nervous again. “Shall we go back now?”

I turned around to shake my head at him. “But it’s so pretty!”

“I know, but…” his voice trailed off. He was looking at something over my shoulder.

I spun around but there was nothing there.

“What were you looking at?”

Al didn’t seem to know what to say, but he didn’t deny that something had been there.

“What?” I repeated. “Al, what aren’t you telling me?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing. I just think we should go back to school.”

I frowned at him and then took a few more steps forward, trying to work out what had made him nervous. The path ahead of us was empty. I glanced back at Al, who still looked worried, and then kept walking.

A small cottage was set a few paces back from the path. As we got closer, Al visibly tensed. I looked up at the cottage. None of the lights were on in the windows, but it was still daytime so this didn’t mean the cottage was empty.

Leaving Al on the path, I walked right up to the front of the cottage. I was quite surprised by my certainty that there was something there for me to find. But for some reason I felt sure that I should look. Al didn’t try to stop me, but when I looked back he was pressing his fingertips into his temples and looked like he was fighting some kind of moral battle with himself.

I peered through one of the ground floor windows of the cottage, my forehead against the cool glass. It was gloomy inside, but somebody had obviously been there recently. There was an empty mug next to a big armchair, and a table had been laid. A vase on the table contained a single tulip.

I kept looking around the room, and then gasped when I saw my own face looking back at me. I stumbled backwards and towards Al.

He caught me and wrapped his arms around me. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“There’s a photo of me in there,” I told him. “In a frame on a mantelpiece. There’s a photo of me and Scor.”

Al didn’t say anything.

“Why’s there a picture of me? Who’s in there?” My voice was rising but I couldn’t stop it.

“Shall we go back to school?” Al tightened his grip on me. “This is really creepy.”

I started to nod, wanting to get as far away from the cottage as possible, but then I heard a crashing sound from behind me and rushed back to the door. Somebody was inside.

I knocked on the door. “Hello? Are you okay?”

Nobody came to let me in. I kept knocking, aware that I probably looked like a crazy person. Feeling completely stupid, I eventually took out my wand. I could pretty much feel Al watching me and wondering whether I’d gone mad, but I couldn’t leave until I knew who was inside.

I touched my wand to the edge of the door. “Alohomora.”

I heard the lock click and leant against the door to open it, stepping into the room I’d been looking at.

The photograph on the mantelpiece stood out to me, and I walked over to it. It was in a plain black frame. I didn’t think I’d seen it before, but I remembered the day it must have been taken. I was wearing a deep purple wool dress and had gold tinsel in my hair. Scor had his arms wrapped around my waist and was holding me in the air while I squirmed and tried to get down. I was holding a half empty bottle of Firewhiskey and kept trying to hold it up to my mouth but Scor’s grip was stopping me. Christmas in fifth year.

I tore my gaze away from the photograph and wandered further into the cottage, walking through an open door into a small kitchen. A glass had smashed on the floor. That must have been the sound I’d heard.

Nobody was in the room, but a back door was open. I walked over to it and looked out into the small, square garden.

“Olivia?”

The girl standing there looked completely the same but also completely different to the last time I’d seen her. Her hair was longer and shone gold in the sun, and she looked pale and tired. She was wearing a loose white dress that made her look bigger than usual, and then she turned and I realised that she was bigger than usual. She lifted one hand protectively to her swollen belly and let her eyes properly meet mine.

“Cass?”


Chapter 26: In Which Family Matters
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I followed Cassie back into the cottage. She wasn’t wearing any shoes and stood on tiptoes, somehow managing not to cut her feet as she stepped between the broken glass on the kitchen floor. It crunched under my boots.

She sat down at the table next to the tulip. I stayed standing by the wall, staring at her.

“They thought you might be dead,” I said, my voice flat.

She winced in a way that wasn’t very Cassie. I wasn’t used to seeing her look guilty.

“They found your locket, Cass,” I told her. “With your blood on it. How did that happen?”

“I was scared,” she whispered.

“Of what? We’re your friends.”

She shook her head and lifted one hand up to her mouth, chewing anxiously on a fingernail.

“I didn’t want to come back. And I didn’t want people to find me. I thought...I don’t know what I thought.” She bit through the nail. I heard the sound of it splitting, and watched as she used her other hand to peel the jagged edge away from her finger, leaving a thin trail of blood.

“You thought if everyone thought something had happened to you, they probably wouldn’t come looking for you in Hogsmeade,” I said.

I wasn’t sure if I was right, but Cassie’s expression showed that I’d understood. She deliberately made it look like she’d been abducted. She wanted us all to think something bad had happened. She didn’t want us to realise she’d just been hiding away.

“That’s despicable,” I spat out.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” Cassie shrugged, looking pathetic. “I couldn’t come back to school. Not like this. And I could hardly explain it to anyone.”

I frowned at her. She seemed to think that her words made sense.

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

Cassie didn’t look at me, instead staring down at her hands. She wasn’t wearing nail varnish. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen her without painted nails.

“Cass, why didn’t you tell us? We could have been there for you. Did you think we wouldn’t? We could have helped!”

She still didn’t say anything, and I realised that I couldn’t stop talking. Words kept spilling over themselves and my eyes were wet.

“I’ve been so worried. All of us have been so worried. And, what, you were just here? In Hogsmeade?? I don’t get it. Why would you disappear like that? Because you’re pregnant? Did you think that would be a problem? Did you think that was a problem we couldn’t get past? Cass, we always look out for each other. Why would this have been any different?”

Cassie looked tired. “Ollie…”

For some reason I didn’t want to let her speak.

“And even if you didn’t want to tell me, why wouldn’t you tell Scor? He has a right to know about this. He loves you, Cass. And he’s been having the aurors speaking to him and he’s been so sad and he deserves to know about his child. Literally how could you keep this from him?”

“Ollie…”

“No! Nothing you say is going to make this okay. You have to tell him!”

I was startled by the strength of my anger towards her. I’d spent so much time feeling worried and kind of sad about Cass. I hadn’t thought about how I’d feel if I actually found her. And it turned out that I was furious.

“Ollie,” she said again, this time louder. “Ollie, it’s not his.”

“But he’d help you! He loves you. He...what?”

“The baby isn’t his,” she said, sounding drained. “He’s not the father.”

I stared at her.

Once, when we were fourteen, Scor, Cass and I had convinced Cassie’s brother to apparate us to Brighton beach. It was February and freezing and as soon as we got there we realised it was a pretty bad idea, but Andreas had already left and wasn’t going to pick us up until the evening. We bought fish and chips and took photographs on the pier and when it started to get dark Cass convinced us to go in the sea. We splashed around and laughed at our chattering teeth and when I looked at them I was completely overwhelmed by how happy they made me. And then Scor picked Cassie up in the sea, clothes heavy with salt water, and spun her round, and the way he looked at her made it clear that they had something I could never be part of.

I remember how worried I was that day. It was the first time I realised that Scor and Cassie might end up more than friends. And for a long time I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to our friendship. I thought I’d lose them both. But it turned out that their relationship was good for us, that it kept us stronger as friends, and kept both of them happier than they’d been when they were apart.

This was so so much worse.

“Ollie, I don’t know what to say,” Cass said quietly.

“Scor’s not the father? But then...who is?”

Cassie shook her head and sucked her bottom lip between her teeth, chewing the fragile skin. I rubbed my eyes with the palms of my hands. It all felt like it was too much.

I’d left the door open when I entered the cottage, so wouldn’t have noticed the person arrive behind me if Cassie’s eyes hadn’t widened at his appearance.

“Sorry, I got held up at school. Molly wanted to meet and I couldn’t get rid of her.”

I swallowed and turned around. I knew the voice but I didn’t want to believe it.

“Liv?” James dropped the paper bag he was holding. Vegetables spilled out onto the floor. He looked down at them and seemed to consider picking them up, but instead stayed still.

“What are you doing here?” I somehow kept my voice steady.

“I didn’t think you’d be here,” he said, not answering my question. “When did Cass let you know this was where she was?”

“She didn’t,” I said coldly, my eyes flickering back to Cass, who was still chewing her lip.

“Maybe you should go, James,” Cass said. Her voice was surprisingly gentle. “Ollie and I should talk.”

“No, that’s okay. Stay,” I said, taking a step towards the doorway. “I’m done.”

“Ollie.” Cass stood up.

“No. Don’t.”

“Don’t what? Talk to you? You’re my best friend.”

“Are you serious?” I glared at her. “You’ve been gone for months. You disappeared without saying anything and deliberately let us all think you might be dead. And so many things have happened and I’ve needed you and you’ve just not been here.”

“Ollie, I didn’t know,” Cass said.

“I wrote to you! I wrote you so many letters and you completely ignored them. And then I turn up here and you’re pregnant but you didn’t bother telling me. And you’re not just pregnant but you’re pregnant with James Potter’s child. So that’s another thing you just never thought to mention. Because I was under the impression that you were in love with our best friend, your boyfriend, who has been going completely insane while you’ve been gone. But it turns out there were just a lot of things I didn’t know about you.”

I stared at her for a moment. I was aware that my words had been too rushed, too emotional. I didn’t think I’d managed to properly show her how much she’d hurt me. But it was all too much of a surprise and I couldn’t organise my thoughts enough to speak clearly.

Cassie touched her fingers to her cheekbones, looking more vulnerable than I’d ever seen her, and then she lifted her head high to look at me properly. And I hated her.

I pushed past James, shoving him rather than walking around him to reach the door. I wanted to look back at Cass, hoping that maybe some of the hatred would dissipate, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn around.

I flung myself out of the door and ran down the path. I couldn’t see Al and panicked for a moment, but then caught sight of a figure further down the road and rushed towards him.

“Liv.” He sounded almost surprised to see me. “I wasn’t sure where to go. I didn’t want to intrude. So I waited here. I...are you okay?”

He caught my arms and looked at me. I shook my head and he curled his arms around me so that I could gasp against his chest.

We stood there for several minutes. He kept me steady and I didn’t want to move away from him. I somehow wasn’t crying, which surprised me. I think it must have been because I was so angry.

My whole body was trembling. It felt a little bit like at Easter, when I’d gone home to find the Healers outside my house. But this time for some reason I felt more pathetic, more out of control. Maybe because this time it was completely unexpected. I’d always known Cass could be difficult, but I thought I could trust her. She was one of the only people I’d felt so sure about, and it turned out I’d been wrong.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Al murmured against my hair.

I clutched onto him, digging my fingers into his shoulder blades, and he kissed my head.

“Okay. Okay, we don’t need to talk. I’m here.”

He rocked me from side to side while we stood. The motion was strangely comforting. Our toes were touching and I focussed on lining my whole body up with his. I could feel my hip bone grazing against him, and tried to straighten my body so it touched his hip, drawing my shoulders up so they fitted just below his. He held onto me while I wriggled, letting me try to calm myself down.

“Everyone keeps letting me down, Al,” I whispered. “Scor, and Mum, and Cass.”

“They’ll come back to you,” he said softly. “Malfoy did.”

“What if they don’t?”

I heard his breath quicken. He was worried about me.

“They will. You’re wonderful,” he said.

“I just want to feel like everything’s normal again. I want everything to stop being so complicated.”

A single tear finally burned itself into my eye, and I almost felt relieved as it trickled down my cheek. I wanted to be able to make sense of what I was feeling.

Al reached up a hand and brushed the tear away with his thumb. His skin was warm and rough.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” I confessed. “You’re always here.”

“I always will be,” he smiled, drawing me back against his chest. “I promise. I’m not going anywhere.”

I smiled against him, even though I could feel more tears coming. I wasn’t sure when it had happened, but at some point he’d become somebody who made me feel completely safe, and that was exactly what I needed.

“I know you’re angry,” he said, pulling away from me a little so he could see my face and wipe my eyes again. “I do. But I think it’ll get better.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“It will,” he insisted. “It might take time, but you won’t always feel like this. And James and Cassie...they weren’t trying to hurt you. I know it’s hard to see their point of view, especially right now. It’s a lot to take in, obviously, but I think when you’re ready you’ll be able to talk to them about it.”

I swallowed, staring at him. He looked confused by my changed expression, but before he could say anything I stepped backwards, out of his grasp. Cold realisation swept over me, and brought back the fury he’d managed to soothe away.

“You knew.” I stared at him.

“I...what?”

“You knew. You knew about Cassie and James!” I took another step backwards.

“What?”

“You just started talking about them. I hadn’t even told you what happened and you knew. You knew.”

Al looked alarmed and held up one hand, perhaps thinking about reaching out to me again, but he lowered it when I glared at him.

“I’ve been so worried about her! And all this time I’ve been upset, and talking to you about it, and you’ve been acting like you’re helping...and you knew where she was!”

“No, Liv, I...I haven’t known the whole time.”

“But you still knew before I did. And you didn’t tell me?”

I stood still, watching him, waiting for him to deny it. But the denial never came. Instead, he slowly inclined his head. He looked like he was wilting.

I didn’t wait to let him speak again, and instead did what I do best. I turned around and ran as fast as I could, ignoring his shout for me to come back.

The journey back to school felt shorter than it had on the way into the village, and I sprinted the majority of the way, rushing past laughing students and ignoring anyone who recognised me. It was still light and Hogsmeade was still full of Hogwarts students enjoying their weekend. It seemed absurd that they could all be out here, that the world hadn’t been turned upside down for them, but I didn’t let myself think about them.

When I reached the school I hesitated, unsure where to go. At some point I knew I needed to see Scor, but I didn’t feel ready to do that yet. I waited by the gates to catch my breath. Al hadn’t followed me. I wasn’t sure whether I was disappointed or relieved. My breathing eventually calmed down and I pushed my hair back behind my ears, already feeling calmer.

The sky was clear and I couldn’t see anybody flying so I walked towards the Quidditch pitch, wondering vaguely whether being up in the air might make me feel better.

The pitch was completely empty. I walked all the way to the very centre of the grass. I liked being there alone. It made me feel tiny, but in a way that was comforting. I abandoned any plans I had to fly, and instead knelt down in the grass and hugged my knees against my chest.

I stayed there, by myself, for a long time, letting waves of worry and anger wash over me. I couldn’t even be bothered to make myself properly think about how I was feeling, but I knew I couldn’t just go back up to the castle and act like nothing had happened. It felt like everything had changed. I was angry with Cassie, for disappearing, for not being around, for lying to Scor. But for the moment I wasn’t even thinking about her.

I felt completely and utterly betrayed by Al. In some ways, it felt the same as Scor distancing himself from me earlier in the year. The only person I’d trusted and wanted to talk to about it all had been Scor, but I couldn’t go to him because he was the one that had been making me sad. This was similar. I’d learned to rely on Al, to talk to him whenever things were difficult, but now the thing that was difficult was in some ways his fault, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

“Liv?”

I sat up and hastily wiped my eyes to check that they were dry. Jason was jogging towards me, wearing his Gryffindor hoody and what looked a lot like pyjama bottoms.

“Hey, moron,” I muttered when he was close enough to hear me without me having to raise my voice.

“Hi.” He dropped down beside me. I edged away so there was some grass between us.

“What are you doing here?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to James Potter’s best friend right now, even if he was my cousin.

“Erm, James just got back from Hogsmeade,” Jason said. “He said you might need some company.”

“Oh.” I lay back in the grass.

“We had a pretty long chat. Turns out there was quite a lot he was keeping from me. I’m not used to my best friend keeping secrets like that.” Jason lay down as well. His head nearly touched mine, but he flung his feet in a different direction. We made a kind of right angle on the floor.

“Join the club,” I said, forcing a laugh.

“I would have told you if I’d known,” he said seriously.

“Thank you.”

I rolled onto my front so I could push myself up using one hand, and then reached out and messed his hair up. He stuck his tongue out at me and I managed a small smile before lying back down on my tummy.

We didn’t say anything else to each other, and I expected Jason to leave me alone and go back to the castle, but instead he shuffled closer and closed his eyes.

It was maybe the first time I’d realised that it was sort of nice to have some family at Hogwarts.


Chapter 27: In Which Ripples are Made
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“Have you told him yet?” Jason sat down next to me at breakfast. He was wearing his school robes but I could see his pyjama bottoms underneath.

I scowled at him and piled my plate up with bacon. I’d deliberately woken up early so that I could eat breakfast alone, but my moronic cousin had apparently guessed my plan. After lying on the Quidditch pitch the previous night with him, I’d gone straight to bed without bothering with dinner, meaning so far I’d managed to avoid talking to anybody about everything that had happened with Cass. I wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible.

“You need to tell him,” Jason said. He didn’t take any food from the table and just filled a glass with orange juice. Probably on some kind of quidditch diet.

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Then you’re being a hypocrite.” He put the jug of orange juice back down with a clunk.

I frowned. “How did you work that out? I get it’s not very Gryffindor to avoid telling my best friend his girlfriend he thought might be dead is in fact just hiding away because she’s pregnant with somebody else’s child and didn’t think she needed to tell him. But I don’t see how that’s the same as being hypocritical.”

“You’re furious with Al because he knew where Cassie was but didn’t tell you,” Jason pointed out.

“Of course I’m furious!” I snapped. “He saw how worried and upset I was, and he could have helped me. All this time I was thinking she might be hurt or something and Al knew she was okay. He should have told me!”

“Listen to yourself,” Jason said calmly. “Think about what you just said. And now think about the fact you’ve known where Cassie is for the last 18 hours and haven’t told Malfoy.”

I looked down at the table, suddenly feeling terrible.

Jason gripped my arm and looked at me with a serious expression that didn’t suit him off the quidditch pitch.

“It’s okay, Liv,” he said earnestly. “I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. He’ll understand that you were trying to get your head round it yesterday. But I think if you leave it much longer he might be less understanding.”

“You’re right,” I nodded. “I’ll see you later.”

I picked up a whole plate of buttered toast from the table and took it with me as I left the Hall, munching on a piece from the top of the pile.

The corridors were still quiet. It was relatively early in the morning and most people found it difficult to get up on a Monday morning.

I walked past Clara and Esther in the Slytherin Common Room but ignored their smiles and instead headed straight for the boys dormitories, reaching the door just as Scorpius came out.

He looked startled by my presence and dropped the book he was holding. I waited for him to pick it up before speaking to him.

“Come,” I told him. “I need to talk to you.”

To his credit, Scor shrugged and followed me out of the Common Room without asking any questions. I led him out of the castle and back to the quidditch pitch. For some reason I’d decided it was the place to be to think about Cass. We sat down in the stands and I offered him a piece of toast.

“You okay, Ollie?” He said after taking a bite. “What’s going on?”

I rubbed my eyes, trying to force the tiredness away so I could speak to him with a clear head.

“You’re making me worried.” He reached out and rested the palm of his hand against the back of my seat, ready to hold me if I needed it.

I took a deep breath.

“I saw Cassie yesterday.”

Scorpius looked at me, his face suddenly tense. I watched his shoulders slump forward and he lowered his hand so that his piece of toast dangled droopily towards the floor.

“You saw Cass?” His voice was quiet and pained.

“Yeah. In Hogsmeade.”

Scor’s eyes were wide and disbelieving. I put the plate of toast down on the chair next to me so that I could hold his hand. His fingers didn’t wrap around mine, but he didn’t pull away.

“She’s in a cottage there,” I told him. “I think she’s been there for a while…”

I told him how I’d stumbled across her, and told him how she’d looked at me. And I explained how confusing the whole thing had been, and how I’d seen the photograph of us, and how the cottage looked empty but then I’d heard the noise from inside. And then I hesitated, but forced myself to keep talking, to explain why she was missing, and to explain James Potter. And to explain the baby. I kept talking, trying to fill the space between us with chaotic words, wanting to protect Scor, somehow, from what had happened but knowing that I couldn’t keep it from him. Until I ran out of words.

“And Albus knew?” Scor frowned.

I nodded, unsure how to talk about that bit of the story, but luckily Scor didn’t seem to feel the need to question me further.

“I’m going to go back to bed, I think,” Scor said when I finally finished talking. “I don’t think I can face going to Potions.”

“I’ll come and sit with you? I don’t want to leave you by yourself.” I chewed my lip nervously. I’d expected more of a reaction from him.

He shook his head, and this time I noticed the flash of anger behind his cool expression.

“I need to be by myself. Just for a bit. It’s...a lot to think about.”

We walked back to the castle in silence, but I didn’t let go of his hand. Lessons had already started so we didn’t run into anyone, and I was grateful for the emptiness.

When we reached the dungeons, Scor pulled away from me. My hand felt cold without his. I wanted to hold onto him but he’s never been someone that clings to people to feel better.

“I’ll be okay. Just give me some time, yeah? I’ll see you later.” He messed up my hair and then started to make his way back towards the Common Room. He looked strangely small, alone in the gloom of the corridor.

I screwed up my face and rubbed my palms against my closed eyes, trying to get myself into the right frame of mind to go to a lesson. It didn’t really make me feel better.

I pushed open the door to Slughorn’s classroom and held my breath as faces turned to look at me.

“Sorry I’m late. Overslept,” I told Slughorn.

He didn’t even acknowledge that I’d spoken, and immediately went back to discussing some wonderful friend of his that had discovered the restorative powers of fluxweed.

I stood in the doorway, bracing myself to go over to my seat. Al was already sat down. He turned to look at me, obviously trying to catch my eye, but I looked down at the ground as I walked towards him. I could feel him trying to get me to look at him, maybe mouthing some words he wanted me to hear, and I slowed my steps so that it would take me longer to reach him.

And then instead of taking my usual seat, I walked past Al and pulled out Scor’s usual chair beside Joe.

Joey sighed when I sat down, but he didn’t say anything. He rubbed my arm reassuringly and slid a sugar quill across the desk towards me. He must have known what had happened. Maybe one of the Gryffindors told him. I managed to give him a smile and spent the rest of the lesson sucking on the quill, trying my hardest to ignore Al’s presence behind me.

And that’s how things carried on. I managed to avoid talking to Al when I ran into him, and ignored him in lessons we shared. In lessons where Rose and Louis had originally moved seats to allow me some time away from Scor, they shuffled back so I could instead stay away from Al. They both tried to talk to me about forgiving him, but didn’t push it when I said no. When I explained why I felt betrayed, they agreed. Rose hugged me until Louis had to prise her away from me.

Joe was fabulous, as always, moving to sit with me in different classes and pulling faces at me when he decided I looked sad.

Esther and Clara tried to be supportive. They sat either side of me at lunch and gossiped and giggled until I had to pretend to need the loo so I could get away from them. They’d grown on me this year, a lot, but still weren’t who I wanted to see when I felt bad.

Scor stayed in bed all day.

I sat down by myself at the Slytherin table at dinner. I could see Al sat with the Gryffindors across the Hall. He looked pretty much the same way I felt, but at least he was surrounded by people.

The two fifth year girls sitting opposite me stopped talking at my arrival. I saw one of them glance at the other, and then they both tried (and failed) to stifle their giggles. They’d probably been talking about Cassie. Everyone was talking about Cassie. By the time I’d told the Slytherin sixth years and James had told whoever he’d decided to tell, it hadn’t taken long for the story to get around the school. Every so often I felt a twinge of guilt when I thought about Cassie’s carefully guarded secret becoming common knowledge. But then I remembered how furious I was with her and decided it didn’t matter after all.

“Olivia? That’s your name, right?” One of the girls leaned forward.

I gave her what I like to think of as my death glare, but she didn’t react.

“Is it true Cassandra Selwyn is getting married to James Potter once he graduates?” She looked excited by the idea.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. It occurred to me that I actually probably wouldn’t even know if Cass was getting married to Potter, but it didn’t seem very plausible. Cass had never been very interested in the idea of weddings. And although it was out of character for her to be sleeping with a Potter, I thought her hatred of Gryffindor probably remained sufficiently enough to prevent marriage.

“If they got married you could be a bridesmaid at a Potter wedding!” The girl said. She sounded like she was trying to reassure me, as if she thought her words were comforting or pleasing.

I stood up and walked away from the table, leaving my food untouched behind me. I could hear the two girls start whispering as soon as my back was turned but I didn’t let myself think about it. Instead, I walked purposefully out of the Hall and down towards the dungeons.

I didn’t like today. It was far from the first time everything had turned rubbish this year. But I’d started to assume I’d have Al there to help me through it. Somewhere along the line I’d started depending on him. And now I felt uprooted and confused.

The Common Room was quite empty. Most people were still at dinner. A few seventh years were sat near the fireplace studying. I gave Ozzy a vague nod as I walked past.

For the second time in a day, I made my way towards the boys dormitories. This time, Scor wasn’t ready at the door when I arrived. The curtains around his bed were drawn and the room was dark.

I didn’t turn the light on, and instead tiptoed over to Scor’s bed, trying not to trip over any of the mess that littered the floor.

When I pulled back the curtain, Scor groaned from the other side. He rolled over to look at me, squinting in the darkness.

“Ollie?”

I felt my face crumple but didn’t let myself cry. I’d done too much crying this year. And it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.

Scor obviously noticed the change in my expression, though, because he lifted his quilt and shuffled over in the bed. I climbed in next to him, curling my body into a ball with my head a couple of inches away from his shoulder.

“I didn’t want to be by myself,” I told him.

He didn’t reply but he shifted a little bit closer so that I could feel his arm through my sleeve. He closed his eyes but I kept mine open, watching him.

I wanted to talk to him properly about everything that had happened, but his reaction to my story made me feel like that wouldn’t be what he wanted. His eyes were ringed with red and he’d definitely been crying, but he’d chosen to do so up here by himself instead of coming to find me. I didn’t want to force him to talk about it when he hadn’t given me any reason to think that it would help him.

I lay awake next to Scor for a long time. I couldn’t work out whether he was asleep, but he didn’t open his eyes. After a while, the light flickered on as the other boys came up the stairs. I stayed quiet behind the curtains, listening to their laughter. They sounded happy. Maybe it was a shame that Scorpius had never really let himself get involved with his roommates. Maybe it would have been good for him.

When the room was gloomy again and the darkness was punctuated by Joey’s rumbling snores, I sat up. Sleep didn’t seem very likely and I’d been lying still for a long time.

I got out of bed, pausing to tuck the covers back around Scor’s shoulders. His eyelids flickered but he didn’t fully acknowledge me. I bent forwards and gently kissed his forehead. His skin was hot and I pushed his hair back from his face before moving away, closing the curtains again behind me.

I wasn’t sure what time it was but the castle was quiet so it was presumably past curfew. I wondered whether my tenuous prefect status would still mean I was immune to curfew. I had a feeling I might have sacrificed that immunity with my consistent failure to turn up to patrols. But then again, James Potter was head boy, and I doubted he was in any rush to get into an argument with me.

I wandered vaguely in the direction of the Quidditch Pitch, thinking it might be able to calm me down again, but once I was out in the grounds my feet seemed to have different ideas and I found myself walking in the direction of the lake.

It was getting warmer, and I was still wearing my school cloak, so it felt sort of nice to be out there in the night. Behind me, the castle was still and sleeping, apart from a few windows that still twinkled with light. I glanced up at Gryffindor tower. The windows were full of warmth, and I thought I might be able to make out somebody looking down at me. But it was so high up that it was impossible to tell who it was, and I might just have been imagining it.

I sat down next to the lake and, after a moment’s thought, unlaced my shoes and pulled them off my feet. I dunked my feet into the water, right up to my ankles, letting the cold rush over my skin, and then kicked water up into the air, finding an unreasonable amount of satisfaction when it splashed around me.

Part of me, if I was completely honest with myself, had come out here hoping that somebody would come and find me. Scor hadn’t wanted to talk and I didn’t want to be by myself, so I’d come out into the grounds in the hope that someone would come looking for me.

An even smaller, even more honest part of me had come out here hoping that the person to come and find me would be Al. I felt silly even admitting it to myself, but he’d always been able to find me when I’d needed him, and he’d been able to make it feel better. I was furious with him, definitely, but that didn’t mean I didn’t kind of want him to look after me again.

I kicked my legs again and watched the ripples fade away across the lake.

I reached a hand up to my throat and unclasped the locket I’d been wearing since the holidays. I’d grown used to wearing it and it felt strange to lose the weight of it from around my neck. I turned the silver over in my fingertips.

As a piece of jewellery, it was distinctly unCassie. The chain was delicate and slinky, but the locket itself was clunky and heavy. It was round, without decoration, and unnecessarily chunky for something so small. But Cass had still worn it every day.

I flicked the clasp with my thumb and opened the locket to look at the photograph inside. Cass was sandwiched between Scor and I, one of her arms visible as she held the camera out in front of us. All three of us were glaring at the camera, and then Cass says something and we simultaneously burst into laughter.

A single tear rolled down my cheek and I brushed it away.

I hadn’t looked at the photograph since Andreas gave the locket back to me, and now I could see why I hadn’t opened it. Looking at the picture, at our smiling faces, Cassie’s pout and Scorpius’s surprised laughter, made me feel almost like I was back there. And I wasn’t prepared for it. I could hear our voices, almost, giggling together, sitting by the lake almost exactly where I was sat right now.


“I’m going to bed.”
“Don’t be so boring, Scor. You can sleep when you’re dead. Right now you have to come back because we’re having a photograph.”

“I’m not doing that.”

“Don’t be silly, darling, of course you are.”

“You never even look at the pictures you take of yourself.”

“But she needs them. So that when she’s old and wrinkly she can remember her better days.”

“Shut up, Ollie. I’m not going to be old and wrinkly. I plan on dying young and fabulous. Now come on, or we’ll lose the light. You too, Scor.”

“If I join in, do you promise you’ll actually keep the picture?”

“Whatever.”

“I’m going to make you keep it. I’ll put it in a locket and then you can wear it every day and think about how much you love us.”

“Sweetheart, I don’t need a photograph to remind me how much I love you. But I’ll wear it if it makes you happy. Now, come on my cherubs. I’m going in the middle so I look more important. That’s it, come in closer. Pull Slytherin faces.”





I swallowed and snapped the locket closed again. Sometimes when I looked back at my memories of Cass I found it hard to remember why I liked her so much, but then I remembered how genuinely happy I’d been in those moments and it was difficult to see how I’d ever manage without her.

I clenched my fist around the locket and squeezed it tightly, letting my hand warm the metal. And then I lifted my hand up above my head. And almost without thinking, I loosened my fingers and let the locket sail through the air in front of me.

It landed a few metres away, falling into the lake with a satisfying splash.

The ripples it left didn’t quite meet my ankles, but they still looked pretty. I would have liked to paint them.


Chapter 28: In Which Stories are Told
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Dear Ollie,

I’m not even sure how to begin this letter, but I know that I should write - I should at least be trying to explain myself to you.

I know you think I should have told you what was going on, but I hope you can understand why that was difficult for me. This whole thing has been so hard for me to get my head round and get used to. It’s changed everything for me. I wasn’t ready to talk about it and I needed some time to get used to the fact my life is going to be different now.

Things with James are...complicated. But he’s been supportive. And it’s been good for me to have somebody to talk to who understands.

You and Scor are probably furious with me. I hope you can forgive me. I did what I had to do. Look after him for me.

But anyway, enough about me. How are you?! Was that Albus Potter you were with at the weekend? I can’t say I ever saw that coming. How’s school? Are you doing okay in lessons without me to help you?

Love you girly,

Cass xx



I glared at the letter and then scrunched it up into a ball. It made a satisfying, destructive noise, so I smoothed it out again, wanting to crush it and hear the sound once more. Before I could screw it up, Scor reached out and slid the parchment out from under my fingers.

“I didn’t expect her to apologise. Thought she’d wait for us to go to her,” he said lightly.

“Not sure you can exactly call that an apology,” I scowled.

Scor raised his eyebrows and his eyes flickered down to read Cassie’s words. I watched his expression darken as her message sunk in, and then he very purposefully tore a straight line down the centre of the parchment, leaving it in two separate halves on the table.

“I don’t like her,” I muttered.

Scor tore the parchment again. This time his movement was less careful, and left jagged pieces of letter behind.

“She’s acting like she didn’t do anything wrong. Like this year hasn’t been hell without her,” I said.

“Did you expect her to do anything else?” Scor cut across me. His voice was angry, but I didn’t think the anger was directed at me.

“I thought...I don’t know.”

“This is a standard Cassie move. Cause absolute chaos and trauma for everyone around you and then pretend your actions made sense and nothing’s changed for anyone except you.”

I was actually quite surprised by the bitterness in Scor’s voice, but his words were true.

“Did you notice how many times she used the word ‘I’ in that letter?” Scor continued. “She’s not even thinking about the fact that her actions had an effect on us. And I cannot believe she had the cheek to tell you to look after me for her.”

“She’s showing she still cares about you, though,” I said.

“No, she’s not,” Scor said, shaking his head. “She’s showing you that she still has a claim to me. She’s acting like you wouldn’t look after me anyway, because she doesn’t think our friendship matters as much as our relationships with her. It’s fucking typical.”

I frowned. I’d been annoyed by the letter but I hadn’t really thought that much about the implied meaning of Cassie’s words. Everything Scor said made sense, and corresponded to all the things I’d always tried to ignore about Cass’s personality.

“You know what?” Scor said, not waiting for me to acknowledge his words before carrying on. “I’m done with her. Completely. I am completely done being a part of her life.”

I bit my lip. I never would have expected to hear Scor talk about Cassie like this. They were Scor and Cassie. They were supposed to be the most in love people I knew. They were supposed to actually be able to make it work. But then again, it was hardly Scor’s fault that it had all gone wrong.

“What will you do if she comes back?” I asked, not sure I really wanted to hear the answer.

Scor shrugged. “I don’t know. Ignore here, I guess? But I’m not playing her game. I’m not going to act like she’s just been going through some big problems and had to hide away and it’s all completely understandable and excusable. Because it’s not.”

“No. It’s not,” I agreed.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do,” Scor said. “Because how you handle your friendship with her is your own choice. But if I were you, I wouldn’t write back.”

I peered back at what was left of the letter. All I’d wanted since Cass had disappeared was for her to write to me, to get in touch and explain what was going on. I’d thought I could forgive her for anything, as long as she let me know she was okay and helped me to understand what was going on in her head. But now it was too late. Scor was right.

I nodded and Scor reached out to squeeze my hand.

“Come on,” he said, his voice softer. “We’re going to be late for Transfiguration. And I’ve missed too many classes already this week.”

I took a last gulp of my tea and then stood up, abandoning the rest of my breakfast. Scor walked next to me, his arm bumping against mine, but we didn’t really talk. All either of us could think about was what had happened with Cass, but we’d said all we needed to say about it already.

As we left the Hall, I was stopped by Professor Slughorn calling my name.

“Miss Bell! Ah, there you,” he panted, out of breath as he waddled over to catch up with us. “I’ve been meaning to have a chat with you. Let’s go to my office.”

Scor gave me a questioning glance and I shrugged.

“Um, I’m meant to be in Transfiguration,” I said.

“No matter, no matter. I’ll explain your absence,” he said, waving a hand to demonstrate how unimportant my lesson was. “Now come on, Miss Bell. This won’t take long.”

I shrugged at Scor again and he shook his head in bemusement. Slughorn was already starting to walk away, so I left Scor to catch up.

I wasn’t sure what Slughorn could possibly want to talk to me about. There was a large possibility that he’d heard about my absolute incompetence as a prefect, but he’d never seemed that bothered about prefect duties anyway, and I couldn’t see him pulling me out of a lesson to tell me off about skipping patrols.

When we reached his office, I sat down near his desk, moving an empty box of crystallised pineapple from the chair to the floor. Slughorn bustled about getting himself a glass of mead before sitting down opposite me. I wasn’t sure it was really appropriate for him to be drinking mead at school, but he’s been working there for about a million years so I figured he could probably do what he wanted.

“What’s this about?” I asked, aware that I was scowling but unwilling to stop.

“Miss Bell, I had high hopes for you this year,” Slughorn said, reaching out to a box of chocolates on his desk. “You’ve been making friends with the Potters, and your achievements on the Quidditch pitch haven’t gone unnoticed. I had half a mind to invite you to my next little gathering.”

He was speaking through a mouthful of chocolate. I felt mildly disgusted.

“But I’ve been getting worrying reports from your teachers, and as your Head of House I can’t ignore them anymore,” he said.

“What? Which teachers?”

“All of them.” His voice was uncharacteristically gentle, and I thought I could maybe see why he’d been given the position of Head of House in the first place. “You’re falling behind in your work, Olivia. Your grades have been slipping and you haven’t handed in essays for any of your subjects since the Easter holidays.”

“But…” I felt like what he was saying was unfair, even though I knew it was true.

“We are aware of your current family situation. And I’ve been trying to give you time to process what happened over the holidays. But we need to develop a strategy to help you catch up, or you’re going to struggle to manage your NEWTs next year.”

He waited, obviously letting his words sink in. I swallowed. I’d been sort of aware that I wasn’t doing much work, but I hadn’t thought it was bad enough for my teachers to have noticed. And he was implying that it would affect me next year as well.

“What do I need to do?” I looked at him.

“To start with, let’s look at some of your extracurricular commitments,” Slughorn said. “I’m aware that I asked you to take on the prefect role, and most of these problems have started since then. It would perhaps be a good idea for you to pass on the duty to somebody else, to give you some more time to focus on your studies.”

“That’s sounds like a good plan,” I said, feeling a little bit relieved. I hated being a prefect. I wished he’d told me earlier that I could stop.

“Good. I’ll discuss it with the Headmistress. And then of course there is the matter of your position on the Quidditch team.”

“I’m not giving up Quidditch,” I said immediately.

“I understand that it might be difficult for you to let go of, Miss Bell, but you can’t deny the level of commitment Hogwarts Quidditch requires. And it’s my belief that you might require that extra time for school work.”

“Professor…” Tears were welling up in my eyes and I brushed them away. “Please don’t make me give up Quidditch. I need it. And the last match is next weekend. Can’t you let me keep it just until then? It’s only two weeks.”

Slughorn frowned, but he nodded slowly.

“That seems reasonable. Just ensure that Mr Malfoy doesn’t push you too hard. And you need to show me that you’re taking your study seriously.”

“I will. I promise.” My eyes were still wet, which I hated, but I thought it might be making him a little more sympathetic than he otherwise would have been.

I thought he’d let me go after that, but he kept me there to discuss my feedback from various teachers and make sure I understood what I needed to work on. I’d always thought of Slughorn as a bit of a joke, and was surprised by this side of him. He seemed to really care about me doing myself justice when it came to the NEWTs, and hearing this from him made me want to try harder. It had been stupid to let myself fall so far behind.

By the time I left Slughorn’s office, the lesson was nearly over. I had a free period left so could have gone straight back to my dormitory, but there was somebody I needed to find so I headed back towards the Transfiguration classroom to ambush my class on their way out.

“Rose.” I found her red hair in the crowd and tapped her on the shoulder. “Rose, I need your help.”

She spun round to look at me. “Liv? You okay? Has something happened?”

“I’m fine, really, I just…”

She looked worried. Scor looked over from where he’d left the room with Joe, and came to stand next to me, his face anxious.

“Rose, will you help me make a study timetable?”

For a moment, Rose looked confused. And then her nervous expression brightened into a huge smile.

“Oh, I thought you’d never ask,” she beamed.




Working hard actually made me feel really, really good. Scor organised Quidditch practice every evening - the final was approaching and he apologised for the time commitment but was more driven than ever to beat Gryffindor. And when I wasn’t practicing, I was in the Library.

Rose had drawn up a colour coordinated study chart for me, and was completely dedicated to making sure that I stuck to it. I sat with her for an hour before dinner each night, and then Scor and I joined her for another two hours when we finished practice. They sat either side of me for Transfiguration practice, laughing at my wand work and correcting my theory, pushing themselves to understand why everything worked the way it did so that they could help explain it to me. When I guiltily apologised to them for taking up so much of their time, Rose’s eyes widened - “oh no, you mustn’t think that. This is fascinating, really it is. I don’t usually get to look into the subject in so much depth” - and Scor flicked my nose and told me he’d do anything for me.

In my free periods, I usually ambushed whoever I could find that was free at the same time and asked if they had time to help me out. Joe spent an afternoon practicing practical Charms with me, and then when he’d decided I understood he gave me a stack of notes Oz had passed on to him, telling me he’d memorised them all already because he found things easier to learn when they were in Oz’s handwriting. Louis tried to explain Herbology and then, when it was clear he didn’t know any more than I did, he marched me down to Professor Longbottom to demand that he give us an extra lesson and explain the things we’d missed. Esther turned out to have a surprising knack for Potions and read through my essay for me, tutting and explaining my mistakes with remarkable patience. Clara snuck tea into the Library, batting her eyelids at Madame Pince and sliding a disillusioned flask across the desk towards me, and Jason, who was busy practicing flying techniques at all hours for his last game at Hogwarts, sent a steady stream of younger students to deliver chocolate frogs to me.

The more time I spent with them all, the less time I spent thinking about Cassie. She wrote me three more letters over the two weeks. I read the first one while I was in the Library with Louis. It said pretty much the same thing as she’d said before, and I managed to throw it away without him noticing. The second one arrived at breakfast time again, and Scor set fire to it before I’d even opened it. He apologised, looking sheepish, and I laughed. When the third letter arrived, I took it to Scor without opening it. We read it together, pulled faces at each other and then fed it to Oz’s pygmy puff.

Being busy was good for me. I still got a funny feeling in my tummy whenever I saw Albus, and had to hold onto Scor once when James Potter walked past because I was worried he might do something he’d regret, but in general it felt like things might be getting a bit better.

By the time the weekend of the Quidditch match arrived, I was exhausted. As soon as my last lesson finished, I allowed myself to head back to my dormitory instead of the Library.

The room was empty apart from Amethyst Twine, who was curled up in a ball on her bed with large muggle headphones pulled down over her ears. I didn’t understand her. We all knew muggle devices didn’t work at school, but for some reason she was still wearing the headphones. I laughed to myself and sat down on my own bed, pulling out my sketchbook.

Looking at my drawings made me feel a little bit wobbly. The pages were filled with Al, laughing and sleeping and eating, and the pictures made it hard for me to remember why I was so cross with him.

I sighed and turned to a new page, planning to draw something else, anything other than Al, but for some reason when I lifted my pencil to the sheet all it wanted to do was outline his face.

I paused when somebody knocked at the door, but didn’t move to answer it. Nobody I cared about would bother knocking.

The knock sounded again, and then the door swung open to reveal Lily Potter.

I closed my sketch book and looked at her. I didn’t know her very well. She was in fourth year, and tried out for the Quidditch team this year as Chaser. She was pretty good and I thought Scor would probably put her on the team when Oz left. She didn’t look anything like her brothers, and mostly kept herself to herself. Right now, she looked determined and a little bit scary.

“I need to talk to you,” she said, striding into the room.

“I’m busy,” I yawned.

“That’s too bad.” She sat down on the end of my bed and pulled her legs up onto the mattress, sitting cross legged and facing me.

“Fine. What do you want?”

Across the room, I noticed Amethyst looking at us. I wondered if she could hear anything through the headphones, but decided it didn’t matter even if she could. She didn’t talk to anyone anyway.

“I need to talk to you about my brother,” Lily said.

I groaned. “Which one?”

“Good question. Both.”

“I look forward to it.” I slid further down in the bed, not really looking forward to the conversation.

“I know you probably hate them both at the moment,” she said.

“You’re a wise one, baby Potter.”

“But you need to listen, okay?”

I turned back to my sketchbook, waiting for her to keep talking, but looked back at her when she stayed silent. She was obviously waiting for me to agree to listen.

“Fine. Whatever. But it won’t change anything,” I said.

“Maybe,” Lily conceded. “But you need to hear it.”

“Go ahead.” I closed my eyes and listened as Lily started to speak properly.

“Look,” she began. “I don’t think Al ever told you much about what it’s like at home. He doesn’t talk about it much. I mean, I tell people, you know? Because it’s my life and I know it’s different and it’s important to me that my friends understand where I’m coming from. And James tells your cousin a lot. But Al’s never been that keen to talk, maybe because his best friends have always been family so they understand anyway.”

I yawned. Lily ignored me and kept talking.

“And I mean, I can’t blame him. The only time he did properly talk about how it makes him feel was with Laura, and we all saw how that turned out.”

She sounded cross and I smiled. She was obviously protective. Al needed that.

“But what you’ve got to understand is that growing up with the Potters is a strange experience,” Lily continued. “It really is. Our dad literally saved the world, and that means people look at us differently. They expect things from us, and we couldn’t possibly live up to it. And then you look at the rest of our family, at our aunts and uncles and grandparents, and all of them saved the world as well.”

I opened my eyes. I hadn’t expected to be interested in what she was saying, but I couldn’t help but want to hear more.

Lily shrugged. “I know I sound like I’m whiny and spoilt. Our family’s wonderful and they care about each other and they love us. But it’s difficult. And other people don’t understand. It’s not their fault, they just can’t understand. This has been our whole lives.”

I nodded.

“So the only people that really do understand are other people in the family,” Lily said. “I know everything about my brothers. I know what makes them sad and what makes them insecure and I know what would make them hurt somebody else and what would make them give up.”

Her voice started to grow stronger, and she sat up a little bit straighter.

“I would do anything for them. And they’d do anything for me. And for each other,” she said. “I know you might not have realised it, but Al worships James. When we were little he’d do pretty much anything James asked him to, and he still finds it hard to say no.”

“That doesn’t excuse anything,” I interrupted.

Lily shrugged again. “I don’t know. I get why you’re cross, but I’m not sure that you’ve really thought about what this has been like for Al.”

“And I guess you’re here to enlighten me?”

“I’m here to try,” Lily grinned. “I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job of explaining, but I couldn’t watch you keep ignoring him and just not say anything. He...I understand why you’re annoyed with him, but I also completely understand why he did it, and if I were you I think I’d forgive him.”

I shook my head. “Lily, he watched me struggling with Cassie’s disappearance, and he saw Scor being questioned, and he knew all along that she was safe. He should have told me.”

“Actually,” Lily said. “He watched his brother freak out over christmas, not eating and refusing to talk to anyone unless they were going out and drinking. And then he eventually convinced James to talk to him about it and James burst into tears and made him promise not to tell anyone at all. Keep in mind that James hasn’t cried about anything except Quidditch since we were kids.”

She looked at me, challenging me to say something, but I didn’t interrupt.

“James refused to tell Al about Cassie, but he told him about the baby. And then Al started to get him to drink a bit less and spend some more time with the family. By the time we came back to school, he was almost acting like himself again. And Al kept it a secret, even from the family, because he promised James that he would and because James was starting to look happier again.”

She paused to take a deep breath, a flicker of sadness passing over her face. I wondered what it was like for her, knowing that the secret had been kept from her too even though she was their sister.

“And at the same time as Al was supporting James, he was starting to get to know you and get involved with the whole Cassie thing, still not knowing that they were connected,” Lily said. “And he really, really likes you. More than he’s liked anyone before, I think.”

“Well, he had a funny way of showing that,” I muttered. Lily rolled her eyes.

“It was only much later that James asked Al to meet with him. He said he wanted to tell him who the girl he’d been seeing was, but needed Al to promise he wouldn’t tell anyone, even you. And Al...well, Al loves James and he was worried. Of course he promised.”

“Right.” I wasn’t sure what Lily really wanted me to do with this information.

Lily sighed. “I see why you’re so cross. I do. I would be too. And what Al did to you was wrong. But what he did for James? I reckon I would have done the same thing. We’re there for each other. That’s the kind of thing we do.”

“He just...he made me really sad,” I admitted.

Lily gave me a small smile and nodded. “I know. He messed up. But he’s a good person. He’s just loyal to a fault, and he made James a promise without realising it would mean hurting you. And I think...I think if you can manage to forgive him, you won’t regret it.”

I didn’t say anything. Lily took a deep breath and stood up.

“Um, okay. I’ve said my bit,” she said, walking over to the door. “Good luck in the match tomorrow.”

She closed the door behind her. I groaned and rolled onto my front. I hadn’t thought anyone would be able to talk me into forgiving Al, but I was very aware that over the course of my conversation with his sister, most of my anger seemed to have disappeared.

A voice from across the room spoke up, making me jump.

“I would try to forgive him,” Amethyst said, pulling her headphones away from her face and sitting up to look at me. “If you care about him.”

I sat up too, staring at her. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard her speak.

“I don’t know what’s happened between you and Potter,” she said. “Only what I heard just now. But...don’t be angry just for the sake of being angry. You don’t know what will happen next, and it’s just not worth it.”

“I just feel really betrayed right now. I feel like he let me down,” I told her, surprised to be having this conversation with Amethyst Twine.

“I started seeing somebody last year,” Amethyst said.

“Oh?” I didn’t know where she was going with this, and started to think about how I could leave the room without being rude.

“A girl from home,” she explained. “A muggle. I used to spend a lot of time with her in the holidays and then write to her whenever I could from school. Sometimes her letters were the only thing that made me smile.”

She was using past tense. “What happened?”

“She was sick,” Amethyst said. “Really sick. With a muggle illness. She’d been ill the whole time I’d known her but she never told me. I only found out because her brother mentioned it by accident while I was at their house. And...I was so furious with her for keeping it a secret that I just felt like I couldn’t be around her anymore. And I stopped writing. It’s the biggest mistake I’ve ever made.”

“You could start writing to her again?”

“No, I couldn’t.” Her voice sounded flat. “She died. Just before christmas.”

Without really thinking, I got up and moved across to her bed, reaching out to hold her hand.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered.

Amethyst took a deep breath and managed a smile that didn’t meet her eyes. “Don’t be. There was nothing anyone could do. She’d known all along that she didn’t have long left.”

I looked down at my lap. I didn’t know how we’d got here from talking about what was going on between Al and me.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all this, really,” she said with a pained laugh. “I guess I just...I think if someone loves you and treats you well and the relationship means enough, you shouldn’t let it go. Not for anything. Because you don’t know if something else is going to come along and take it from you.”

I squeezed her hand and we sat together in silence.

A/N: Credit goes to Margie for her thoughts about Olivia's schoolwork, which I've been forgetting about a little bit... Thank you Margie for reminding me (and inspiring Slughorn to remind Olivia) that even though her life is complicated right now her studies are still important. And thanks as always to all you wonderful readers and reviewers - I really appreciate all your kind words. E xx


Chapter 29: In Which It's More Than Just Quidditch
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“We have to win.” Scor’s face was serious and his voice was steady. “Please. We just have to.”

The rest of the team looked equally serious, even behind the face paint I’d forced onto them all. Toby Carter gave a sharp nod and Joey reached out to pat Scor’s arm. I was perched on the edge of Scor’s chair and shuffled closer to him. Usually, his speeches before matches were full of enthusiasm bordering on ridiculousness. This time, he didn’t need to say any more than he already had. We all knew why this match meant so much to him.

“We can do it, Scorpy,” Oz said. “We’ll show Potter what we’re made of.”

“Be ruthless,” Scor instructed.

“We can do ruthless,” Derek grinned, exchanging a knowing glance with Alex.

“Good.” Scor nodded approvingly.

We only had a few minutes before we needed need to head outside for the game, but none of us seemed to have anything more to say. I put a hand on Scor’s shoulder and he tilted his head to lean against me. His hair was fluffy against my skin and I moved to stroke it.

Every so often I was completely overwhelmed by how much I loved that boy. I wanted everything to be okay for him, and this year it hadn’t been. I knew it was just Quidditch, but this match meant more than that. It was about beating James Potter, and showing that we could manage on our own. And it was about showing Scor that he hadn’t lost all the things that mattered to him.

I stayed next to Scor as we left the changing room. Usually I’d walk out flanked by Joe and Oz, as my fellow chasers, but this time Scor caught my arm and kept me beside him. He was captain and should have led the rest of us outside, but if he wanted me there with him then that was where I wanted to be.

And out come the Slytherins! Captain Scorpius Malfoy leading the way, with star Chaser Olivia Bell right beside him. So far unbeaten this year, with two stunning games behind them, the snakes are going to be hoping to continue their winning streak and take home the cup.”

I quite liked Lucy Weasley. Nearly half of the Gryffindor team were her relatives, and I was pretty sure we’d be hearing some nastiness from her once the actual game started, but she always did a good job of sounding neutral and supportive at the beginning of matches.

Let’s hear it for the Slytherin team - that’s Carter, Arram, Rider, Montague, King, aaaand Malfoy!

I couldn’t work out whether the cheers represented the majority of the crowd or not, but it was clear that we had a lot of support. The Gryffindors hadn’t come out of their changing room yet, so I let my eyes skim across the spectators. Lily Potter and her friends were holding up an enormous banner that depicted a snake wrapped around the neck of a lion. She’d obviously decided her house loyalty came before her loyalty for her brothers. A few rows in front of her, Clara and Esther were screaming and waving, both wrapped up in their Slytherin scarves. Amethyst Twine was seated next to them. I was pleased to see that they’d decided to include her.

Towards the edge of the Slytherin stands, I saw a familiar head of blonde curls. My chest tightened and I glanced at Scor to check whether he was looking in the same direction. I wasn’t sure why Cassie had turned up, but I didn’t think knowing that she was watching would do any good for Scor. He noticed me looking at him and turned to give me a reassuring smile. I decided not to point out that the girl who’d broken his heart was sitting by herself in the crowd.

And here come the Gryffindors! After a shaky start against Ravenclaw, the lions came back with a vengeance in their recent match against Hufflepuff, leaving them only forty points behind Slytherin in the race for the cup! Both teams have a lot at stake here, and I think we can all expect an exciting match!

The Gryffindor team didn’t look much better than we felt. Jason looked a little bit green as he led his team towards us. It was his final match at Hogwarts, and even though he already had his offer with the Magpies, I knew he’d want to make the most of his last chance to captain his team to victory. Behind him, James Potter looked exhausted. He had dark shadows under his eyes, and was dragging his broom behind him rather than carrying it over his shoulder like the rest of his teammates. Al just looked devastated.

So let’s hear it for the lions! Wood, Spinnet, Weasley, Potter, Brogan, Coote aaaand Potter!

Laura Brogan had her hair pulled up into a high ponytail, and her face was coated in red and gold. I felt strange seeing her in face paint. It seemed too childish for someone who always acted so above everyone else. A little part of me knew that we probably had more in common than I wanted to admit.

Scor and Jason both stepped forward to shake hands. Scor wasn’t walking with his usual Quidditch swagger, and instead looked very rigid and serious. Jason gave me a small smile before returning to his team.

And the players launch into the air. The Slytherins are closer together than usual. Malfoy looks like he doesn’t want Bell out of his sight. Come on, Malfoy, I know her ex-boyfriend’s on the other team, but she’s not going to be able to get the quaffle unless you give her some space to fly!

Scor shot Lucy Weasley a furious glare which she probably wouldn’t be able to see properly from all the way over in the commentator’s box. I looked over at Al and saw him giving his cousin an equally venomous look.

We’ve got quite a few seventh years playing today, especially over with the Gryffindors. This is the last ever Hogwarts match for Toby Carter, Oscar King, Leila Spinnet, Freddie Weasley, James Potter and Gryffindor Captain Jason Wood! I think we can assume they’ll all be feeling that pressure to win today.

Jason looked like he might throw up. If I hadn’t had Scor right beside me I might have wanted to call something out to my cousin, but as it was I thought it wouldn’t be worth offending my teammates.

Bell flies to the centre, getting ready for Madame Chang to release the Quaffle. And joining her there we have James Potter. Both Bell and Potter have won the race to the Quaffle in all their matches so far this year, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets there first!

I lined my broom up with James’s. I’d played against him before, but for some reason I suddenly felt unusually anxious. I didn’t want to start the game like this. I knew how much Scor wanted to beat him, and I didn’t want the pressure in that moment, right at the beginning of the game. I pulled back and gave Joe a pleading look.

And this is a surprise! Bell and Montague switch places, leaving Montague against Potter in the centre. Not sure what happened there! Bell’s always been the one to start the game for Slytherin. But Montague’s a fantastic player, of course, so I’m excited to see what he does with this role.

Scor was glaring at me. I looked down at the ground. I had no idea what had happened to me. I was never this nervous about Quidditch.

AND THE BALLS ARE RELEASED! Potter dives straight in there, and Potter’s in possession of the Quaffle! That’s Potter with the Quaffle, and Montague pulls back to say something to King. Potter with the Quaffle, Potter with the Quaffle….and he passes and now Brogan with the Quaffle! That’s Laura Brogan for Gryffindor with the Quaffle. She’s their fastest player, and we can all see why Wood’s kept her on the team for so many years.

“What are you doing?” Scor hissed.

Joe and Oz had both streaked off in chase of Laura Brogan, but I was still hovering in midair where I’d been when the game had started. I shook my head, not knowing what to say to Scor. I felt sick.

“Pull yourself together, Ollie,” he said.

I didn’t reply, and Scor looked exasperated for a moment before flying away, obviously wanting to begin his search for the snitch. I stayed where I was.

And Brogan shoots...and Carter saves it! Slytherin Keeper Toby Carter now has the Quaffle, and Montague’s ready to catch his pass. Montague ducks to avoid a well-aimed bludger from Weasley, but it doesn’t stop him catching the Quaffle! And now Montague in possession. Montague passes to King. Montague. King. Montague. King. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again...these two are like mind readers. They each know exactly what the other’s about to do, and it’s amazing! Quaffle back to Montague.”

Joey hurtled past me with the Quaffle, closely followed by Laura Brogan. He didn’t look back at me but I was pretty sure I knew what he was about to do. I should have shouted and told him not to, but I couldn’t make myself speak.

Montague passes backwards, and just in time because Brogan’s almost caught up. Montague to Bell...and Bell doesn’t catch it! Not sure what’s going on with her today. We’ve been in play for six minutes and so far I haven’t seen her move. Perhaps a new tactic from the Slytherins? Some kind of diversion? But captain Malfoy isn’t looking happy, so maybe not.

Lucy was right. I could see Scor, circling the pitch a few metres above me, and he looked furious.

Anyway, Coote catches the Quaffle and Gryffindor are back in possession. Coote’s the youngest player on the pitch today, but so far this year her games have been impressive! Coote passes to Brogan. Brogan to Potter. Brogan. Potter. Brogan. Like the Slytherin chasers, these two have been playing together for years, and it shows. And now Potter with the quaffle again, getting near the goals now. He looks like he’s ready to shoot. Carter braces himself. Potter’s passes are the fastest of all the Hogwarts chasers, and are pretty tough to save! Potter shoots...AND HE SCORES! A good attempt at saving from Slytherin Toby Carter, but what a fantastic goal! That’s 10-0 to Gryffindor.”

Tears were stinging my eyes. I felt completely pathetic. I wasn’t sure whether I was nervous, or stressed, or maybe just all the sadness and worry of the last few weeks had caught up with me at a bad time. But I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. The rest of my team were zooming around the pitch, completely committed to achieving Scor’s aims. And I still hadn’t contributed anything.

The Gryffindor Chasers were back in possession, and I halfheartedly watched them passing the Quaffle between themselves. Oz and Joe were playing well, but two Chasers are never going to be able to compete properly with three.

I looked away from them, just in time to see a scarlet figure rising up towards me. He looked determined and I sighed, resigned to hearing what he had to say.

“Come on, Liv,” Al said when he reached me. “You can do this.”

He flew up until his broom was level with mine, and then stopped to hover in front of me.

“I don’t think I can,” I whispered.

Al brought his broom a little closer, obviously struggling to hear me. His eyes were wide and his face was kind. When he reached out to put one hand on my broom, his fingers brushing against mine, I didn’t pull away.

“What feels difficult?” He asked quietly. “You’re good at this. What’s making it hard today?”

“Your brother,” I confessed. “And, well, and you.”

I saw him wince but I didn’t feel guilty. The conversation was probably long overdue.

“You hate me,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He sounded completely disheartened.

I shook my head. “I don’t hate you. But I’m feeling confused. You’ve made me cross.”

He nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but paused to hear Lucy’s commentary.

Olivia Bell and Albus Potter seem to have forgotten they’re mid Quidditch match and are instead having a bit of a heart-to heart in the middle of the pitch! Not sure this is going to go down well with either of their captains. Come on guys! It’s now 30-20 to Gryffindor, and it’s Montague with the Quaffle!

Al stuck his middle finger up at Lucy and the gesture was so unlike him that it made me laugh. He smiled.

“It’s nice to hear you laugh,” he said.

“Haven’t done much laughing recently,” I said.

“Me neither,” he admitted.

I moved my hand closer to his, hesitating briefly before linking our fingers together. His hand was warm and I felt better for having his skin against mine.

“Okay,” he said, suddenly sounding purposeful. “I didn’t come over here so we could fix everything right now in this moment, although that’s starting to seem pretty tempting. I came over because you love Quidditch. You’re a fantastic Chaser and I know this game means a lot to you. So we need to find a way for you to feel like you can play.”

“I’m scared,” I told him. “And I don’t usually get scared.”

“So what makes this different to normal?”

“Maybe it matters more than normal,” I said. “I don’t feel like I can manage losing to you guys today. And Scor definitely can’t. This is his chance to beat your brother.”

Al squeezed my hand. “I’m not sure that’s the most helpful way to think about it.”

“It’s the way he’s thinking about it, though. So it matters.”

Al shrugged. “It’s not why you play. You play because you love flying. You find it fun.”

“That’s true.”

“So why don’t you just try to find it fun? Don’t think about the fact you’re playing against me, or about James. It’s still the same game.”

I thought about his suggestion. I could see why it was sensible. For some reason in my head this game had become a massive opportunity to right some of the wrongs of this year. And that wasn’t the point in Quidditch. It was meant to be a chance to play a game with a team of people I (mostly) loved working with.

“Let’s keep playing and treat it like the game that it is,” Al suggested. “Think you can manage that?”

“I think I can try.”

“Good.”

“Thank you. For helping me, I mean,” I said. “You didn’t have to come over here. Your team will be annoyed about it.”

Al shrugged again. “It’s you. I couldn’t just leave you looking like you couldn’t breathe. Anyway, I’m glad you were okay with me talking to you. I thought you might never speak to me again.”

“That was the plan,” I told him. “But now I think...I don’t know. Maybe we do need to talk about it all.”

“Later?” He suggested. “After the match?”

I nodded. He let go of my hand and reached out to stroke a strand of my hair. I managed to smile at him.

“Alright. Good luck.” He grinned at me.

“You too.”

Al waited for me to fly away before he shot upwards to continue his search for the snitch. I sped over to Joey, who was hurtling towards the goalposts, the Quaffle clutched against his chest.

And Bell’s back in the game! Look at her go! She’s caught up with Montague already and it looks like it wasn’t even hard for her. Montague passes to Bell. Bell to King. King back to Bell, and now she’s within scoring range. She’s a good shooter, even from this distance...but no, she passes back to King. And King shoots...and HE SCORES! Wood was ready to save anything Bell shot, but couldn’t get there in time for King’s angle. That’s 30-30, and the game’s getting interesting.

I shouted congratulations to Oz and he gave me a little bow. Him and Joe didn’t acknowledge my complete lack of contribution towards the game so far, and instead just seemed happy to see me back.

And that was an example of why the Slytherin Chasers are so tough to come up against! They work brilliantly together. I have to say, I felt more optimistic about Gryffindor’s chances before Bell started playing properly again. Not sure what my idiot cousin said to her but it’s not been good for Gryffindor! Honestly, the boy needs to learn to be a bit more selfish sometimes. Wood passes the Quaffle back to Potter, and now Potter in possession!

I flew over to James Potter, positioning myself just beneath him so that if he dropped the Quaffle I’d be there ready to catch it. It was unlikely to pay off. In the five years I’d been playing against him, I’d never known him to drop a ball. But I’d forgotten Scor’s instructions to our Beaters to be ruthless, and within seconds of James taking the Quaffle, a bludger shot towards him.

Fantastic Bludger work there from Slytherin Rider! Potter manages a sloth grip roll to avoid it, but he needs both hands and Bell takes the opportunity to grab the Quaffle from him! And now Bell’s back in possession, and she’s already streaking back to the Gryffindor goal posts. And Wood’s ready for her. He looks pretty determined to save this one, even if it does come from his cousin. Or maybe especially because it comes from his cousin?”

I blew Jason a kiss before lifting the Quaffle above my head, ready to aim for the middle hoop. He was veering slightly to his right rather than positioning himself in the middle, looking like he expected me to change aim at the last minute. I watched him carefully. It was unlike him to make an assumption like that. He knew me well enough to realise I’d notice his positioning and aim for the currently undefended left-hoop. To save a goal in the left hoop, he’d have to start moving as soon as I released the Quaffle, but it would be a pretty big risk to make that assumption when nothing in my current movements suggested I’d be aiming there.

I took a deep breath, unsure whether to aim for the undefended hoop or to call what I thought might be his bluff and aim for the right-hoop he was currently in front of. If he thought I’d aim for the left-hoop he’d have to move over there pretty quickly, and wouldn’t have time to change direction and save my goal if I then aimed for the right-hoop instead. I was aware of Gryffindor players approaching me, and knew I didn’t have much time. I let the Quaffle sail out of my fingers, speeding towards the right-hoop at the same time as Jason flung himself over to the left-hoop he’d been neglecting.

Some intense tactics going on there from cousins Bell and Wood! And Bell came out better off in that one. She’s obviously had some practice predicting what her cousin’s going to do. That was a risky move but it paid off! 40-30 to Slytherin!

“Well done, Liv!” Jason shouted out once he’d retrieved the Quaffle. “I feel like a bit of an idiot now.”

“I’m not going to apologise!” I called back.

“I wouldn’t expect you to. I won’t be apologising when we win,” he laughed.

I stuck my tongue out at him and he lifted the Quaffle.

Wood passes back to Potter, and it’s Potter in possession. Potter. Brogan. Potter. Brogan. Brogan passes to Coote, who narrowly avoids a bludger from Arram. Coote in possession. Coote passes to Brogan - not quite quickly enough though! Bell intercepts. Bell with the Quaffle.

This time, Jason saved my attempted goal. He looked so delighted that I couldn’t even bring myself to be disappointed. Al had been right. I played Quidditch because I loved it, and because it was fun. And after everything that had happened, I needed to have fun.

“Nice one moron!” I shouted.

Jason rolled his eyes and threw the Quaffle to Laura Brogan, who immediately darted off with it.

The longer we played, the more optimistic I felt. Talking to Al had made me feel better, and even though we had a lot more to figure out, I now felt like we’d get there in the end. And it was nice to be out there playing with my team. I still felt strange about James Potter’s presence on the pitch, and I could see the fierce glint in Scorpius’s eyes that meant he hadn’t forgotten how much the match meant to him, but it was feeling less like a big challenge and more like the game it was supposed to be.

And would you look at that! Albus Potter starts a dive towards the ground. Has he seen the snitch? Look at him go! Scorpius Malfoy is closely on his tail....this is intense - I can’t look!

I looked carefully at Al’s face as he dived. Something felt wrong. His expression was tense with focus, but he wasn’t looking at anything in the way he would be if he’d seen the snitch. I opened my mouth to shout at Scor that it it was a feint, but before I could say anything Al had pulled out of the dive and Freddie Weasley’s bludger had smashed into the front of Scor’s broom.

Fantastic tactics! Looks like Potter was feinting there to get Malfoy in a position where he’d be open to Weasley’s attack. And what an attack that was! Malfoy’s lost the front few inches of his broom. He’s going to struggle to stay in control after that!

Scor looked irate. He caught my eye and started trying to urge his broom in my direction, but it kept veering from side to side. I took pity on him and swung my own broom down towards him as the others went back to playing.

“You alright? Did it hurt you?” I called out.

Scor shook his head. “I’m fine...it’s just this bloody broom. I’m not going to be able to catch anything if I can’t fly in a straight line.”

His broom was shuddering beneath him and it was obvious how much effort he was having to put in just to keep it still. I flew closer.

“Come on. Let’s swap,” I said, reaching out to catch the splintered end of his broom.

“What?”

“Let’s swap,” I repeated. “You’re right. You won’t be able to catch the snitch on that broom. And we’re not going to be able to win without the snitch. Our Chasers are too evenly matched.”

He frowned. “But then you’ll pretty much be out of the game.”

I shrugged. “Joe and Oz will manage for a bit. Just make sure you find the snitch soon.”

Scor considered my words for a moment, and then nodded.

And would you look at this! Malfoy and Bell look like they’re attempting to swap brooms in mid air. I wouldn’t fancy trying that myself, but they seem to have everything under control. Malfoy’s managed to get Bell balanced in front of him on what’s left of his broom. Now he just needs to climb across to hers….And he’s done it! Slytherin has a seeker back in the game!

I gave Scor a high-five and smiled as I watched him spiral away through the air. It was frustrating that I was stuck on his broken broomstick, but I thought it was probably worth it. He needed this more than I did.

Of course, this pretty much takes out Olivia Bell as a Slytherin Chaser. Brave move on her part! Let’s see how she manages the rest of this game.

I settled back on the trembling broomstick, holding on tightly in case it made any sudden movements, prepared to watch the rest of the game from down here unless the Quaffle came my way by sheer coincidence.

But I didn’t have long to wait and watch. Within minutes of leaving me, Scor was in pursuit of the snitch, Albus Potter close behind him.

Ooo this game is so exciting! I don’t know if I’m ready for it to end! But it looks like this is it, guys. Malfoy and Potter in pursuit of the snitch. And would you look how high up they are! It’s not an easy chase.

Scor was in the lead, but not by much. Al was close behind him, his broom almost vertical as he edged closer.

I could hear Lucy Weasley talking about Bludgers, but I didn’t really register what was happening until it was too late and our Beaters were either side of Al, both in possession of a Bludger and a determined, cruel expression.

Al managed to spiral out of the path of the first Bludger. It didn’t hurt him, and instead just caught the back of his broom, sending snapped twigs scattering down towards the floor.

Lucy sounded panicked, but even through her worry she was able to explain what a good hit it had been. Al would struggle to catch up with Scor now. And Alex’s bludger-work was no different to the move Freddie Weasley had played less than ten minutes earlier.

And then Lucy’s words were replaced with a scream, and it was like the whole world slowed down.

The second Bludger soared straight towards Al’s head. The second before it hit him, I saw his eyes widen, and he might have managed to move out of the way had his broom not been damaged. Instead, he was powerless as the ball of iron smashed into his skull.

I watched his head fold to one side, an obvious dent visible in his forehead even before it started to bleed. His eyes were glazed and only half open, and his fingers slid away from the handle of his broom as the blood started to run down his face and onto his Quidditch robes.

And then he was falling, and Lucy wasn’t the only one screaming.


Chapter 30: In Which Everyone Sleeps in the Hospital Wing
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Al was falling and I couldn’t move to catch him. For one horrible moment I thought I was holding back by choice, unable to persuade myself to fly over, but then my broom jerked beneath me and I understood. I was still on Scor’s broken broomstick. I had no control. All I could do was stare from my position near the ground.

The actual fall only lasted seconds, but it felt like it happened much more slowly. I saw James twist his broom around and soar desperately towards his younger brother, devastation and desperation blazing across his face as it quickly became obvious that he was too far away. Laura Brogan flew close behind him, her expression difficult to read under her face paint but her tense, white knuckles revealing her stress as she clutched onto her own broom.

Jason was right at the other end of the pitch, with Joey and Oz beside him. Joey had been holding the Quaffle, ready to shoot while everybody was distracted by the Seekers, like I’d done in our Match against Ravenclaw. Now, the Quaffle slid through the crook of his arm and floated leisurely towards the ground. Nobody moved to catch it.

Derek and Alex were staring at each other. Alex looked horrified at what his teammate had done. His bat hung limply from his fingers and his mouth was half open as he watched his friend. Derek was chewing his lip, bat still extended from where he’d reached to hit the bludger.

I screamed, knowing that it wouldn’t help the situation but unable to do anything else.

Al’s head flopped backwards as he fell, his body limp and frightening. He was close to the ground now, too close, and James was still too far away.

Scor shot down at the last moment, reaching out to grasp Al’s robes with one of his hands. Al stopped falling and dangled in the air below Scor. I could see Scor’s shoulders rise as he took a deep breath, and then he leant forward from my broom, letting go of the wood with his other hand to wedge his arm under Al’s shoulder.

I wanted to feel relieved that Al hadn’t hit the floor, but even from my place a dozen metres away I could see his chalk-white skin and the dip in his forehead where the bludger had hit him.

Scor lowered him carefully to the ground and then stood in the middle of the pitch with Al slumped against his chest.

Scor looked completely lost and Al looked completely lifeless.

I felt sick.

“Somebody help!” Scor’s voice sounded strangled and raw.

And then everyone was moving at once. James dropped down to the ground and pulled his brother away from Scor, stroking his hair back, looking completely distraught. Three teachers were almost immediately beside them, surrounding Al so that I couldn’t see him any more and starting to move him towards the castle. The rest of the players made their way towards the ground.

Jason flew over to me and held onto the end of Scor’s damaged broom, pulling me down to the floor with him. As soon as we landed, I ran after James and the teachers who were carrying Al.

I paused when I reached the stands. Cassie was still sat in the Slytherin section, looking straight at me as if she wanted to say something, but my gaze was drawn towards the sobbing girl a few rows behind her.

“Here, Lily,” I called out, reaching my hand out towards the younger girl. “Come with me.”

Every part of me was desperate to keep running, to get to Al as soon as possible, but Lily was shaking and scared and I knew I couldn’t leave her behind. I waited for her to climb down to me and took her hand.

It was hard to run while holding hands, but Lily’s fingers were twined tightly around mine and she clearly didn’t want to let go, so I accepted the fact that we were going to move more slowly than I’d planned to.

We didn’t speak while we ran. I don’t think either of us would have known what to say.

James was outside the Hospital Wing, slumped against the wall. The door was closed.

“Mum and Dad are in there,” he told us. “They were watching the match. Bulstrode says we need to wait outside while she examines him.”

Lily’s sob was jagged and made me jump. James wiped his own eyes and then held his arms out to his sister. She let go of my hand to reach him.

Without Lily, I suddenly felt a little bit out of place. Al was inside somewhere with his parents, and his siblings were both panicking. I wasn’t sure I was meant to be there when everyone else was part of his family.

“I, um, I’ll…” I looked at James.

“Stay,” he told me. “Please stay. You should be here.”

I nodded and moved to stand next to him. Lily looked small against him, red hair clashing horribly with his scarlet Quidditch robes. James looked a bit dazed. I looked down at the floor. I felt bad watching their pain.

“You can come in,” Madame Bulstrode’s voice sounded from across the corridor.

I looked up at her. Her face was expressionless but I could see her fingers drumming agitatedly against her side. Behind her, Ginny Potter was standing and watching James and Lily.

“Perhaps we should just have family…” Ginny began.

“Liv’s coming,” James said, sounding strangely sure of himself. I wasn’t sure why he felt so strongly that I should be there, but I was glad. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

I followed them into the Hospital Wing. Harry Potter was sat next to Al’s bed, his head in his palms. Ginny sat down next to him, James at her side. I wasn’t sure where to go, but Lily grabbed my hand again and pulled me over to sit next to her on another mattress. I didn’t let go of her hand when we sat down, and she leaned against my shoulder.

Al’s head wound had disappeared. He looked like he was sleeping, but Madame Bulstrode quietly explained that the damage he’d sustained was considerable. At the moment, she was keeping him unconscious to try to give his brain a chance to heal. She didn’t say what would happen if it didn’t work and none of us asked.

Lily sobbed again and James stood to come over and sit on her other side, taking her other hand.

We sat like that for a long time, nobody speaking. Al’s cousins and friends came in one by one, each wanting to see how he was, but none of they stayed very long. They didn’t want to overcrowd the Hospital Wing, and Harry and Ginny didn’t look like they could cope with too many people being there at once.

Rose and Louis arrived together. Rose gave everyone hugs and Louis passed around a bag of sherbet lemons, and then they sat down together on another empty bed. Louis curled up in a ball, his head on Rose’s lap, and Rose took out a book. I thought they were probably used to coping with things together. They didn’t look like they needed anyone else to talk to them, but showed no intention of leaving the Hospital Wing.

I didn’t pay much attention to the steady stream of visitors until Laura Brogan stopped in front of me, a large bag hooked over her arm.

“What are you doing here?” James muttered.

Laura rolled her eyes and took a step closer to me, pulling a packet of face wipes out of her bag. Without speaking, she took one out of the packet and started to wipe my Slytherin face paint away from my cheeks. When my face was clean, she stepped back.

“I brought you some clean clothes,” she said, dropping her bag at my feet. “Figured you’d still be in your Quidditch stuff, and if you’re planning on sitting here all night you probably want to get changed.”

I frowned and looked suspiciously into the bag, finding a soft pink top, grey leggings and thick, fluffy socks. Laura had also thrown in deodorant, moisturiser and some Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes ‘Showerless Soap’. It was an unexpectedly kind gesture.

“Why are you being nice to me?” I was genuinely confused. “You hate me.”

Laura rolled her eyes again. “I never said I hated you.”

“It was heavily implied,” I said. I was aware of the Potters listening to our conversation, and suddenly felt strangely vulnerable. Across the room, Louis had sat up and was watching us, eyes narrowed. Beside him, Rose’s eyes were fixed on her open book but weren’t moving.

Laura tossed her hair back behind her shoulder and reached out to give me a somewhat patronising pat on the shoulder.

“I don’t like you very much,” she told me. “But despite what you think, I’m not a completely horrible person. Al means a lot to you and this can’t be easy. I thought this was a way I could help out.”

“Right. Um...thanks, then.” I wasn’t sure how to respond.

There was a fairly awkward silence, and then Laura flicked her hair again.

“Well, I hope the clothes fit you, anyway,” she said, her voice quickly regaining its usual venom. “I brought the biggest sizes I have but they might still be a little bit tight. See you later.”

I watched her leave the room and then Ginny sniggered.

“I never liked her,” Harry said, managing a small smile.

I pulled the curtains around one of the empty beds and washed and changed into Laura’s clothes. She confused me, but I was glad she’d come. I felt a bit calmer once I was out of my Quidditch gear.

The next visitor was less unexpected but came with a stranger message.

Scor had showered already. He was wearing clean jeans and a green jumper and his hair was damp and smelt like lime and ginger when he hugged me. I held onto him for a long time, closing my eyes and trying to pretend that the Potters weren’t all there watching us.

Scor kept one hand on my arm even after I’d pulled away but his words were for James.

“I took your broom in for you,” he said, not making eye contact. “And straightened out the twigs that got bent when you landed.”

“Thank you,” James said.

Scor kept his eyes fixed on the floor. “It’s in the Slytherin lockers. I couldn’t find anyone from your team to give it to. Just ask me when you need it. Or Ollie can get it for you.”

James looked like he had something he wanted to say but Scor turned his gaze back to me.

“Can I get you anything? I’m assuming you’ll be here for a while,” he said, squeezing my arm.

“I’m okay,” I mumbled, but the tears welling up in my eyes again made the words pointless.

Scor hugged me again and then pulled off his jumper. I raised my arms to let him tug the wool down over me. It smelt like him.

“Do you want me to stay with you?” He looked earnest but tense. It wouldn’t be easy for him to stay here with James, and if I felt strange being surrounded by Al’s family I could only imagine what it would be like for Scor.

“I’ll be alright. I’ll come find you if I need you,” I told him.

Scor gave me a gentle kiss on the top of my head and nodded to James and Lily on his way out. I sat back down and Lily took my hand again.

Jason delivered sandwiches for all of us, scavenged from the Great Hall. He looked like he didn’t know how to manage James’s utter dejection, and left once he realised he couldn’t help. We’d all stopped talking. It didn’t seem like there was anything to say.

After what felt like a very long time, Madame Bulstrode told us we had to leave.

“It’s late. Guests aren’t allowed to stay overnight.”

I think we were all ready to argue, but it was Ginny Potter’s face that made Bulstrode change her mind. I could see why Ginny had a reputation as one of the most intimidating witches in Britain. Her face went chalky white and she stood up. She wasn’t tall but Bulstrode seemed to wilt under her gaze.

“He’s my son. We’re staying,” Ginny said as if her words were obvious.
“I see. But I think the others should…”

“We’re not going anywhere,” James said, backed up by his cousins.

Again, I wasn’t sure I had the right to still be there, but nobody acted like I should leave so I stayed.

“Well, I suppose you can stay in the empty beds,” Bulstrode said with a frown. “It is the weekend, after all.”

I felt a little bit guilty that everyone was invading her domain, but I couldn’t imagine leaving the Hospital Wing when Al was still unconscious. And then Bulstrode turned out all the lights without giving us any warning and I stopped feeling bad.

I shuffled over to the next bed along, leaving James and Lily on the bed we’d been sitting on. To my surprise, Lily followed me over, curling up on the mattress next to me. She’d obviously decided she felt comfortable around me and I was glad for her company.

It was hard to tell who was awake in the gloom, but I didn’t think sleep came easily to anyone. I closed my eyes but couldn’t turn off the images flickering around my mind, pictures of Al falling and blood pouring and feelings of utter helplessness.

I couldn’t tell whether I’d been to sleep. I thought my thoughts might at some point have shifted into dreams, but I was still seeing the same horrible memories over and over again. Sleep, if it came, was agitated and painful.

The Hospital Wing was quiet, silence broken only by the deep breaths and gentle snores of sleeping patients and visitors. Next to me, Lily’s breaths were even and snuffling. She’d cried for hours. I carefully extricated myself from her grasp and swung my legs over the edge of the background.

Laura’s socks cushioned my feet, making my footsteps soft as I tiptoed over to Al’s bed. I hadn’t been able to sit beside him earlier on, wanting to leave the chairs to his parents, but now I sat down beside his pillow.

It was gloomy but I could make out Al’s features, pale and slack. His face was expressionless. I thought about how irritating I found it that he smiled all the time and felt a stab of something shoot up my spine, wishing I could see his smile now.

I reached for his hand and linked my fingers through his, using my other hand to close his fingers around mine so that I felt like he was holding on to me.

I wished that I’d listened to Amethyst and Lily and sorted everything out with Al before the Quidditch Match. I hated that I didn’t even know what was happening between us and now I might not even get the chance to fix it.

I hadn’t let myself cry earlier on but now the tears fell freely, spilling down onto our clasped hands.

“You really care about him, don’t you,” Ginny said, taking the seat next to me.

I hadn’t realised she was still awake. I swallowed my tears and nodded.

“Lily told me what happened with James and your friend,” Ginny continued, speaking quietly so that the others wouldn’t hear our conversation even if they were awake. “She explained why you and Albus fell out.”

“Are you going to say I should forgive him?” I muttered, holding onto Al’s hand more tightly.

Ginny sighed and rested a hand on my shoulder. I was sort of embarrassed by how comforting I found her touch.

“No,” she said. “No, I won’t tell you what to do.”

I turned to face her, trying to make out her expression.

Ginny smiled sadly. “He’s a good boy. He didn’t mean to hurt you. But I understand why you’re angry. And you shouldn’t feel pressurised into forgiving him before you’re ready.”

“It made me feel like I couldn’t trust him,” I whispered.

Ginny nodded. “I can see that.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond but she didn’t seem to expect me to.

“For what it’s worth,” she said. “If you do manage to forgive, I think you’ll be very good for him.”

“You hardly know me,” I said.

“Maybe I know you more than you realise,” she said cryptically.

I frowned at her, waiting for her to explain, and she sighed.

“I saw something of myself in you today, Olivia,” she told me. “Your face, when you got here. It reminded me of the way I felt every time I watched Harry get hurt.”

I felt a little bit awed by the idea of Ginny Potter thinking I was like her.

“I know I will forgive him,” I confessed. “I don’t want to lose him. He’s one of the best people I know.”

Ginny smiled. “He’s one of the best people I know as well.”

She looked at her son with such tenderness that I again felt like I was intruding, and she didn’t turn back to me. It was obvious our conversation was over and I didn’t want to get in the way of her moment with Al.

I extricated my fingers from Al’s and stood up, planning to go back to the bed I’d been sharing with Lily. But Rose sat up in the bed she was sharing with Louis, and I instead made my way over to them. Louis was curled up in a ball on one side of the mattress. There was space between him and Rose and I climbed onto the mattress to lie down on top of the covers. Over the year they’d become some of my closest friends and I wanted to draw comfort from their closeness.

Louis stirred as I lowered myself onto the bed. He reached out and put one arm around me, pressing a sloppy kiss onto my cheek. He smelt like gin and his own cheeks were wet with tears. Usually I’d find his drunken closeness uncomfortable, but tonight it was comforting.

Rose shuffled closer and linked an arm through mine. She smelt like vanilla and when she spoke, her voice was husky with sleep and tears.

“You okay, Liv?” she mumbled sleepily.

“I hope so,” I whispered.

“S’gonna be okay,” Louis murmured without opening his eyes. “Will be alright. Always is.”

I knew his optimism and confidence came from his alcohol consumption rather than from any genuine conviction, but I let his words soothe me.

This time, sleep came deeply and brought me dreams of Al smiling and healthy and loving me.


Chapter 31: In Which There Is An Unwelcome Visitor
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The hospital wing was bright when I woke up, sunshine gleaming onto the white floor and illuminating the eery stillness of the room. Rose was no longer beside me but Louis was still fast asleep, drooling onto his pillow. I rolled out of the bed and tucked the duvet around him.

Harry and Ginny were having a quiet conversation with Madam Bulstrode and didn’t look at me as I walked over to Al’s bed. James was sat beside him, one hand resting on his brother’s shoulder. He had dark circles under his eyes and I wondered if he’d managed to get any real sleep. Behind him, Lily was curled up in a ball on her own bed. Her mane of hair was tangled over her face, making it hard to tell whether she was awake.

“I feel like shit,” James told me as I sat down beside him.

I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t know how I felt about James. He was still the boy that had ruined my friendship with Cass, but somehow I felt connected to him. He understood how I felt about Al. And he was the one that had made sure I could stay with them all until we knew what was going to happen.

“Rosie’s in the Library,” he said. “Think she’s trying to singlehandedly discover how to cure him.”

“Sounds like Rose,” I sighed. “If in doubt, find a book.”

James smirked and then sighed. He rubbed his eyes with his fists and ran a hand through his hair to push it back from his face. The movement was so like Al that my breath caught in my throat.

“That was really decent of Malfoy to look after my broom yesterday,” James said. His voice was steady but he looked like he might be nervous.

“Well, he’s a decent person,” I said. “Better than decent.”

I could see James turning my words over in his head. I didn’t know what he’d thought of Scor before this week. Presumably it couldn’t have been anything good. But most people didn’t think anything good about Scor.

Harry and Ginny finished their conversation with Madam Bulstrode and came back to Al’s bedside, sitting down next to each other on the other side of the bed to James and me.

“You look awful,” Ginny said to James.

“Cheers.” James rolled his eyes.

A small cough sounded from the doorway and both James and I jumped to our feet. He took a step away from Al, closer to the door. I took a step back.

“Cass.”

It should have been strange to hear Cassie’s name spoken with such care from James Potter. But he gave her such a tender expression that her name from his lips didn’t really seem surprising.

Cassie ignored him. She looked more like her old self than she had when I’d seen her in Hogsmeade. She was wearing a long white coat over a black dress and her nails were painted a deep, emerald green. She didn’t even look at James. Instead her gaze was fixed on me.

“Ollie,” she whispered, rushing over to me.

She reached out to take my hand and I took another step backwards. My legs were pressed against Al’s bed now and I had nowhere else to go to get away from her.

James looked like he wasn’t sure what to do with himself, and hovered behind Cass.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Cassie said. “Poor you. Ollie, I watched the Match. I saw him fall. How are you?”

I frowned at her. Everything in her voice was telling me she was worried about me, but it didn’t make sense.

“Get out,” I said, forcing myself to look away from her and turn my eyes back to Al.

“Don’t do that. Let me be here for you, Ollie. You’re my best friend.”

“Oh?” I could feel anger flooding through my chest and up into my throat. I wanted her to leave.

“Of course. Come on, Ollie. We’ve always talked through everything. And you’re having a hard time. I want to look after you.”

I laughed and looked at her again. Her lip was trembling and she looked uncharacteristically nervous.

“And at what point during this year did you think you were looking after me?” I managed to keep my voice calm.

Cassie bit her lip and looked like she was trying to think of something to say.

“Because last time I checked,” I said, not giving her a chance to reply. “Last time I checked, you’ve spent the last six months being completely awful to me.”

“You don’t mean that…”

“No, I do. I really do.”

“I just...I’ve been having a hard time. With all this.” Cassie gestured to her stomach. The roundness was visible even under her coat.

I shook my head. “No. Cass, you don’t get to tell me you’ve had a hard time. You really don’t.”

James was looking increasingly awkward. His eyes were fixed on the floor and he was fidgeting like Al did when he was trying to work out the right thing to say. I was suddenly very aware of his parents, still sitting beside Al and listening to the whole conversation. It wasn’t really surprising that James was embarrassed.

“Cassie, this is what you do,” I said. “This is what you’ve always done. You float around doing whatever you want while everyone else collapses around you, and then when you notice that they’re hurt you decide it’s time to reveal your great vulnerabilities and whatever so they don’t realise that you’ve been ignoring them all along.”

“I don’t…”

“No. You don’t get to make excuses this time. I’ve had an objectively terrible year. You were my best friend and you were meant to be there for me and you weren’t. And I’m not okay with that. You don’t get to just turn up and act like you’re being supportive. That’s not who you are.”

“Ollie, I didn’t realise…”

“Oh, shut up, Cassie.”

I felt very tired. In some ways I didn’t want to have this conversation. But at the same time I had a lot that I needed her to hear.

“I haven’t seen you properly since New Year’s Eve,” I said quietly. “Since we were out on New Year’s Eve and you watched me get sexually assaulted by your brother’s friend and did absolutely nothing to stop it and then made jokes about it on the way home.”

This time, Cassie didn’t try to interrupt.

“The same night that your long-term boyfriend decided to tell you that he loved you and you pretended not to hear him. That’s the last time I saw you. That’s the last time you were my best friend. And to be honest you did a pretty terrible job.”

Cassie nodded slowly. Her eyes were sad and her face was wiped of its usual confidence.

“I don’t want to bore you by going on for too long, but I’ll just give you a quick summary of my year since then,” I said. “Because it’s been a pretty dramatic one.”

I knew that Ginny and Harry and James were all listening, and Lily was now stirring on her bed, but I didn’t care. Cassie needed to hear this and I was ready to talk about it all.

“Since then, I’ve been questioned by law enforcement officers who thought I was helping you hide. I’ve watched my best friend dragged away by aurors under suspicion for a crime that never even happened. And that’s not even the start of it…”

Saying it all out loud felt ridiculous. I felt a funny urge to laugh.

“Because once my life at school was royally fucked up, my parents decided to make home just as complicated as well. And you knew about my dad’s affair, didn’t you? The one we all found out about that ruined christmas? I told you, but obviously you didn’t want to talk to me about it. It didn’t involve you at all. Anyway, Dad decided to move out and in with the woman. So Mum was obviously a mess. You know what she’s like.”

My voice was getting louder but I didn’t want to lower it.

“And actually I have a funny story about all that, because that woman turned out to have a daughter we go to school with! You might have heard about her. Laura Brogan? Al’s ex-girlfriend. Yeah, she lives with my dad now. Apparently he likes her more than he likes me.”

I let myself laugh a little and then shrugged.

“Anyway, I thought that was the worst of it. But then I went home for Easter and didn’t have a home to go to because Dad’s a terrible human being and Mum decided she didn’t want to live anymore. And I mean that quite literally. I’m sure you heard about her suicide attempt.”

Cassie winced.

“But don’t worry. I get that you didn’t have time to write to me about it. It was only a little suicide attempt, after all. She’s okay. She’s decided to spend her recovery time in Barcelona getting a tan and forgetting she has a daughter.”

I shook my head and laughed again.

“And I think you probably could have helped me, you know? You used to help me. Sometimes. When you felt like it. But this time you’d unfortunately tried to fake your own death and disappear and stay hidden even while your boyfriend, who you were meant to love, who’s terrified of aurors, was questioned about where you were. And you hid away because you were embarrassed that you’d cheated on him and you couldn’t be bothered to tell us the truth so you decided to leave us by ourselves. Because you’d prefer to leave me to deal with with my whole life being messed up by myself than actually have an honest conversation with me.”

I had tears in my eyes now. I wanted to wipe them away but I was worried that if I tried to conceal them I’d start crying properly.

“But somehow it’s all been okay, you know?” I said quietly. “It has. I’ve been okay. Because I met a wonderful boy who’s kind and patient and who wants to look after me. And I’ve never really talked to him because you always made such horrible comments about him and his family, but he’s just been amazing. And a better friend than you ever were. And then yesterday I watched a flying rock crash into his skull and I couldn’t do anything about it while he literally fell out of the sky and now it just feels like everything’s broken again.”

This time there were too many tears to ignore. I tried to wipe them away but more kept spilling through my eyes and before I could do anything to stop it a horrible sob had racked through my body.

Cassie stepped forward and folded her arms around me and I let her. I was furious with her but she smelt like lavender and her coat was soft and she squeezed me tightly and stroked my hair.

“We’re not okay,” I told her.

“I know,” she said.

“Like...we’re so so far from being okay.”

“I know.”

“And I don’t forgive you.”

“That’s okay.”

“And being nice to me now won’t make me forgive you.”

“I know.”

I stopped talking and rested my forehead against her shoulder, letting my tears seep into her coat and darken the previously immaculate white. I was vaguely aware that Al’s whole family were still there, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.

Cassie rubbed my back and held onto me. I stayed rigid in her arms but couldn’t help but feel comforted by the familiarity of her embrace. Despite my anger, she was one of the people that knew me best, and a small part of me was glad she was here.

“Ssh, that’s it,” Cassie said soothingly. “It’s okay to cry. Let it all out.”

I laughed through my tears and sniffed, pulling away from her.

“It’s okay to cry? Cass, that goes against pretty much everything you’ve ever said to me,” I said.

Cassie shrugged and grinned. “My mantras have had to be modified a little bit this year. Times change. What can I say?”

“I never thought I’d see the day,” I said, wiping away my tears again. “Sorry for being so pathetic.”

Cassie frowned. “You’re not being pathetic.”

“I just feel sad.”

“Of course you do. I’d be shocked if you didn’t.”

“What happened to Slytherins being resilient and not needing anyone else?”

“You are resilient,” Cassie said, shaking her head. “And despite what you might think, you don’t need anyone else. You’d be okay by yourself.”

“I don’t feel like that right now.”

“Of course you don’t. Potter’s unconscious. And you’re in love with him.”

I stared at her. The only time Cass and I had ever come close to talking about love was our hopeless conversation about Scor at New Year. She was generally of the opinion that love made you weak and wasn’t worth thinking too much about. But now she was telling me I was in love with Al and she didn’t make it sound like a big deal. She said it like it was obvious.

Cassie looked at me with a shrewd expression. I had a feeling she knew exactly what was going through my mind. She seemed to crumple slightly and looked fragile again.

“I think…” She paused, blinked slowly, and then took a breath. “I think I tried to stop you finding someone like Albus. I think...I think I was always scared of what it would be like for you to love somebody who wasn’t me. And I kept you away from people.”

I nodded slowly. I’d never thought too much about the effects of Cassie’s friendship on the rest of my relationships, but my months without her had shown me how different things could be.

“That was wrong of me,” Cassie stated. “And...I’m sorry.”

I nodded again. “Right.”

“Do you think we might be able to be friends again?”

Cassie spoke quietly, but I could see James listening intently from behind her. On the other side of the bed, Harry and Ginny were whispering to each other, perhaps trying to avoid eavesdropping.

“I don’t know, Cass,” I managed to say.

“Do you think one day we might be able to try?”

I closed my eyes and nodded. When I looked back at her, her smile was radiant. She reached out and squeezed my hand once, then stepped backwards into James.

James’s arms were immediately around Cassie’s waist, hands clasped over her stomach. He rubbed the back of her head with his nose and kissed her hair. She looked calm. She didn’t light up in the way she used to with Scor, but she was clearly content, and as she leaned back against James I thought I might be able to see why they worked.

I felt better after talking to Cassie. Ignoring her letters had felt like the right thing to do. I was still angry and we were a long way from being okay. But it had been a necessary conversation, and it had reminded me of the things I used to love about her.

I took my seat beside Al’s pillow again and ran a finger down his cheek. His skin was cool and I wanted to draw back my hand. I didn’t like being so near him when he couldn’t even see me, but I didn’t feel like I could let go.

I caught Ginny’s eye and she gave me a supportive smile. Harry was watching James and Cassie, eyes narrowed, but Ginny seemed to have immediately accepted Cassie’s presence and was instead looking at me while I looked at Al. I felt strangely exposed as she watched me watch him.

I spread out my fingers across Al’s cheek so that I was holding his face, and he turned his head into my palm.

For a brief moment I didn’t think anything of it. The movement felt so natural that I almost forgot it was unexpected. But then I saw the chalk-white of Ginny’s face and quickly pulled my hand away.

Al groaned and then spluttered into a rattling cough.

Madame Bulstrode rushed back over to the bed, pushing past me to hold Al’s forehead and lean close to him to look at his closed eyes.

“Everyone out,” she said. “Everyone who isn’t immediate family out. Now.”

Her instruction didn’t properly filter through my brain until the Hospital Wing descended into chaos. Ginny was clutching Harry’s hand, both of them firing questions at Bulstrode that went unanswered. James was babbling that Cass and I should stay but was being completely ignored. Louis had woken up and was shouting that he was related to Al and was Al’s best friend and the fact that he wasn’t technically immediate family didn’t give him any less of a right to be here.

Somehow, through the sudden panic, Cassie remained calm. She reached out to me and put an arm around my back.

“Come on,” she murmured. “We’re in the way.”

Everyone was shouting and anxious. I didn’t know what was happening to Al and I didn’t know whether I should be frightened. I couldn’t think properly and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and hide.

Cassie understood all of this. She formed a kind of cocoon around me and gently led me across the room, shaking James off when he tried to follow.

“I’ve got you. It’s going to be okay.”

Her voice was soothing and saying the words I needed to hear and, for some reason, I completely believed her.





Chapter 32: In Which Happiness Can Be Easy
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A/N: I’ve imagined and reimagined and written and rewritten this chapter so many times, but here it is. I’ll save my proper author’s note for after but for now: if you’re still here, thank you. You have no idea what your support means to me.



I didn’t speak until Cassie had pulled me down the stairs and out of the Castle. We sat down underneath the beech tree beside the lake and I wrapped my arms around my legs, pulling my knees up into my chest and curling up as small as I could.

The sun was shining and Cassie shrugged off her coat. She spread it out in the grass and sat down on top of it, tipping her hair back so that it caught the light and shone gold.

“I think he’ll be okay,” Cassie told me. “I know it probably doesn’t mean much from me, but I just have a feeling it’ll work out. You deserve that.”

I shrugged. Part of me wanted to talk about Al and was desperate for Cass to keep telling me he’d be fine, but I knew she had no more idea what was going on than I did.

“I actually wanted to ask you something,” Cassie said tentatively. “About the baby.”

I turned my head to look at her. I thought she was probably changing the subject to help me stop panicking about what was going on in the Hospital Wing, but if that was the case I couldn’t help but feel grateful. The distraction was welcome.

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” She looked nervous. “I’m not due for a little while. Ten weeks. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

I nodded and waited for her to keep speaking.

“I know you’re cross with me. I do. But you’re still my best friend,” Cassie said.

She looked at me hopefully, perhaps waiting for me to confirm her statement. I stayed silent.

“Anyway,” she continued. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. You’re like family, really. And I was hoping...I talked to James about it, and we were wondering if you’d maybe…”

Her voice trailed away and I raised my eyebrows. She cleared her throat.

“Will you be godmother, Ollie?”

I released a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. Cassie watched me, brow furrowed. I sighed.

“I don’t know, Cass.”

“Oh.”

I took another deep breath, thinking carefully about my words. Earlier I’d just wanted to hurt her. Now I really wanted her to understand what she’d done to me.

“I’d like to be able to say yes,” I said. “I would. But agreeing to do that...to be there in your life in that way...I’m just not sure.”

“You’re not sure you want to be in my life?” She sounded hurt. I hated her for it.

I shrugged with one shoulder and rubbed my eyes.

“I don’t know. I meant what I said earlier. We can try to see if we can repair this mess you’ve created. I’d like to think we can fix it. But I don’t want to commit to something like that when I don’t feel sure.”

Cass nodded slowly and then blinked away her own tears.

“Okay. Well, the offer’s still there if you change your mind.”

I gave her a small smile. Her eyes were watery and she started to dig up blades of grass with one hand. I could see the mud working its way into the crevices of her perfectly manicured nails, but she didn’t seem to care.

“Are you and James together, then?” I blurted out. I wasn’t sure where the question had come from but suddenly realised I didn’t know anything about her life at the moment.

“I’m not sure, really.” She kept pulling up grass, green spilling through her fingers.

“It might be worth getting sure,” I said. “Given that you’re about to have a baby together.”

“I know,” she murmured. “I met his parents the other day. He told them everything, and they said they’d help me, but I’m not sure what I want.”

I rolled my eyes. “I guess you can just ignore it all and hope other people sort out your problems for you. As always.”

“He asked me to marry him,” she said, interrupting me.

I gaped. I hadn’t expected that.

“I said no. We’re not ready for that,” Cassie explained. “He’s trying to do the right thing, but I’m not sure it would be the right thing, really. We only slept together in the first place because we were drunk and I got myself into a state and he happened to be there. If this hadn’t happened we would have ended it after a few weeks. It’s not exactly a recipe for a long-term relationship.”

I thought about asking her more about how her and James had ended up together. When I’d first found out it had seemed hugely important. She broke Scor’s heart and I wanted to understand how she had justified it to herself. This was my opportunity to ask questions, but after the emotional toil of the last few weeks I found that I didn’t really care anymore. Scor was going to be alright, and Cassie could keep her secrets.

Cassie drew in a sharp breath. “We’ve got company.”

I followed her gaze and smiled. Scorpius was heading towards us from the castle. He looked worried and sped up when he realised I’d seen him.

Scor’s expression tightened when he looked at Cassie, but he gave her a nod before dropping down behind me.

“Hey,” he said, pulling me back to lean against his chest.

I turned my face into his shirt and he wrapped his arms around me. Being with Cassie had helped me stop thinking about Al, but I didn’t feel properly comfortable around her anymore. Having Scor’s warmth surrounding me felt comforting.

“Sorry for not being here earlier,” he whispered into your hair. “I should have stayed with you.”

I shook my head. “You’re here now. Thank you.”

His grip tightened around me and I managed a smile.

It was the first time the three of us had been together since New Year’s Eve, and I don’t think any of us could ignore how different it felt. We sat together in silence with the sun glaring down at us, and I wondered if we’d ever go back to the easy chatter we used to so happily fall into as soon as we were together. And then I remembered Al, and wondered if I’d ever go back to easy chatter with anyone if he wasn’t okay.

We sat there for a long time. Scor didn’t let go of me and I was glad. I kept expecting Cassie to make an excuse and walk away. It couldn’t have been easy for her to be there, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d chosen to leave us rather than deal with the awkwardness she’d created. But she stayed beside me.

When the sun was blazing high above us and the grounds had filled up with the excited chatter of students enjoying the Sunday weather and my back had started to cramp from staying in the same position for so long, we were disrupted by a whoop from near the castle.

The whoop got louder and was broken up by laughs, and then Louis Weasley collapsed onto the floor in front of us in an explosion of laughter and cheers. Rose caught up a moment later, out of breath and beaming.

I pulled away from Scor, hardly daring to feel hopeful but unable to see how they could be so happy unless it was good news.

“She’s waking him up,” Louis shouted, punching the air in triumph and then rolling over in the grass.

I looked at Rose, waiting for her to confirm his statement before letting the relief burst through me.

“She is,” Rose beamed. “Bulstrode’s waking him up. He’s going to be alright.”

I jumped up and flung my arms around her. Rose hugged me, squeezing me tightly and laughing. Louis reached up from the grass to grab our ankles and pull us down towards him so he could join in. I laughed shakily and my eyes filled with tears even though I was happy.

“Apparently she just wanted us to clear out so she could wake him up without it being too chaotic,” Rose said. “After such a bad head injury it would have been disorientating for him to wake up surrounded by so many people.”

“She could have just told us that,” I said, frowning. “She made it sound like something awful was happening.”

“Yeah, well, it’s Bulstrode,” Louis shrugged. “She’s not exactly known for her stellar bedside manner. It doesn’t surprise me. I heard she was a Slytherin in her day.”

He screwed up his nose and pulled a disgusted face. I hit the back of his head and he laughed.

“So he’s going to be okay? He’s really waking up?” I sat up so I could look at Rose properly, wanting to make sure I fully understood her answer.

She nodded. “Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny are with him now. It might take a bit of time before he’s ready to see us, but he’s going to be okay.”

After that it was like nobody could manage being sad anymore. I lay in the grass between Rose and Louis, and Scor lay down on Rose’s other side. Cass looked slightly unsure what to do, but Louis told her he was too happy to bother being cross with her so she smiled shyly and lay down as well.

Now that we looked happier, other people started to sit down with us. Joe and Oz bounded over, closely followed by Esther and Clara.

Amethyst Twine came over and knelt beside me, whispering that she was pleased to hear Al was okay. Clara looked thrilled when she arrived and insisted that she stayed with us. She reached out and started to braid her hair. Amethyst looked surprised but smiled, and I caught Esther’s eye and grinned.

Dominique Weasley arrived with my cousin. Jason scooped me up into a hug and Dominique sat down next to Louis, stroking his hair even though he kept wriggling away and telling her she was embarrassing him.

Clara gushed about how much she loved Dominique’s dress and Dominique thanked her and said she could borrow it any time. Esther laughed and told Dominique she might regret saying that, but Dominique waved her comment away and insisted that she had too many clothes already.

Jason and Oz started to talk about graduation, which was coming up scarily quickly. I didn’t think they’d ever had much to do with each other apart from their annual competition on the Quidditch Pitch, but they seemed to share the same excitement about leaving school. Joe grabbed Oz’s arm and told him he mustn’t ever leave, and Jason laughed with them.

Esther leaned back and started to chat to Cassie about the internship she’d been offered over the summer. I half expected Cassie to ignore her. She’d never been interested in a friendship with Esther or Clara before. But Cass just looked relieved to have had somebody start a conversation with her.

It was sort of strange, having my Slytherin friends sitting so happily with the Gryffindors I hadn’t really known until this year, but I didn’t want to question it. I was surrounded by people I loved and watching them all sitting together made me feel calm in a way that I hadn’t expected.

“They’re coming.” Louis nudged me and pointed ahead.

Al hardly even looked like he’d been injured. If he hadn’t been leaning into James so heavily he would have looked completely fine. He was smiling and held onto Lily’s hand as they walked towards us. Lily looked exhausted but delighted, and kept peering up at her brother as if to make sure he was still there. On Al’s other side, James had one arm protectively around his shoulders and was obviously supporting him as they walked.

Louis and Rose were both immediately rushing over to Al, taking it in turns to hug him. Dominique and Jason joined them quickly. Dominique swept her cousin up into her arms. Jason gave Al a nod but stepped back to hug James, who looked like he probably needed the comfort.

Esther and Clara waved at Al from the grass, beckoning him over, and Amethyst gave him a smile. Even Scor got to his feet to tell Al he was pleased he was okay.

I hung back, feeling out of place again like I had in the Hospital Wing. All these people were very clear on who Al was in their lives. He was their family, their friend, or just an acquaintance to some of the Slytherins, and they could easily smile and tell him how happy they were to see him. I hovered behind them all, wondering what words I could possibly find that would be appropriate.

Al didn’t look at me for a moment. He was surrounded by people and looked overwhelmed. After a while, the others started to sit back down in the grass. Lily flopped down next to Louis and spread out like a starfish beside him.

James took a seat next to Cassie and lay back so that his head was in her lap. She looked startled by his sudden presence but didn’t move away. Instead, she lifted a hand and ran her fingers through his hair. I watched him catch her wrist and pull her hand towards his lips so he could kiss her palm. She blushed and smiled. I looked away and found Al watching me.

“Liv,” Al said, looking directly at me.

I took a step towards him but dropped my eyes to the floor. Rushed, scrambled thoughts chased through my brain, trying to work out whether he’d said my name in a way that implied he was happy to see me or whether he was maybe just wondering why I was there.

“Can we go for a walk?” He said. “You promised we’d talk after the match.”

I nodded, relieved. As we walked away from the rest of the group, he rested a hand on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure whether he was doing it for the physical contact or whether he just needed support now that James wasn’t by his side, but I liked the feeling of his skin against me.

We stopped next to the lake and he looked down at me, letting go of my shoulder. He looked a little bit anxious. It was strangely endearing.

“So...” he said, and then looked confused about how to carry on.

“How are you feeling?” I lifted a hand to his arm, wanting to touch him again.

He nodded, looking distracted. “I’m fine. I don’t really remember being hit, to be honest. Seems like everyone made a bit of a fuss out of nothing.”

I laughed but it felt like it probably shouldn’t have been funny.

“I spoke to my mum,” he said abruptly.

“Yeah?” I wasn’t sure why he was telling me this.

“Yeah. She wanted to talk to me about you.”

“Right.”

“She seems to think you’re in love with me.”

My breath caught in my throat and I chewed my lip.

“Oh.”

Al frowned, looking nervous. “Well...um, are you?”

I shrugged. “That’s none of your business.”

I turned around to look back at the others, still sitting under the tree. Cassie was now chatting to Jason and Clara, James’s head still in her lap. She saw me looking and gave me a little wave.

Al spun me around, catching my hand.

“I kind of hoped that you were my business.” He grinned.

I smiled. “Mmhmm. I’m glad you’re awake again.”

“Me too,” he said. “I hate to think how much you must have been suffering without my company.”

I glanced back at the tree. Scor pulled a face at me and stuck out his tongue before turning to say something to Amethyst. Joe had now sat down on Oz’s shoulders and Oz was trying to shake him off while Jason helped support him. Dominique was giggling and taking pictures. Looking at them made me smile.

Al and I had things to work out. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about him keeping secrets from me, and still felt ambivalent about the things I’d learned about his relationship with Laura. And I felt guilty for the way I’d ignored him. I knew I needed to stop running away from my problems. I couldn’t always let him be the one to fix things.

Our...friendship, relationship, whatever we were going to call it was still complicated and messy. It was going to take work. But looking over at the rest of our friends sitting under the beech tree made me want to put in that work. They all looked so peaceful and so cheerful. They made it look like it might be easy to be happy.

“Al?” I peered up at him, taking a step closer.

“Yeah?”

“I think I’m probably in love you.”

He turned me around to face him so that I could see how wide his smile was. It was the kind of smile I’d usually want to draw, desperate to capture the warmth in his eyes, but I’d drawn his happiness hundreds of times before and for now I only wanted the real thing.

“Well, that’s lucky,” he grinned. “I think I’m probably in love with you too.”

He pulled me in for a gentle kiss and, with the sun on my face and laughter and cheers from the beech tree filling my ears, it was easy to fold myself into him.

For the first time in a very long time, it felt like things didn’t need to be complicated.






A/N: HEY! So here we are. I started writing ‘Complicated’ over two years ago now and I can’t quite believe it’s finally finished. There are hundreds of little (and not so little) changes I would make if I were writing it again, and I suspect that even if I get around to making the edits I’d like to make I’ll never feel completely satisfied, but I have loved creating Olivia and her story. I’ve had so much fun writing here and this wonderful website has brought me so many lovely moments and wonderful people, so thank you to everyone who has been a part of that, through reading and reviewing and sharing your own amazing writing.

This is the end of Olivia’s story for now, but look out for two new pieces I have in the works. The first chapter of ‘Long Live the Queen’, a Lily Luna novel set in the ‘Complicated’ universe will be up later on today, and my novella ‘Fallen’, featuring Cassie several years later, should make an appearance very soon if all goes to plan. I’m not ready to let go of these characters yet - I’m enjoying them all far too much.

Usually when I post a new chapter I set up some review swaps on the forums so I can return the favour and give you my thoughts on your stories. Without the forums it’s a bit trickier but if you’d like to swap reviews I’m always happy to - just mention in your review that it’s part of a swap and I’ll get to yours as soon as I can :)

All that remains is to say an enormous thank you again to all of you who are still here. Your lovely thoughts and feedback have consistently motivated me to keep writing. This story wouldn’t exist without you.

Lots of love, E xx






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