“I don’t like that idea,” interrupted Em. “Setting Andy up with Ellery Hines.”
She paused, as though considering the matter further, and decisively scrunched her face up in distaste. When an idea disagreed with Em Cadwallader, it put a sour taste in her mouth. Her hair had exploded from its barrettes again, too, and was conducting static electricity off her mohair sweater. Always the picture of poise, Em.
“Listen, I just don’t think Ellery is terribly bright,” she explained. “Once I told him I wanted to work in the Minister for Magic’s cabinet, and we had this whole conversation about it before I realised that he thought I was talking about, like, a cabinet. Like the unit of furniture.”
I snorted, but Zadie Wildt was impatient. “Let’s not rule him out,” she said, with a conspiratorial wink in my direction. “Andy will take what she can get.”
I opened my mouth to argue, and closed it again.
Em shrugged. “Well, he must have a good sense of humour, because he seemed thoroughly amused by the idea of someone drafting legislation from a cupboard in the Ministry.”
“Right,” I interjected, “as entertaining as this is—”
“Edward Albright,” suggested Em.
“No, Edward Dearbourne,” countered Zadie.
“I have a boyfriend!” I wailed, burrowing my head into a sofa cushion that smelt uncomfortably of alcohol.
After dinner, the three of us had claimed a desirable shell of maroon carpet in the Gryffindor common room and stretched out in front of the fire. It was not uncommon for conversation to fall on my love life, and I often indulged the others with a sense of vicarious enjoyment—but this felt less hypothetical and almost dangerous.
Having shamed Zadie and Em into sheepish silence, I peeked my face out. “Don’t you think you should keep my boyfriend in mind while you’re trying to set me up with Hogwarts’s most eligible bachelors?” I asked, pleadingly.
They exchanged exasperated looks. “Here’s the thing, Andy,” began Em.
The intervention I anticipated was interrupted, almost gratuitously, by the arrival of James Potter. He had barely swung his long legs through the portrait-hole when Em fell silent—his presence tended to commandeer a room, James’s did. Somewhere between the unavoidably handsome grin, the hair sticking out at obtuse angles, and the unfortunate insensitivity to the volume of his own voice—there was something unshakeable. It wasn’t unthinkable for every pair of eyes in a room to be fixed on him, and one could imagine the pleased, unruffled surprise with which he would accept the attention.
The ruckus was rather enhanced whenever he entered with his cronies, which was almost always. He had only two at his side on that occasion—Peter Pettigrew, who was small and mousy, and Sirius Black, who was dark and haughty-looking.
“Where is Evans?” James said loudly to the room at large.
Em tutted disapprovingly—Lily Evans, another girl in our year and the object of James’s ardour, was studying in the library precisely because she thought he was least likely to find her there.
“Evans?” he repeated, louder and confused now.
“Not here, Potter,” called Zadie brusquely, being friendliest with James. He withered visibly and slouched past us, dejected, on his way to the boys’ dormitories. Zadie watched him with growing amusement and, weakening, added kindly, “She’ll be back in an hour.”
“Cheers, Wildt,” he said, brightening. He gave me a cursory look. “Thorpe, you might want to watch that cushion—it’s soaked in gin—Peter has to wring it out later and—”
Zadie silenced him with a dubious little shake of her head. Even Peter, who had been nodding vigorously in confirmation, fell still.
“Also, aren’t you dating that Ravenclaw bloke? He’s pacing around outside.”
The particular Ravenclaw bloke I was dating was regrettably prone to pacing. Stephen Duke and I had been together since his seventeenth birthday in October—which was to say almost a full school year—and I found the relationship stimulating and consistent and horribly, painfully boring.
“Oh, yeah, thanks,” I said, trying not to appear or feel annoyed that my boyfriend wanted to spend time with me.
“Ravenclaw bloke?” repeated Sirius curiously.
“Stephen Duke,” supplied Zadie, as I began to gather my textbooks.
“Are you seeing Stephen Duke, Thorpe?”
“She is,” James answered helpfully. “Hard to miss them snogging everywhere.”
“It’s none of your business,” I said crisply, genuinely annoyed and almost threatened by the exchange. The boys in our year were not people to whom I liked to entrust personal information.
“Well, of course it’s our business,” remarked James, “if he’s corrupting your pure, innocent spirit and whatsit. The Thorpe I know wouldn’t sneak around engaging in illicit activities late at night... with a Ravenclaw, no less—”
“Stephen Duke is a tosser,” interjected Sirius more directly.
“That’s what I’ve been saying!” cried Zadie, throwing up her arms in triumph.
I remained diplomatically silent, getting to my feet and slinging my bag over my shoulder. Sirius gave me one last look and led the others up the stairs to their room, his cold exit suggesting that he was personally offended—perhaps by how expressing his dislike of Stephen had failed to convert me in turn.
Immediately, Em turned knowingly to me. “What did we tell you?”
“Actually,” I said, “you didn’t get around to telling me anything.”
She pursed her lips. “It’s a bit of a touchy issue, see. But all we mean to point out about Stephen is that, well—”
“Look, Stephen’s a bit rubbish, Andy.”
I eyed Zadie challengingly, but she met my gaze evenly. I sighed. “Well, I’m going to speak with him outside. I must have forgotten to meet him somewhere.”
“Still got a bit of sense left that you want snogged out of you?”
“Oh, Zadie, play nice,” tittered Em.
“You agree with me!” accused Zadie. She pointed at Em. “She agrees with me, Andy. Lily agrees, even if she’d never say it aloud. It’s just that you’re going to spend the next half an hour against a stone wall with the world’s greatest prick mashing his face against yours, and then you’re going to sneak past the Fat Lady after curfew with your hair a mess—and you’re not going to feel anything, not even once.”
The thing is, Zadie’s words had stung the first time I’d heard them, but with every repetition they became less scary and less harsh. I waved her complaints away, rolling my eyes, and left the common room to find my pacing beau.
He wasn’t waiting in the hallway, but the Fat Lady—sensing drama—obligingly provided me with a description of the Ravenclaw boy who had been loitering at her side: tall, blonde, and built like a Quidditch player. It did indeed sound like Stephen and, anxious about upsetting him, I decided to go looking for him.
Gaining access to Ravenclaw tower took an extraordinary amount of focus, perhaps an inordinate amount due to my status as a dim Gryffindor. Successfully climbing the winding staircase was a miracle in itself, and on the landing I was met by the next challenge: a benign female voice.
“What is the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, the beginning of every end, and the end of every race?”
I considered the question carefully. Then, simply enough, I replied, “Shit.”
I had never attempted to get into the tower without Stephen before, although he always offered me the chance to answer the riddle when escorting me (as though it were a special treat). Frustrated, I rattled the knocker again. The riddle was repeated and, somewhat predictably, I experienced no sudden flash of enlightenment.
“The letter e,” came a voice from behind me.
“Correct,” rang the answer, as the doors swung open.
Stephen was grinning with the healthy glow of someone who had just capably jogged up a flight of stairs. He kissed me on the cheek, steering me into the common room by my waist, and said, “I waited for you outside.”
“I didn’t think we had any plans,” I answered absently, distracted as always by the barrage of blue and bronze. I craned my neck upwards to admire the marble figure of Rowena Ravenclaw, stately and—I always thought—vaguely resentful.
“I missed you.”
I kissed Stephen on the mouth for lack of any appropriate or sincere verbal response, all too familiar with the ridiculous idea that you could miss someone after an hour without them. But he pulled sharply away from me, smiling parent-like down on me.
“Well, you can’t kiss in the common room,” he said—rather stiffly, I thought, although I tried to stifle the thought, “at least not the Ravenclaw common room.”
“Ah, we’re allowed to in Gryffindor,” I said apologetically, shaking my head seriously. “Total abhorrence of law and order back there.”
The remark was rather lost on him.
Vehemently I reminded myself that I was seeing Stephen from the perspective of Zadie and even the boys—the boys, for god sake—who were keen on character assassination. I reassured myself that the conversation only seemed stale and empty, my boyfriend disengaged and uninteresting, because that’s how Zadie had put it to me.
It would be stupid to let them affect me—Zadie, whose romantic cup rather runneth over, and Sirius Black, who knew almost nothing about me. It would be stupid to let them change how I looked at Stephen, who had always been sweet and constant.
I told myself, This is the way it has always been.
“Fucking shitty damn twat fuck,” shrieked Em.
It was a horrendously early hour. “Could you keep it down?” somebody else moaned.
“Fucking Zadie just fucking sits on me in the middle of my dream,” ranted Em, and didn’t stop for several minutes after that. She was if anything actually encouraged by our yelps and pillow missiles.
She was still complaining about it as we arrived at the Entrance Hall twenty minutes later, and I could hear her cussing even as I sat down at the Ravenclaw table next to Stephen. “Hello,” I mumbled as he nuzzled my neck, prodding a plate of buttered toast towards me.
As usual, none of Stephen’s friends returned my greeting. Golden-haired Aspeth Spyne, the Ravenclaw seeker, was reading a book under the table, dumb to the world. Maxwell Stebbins peered at me over his thick glasses, and Tilden Toots gave a pompous sniff. The rest didn’t even look up.
One thing that the eccentric Ravenclaws had in common was that they didn’t seem to like me very much. They were almost aggressively disinterested in me, in fact, despite the many months I’d been eating meals with them. Actually, it was the first time all week I’d eaten with them—I’d been shying away from Stephen recently, almost certainly because of the warnings of the other Gryffindors.
“Aspeth was just reminding me about her party this weekend,” Stephen said to me, “and I told her we’d be there.” I thought I might have seen Aspeth flicker her eyes at me in acknowledgement, but it could easily have been my imagination.
I swallowed my mouthful. “Well, there’s a Quidditch match that afternoon. If Gryffindor wins I’ll want to be at the celebrations and—”
“And congratulate James Potter?” interjected Stephen’s roommate Bertram sourly. Both he and Stephen were on the Ravenclaw team. “That’s assuming his team can pull their heads out of their asses and—”
“My team,” I interrupted, almost sharply. Bertram irritated me. “They’re my team, too. And actually I think I would rather like to congratulate James Potter on being the school’s best Seeker—”
“That’s awfully kind, Thorpe.”
I looked over my shoulder, almost grateful to hear James’s voice. “What do you want?” I asked, cautiously but not impolitely—he didn’t appear to have any hexed items secreted on his person.
“Just a word.”
I shrugged and rose from my seat, patting Stephen’s hand briefly. James waited until we had left the Ravenclaws’ earshot to speak. “Discuss me with your boyfriend often, Thorpe?” he said, grinning.
“Oh, God, it’s a long story—we were talking about the match.”
“Well, I’m glad to see you showing team spirit. Dating that clod was traitorous enough.” He grinned unabashedly at me, but before I could take offence, his expression changed to one of hesitation. “But, er, I’m here to ask you about—er, it’s about Lily.”
He ruffled his hair and busily straightened his glasses, hiding the rosy blush colouring his cheeks. It was almost endearing, but it was also incredibly frustrating.
“Listen, I can’t help you with that.”
As I turned to leave, James spun himself into my path. “I’m trying to change my ways here, Thorpe!”
“You shouldn’t have set her on fire last week, then,” I hissed.
“She makes me nervous! It was an accident,” he protested—but I was already walking away.
The group of Ravenclaws at the table had thinned, but Stephen was waiting for me with an expectant look. “Just Gryffindor stuff,” I said before he could ask. “But did you have a chance to think about what I said? About Aspeth’s party?”
“Sure, but Andy, I’ve already told her we’ll go.”
I raised an eyebrow, carefully pouring myself more tea. “I don’t remember agreeing to go.”
He smiled. “You’re going to get all defensive, but I’ve got to say... We don’t even know if you’re going to have reason to celebrate—”
“It’s Hufflepuff,” I interrupted incredulously. “They take turns playing Seeker! They haven’t a chance and you know it. In any case, I want to be with my house!”
“But I thought you wanted to spend Saturday together.”
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t come along,” I scoffed, “I’d like that just fine. All I’m saying is that we spend an awful lot of time with your friends.”
Stephen held my steely gaze, curling his lip unhappily. The kiss he gave me as he departed was less than affectionate, and I hardly cared. I stalked over to my friends at the Gryffindor table and sat down moodily, my arrival met with mild surprise.
“I have to start revising Runes tonight,” Lily was fretting, “but that’s going to take up all the time I set aside for Charms. And I’ve barely memorised half the definitions—don’t even get me started on the theory behind Aguamenti—”
“You’ll be fine,” groaned Zadie, emerging from her coffee mug. “You’re a Charms whiz.”
“I didn’t even know that they’re testing definitions in the OWL until you said that, just now,” Em added cheerfully. “Let’s just stay positive and—”
Lily, who had taken out her wand, lost control of the spell and blasted Em right out of her seat with a solid stream of water. “Em! Shit!”
“Nice,” said James appreciatively, sitting down where Em had been. Remus Lupin, another of James’s friends, bent over to help a spluttering Em up, siphoning moisture from her clothes with his wand, while Sirius and Peter sat at James’s side.
Zadie and I exchanged a look—no doubt James’s presence had distracted Lily and caused the mishap. “You know, you’ve already eaten breakfast today, James,” Zadie pointed out, struggling to hide her amusement.
“Still hungry,” he said brightly, reaching for a jug of syrup. “Pass the bacon, would you, Caddywally?”
Em fingered her wand under the table, looking furious about the reappearance of her old nickname. Cracks were beginning to show in her pacifist façade of late—there was, as Zadie had sagely put it, to Muggleborn Lily’s exasperation, “a disturbance in the force.”
I shoved the bacon in James’s direction and, to distract Em, hastily asked where Leah was. “Remedial Potions,” Zadie sniggered in reply, as Lily exploded in a fit of giggles. Leah’s inability to understand even the most fundamental potions concepts is almost legendary.
“Be nice,” scolded Em half-heartedly. “It was nice of old Sluggy to offer—although I don’t know if he’d have given it a thought if she wasn’t in the Slug Club, with that famous grandfather of hers.”
“I wish him the best of luck, either way,” said Lily, shaking her head. As something of a potions prodigy, she herself had attempted to coach Leah many times over the years, with limited success. “This may even mean the end of her stint in the club. Remember the last time somebody decided to tutor her?”
“We should have a moment of silence for Rodney Wood’s eyebrows,” I said soberly.
James was watching Lily dissolve into uncontrollable laughter. “Listen, Evans,” he said, using the softer voice he reserved for her, “there’s a Hogsmeade weekend coming up, and you owe me a date.”
She stopped laughing immediately. I raised an eyebrow—hardly surprised by James’s behaviour, of course, but always somewhat awed by his guts.
Lily threw down her fork and stood up noisily. I hurried to mop up the water she knocked over, as Em gulped down a couple mouthfuls of cereal. It appeared they’d be leaving shortly. “No, Potter, you listen,” she hissed, as he sat spellbound before her. “You disgust me, I despise you, and the chances of me going out with you are lower than the chances of you asking nicely next time!”
Em drew herself up beside Lily with a determined expression. “And if you call me Caddywally once more, I will plant false memories in the head of every one of your teachers so you’re known as Potty for the rest of your days.”
“Good ruddy luck finding a date for Hogsmeade, because your head is too big to fit through any of the doorways—oh, and I think you’re coming down with a cold!” She flicked her wand dismissively and, right on cue, he gave an enormous sneeze. From his nose came two explosive jets of water. “Let’s go practice bloody Aguamenti,” Lily said stiffly to Em.
Zadie and I collapsed over each other as they left, shaking with laughter. James turned to me accusingly, and said, between sneezes, “I asked you for help!”
Remus and Sirius held up their robes, sheltering themselves from the nasal shower. Peter looked unhappily at James. “Is it contagious, do you think? I can’t see how Lily could have done that with—”
“Oh, Lily did that,” Zadie assured him.
Peter grinned widely at this, having fancied Zadie since the beginning of time. He was the smallest of the boys in our year, and his specialty was dirty jokes—more so, making run-of-the-mill comments sound filthy. He rarely stopped talking. “Is James making you wet, Zadie?” he jeered.
James was making everything wet, having sufficiently drenched the tablecloth and his own robes. She rolled her eyes and returned to buttering her toast in silence.
“Be polite, Wildt,” said James to Zadie lazily. “Answer—achoo!—Pete’s question.”
“I had nothing nice to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.”
“Can’t argue with that, mate,” said Sirius cheerfully, toasting us with his goblet. I smiled at my plate—I secretly approved of his sense of humour, arrogance aside. At least I didn’t spend all my time watching him and blushing, as I had for most of third year.
With that, the boys dragged James off to the hospital wing to have his sinuses fixed, and I was left to the mercy of Zadie and her insistence that my love life had been through a shredder.
That evening, I was sulking alone in a cold corner of the library, worrying about Stephen. Hunched low over a textbook with my nose almost touching the tiny print, I had been reading the same paragraph for about five minutes, pausing periodically to nibble on the biscuits I had pinched from Lily’s secret stash in the wildly unpopular equine law aisle.
I leant back in my chair to examine the cover, scattering crumbs over my lap. The author’s name was partially obscured by a splash of black coffee which I attributed to Zadie, who had leant me the book—despite an intrinsic aversion to hard work, she always managed to do well in Charms.
The back legs of my rickety chair slammed to the ground and I nearly lost my balance, shutting the book with a snap. I scowled over my shoulder at the figure of Sirius Black. He had black shoulder-length hair, falling in careless waves, and an infuriatingly nonchalant way of walking. He was also bloody inseparable from James Potter—anxiously I considered the possibility that James might jump out at any moment.
I yawned. “D’you think we’ll ever be on a first name basis, Black?”
After a moment’s consideration, he replied, “Of course, Addison.”
“Andy,” I corrected, “my name is Andy.”
“You really think we’re close enough for nicknames already?”
I rolled my eyes and busied myself with A Compendium of Useful Charms, while Sirius—well, I couldn’t possibly think what Sirius was doing in the library. Cocky bugger.
He began flipping through the books on the shelf beside my head, but I could see his dark eyes sparkle. Sirius liked to argue. “How’s it going with Stephen Duke?” he asked. “James told me you two had an argument at breakfast.”
“Argument is a strong word,” I said simply. He raised his eyebrows at me briefly, and turned back to the books. “You and Stephen don’t like each other very much, do you?”
“That’s a long story,” he admitted, “but it’s about more than just Quidditch... Mostly it’s about James hexing Bertram Aubrey for being a prick about Quidditch.” He smiled mischievously to himself, and then sobered. “No, I don’t like him much. But you do?”
I shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, yes, of course I do.”
This amused Sirius. “It’s alright, you know,” he said. “We’ve all dated people that we don’t really like. It’s what makes the world go around.”
I made a face. “It’s also a bit stressful. I’ve been avoiding him all week, but God knows whether that’s because I’ve gone off him or just because I’m tired of falling off the Quidditch stands whenever we inevitably end up making out on them—”
“Try the goalposts,” he said cheekily.
Suddenly, I felt obligated to provide an explanation. “I’m not sure what I want, see. Stephen and I don’t have much in common—and if we ever had any chemistry, it’s been entirely smothered by his nose nuzzling... which really is disgusting, by the way, all soggy... But he is lovely to me.” I paused. “Biscuit?”
Sirius took a Jammie Dodger and ate it thoughtfully. “I’m always struck by the irony of that,” he said eventually. “These serious relationships, supposed to be all about romance and being made for each other, but at the end of the day there’s nothing genuine there.”
Although this was exactly what I had been getting at, I found myself irritated by the remark. “I guess,” I agreed reluctantly. “Yeah, I guess it’s more about the relationship than his personality, at this point—”
“—although he is a right tosser—”
I glared at him, if only because I knew I had to. “I just don’t know what to do. With him.”
Sirius shrugged. “Like I said, we’ve all dated people where the main attraction was the affection,” he said, and then added wryly, “the snogging. You know, you never argue—even though you disagree constantly—because whenever you’re about to call them out, they give you another little compliment and a kiss—”
“Do I come off as that vapid?” I demanded. Sirius looked taken aback, and I smiled. “No, you make a good point. To be honest, my primary concern is that he calls my breasts the girls, and whenever he grabs them he makes a honking noise—”
“What a lad,” said Sirius mockingly, laughing with his head thrown back. “I suppose that does make you wonder whether you’re wasting your time. I mean, there are better things to do than snog, Thorpe. You could make a list. Getting detentions, riding the Whomping Willow, swimming naked in the Black Lake...”
“I suppose,” I said.
“I’m obviously under-informed about the situation,” he continued coolly, almost challengingly, “but, I mean... it’s your choice. I guess it depends on whether, for you, it’s important that you actually like the person you’re dating.”
I rolled my eyes. “I think you know more about me than you let on, Black.”
His next smile was the biggest he’d given all night, and something changed in his eyes. They were dark and impenetrable, and they skimmed over you disinterestedly, except—except when they didn’t.
“We’ve lived together for nearly five years, by my count,” he said.
He hovered beside my desk and for a moment I imagined he was going to sit down, but abruptly, he said, “Cheers, then, Andy Thorpe.” I had barely looked up from my book when he turned on his heel and left.
This is a good time to acknowledge that I've borrowed characters, settings, and events from JKR. Anything you recognise isn't mine!
So I've gone ahead with another edit. Since these first few chapters were initially posted and re-posted, I've written a lot
.. actually, I finished the 100k story in full. I'm now in the process of cutting that down, and I'm going to hit these first chapters hard.
Revamp aside, this is my first story on the archives and reviews make me flail. Thank you for reading, and I hope you haven't been confused by the avalanche of new characters. I really would like you to enjoy reading this story.
Expect: Sulking, Serious Conversations, and things that go out with a fizzle.