A/N: Many thanks to my beta aiedailweasley for all her help.
If there's one person I hate, it's you.
You stand across the room, arm around your flashy girlfriend. You spin empty conversation, thoughts that are sweet to the ear but bland if swallowed. Luckily for you, the people you associate with have never digested anything substantial in their lives.
You are impressive to look at; ask any girl. You are impressive on paper; there are countless Outstandings on tests you didn't study for and papers you wrote half-asleep. And you are impressive in the air; you have natural reflexes that make you an indispensable Keeper.
You always win.
Mum glides over, hands me a butterbeer. "Inhale, exhale, repeat," she says. She forces me to look away from you and into her eyes.
"I'm fine," I say, though she knows this is a lie, perhaps the most common one on the planet.
"Try mingling," she suggests, "that's what parties are for."
"I'm fine, Mum." She affixes me with a knowing look, but takes the hint and leaves.
When we were little, she used to sit us on the kitchen counter, hand us a candy bar or cookie to keep us distracted, and talk. We'd be too interested in our food to make an escape, and so we'd listen, eventually getting sucked into the conversation. We were only five or six, but still she'd drink in our words as if we were adults. We learned to have opinions on everything from the weather to the new Minister of Magic. And while at first we'd say "It's too hot," and "His cheeks are red," she'd press us and we'd sit back, rethink, revise. It was a habit that continued until we left for Hogwarts, and soon we didn't need to focus on food to mull over things.
I was the one who thought things through, chewed on them for awhile, but you always whipped out something clever without blinking. It was almost as if you'd thought everything out beforehand, and were just waiting for a prompt. But when I asked you once, you just said that opinions were easy: you either had 'em or you didn't. And if you did have them, why wait?
Across the room, someone asks you something and you pause. You actually stroke your chin, even though you don't have a beard. I clench my jaw, and you finally answer, your girlfriend giggling at your response. You flex your biceps, and your whole group roars. Merlin knows how you turned a thoughtful question into some sort of joke.
I never liked sports. Whenever I tried, I was always one step behind, a second too slow. You, on the other hand, excelled at every position you played. You even tried to teach me once: you took me out in the backyard, offered me your broom, gave me pointers as I rose shakily in the air. And long after you went back inside, I remained on the lawn, threading between trees, tears filling my eyes as I scraped my arms on branches you dodged with ease.
This time it's Dad who comes up to me. "Enjoying the party?" he asks, though we both know I've been alone in my corner since you grabbed your friends and staked out the bar.
"Not bad," I say. "Haven't gotten a chance to see Rose yet, she's been mobbed the whole time."
"She's the bride-to-be, Lysander; she's not going to get a moment alone. You have pry her away if you want a word."
"Be aggressive," Dad winks, and he heads off.
He used to tell me the same thing about girls, back when we were at school. It was probably good advice, but you never needed it; they materialized wherever you set foot. I agonized over playing it cool and waiting like you, or going after a conversation. In both I failed to achieve the correct timing, and spent a lot of time gnashing my teeth. We were as identical as twins came, but when girls mistook me for you, the minute I opened my mouth they smirked, apologized for the confusion, and walked off.
You wink as well, though at your girlfriend, and whisper in her ear. The only clever things you say anymore are pick-up lines; everything else is a waste of energy to you. Once you got to school, all the uncool things, like thinking, became a waste.
I shake my head, turn away, and find Rose. She is attached at the hip to the handsome bloke who is her fiancÚ. While he turns to chat with someone else, I tap Rose on the shoulder.
"Great party," I say, giving her a hug.
"Thanks! I'm so glad you could make it," she replies. "Mum and Dad invited a ton more people than I thought they would, but it's working really well."
"It's great," I say again. "Oh, I got you an engagement gift." I fumble for my wand, Conjour up the book I wrapped myself earlier in the day. "It's not much, I figured I'd get you something proper for the wedding in June. But you need something to do until then, right?"
I finish as she tears off the last of the wrapping paper, holds up Finding Flamel. Rose was always fascinated by alchemy. There were days when I sat in the common room and listened to her sort it out for an essay or test, the only second year blind enough to think the older girl liked me. But when you materialized out of the shadows one evening and engaged her in conversation, I realized how stupid I was.
"Thank you," she begins, and as the shock of the unconventional gift wears off, I see she is touched. "It's really--"
"A book?" Her fiancÚ has returned to the conversation, and he takes it from Rose to turn it in his hands. "How... interesting." He smirks at Rose, as if there is an inside joke. I bite my lip. I should punch him, or at least make some sort of snappy retort, but I can't. Because when the couple is receiving chocolates and wines and all sorts of classy gifts, giving a book to just one of them is ridiculous. I end up walking away, and Rose does not stop me.
"You congratulated her?" Dad asks, as I approach.
I barrel past him, heading for the door. Meanwhile, you're still at the bar, still having a grand old time with your friends. I want to scream. It crosses my mind that no matter how many times I curse you, I never do it out loud. No matter how many thoughts I have, they've never given me the courage to voice them.
If there's one person I hate, it's you. Probably. I wouldn't be the first one to get us mixed up.