“Wake up, wake up, WAKE UP!” Lily sang one Saturday morning a few weeks later, as she bounced on my bed like a toddler with a sugar rush.
I groaned loudly and slung an arm around Kneazle, who was busy giving my best friend one of her patented expressions of great disdain—the kitty version of my Death Glare (I must say, I was quite proud). “It’s my bloody birthday, you daft bint. Aren’t I entitled to a bit of a lie-in?”
“Nope,” Lily informed me cheerily as she flung back my comforter. I instantly curled myself into the fetal position, shivering, while Kneazle outright hissed at her (good cat). “We have far too much to do today!”
I sighed in defeat, knowing there was no arguing with her about this. I actually despised my birthday (well, except for the parts where I received fabulous presents and some sort of cake, and got to boss everyone about for 24 hours), which Lily had never understood or accepted, and annually attempted to rectify. She just couldn't seem to grasp the fact that no matter how fabulous that one day out of the year was supposed to be for you, something always happened to render you disappointed in the end. I swung my feet off the bed and trudged toward the bathroom. “I’ll take care of breakfast!” Lily called as I shut the door, turned on the hot water, and stripped off my pyjamas, yawning hugely.
When I emerged in a cloud of steam twenty minutes later, clad in my bathrobe and ratty slippers, the dormitory was filled with balloons and a large, blinking banner reading “HAPPY 16TH BIRTHDAY, HAZEL!” Sitting on my bed was a plate piled high with bacon, which Kneazle was eying hungrily, and several brightly wrapped presents. I couldn’t help but smile at my dormmates gathered round. “You lot are incorrigible.”
“You’re welcome,” Roxy replied.
“Now open them!” Ruby demanded.
I pulled Kneazle into my lap and chomped on the delicious bacon as I began unwrapping my gifts. Ruby and Amelia had gotten me a collector’s set of The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle, including several issues that I’d never seen before. Roxy gave me an inordinate amount of the latest products from Weasley’s Wizards Wheezes, and laughed when both Lily’s and my eyes lit up. “You can’t use these on Freddie,” she warned us, “he’ll know exactly where you got them!”
Finally, I opened the box from Lily, to find two silver necklaces nestled in a bed of tissue paper. Together, the pendants shaped a large heart reading “BEST BITCHES.” “Turn them over!” Lily told me excitedly. I did, to find that she had charmed the backs to display one of my favourite photos of the pair of us making an assortment of silly faces at the camera back in second year. It was set up so my half of the necklace would display the portion of the picture featuring Lily, and vice versa.
I laughed and hugged her tightly. “This is awesome, Lils!”
She squeezed me back. “Happy birthday, Haze!”
I thanked the other girls as well, hugging them in turn. The five of us lounged on my bed, discussing our plans for Hogsmeade, as Kneazle batted around the shredded wrapping paper and ribbons. My usually disgruntled cat had an expression of sheer kitty joy on her face—she probably thought it was her birthday come early. After a while, Roxy glanced at her watch and informed us that we’d better get a move on.
I used a drying spell on my hair and applied a bit of makeup, then donned my cosiest sweater—a cashmere, V-necked affair in a creamy, off-white colour—and favourite dark, skinny jeans before pulling on a pair of light brown, knee-high leather boots. I swept my long hair over my shoulder so I could do up the clasp of my new necklace, and grinned when I saw Lily wearing her matching one. “Ready?” she asked.
I quickly grabbed my olive-green peacoat and a set of matching beige flip-top fingerless gloves, slouchy hat, and scarf (courtesy of Mum, naturally—clearly I would never be so practical), made Amelia and Ruby promise to meet us at Three Broomsticks later in the day, and followed Lily and Roxy out the door.
Waiting outside the Great Hall, as we’d planned the previous evening, were Al, James, Freddie, Dom, Rose, Molly, Hugo, Louis, Charlie, Rowan, Frankie, Ally Longbottom (Dom’s best friend and fellow seventh-year Gryffindor), and the Scamander twins (sixth-year Ravenclaws and resident weirdos). Molly’s younger sister, Lucy, was also with them, but as a second-year, she was too young to accompany us to Hogsmeade, and settled for giving me a shy hug before scurrying away (she’s quite adorable, considering the fact that her parents are right prats). Amid choruses of “happy birthday!” and other such greetings, our caravan set off for the village.
Lily and I exchanged sly glances as she chatted up one of the Scamander twins along the way (I never did learn the difference between the two because frankly, I just can’t see any reason—did I mention I’m a terrible person?). Lily had been working her way back and forth between the Scamanders since fourth year, shamelessly snogging one of them before moving on to the other, then back again (although I’m pretty sure a few times they managed to trick her, so she thought she was making out with Lorcan when it was really Lysander, and vice versa—she can’t be much better than I am at telling them apart). Clearly, James and Al had no clue of their little sister’s antics, given that 1) Lorcan and Lysander were still alive and 2) they were being allowed to accompany us to Hogsmeade. I find it adorable how ridiculously protective those two nitwits are of Lily, though she’s just bloody annoyed—I mean, the girl can clearly take care of herself, but that’s not the point.
James and I were walking together, holding hands (shut up—the media had been reporting about us “still going strong” so we were keeping up appearances and all that), but he was engaged in conversation with Charlie and Freddie on his right while I chatted with Dom and Ally on my left. I adored Ally—she was an absolute doll, which perfectly contrasted Dom’s rather domineering personality. Despite this fact, Ally was often the one who kept Dom in check when no one else could, for which all the Wotters were eternally grateful. She was also funny as hell, which was probably why Freddie had been crushing on her for Merlin only knows how long. Like her younger brother, she had warm, dark eyes, a smattering of freckles across her dainty nose, and light-brown waves framing her heart-shaped face. As Ally was usually Dom’s “plus-one” to family events, and Frankie was Al’s, Professor Longbottom and his wife, Hannah, also spent many holidays with the Wotter clan (thankfully, Neville knew the lot of us well enough to not expect anything even remotely resembling our best behaviour outside Hogwarts—or inside it, for that matter). The Scamanders and their parents would show up occasionally as well, which was always good for many, many laughs, to which they were eternally oblivious.
We spent the afternoon terrorizing the shopkeepers of Hogsmeade with our loud, boisterous group. I ate my weight in ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s (which, FYI, is a completely normal, almost daily occurrence for me) and amassed a large collection of Chocolate Frogs and Pumpkin Pasties at Honeyduke’s. At some point, James and Freddie took their leave, claiming they had some business to attend to, and would meet us at Three Broomsticks. After a few more stops, we decided it was time to hit the pub before we had to head back to the castle.
As the rest of us traipsed into Three Broomsticks, Al grabbed my arm. “Can I talk to you outside for a second?” he asked quietly. I nodded and followed him round the corner, where it was a bit more private.
Al cleared his throat before speaking. “I know we all agreed to do presents later, but I just…well, I wanted to give this to you now,” he shifted nervously as he produced a tiny, wrapped box from the pocket of his coat and thrust it into my hands. “Happy birthday.”
I peeled back the wrapping on the box, opening it carefully. My breath caught as I pushed away the tissue paper to reveal a thick, turquoise and silver ring with some odd-looking engravings round the inside. “Al—“
“Look,” he said excitedly, pulling it out of the box and turning it so I could examine the etchings more closely. “It’s like one of those Ancient Runes artifacts. You just line up these little dials on the inside”—he spun them round so I could see that the engravings moved together to form various runes—“and it will help you translate what they mean.” As he spoke, the rune he’d created dissolved into another etching depicting “ice.” I smiled, thinking about our study session in the library. When Al was done showing me how the ring worked, he took my left hand and slid it onto my thumb, where it fit perfectly.
“Al, it’s amazing! Where ever did you find something like this?”
He ran his fingers through his dark, tousled hair. “Well the ring itself was easy enough to find, but as for the dials…I sort of…made it myself.”
My heart leapt at his words. He’d made this for me? “Fucking hell, you’re brilliant,” I breathed, fingering the exquisite turquoise. I looked up at him, smiling widely. “I love it.”
“Al, it’s perfect!” I threw my arms around his neck. “Thank you so much!”
He laughed and wrapped his arms around my waist, squeezing tightly. “You’re welcome,” he replied. “I’m just glad you like it.” I inhaled deeply (and creepily), breathing in that spicy, citrusy scent of him that I loved, not wanting to let go. Just then, I heard a strange clicking noise behind me and felt Al tense up. “What was that?” he murmured as he pulled away from me.
Before I could respond, James chose that moment to sneak up behind Al and pounce on his back, bringing the pair of them tumbling to the ground. James laughed maniacally as Al wrestled against him. “Geroff!” They were mid-tussle when I heard the clicking sounds again. I spun round in time to see a tall, thin figure dashing behind a tree approximately ten metres away.
“What the actual fuck?” I squinted my eyes, taking a step in that direction.
“What are you staring at?” I jumped as Freddie appeared beside me, a quizzical expression on his face as he glanced from me to the tree and back again. I could hear Al and James still grunting behind me as I explained the strange clicking noises and the person who was now hiding behind the tree. Freddie’s brow furrowed as he gently pushed me backward. “Stay here,” he ordered quietly.
Freddie tiptoed toward the large oak. He wasn’t any more than a couple of metres away when I heard the loud snap of a twig being crushed beneath his trainers, followed quickly by the unmistakable crack of someone Apparating away. I ignored Freddie’s warning and ran over to him. We peeked behind the tree together. Nothing.
“Oi! Can we get some drinks now, birthday girl?”
I turned to see James and Al standing to brush themselves off before James reached down and grabbed a few packages he’d set on the floor. I noticed for the first time that Freddie was holding some as well. “I thought you’d never ask.” I gestured to James and Freddie’s full arms as I began to Scourgify bits of mud off Al's and James's clothes. “Get all your ‘provisions’ then?”
Freddie grinned wickedly. “Of course.”
“By the way, you’re never allowed to leave me unguarded in Hogsmeade again,” James complained to me.
Al chuckled. “Serena cornered you, then?”
“Which means she must have used Daphne and Pippa to distract our dear Freddie here,” I guessed, patting my favorite Weasley on the back affectionately. Unfortunately for Freddie, Daphne Hilliard and Pippa Fawcett, Serena's most notorious minons, were quite attractive, and everyone knew a pretty girl was Freddie’s biggest weakness.
Freddie shrugged good-naturedly in response. “What can I say, I’m powerless against them!”
“I’ll say. It took a good ten minutes after I’d escaped Serena’s clutches and run away for him to even notice I was gone!” James whined.
The four of us laughed as we entered the Three Broomsticks and made our way to the group of tables pushed together by our friends, clicking noises and strange darting figures forgotten. James snaked his arm around my waist and pulled me closer so he could give me a peck on the cheek. “What were you and Al talking about outside?”
“If you must know, nosy, he was giving me my present.” I held up my left hand so that James could see the ring glinting on my thumb.
“Oh.” His expression darkened a bit. “That was nice of him,” he said woodenly.
I studied James for a moment. He looked rather nice today, in jeans and a white button-down shirt under an olive green jumper, but now he also seemed…irritated. “Why are you being weird?”
“I’m not!” insisted quickly, running a hand through his mussed hair in a gesture exactly like Al's a few minutes prior. “I just thought we were doing presents later, that’s all.” He offered me a half-hearted smile as he pulled out a chair for me at one of the tables.
I found myself sitting between James and Freddie. James’s hand rested casually on my thigh, which he would squeeze every once in a while as he smiled at me affectionately (all right, it was kind of adorable—I’ll give him that). Amelia and Ruby had joined in, and the lots of us took up well over half the pub. Apparently we were a bit intimidating for the new waitress, because after awhile, Madam Rosmerta herself came over to inquire after another round. For an older gal, she definitely still had it going on. I wondered idly how many push-up bras the woman actually owned.
“All right there, Fred?” she asked, winking rather flirtatiously as he took a sip of his drink.
Apparently this caught Freddie off-guard, because he immediately flushed and spit out his mouth full of Butterbeer—all over my lovely sweater.
Madam Rosmerta and half our group guffawed loudly as I looked down at myself, then raised my Death Glare to meet Freddie’s eyes. “Shit, Hazel!” He seemed to be stifling a laugh himself. “I’m so sorry—“
"Ugh. Be right back." I rolled my eyes and smacked Freddie over the head lightly as I stood up and made my way toward the loo to clean up. I had just shut the door behind me when I heard sniffling coming from inside one of the stalls. “Hello?” I called tentatively, venturing toward the toilets. “Are you all right in there?”
“Oh,” a small, (thankfully) female voice responded. “Yes, sorry, please don’t mind me.” More snuffling noises followed as she blew her nose.
I sighed. “Darling, no one wants to be crying alone in the loo of a dingy old pub. At least come out here so I can try to feel a little less helpless.”
The girl let out a watery chuckle. “I suppose you’re right.”
I mentally rolled my eyes. Clearly, this chick didn’t know who she was dealing with. “’Course I am. Come on, now. Out you get.”
I heard the click of the latch just before the stall door opened to reveal the slight figure of Gemma Tate. Her blond curls were disheveled, her eyes rimmed red, and her cheeks streaked with fresh tears, but she offered me a small, shy smile, which I returned. “Hazel, right?” I nodded. “Well, you’re very persuasive, Hazel.”
I grinned at her. “I know.” I reached into the nearest stall and tugged out a sizable mound of tissue to hand to her. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She shook her head, then stopped and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s nothing, really.” I was just…sort of dating this bloke, and I really liked him. He invited me to Hogsmeade today, then told me he’s been…seeing someone else.” She sniffled again, her eyes brimming with unshed tears. “I just wanted to get away from him, so here I am.”
“Blimey, I’m sorry, Gemma.” I placed a hand on her shoulder in a gesture I hoped was comforting but in reality, knowing me, was likely quite awkward.
“’S all right,” she replied, dabbing at her eyes. “I’ll get over it soon enough. It just…hurts right now, you know?”
I nodded sympathetically. “Look, why don’t we get you all cleaned up, and then you can come join my mates and me for a few Butterbeers. Help get your mind off things.”
“Oh, Hazel, that’s awfully nice of you, but I can’t imagine I’d be very good company right now. I don’t want to spoil your fun.”
I snorted. “Okay, well, first of all, it’s my birthday, so technically you’re not allowed to tell me ‘no’ today,” I informed her. “Secondly, have you met the Wotters? There’s no possible way you can hang around the lot of them for more than two minutes without laughing your arse off. It’s a scientific fact.”
Gemma let out a giggle and held her hands up in defeat. “All right, all right. I’ll join you, if you insist.”
She gave me a grateful smile before putting her arms around me. “Thanks, Hazel.”
I gave her a few awkward pats on the back before pulling away (I'm really bad with new people). It was only then that her eyes drifted down to take in the state of my sweater. “Um, not to be rude or anything, but what the bloody hell happened to you?”
I groaned. Thank goodness she’d noticed—I’d nearly forgotten why I’d visited the loo in the first place. “Fred Weasley happened to me,” I told her. “Watch out for that one.”
Gemma laughed, and the two of us turned to the mirror as we began to straighten ourselves out. “I heard you’re dating James Potter these days,” she commented as she flattened out some stray curls.
“I’m pretty sure the entire wizarding world has heard that,” I replied dryly, attempting to siphon Butterbeer off my sweater with my wand.
She laughed again, and I couldn’t help but smile at her in the mirror. Gemma really was a sweetheart, and her high, tinkling laughter was infectious. “Well, how’s that going for you?” she asked.
I shrugged nonchalantly, thinking of how James truly felt about Gemma. “It’s all right. James is great, of course, but it’s nothing too serious—just a bit of fun, you know?”
Gemma was far too nice to comment on my supposed “homewrecking” and all that rubbish, but the two of us continued exchanging small talk while we made ourselves look presentable. A few moments later, I led her over to our tables. “OI!” I called over the din. “If you lot don’t know her, this is Gemma Tate.” Gemma gave the group a shy little wave as various Wotters and hangers-on greeted her. “She’ll be joining us, so try not to scare her away too quickly.” I ignored the range of insults flung back at me as I shoved Gemma down into my chair (I know, I’m a wonderful new friend), next to James, whose eyes lit up immediately. I stole another chair from two wizards who were too drunk to take any notice of me, and inserted myself between Dom and Hugo (as far from Freddie as possible), since Lily was too busy making eyes at Scamander #1 to pay me much attention (Scamander #1, by the way, was what I had dubbed the twin wearing a blue sweater, while Scamander #2 was in red—if only I could convince them to color-code themselves in such a manner every day).
Hugo slung an arm around my shoulders when I took a seat and waggled his eyebrows at me suggestively. “Hey girl,” he teased.
I wrinkled my nose and shoved him away. “Stop being a creep,” I scolded him in a big-sisterly fashion. I lowered my voice. “Why aren’t you talking to Millie?”
Hugo flushed a bit and shot a quick glance over at Amelia, who was tossing her strawberry-blonde waves over her shoulder as she and Ruby laughed at something Louis had said. “Come on, Haze,” he mumbled. “I don’t stand a chance with her.”
“You’re an idiot,” I informed him. “You will hang out with her at the party tonight, understood?”
“You’re going to play the ‘birthday’ card if I say no, aren’t you?”
“You bet your arse, I am.” I smiled and ruffled his hair affectionately as he turned to join Louis, Amelia, and Ruby in their conversation. On the other side of Ruby, Roxy was chatting animatedly with Rowan, who looked as though he was in heaven (and, luckily, was completely oblivious to Freddie’s malicious glares in his direction).
I smiled to myself and took a sip of my Butterbeer as I continued surveying the tables. I noticed Al watching James and Gemma with some interest before I caught James’s eye. He grinned hugely and I winked at him. Thank you, he mouthed at me when Gemma’s back was turned.
I rolled my eyes back at him. Invite herto the party, I mouthed back. Apparently, this thought hadn’t occurred to James, as the expression that overcame his face clearly implied that I was nothing short of a genius (I mean, duh, but still).
Honestly, what would these lunatics do without me?
* * * * *
Author's Note: Ugh, sorry this chapter was a bit filler-esque—again—but I felt it was necessary to set up for the party in the next one, so please forgive me. Reviews inspire me, and I would love to know your favourite quotes, characters, moments, etc. Thank you so much for reading! <3