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Chapter 23 : In Which There Are Surprises
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Turning seventeen without Cass was always going to feel strange, but I was determined to make it okay. I had Scor back, after all, and a whole group of new friends. I felt kind of optimistic about coming of age, and felt like it could be a happy day despite everything that had been happening recently. Even if so far nobody had even acknowledged that it was my birthday.
We were at Quidditch practice. I was kind of glad to be flying. If everyone was going to forget it was my birthday I could at least be doing something I actually enjoyed. And it was nice to be surrounded by the team.
I was suddenly distracted from thinking about my depressing ageing by the appearance of a bludger dangerously near my face. I swung sideways and skidded halfway off my broom before catching myself. I slid back onto the wood, trying to be as graceful as possible, and smiled at Scor as he sped to my side.
“You alright? I told them to aim for the Keeper and Seeker. The bludgers shouldn’t have been that near you.” He was obviously ready to get angry at our incompetent Beaters.
“I’m fine,” I shrugged. “Just took me a bit longer than it should have to notice it.”
“Okay,” Scor nodded. “Good. Well, it’s good practice anyway, I guess.”
“You okay Ollster?” Joe shouted over from the other side of the pitch. “Think that was my fault. Derek was admiring my stunning physique and forgot about his job.”
Derek was quick to zoom upwards towards Joe, scowling. Scor gave me a nervous glance and we both flew over to join them.
“What did you say about your physique?” Derek grunted, obviously trying to sound threatening.
Joe stuck his tongue out and let himself roll backwards to hang off his broom.
Oz flew up to join us. “You alright, Derek? That bludger came worryingly close to Ollie. Did Joey’s good looks distract you again?”
Derek’s fists were clenched. I contemplated intervening before things got nasty, but then it was always quite amusing to watch Oz and Joe wind our Beaters up.
“Stop it,” Derek scowled.
“Good comeback,” Oz nodded. “Well done.”
Alex flew over, finally seeming to decide it would be worthwhile to stick up for his friend.
“Just because you two can’t keep your hands off each other doesn’t mean the rest of us care what you look like,” Alex said.
Derek nodded. “Yeah. If you think you’re both so attractive, why don’t you just get together already?”
Joe’s eyes widened. He was still upside down hanging off his broom, but managed to offer Oz a kind of upside down shrug.
“Well, we are together,” Oz said.
“What?” Alex looked genuinely shocked. He’s an idiot.
Joe pulled himself up to sit back on his broom and flew closer to Ozzy.
“Are you joking?” Derek looked mildly disgusted.
Oz frowned and then reached out to Joe, who flew happily into his arms. Their kiss was fierce and looked like it was actually probably quite dangerous, given that we were all thirty feet off the ground. When they finally pulled apart, both Alex and Derek looked horrified.
“So, erm,” Alex sounded awkward. “Er...not joking, then?”
Joe rolled his eyes and grabbed Oz’s hand, glaring at Alex, waiting to be challenged again.
Next to me, Scor coughed. “Let’s call it a day, yeah? Great flying, everyone.”
I flew to the ground with Oz and Joe. The three of us waited on the grass for Scor, who had flown over to let Toby know practice was over. Alex and Derek caught the bludgers and put them away, leaving the pitch without bothering to talk to the rest of us. I put the Quaffle away and closed the box of Quidditch balls. By the time I’d finished, Scor had landed and was waiting next to Oz and Joe.
“You alright?” I asked Joe. I knew Oz would be fine, but Joe had always been unsure about really showing people their relationship.
“Yeah, think so.” Joe reached for Oz’s hand again. “I mean, it’s not like we were hiding it, really. We just...let people think what they wanted to.”
“And they obviously didn’t want to think we were together,” Oz said darkly. I wasn’t used to him sounding so serious.
“Well...Slytherins,” Joe shrugged.
“Don’t worry about it. People won’t mind. And if Alex and Derek are idiots about it Scor will kick them off the team, won’t you Scor?” I said cheerfully.
Scor glared at me. “We’ll see.”
“We should get going anyway. Do some damage control. Esther’s going to be furious that I came out without her being there,” Joe said.
Oz slung an arm around Joe’s shoulder and Scor and I watched them head off towards the castle.
“That was eventful,” I commented.
“I hope they don’t fuck up my team,” Scor said.
I elbowed him. “Don’t be stupid. They’ve been together for over two years. People knowing about it won’t change anything.”
“It better not. We can’t afford any mistakes in the Gryffindor match.”
“Whatever,” I elbowed him again, just for the sake of it. “So, are we going to the Shack tonight?”
Scor frowned. “What?”
“For my birthday. Are we going to the Shack?” I knew he wouldn’t have actually forgotten it was my birthday, but I wished he’d acknowledged it a little bit more than this.
Scor’s face flooded with worry. “Oh...ah, Ollie, I’m so sorry, I just assumed you wouldn’t want to do it this year.”
“Why? We always go.”
“Yeah but...I don’t know. I just figured, without Cass, I don’t know, I thought you wouldn’t want to do anything big. And I told Rose I’d work on that Transfiguration essay with her tonight.”
I picked up my broom and put it over my shoulder so we could start to walk back towards the castle. I didn’t want to be bratty but was genuinely quite shocked that Scor would put his homework plans with Rose Weasley over our birthday traditions.
“I’m sorry, Ollie,” Scor said. “Look...erm...let’s just quickly go to Gryffindor so I can tell Rose we’ve got plans. And then we’ll do it, yeah? You’re right. We should go to the Shack. We always do.”
“Don’t be silly. You’ve got to write your essay. That’s fine,” I snapped. I knew I was being difficult but I couldn’t help but feel annoyed.
“Well, we could pick up Rose and then go to the library? And then as soon as I’m done we can go to the Shack?”
I ignored him and sped up. It was starting to drizzle and I told myself I was walking quickly to avoid the rain rather than to avoid my best friend.
“Come on, Ollie. Don’t ignore me. I’ve only just got you back,” Scor said desperately.
I felt mean and slowed down again.
“Okay,” I said. “Sure. Let’s do that.”
I didn’t talk to Scor as we started the climb up to Gryffindor Tower. I could feel him watching me every so often, probably trying to work out how he could stop me from being annoyed, but I didn’t make eye contact.
When I reached the portrait of the Fat Lady a little way ahead of Scor, I didn’t wait for him to catch up.
“Grawp,” I snapped at the Fat Lady.
She completely ignored me.
“Excuse me?” I waved a hand near her face. “I just gave you the password.”
She looked down on me - literally, looked down on me, because she was high up - and narrowed her eyes.
“The password changed this morning,” she said loftily.
She ignored me again.
“Oh, come on,” I glared at her. “I’m sorry I was rude. Please can you let me in now?”
I could hear footsteps approaching, and turned round to glare at Scor.
“She won’t let us in,” I said. “So good luck getting your stupid notes of Rose.”
Scor didn’t look at all affected by my childishness, and instead just grinned.
“Nah, they changed the password today,” he said with another grin.
“How come you’re the expert?” I narrowed my eyes. I didn’t understand why he’d know about a password change when I didn’t. Why hadn’t Al told me?
Scor stepped forward to stand in front of the Fat Lady. She smiled at him. She likes him more than me.
“Happy Birthday, Ollie,” he said.
I turned to tell him to hurry up and give the password already, but then the portrait swung forward and I was overwhelmed by shouts of “Surprise!” and “Happy Birthday!” from inside the Common Room.
I looked at Scor. “What’s happening?”
“Sorry. I told Potter you wouldn’t like everyone pretending your birthday didn’t matter. But he insisted on organising a surprise party,” Scor shrugged. “I was kind of worried you’d be so cross you’d refuse to come.”
“Al organised this?”
“Yeah,” Scor nodded. “Yeah. He seems pretty fond of you, you know? Come on.”
He grabbed my hand and pulled me forwards, pushing me through the portrait hole and into Gryffindor Tower.
As soon as I landed on the carpet, Louis Weasley poured a bucket of confetti over my head.
“You’re a grown up, Liv!” He shouted, obviously delighted.
“And now she’s a grown up with confetti all tangled in her hair,” Rose said, stepping forward and picking some of the paper out of my hair. “Happy Birthday, beautiful.”
I smiled as she hugged me, and then looked around the rest of the room.
Gryffindor Tower looked a bit like the way Slytherin did when we had Quidditch parties. Someone had set up a long table near the window, stacked with bottles of butterbeer and other mysterious drinks, next to piles and piles of food. A puzzled-looking house elf was perched on a stool behind the table, serving plates to students who came near. In another corner of the room, Fred Weasley was poking a wizarding wireless with his wand, beaming when music came blasting out of it. The rest of the room was packed with students, most of whom I didn’t even know, but those nearest me made me smile.
The moron was stood next to James Potter, both grinning at me. Just behind them, the Slytherin Quidditch team were all huddled together next to Esther and Clara. Esther was clinging onto Joe’s hand and standing pointedly between him and the Beaters. Clara was batting her eyelashes and edging closer and closer to Toby Carter. Rose and Louis had already pounced on me, but now Al joined them and they took a step back to give us some space.
“Happy Birthday, Liv,” Al said. He looked kind of nervous, like he was worried I wouldn’t be happy. It was sweet.
“Happy Birthday to you too,” I said.
He laughed. “Several months late, I’m afraid. Today’s your day.”
I reached out and tucked my arm through his. He kissed my forehead and then grinned at Scor.
“Well done for getting her here. I kept panicking and thinking she might run off somewhere else.”
“It was a massive challenge,” Scor said, flicking my shoulder.
I stuck my tongue out at him and held Al’s arm more tightly.
Scor laughed and then turned to say something to Rose. I tilted my head to kiss Al’s jaw.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
Al smiled and turned to quickly kiss my lips.
“It’s okay? You like it?”
“Of course I like it! Did you think I wouldn’t?”
He shrugged and pulled me closer. “I don’t know. I wanted you to be with all these people who care about you, you know? But then you lot have your own traditions and I didn’t want to be the one to mess that up. I asked Malfoy about it and he thought it would be alright, though.”
“You talked to Scor about it?”
“Yeah. It seemed like the safest thing to do. I didn’t want to drag you along to a surprise party you’d hate. You don’t hate it, right?”
“Of course I don’t hate it,” I laughed, kissing him again. “Although maybe a little tiny bit of a warning would have been nice. I’m still in my Quidditch clothes.”
Al pulled away and looked me up and down, and then shrugged. “You look great, I think. But yeah, I should have thought of that. You want to wear a dress or something?”
“Just something clean would have been nice,” I said, but then stopped because Al was starting to look worried. “It’s no problem though. This is perfect.”
“Did you say you wanted a dress, Liv?” Rose turned away from Scorpius to look at me. “You should have said. Here, come with me.”
She reached out a hand and I took it without really thinking, giving Al an awkward wave as his cousin dragged me away.
“I have ridiculously many dresses,” Rose told me. “You should borrow one. I think I’ve got something green.”
“The fact I’m Slytherin doesn’t mean I have to wear green all the time,” I laughed.
“But it looks nice on you,” she said. “Come. This way.”
I followed her up a spiral staircase and through a door. The room she took me into looked completely different from my dorm in Slytherin. It was round, with large, evenly spaced windows from floor to ceiling, and the beds were huge and squashy. Not for the first time, I felt a small stab of jealousy. It’s no wonder Gryffindors are all so cheerful: they’re warm and comfortable all the time. I can only imagine what Hufflepuff must be like.
Rose jumped onto one of the beds and lay on her tummy on the mattress, leaning over the side of the bed to rummage through a trunk.
“Still haven’t unpacked properly,” she said, wincing slightly. “I need to sort my life out. I’m a walking disaster.”
I looked at her incredulously. “Are you serious? You’re Rose Weasley.”
She flopped onto her side to raise an eyebrow at me. “And?”
“You’re top of our year. And you managed to sort out Louis’ drinking problem. And you look after everyone. Out of everyone I know I think you’re the least like a walking disaster.”
She laughed. “Perhaps. But we know some idiots. And I don’t think you should give me too much credit for sorting out Louis’ drinking problem. Al says he’s been practicing turning water to wine when he thinks everyone’s asleep.”
I shrugged. “Can come in handy.”
Rose rolled her eyes and leaned back over her bed to pull something out of her trunk. When she sat up, she was clutching something floaty and green.
“Here. Mum bought it for me last christmas. It’ll look nice on you.”
She threw the dress across the room. It was a terrible throw, but my Chaser reflexes kicked in and I lunged forward to catch it.
“Did you want a shower?” Rose asked. “It sounds like someone’s in there at the moment, but we can wait. You can borrow my shampoo.”
“Nah, it’s fine. I just felt like spending my birthday wearing Scor’s trackies wasn’t ideal.”
“Fair enough,” she agreed. “I’ll let you get changed then. Come downstairs soon. Fred was saying he wants to get the dancing going.”
I watched her leave the room and then sat down on her bed to pull off my tracksuit bottoms. They were an old pair of Scor’s and were torn and stained. I folded them up and left them on the floor by Rose’s bed, folding my T-shirt on top of them. I figured Rose would give them back at some point.
The green dress was slippery and hard to put on. I pulled it over my head and then battled with the zip at the back for an embarrassing amount of time, getting it caught in my hair and struggling to get the angle right to pull it all the way up. But once the dress was actually on it was comfortable, and I let myself do a little twirl to see it flare out around my thighs.
“What are you doing here?”
I hadn’t noticed the sound of the shower stopping, but the voice from the bathroom doorway made me groan. I turned around to look at Laura Brogan but didn’t bother answering her question. She was wrapped up in a small towel, her hair wet and straggly over her shoulders.
“Seriously. Why are you in my dormitory?” She walked over to the bed next to Rose’s and picked up a satin dressing gown from the floor beside it, tugging the sleeves over her arms and tying the sash around her waist before looking at me.
“I was borrowing a dress from Rose,” I said slowly. “I’m going now.”
“Well, hurry up then. You’ve already outstayed your welcome,” she spat out.
I frowned but started to walk to the door. I put my hand out to turn the handle and then paused.
“I don’t know why you have to be so mean all the time,” I said without looking back at her. I wasn’t sure what made me say it, but I couldn’t help myself. “I’ve never done anything to you. Why do you have to be so nasty to everyone?”
“Excuse me?” Her voice was cold.
This time, I turned to face her. “You’re mean to people. You manipulate them and take advantage of them and when that doesn’t work you just bully them. Why? How does that benefit you?”
“You have no right to say that to me,” she snapped. “You’re standing here, in my House, in my room, insulting me.”
“What do you expect? You’ve been horrible to people. To people I care about.”
“Like who? Al?” She let out a bitter laugh. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“And to me. You’ve never said anything nice to me.”
She laughed again and sat down on the edge of her mattress. “And what did you want me to say?”
“I don’t know. But I never did anything wrong.”
“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe not. I can see how you’d feel like that.”
I didn’t reply. I was too startled by the fact she’d listened to what I’d said. It didn’t seem like anything I’d seen from her before.
“The thing is…” she said, hesitating for a moment before continuing. “The thing is, I didn’t try to be horrible to you.”
And then it was my turn to laugh.
“No? So why did you feel the need to interrogate me about Al when I hardly even knew him? Just to be friendly?”
Her face crumpled a little. I almost felt guilty.
“No, I...I don’t know. It was difficult.”
“You were acting insane.”
“I know,” she whispered, and then seemed to shake herself so she could speak audibly again. “Not my finest moment. But you understand, right? I mean, you’re going through the same thing. Our parents...I didn’t know how to deal with it.”
She put one hand into her wet hair, tugging her fingers through her tangles. She looked anxious, less composed than I’d ever seen her.
“Mum and your dad,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mum doesn’t usually date, and then suddenly there’s this new guy in the house helping her decorate all our upstairs rooms and cooking dinner and weirdly being there at my birthday and I just…”
“He was there at your birthday?” I interrupted her. Why was he there at her birthday? He hadn’t even written to me for mine.
“Yeah,” she said, not seeming to recognise why it had bothered me. “Yeah, I don’t know why. I guess Mum thought that was a nice thing or something. She adores him. And I keep trying to get her to notice that I’m not okay with it, but she just acts like I haven’t said anything. I don’t know.”
I watched her. She was shivering a little, her wet hair presumably making her cold, and had tucked her hands into the loose pockets of her dressing gown. She’s tall, quite a bit taller than me, but perched on the edge of her bed she looked smaller.
“I don’t like it much either,” I eventually conceded.
“I know you don’t. I’m not trying to make it sound like it’s easier for you than me. But I miss my dad, you know? So much. He died when I was little, and mum’s always talked about him and made it feel like he’s a part of my life, and now it’s just like she doesn’t want to mention him any more.”
Her eyes were starting to water. I took a small step backwards. It felt wrong to be seeing her like this. Laura Brogan isn’t supposed to do vulnerable and sad.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be. I wasn’t trying to make you pity me.” She sat up a bit straighter. “But can you see why it’s been hard? Your dad was just everywhere over christmas, and then I got back to school and suddenly you were everywhere too. Al was fawning over you and then Rose wanted you as her best friend and then you were hanging out in our Common Room all the time, and then having your birthday in the Common Room, and then I come out of the shower and just want to go to bed but you’re here, where I sleep.”
She stopped to catch her breath, looking faintly surprised by how many words she’d just said.
I took another step back, not sure what I was supposed to say.
“So...I get that you think I’ve been mean,” Laura said. “But it didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been difficult. It feels like you’ve taken my family from me, a bit, and my friends, and now you’ve taken Al too.”
“I didn’t take Al,” I said, suddenly irritated with her again. “You two broke up ages ago. Before I even knew him.”
“But you don’t understand how it ended. You don’t know what happened.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, surprised by my conviction. “I know how you treated him after. And it was awful.”
“You wouldn’t sound so sure about it if you knew how he was to me. But you probably don’t want to hear it.”
“You’re in the middle of your own wonderful love story now, aren’t you? Everyone’s talking about it...how sweet you are, how kind he is. Nobody cares about my story anymore. You don’t want to know.”
“It wouldn’t change anything. I’m happy.” I put a hand onto the doorknob, ready to end our conversation. It was the longest I’d ever spoken to Laura for, and I was ready to go back and celebrate with my friends.
“No? I’m surprised. From what I heard, you were pretty unimpressed with your dad for having an affair. I thought you’d have a big problem with cheaters,” she said.
I let go of the door. “What?”
“He didn’t tell you, then? He didn’t mention how two-and-a-half years into our relationship he slept with someone else because he was bored?”
“No,” I muttered. “He didn’t mention that.”
“Pity. Everyone’s been saying it’s sweet how he talks to you about everything,” she said, and then reached over to her bedside table to pick up a hairbrush.
I watched her start to brush her hair, trying to process her words. It had never occurred to me that Laura might have her own side to the story. I felt stupid for never thinking about it. Her and Al always used to look pretty happy together. It made sense that something must have happened to make it go bad.
Laura wasn’t looking at me anymore, instead choosing to look down at her knees while she brushed her hair.
I contemplated saying something else, asking her to explain herself, or even apologising for making her feel like I was taking things from her, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak.
Instead, I wrenched open the door and slammed it shut behind me.
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