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Chapter 21 : eng-ger-land!
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In all honesty, I think there’s a part of me that perhaps won’t always like James, but will remain perhaps a bit enchanted, entranced by him, even when he was actively ignoring me, acting like I was nothing more than a drunken shag from a Quidditch after-party.
Which was upsetting, because whilst I was feverishly working towards getting over him, he was already there. I was, by nature, quite an attention seeking person, and so revoking attention- all attention- from me, when I was used to so much, was not very fair.
James was, I realised, like the sun. If you got too close- for many people tried to do, as he was charismatic and charming and incredibly attractive- well, you burn; but if you stay too far away, you’ll freeze, left on the outskirts of relevant society. I had experienced both the burning; the arguments, the angst, the 2am yelling in the Owlery- and also the freezing, the cold ignoring of our history, my presence.
It was the day of the Seventh Year Graduation Ball. The graduation itself wasn’t until tomorrow afternoon, but tonight was the real deal, the day, the fireworks and the champagne. Aspen and I would spend the whole night watching the party take place on the Hogwarts grounds from our window in our dormitory. We still have the scrapbook of ball dresses and what we expected the boys of our year to look like in our twelve year old minds.
“Oh gosh,” said Aspen, as we sat on our dormitory floor, flicking through the page heavy book. I could still remember the two of us making it- scrawny, bespectacled me with big glasses perched on my nose and pretty little Aspen Spinelli, already garnering a little attention from boys in our year- sat by my bed, bored on a winter’s night, dreaming of adventures we’d get up to when we were Older and Cooler and Prettier. “Why did I think it was okay to stick a picture of Liam’s face on Drew McLaggen’s body?”
“Why did I have such a crush on Teddy Oliver?” I said, tracing the lipstick heart and initials EW + TO inside it with the tip of my forefinger. “Cornelia Boot said he’s going to be Head Boy.”
“We haven’t had a non-Slytherin Head Boy since Teddy Lupin,” said Aspen, looking pensive. “And he was a Hufflepuff too. God. Somebody should protest against this.”
“You revolutionary,” I said, grinning a teethy smirk as I shut the book and stood up, stretching my arms. It was another beautiful summer’s late afternoon, and music from the Seventh Years’ girls dormitories pounded through our ceiling as they got ready for the ball.
Eve Chang, who still made an effort to be nice to me despite James’ coldness, showed Jasmine and me her gown after breakfast this morning. I was prepared to be nice and had an array of compliments at hand, but they proved useless- her dress was breath-taking, a stunning, simply black halterneck that only she, with her tanned skin and thin limbs, could wear.
“You should definitely wear body glitter along your collarbones and cheekbones,” Jasmine advised, and I stroked the silk, and told her how perfect it would look with her hair up.
“I was thinking red lipstick, which wouldn’t match the glitter,” said Eve, frowning. “But yeah, Annie recommended glitter too-”
“Yo, Chang, have you seen Freddie-”
I whipped around at the sound of his voice. It was James, of course, who was still in his pyjamas of an old Quidditch tee-shirt and boxers, his hair a genuine, unstyled mess, his eyes still half blood-shot with sleep.
He looked at me, and I looked at him, my body still facing the mannequin by Eve’s bed, and our gaze could have lasted forever. So many unanswered questions, I could start a religion.
“This isn’t even your house,” he started, but then stopped, and yawned as he ruffled the back of his hair. “I don’t even care, we’re graduating tomorrow.”
“You sound thrilled,” said Eve, snorting. “I saw him with Roxanne in the common room ten minutes ago.”
“Cheers,” he said, throwing his arm around her slight shoulders. “This your dress?”
His voice, still musky and in the clutches of the night’s sleep, said looking good, Chang, and before she could thank him, he walked out, leaving the door wide open.
“I bet he’s someone you’re not going to miss next term,” said Eve, with the knowing tone of voice only the closest of friends can use when discussing said friend behind his back. Eve was like that- we were barely friends and she spoke with this insightful warmth, no wonder she was so well liked. I made an instant resolution to be more like Eve.
“I actually think Effy will miss him,” said Jasmine, putting her hands on her hips and gazing at me. “You’re with Mikey, but you’re not with Mikey.” And Eve and Jasmine exchanged a look, and I knew the two of them had discussed previously.
“Miss him?” I cried, throwing my sweater down on Eve’s bed in protest. “What’s to miss? He’s an emotionless psychopath. Honestly, Eve, I know you’re close with him, and I admire that, I do, in the way one admires charity workers and nursing home employees-”
“Oh, Effy,” said Eve, laughing. “You have such a way with words. He’s a prick, and you’re no fallen angel either.” I could feel my face frown as she said that, which made her laugh harder. “Anyway, I should go, I told the girls I’ll meet them five minutes ago.”
“Laters,” said Jasmine, as I followed her out of the dormitory, and then out of the common room, where I tried to ignore the dirty looks from some of the many, many fan girls of said emotionless psychopath.
As I left the Gryffindor common room and entered my own, Mikey strode up to me, and grabbed me by the arm.
“We need to talk,” he said, and I looked into his dark green- almost hazel- eyes. I knew he was right, and I knew he had all the reason in the world to be angry. I had avoided him since I kissed him last weekend.
We walked out of the common room, and past the long corridor to the entrance, until we were in the crux between the Charms wing and the Arithmancy wing, and I didn’t speak until we were perched on a quiet window ledge, overlooking the Quidditch pitch.
“I’m sorry, Mikey,” I began. “I’ve been a bitch, I should have-”
“I know,” he said, sharply. “You’ve been thinking of yourself, as usual.”
“But now you so associate yourself with James Potter, the two topics have fused into one big box of Effy angst and Effy problems,” he snapped, and I flinched, feeling quite victimised. “Jesus Christ, Effy. You know how much I like you, so you kiss me, and then you don’t talk to me for the whole week? What is that?”
I sighed, and pushed my hair away from my face. The morning’s sunlight made his face glimmer gold and his irises dance clover green and amber. “I know it was bad of me, Mikey,” I replied, sounding a lot harsher than I intended. “But you’re seeing yourself as a saint. I don’t see your halo, though, Mikey-”
“What is that?”
“Sorry, I’ve been reading a lot of Sylvia Plath- anyway!” I snapped, annoyed that I got distracted. “You didn’t talk to me for a whole month? When I really did need you? And not because I was in the wrong at all, but to combat your feelings towards me- a whole month- so excuse me if I take six days to work out-”
“That’s not fair,” insisted Mikey, his big bad walls of irritation towards me starting to crumble. “I know what I did wasn’t alright, but- god, Effy! This isn’t a love triangle between James and me!”
“I cried over you!” I said, pointing my finger at his chin. “You’re my best friend! And you stopped talking to me all together, made me feel like an absolute bitch- when I was completely innocent? You can’t call me out for doing the same, Mikey!”
I had screamed that at him, and he had nodded throughout it, before massaging his temples with his forefingers as I cried his name.
“But it isn’t the same,” he said. “God, Effy, you know- you know, I’m crazy about you. And you’ve got me hanging like an absolute idiot around your little finger- I don’t even want a decision, just some acknowledgement, you know?”
His tone is so soft, and he is so like the Mikey Lancaster that’s always been such a constant in my life, I feel tears spring to my eyes. And I draw closer to him as he cups his hand under my chin, and I can see his every eyelash.
“I’m sorry,” I choke out, and I laugh. “I can’t believe I’m crying.”
He laughs too, and I can see the corners of his eyes wrinkle. “I know there’s a Fifth Year Slytherin party tonight,” he said. “Scorpius mentioned it last night.”
“Oh, okay, you want to go-”
“You want to be my date, Elizabeth Wilderson?” he asks in such a dry, nonchalant voice I laugh and he grabs my wrist before I slap his chest, and on that window ledge on the south side of the school we hug, my teary eyelashes getting his shirt wet.
So when Aspen and I had carefully stored our incredibly dense, incredibly embarrassing scrapbook of magazine cuttings and twelve year old dreams away at the bottom of her trunk- my mum loves looking through my stuff, she’d find it within seconds- I asked her if she was going to go to the Slytherin party, and her jaw drops open.
“How can you party when it’s the Graduation Ball?” she cried, looking very disappointed in me. “Oh Effy! We always sneak out to watch what the girls wear and who goes with who-”
“Okay, I’ll tell Mikey I won’t go-”
“No!” she balled, her mood changing astonishingly fast. “Mikey asked you to go? Well obviously you have to go- oh my God, this is so exciting, what do you think! Effy! Mikey! Honestly, where is Oscar-”
“Aspen,” I moaned, falling against my bed. From this persepective, the vivid azure blue sky was bordered by grey, heavy-set clouds. I hope it wasn’t going to rain for the Graduation Ball. More importantly, I hope it wasn’t going to rain for our Graduation Ball. Our year have had to put up with Louis Weasley and Ruddy Walcott for six years, the least we deserved was good weather.
“You and Mikey… the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Both so dark-haired, green-eyed, and Quidditch fanatics. Funny and popular. God, he really is the boy version of you, isn’t he?”
“You have two incredibly attractive boys into you right now. You’re so lucky,” she said, wistfully.
I sat up, and grinned. “I should get them drunk and make them fight over me.”
“I tried that with Scorpius and Julius Ascot, but it didn’t quite work out,” she said, and I laughed, rolling over so I was almost on top of her, sat cross-legged by the foot of my bed. “Now Scorpius and Julius are mates.”
“Somehow, I don’t see Mikey and James ever being friends.”
“Which is weird, because didn’t Mikey’s mum go to school with James’ dad? Like, they were in the same year and everything.” This was true- Mikey’s mother, Alicia, was not only friendly with Harry Potter but a former member of Dumbledore’s Army. Which made him very cool when we learnt about it in History of Magic, Second Year.
(Although not as cool as Albus, obviously.)
“Look,” I said, craning my head and looking up at the window again. “Doesn’t it look like it’s going to rain? For the ball tonight?”
“Oh, I hope not,” said Aspen. “Although their year didn’t have to endure Ruddy and Louis as much as we’ve had too, so if anything, a rainy ball will only even things out-”
“I was just thinking that!” I cried, and we beamed at each other.
I’ve never really had a date to a party thrown at school. When James and I dated we would just find each other in whatever common room the party was thrown in, and when Mikey and I first went out in Fourth Year, we were kind of too young to be properly invited to the upper year parties- only people like Jasmine, Ruddy, Louis, the cool Gryffindors of our year could wiggle themselves into upper school parties.
“My first date to a Hogwarts party,” I said, after meeting Mikey in our common room. I was wearing a thin, knitted, baggy grey jumper over Aspen’s micro mini black skirt. She said it made my legs look long and my bum nice and perky, but I could feel judgement from younger Ravenclaws radiate through my skull. “I hope you don’t disappoint me. I’ve been very much looking forward to this.”
“Took you long enough,” he replied, as I wove my arm into his.
“Took you long enough. Two years to ask me out again, Jesus got resurrected from the dead in a quicker time than that-”
“Now come on Effy, your internalised misogyny is shining,” he said, as we left the common room. “You could always have asked me out. But you didn’t, and now look where we are-”
“The Charms corridor?”
“You’ve put me off my train of thought,” he grumbled, and I laughed, watching his dimples emerge as he grinned. The sun beginning to set, and golden rose rays of sun filled the corridor with glittering, kaleidoscopic shades of pink and yellow. Storm clouds the colour of a bruise was slowly approaching over the Quidditch pitch.
“Good,” I said, drawing myself closer into him. “It probably wasn’t worth thinking about anyway.”
“Yes, now we can discuss something to do with you. Most likely something positive, which will conclude in your flicking your hair over your shoulder in a half-hearted attempt at modesty.”
“If I don’t fancy myself, who will?”
We were talking like we used to, and I grinned at the corridor floor at the thought of it. Mikey just felt so familiar, so warm- the sound of his harsh, throaty laughter bounced off the walls and his lofty, accented voice rang through the halls.
It was a party hosted by and for the Fifth Years below us, still celebrating their end of OWL exams, just under the pretence of it being somebody’s birthday. I didn’t know who’s birthday it was- I don’t really know the year below apart from Josh Wood, to be honest- but the Slytherin common room was alive with bright lights, loud electro music and chattering voices, moving bodies.
“Fun first date,” I commented to Mikey, as we walked in, through the open common room door. He opened his mouth to reply, but got distracted by a cluster of year below girls, giggling softly at him. I forgot that Mikey was quite the pin-up for the girls of Fifth Year. Not only was he a Chaser, but he really was quite good-looking, and being friends with Albus and Scorpius would make anybody attractive to the year below.
(Did I mention the only year below I knew was Josh Wood? If he reflected the year group in any way I’m sure I could conclude my Hogwarts studies perfectly content knowing no more of them.)
“Hey Mikey,” said one girl, batting her eyelashes at him. I snorted, and looked over his shoulder.
“Hi,” I said, oddly relieved, as I hugged Albus and Scorpius, the duo approaching us from their huddle with other Slytherin Sixth Years.
“What are you doing here?” Scorpius wanted to know.
“What are you doing here?”
“This is our common room-”
“Well it’s a Saturday night and everybody else was so preoccupied with spying on the Graduation ball outside-”
“Effy,” said Al, interrupting me. “Tell Scorpius he gives shit advice.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, nodding, furiously, trying to distract myself from Mikey and the year below girls. “You give the worst advice. It beats me how people always ends up listening to you-”
“I do not,” argued Scorpius sharply. “Look at me and Rose, you and Mikey-”
“Al and Poppy?” I enquired, and Albus snorted.
“A sixty six percent success rate really isn’t that bad,” Scorpius continued, shooting Albus a dirty look. “It’s not my fault Poppy Atticus is fucking impossible-”
“She’s not!” cried Al, who clearly did not like hearing a single word against Poppy.
I became uncomfortably aware that in our small huddle, we were fast becoming the dull, inactive older students at the fringes of a younger year party, only down because nothing else was going on on this starry, starry night. As Albus and Scorpius continued bickering, like the old married couple they were, I realised I had lost Mikey in the throng of people. Just as I was about to leave the duo to find him, Rose Weasley appeared, the green lighting of the room making her hair look even brighter and alien than usual.
“Hey Effy,” she said, the corner of her mouth lifting in a half-attempt at a smile.
“Rose,” I said, warmly, for I did like her, despite her blunt personality. She had something exciting about her, a certain sort of charisma that drew people in, a charm I’ve only ever noticed before in her cousin James.
“Rose,” ordered Scorpius, putting an arm around her. “Tell Effy and Al that I give good advice-”
“Darling, you give the worst advice. Neville Chamberlain probably gave better advice than you, and he let Germany invade Poland.”
“And Czechoslovakia,” I confirmed, smiling smugly at Scorpius’s scowl.
“It’s fine. You can just blame it on daddy issues-”
“If I had a sickle for every time a Gryffindor blamed an eccentric aspect of one’s personality on daddy issues,” I said, and Albus laughed.
“Oh ha ha ha,” said Rose, shooting me a look. “Isn’t this meant to be yours and Mikey Lancaster’s first date?”
“Well, not exactly a first date in the sense that we’re dating, you know, it’s actually quite complicated, we just came here together, you know I don’t even know wh-”
“So why has he not left that group of Fifth Year girls since he entered the room?” she enquired, and I followed her gaze behind me, where Mikey stood with his arms crossed, a smug smirk on his face, as a group of four- five?- girls stood around him, all twirling hair strands and glittery shorts, crop tops.
I turned back to Rose. “I’m a very trusting person,” I said.
“Good,” she replied, as Scorpius opened his mouth.
“I do give good advice, Al!”
The party went on, and I was bored within twenty minutes. Perhaps I was growing old, but suddenly loud music and the sweaty scent of adolescence just didn’t appeal to me any more. Moreover, I really could not stop thinking about the Graduation Ball upstairs. If I’m to be honest, I couldn’t stop thinking of James this morning, standing in Eve Chang’d dormitory in his pyjamas.
“Mikey,” I said, finding my date again, surrounded by girls. He looked up, and said Effy, speak later. Did he bring me down here knowing he would be surrounded by a hive of Fifth Year girls? This was the sort of cynicism I had adopted ever since I met James.
“Impress you with year below girls? Sounds like the sort of shit advice Scorpius would spoon out,” muttered Albus, as we stood at the back of the party.
“Why are we always standing at the backs of parties?” I asked, crossing my arms and turning towards him.
He snorted. “The club can’t even handle me righhttttt noowww-”
“Look, have you seen Poppy Atticus? I asked her to come, but I don’t think she is-”
“Double Potions sounds like a better way to spend Saturday night than this,” I said, tapping my foot impatiently. “Oh, you know what, I can’t be bothered. I’m going.”
“Going where?” Albus wanted to know. “As if you have any other Slytherin friends apart from me. And well, Scorpius, I suppose-”
“Going, as in leaving this party,” I said, scanning the room for Mikey. “If he asks, tell him I’ll see him tomorrow morning.”
“Great first date,” Albus said drily, and I turned around to give him a dirty look.
I left the room, letting the open common room door close, ignoring the scowls of the huddle of year belows behind me. The corridor was welcomingly, refreshingly cool compared to the humid stickiness of the Slytherin common room, and the picturesque early summer sunset of an hour ago was gone, replaced with ugly, violet thunderclouds dominating the sky.
I was annoyed at Mikey for dragging me down to this party and then ditching me the second we arrived, but even more annoyed with myself for getting excited over the night. Mikey was familiar and good-looking, funny and a friend, but he didn’t excite me like James did. I don’t think anyone will ever thrill me the way James did, and it was as exhilarating as it was permanently exhausting. I was surprised by how underwhelmed I was by his behaviour at the party, how quite frankly, I just didn’t find myself caring all that much.
It was a twenty minute walk to the Ravenclaw tower from here if I went through the west wings of the school, but a few minutes shorter if I cut across the Quidditch pitch and entered the school through the changing rooms. I decided to venture outside, get some fresh air, clear my mind a bit.
The air was crisp, if not slightly heavy with a wet humidity. It was warm, almost too warm for a night in the Scottish midlands, despite the recent heat of the incoming summer. I could feel the dewy, springy grass of the Quidditch pitch bounce under my trainers. The Quidditch stadium lights were still on, if not slightly dimmed, and their artificial golden light flooded the stadium, the otherwise perfectly dark night.
I could hear the Graduation Ball from where it was hosted, the fields beyond the Quidditch pitch, left to Hagrid’s hut. Loud jazz music echoed into the empty pitch, and I could make out the sound of laughter and chatter, Freddie Weasley’s roaring voice.
“I had spilt wine all down me,” said James, and my eyes travelled down to the unmissable dark red stain on his starch white shirt. “I was going to go change shirt.”
“What about your wand-”
“You’re not meant to bring wands to the Graduation Ball,” he said, and he was right, that was just one of those strange Hogwartsian traditions nobody bothered to question. “You know, I think I can feel the wine on my stomach.” He snorted at himself, and I looked up from his shirt to his face.
We were sitting down on the front seats of the Quidditch stadium, and my bum was completely numb from the coldness of the icy, wooden seat beneath us. I could smell the wine from his shirt on his breath, his lips were stained red.
“How’s graduation?” I asked, after a long moment, a heavy pause.
The silence I punctured had resurfaced. I counted eighteen, nineteen, twenty seconds before James replied. “Good, thanks.”
“Mmm. I’m glad.”
I waited another moment before I made to get up, leave him- not for the first time, perhaps for the last time- before he took my parting hand, and pressed it until I turned around.
“James,” I began, but he stood up, still holding my palm with his fingers.
“Wilderson,” he said, interrupting me. “I hate how I have to be drunk to do this- no, Wilderson, listen to me!”
“What is there to say?” I wanted to know, and I was bitterly upset that he dropped my hand. “You’re with Dahlia Moss now-”
“I broke it off with her,” he said, his voice harsh and raw. The pleasant coolness of his drunken state from earlier was replaced by this bitter rage I had seen many times before. “After our Quidditch match. I left my after party, my party of captaincy to find you-”
“Why?” he demanded. “Why Lancaster? Did you- I can’t even- just,” he said, breathing heavily, his dark eyes alight with anger. “After everything you’ve said about Dahlia and me- you and Lancaster- I knew it, I knew it-”
“At least I told you about going to the ball with Dahlia!” he roared into the empty stadium. “You, you- Jesus Christ! You just fuck me over, you fuck me up over and over again- you’re a fucking bitch, Wilderson-”
“I didn’t ask for you to tell me about Dahlia!” I screamed back, feeling a hoarseness at the back of my throat. My eyes stung with tears. “I didn’t ask for you to leave your finals’ party for me! I’m not a- urgh! You’re graduating tomorrow! What am I meant to do-”
The sound of thunder rippled throughout the stadium, an unforgiving clap that broke off my speech, and suddenly rain was falling, falling down in a relentless torrent.
“I told you,” said James, and his wine-stained shirt was already soaked to his skin, his wild hair stuck to his scalp, beads of water falling off his eyelashes with every move, “I was in love with you, Wilderson. I said it three times that night, and you still ignored me- you still, shit, Albus told me tonight was your first date with Lancaster-”
“You were drunk,” I cried, and I could feel warm tears on my wet, cold face. “How was I meant to know if you were- if it was true or not? You were with Dahlia-”
“I was with Dahlia, you’re still with Lancaster-”
“You can’t blame me,” I screamed into the loud, relentless rain, “for trying to get over you, James!”
The sound of thunder clapped again in the sky, and I could feel my skirt, my thin jumper cling to my body. I could feel the night’s mascara and eyeliner pool under my eyes, and my carefully blow-dried hair stick to my scalp, my neck, my shoulders.
He breathed heavily, and looked up to the sky before facing me again.
“I’m graduating tomorrow,” he said. “And I’m spending my graduation ball talking to you.”
“I’m going to go to the kitchens,” he continued, speaking slowly. “And see if one of the elves can get my stain out. Then I’m going to go back to my graduation ball, and forget all about this conversation-”
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said, looking up at me through his eyebrows. “I give up. I’m done. This is the end- don’t speak, Elizabeth, I’m done. I am going to get over you.”
And before I could open my mouth to protest, he turned around, and walked in the direction closer to the kitchens’ entrance. Only when his soaked figure became a small silhouette in the horizon of pouring rain and violet skies did I realise he called me Elizabeth, and it was that revelation that got me biting my lip so hard I could feel the metallic taste of blood, desperately trying not to cry.
- Two weeks later -
The morning sky was the same shade of glorious azure blue as it had been for the past few days, the sun emitting that same intense brightness, the air always a sticky warm, but not without its almost too cool breeze. It was clear that Americans truly did subscribe to that belief of go hard or go home- even the weather was celebrating in that exciting, slightly obnoxious manner I had admired about the States and its American wizards, since I arrived a week ago.
I could feel the grass and the daisies crunch under the sole of my sandals, and a sudden breeze made me realise my back was already starting to sweat. It was only ten in the morning.
It was the day before the semi finals Quidditch World Cup begun, a series of eight matches before the ultimate final. My dad, the Sports Editor of the Daily Prophet, had been in this heath in downstate New York for months now, overseeing the entire Quidditch season, forever floo’ing in and out of the London Prophet offices. Aspen and I only joined him a few days ago, a week after we had broken up from school for the summer holidays, and students from Hogwarts- those that had been lucky enough to score tickets- had been trickling in all week.
“We’ve been queuing for ages,” whined Aspen, as we stood in the line for the water taps. My mum refused to buy the bottled water sold- “two sickles for a 500ml bottle? Daylight robbery! Only in America…”- and it seemed like everybody else was thinking the same thing. The queue stretched out past the English camps- decked, completely, in the red and white colours of the flag, in preparation for our match tomorrow- all the way through to the Italian and Australian camps.
“I’m starting to sweat,” I said, squinting through my sunglasses, trying to get an idea of how far until the taps.
“I’m not!” she trilled back.
“Is there any disadvantage to being born with Veela blood?”
“People don’t see you for your personality,” she said, and I burst out laughing.
“I’m not Jesus, I’m Aspen-”
“Hey- Effy! Aspen!”
The two of us swivelled around, in perfect sync, and I beamed as Declan Ainsley, Liam Finnegan and Teddy Oliver made their way over to us, Liam almost knocking over a hot dog stand. The trio of boys were dressed in the same Muggle attire that everyone our age was in, shorts and tee-shirts, Declan donning a backwards snapback cap with NY engraved on the front.
“Hey!” Aspen said excitedly, as we hugged the boys. “I’ve missed you guys!”
“How lucky,” I said, as Liam put a sticky arm around my shoulders, slipping his sunglasses back on. “You’ve found us just as we’re reaching the front of the queue for the water-”
“Oh, come on,” said Declan, his Scottish accent sounding all the more pronounced in the midst of all these Americans, their voices booming all across the campsite. “Two sickles for a small bottle of water? Talk about a free market!”
“Effy’s mum said the same thing,” nodded Aspen. “We’ve been waiting for, like, forty minutes now?”
“Something ridiculous like that,” I said, nodding with Aspen. “When did you guys get here?”
“Only last night,” said Teddy, and I smiled at the blonde haired, good-looking seeker, Hufflepuff prefect. Aspen and I were discussing only this morning how Teddy was such an obvious choice for the year’s Head Boy. “But we’ve been up since five, you know, jet lag and stuff.”
“Where are you staying?” Aspen asked, as we waddled up further in the queue.
“The English camps,” said Declan, pulling a disgusted face, and Teddy snorted.
“You’re just bitter that Scotland didn’t get through for the semi finals…”
“The ref was blatantly confounded!” Declan roared, and we all laughed at his indignance.
“Liam, you staying with the Irish?” asked Aspen, and he nodded immediately.
“Oh come on, you know what my dad’s like,” he commented. Liam’s dad, Seamus, was Irish, really Irish, my dad would say, as Irish as Easter 1916, and my mum would hit him over the head with whatever she was holding for such political incorrectness. Liam, like Mikey- and I felt my heart heave at the thought of him, a wave of guilt wash over my body- was a child of a member of the famous Dumbledore’s Army, and I had always been slightly jealous of the two for their family history. How Slytherin-esque, I know. “As if we would stay anywhere else.”
“Yes, well, you’ve certainly done very well this year…”
“Don’t we always?”
It was weird, seeing Liam without Mikey. I hadn’t spoken to Mikey since we left school, and even then that was an awkward good-bye. He was still in London, undergoing a Healer internship, and I was relieved that Liam hadn’t brought him up yet.
“You spoken to Mikey?” asked Liam, and I mentally hit myself for assuming such luck. Of course Liam would bring him up. Liam Finnegan epitomised that boyish bluntness, lack of common sense.
“No, not really,” I said delicately. I had no idea what Mikey had said to Liam since our failure of a first date, and I didn’t even know if Mikey knew about my confrontation with James. I had spent the week in between school and coming to the States in an awkward limbo, not speaking to both Mikey and James- Jesus Christ, even just thinking about him brought a lump to my throat.
Was I in the wrong? I didn’t think so. Why would I have told James about seeing Mikey, when we had broken up- and he was dating Dahlia Moss? How was I to know that the one time I kissed Mikey, he was standing in the shadows, on his way to find me and ask to try again?
Aspen didn’t think so, either. Neither did Oscar, but Jasmine scrunched up her nose and said I could have handled it a bit better.
“You and James have the communicative skills of Romeo and Juliet,” she had said.
She was still in London, as was Oscar, and Ophelia. Apart from those three, most of my friends were either already in the States, or flying in today, to be present for England’s first match against Argentina tomorrow. Aspen and I had run into Louis and Ruddy yesterday, who were staying with Louis’s parents in a tent not far from ours; Poppy Atticus and Eve Feltham, both Muggleborn, were staying together, without parents, which everyone agreed was very cool indeed. And the Potters were arriving for lunch time, according to Al’s letter, with a friend of Lily’s. By coincidence, they were staying in a tent right opposite the Malfoys’, which amused Al and Scorpius just as much as it, he had written, vexed their parents. Oh, the troubles of the middle class, he concluded his letter with.
The five of us moved further up in the queue for water collection, and a German woman behind us started berating the boys for jumping the queue.
“Just one person noticed,” said Declan, confidently. “Whatever.”
But the German woman was loud, and her complaints set off an international collection of condemnation of these young, British boys behaviour- dressed in Muggle clothing as well! The cheek- and the yelling and finger pointing got so loud Teddy forced Declan and Liam to move to the back of the line, Liam protesting loudly.
As the bickering ceased, Aspen turned to me, cupping her hand over her eyes, as she had left her sunglasses in her tent.
“Weird of Liam to ask you about Mikey,” she commented.
“I know,” I said. “I’m just surprised Liam was so friendly towards me, you know? Like, after that Slytherin party- Mikey and I just haven’t been friends.”
“Yeah,” said Aspen, nodding in agreement. We had reached the water pipes, and I pushed the lever as Aspen held our bottles for filling. “I wonder why Liam hasn’t taken Mikey’s side in your argument. He’s done that before when Mikey’s gotten into beef with people-”
“And Mikey’s definitely made me out to be the bad guy in his narrative,” I said, but I shrugged. “At least it’ll be easy to avoid James. I doubt I’ll see him this entire time.”
“Yeah, exactly,” said Aspen, smiling reassuringly.
The whole, entire campsite- spilling over miles of flat, grassy land, caught between the Quidditch stadium itself and nearby woods- was overflowing with excitement for the match tomorrow. England against Argentina, one of the most talked about games since the semi-finals match tables went up weeks ago. For Argentina had a long history of producing quality Quidditch players, winning the Cup eight and twelve years ago; but England’s players, whilst not the best internationally, were wizarding celebrities, especially in America.
“Of course we’re routing for England,” said a man from North Carolina, proudly thumping his chest, adorned with the English flag. Aspen and I had gone on a tour around the various national clusters of tents, each mini-camp saturated in its country’s colours and flag. “Eng-ger-laaaaannd! England and America, we’re brothers. Right, Candice? Brothers. We supported you in the war, and we’ll support you in Quidditch, no doubt!”
“And it doesn’t hurt that your team is led by Fallon Shacklebolt,” said Candice, a pretty blonde woman donning a straw cowboy hat, smiling lazily at us in the early afternoon sun. “Talk about a regulation hottie!”
Aspen giggled. I knew where she was going with this. I had heard these words a dozen times over since we landed a week ago. “Well, you know my sister, Cambrie, dated Shacklebolt when they were teenagers-”
“No way,” said the blonde woman, her jaw dropping open. “She dated Fallon Shacklebolt?”
“Right,” I said, the smell of beer and frying meat of the American camps starting to get to me. “Well, we best be off, As-”
“Any friend of Fallon Shacklebolt is a friend of ours,” declared the man, his voice booming. “Come find us after our victory against China on Friday- you ain’t ever been to a party like an American party! We’ll show ‘em Communists how it’s done!”
“Hell yeah, honey!” cried Candice the blonde. “They may now have more nuclear weaponry than us…”
“But we have our freedom!”
Just as I could sense Aspen’s comment about her older sister, Aspen could sense my upcoming response challenging his belief in his country’s sporting performance- America, like England, just about managed to slip into the semi-final leagues- and she dragged us away, the two blonde haired Americans waving good-bye.
“What lovely girls,” I could hear the woman say. “And their accent! So precious.”
“I don’t know a lot of Americans,” said Aspen, as we walked away from the cluster of tents and small, one-man stalls, the whole patch of land a homage to the country’s red stripes and blue stars, “but- you know, the ones I have met- him and Candice, your dad’s family from Boston, the Californian boys yesterday- they’re all very Gryffindor, aren’t they?”
I laughed, and we linked arms, making our way back to our own tent, which Jack- my brother- and his friends had spent the whole afternoon charming to portray the English flag. They failed; the red and white were as bright and bold as the rest of the tents around us, but instead of St George’s cross they could only manage two horizontal lines. We looked Polish.
“COME ON YOU REEDDDS-”
The sun was just about going down, the sky streaked with a glorious peachy pink, the clouds- there were only a few, on this hot July day- a vivid shade of indigo. The impending night was approaching steadily over the horizon, and the sky was streaked with fireworks emitting every few moments, the most recent one an impressive caricature of Fallon Shacklebolt on his broom, crafted by Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.
The campsite was alive with excitement for the first match, only twenty-four hours away. And it was clear, well within the realm of English wizards, that there would be no sleep granted tonight, unless one was blind, deaf and- well, quite frankly, not an English wizard.
My brother, Jack, a substitute Chaser for a middle-league American team, was partying heavily, he and his friends- the idiots who managed to make our tent look like we came from an Eastern European country, misplaced amongst the midst of English flags- belting out slander against Argentina, standing on each other’s shoulders, clutching beer cans and firewhiskey bottles. At least, my dad admitted, they were staying here, rather than making trouble with the Argentinians. There had been three arrests today, and one near casualty.
“Never thought it was a good idea, this camping business,” said my mum, as he came home to the tent straight from Portkeying out of London, relaying the news.
“Well, you wouldn’t,” he replied. “You’ve never liked Quidditch.”
But I loved Quidditch, and the night’s excitements only heightened my anticipation for the match tomorrow. I didn’t just love playing Quidditch, I loved watching it, and whilst of course I rooted for England, I was eagerly awaiting the match to watch the Argentinians play live. They truly were a top rate team.
“Rodriguez is no match for our Orion Jordan,” boasted Louis Weasley confidently. Aspen and I had run into him and Ruddy after our tour around the various camps, and were standing, under the dying sky of that summer’s day, just on the outskirts of the celebrations.
“You’re only saying that because Jordan’s a family friend,” I countered, and Ruddy got to it before Louis could.
“Yeah, doesn’t count, everybody’s a family friend,” he said, and I snorted, taking a swing of my diluted firewhiskey. “Look, Effy, you remember Jordan at Hogwarts. Only time Gryffindor’s won the Cup since- well, last month, I suppose,” he added, with a smug smirk. “Oh, cheer up Effy. Too soon?”
“Too soon,” I muttered, and Louis cackled into the night.
I turned around, just as I was about to berate Ruddy (and Louis, since he was there and just as guilty, although Louis is an idiot of major extremes so the idea to knock out Josh Wood in our final was probably Ruddy’s idea), and was almost knocked off my feet by Albus.
“Al!” I cried, hugging him. Unlike his brother- who I do not think about- Albus was more lanky, slightly taller, and I wrapped myself around him tightly. “I missed you!”
“It’s only been two weeks,” said Scorpius, who grinned around at the three other Sixth Years I was standing with.
“When did you arrive?” Aspen wanted to know. “We were keeping an eye out for you.”
“Only just now,” said Albus, as I let go of him. I really did miss Albus- his dry remarks, his lanky frame, his upper cut accent, his constant whining over Poppy Atticus. I wonder how long it would take to find her, in a tent not too far from where Aspen and I were pitched. “Lily lost her passport, and by the time we arrived at the International Travels wing of the Ministry, our Portkey had left. We had to wait five hours for the next one.”
“To be a Potter with nothing to do at the Ministry,” I remarked. “Must have been awful.”
“Fuck off,” he said easily. “Oi, Louis, set us some firewhiskey.”
“Nah, mate, they’re flogging alcohol for Mundungus Fletcher prices ‘round here. Get your own.”
“You’re my cousin,” protested Albus. “My brother in law-”
“Mate! Teddy is not your sibling! We are not brothers in law!” Louis cried, and Ruddy sniggered. It was evident that this was a well-worn argument between Al’s family and Louis’s- I had overheard several similar disagreements over Teddy Lupin between James and Louis’s sister, Dominique.
“Have some of mine,” said Aspen, interrupting Louis. “I’m a lightweight, I can already feel myself getting drunk… Not too much, that bottle’s to last for tomorrow night too…”
“And what if England don’t win?” Scorpius wanted to know.
Ruddy gasped. “Blasphemy!”
“Effy and I’ll go party with the South Americans.”
“Not Effy,” said Scorpius, sniggering at me. “You’re almost as pale as I am-”
“I think you’re both match set, actually-”
“Thanks Louis- no way will you be able to pass as Argentinian. Swedish, maybe, but not from that side of the Equator.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, and Albus threw an arm around my shoulder in pity.
“It’s okay,” he beamed, “I wouldn't be able to pass as Argentinian either. You can come feel sorry for yourself with the rest of my family tomorrow night.”
“You’re talking like we’re not going to win,” said Ruddy, furrowing his eyebrows together.
“Oh,” said Albus, brightly. “We won’t.”
I was desperately trying not to answer the burning question that I was so scared of slipping out, in my mildly drunken state. It fizzed up through my chest, throat, mouth and pressured on my lips; I was dying to ask, but also straining to prevent myself from doing so. It had been two weeks since I had seen James; two weeks since he called me Elizabeth, since he said he was done, he was going to get over me. I had secretly scored magazines and gossip columns alike for news on him, and just the fact that we were within mere miles of each other excited me almost as much as it terrified me.
I crossed my arms as the evening breeze picked up, and I strained my neck to peer behind Albus, as if I would see James, perhaps with Freddie or Alfie. I hated myself for missing him so much, all though I wonder how much of that missing was actually a desire to prove him wrong, that he couldn’t get over me as much as I couldn’t get over him. But, you know, he was a one of a kind, and I was one of a many.
Before our adolescent cluster, the laddish cries of excitement and anticipated victory cultivated in a roaring, wrongly worded in some parts national anthem.
“We’ve only been here two days, but Louis and I’ve met three Brazilians, two girls from Beauxbatons, a group of girls from Texas- Texas!- and we’ve been invited to several after parties,” Ruddy boasted, counting off the duo’s accomplishments with stubby fingers, whilst Louis nodded passionately.
“And I snogged a twenty year old from California,” Louis added.
“Didn’t you do a bit more than snog, Louis?” Dweedledum asked.
“Yeah, but I like to keep things humble,” Dweedledee replied.
“How’s that Weasley advantage working for you out here, Louis?” Aspen wanted to know.
Louis smirked smugly. “Nobody here knows who us Weasleys are. Potters, however,” he said, pointing to Albus with a shaky, drunken finger, “are a different story.”
“We only got the Brazilians to talk to us because we said we were best mates with Harry Potter’s son,” said Ruddy earnestly. “Mate- you’re fucking flooding in the pussy here.”
“This is where Al cuts in with a sad line about Poppy,” I sniggered, and Albus shoved me.
“Fuck off, Effy! You’re worse than Lily half the time!” he cried. “Is she here, by the way? Eve mentioned- Eve Feltham, that is, not Chang- that they would be here by now-”
“-Hang on,” said Aspen, slowly, facing Ruddy. “You and Louis aren’t best friends with Albus.”
I turned to Albus. “Perhaps being on foreign soil will change things,” I said, rubbing his arm. “There’s something about a familiar face amongst thousands of international strangers, isn’t there?”
“I suppose,” he said glumly.
“Anyway, we’re out of Hogwarts, aren’t we, she can finally see you in a different environment-”
“Are you saying this on my behalf?” Albus interjected, but I could sense an underlying tenderness behind his jokey tone of voice.
“Who else would I be talking about?” I asked, my tone too bright to fool the two Gryffindor idiots to my left, let alone Albus.
“James was pretty cut up after he graduated,” said Albus, raising his eyebrows at me. “He’s been acting rather distracted since we left Hogwarts. Freddie’s been dragging him to party after party-”
“Has he been with other girls?” I asked, quietly.
“Yeah,” Albus said bluntly. “But he’s been acting really rather- well, sober. He’s getting better about it, he’s staying with half with us, half with Freddie, so obviously he’s going to spend the World Cup drinking and partying and… stuff.”
“Mmmm,” I said, knowing full well what stuff was. Not exactly wizard chess tournaments. “Well. I-”
“How are you doing, Effy?”
“I-” he had caught me off guard. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
He raised his eyebrow at me.
“Fine,” I muttered, and he snorted. “Mikey hasn’t spoken to me in weeks, and James manages to weasel himself in my thoughts almost hourly. But you know, he said he’d get over me, and…” I was going to say I was happy for him, but I wasn’t. He could choke on his own penis. “…Well. He’s graduated, what’s there to do?”
“So you’re doing okay?”
“I’d like to think so,” I said, smiling at Al. “I’ll bounce back. I have a knack for doing that.”
“I’ve noticed,” he said drily. “Look, Effy- I- you’re one of my closest mates-”
“Why thank you, Al-”
“Effy! Anyway- yeah, you’re my friend and James is my brother. You’ve both clearly got this- well, I don’t know what it is, but this- magnetism, perhaps, that keeps on drawing the two of you together, right? But with him graduating, and you still at Hogwarts- he was really fucking upset when you two spoke on his graduation night, and I know you were too- why don’t you two just-”
“Leave it? Al,” I said, taking a swig from my bottle of half firewhiskey, half orange soda, or whatever they call it in America. “I am- we are- I mean, he clearly despises me, and I’m not his biggest fan either. I wouldn’t want to be within a mile of him-”
“But you will eventually,” said Albus, snorting. “You and James have this weird bond that keeps on pushing the two of you together, despite the odds. Animal magnetism. Something like that.”
“No, Al, I-”
“Just try to avoid one another when in America,” said Albus, nodding. He had clearly given it a lot of thought. “By the time the two of you are back in England, it’ll be much easier to forget each other’s existences.”
I nodded for a moment, and then smiled. “As easy said as done,” I replied, brightly. “Come on, let’s go join in with their singing. I didn’t know the national anthem, but I know this Beatles’ song.”
“God, Effy, hands off the Potter boys! I fancy another girl-”
I elbowed him, and he laughed, leading me into the throng of intoxicated, celebrating Englanders.
The next morning, I woke up in the small room of the tent I shared with Aspen, blinking uncomfortably as sunlight filtered through the thin fibres of the tent’s fabrics. The room- compromised of two small beds, and two trunks for our clothes, with various articles of clothing and shoes scattered around the floor- wasn’t very big; our tent, in general, was quite small on the inside compared to some of the other tents I had been inside.
I squinted, and felt Aspen’s foot tickle my neck. She had, I remembered, slept in the same bed as me last night, the two of us too tired to… get into our own beds? Slowly, the events of the night started to re-emerge, as I sat up, my head pounding.
We had stayed out all night, only returning to the tent when we could see flickers of the morning over the horizon, the navy, star-studded night above us slowly turning bluer and bluer. My watch had read 3:52, and now it read 7:35, which was, in my opinion, still too early. At least the match tonight wouldn’t start for another twelve hours.
I was suddenly struck with thirst- I always felt thirsty after drinking, and I drunk a lot last night. Memories came flooding back, as I slipped on a pair of cotton shorts and tied my hair up. Aspen and I had spent the night with Albus and Scorpius, Poppy and Eve Feltham, and a couple of year below students at Hogwarts, like Josh Wood, and Al’s cousin Roxy. Louis and Ruddy came in and out of our group, half wanting to party with the adults, half stuck with us adolescents. A year below boy- Nathaniel Boot, I think he was called- started playing his acoustic guitar, and Albus and Poppy bickered the whole night. It was one of those nights, with nothing above your head but the starry, starry sky, spent in a foreign country, with some friends, some acquaintances, some people you had never met before in your life- that stay with you forever.
And, most of all, I didn’t see James once, not once the entire night.
I stretched, feeling the top of the tent graze my outstretched fingers- had I grown?- and slipped on some plimsolls. I took my water bottle, and started my walk to the water taps. I had spent any money given to me for food or water on alcohol and Quidditch souvenirs.
It was still cool, but it was refreshing, the grass beneath my feet soaking with dew, tickling my ankles. The sky was another perfect blue, but the sunset I had missed still loitered, the occasional cloud a pinkish hue. It was quite relaxing, being the only person awake. There were only a few people by the water taps, the same taps that had dozens of wizards queued up yesterday.
Oh shit. No, really- I should start expecting this. I wasn’t even surprised, just annoyed. Obviously James, the raven-haired, recent graduate himself would be one of those in the queue. Before it was even 8am?
Albus was right. We did have an awful magnetism.
I walked up behind him, taking my place at the back of the queue. Around me, birds were chirping, and various flags fluttered in the morning breeze. I could feel the sun on my shoulders.
It was embarrassing, I reflected, how well I knew his back. I knew every outline of every muscle, that darkened scar that curled just under his ribcage, his broad shoulders.
“Hello,” said James, without even turning around.
“Hi,” I squeaked.
After a second, he turned around, cupping his hand over his eyebrows against the sun behind me. “For a Ravenclaw, it was pretty stupid of you to walk up behind me and expect me not to notice you.”
“It would have been polite of you to pretend, all the same.”
“No, it’s polite to acknowledge another human being,” he said, flatly. “No matter how much of a simply shit person they are.”
I looked to the left of me, and then back at him. He was still looking at me; not quite scowling, but definitely frowning.
“You’re up early,” I said, off-handedly.
“I’m still jet lagged,” he replied. “What’s your excuse?”
He had reached the taps, and turned to the rusting metal, gushing water.
“I don’t care,” he said, as he filled up several water bottles. “How many people would you say are staying with the English cluster?”
“Like- three hundred and fifty, maybe? Perhaps less-”
“No, you seem right,” he said, tightening the lids of his bottles. “Around three hundred and fifty. Amongst all these people, please try your hardest to avoid me.”
“I don’t want anything to do with you,” he replied, cutting me off. He wasn’t even cold, or icy in his tone; just factual, like he was reporting the day’s upcoming weather forecast. “I wish you weren’t here, but of course, you are. I wish you weren’t so close with Al- but of course, you are. So grant me my last wish, and don’t speak to me for the rest of the World Cup.”
I watched him walk away, his big, coarse hands clutching his two water bottles. It wasn’t the second time this month he had left me- what a prick- with a big, fat lump in my throat, the impulse to cry- God, he was so horrible, so frustrating- too strong to avoid.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
A Dobby nomination?!
Words do not do justice to how overwhelmed, how excited, how grateful, how undeserving I feel. So, so surreal. So, so exciting. Thank you to anyone that put forward FA for nominations. You've made the confused, angsty, dramatic fifteen year old inside of me (the same one that started FA as a writing outlet for almost diary-like purposes) so so thrilled, and the slightly older, not so much wiser current me speechless. Thank you! Ahhh!
And as I said- this is totally two chapters in one. I'm desperate to get FA finished by the time I finish this semester, which is going to mean quicker updates, quicker correspondence and quicker re-writes of earlier chapters. I'm also thinking of a sequel of sorts. FA retold by Poppy's perspective with focus on her and Al's relationship? Retold by James? Five years in the future? Give me ideas, puh-lease!
And, as always (but especially right now)... All my love. xx
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