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Chapter 24 : crisp white shirt
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I don’t want your rooting, but thank you! I completely forgot that the graduating Captains get knowledge of who’s replacing them and their rival Captains. And, hey, oh my god- Albus told me about your NEWT results- totally unsurprised. Amazing. Effy
Thanks, you’re right, they were unsurprising. (Only half joking). Have a good school year, Wilderson. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. James x
It was the first of September, and I was headed to Hogwarts for the last time this morning. I felt both totally under, but also indescribably overwhelmed- a real sense of melancholic sobriety overcame me as I stashed James’ parchment in my jeans pocket and looked up at Aspen.
“Hey,” she said bubbly, sliding into into seat beside me as my dad shut the door behind her, moving her luggage into our open car boot with a flick of his wand. “Thanks again for driving me, Andy and Felicity-”
“Our pleasure,” my mum said warmly, turning around and giving Aspen a bright smile. Jack and I glanced uncertainly at each other; she hasn’t smiled like that to us since she got drunk at our uncle’s second wedding and decided we weren’t such awful children after all.
“I’m still so ecstatic over your captaincy, Effy,” said Aspen, after my dad had started up the engine. “Like, not surprised at all-”
“I am,” said Jack, and Aspen blushed. She got tipsy in Fourth Year at told me how she’s always slightly fancied my dungbomb-brained older brother, who was then a Seventh Year, a total idiot but Captain of the Gryffindor team. “Finnegan should have got it.”
“Oh, fuck off Jack-”
“A family of Quidditch Captains,” said my mum fondly, turning around to smile at the two of us. “You two, your father… Gosh, I feel like such an underachiever…”
As my brother half-heartedly attempted to comfort my mum, who was beginning to get emotional over sending me back to Hogwarts- this time for the last time! Ever! Well… Unless she has to retake the year… Wouldn’t be the worst thing, especially now rent in London is so expensive- Aspen turned to me, her eyes glinting.
“What?” I asked.
“Has James replied?”
Aspen was the only person I had told about my correspondence with James. I was kind of, to be honest, scared to tell other people, as if that would make it more real. And the second it became real, I had to confront the issue.
I missed him desperately. It was a different kind of feeling to when I’ve missed him over the past year, due to break ups or arguments; then it was a missing on a backdrop of piping hot anger and crushing sadness, but this time it felt more like an ache, a kind of numbness. At least when he was still at school I could keep up with him through seeing him in the great hall, the library, the Quidditch pitch, through gossip and giggles in the toilets and corridors.
But this year he just wouldn’t be there, which sounds obvious, but I had only really truly realised it as of his first letter to me. I was going back to the same circus, just without its ring master; no more loud booms of laughter I could hear echo across the great hall, no more smug smirks of acknowledgement when he passed me in between classes, no more frustrated hands running through messy chestnut hair when he was working on an essay in the library, no more Wilderson! Wait up! from behind me in the corridor, and consequent pattering of footsteps as he jogged to catch up with me, tell me about something funny that happened in one of his classes, ask me how my day’s been going.
“He sent me an owl this morning,” I said quietly. “Just saying have a good school year, that kind of stuff.”
“You’re doing the right thing,” Aspen offered.
“You know who I haven’t seen all summer?” my mum said from the front. “Michael. Michael Lancaster. How’s he doing?”
Aspen shot me a look, clearly disappointed that I hadn’t told my mum about our argument. If argument was the right term for whatever Mikey and I were going through, which wasn’t really much but silence and half-hearted smiles at parties over the summer.
“He’s been on that Healer internship,” I said truthfully.
“They’ve been worked to the bone,” I said, quoting Rose Weasley, who was on the internship programme too. I spoke to her at Al’s party the week before, and she did not stop bitching about it for the whole ten minutes, whilst successfully managing to smoke, drink straight up vodka out of the bottle and dance along to the music playing.
The only daughter of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger was, clearly, an all-rounded and accomplished young woman.
“Mm,” said my mum, frowning. “Well, I suppose you’ll see him today. Tell him I say hi, I really do like that boy-”
“Okay, thanks mum,” I said hurriedly, as Aspen giggled into the cuff of her sleeve.
Aspen and I arrived at the platform with only minutes to go, and jumped onto the train as the last of the students were saying bye to their parents and the stewards were putting the last of the luggage in storage.
“Did you hear who got Head Boy?” I asked Aspen, as the two of us walked down the busy corridor between the carriages of the train, overstepping cats and side-stepping clusters of students. As usual, it was the boys on the cusp of adolescence- thirteen and fourteen year olds, still dressed in their muggle attire of jeans and Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren tee-shirts- that started whispering when the second they saw Aspen, nudging each other as their eyes roamed up and down her blonde-haired, tanned physique in all her Veela glory.
“I’m such a good friend,” I said. “It’s been seven years since we first met each other and not once have I resented you for being so gorgeous. Well, not really.”
“Those boys?” she asked, turning to me, a grin on her face. “They’re looking at me just as much as they’re looking at you.”
“Oh, come on-”
“Effy,” said Aspen, her eyebrows raising. “You’re hot.” And before I could open my mouth to argue back, she changed the subject. “Yeah, Teddy Oliver, thank God. So happy he got it. What about Head Girl?”
“It’s weird. I used to care so much, but honestly? This summer it’s just all seemed so irrelevant. Like, Veronica Clearwater could be Head Girl for all I care-”
“Oh, don’t say that! But I totally know what you mean. Oh, look, here’re the boys.”
I followed her into a carriage basked in the morning sun. Mikey, Liam and Albus were sat inside, Mikey and Albus dominating whole benches and Liam lying facedown on the floor, the former two in heated debate.
“Liam?” I asked, prodding him with my two. “Are you sleeping?”
“My body clock is three in the morning,” he mumbled into the carpet, as Aspen giggled in front of me. Albus beamed up at us, moving up to make space for the two of us, as Mikey looked down at Liam below.
I followed Aspen in sitting down by Albus, and immediately felt totally self-conscious opposite Mikey. We really hadn’t spoken since our failed date in the early summer; I had barely congratulated him on his Healer internship. I didn’t know if he knew that I had gotten Quidditch captain; I didn’t even know if he wanted to be on the team this year.
“Hey,” I said, awkwardly.
“Where’s Oscar?” Aspen asked brightly. “He’s never late for these things-”
“He’s somewhere with Ophelia,” Mikey muttered. “I should probably go find him…”
I watched him walk out of the carriage. The door closed, and Liam looked up from the carpet, shot me a look, and returned back to the floor.
“What?!” I demanded.
“You got Captain, didn’t you?”
“Figures. Should have been Sorted into Gryffindor,” he said, turning over to stare at the ceiling. “That way my competition would have been Ruddy and Louis, two biggest idiots in the year, not you and Mikey.”
“Does Mikey know?”
“Oh yes,” said Albus, smoothly. “You know what I was saying to Scorpius this morning? Oscar must be pissing himself with excitement for this term, the year hasn’t even begun but there’s already major drama between you and Mikey-”
“There is not-”
“Tell me about you and Poppy Atticus!” Aspen trilled, excitedly. I shot her a grateful smile at her attempt to change the subject from Mikey and me; a successful attempt, for it set Albus on a major monologue about the girl and her actions at his party last week.
“I’m going to go find Jasmine,” I said, standing up and leaving the carriage. Liam didn’t move, and Albus was already in such heated conversation about his favourite subject he barely looked up at my departure.
I usually loved the journey to school; seeing everyone, moving between carriages to say hi, trying to get a glimpse of the prefects’ meeting at the end of the train and what the stock was like on the trolley. But seeing Mikey’s face flooded me with such a sense of guilt, I could barely acknowledge greetings from Eve Feltham, the Gryffindor girls and Declan Ainsley.
“Mikey,” I called, finally catching a glimpse of his brown hair and broad shoulders amongst the crowds of people. Oh my God, this was ridiculous; owls were flying, rats were running, students were screaming at the tops of their voices and below me, I could feel the train starting to move. The exchange of lacrosse sticks- lacrosse sticks? Is this Hogwarts or Malory Towers?- was conducted above my head, and cheers went up as a Quaffle crashed into a compartment window. “MIKEY!”
He turned around, and I elbowed a boy in a ridiculously obnoxious I HEART KUSH tee-shirt out of my way. Like, we get it, you smoke weed. Were we all as annoying when we were fourteen? “I need to speak to you!”
He waited for me to catch up, and I looked up at him. He’d changed over the holidays, now I was this close to him; his hair was cut short- probably from the internship- and he looked even more broader-shouldered and muscular than before. “Yeah?”
“Well,” I said, crabbily. “Not here.”
There would be no empty carriages, and being out of the corridor was only mandatory after we pulled out of London; we would have to wait for another half hour to get some solitude.
“In here,” I said, pushing open the toilet door. He raised an eyebrow, but followed me in anyway.
“I know this seems… juvenile,” I said, as he flicked the light switch on. He was wearing a navy sweater over a white Oxford shirt- God, he was such a Ravenclaw. “But… Mikey. We really do need to talk.”
He crossed his arms and looked at me. “Oh yeah? About what?”
“Don't be annoying.”
“You know what.”
He did that classic Mikey Lancaster sigh- a regular sigh, but through his nose, not mouth- and crossed his arms. “I heard you got Captain.”
“I did, yeah.” There was a pause. “It should have gone to you.”
He nodded in agreement. So many unsaid words, saturating the air between us in this dingy toilet. “I think that’s it, Effy.”
He walked passed me, opening the toilet door. “I’ll see you later.”
The door slammed, and I sat there for a bit. I never really understood the term twiddling thumbs until I looked down, realising I was playing some sort of subconscious thumb of war with myself, as I slowly realised the last time I was in a toilet with a boy was at Al’s party; and that boy was, of course, James himself.
The aged, perhaps even atavistic Sorting Hat perched upon my cousin’s pretty blonde head, and I felt mildly anxious for the second time this Sorting; the first time being at the calling of Azalea, Ethan, who was- of course- declared Gryffindor within micro-seconds.
I caught Issy’s eye and gave her a thumbs up as she beamed, clearly relieved, and watched her run over to the end of the table. My family was never interested in house loyalty- we’re not Weasleys- but Jack and I had a bet going on little cousin Issy. I mouthed that I knew she always had it in her down the table as I thought about what my new five galleons could get on the next Hogsmeade trip.
“I’m so hungry,” Aspen moaned beside me, and she pouted to the boys opposite us as she rubbed her belly, pouting.
“At least you didn’t miss the trolley,” I muttered resentfully, thinking of the Prefects’ Meeting that went over time, a whole half hour of being sat next to Albus and reflecting of my Prefect-less life well lived.
Liam smirked at me from across the table, sat in between Oscar and Mikey. “Sucks to be Quidditch Captain.”
“Do you want laps already, Finnigan?” I said, in my best Danny Alton impression.
“Now, who said I was trying out this year?” he said, a twinkle in his vivid blue eyes.
“Come on now, Liam.”
“What?” he said, innocently. “Most seventh years- well, retire, I suppose, at this point. Emphasis on NEWTs, all that jazz.”
“Well,” I said, counting off all the Quidditch players in our year on my hand. “I’m not-”
I rolled my eyes at him, as O’Sullivan, Jack was sorted into Slytherin. “Eve’s still Captain, so her. Ruddy and Louis are still game- ha- as is Scorpius, I believe… Wait! Do you think- because of Head Boy and all- Teddy Oliver is stepping down?”
“See, usually,” said Aspen, turning her attention from the Sorting and towards us, “I would assume yes. But this is Teddy we’re talking about… He’s probably Captain, Head Boy and already studying for his Healer degree.”
“Did someone say Healer?” Mikey asked, and our cluster of Ravenclaw Seventh Years laughed. I smiled weakly, catching his eye. And- he didn’t quite smile back- but his gaze lingered, lingered for longer that an elongated moment, and he nodded before turning to Liam, murmuring something in his best friend’s neck.
As the Sorting went on, and the grumbles of hunger echoed throughout the older students of the Hall- only ever silenced by the cheers and calls of celebration by Houses that had been Sorted another student (were Ruddy and Louis having a competition with Albus and Scorpius over who could cheer the loudest?)- I looked at the faces around me, illuminated by the golden light of the floating candles. Aspen, Oscar, Liam, Mikey… Even if I didn’t know where, exactly, I stood with Mikey, if we could ever be friends again… I felt myself getting almost choked up at the sudden realisation of how much these four meant to me, how much we had grown since we were the ones being Sorted seven years ago. Aspen spent three minutes on the stool, Oscar barely a second. My Sorting followed the two Weasleys of the year- Rose and Louis- both declared Gryffindor before the Hat could barely touch their thin, wispy, eleven year old hair, both arriving at the table decked in gold and red to thunderous applause. Wilderson, Elizabeth, it is perhaps needless to say, did not garner such inter-year interest. But I joined the end of the table after ten seconds under the hat, where dark little Green, Oscar immediately asked me if my hair was naturally that glossy.
“Are you okay?” Liam asked, leaning over the table and frowning.
“That was us,” I said, and I grinned sheepishly, almost apologetically, at how thick my voice was. “Seven years ago.”
Aspen cooed in acknowledgement of my sudden sap- this was her territory, not mine, and the others knew it- but Oscar threw his arm around me, and as Liam shook his head in disappointment- Quidditch players aren’t meant to have emotions, Effy, he said, the corners of his mouth twitching- Mikey gazed at me again, for the second time that night.
It’s been fine so far, I suppose. Louis and Ruddy got banned from the feast back on grounds of the two setting off a series of Wizard Wheezes dungbombs on the Hogwarts Express, and then there was quite the show when it was revealed the two were innocent, it was actually a cluster of Fourth Years. Ruddy accused the professors of racism, Louis of sexism… then, of course, the duo started beefing up Longbottom for neither of them getting Quidditch Captain, apparently its gone to some Fifth Year instead, which was pretty stupid as Longbottom was the only Professor who didn’t accuse them of the dungbombs in the first place. This was all happening outside the Grand Hall, by the way. Oscar is, two hours later, still besides himself with the dramatics of it all.
But yeah, you’re totally right. Seventh Year is overwhelming, and we’re only a few hours in. Anyway- what about you?! You start your internship tomorrow, don’t you?! How are you feeling about it? Tell me all. Effy x
“Did you mention Mikey?” Aspen asked, as we walked from the Owlery to the common room. I wanted to reply to James- who owl’ed me right after dinner, his beautiful white owl waiting outside the common room windows for me, much to the delight of some Second Year girls- the second I read his message, and Aspen was more than happy to accompany me to the Owlery. Seventh Year came with many new privileges, such as the lifting of curfew, and we had bumped into several clusters of people in our year on our journey up.
“I didn’t, no.”
“Probably for the best.”
As we walked into the common room- I say as we walked in, but we didn’t, Aspen and I spent five minutes trying to solve the entry riddle- Oscar beckoned us over, sitting with Declan Ainsley, a boy who, despite his status as being the tallest person in Hogwarts after Hagrid, still insists on growing. Declan was close, very close, with Mikey and Liam, and I felt queasy yet again thinking of the former. I scanned the room as Aspen and I walked over to Oscar and Declan, yet Mikey was nowhere to be found.
“Oi,” I said, turning around at the pain of a sudden pinch to my back.
“Hello Effy,” chirped Indigo Coates, beaming behind me. I smiled, feeling the wariness etched onto my mouth. When did I turn into Danny? I tried to smile a bit nicer, but I think I went into overkill; Indigo took a step back and looked concerned.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, thanks… Hey Indigo. How was your summer?”
“Great, thank you,” he enthused. “Lara told me about you being Captain. Well done! I would have voted for Mikey, if there was anything democratic about this school.”
“Thanks, Indigo- how did you hear?” I deliberately didn’t wear my badge today, in fear of provoking Mikey. I was desperate to source him out, and my eyes scanned the room behind Josh once more. I decided it was absolutely necessary to see his face, his grand nose, his large mouth; for Mikey always had such big, boyish features; hear him laugh, call me Elizabeth in his attempt to impersonate Flitwick.
“Lara said Lily Potter told her,” he replied. And then he nodded earnestly, excitedly, comically, to highlight exactly how he thought Lily found out.
Not-Captain Effy would have shoved Indigo and apologised profusely, but not sincerely, after pushing so hard he fell on the cold wooden floor beneath us; but Captain Effy wasn’t allowed to do that, especially in a common room of Ravenclaws I was supposed to represent. I was briefed about Captain Do’s and Don’ts by Teddy Oliver and Veronica Clearwater in the prefect meeting today, spending the whole hour playing charades with Scorpius, much to Veronica’s chagrin.
“Hm. Cool,” I replied.
“When are try outs?”
“Good question, Coates. I’ll let you know. Listen- have you seen Mikey anywhere?”
I didn’t expect an answer- a fart, perhaps, not an answer- but Indigo Coates demonstrated, right there in the Ravenclaw Common Room, wearing a shirt that was already stained with ketchup, that help really will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.
“He said he was going to the kitchens,” he chirped.
“Was Liam with him?”
He gave me a well, duh look, and I snorted in spite of myself.
“Less of the ‘tude, Coates.”
“Wait,” he said, shaking his head vehemently as I made to leave him, cross the room. “I actually needed to speak to you.”
“Awh,” I said, smiling. “Girl problems, Indigo?”
“As if! No, actually, I was told to give this to you.” And from his robe pockets- also marked by the signs of a very messy, if not very much enjoyed dinner- Indigo drew a pristine white envelope, with emerald ink that glittered in the soft amber lighting of the candles dotted around the room.
“Thanks,” I murmured, turning the envelope over in my fingers. It was sealed with the striking seal of Slughorn’s club emblem; a slug, similarly metallic in colour, with a crown perched on its head. It was meant to be ironic, slightly funny, but it was too perfectly reflective of Slughorn as a man to laugh at.
I had never been invited to the Slug Club before. Aspen had gone once or twice as someone’s date throughout the years, and I knew that Albus, of course, was a regular attendee. Mikey, too, was a member. I took Mikey’s zest for academia and Quidditch talent for granted, but of course, he was the pin up boy for the Slug Club, wasn’t he? Handsome, gifted both academically and on the pitch, a major suck up to the Professors, if I’m to be honest… Of course he would be going to whatever was inside this envelope.
I didn’t notice Indigo leave me; I even forgot about pursuing Mikey. I slumped down on the arm of an armchair Aspen was sat in, merrily talking to Oscar and Declan Ainsley, half-heartedly replying to her cheery welcome.
Dearest Miss Wilderson,
It is with great pleasure I request your presence at my welcome back party this upcoming Friday.
Dress code is evening elegant. Canapés and champagne will be served from seven until eleven.
H. E. F. Slughorn
“Shut the fuck up,” said Oscar, as I passed the letter around. “No way did you get invited to a Slug Club party!”
“It looks like I did,” I said, crossing my arms and snorting at his indignance. Oscar had been desperate to go to one since Second Year, when he overheard two year above girls estimate they must be the most exclusive parties in wizarding society.
“She’s Quidditch Captain,” said Declan, counting with his fingers. “Her father’s a Prophet editor, even if it is just the Sports pages. And, of course, everyone knows how besotted Potter was with her last year.”
“He did try and get James to introduce me last year,” I recalled, letting my legs swing against the navy velvet of the armchair.
But James detested the Slug Club. Slughorn, himself, James liked enough; he was always good at Potions, got an Exceeded Expectations in its NEWT, and spoke favourably about the walrus-like Professor when brought up in conversation. But the Slug Club was a different story.
“It’s wrong,” James had said, shaking his head as he received the second invitation of the month, this time by owl. I remember this conversation like it was yesterday. We had skipped lunch, sat outside the tower on a sunny May afternoon, his left hand lazily playing with the hair by my temples as I lounged in his arms, feeling the early summer sun warm my bare legs, the green grass underneath tickle them slightly. “It’s exclusive, it’s archaic. I’m not naive-“ and he spat the word out like it was a particularly bad insult, which made me wonder if it had been used in such a way towards him “-I know this kind of stuff is inevitable in the outside, but for God’s sake… Why bring it into Hogwarts? It’s not even like its based on merit, or hard work, or a justifiable trait… He’s invited only those lucky enough to be born with a surname or born with a particularly attractive talent.”
I agreed with James at the time, and as I repeated his sentiment to the small circle, I realised how much I still did. But I also silently acknowledged that my curiousity would inevitably lead me to his office this coming Friday, I knew that for a fact.
“And yet you’re still going to go,” drawled Oscar, dramatically. “Well. At least we can have fun dressing you up. Oh, Effy- I know you! You’re so going, you champagne socialist. I know you, dummy.”
That night, as Aspen and I brushed our teeth, she faced me, her mouth still slightly white at the edges from toothpaste and a hasty rinse.
“What?” I asked, my mouth full.
“I know you too,” said Aspen, smirking innocently as she mimicked Oscar. “And I know you know Mikey’ll be going too.”
“Hadn’t even occurred to me- oi!”
She laughed as I looked at her in mock horror, my bed tee-shirt slightly wet from the water she had decided to throw at me in my weak attempt at a defence, and laughed even harder when my attempt to get her back ended up on the mirror besides us.
“Oh yes,” said Ruddy Walcott, smirking triumphantly at Poppy Atticus, who had just walked into the greenhouse. “The famous four are back, baby, and better than ever!”
Poppy sent a terrified look in my direction, stood around a table in Greenhouse 4 beside Louis Weasley, and I gazed back at her, having been there for five minutes already, my defeat evident.
“Don’t question it,” Louis chirped. “Just accept it, Atticus. You’ve got yourself another whoooole academic year of Louddy.”
This time, it was my turn to stare at the duo in astonishment. “You’ve given yourselves a couple name?”
“It’ll catch on,” said Ruddy, confidently. “You know, Atticus, I am really not appreciating your lack of excitement.”
“I was so set on getting an Exceeds in this subject,” she muttered mournfully, reluctantly taking up a stance by Ruddy, opposite me. Her trademark strawberry blonde hair glimmered in the morning sun seeping through the greenhouse’s glass, and I noticed she was darker than usual, an exotic tan making her hair appear even more vibrant.
“Who needs an Exceeds when you’ve got top quality banter?” Louis wanted to know.
“But seriously,” said Ruddy, his voice lowering. “Atticus, Wilderson… don’t question it… No way has Longbottom let the four of us share a table deliberately.”
“You mean let the two of you share a table deliberately.”
“Not necessarily,” Louis said brightly. “As I recall, it was Atticus who blew up the bowl of unicorn infusion last term.” And Poppy blushed at the memory of it. All you had to do was gently fucking warm it! I had howled, only slightly aware of the whole class turning towards us in amusement.
Jesus Christ, Atticus, Ruddy had said. I don’t know whether to be annoyed or impressed.
“Why do you want to be with us so much anyway?” Atticus insisted, as Longbottom entered the room. “I assumed you’d prefer to be with the Gryffindor girls.”
Ruddy looked visibly upset, and my heart melted ever so slightly. Ruddy Walcott was notorious for Quidditch fouls, hardcore partying and the claimed sole owner of an eight-pack in the year, but I was forever an advocate for the softy hidden within. Well within.
“You’re our friends,” he said, glumly.
“I think the real question here is,” began Louis, whispering as Longbottom addressed the class from the front. “What on earth is going on between you and my cousin?”
My eyes widened in panic, before I realised he was addressing Poppy about Albus, not me about James. I stared at my potions partner with fresh persepective; had we both snogged the same brothers that night? Flashing visions of Poppy walking down the aisle with me by her side, a sister in law, standing beside her suddenly appeared, and they vanished as quickly as they came. I wasn’t dating James. I wasn’t going to marry James. And as if Poppy and Albus could continue this charade for another year, let alone into marriage.
“Nothing,” she hissed, and Ruddy’s melancholic face shifted to one of intense interest.
“I saw you two snog at his party last week…”
“That was nothing…”
“Hey, Poppy,” I said, keeping my voice down, trying my hardest to reign in any excitement that could seep in and give me away, for I had had the best idea. God, I was good at thinking of other people. This was a great feeling; no wonder others loved it so much. “Want to come to this Slug Club party with me?”
She turned from facing Longbottom, and looked at me, clearly surprised. “Are you sure?”
“Oh…” she said, an expression of incredulity still upon her face, but she started to smile. Al was right; when Poppy Atticus smiled, she truly was beautiful. “Oh! Effy, that’ll be so cool. You sure?”
“Since when have you been going to the Slug Club?” Louis wanted to know.
“Louis and I got kicked out Fifth Year,” Ruddy contributed. “Haven’t been invited back since.”
“Now there’s a surprise.”
Will Louis and Ruddy ever grow up? The best thing about graduating Hogwarts has got to be not being responsible for the duo over Quidditch. AND Louis had the nerve to send me a Howler over not making him nor Ruddy Quidditch Captain! At least one could never accuse them of being inconsistent; they’re probably the most stable thing in my life right now. That could be interpreted as morbid sounding, but I mean it in a funny way. Truly. I am genuinely thrilled by all this change. Freddie’s still holidaying in Bali- doing what exactly, I have no clue, he only realised it wasn’t a city in Brazil a few months ago- and Alfie’s elbow deep in Healer school, so despite sharing an apartment with the latter and being family with the former, I’ve barely seen either of them. And I suppose it shouldn’t be as great as it is, but truly Wilderson, it’s rather liberating, and I think I’m only feeling this positive because of this Law Enforcement training. I love this law internship. It feels like- God, this sounds so cliche as I write it- it feels like I’ve found exactly what I want to commit my life to. How cliche! When did I become so old? I fucking hate myself.
But it’s fascinating. It’s insane. There’s ten of us on the course, five of the others aren’t even British but American, so they have no idea what a Potter is, how to even pronounce Weasley, and my partner- Katie, one of the Americans, really cool- and I have been assigned a murder case of a suspected neo-Death Eater. This stuff is so, so insane. And these people are great, the coolest.
But- what about you? Yeah, Seventh Year’s intense, but it’s crazy fun. I’m jealous you get to go through it for a whole year. Let me know how Quidditch try outs go. And more importantly, what you think of the prefects’ bathroom. I regret never taking you inside
“Effy,” said Aspen, startled. I heard her drop something- probably her bag- and looked up at her alarmed face as she rushed over to my bed. “What’s wrong?”
For I was crying, and I truly never cry. I just couldn’t help it; fat, hot tears suddenly overwhelmed my eyes, and spilled over, spilled all down my face, trickled down my cheeks in tiny little rivers, they were so dense. I could feel the heat of them, feel my cheeks flush, and feel a heaviness in my head that only grew in weight as the tears kept on coming.
“Oh babe,” she said, bringing my head to her shoulder, stroking my hair with both hands. I could feel my wet tears dampen her school shirt, and I let out an almost animalistic whine into the fabric, felt the sound ripple into the skin below the cotton. “Oh babe.”
“Aspen…” As one of her hands left my hair, I heard the sound of parchment being picked up beside me. I listened to her read James’ letter, knowing the near impossibility of making out his handwriting without being used to it, knowing the words she would especially struggle to interpret I had read the letter so intensely, so often.
A long minute passed, and she moved my face from her shoulder, cupping my cheeks as she looked at me comfortingly. “It’s a nice letter, Eff.”
“He’s… Oh, Aspen,” I said, sighing, my throat still thick and my head still heavy but at least the tears had started to subside- “He’s over me.”
“No, he is,” I said, and tears came rushing to my eyes again. “Oh god- I cannot believe I’m crying…”
“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t at some point.”
“He’s… he’s moved on. And- and- and I’m happy for him, I truly am.”
“I know, babe.”
“But…” And I realised this was exactly what was wrong. “But he’s an adult. He’s got an internship he’s crazy about, he’s got this Katie girl, he’s got a whole future ahead of him. He’s got Alfie, he’s got Freddie coming back in a month, but he doesn’t even miss them… And- and- you know- he probably- I know he doesn’t miss me either-”
“Why do you think that?”
“He’s moved on,” I said, looking up at her, my vision blurred with the wetness. “He has, As! And I’m still stuck in this castle, still wearing uniform, still getting detentions.. And he’s got a career, new friends, a new apartment…”
“Did you read this line he crossed out at the end?”
“I regret never taking you inside,” I repeated, the words etched permanently into my memory. “That’s.. it’s just so James. I miss him ridiculous amounts.”
“I do. I can’t help it. I miss him, I miss everything about him,” I said, speaking too fast to be even slightly coherent, but Aspen nodded along in support regardless. “I miss his easy, lopsided grin- not his smirk, but his smile- I miss his ramblings, the way he could talk for a whole half hour, get so lost in a subject he was passionate about his eyes would glaze over… I miss his hand actions, his messy hair, the way he would ruffle it at the back whenever he was nervous… I miss his smell. Cigarettes and strawberries and clean laundry…”
Aspen rubbed my back, and I exhaled, my lightheadedness starting to overwhelm me. “I’m exhausted.”
“We have History of Magic next,” she said softly. I had excused myself from the breakfast table to read the letter in private, I was glad I did, but her words shocked me; I completely forgot lessons in general existed, I was so caught up in this letter. “But I can write your notes for you.”
I looked at her kind face, and mulled the proposal over.
“No,” I said, slowly. “No… Thanks, Aspen, but no. I’m coming down.”
“Are you sure? I-”
“Totally,” I said, getting up and grabbing my wand on my way to the mirror. I performed a few beauty spells on my red, blotchy face, and only turned back to Aspen when satisfied with my appearance.
Outside, the sky was a perfect, vivid, late summer blue, scattered with only the fewest of clouds. I had been asked four times about Quidditch try outs, and we were only two full days in. I had an appointment with Flitwick over career prospects this afternoon, and then a whole year assembly with Sinatra in the evening. I had a Quidditch Captain meeting the next day. And then I also had a Slug Club party, a final attempt to set up Albus and Poppy, and a not-so final attempt to befriend Mikey. I was busy, I was engaged, I was fine.
“Do you want me to help you write a reply?” Aspen asked, as we left the common room, and made our way down to the History of Magic ward.
“No, thanks,” I said, beaming at my best friend.
“You are going to reply, right… Effy?”
“Oh, for sure,” I said, brightly.
I was so not going to reply.
I told myself after reading James’ letter that I would submerge myself in activity, put myself in the position of being constantly busy, and I did, I really did. I threw myself into work, doing essays the day they were set, rather than the day they were due; I let dinners go on for as long as they could, often spending the night lazily discussing politics with Al and Scorpius over finished dessert plates, long after everyone else staggered up to bed; I made an effort to be friendly to the First Years, I wrote to my parents, and I scheduled Quidditch try outs for the Saturday morning, right after a meeting chaired by Madame Hooch for the Captains of this year.
I walked into her office- I didn’t even know she had an office, but she did, along the same corridor as Filch’s room- and there sat Eve Feltham, a lanky, green-eyed Fifth Year boy I recognised to one of Gryffindor’s Chasers and Chad Riley, the very chiselled, very handsome Slytherin Keeper in the year below me.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said, and Hooch dismissed my apology with a brisk wave of her hand.
“Right,” she said. “Let’s get started, then, shall we?”
It transpired that Scorpius spoke with his parents and decided, since he wasn’t to pursue a Quidditch career- and I had never met Draco Malfoy, only heard of him through Scorpius, Aspen and Al’s accounts, but I couldn’t imagine the esteemed Minister of Finance condone his only son being a sportsman- it would make more sense to not continue being Captain for Seventh Year, use the time to focus on his studies.
“Is he still playing?” I wanted to know. Scorpius was his House’s Seeker, and a very good one.
“Yes,” said Chad, answering before Hooch could. “Thank god. Seekers are the hardest to replace, I’ve heard.”
Madame Hooch, humourless as always, barked at us for getting off topic, her gaze lingering on my face longer than the other three. I suspected she still didn’t forgive me for not having a substitute Keeper and technically ruining the much anticipated Quidditch Finals after Josh Wood was injured.
“Nine am?” cried the boy of said injury himself, watching me flick my wand as I raised the poster announcing tryouts to a place right in the centre of the Common Room noticeboard. “That’s… that’s…”
“So early!” said Indigo Coates, running up and joining Josh Wood behind me.
I turned around to face the two once I was satisfied with the notice’s positioning.
“Sorry,” I said, sheepishly. “But the Hufflepuffs got the after lunch booking, and I didn’t want to wait until Sunday. I want to get straight into practise. We only have Danny to replace.”
“Are Liam and Mikey still playing, then?” Josh asked.
Indigo answered before I could. “Liam said he probably will.” I smirked. Liam threatened to not bother, he was so annoyed at not being made Captain, but I knew he wouldn’t keep to his word. He loved the game too much; and besides, he knew I would need him for advice on strategy.
“What about Mikey?”
My smirk dropped. I had no idea if Mikey would turn up to practises or not. I hadn’t spoken to Mikey since the Hogwarts Express, and it had been a solid five days since then. I didn’t even know if I would be able to speak to him at the Slug Club tonight.
For it was Friday, the day of the Slug Club party, and Albus loved my idea, he was so elated by it he picked up and hugged me, right in the middle of the forever busy Charms corridor. Sometimes, when the guilt of not replying to James started to seep in- in the moments I couldn’t be busy, and I had to think about how gutted I still was- I reminded myself of this favour I was doing Albus.
“It’s great,” he enthused. “If Poppy goes as your partner, she’ll have to spend time with me- there are only, like, ten members in our year anyway- and she’ll see me in a tux! My cousin Dom said girls are weak for a guy in a tux.”
I smiled. “Very, very true.”
You know who looks great in a tux? James looks great in a tux. Your dirtiest, most intimate thoughts feature him in a tux.
“Thanks, Eff,” he said, rubbing my forearm in gratitude, a big smile on his face. “You’re the best.”
“Totally, totally fine, Al.”
“And hey- how’re you doing? With James?”
His face went from gleeful to concerned within a second, and I felt guilt rise up in my throat.
“Um… Good, I suppose…”
He tilted his head at me, and smiled sympathetically. Students rushed past us, and I remembered I couldn’t be late for Defence, that would make it the second lesson in a row.
“I’m sorry, Eff,” he said, gently. “I… I wonder if I was, perhaps, wrong, in what I said to you at my party. About the two of you.”
“He’s just never cared for a girl the way he does with you,” he said. “He’s… He was on the verge of falling totally, utterly in love, and I-”
“Al,” I said, and my throat felt thick once again this week, as my vision blurred with the threatening onslaught of tears. “It’s fine… You were totally right… Look, I’ve got to go.”
He opened his mouth, as if he was about to say something, but then closed it again.
“You were right,” I said. “To insist on James and I not continuing. Clean slate. It’s less… painful, this way.”
He watched my face, and I swallowed.
“I’m glad you think so,” he said, his tone sweet and gentle, and I told him I really did have to go, bye Al, see you at the Slug Club party tonight.
I had told Poppy Atticus I would meet her by the Quidditch trophy cabinets, located approximately in the middle of the Ravenclaw tower and the Hufflepuff quarters, but- obviously- Oscar and Aspen had other plans.
“Poppy,” I said, startled, walking into my dormitory that night. Class finish early on a Friday, and I had felt restless, the late summer weather of gorgeous cool breezes and alluring blue skies tempting me outside onto the Quidditch pitch for a fly about. Despite showering in the changing rooms, I still felt flushed from the activity, but in a decidedly better mood from earlier on in the day. My hair was wild and tousled from the wind, my cheeks were still red, and my fingers were already starting to callous. I was, in other words, in my element.
“Hey Effy,” Poppy said, cheerfully, looking up from where she was perched on Aspen’s bed, my blonde best friend herself walking out of the bathroom as if on cue, her arms carrying enough cosmetics and toiletries to stock a small pharmacist.
“Effy!” said Aspen, pleasantly. “Where’ve you been?”
“I decided to go for a fly-”
“Classic,” said Oscar’s voice, and his head popped up from behind Aspen’s bed, by her chest of clothes. “Thanks for the wax strips, babe.”
“You know you can just use magic,” I said, looking from Oscar to Aspen to Poppy, feeling the confusion expressed upon my face. Oscar and Aspen were perfectly friendly to Poppy, but that didn’t explain the latter’s presence in the dormitory.
Aspen caught onto my bewilderment. “We invited Poppy to come up and get ready with us for this Slug Club party tonight,” she informed me, brightly. “The whole fun of the party is getting ready, after all.”
“Cool,” I said, smiling at Poppy.
“Hope its okay with you-”
“Poppy! Obviously,” I said, sliding down onto Aspen’s bed and perching beside her. “I’m just grateful you agreed to come as my date, to be honest. I’m scared shitless of this party.”
Which was very true. I had no idea to expect; Slug Club parties were the stuff of legend, and outside of any schemes to finally unite Poppy with Albus, I was genuinely glad to have her company. Poppy and I were never especially close, but she was funny and sharp, witty and- best of all- very good at complaining. I admire that in a young woman.
Oscar and Aspen were, of course, slightly (very) offended not to be invited, but the duo totally understood when I explained my plan. Aspen asked if there was an ulterior motive behind it, to which I replied I had no idea what she was talking about. And she said, you know exactly what I’m talking about, Effy Wilderson.
“You think if you’re the one to get Poppy with Albus, it’ll bring you in even closer with Albus, and therefore give you more relevance in his- and therefore James’ life,” she said.
“Hadn’t even occurred to me.”
“You replied to his letter yet?”
“Yes,” I lied, and she nodded, satisfied.
I remembered her theory as I sat with her, Poppy and Oscar in the middle of our dormitory floor, Poppy shaving her legs and Oscar flicking through the latest Witch Weekly, only semi-interested in the magazine, occasionally waving his wand to change the music playing beside us on the dormitory’s gramophone. Aspen and Poppy were discussing nail polish shades, and as I moisturised my limbs, I took the opportunity to mull over her words.
Was I doing all of this to get back to James? I didn’t think so; Al was one of my closest friends, and I truly did want him and Poppy to get together. Not only out of loyalty to Albus, but because I knew, I knew Poppy liked him back; I recognised those elongated glances across the Great Hall, that flushing of cheek whenever he spoke to her, her predisposition to argue with him over anything, everything, just because it was the quickest way to gain his notoriously short attention for as long as possible.
“Effy?” asked Aspen, clicking her fingers in my face. “Earth to Wilderson-”
“Sorry,” I said, stifling a yawn. “Crazy tired.”
“Yeah, well, you’re the idiot who decided to go for a two hour fly only hours before this party,” she said, sniggering slightly, and Poppy smiled at me empathetically.
“Eve’s the exact same,” she said, referring to her best friend, the Hufflepuff Captain. “Crazy about it, been talking non-stop about scouts since we got back.”
“Oh babe,” said Oscar, mournfully. “I am so sorry you have to go through that. It’s bad enough with Effy, Mikey and Liam talking about it occasionally…”
And the evening went on like that. Poppy was great; she had the three of us in hysterics over her tales of Hufflepuff gossip, and when Jasmine Azalea popped in an hour later, her and Poppy did some interpretive dancing routine that had Oscar rolling on the floor, tears streaming down my face, and Aspen remarking what a good day it was to be wearing a sanitary towel.
“Right,” said Oscar, after Jasmine and I had concluded up a freestyle rapping competition, in which we decided that there was no winner, everyone’s a winner when they have access to Teddy Oliver’s face daily, “Poppy! Effy! It’s half past eight- you’re pushing fashionably late, even by my standards, darlings-”
“I am so not in the mood for this,” I wheezed, still laughing from the evening’s antics. Jasmine, beside me, was still clutching her stomach, lying on the dormitory floor.
But Oscar was right; Poppy and I had to go, no matter how much I was enjoying the impromptu girls’ night in. I gazed mournfully, enviously, at my three friends lounging between mine and Aspen’s beds, their robes and ties long discarded for tracksuit bottoms and hair scrunchies. I was especially jealous of Aspen, propped up by three pillows, the day’s make up off and her Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes Self-Swarming Socks on, flashing an obnoxious pink and orange as if to tell the whole wide world that her toes were nice and toasty. As opposed to mine, pressed uncomfortably in a pair of black stilettos I hadn’t worn for years.
Poppy and I didn’t know how to interrupt evening elegant, the stated dress code. Evening elegant… Let’s take a break, Wilderson… Let’s stay friends, Wilderson… The year had been dominated by relative statements, and tonight clearly proved no different. I decided on my mossy green slip dress from the Prophet’s Christmas ball, knowing that if I was too overdressed I could just hide in Al’s blazer.
Poppy wore a similar dress, except it was black, jet black, and had long sleeves, as opposed to the bare shouldered features of my own attire. It was also shorter, and her heels were longer- an achievement in itself, as my heels weren’t even slightly modest- making her tanned, shapely legs look even longer, as the two of us crossed the Common Room and made our way to Slughorn’s office.
“You look amazing,” I found myself saying to her for what must have been the tenth time that night. I was mildly aware of the element of envy that peppered my words.
“Thanks, Eff,” she said, squeezing my arm. I could tell she was nervous.
“Dressed up for anyone in particular?” I asked, hoping I sounded a lot more subtle than I felt.
She blushed. She full on, almost comically, went bright, vivid, wholesome red.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“Come on, Poppy. Pop? Pops?”
“Sure,” I said, weaving my arm through hers, as our heels clicked against the stone floors of the emptied Hogwarts corridors. “Does his name begin with A and end in S?”
“Why the automatic jump to the male pronoun, Eff?” she said, teasingly. “Never took you for the heteronormative type… Thought that was more Ruddy and Louis territory.”
I laughed. “Don’t act like you’re not secretly, secretly, delighted by having them for Herbology partners again this year.”
“Oh no, totally,” she said, grinning at me. “But half the fun’s making the fuss.”
“Like with a certain someone who’s name begins with an A and ends in an S?”
She turned to me, and her smile faltered slightly. “I don’t know, you know.”
“We don’t have to discuss it if you don’t want to.”
“No, I-” she paused, and I looked at her pensive expression, chewing on her tongue as she mulled it over. “I’m not going to lie, I… I don’t know. Something just clicked this summer.”
“At the Quidditch World Cup. We were talking, talking like people, actual friends- not like I was just another obstacle to unlock on some quest, you know?- and I just kind of realised- I really do like him. But it’s that. I like him when he treats me normally- that’s when I find myself truly fancying him- but when he does- it feels like he doesn’t like me back?”
I nodded, knowing what she meant.
“Like when we had a discussion the morning after he got with Ophelia Nott. A nice, long discussion about Muggle politics. And only a half hour it finished did I learn that he had snogged Ophelia the night before- I don’t know, its like some twisted paradox. I like him when he doesn’t seem to like me.”
“He’s never not liked you though,” I countered, as we turned the corridor towards Slughorn’s office. “He’s been crazy about you since the beginning of the year.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s all a bit of a mess. Anyway. Looks like we’re here.”
I turned from her to the door in front of us, and sure enough, we were.
I now understand what you’ve always said about Slughorn’s parties. I would say the Slug Club in general, but I think tonight- his welcome back party- was more an initiation of sorts, an interactive catalogue of the Hogwarts student body for him to browse through with a pineapple martini in one hand and a Cuban cigar in the other, a night for him to decide who he was going to welcome into his collection this academic year and who wouldn’t quite make the cut.
I don’t suppose you remember that feeling, that long moment right after the Quidditch captain tells you and the twenty other tryout hopefuls to fly down, right before the Quidditch captain makes the announcement? How weird to think of you as a nervous little second year in that position. How weird to think I was still within my first week at Hogwarts, probably having my first flying lesson with Hooch that same week. How weird to think my brother stood on the same pitch as you as a Fourth Year. I wonder if he had any idea he was going to replace Bones as Captain the following year. I wonder if you had any idea you were to replace him as Captain three years later. I wonder if you’re aware the two of us are two of only a handful of Quidditch players that were successful in their first tryout? That, what, something ridiculous like eighty percent of players get rejected in their second year? These are all statistics flying through my head as I pen this letter to you, on this rainy early morning, totally aware Ravenclaw tryouts are in a few hours. I’ve only been at Hogwarts for a few days now and I have so much to tell you…
But I’ve gotten off track. This is why all villains should be taught to avoid monologuing. They probably have classes on it in Durmstrang. Monologuing should be part of the Defence Against the Dark Arts syllabus, for it is so easy to get off topic once you have sole control of the conversation, so easy to get lost in a verbal world, so easy to forget who you’re talking to. Hi James. Let me get back to the Slughorn Party. RIGHT. Yeah- so. I only mentioned Quidditch tryouts to highlight what anxiety feels like, what it feels like to try your hardest and to be totally, wholly insecure if its good enough. That was the case for second year Quidditch tryouts; it was the anti-case for the Slughorn party. I don’t want to be in it. I want to be as far removed from it as possible, like Nearly Headless Nick to a Cecelia Warback reunion tour.
Albus warned me the second Poppy Atticus (oh yes… I’ll tell you about that later) and I walked in that Slughorn was on the prowess. Back straight, remember to order drinks with pineapple flavouring, kiss him on both cheeks, distance yourself from student politics. Laugh heartily (but not too heartily; I am a woman, after all) when someone mentions the nuisance of the recent goblin strikes. Don’t eat too much food, and above all, flatter him once every ten minutes. And you’re in, he said with a smirk.
What are you drinking? I replied, eyeing his blue cocktail. Definitely not pineapple flavoured, I concluded.
Of course, Al didn’t struggle to follow my thought process. I’m a Potter, he replied easily. I could be a raging Communist for all Slughorn cared. After James graduated with a grand total of two appearances at a Slug do, Slughorn was eager to round up anything related to the eldest Potter.
So. I suppose that explains my invite.
I immediately left Poppy and Albus to it, telling them I saw a year below Hufflepuff I had been tutoring in Astronomy, wanted to check up on his summer. They seemed almost relieved. I then realised that something as simple, as small as a Slughorn party invite so perfectly brought to surface the house differences between the four of us- me, you, Albus and Poppy Atticus and I was so excited to tell you about my epiphany.
You, the Gryffindor, would be too stubborn in your dogma, your principles, to ever return back to the Slug Club, itself a sign of bravery; conversely Albus, the Slytherin, saw the benefit of a Slug Club membership, especially if he was to become a journalist. The Prophet, obviously, is such an old boys’ club. And that leaves Poppy and myself; whilst I wholeheartedly agreed with your sentiment, I was too curious to simply not go, and Poppy, after I invited her- and after Louis and Ruddy (who are STILL OUR HERBOLOGY PARTNERS) warned her of the sleaziness of the event- decided she wanted to make her own mind up about it, wanted to give it a fair go, declared it wasn’t fair play to decline once Slughorn had accepted her as my plus one.
And I suppose now I should tell you about Poppy and Albus. I-
For the first time since I started writing, I stopped to pause, and it took me a full moment to acknowledge the throbbing pain in my left hand from writing so quickly, so feverishly.
It was four in the morning, and the crescent moon hung in a star-studded, jet black sky, spread across the grounds below me, stars extending all the way down to the Forbidden Forest horizon, the moon’s rippling reflection upon the Black Lake twinkling up to our dormitory window. Moonlight flooded our new dormitory; we were Seventh Years, and for the first time since being Sorted, the six of us Dormitory B Ravenclaw girls found ourselves united, united in our delight at our new living arrangements. Our new room was big, bigger than any other dormitory we had experienced. Aspen revelled in the bigger beds, the increase in floor space; no more confusing my clothes with Nancy Cameron-Scott, she cackled triumphantly, and the two girls hugged in excitement, whilst the rest of us rolled our eyes. Aspen and Nancy were so messy it was almost unbearable, and their mess had persisted since First Year.
But what I loved most about our new, Seventh Year dormitory were the windows. Last year the windows only offered views of the Quidditch Pitch, the year below that, the main courtyard and the Transfiguration ward, where you could almost make out the Gryffindor tower. This year, however, offered half of Hogwarts to our room; the Lake, the Forest, Hogsmeade village if you sat by Liza Pacino and Nancy Cameron Scott’s side. I was thrilled, I was ecstatic. Here we were, perched at the top of the second highest tower of the school, and I felt something not quite the same, but definitely akin to how I felt when flying, flying high above Hogwarts, feeling such a part and yet so assuredly apart from something huge.
It was this feeling of euphoria that drew me to the window beside my glorious, gloriously big bed after the ball. I was so full of thoughts, still soaring on the adrenaline of the night, I placed myself down by the window- high heels, ball dress, make up, the whole works still on- performed a quick, silent warming spell, for the window panes were cool, and started writing.
I knew it was going to be to James before I even reached for my quill. I still hadn’t replied to his last letter and slowly remembered why, as I stared over the words so hurriedly etched onto the parchment.
My eagerness to relay the entire evening to him was so juvenile I could feel my cheeks heat up. I was like a magical five year old telling their mother all about their first day at muggle primary school. How cool mum, muggles write with something called a pen, not a quill! You were right mum, muggles really are just like us!
And- and this is perhaps, the most embarrassing of it all- what was I going to do after that paragraph on Poppy and Albus? Tell him of my kiss with Mikey?
Oh. Absolutely not. The first thought that raced through my head once Mikey cupped my head and placed his chips upon mine- after, of course, wow! Mikey is kissing me! And neither of us are even that drunk!- was, admittedly now that’ll teach James for moving on from me.
His kiss was both a complete surprise and a totally underwhelming expectation. Slughorn wanted to introduce the two of us, his shiny Ravenclaw seventh years- Elizabeth Wilderson, house Quidditch Captain and last girlfriend of James Potter, Michael Lancaster, top in his class at his Healer school internship programme this summer (and how I winced at the two back to back accomplishments)- to Terry Boot, a Ravenclaw alumni, and after a relatively boring conversation, in which Mr Boot excused himself to find, quite frankly, better company, it was just Mikey and me.
“Hey,” I said, turning from Mr Boot’s retreating body towards the Healer prodigy. “I didn’t know about your Healer school internship success… Congratulations.”
He shrugged in response, his eyes scanning the room for somebody else, anybody else, to talk to.
“I mean, if I was Oscar, I would say mazel tov, but of course, I haven’t spent the summer claiming to be Jewish.”
That garnered a snort from Mikey. He looked so, so good. Unlike Albus, he didn’t wear a tie, but instead a jet black suit, a crisp white shirt, the close shaved style of his hair still a mild shock to me whenever I glanced at it, his eyes as dark blue as ever.
“Oh come on,” I said, as he turned to me. “You can leave the Quidditch team, you can reschedule your classes as to avoid sharing one with me- and we have a lot together this year, Mikey, I glanced at your timetable before giving it to Declan to pass down the table to you-”
“Of course you did-”
“In fact, you can even attempt to move house, although where you’ll go I don’t quite know, you apparent Healer prodigy.” And that earned an emergence of a smirk upon his lips, a softening of his furrowed eyebrows, a loosening of his bored expression. “But come on. You can’t avoid me forever. This is ridiculous. I don’t even know what you’re avoiding me for-”
And that’s when I blew it. His face transformed to mildly entertained to an expression of half disgust, half awe.
“Are you joking?” he snarled. I opened my mouth to continue talking, but he shook his head at me and walked away.
I walked after him. It was a party, it was a very formal, classy party, almost identical in tone to the Daily Prophet Christmas Ball I had been made to attend for years now. It was not some wild, trashy common room bash and confrontations were to be avoided at all costs, I knew that, of course I did.
But I refused to let Mikey slip from my fingers of friendship like that. Amid the humoured, pleasant murmurings, the occasional cackle of laughter, and the gentle, delightful sound of the goblin string quartet performing by the bar, I stormed after him, smiling at various students I recognised.
“Mikey,” I hissed, grabbing his blazer.
“Stop,” he hissed back, the two of us whispering, like conniving children bored at a wedding dinner. “And let go. This is fucking Delacour-”
“Fucking Delacour?” I repeated, not even attempting to hide the look of disgust upon my face. I must have voiced my disdain at his apparent and uncharacteristic materialism louder than I had hoped, for two adults beside us turned to face me.
“Delacour,” I repeated, sliding a pleasant smile upon my face. “One of my favourite wizarding designer houses, I could not be happier they decided to expand from robes to muggle clothing… A clever approach, if not very ambitious, to appeal to a younger generation of adults working within the muggle world.”
The woman beside me nodded in agreement. “Nicely put.” And with that, she resumed her conversation with the older man beside her. I would later learn she was the CEO of Delacour & Co couture, but that was the last thing I was concerned with.
“Fucking Delacour?” I hissed, this time quieter. “Are you joking?”
He looked visibly uncomfortable. “Its been a long three months, Effy.”
“You- you hate materialism,” I spluttered. “You mock Oscar and Aspen for it constantly. Like, you’re no Heath Tomlinson, but still- like, you’ll always be the guy with the best broomstick in the whole of Ravenclaw tower, but Delacour- I don’t think even Al is wearing Delacour-”
My rambling mess of words had ceased to make any sense and I stood there, gazing at Mikey, the reality of three months of silence suddenly hitting me, hitting me like a ton of bricks.
He sighed. “Want to get a drink?”
“Yeah,” I said, slightly dazed. Delacour! Delacour & Co, a label so expensive, so elusive not even Ophelia Nott could convince her father to buy her a Delacour watch for her seventeenth birthday.
So we went to the bar, a process lengthened by the various smiles and nods and greetings given to various students, professors and outside guests that caught our eye. It struck me, as Mikey ordered two straight up martinis, that I hadn’t seen Poppy since we had arrived, and Albus only once the entire night, when he tried to give me tips on impressing Slughorn, hiccuping in his drunken state.
“I hate martinis,” I muttered, pulling a face as I sipped. “It’s just gin with an olive. Is being an adult pretending to like martinis? God, and I accuse Louis and Ruddy of having maturity problems-”
“What’s wrong with martinis?” Mikey wanted to know, sipping his with such understated sophistication I was wondering if my attraction to Mikey was an long harboured attraction to old Mikey or a newfound attraction to new Mikey, and when did Mikey become Mikey, and should I start calling him Michael.
“God. I can’t drink this,” I said, as we perched on the bar stools, and he raised an eyebrow in amusement as I attempted another sip. “What cocktails do I know of- oh, God, I didn’t realise how bad my relationship with alcohol was until now.”
“To be honest, the only cocktail I know the name of is martini,” Mikey admitted, and this allusion to old Mikey made me giggle.
“Do you think I can ask for cheap firewhiskey sold for practically illegal sums of money by Ruddy and Louis with some pumpkin juice alongside? Or is that too…” I laughed as Mikey laughed, attempting to continue on with my joke. “…Juvenile?”
“Come on, Eff,” he said, the alcohol easing him up a bit. “We stopped relying on Ruddy and Louis for firewhiskey last year.”
“Oh yes, when Liam finally turned seventeen and when he finally got served in Hogsmeade.”
“I’ll never forget the look on that- that cashier’s face,” said Mikey, his eyes creased with laughter, “when Liam straight up asked for eight one litre bottles of firewhiskey, and the cashier asked if he was buying on behalf of others, and- and-“
“And Liam said, no, he’s just Irish!” I said, almost wheezing with laughter at the memory of it, at the memory of Mikey, Aspen, Oscar and I tilting our heads from our respective aisles of observance as we all prayed for Liam to be served as much as he desired.
The goblin quartet band changed tone of music, and suddenly the sound of saxophone erupted within the high ceilinged, wooden and gold, glass walled room. People around us started dancing in the only way appropriate for people wearing suits and pearls, listening to goblins play swing music, and I turned from the scene before us to the house elf behind the bar.
“Two long island iced teas,” I said, remembering the name of the Muggle cocktail my mother always ordered.
“I’m fine with my martini,” said Mikey, grinning at me.
“You hate it just as much as I do,” I said, leaning in towards him, scooping up the olive in his glass with my pinky finger, and watching his eyes follow my finger from his empty glass, into the air, towards me, towards my parting lips.
“Right up, missus,” the house elf squeaked. I beamed at him, as much for Mikey as for the house elf, and knocked my glass slightly against his.
“What are we toasting?” he murmured.
“Your new haircut. Your Healer prodigy status. You wearing fucking Delacour,” I said, dropping my voice in an attempt to impersonate Mikey.
He laughed, and took a sip of his drink. “Where do I begin-”
“Chronological order, obviously-”
“It was a figure of speech, you loser, obviously I know to start from the beginning-”
“You’re really beginning to annoy me-”
“You’re really beginning to annoy me-”
“Effy,” he wheezed, laughing. “Stop it. Fine. So from the beginning.”
And I listened. I sipped, he sipped, and gradually our sips turned into swigs, and our swigs into gulps, and people flitted to and from the bar in such anonymity, in their fancy dress and glittering jewels and graceful taps of heels upon the wooden floor below in my intoxicated head they resembled butterflies of some exotic, wildly attractive kind, fluttering around Mikey and myself like we were the only two humans in the place.
So when we reluctantly left our fourth drinks of the night by the bar, and he slipped my arm within his- for mutual support, he assured me- and giggled our way through our intensely sincere thank you to Slughorn for the night, who seemed just as pleasantly intoxicated as his two Potions students, I was not at all surprised he kissed me.
We traipsed through the empty castle together, speaking as loud as we could, for it was beyond the hour of prefect rounds, and in our fancy Muggle attire (although we did don identical black robes as we checked into the cloakroom- notably not school robes, but the kind of robes every wizarding teenager owns to throw over Muggle clothing when approaching wizarding communities), my high heels clicking on the marble floor beneath us, our robes fluttering behind us, the effects of the night’s alcohol surging through my head- I felt, I felt almost invincible, with this new Mikey on my arm, a Mikey with almost no hair but a black buzz upon his scalp, a Mikey with even more defined muscles than he had had before…
I don’t know, I think I said something, and he said something back, and I asked him to repeat himself, and he did, and I curled into him and screamed into his face, PARDON?! And instead of repeating himself, I watched his gaze linger on my eyes, and then travel south to my lips, and I brought my arm from the crook of his to stroke his left bicep, and he brought his arm from his side to my lower back, and I could feel his broad hand press slightly into me. I looked up at him, at his dark blue eyes, and felt his lips upon mine.
We kissed the whole way back to the Ravenclaw tower, his hands roaming messily over my body, my fingers tugging at the buttons on his shirt, our kisses sloppy and our attempts to answer the Ravenclaw common room riddle even sloppier.
“Urgh!” I cried, stamping my foot. “Come on! I am the Quidditch captain, for fuck’s sake!”
“Yeah!” roared Mikey. “And I’m a freakin’ Healer prodigy!”
“What flies without wings?”
“Those… those dumb Muggle games,” I said, wincing at my drunken logic.
“Flies. Like… a zipper? Americans call it a fly, right?”
“God, I don’t have the time for this-”
“Got there eventually,” the eagle doorknob breathed calmly, and opened its doors.
“Time,” I said loudly, impressed with myself, striding into the common room. “Boy, am I clever-” But I was interrupted by a shushing noise emitting from students, Ravenclaw students still in their uniform, perched around tables by the huge, glorious, awesome in its truest sense bookcase, all six of them glaring at Mikey and myself with such fierceness I hiccuped in fear.
“I’m going to bed,” I whispered loudly to Mikey, who had strolled in behind me. Suddenly feeling exposed, and quickly sobering up, I bound my robes tightly around my dress.
Mikey nodded unevenly at me. “I’ll see you,” he said, as we walked to our genders’ respective staircases, “at Quidditch trials tomorrow.”
I stumbled up the staircase, mildly resenting that my dormitory was so far away, intensely looking forward to resting my head against my cool, fluffy pillow, feeling overwhelmingly sleepy, feeling suddenly, strikingly, overwhelmingly sad…
And I found myself perched by the window, overlooking the Black Lake and the Forbidden Forest beyond it, scribbling a letter to James whilst feeling the touch of Mikey’s lips upon mine the entire time.
But I knew, as I read over the letter for the eighth time since writing it that it would never be read by James. It was addressed to him, but it would never be attached to an owl, never be delivered, never be opened, never be read.
I kissed Mikey for the past hour. He has always been good looking, you’d be the first to agree with that (it was never in your character to be jealous of others’ looks James: their intellect, their bravery, their wit, perhaps, but never their looks) but suddenly he’s back, and he’s beautiful, he’s a Healer prodigy, he drinks Martinis and he picked me up by the thighs and pushed me against an ogre and crusader tapestry and I swear to god, I swear to all the gods, I had never thought of you less in my entire life.
But here I am, after kissing Mikey, writing to you. You once told me in a Hogwarts corridor you loved me. You were drunk, and now I am. I love you, I really think I do. I am in LOVE with you and you’re off with American girls, really clever American girls, being a lawyer and being happy and existing in a world without me.
I love you I love you I love you I love you
And, to conclude it- so he truly knew (but of course, he would never know, never ever) it was me:
The LONGEST chapter by far. 11,000+ words! Oh my god!
My instinct tells me this should be, probably, two chapters, but I was suddenly so inspired I managed to write this without what felt like a pause for breath. Annoyingyly, and almost obviously, all done during exam season.
What do you think? This story's taken such a turn from what I initially projected, years ago- and I would love, love to hear what you guys have to say about it. Like whether it be a sentence or a paragraph or even multiple- please! Let me hear your thoughts and feelings on this! It's the chapter I'm proudest of- the piece of working I've put most of myself and my energy into- and would love, love, love to know what you think. Even if not about the main love triangle... Louis and Ruddy? Albus and Poppy? Terry Boot cameo?
And loads of things I don't own in this chapter. Malory Towers (Enid Blyton); Tommy Hilfiger; Ralph Lauren. And I feel it only right to mention the ballads of the Red album by Taylor Swift, which i listened to CONSTANTLY for inspiration for this chapter.
As usual, all my love. xoxo
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