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Foul Play by Aetherwyn
Chapter 5 : Of Dungbombs and Butterbeer
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 28


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Disclaimer: I don’t own Harry Potter or anything else I obviously don’t own, but you knew that, etc.




 

Chapter Five



Of Dungbombs and Flubberworms

 

Zonkos was packed. But then, it always is, isn’t it? For some reason, adolescents simply can’t get enough of dungbombs or frag spawn soap, though I’ve never really understood the fascination. I mean, where’s the creativity? Kids just throw a dungbomb, chortle at their cleverness, high five, and run along. There’s nothing respectable about that.

But there are a few individuals -- a very few, to be sure -- who rise above and beyond. Who pull off stunts that leave even me impressed, though I’d never say it out loud.

Individuals like Potter.

Three months into our first year; that’s all it took for him to have Hogwarts wrapped around his finger.

It had been around seven at night; the whole school was crowded into the Great Hall for dinner, famished after one of the first Quidditch matches of the year. People dove into the spaghetti with gusto, laughing with their friends, minding their own business --

Until people started to notice the flubberworms.

Oh, yes.

The spaghetti, it seemed, had become infested with flubberworms, oozing through the noodles, dangling out of peoples’ mouths, half-eaten.

Simply put, the Great Hall went into hysterics.

It’d been hilarious, of course. Especially when everyone realized that though they’d thought they’d eaten flubberworms, the undulating creatures were, in fact, candy. Charmed like a chocolate frog.

Eleven years old.

Much better than a dungbomb.

Though that’s not to say I would ever, ever tell him I thought so; after all, I still remember the triumphant look he gave me when he’d noticed the tears running down my face from laughing so hard.

Smug bastard.

I glanced over at Potter; he’d relinquished his hold of my shoulders when he opened the door to Zonko’s for me (not that I couldn’t have done it myself, but whatever), and was now perusing the merchandise. Something about the way his eyes gleamed when they landed on a new object, the way his brow furrowed slightly, made me wonder what kind of stunt he was going to pull next, how he’d make me laugh again.

Things were so different now.

“So,” he said, turning down to look at me, an unreadable smile on his face, “Do you see them?”

Oh, right.

For some reason, coming here with him... I’d gotten so distracted, so quickly, I hadn’t even...

I coughed, a faint blush rising to my cheeks.

He always did this to me.

Uncomfortable, I ignored him, making a spectacle out of searching the store. After a few quick scans came up empty, my heart began to sink; if they’d already made their way into another store, I’d have absolutely no idea where they were supposed to be, no idea how Briar was doing. Worry washed over me in waves, and I was just about to assume the worst, when --

“Bloody bleeding badgers, there they are, they’re right --” I whispered frantically, grabbing Potter’s arm and dragging him into the nearest isle. Once safe, I peered around the edge of the shelves, to where Briar (sunny expression, worshipping eyes) and Finley (affectionate smile, relaxed body language) were chatting with the cashier. My eyes narrowed.

And then, all of a sudden, he was there. I mean, not Finley, but Potter. Behind me. Hand on my shoulder, breath on my neck, chest against my back.

Merlin, I can’t handle this.

“So that’s the tosser with her?” He asked, his cheek only an inch or so away from my own, frowning over at him.

I tried to ignore the heat pouring into me at the moment, and instead, managed “Err, uh, yeah. That’s Finley.”

Oh, bloody hell. I sincerely hope my voice didn’t just crack.

“Hmm,” was his only reply, and I could tell he was making quick calculations in his head, coming to some sort of conclusion. I didn’t ask what; I didn’t want him to reach the same one as me. It would make everything.. much more real, less a case of my paranoia and pessimism.

“Ahh, they’re moving, they’re --” I said, dragging him with me again, this time slowly circling the shelves so the couple wouldn’t notice us.

I stared after them, watching them clear the door, until I heard Potter start cracking up.

“What?” I said, immediately defensive, stepping away from him.

“Nothing,” he grinned, tugging gently on a strand of my hair. I smacked his hand away.

“Potter.” I narrowed my eyes. “Tell me.”

He just shrugged innocently in reply, and with a backward smirk at me, headed out the door after Briar and Finley.

Okay, cool.

I will not, under any circumstance, give him the satisfaction of letting him know that he gets under my skin.

NOT. UNDER. ANY. CIRCUMSTANCE.

Even if I’m dying of curiosity and suspicion over here. No big deal.

Shaking my head, I hurried out the door and ran to catch up to him; he was keeping a respectable distance behind Finley and Briar, hands in his pockets. As usual, once I caught up to him, he smiled down at me wordlessly -- the crinkly-eyed smile, the smile that’s graced every page of Cosmowitch. Standing there like that, it struck me yet again how our relationship of six years had changed so much in just a few weeks.

It seemed unreal.

Not that I was going to dwell about what exactly that meant.

Instead, I focused all my attention on the matter at hand -- the one that was eating away at my nerves. Finley and Briar. The two were ambling through the cobblestone streets of Hogsmeade, looking every part the couple. Staring at them, at the way they looked at each other, I felt guilt creep its way up my spine, snaking its fingers into my gut. Why couldn’t I just be happy for her, like Dom? Why did I have to ruin something like this, doubt it?

What was wrong with me?

Lola,” Potter’s voice drifted into my consciousness, his face looking down into mine, concern behind those ever-perceptive eyes. “You.. all right?”

Horrified that I’d let him read me yet again, I quickly composed myself, flashing my Head Girl Grin ™. “I’m fine,” I said, megawatt smile firmly in place.

“Oh, bollocks,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “You can’t fool me, Lola Cartwright.”

I shrugged, ignoring the way my chest tightened. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Potter.”

Our conversations always seemed to take turns like this lately. He just... understands. Always.

A blessing and a curse, in this case.

Uncomfortable, I cast my gaze out after Briar and Finley, and, sure enough, they were ducking into Tomes and Scrolls, the local bookshop. “Look, we almost missed them,” I said, turning evasively out of his sight.

Now, let’s just get this clear -- I love books. Just as the library is my favorite spot in Hogwarts, what with the musty smell of old books and the surly librarians and all, Tomes and Scrolls is my typical haunt on Hogsmeade weekends. The second Potter and I crossed the doormat, the shop’s owner greeted me, propped up from behind the register.

“Back again, Lola?” Lawrence Arthur said quietly, a knowing smile playing on his elderly face.

“Hey, Lawrence,” I said, looking apologetically at the empty jar on the counter (“For the kneazles,” was always Lawrence’s descriptive explanation). Potter promptly dropped in a few spare knuts. I smiled at him. “How’s the business booming?’

“Oh, you know.” He said, waving a hand to dismiss the topic, as breezy and vague as ever. “I’m more interested in this gentleman friend you’ve brought along, dearie.” And then he cast an appraising eye towards Potter, looking him up and down.

I immediately flushed. “Oh, no --”

But Potter was already one step ahead of me.

“James Potter, sir,” charming dimples in place, hand oustretched.

“Ahh, so that’s why you look so familiar. It’s not that you’ve frequented this shop before, is it?” Lawrence looked down his nose at Potter, who had the tact to look chastised, before shaking his hand. “Firm grip; not too tight, not too weak.” He let go. “So, James Potter, what - is - your - favorite - book?”

Right, because this couldn’t get more awkward if we tried.

Thanks, Wizard gods.

“Actually, sir, it’s hard for me to pick just one.” I rolled my eyes, expecting Potter to spew out some kind of hippogriff dung, when he continued, “I’d be lying if I said Quidditch Through the Ages hasn’t affected my life in a major way, and I’ll always be grateful to Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches.” He threw me a decidedly rougish smirk, and I resisted the urge to snort. “But, actually, my favorite book is Modern Magical History; I find history fascinating, especially because it very much shapes who we are. I like knowing who’s come before me, and understanding them, feeling a connection...” He trailed off, the tips of his ears turning red. “But, uh, it’s a very good book, if you haven’t read it. I really recommend it.”

Well, that was unexpected. I gazed at Potter with interest, which only seemed to embarrass him more.

Intriguing.

Lawrence looked Potter up and down once more, turned to me, and, after a long pause, declared, “Well, dearie, I think you’ve got yourself a keeper.”

As if that settled matters.

“We’re --” I began to protest, but Potter beat me to the punch. Again.

“That’s what I keep telling her,” he grinned, the Chesire Cat.

Lawrence nodded in approval, and it was all I could do not to strangle Potter right then and there.

Which, really, would have simplified everything.

“Anyway, dearie, I just thought you’d like to know -- we got the new Clinton Hamilton in last week.” Lawrence said, nodding over in the general direction of new releases.

Well, great. I'd been planning on getting it today, prior to the whole Hospital Wing debacle.

Alas.

“I’ll have to get it next time,” I said ruefully, shrugging. Hamilton was one of my favorite authors and I'd definitely been salivating over the thought of a new novel for ages, but it wasn't like there was much I could do about it now. There were more important things going on, which, actually --

As if knowing exactly what was on my mind (not that that would be a first), Potter nodded. “Well, we’ll be looking around, if that’s all right.” His charm was still on full force.

Lawrence nodded serenely. “Just let me know if you need anything.”

Saying our goodbyes, Potter and I began moving cautiously through the bookshelves; though the store seemingly went back for kilometers, we didn’t exactly have any idea where Briar and Finley were hiding themselves -- though, if I knew Briar, they’d be somewhere in the creepy-novels-that-leave-you-checking-your-surroundings-whenever-you-walk-around-your-common-room shelves. Once I was sure Lawrence couldn’t hear us anymore, though, I walloped Potter on his arm.

“I really appreciate you letting Lawrence think that we’re dating, you know? It was so kind of you,” I said, snarky as ever.

Potter smirked down at me, shrugging with nonchalance. “Well, what can I say? Making you squirm is almost as much of a sport as Quidditch, love.”

I rolled my eyes in response.

For today, at least, there were more important things to do than bicker with James Potter. After all, I had to figure out whether or not Finley had told Briar his ‘news’ yet, though it seemed unlikely. He was probably waiting for the Three Broomsticks to drop the dungbomb, I guess. Butterbeer takes the edge off of everything, or so I’m told.

Unless he’d already told her, and brought her here as... a date?

“He better not be getting any ideas in here,” I muttered, without even meaning to.

Potter quirked an eyebrow, leering at me good-naturedly. “Is that what you think of when you come here, Cartwright? Getting hot and heavy in the stacks?”

Merlin save me.

“Uh, err, no. I’m just... worried for Briar’s... virtue.” Virtue? Oh, Rowena.

It would have been much more believable, too, if I wasn’t red from head to toe and staring at a crack in the floor that was suddenly very, very interesting.

If only it could open up and swallow me whole, I’d really appreciate it.

“Sure,” he agreed without agreeing, nodding slowly, sliding closer to me, eyes darkening as they flitted up and down my body. “Her virtue.

And, just like that, all of a sudden -- danger.

I swallowed.

“I -- I thought you said you were going to be friendly.” I was determined not to yell at him, not to get angry, lest he think I was overreacting because I was very, very reactive to his.. his..

“I can be very friendly, darling,” he smiled slowly, brushing aside a piece of my hair that had fallen in my face and tucking it behind my ear.

That. Very reactive to that, whatever that was.

I shifted on my feet, wondering if the way my heart was slamming against my ribcage was healthy.

I’d venture a resounding no.

Of course, it was when I glanced up at him and saw amusement flicker behind his eyes -- amusement at me -- that I began to get angry. Angry, and... embarrassed.

I shoved him away, hoping my face fully described the disgust I was feeling. “What the bleeding banshee, Potter?”

His smirk was lazy and cocky and, for a second, I remembered exactly why I’d hated him for so many years. Such arrogance, such an ability to see through every defense I ever put up and just... smash them to pieces. Make me unstable.

I hated that.

But then he just looked at me, and... the arrogance dropped, his shoulders sagged, and he looked honestly... sorry. Regretful. “I... I’m sorry,” he muttered, running his hand through his hair and turning about as red as I’d been just a few moments ago. “I... I was just messing with you. I know that’s not an excuse and I was acting like an arse, especially because I know how you hate people touching you.”

I nodded tersely, arms stiff over my chest. Protective.

“I shouldn’t have teased you like that, I just.. I’m sorry. Really.”

I sighed, letting all the tension slide from my body. My heart rate was slowly turning back to normal, and I leaned up against one of the shelves.

Damn him for making me feel guilty for what he just did.

Foul play, Potter.

“Look, Potter.” He looked. “It’s not a big deal. Really. I overreacted, so let’s just... move on, okay?”

He frowned. “But --”

“Let’s move on,” I repeated, firmer.

I would not let him get to me. I would not.

Rolling my eyes up to the top of the store (Fates, truly, what do you have against me?), I sighed again. “Well, we need to find Briar, at any rate, but... I’m not really sure how we’re going to do that without them seeing us.”

Potter shrugged, seemingly mellower. “I still have my invisibility cloak?”

I thought back to the hospital wing -- hot breath, his head on my hair -- and shook my head. “Let’s... let’s leave that as a last resort. How about we just be extra careful for the next however long they’re in here?” I smiled at him, a peace offering, and he sent me a lopsided smile in return.

“Sure th--OOH!” And just like that, the life returned to Potter’s eyes. “The Tales of Beedle the Bard?! This is such a nice edition! Look at the design!”

James Potter the Second, Britain’s most famous teenage heartthrob, nerding out over a book of children’s stories?

I couldn’t help it. I bust out laughing.

“Hey,”he protested, laughing with me. “My dad used to read these to me every night before bed, thank you very much. I think he found it less awkward than telling stories about his own exploits. Which, of course, never stops Uncle Ron, but still.”

I smiled at him, trying not to show any ounce of the jealousy that shot through me, listening to him talk about his family with such affection. My mum has never really been the type for children’s stories, or for bonding, or for.. anything, really. Except catching husbands, and expecting me to be just as perfect as she thinks herself.

Which doesn’t exactly do anything to encourage mother-daughter bonding, you see.

Potter furrowed his brow, looking at me with open curiosity. “What’s on your mind, Cartwright?”

I wasn't exactly about to wax poetic on the perks of being Romilda Vane's offspring to him, and so I blurted out the only other thing that came to mind. “What’s it like?”

“What’s... what like?”

Oh, bloody hell. What was I saying?

“I mean... just... what’s it like having such a big family? Are... are you guys close? Do you like it?”

I don’t know why I was asking this. Merlin, it was mortifying. I mean, I never ask about people’s families. Because that usually leads to questions about my own, something I avoid with all my might.

But... things were different with Potter. He was different.

“Ahh,” he said simply, and for a moment I was worried he’d think I was just asking because of who his family was, not because of what they were. I didn’t want him to think that about me.

But he didn’t.

“Well, honestly, it has its ups and downs.” He ran his hand through his hair, sliding down to the bottom of the shelf. I sat down next to him, but turned to face the isle; if Briar or Finley walked by, I would know.

“It’s not just that I have two siblings, you know? And as much as I love them, they can be difficult to live with sometimes, too. I mean, Al has a tendency to get moody at times, and he can be a real pain in the arse. Lily, on the other hand, can be... well, she’s a teenage witch going through puberty. You’ve been there.” He grinned at me, and I rolled my eyes. “And we all know I can be an insufferable twat sometimes, as you’ve just witnessed, so dealing with each other when we’re all already annoying enough on our own can get pretty heated sometimes. Especially when Lily decides to learn how to fly by stealing my favorite broom and crashing it into the Oak tree in our backyard.”

I tried not to smile.

“But...” Here Potter smiled, affection on every corner of his face. I couldn’t help but stare. “But I love my siblings; they’re the best. They’ve got my back, and I’ve got theirs, no matter what. We know so much about each other -- we’re not just siblings, you know? We’re friends. Best friends. And when you add in my cousins -- I’m fairly positive I’m related to half the kids at Hogwarts, actually -- we’re just a huge arse group of people who crack jokes at each other and tease each other and protect each other and... we love each other.” He shrugged. “I love my family.”

I was still gazing at him, I guess, hoping he’d say more, but he ran his hair through his hair again (nervous habit, I’m slowly figuring out) and shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t really explain it well, I guess, but --”

“No,” I said, smiling. “It sounds nice.”

And I was unbelievably jealous.

“Well, you’ve got Briar and Dom and.. Adam, right? They have your back, just as much as my siblings have mine.” He seemed embarrassed still, but like he meant it.

I thought about all the things I’d never told my best friends, all the things I kept from them, all the times I lied to them. All the times they never noticed, even though it was never their fault. “Yeah,” I smiled. “I’ve got them.”

And I do.

But Potter narrowed his eyes, looking at me carefully. Perceptively. Saw right through me, as always.

“You know... you..” He turned unbelievably red at this, moreso than I'd ever seen before. Like, really red. “You can talk to me, you know that? If... if you don’t want to worry them about things, you can always talk to me. I know we haven’t been good friends for very long, and you’ve pretty much hated me forever, not without good reason, of course, but I mean, you can --”

I couldn’t help it; I giggled, a sound that rarely makes its way out of my mouth. Potter stopped talking immediately, looking horrified.

“Thanks, Potter. I’ll keep that in mind.”

We smiled at each other for a few moments, and things were nice.

And then I heard it: the sound of perfect timing.

“Be quiet,” I breathed, springing to my feet and wordlessly urging Potter to stand beside me.

“G through H.... E through F...” What was unmistakably Briar’s voice wafted up through the shelves, and I smacked Potter’s arm as lightly as possible in terror.

“Your cloak, get your clo--”

“C through D...”

“No time,” he whispered, barrelling me into the corner of the alcove, hiding me from sight, and --

His hands were tangled in my hair, and, Merlin’s bloody beard, I think he was trying to -- and his lips were RIGHT OVER MINE, NOT EVEN AN INCH APART, WHAT THE FUCK WAS --

I heard an awkward cough. Finley. “Er.. why don’t we just... come back later today?”

Briar snorted. “Merlin, can’t anyone get a room these days? Whatever, it wasn’t important, let’s just go.”

We didn’t move an inch until we heard the unmistakable jingle of the front door opening and closing.

I pushed Potter away.

“What the fuck?” Something I seemed to be saying a lot lately, with this bleeding idiot running around. I brushed my hair out of my face, glaring over at him. My heart was racing, and he just looked... unfazed, unaffected.

Wanker.

“Look, it was obvious they needed to get in our section. If we’d gotten under the cloak, we would have risked the chance of them not seeing anything and bumping into us. It’s not like there’s much room between the shelves to maneuver around here. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have risked that. And I think this worked out quite well, don’t you?” He eyed me carefully. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was the best option, Cartwright. What, do you think I’m so desperate for ‘female company’ to the point where I get off just by standing close to you?”

I turned red.

Well, how the hell am I supposed to answer that?

“No, whatever. It was quick thinking, so good job, I guess,” I mumbled, staring at the ground.

He nodded. “Good. Now, why don’t you hurry off and keep an eye on Briar? I’ve gotta go to the loo, but I’ll catch up to you in a second.”

I shrugged. “Sure, it’s all the way at the end of the hallway on the left.”

“Got it,” he said, and loped off to the back of the bookstore.

Making sure to say bye to Lawrence before I left the shop, I scanned the crowd once again for Briar and Finley. I finally spotted them a ways off, sitting on a bench, pouring over the books they must’ve just bought.

I settled down on the perch outside Tomes and Scrolls, content on watching them, when I heard an unfortunately familiar voice gasp from only a couple of meters away.

“Lola?!” Dom was staring at me with confusion -- excited confusion -- as she bounced up and down, Adam right behind her. “You got released early? Why didn’t you say anything?” And she ran over and threw her arms around me, just like that. “I’m so glad you’re finally free! Briar was trying to come up with different ways we could try and bribe Madam Strudwick to let you out before tonight, but we hadn’t come up with anything decent so far.”

Adam frowned at me. “Yeah, what are you doing out already, Lola? Strudwick told me herself that you were supposed to be released tonight, and ‘no sooner.’”

I blanched. “Yeah, uh... that’s kind of a funny story.”

No way in hell was I going to tell them that Potter, as usual, charmed his way into letting me free early.

Not that I had to.

“Hey, Dom, Davies,” was Potter’s polite greeting to my friends as he exited the store. He threw his arm around my shoulder and grinned at his cousin. “How goes it?”

Dom didn’t even have the decency to hide the exuberant beam that spread across her face at the sight of us.

Oh no.

Adam narrowed his eyes, then raised his eyebrows at me.

I shrugged.

“Hey," Dom beamed, freckled cheeks flushed prettily. "Were you the one to get her out of solitary confinement, James?"

He nodded, obviously pleased with himself. "Of course I was."

Smug arsehole.

Dom's face was practically glowing with joyous celebration at this point; I could already see her planning a wedding for Potter and me, with the accompanying fairy lights and mountains of lace and a string quartet. Then, as if reading my mind, she sent me a decidedly Potter-like simrk, all oh-ho-ho-little-girl-don't-think-you're-getting-out-of-this-one-so-easily. 

I was never going to live this one down, was I?

Adam, however, seemed to share my distaste. He rolled his eyes, muttering, “I see you two are quickly becoming friends. That was fast.”

Potter grinned wickedly, looking over at me meaningfully. “Yeah, I think Cartwright’s finally understanding how friendly I can be, if you know what I mean.”

Nope, I was definitely never going to live this one down.

Dom's Tutshill Tornados blue eyes snapped to mine, and I froze in terror. I could see it now: my future tombstone, envraved with LOLA ROSE CARTWRIGHT, THE GIRL WHO HAD SEX WITH JAMES POTTER. FINALLY.

Honestly, why do I even bother?

“And how much of an arse you can be too, Potter,” I snapped, positive that every freckle on my body must've been bathed in red at this point.

He shrugged, shameless, and was back to his usual cocky self. All semblance of the guy who’d turned red and bumbled over himself in the bookstore was completely obliterated.

So who was he fooling? Me, or them?

“Well, I make no apologies for my actions. I can’t help it, you know? First born son of the savior to all mankind, and all.” He grinned, fingers weaving through my hair, playing with it.

“Oh, stuff it, “ Dom grinned back, kicking him gently in the shin. “I’m going to tell Uncle Harry you said that -- or, worse, Aunt Ginny. Then you’ll be cowering in a corner and begging for mercy before you know it. You of all people know how terrifying she can be when you make her mad.”

“Do that, and I’ll tell Louis where you keep that diary of yours,” he teased.

She turned red, unconsciously hiding behind Adam’s arm. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He nodded, smug. “Sure you don’t. Just like you have no idea about the crush you had for the longest time on--”

She turned even redder, and tugged on Adam’s arm. “Oookay, well, we have to be going now, if you don’t mind. Lola, I need you back in the dormitory by eight, okay? We’ll have lots to talk about.” And with a mischievous last glance at Potter, she dragged Adam away, whispering something to him as they left.

I turned to him, raising my eyebrows. “You read her diary?”

I didn’t think it was possible, but his smile became even more triumphant. “I honestly had no idea she even kept one of those,” he whispered in return, laughing to me quietly, like we were sharing a private joke.

I laughed with him.

And, well, I guess we were.

Huh.

As we stood there, the laughter dying away, it dawned on me yet again that Briar and Finley had moved away from the bench -- where, I had no idea. I glanced around, but couldn’t spot them.

Oops.

I rolled my head up on Potter’s shoulder and sighed. “Some great spy I make, honestly.”

He smirked, leading me down one of the cobblestone paths. “And this, dear lady, is why you bring me along. They just went into the Three Broomsticks.”

“Oh, right,” I shot back, amused. “I forgot how much experience you have at stalking innocent couples.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” he laughed, running a hand through his hair.

I raised my eyebrows. His nervous habit, in response to that?

Note to self: investigate at a later date.

We were already at The Three Broomsticks by then, attempting to figure out where exactly Briar and Finley had situated themselves. When we deduced that they’d gotten a table in the back corner of the room, we, in return, got one on the opposite side of them -- facing their backs, so they wouldn’t be able to spot us in the crowd.

You’d be surprised how easily this was managed.

Once settled down, I eyed Finley distastefully, who was sipping a butterbeer with animation and laughing at some presumably snarky comment Briar had just made.

“I mean, he’s got to know that she adores him. Her entire being changes around him,” I said, frowning.

Potter shrugged, hailing down Madam Rosmerta. “You’d be surprised how many people are oblivious to things like that,” he said, with that ever-indecipherable smile, those keen eyes.

“I really doubt that,” I said, still worrying. “I mean, I know main characters in novels are always stupid about those sorts of things, but people aren’t actually like that in real life. They’re just fooling themselves, or don’t want to see it. He has to know.”

Rosmerta bumbled over to us, tray in hand. Though the barmaid was much older than my mum, there was something about Rosmerta that came off as much.. prettier than Romilda. “Anything I can get you two?” She asked, perfectly friendly.

Potter looked at me expectantly, and I bit my lip. “I don’t have any money on me, remember?”

“My treat. And before you start to protest, just think of it as my apology for insulting your delicate sensibilities earlier today,” he drawled, dimples flashing.

I laughed despite myself. “Fine, then. I’ll have a butterbeer, if that’s alright.”

“One for me too, Rosmerta, darling.”

“Sure thing,” she chuckled, presumably used to the flirtations of grossly underage Hogwarts boys, before ambling over to the bar.

“So, anyway, what are the chances you can hear what Finley is saying?” I asked once she was out of hearing range, craning my neck to catch a better glimpse of the couple.

“Next to nothing,” Potter replied. “I do, of course, have an assortment of extendable ears and other spying equipment back in my trunk, but I was in such a rush to hurry back to you I didn’t think to get them. … I’m sorry,” he finished, running his hand through his hair again.

I shrugged, tapping his arm lightly with my fist. “It’s okay, don’t worry about it. I... I really appreciate this, just so you know.”

He looked at me, then, dark eyes trailing my every move. He didn’t say anything, though, so, embarrassed, I continued.

“I mean, you probably had plans for today, right?” Oh, Merlin. He probably did have plans, and here I go just ruining them. “Oh, bloody hell, I’m really sorry. I hope you didn’t have a date, or anything. Because if you did, you should probably go now and --”

He placed his fingers lightly on mine, and I shut up instantly.

“No, Cartwright,” he said, voice smooth as honey. “I didn’t have a date.”

I swallowed.

“Right, then, well, that’s good.” I quickly pulled my hand away from him, and fiddled with the butterbeer Rosmerta had just dropped off in front of me.

I supposed he was telling the truth, not lying to make me feel better. Despite the fact that the general population of Hogwarts women believe that Potter is some kind of philanderer, I know he’s not. I mean, he dates, he snogs, and Merlin knows what else he does. But he’s not anywhere near as bad as most of the guys around school. I think part of the reason his reputation is built up so much is because of the way he carries himself; that kind of confidence and charisma make people want to talk about you, make people see you as something larger than life.

I think some people forget that he’s just another regular seventeen-year-old kid sometimes, too.

That must really suck Chocoballs.

“So, I hear it’s your birthday tomorrow?”

I glanced up, startled, to see Potter watching me with a smile hovering at the corners of his lips.

“Oh, err, yeah. I’m turning eighteen,” I said, sipping my butterbeer a bit self-consciously. I’ve never really felt like any of my birthdays were that important; when I was younger, my mum used to use them as an excuse to throw a “birthday party.” Which, of course, meant inviting all her friends over to the house (along with any much-younger men she could tempt into coming, too), getting pissed, and, well.. you can imagine the rest.

I always had to clean up. My mum was usually too hungover to lift her wand.

Still, don’t get me wrong; I’ve had some great memories with Dom and Briar and the rest of my friends on my birthdays. They always try and make them fun. But I’ve never really had one that felt.. special. Magical.

I guess I’m just too old for that now.

“Anyway, how ‘d you know know it was my birthday?” I asked, curious. It’s not like I’d told him as much.

“I know a lot more than you think, Cartwright.” he replied, serious. It was so honest sounding that my heart stopped for a moment, uncomfortable with the way his eyes lingered on my face.

Finally, I forced myself to laugh. “Like that’s not creepy at all, Potter. Soon enough you’ll be telling me you’ve been following me around on dates.”

He stared at me for a few moments, saying nothing, just watching. After what seemed like a painfully long time, a slow smile spread across his face, and he laughed, the tension broken. “We’ve been over that, haven’t we? I’m just an all-around creepy bloke.”

I laughed with him, but I felt shaky, unbalanced. He’d just been too serious, too warm. Too much.

“So it seems,” I said simply, watching as Potter drew something out of the bag he’d brought with him today, the one holding his invisibility cloak. Something that looked suspiciously like..

“A present?” I said, mouth slightly open in surprise.

Potter nodded, shifting around a bit in his chair, biting his lip.

He was... nervous?

“I, uh, I thought you might like it. Since it’s your birthday tomorrow, and all. And I know Dom and Briar have that party planned for you tonight, so I thought it might just be easier to give it to you.. now,” he said, fiddling with the wrappings. “Here.” And he shoved it into my hands.

I stared at it for a moment or two, completely taken aback. Potter and I were getting along, now, but.. this? This was something else.

Carefully, not to disturb anything, I undid the wrappings, and was honestly, truly touched when I discovered what it was.

The Clinton Hamilton book, the one I couldn’t buy earlier.

I turned to him, unable to say anything for a few moments. “Thank you,” I finally mumbled, cradling the book like it was a precious object, feeling exposed. “I mean it; thank you. It was really.... sweet of you.”

And, Merlin be damned, he turned completely red. Which was great, because I was roughly the same shade.

I never would have seen this one coming.

“No problem,” he mumbled in response, running his hand through his hair.

I honestly could not believe this was happening. It was just... too weird. This was me and Potter, of all people. I hated him. Or, I did. I had. Things like this just... they didn’t happen, did they? At least, not so fast? “So, er... are you coming? Tonight, I mean?”

Well, what else was I going to say? Any more talk about presents or feelings could be.. dangerous. Especially with him around.

“To your party?” He replied, just as carefully. I nodded, and he continued, “Well, I wasn’t exactly sure if you’d... want me there.” He ran his hand through his hair again.

I looked at the book in my hands. “No, you should come.”

And it was true. Strange as it was, I wanted him there.

Now, if flaming chariots started descending from the sky, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

But then it happened.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an odd stillness suddenly surround Briar and Finley’s table. “Something happened,” I breathed, my awkward, bumbling conversation with Potter instantly forgotten. “He said something, didn’t he?”

We watched as Briar shot up from her chair, grabbing her purse and looking down at Finley. She looked... beautiful. Dom had really gone all out on making sure our friend looked her best.

But now... I could see it. I wondered if Finley could, too.

Heartbreak.

Her lips mouthed, “Congratulations,” without a single quiver, with a wide smile. And then she bent down, hugged him, said something else, rapped gently him on the head, and walked away. Just like that.

I didn’t even realize I’d frozen in horror until Potter gently shook my arm. “Lola?”

“That bastard,” I whispered, and it was all I could do to not to hex the fucking hippogriff out of him. “How could he... to Briar? How could he?”

There was no satisfaction in being right. Just a sickening lurch of my stomach.

“Here,” Potter said, placing my book in my hands and throwing his light jacket around my shoulders. “Put this on, take your book, and run after her. I’ll pay for our drinks. You just.. go. We can talk later, okay?”

And he let me go just like that, because he understood.

I was walking to the door, sliding Potter’s jacket around my arms, when I froze. J turned around, and though Potter looked up in surprise, I lightly touched my fingers to his arm. “Thank you,” I said, unable to take my eyes off his. “I know I’ve said it a million times today, but thank you.”

He smiled at me, the crinkly-eyed smile that always made my chest squeeze, and tugged on my hair. “Just go already,” he said.

I went.


XXXXX


When I entered our dormitory, Briar was curled up on her bed, grasping her pillow for support. No one else seemed to be there; they were all probably still at Hogsmeade, oblivious to her tears.

She looked up at me then, eyes black with mascara and bleak with heartache. “He’s... getting married,” she said, voice a whisper. “The fucker is getting married, and he wanted me to be a bridesmaid for his future wife.” She spat the word out like an unforgivable curse.

I was at her side in an instant, arms around her. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could offer.

It made me sick to see her like this, to see her so... broken. Downtrodden.

Briar is never like this, never lets anything get to her.

Except, it seems, Finley Bishop.

“That bastard didn’t even had the decency to tell me right away. We spend the entire day together, he -- he gets my hopes up, and then tells me at the fucking end?” She sobbed, clinging to me.

I smoothed away the hair from her face, wiping some of the mascara off her cheeks. Not like it would make a difference; she looked like a wreck.

For a while, Briar didn’t say anything else; she was too busy crying, and I just sat with her, smoothing her hair and keeping close. Finally, she laughed shortly, bitterly. “You know what’s funny? I honestly thought we would end up together one day. Sure, I knew it was stupid, I knew he was older and he had girlfriends -- but I always thought I would be the one.”

And she started sobbing all over again, cursing between painful gasps for air.

“Bri,” I said, serious. “You deserve a thousand times better than Finley. I know you might not want to hear it now, but it’s true. And one day you’re going to meet a guy who thinks you are ‘the one,’ a guy who gets your dark humor and thinks you’re the most beautiful girl in the world, and you won’t think twice about some tosser named Finley Bishop.”

Briar sobbed harder then, still hopeless, and my chest squeezed.

Damn Finley to hell.

No, wait. You know what? He deserves worse than me damning him to some kind of meaningless cliche like that. I mean, when I say hell, do you really get it? Do you grasp the eternity, the torture, the constant, never ending excruciation? Because I really, honestly hope he suffers.

So maybe he should live a long life instead.

Briar shifted and looked up at me, dark eyes nearly invisible through a thick wall of tears. Her voice cracked, raw, as she got out between gasps, “You say you don’t believe in love, Lola. But then what exactly is it that I feel? Why does it hurt so much? What do you call this feeling, if it isn’t love?”

Wh-- what?

There was nothing I could say to that, nothing that would suffice. No words would come. I just stared at her, eyes wide, mouth open. “I--I--”

“This is love, Lola. This is what it does to you. So maybe you’re right on one level; who the fuck needs it? Who needs love? I sure as hell don’t. Look at me -- I’m a sodding mess. All because of love. So fuck it; I’m done.”

I swallowed to keep the bile from rising up my throat.

Déjà vu.

I’d said the same thing, back when...

“Don’t say that,” I whispered, staring at my hands.

“Why the fuck not? And here I thought you’d be agreeing with me, you bint.” She was still crying.

“I..”

I was saved from explanation by a loud thud, Dom bouncing into our room in a whirl of cheer and innocence. “We are gonna paar--”

She froze, took in the scene. Her face collapsed in an instant, and she ran to Briar’s other side, throwing her arms around her, too.

“Oh, Bri, I’m so sorry,” she cried, tears already swelling in her eyes. “I’m so, so, so sorry. What.. what happened?”

At Dom’s question Briar just sobbed harder, and I stroked her back, worried. “Finley is... getting married,” I said quietly, hating the way Briar’s face contorted at the news.

“Oh, Merlin,” Dom breathed, now completely crying. “Do you.. do you need anything? I’m.. going to go down to the kitchens and grab some food, okay? Lots of ice cream sound good?” She moved to get up from the bed, but Briar tugged on her arm, keeping her in place.

“No! NO! I mean it, Dom. Fuck this, fuck him. I believe we have a party to go to tonight, right? It’s Lola’s birthday in a few hours, and we damn well better celebrate.” Her voice was shaky, but adamant. Even through the tears. Just.. Briar.

Dom and I looked at each other.

“Look, Bri, I’m really not in the mood for a party...” I said, biting my lip. “I’d rather just have a girl’s night with you two, if that’s okay.”

Briar’s eyes snapped to mine, and I was taken aback at the intensity and resolve storming behind them. “No fucking way, Lola. We are going to the fucking party, and I’m going to have the best fucking time of my life and get fucking piss drunk and hook up with some fucking Hufflepuff, if that’s quite all right.”

Dom and I looked at each other again.

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TWO BINTS WAITING FOR? WE'RE DRESSING THE FUCK UP. NOW."

And so it seemed that the Dark Lady hath returned.

We started getting ready.

 


A/N: So, I edited the first chapter of this story slightly, for continuity and flow and.. all-around improvements! And all the other chapters now have new chapter headers, so if you're curious to see who the actual celebrity-lookalikes for each character are... now's your chance. XD 

Anyway, what did you guys think? A lot happened this chapter -- Lola and James are finally becoming friends, Briar got her heart crushed, etc, etc... Everyone was so worried about Briar in their reviews, I hope you’re not all too mad at me for making her feel bad! XD

Also I would just like to note that I updated really fast this time, yes? *beams* I AM PROUD OF MYSELF.

In any case, you know the drill! What did you think? Enjoyable, not enjoyable? Favorite quotes? AND AS ALWAYS, I LOVE YOU ALL YOU MAKE ME SO HAPPY. <33


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