i. Auld Lang Syne
January first, 1977, was a mild but overcast day. Lily Evans, who put great stock in beginnings but would have scoffed if you called her superstitious, frowned at the clouds when she woke. She slipped out of bed and padded to the kitchen, the first Evans to arise that morning. She planned to make her mother and her sister a nice breakfast in bed — penance of sorts, but also an attempt at an auspicious start to the new year.
Her resolution came to her as she stifled the whistling teakettle, cursing under her breath and praying she hadn’t woken Doris. This year she’d be more honest and communicative with her mother, she decided. It was the least she could do.
Dorcas Walker was the second to wake in her house. She yawned as she put on a fresh pot of coffee, giving her mother a kiss. “Dad’s still in bed?” she said, wryly. Ruth and Doe had been treated to Joe Walker’s “Auld Lang Syne” late into the previous night. Her mother rolled her eyes and nodded.
Laughing to herself, Doe flipped on the wireless and waited for the coffee to brew. She thought new year’s resolutions were rather silly: why did you need a special date to push yourself into being better? Any resolve on her family’s part had come on the morning of the 27th, when they had nervously listened to the WWN report about the Hogsmeade attack. Today, by contrast, was not a serious day.
Remus Lupin ate his breakfast alone on the morning of the first. Well — alone unless you counted Nearly Headless Nick, which Remus did. The ghost sat with him in companionable silence as he buttered his toast. Three days from now, while his friends boarded the Hogwarts Express and the castle filled once more with voices and laughter, he’d go to the Hospital Wing to prepare for the first full moon of the year. But for now, he took comfort in the quiet Great Hall.
Peter Pettigrew was roused — unceremoniously, he thought — by his mother Nancy midway through the morning. There was work to be done. Peter shrugged on a jacket, grimacing at the light rain, and went to feed the clucking chickens in the backyard.
“Bring in the eggs, sweetheart!” Nancy shouted, as she always did. Peter went red, as he always did. Why did his mum think he’d forget to bring in eggs when he fed the chickens? He wasn’t stupid. His father, Robbie, was already gone that morning. There was always work to be done, even on New Year’s Day.
As the chickens — Lucy, Farrah, Annette, Georgiana, and Barbara, that diva — pecked at his shoes, Peter cast his mind ahead to Evan Wronecki’s party, which was taking place that night. It improved his mood almost instantly, the thought of seeing James and Sirius. He wondered how the latter had adjusted to living at the Potters’. Very well, probably, since Sirius was resilient and the Potters were great.
Peter wished he could move in with Euphemia and Fleamont. But not without James, of course, and Sirius too. James’s parents had the same air of effortless confidence as he did, and it always made Peter both envious and awkward. All that aside, he resolved to take a moment at the party to find out how Sirius was doing — not obviously, because that would be profoundly uncool. But Peter could be subtle when he wanted to be.
Mary Macdonald also spent the morning at work. She and her brother Andrew had been charged with weeding their mother’s garden, a task that they set to with unusual cheer. This was because Andrew rather liked spending time with his sister, though he would never have told her.
And Mary was collecting goodwill so that she could go to Evan’s party. She’d secured permission several days before, but that had been before the attack — not that she’d told her parents about it, but she worried they could sense it, somehow. Her copy of the Prophet was squirrelled away in her bedroom; her morning phone calls with Lily were held in undertones. The day before, she’d wondered to Lily if it was a good idea to go at all.
“What if it’s not...safe?”
“What? Mary!” Lily had said, shocked. “You were the one who cajoled my mum into letting me go!”
Mary resented her use of the word cajoled, though it was an accurate description. She had phoned earlier than usual on the day after Christmas so that she could catch Doris, and had charmed her thoroughly before mentioning the party ever so casually. Mary was sure Lily’s mum saw through this ploy, but in any case she let it happen.
“I know I did,” said Mary, “but didn’t you row with your mother?” Lily hadn’t outright said this, but Mary had gathered it, from her friend’s odd mood.
“Yes, but — I need to take my mind off everything, Mare. I’d like to pretend everything’s normal, before we go back to Hogwarts and it’s all…” Lily had trailed off. They did not know how it would be. All they’d seen was Dumbledore’s statement in a Prophet article, asserting that the school would indeed remain open, and the utmost precaution would be taken with regards to the safety and wellbeing of students. In short, nothing they couldn’t have guessed themselves.
“If you’re certain,” Mary said.
“I am. Didn’t you say Evan lived in one of those posh wizarding neighbourhoods?”
“And that Alec Rosier isn’t invited this year?”
“Then we’re going,” Lily had said. “I’ll write to Germaine, and she and Abigail can pick me up at eight.”
Germaine King woke to a quiet house. Her sister Abigail had visited for Christmas but had not stayed to ring in the new year. As Crouch’s secretary, she was busier than ever. Germaine felt caught between her parents, who were clearly — and poorly — trying to get along for her sake. She did not want another tense breakfast. So she bundled up, crept to the shed in their yard, and retrieved her broomstick, soaring off without telling a soul. The hushed, snow-covered forest eased her troubled mind. She wondered if Emmeline Vance was going to be at Evan Wronecki’s that night.
Sirius Black and James Potter blearily stumbled out of their bedrooms at noon.
“Dad’s got hangover potion,” James croaked.
Sirius moaned in response. “Please. Don’t — don’t make any loud noises.”
They inched downstairs, shielding their eyes. Fleamont’s study was their target, the same room they’d pilfered some very potent scotch from the previous night. Some of the festive mood had returned to the Potter household since the disrupted Christmas party. The extra rest had done Euphemia and Fleamont good, and James and Sirius had followed the former’s missives for five whole days, dutifully visiting Diagon Alley to replace the latter’s missing things. The shopping street had been a depressing sight in the wake of the attack, sombre and cold in more ways than the weather.
That did not stop the pair from restocking on essentials such as Dungbombs. Sirius had insisted on a brief diversion to a building full of rickety old flats for rent. “Mum won’t let you move out,” James had said, but he’d accompanied him anyway, both of them grimacing at the mould on the walls and the suspicious looks the neighbours gave them.
They were at the door to the study when Euphemia trilled out a greeting. Starting guiltily, Sirius and James turned to see the knowing look in her eyes.
She was smiling, though she was clearly trying to look stern. “Happy New Year to you both. Your father’s got the potion waiting on the table.”
“What potion?” said James weakly, knowing there was no chance he sounded innocent but striving for it anyway.
“Please, James,” Euphemia said.
The boys slunk towards the dining room, exchanging meaningful glances. Fleamont was, mercifully, not inside to watch them guzzle down the potion.
“I can’t believe we’re going to be drinking again tonight,” Sirius said.
“Yes, you can,” said James. “We’ll enjoy it too.”
Sirius considered this. “Yeah, you’re right. I can.”
ii. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
“Now that I think about it, it’s so counterintuitive to have us meet at my house and then go to Evan’s,” Mary said, fluffing her hair and staring at her reflection. “You’ve travelled basically the length of Britain, and back again.”
“It’s not counterintuitive at all,” said Doe. “You’ve got the best makeup.”
Mary beamed. Her bedroom was a terrific mess at that moment, with clothes and hairpins and various accessories strewn across the bed and the floor. She’d have to tidy up before they left, but she was already wondering if she could somehow talk Germaine’s sister Abigail into doing it for her magically. Abigail was currently in the Macdonalds’ sitting room, talking to Mary’s mother about gardening.
Thank goodness they had a common interest, Mary thought, or the many, many occasions on which the girls made Abigail Apparate them around would have become very tiresome indeed. As it happened Abigail’s presence reassured Ruolan Macdonald a great deal, even though Germaine’s sister was only dropping them off at Evan’s door and no further.
“Will there be drinking, do you think?” Ruolan had asked, her eyes narrowed.
Abigail had smiled ruefully. “A little, Mrs. Macdonald — we come of age at seventeen, you see, so some of the girls’ friends are already allowed to drink.”
This had been a better answer than any baldfaced lie. Ruolan nodded. “A little is only to be expected. I know my Mary’s no saint, but she’s got her head on right.”
Wisely, Abigail did not respond to this.
Upstairs, the girls were putting the finishing touches on their outfits. Germaine had borrowed a pair of Mary’s boots and stood two inches taller than usual. Doe was humming to herself as she applied her lip gloss. Mary was squinting in the mirror, wondering if something was missing or if she was finally ready. Lily, restless, was studying the rows of bottles and brushes on Mary’s dresser; she brushed a familiar one with a finger.
“Is this any good?” she asked, holding up the Sleekeazy’s.
“What?” Mary gave her a cursory look before turning back to her reflection. “Oh, yes. My mum’s got a fiendishly strict haircare routine, but even she admits the potion doesn’t mess with my hair. You shouldn’t use too much, Lily, or it’ll weigh you down, I think.”
Lily hurriedly replaced the bottle. Perhaps she was more old-fashioned about magic than she’d thought — she was more wary of hair potions than a newfangled shampoo at the chemist’s.
“Another time,” she said, mostly to herself.
“Are we ready?” said Germaine. “My feet hurt.”
“You’re the one who wanted to wear them,” Mary retorted.
“Well, let’s leave before I regret it.”
The four of them trooped downstairs in a cloud of perfume. Abigail rose to her feet, studying their bare shoulders and bellbottoms with a critical eye; Ruolan, on the other hand, smiled widely at them all.
“Aren’t you going to be cold?” Abigail said. Germaine opened her mouth, but before she could argue, Mary’s mother was gathering them all into a crowded hug.
“What beautiful young ladies you’ve grown into,” she pronounced, releasing them. “Go on, go on, you don’t want to be late.”
Glowing at her praise, they stepped into the cool January night, Abigail in tow.
“Two at a time,” she told them, taking Doe and Germaine by the hands and vanishing with a loud crack!
Left in the garden, Lily tried to peer at the flowerbeds. Mary was clutching a stack of records, having learned from last time. She paused in rifling through them, glancing at her friend.
“Dreamboat Dex is going to be there, isn’t he?”
Lily looked up, laughing. “Don’t call him that. And yes, he is.”
“Did he say anything about tonight?”
Mary was avoiding Lily’s gaze, which made her suspicious. She squinted at her friend. “Say what about tonight?”
“Oh, never mind.”
Lily wanted to quiz her further, but Abigail reappeared at that very moment, extending a hand to each of the girls.
“I can’t wait until I learn how to Apparate,” Lily said, sighing.
“And be constantly nauseated? No, thanks,” snorted Mary.
“Ready when you are,” Abigail said pointedly, and the other two shut up.
Once the dizziness of Apparition had faded, Lily opened her eyes. They were standing outside a large manor house. Colourful lights streamed through the ground level, and music and voices could be heard through the open windows. Germaine and Doe were waiting on the doorstep.
“I think I ought to come inside. Just have a look around,” said Abigail, arms crossed over her chest.
“Absolutely not!” Germaine said, indignant. “You know where we are, don’t you? And I thought you said you knew Mr. Wronecki from the Ministry. You’ve got plenty of emergency contacts — that you won’t need to use, of course, because we’re going to be perfectly fine.”
This was as close as any of them wanted to get to the Hogsmeade attack. They had arrived at an unspoken agreement to try and enjoy themselves, as Lily had said they ought to. Besides, the Daily Prophet had reported that Aurors already had leads on who had cast the Dark Mark that night. And what good was it to sit at home and worry about things they could not change?
Abigail had pursed her lips, but apparently thought better than to argue.
“Go on, have fun, then. And as for getting home—”
“I already told you,” said Germaine, “Marissa Beasley is Apparating people to her house, and we can Floo from there.”
“I still don’t see why you can’t Floo from here—”
“Evan said his fireplace isn’t working.” Germaine was now speaking through gritted teeth. “Although I wish it were, because then you wouldn’t have had to drop us off!”
Abigail shot her a glare. “A little gratitude would be nice, Germaine.” But she stepped away, and disappeared once more.
“For God’s sake.” Germaine reached for the handle on the front door, but Doe batted her hand away.
“Not yet. We need to be in pairs all night, got it?”
Mary made a face. “Whatever for? I can’t snog anyone if I’m holding your hand, Dork-ass.”
“Shut up, Mary. It’s so we can look out for each other, and make sure no one does anything stupid and everyone’s doing all right. We don’t have to be attached at the hip,” she added, seeing Mary’s expression. “We can check in on each other every once in a while. That’s all.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Lily, which earned her a smile.
“You would,” Mary said. “But I don’t want to catch you and Dreamboat Dex getting hot and heavy.”
“What are the pairs?” Germaine cut in. She was looking at Mary with apprehension.
Doe thought for a moment. “Nose goes.” She pressed a finger to her nose, and Germaine immediately followed suit.
“What?” said Lily belatedly, touching her own nose. “What was that for?”
“You lose,” Germaine informed her. “You’re Mary’s pair.”
Mary scoffed. “That’s just rude, you two—”
Her complaints were immediately drowned out by the noise of the party; Germaine had lost patience and pushed open the door. It was in full swing, it seemed. The girls followed the sounds through the hall into a large sitting room of sorts. Furniture had been pushed to the walls to make a dance floor, and people were, in fact, dancing (to Mary’s great relief). The four of them hung in the doorway for just a moment — and then each went her own way, the promise of an exciting night blotting out everything else for now.
James tossed Sirius a can of beer. “Wizard staff,” he said by way of explanation.
Sirius groaned. “Beer fucking sucks.” But he would not say no to a challenge, and so he cracked the can open and began to drink.
Belatedly, James realised the problem with this game when it was played outside of Hogwarts. Evan was seventeen, so underage magic in his house shouldn’t draw notice. But what if everyone thought like him, and there was simply too much magic use for the Ministry to ignore? Or...surely the Ministry had bigger things to worry about at present.
Wait, why was he thinking about this, anyway?
“You all right?” Sirius said, squinting at him.
“Oh, yeah.” James took a swig of his beer. “Wondering if I should spell my cans together in order to beat you.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to beat me. And maybe you can use Spellotape.”
“Spellotape?” James spluttered. “What the— Who just carries around Spellotape?”
“Don’t take that tone with your elders, James,” said Sirius sagely.
James proceeded to try and knock his can from his hand. He had begun to lose interest in this pursuit when Peter appeared, looking out of breath and extremely nervous.
“I’ve really done it now,” he said.
James exchanged a look with Sirius, grabbing his second can of beer and very pointedly fastening it to the first with a muttered charm.
“What’ve you done, Pete?”
Peter groaned. “Well, I was with Florence Quaille—”
“With?” repeated Sirius gleefully.
“Snogging Florence Quaille,” said Peter, going red.
“Mate, I thought that didn’t go so well last time,” James said, chuckling. “When was that, fourth year?”
He hadn’t thought it possible for Peter to get any redder, but he did.
“Yes — well — never mind that! I left her and walked right into the Duckling, and she was sort of making eyes at me, but then Florence got all angry and flounced past, and I’ve got no bloody idea what happened!”
James and Sirius roared with laughter.
Peter scowled. “Yeah, yeah, laugh all you like. I was only snogging her, wasn’t I? I didn’t think that was a binding sort of commitment, and I hadn’t even done anything with the Duckling—”
“Here, who came up with that nickname?” James broke in, remembering Remus’s chastisement.
“Oh — me,” said Peter, looking a bit taken aback.
For a moment the boys stopped laughing, searching the crowd for the girl in question.
“Is it because she’s sort of...pouty?” Sirius said, frowning. “Duckling’s a stretch, I think. She’s fit.”
Peter was blinking hard at the crowd. “God, you’re right, yeah, I didn’t even see the pout. No — it’s because she and Florence are friends. You know, Cecily Sprucklin, Florence Quaille… Quail, duckling.”
Perhaps it was the colourful lights, but James could not spot her amidst the dancing students no matter how hard he tried. This explanation was enough to divert him from his search; he stared at Peter, eyebrows rising.
“That’s funny, actually,” James said. “Quail and duckling. Well — she probably doesn’t think so.”
Peter looked immensely pleased. “Yeah? I mean, she likely hates it, true. But it’s like you said, Padfoot. She is pretty. It’s obviously not a crack about her looks.”
Sirius snorted. “Whatever you say, mate.”
But this was apparently enough to reassure Peter, whose nervousness slipped away. He looked from James to Sirius, finally noticing the beer can towers they’d begun to build.
“Are you playing wizard staff? Can I join?”
“If you want to start two cans behind, sure.” Sirius handed him an unopened beer. “If the Duckling comes to try and snog you again, though, you might want to put it down and forfeit.”
There really were a lot of sixth and seventh years at this party, thought Lily as she moved through the room. Marissa Beasley smiled and waved at her; Chris Townes was dancing with one girl and locking eyes with another; Stephen Fawcett’s loud voice could almost be heard over the music as he regaled a small crowd with some dramatic story. Some fifth years too; she recognised Quentin Kravitz, Gryffindor’s second-string Chaser, who gave her a lopsided grin. The Slytherin presence overall was noticeably low. Lily did not like to generalise about a whole house, but she could not deny the fact that this was reassuring.
She stood scanning the partygoers, feeling rather foolish but unsure how else to look for Dex. Of course, he found her first, appearing at her side and scaring her half out of her wits by laying a hand on her shoulder.
“Oh, sorry to startle you,” he said, grinning. “Fancy a drink?”
“Yes,” said Lily, “but first—” She leaned into him and gave him a long, lingering kiss. His arms encircled her, and she really, truly forgot, for a moment, that they were in a crowded room full of people they both knew.
“Well,” Dex said, pulling away and laughing a little. His cheeks were pink, Lily noticed, which made her smile. “Happy New Year, I suppose.”
“I’m just starting us off right. Lead me to the drinks.”
He took her hand and they wound their way through the crowd. Lily thought her heart was going at an alarming rate. It thudded in time to the music, squeezing in a sort of panicked, excited way when Dex glanced over his shoulder at her — which was often. Finally they paused at a table in the corner of the room that was functioning as a bar of sorts. Dex was telling her that he was staying the night in one of Evan’s guest bedrooms — multiple guest bedrooms, she marvelled, delighted by the idea. At least that explained the use of all this space. Some of it was for visitors.
“Firewhisky?” Dex said.
Lily hesitated briefly. She’d only snuck sips of the drink at Quidditch afterparties and the like; other than the odd glass of cheap wine her mother sometimes induced her to share, she was inexperienced in the realm of alcohol. Dex noticed her uncertainty and reached for Butterbeer instead.
“Just a little,” Lily blurted out, forestalling him.
“Yes. I’m not even a month off seventeen, anyway.” This was hardly the reason for her worry, but she kept that to herself.
Dex poured her the barest thimbleful of Firewhisky, which made her laugh. He served himself a measure only slightly larger than hers — “I prefer to be high on life,” he said, with a self-deprecating grin — and they bumped their cups together before drinking. Lily had been prepared for the Firewhisky to burn on the way down, but she winced nevertheless at the taste. Once the heat of the alcohol had given way to pleasant spice, she gave Dex a wide, happy smile.
“How do you feel about being high on dancing?” she said.
He grinned. “Positively.”
Setting down her empty cup, Lily laced her fingers with his and pulled him towards the dance floor.
Doe did not think she was an introvert and nights like this reminded her why. A bit of quiet was nice, but to see the shining, laughing faces of her classmates was even nicer. The energy of it all had thoroughly dimmed the cloud that had hung over her since reading about the Hogsmeade attack. It was a little like her dad singing “Auld Lang Syne,” she thought: innocent, despite the distinct smell of alcohol. It was a bit of earnest fun.
She herself was one and a half cups of Firewhisky in and happily mellow. She’d had shouted conversations with Amelia Bones, who, it turned out, did know how to loosen up, and Peter Pettigrew, who was ruddy-cheeked and more at ease than she’d ever seen him before. She supposed it was time to hunt down Germaine and make sure her pair for the night was doing all right, but every time she excused herself from a clump of people she was distracted by someone else again.
Catching sight of Germaine’s light hair, she swerved to her right without looking, and walked right into—
“Michael!” she exclaimed, with more enthusiasm than she’d ever greeted him before.
He’d grabbed her shoulder to steady her; he was laughing, probably because her voice had risen about three octaves over the two syllables of his name.
“Good to see you, Doe.” He gave her a quick, tight hug; when he’d released her, she spotted the boy he’d been talking to.
“Oh, hello, Chris. You look unhappy.” This was the kind of thing, verging on tactless, that she never would have said sober, but Doe did not think twice about the remark at present.
Chris Townes lifted his cup in her direction, but the corners of his mouth were firmly turned downwards.
“You don’t want me to retell my sob story,” he said, in a manner that suggested he would really like to retell it.
Dorcas thought that his appeal dissipated when he was in a sulk, but Michael seemed to have been hearing him out. She decided she ought to be magnanimous as well.
“No, that’s all right, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“I was just telling Mike about Cecily Sprucklin,” Chris said morosely.
Doe was momentarily distracted by Mike, and the grimacing reaction that the nickname prompted in Michael. She was stifling laughter as she said, “Sorry, who?”
Chris sighed. “The Duckling.”
“Don’t call her that,” Doe and Michael said at the same time, then looked at each other, startled.
“You were the one who asked!” protested Chris.
Doe frowned. “I asked because I didn’t hear you, not because I wanted you to call her names.”
He only rolled his eyes in response. Yes, he really was unattractive when he was in a bad mood, thought Dorcas.
“I came with Florence — Quaille,” he added, with a look that suggested he was clarifying for Doe’s benefit. “I mean, not like that, she and I have been friends for ages…”
Dorcas nodded; this much she knew, even having consumed a bit of Firewhisky. Chris and Florence were both sixth-year Hufflepuffs. Via Mary, Doe was aware that Chris and Amelia Bones had gone together back in fourth year, but she hadn’t heard of Chris getting involved with Cecily — also a Hufflepuff — or Florence.
“So, you came with Florence,” she prompted. “Go on.”
“Yeah, ’cept she and Cecily have some weird, I don’t even know what it is. A competition?” Chris shook his head, exasperated. “I don’t want to get in the middle of that.”
Michael still looked amused. “Aren’t Cecily and Florence mates, though?”
Both boys turned to Doe, who laughed and put her hands up. “Don’t look at me. I haven’t the faintest idea if they are or aren’t. I’m not Mary.”
Chris made a disgruntled sound. “Yeah, well. I’m going to go talk to some non-Hufflepuff girls.” With that, he stalked off, leaving Michael and Doe alone.
She watched him go, a touch offended. “What am I, a non-Hufflepuff tree?”
Michael spluttered with laughter. “I don’t think he meant talking, Dorcas.”
An intriguing possibility. Doe tapped her chin. “You think so? Am I not worth ‘talking’ to, then?” She nearly smacked Michael in the face with her air-quotes.
He could hardly speak for laughing now. “How much, exactly, have you had to drink?”
“Not that much,” she protested, giving him a gentle shove. “Stop laughing at me!”
“You’ve got terrible tolerance,” said Michael, shoving her back.
“Really?” He leaned close; Dorcas frowned, trying to hear him properly, and then he said, “For auld lang syne, my dear—”
Doe squawked, laughing, and pushed him away. “It’s not a siren call, Mike, I’m not going to burst into song just because I’ve had a little Firewhisky—”
He groaned. “Please don’t call me Mike. Chris keeps forgetting every time I tell him—”
“I’ll drop the Mike thing if you tell me about Katie.” Doe gave him a meaningful look. “Well? What happened?”
Michael’s grin faded a little. Doe wondered if she shouldn’t have brought it up — but it was all part of getting over her, wasn’t it? And he himself had written to her about it.
“Nothing, she cornered me after dessert and said something about how she’d missed me.” He rolled his eyes. “More like the other bloke dropped her.”
“Not that I know for certain, but that’s what I think, yeah.”
Doe scrunched up her face in sympathy. “God, I’m sorry. Jokes aside, she just sounds…” She grappled for a word that felt adequately disparaging but also not too rude, considering Michael had dated her and been hung up on her afterwards. “She just sounds not nice.”
Michael laughed. “She isn’t, yeah. I mean, took me until this to realise, but…”
“Better late than never,” Doe pronounced. “That’s why you should find a rebound. A proper one, not Mary.”
He laughed again at this, though she couldn’t fathom why. “Yeah, you’re right.”
Mary held a teetering stack of empty cups in her hand, balancing it as she spoke.
“So, we’ve got to fill a bunch of these with as disgusting a combination of alcohol as we can find,” she said to the rapt group of seventh years — chiefly boys — around her. “Just a splash of everything, mind. One cup, the very last one, is the one we fill to the brim. Come on, step to it.” She began unstacking the cups, setting them at the centre of a long table Evan had approved for this purpose.
She was pleased to note that the boys immediately went to work, sloppily pouring various mud-coloured liquors into the cups she’d laid out. Then, still holding the two cups she’d saved, she began to search for something she could Transfigure into balls. After a brief hunt, Mary produced two crushed beer cans with the triumph of a woman who’d struck gold. The cans soon became makeshift table tennis balls. She tested their bounce until she was satisfied, then returned to the table.
“Where’s the bitch cup!” she shouted. The cup in question — the one right in the middle, the cup that ought to have been the worst concoction — was only halfway full. “Come on, Evan, don’t you have something else to put in it? Something awful and undrinkable?”
Evan laughed. “I don’t know, do we, Dearborn?”
Doc seemed to appear right out of thin air, his smile thin and crooked and enough to make Mary’s heart stutter. She told herself to stop being stupid.
“As requested,” Doc said, producing a jug of mysterious liquid that must have been his own brew. He filled the bitch cup to the brim. “Is that up to your exacting standards?”
With a start, Mary realised he was speaking to her. “Oh — yeah, that’ll do.”
He disappeared once more; thrown, she forgot for a moment that people were still waiting for her to explain the rest of the rules.
“So, what do we do with the balls?” Marissa Beasley said, her eyes bright with excitement.
Mary did not like the sour twist in her stomach at the sight of the other girl. She did not need to take out her problems on Marissa, she reminded herself. If she was going to be upset at anyone, it ought to be Doc himself.
“It works like this—” Mary set one cup down in front of herself, then put the other before Marissa, who was on her left. “You’ve got to bounce the ball into the cup.” She demonstrated, landing it in one. Then she pushed the cup over to her right. “Isobel, now you go, and you pass it on. Marissa, once you get it you pass to me. And if I get it before Isobel does, I stack her—” Mary dropped Marissa’s cup into Isobel’s. “She passes on both those cups now, and she has to drink one of the punishment cups. Oh, and if you get the ball into the cup on your first go, you can move it anywhere around the table. So be ready at all times!”
Isobel was rubbing her hands together with glee. “Merlin, where’d you learn this?”
Mary beamed. “I’ve got a cousin who goes to Muggle university in Glasgow. He’s probably learned more drinking games than anything else, but it’s more useful to me than his engineering degree, so I’m not complaining.”
A sizeable group had clustered around the table over the course of her instructions; she glanced around at them with satisfaction, although — a twinge — Doc had not come back.
“All right, if everyone’s ready—” Mary broke off, frowning. “Hang on, is that the White Album?”
“The what album?” said Evan.
A grin was spreading across Mary’s face. She hadn’t brought it, and she certainly hadn’t put it on, which meant someone else here had exceptional taste. And it was definitely the White Album: that was the telltale riff, so it was either “Birthday” or— “I’m back in the U.S.S.R.,” Paul McCartney sang, his rich, blustering voice audible over the party chatter. She was swaying to the beat automatically, the game all but forgotten.
“I’m so glad you invested in some good music, Evan,” said Mary blissfully.
He laughed, though he looked rather confused. Mary was about to press the point when the ball was snatched right out of her hand.
“How about we make things a touch more complicated?” It was Sirius, with what looked like a tower of beer cans tucked under an arm. “Give the other one here, Park.” He set both balls down on the table and, after a moment of intense thought, waved his wand over them.
“What did you do?” Mary said, her eyes narrowed.
“A fun little modification,” said Sirius innocently. “Get us started, why don’t you?”
Still watching him suspiciously, Mary gave Marissa her cup back and took Isobel’s. The ball felt cool and normal in her fist.
“On the count of three—”
She counted down, then bounced her ball perfectly into her cup once more. Satisfied, Mary passed the cup to Isobel and waited for Marissa to finish. The rest of the table was hooting and jeering.
“It’s harder than it looks, honest,” said Marissa, her tongue stuck out in concentration as she aimed.
All of a sudden, Isobel shrieked. She’d tried to bounce her ball into the cup, but in the process it had turned into a flopping goldfish, gasping for breath on the table’s surface. Sirius was howling with laughter.
“I think that counts as animal abuse,” Isobel said, glaring at him. The goldfish abruptly changed back into a ball, though, and she seized it just as Marissa passed her cup to Mary.
“If mine turns into a fish too, Black, I’ll strangle you,” Mary warned.
“Dear Prudence” came on, startling Lily at the transition. Silly; she’d listened to it hundreds of times in her room — but then again, she’d never danced to “Back in the U.S.S.R.” with a boy’s hands on her hips. Her boyfriend’s, no less. She thought she was far too sober for a slow song, so she begged a rest, and Dex acquiesced.
“Now’s a good time to tell you,” said Dex, “I got you a New Year’s present.”
Lily laughed, surprised. “My birthday’s weeks away.”
“I said New Year’s present—”
“No, I know what you said. I just meant, you’re going to have to give me another present soon anyway.”
Dex rolled his eyes. “Maybe I like giving you presents.”
This, funnily enough, made her blush. “Where’s the present?”
“Upstairs, in the guest bedroom.”
“Is that a line?” Lily said, giggling.
Dex blushed just as she had. “Not unless you want it to be one.”
She took his hand, her few mouthfuls of Firewhisky still sparking little fires in her chest. “I want my gift.”
The music and laughter from the party echoed through the empty hallway and even up the wide, sweeping double staircase, but it was eerily quiet otherwise. As though they’d gone off to visit the neighbours, thought Lily, and the party was, in fact, taking place next door. Dex led her up the stairs and down another corridor. The walls were actually lined with paintings, big framed ones like something out of a museum.
“Gosh, I didn’t know Evan’s parents collected art,” she said, her eyes wide as she took it all in.
Dex blinked, first at her and then at the walls. “Oh — you know, you come here enough, you almost forget it’s there.”
She didn’t think she could possibly forget. Most of the painting’s inhabitants were asleep, though some muttered and dozed fitfully as she and Dex passed by. In one, a beautiful pastoral scene, a squat little pony looked up at them, blinking sleepily. Lily realised she was grinning; she probably looked demented, but she was too awed to care.
At last they arrived at the guest bedroom that was Dex’s for the night. It was dark, but she could still make out the fine, embroidered bedspread, the flowers in a little vase on the nightstand, the cushioned window seat. It looked like a fancy hotel room, like something she’d see on the telly. Dex’s trunk leaned against one wall, just about the only sign that the room was occupied.
“You’re terribly neat,” Lily observed.
Dex laughed sheepishly. “The Wroneckis’ house-elves insist on cleaning up after us. It’s hard to get used to — more so than the paintings.”
House-elves. Lily had never been to a place with house-elves, other than Hogwarts. She frowned momentarily. But her eyes snagged on his trunk once more.
“You’re staying until we leave for Hogwarts?”
“Yeah, since it’s our last Christmas hols and all that some of us blokes are here for a few days.” His smile faded, giving way to thoughtfulness. “Strange to think about, honestly. I’m jealous of you, Lily, since you’ve got another year still.”
Lily curled up on the window seat. Not a trace of the outside chill seeped through the window; it must have been magic. She pressed a hand to the glass, considering his words.
“Yes,” she said after a moment, “I’m glad I have another year too. Although,” she added hurriedly, “I’ll be sad to see you go.”
This was the most they’d ever really talked about — the future. What would happen when Dex left Hogwarts, possibly for culinary school in France? Before Lily could dwell on this point too much, Dex was reaching for something on the desk in the corner. He handed it to her, sitting down next to her.
It was a little plate, and a little silver spoon, and on the plate sat a small round cake. Lily could see it well enough by the moonlight filtering through the window. Its top was dusted with powdered sugar, but by some clever trick the sugar silhouetted the distinct shape of a flower.
“It’s a lily,” she said, awed.
“It is.” Dex’s smile was tinged with nervousness. “Go on, try it.”
Lily cut into the cake with the spoon. Aside from the sugar, there was no decoration of any kind on it — no icing, and the inside looked to be plain vanilla sponge. But there was a tense anticipation on Dex’s face. Surely this wasn’t just some kind of taste test for the perfect vanilla sponge? Not that there was anything wrong with vanilla, it was just... vanilla. The safe choice. She hoped she would not have to feign enthusiasm.
Careful not to spill any crumbs, she put the first spoonful into her mouth.
“Oh!” Lily blinked at him. “But it looks like — it looks like vanilla!”
Dex was grinning now. “D’you like it?”
She did: appearance aside, it tasted like buttery chocolate, rich and smooth, with a hint of peppermint underneath. Lily nodded, scooping herself a second bite.
“That’s really brilliant. To have it look one way and taste another—” She paused to eat the next spoonful. Her eyes widened once more.
“Merlin, the look on your face,” Dex said, laughing. “I’m so relieved. Honestly, I thought it wasn’t going to work.”
Lily swallowed — this mouthful had been a light earl grey, as if it had been spiced with tea leaves.
“Relieved! You should be ecstatic! It’s like Every Flavour Beans in a cake, it’s—” Lily set the plate down between them so she did not knock it over in her enthusiasm. “How did you do it? Are the flavours baked in the cake somehow, or is it some sort of spell that just mimics the taste in my brain?” Her mind whirled at the possibility.
“A baker never tells,” said Dex, leaning back with a look of smug satisfaction.
Lily swatted him on the arm, then picked the plate up again. “I’ll get it out of you eventually.”
“You can try.”
For a moment she was quietly eating her cake, just looking at him. And he was looking at her, the silvery moonlight softening his smile. Lily’s heart began to thud dramatically once more.
Then Dex pointed out the window. “You know what that constellation’s called?”
Lily peered at the stars he was pointing at, trying desperately to remember O.W.L.-level Astronomy. “Orion’s Belt?”
He gave her a bemused look. “What shape do you think a belt is, exactly?”
“Oh, stop it. You tell me what that constellation is, if you know.”
“Of course I know.” Dex squinted at the glass. “It’s...the…”
“The?” Lily prompted.
Lily snorted a laugh. “Stick to baking, Fortescue.”
“I will,” he said, closing the distance between them and pressing his lips to hers.
iii. Long Legged Girl (With the Short Dress On)
Everyone around the table was watching. Germaine gave a dismissive wave of her hand.
“Winning. Losing. It’s all a matter of perspective.”
“Bollocks,” said Sirius. He was still holding the cup out for her. “That had better not be how you go into the next Quidditch match.”
“Just drink the bitch cup,” Evan said. “We know you’re stalling, King.”
“I am not stalling,” Germaine began.
“Drink it,” Bert Mallory said, and soon the entire table was chanting drink it, drink it!
“I’m doing it, I’m doing it!” Germaine groaned, taking the cup from Sirius to widespread cheers. She grimaced at the cup’s contents, which, to be fair, did look rather like most alcoholic drinks. All she had to do was pretend it was whiskey, or something. Wasn’t whiskey what classy old men drank? Or port. Yes, she could pretend she were Professor Dumbledore, swilling some port on a Saturday evening. With one last deep breath, Germaine put the cup to her mouth.
She did not set it down until she’d drunk it all, which made everyone cheer louder than ever. Germaine coughed, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, and groaned once more.
“Honestly, I respect that,” Sirius said, patting her shoulder. “I respect that and I salute you.”
“Means a lot,” croaked Germaine. “I need some water.”
Mary was at her side in an instant. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Perfectly fine. I just drank the most disgusting thing known to mankind, but I’m fine.” She pulled a face, which did seem to help. It was like swearing when you stubbed a toe.
“I’ll come with you,” Mary said.
But Germaine waved her off. “Really, I’ll be all right. Isn’t this your record?”
“Well, er—” Mary glanced at the player, from which “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” was currently playing. A guilty, torn look came over her.
“Enjoy the song, Mare. I’ll walk it off.”
Germaine wobbled her way to the drinks table, groping for the big jug of water. To her dismay, it was empty. Still clutching the bitch cup in her hand, she wandered out of the sitting room. The kitchen had to be somewhere nearby — she’d seen Evan and his mates flit in and out of the room with fresh bottles. She put one hand to the wall, not because she was unsteady on her feet, no, not at all — but just in case she needed it. Evan’s house was bloody big, though. What if she was wandering around for half the night?
She needn’t have worried; Amelia Bones was striding up the hallway, two unopened bottles of Firewhisky pressed incongruously to her chest.
“Are you coming from the kitchen?” Germaine said.
“There’s two,” said Amelia, which did not answer the question at all. In fact, it made things more complicated.
The way forward was to uncomplicate things, Germaine thought, and was very proud of herself for this thought. “I just need water.”
Amelia nodded, understanding seeming to dawn on her. “You don’t need the one with the house elves, then. Down the hall, second door on the left.”
Relieved, Germaine trotted off in that direction, not thinking much of what the other girl had said. The bitch cup wasn’t the only punishment cup she’d drunk out of that night, and the horrible malty combination of whatever weird beers Evan had scrounged up for the game left a scratchy aftertaste in her throat. Germaine loved Mary dearly, but she wished her friend would suggest less burdensome games. She was a Seeker, after all; Germaine was used to catching small balls, not throwing them, and certainly not bouncing them into cups.
Not to mention her size! She’d been the smallest person playing by far; Stephen Fawcett and Colin Rollins were nearly a foot taller than her, and Bert Mallory often bragged about bench-pressing a number Germaine guessed was her own weight. It was all stacked against her. She would ask Abigail for some wizard drinking games, she resolved, and make sure they were the sort she could win at. Although… one wondered what sort of drinking games her sister knew.
She was about to duck into the door Amelia had pointed out when she heard voices coming from it — no, she realised, horrorstruck, not just any voices. They were those flirty sorts of giggles that could sometimes be heard emanating from broom cupboards at school, and they never boded well. Germaine crouched there by the kitchen doorway in a brief fit of indecision.
“I didn’t know you could be fun,” a boy said, his tone light and teasing.
Germaine relaxed a little. That was Chris Townes, and she didn’t much care what he thought of her. And he was always going around with a new girl, wasn’t he? The only thing that gave her pause — that stopped her from walking right in without a care — was that this girl might be Mary, and, her own feelings about Chris aside, Germaine did not want to get in her friend’s way. Poor Mary, what if she were upset about Doc and trying to ignore her crush by snogging Chris? A terrible choice, but Germaine couldn’t fault her for it. She hung back a moment longer—
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” came the reply, and the voice was familiar, but it was not Mary’s. It was more singsong than Germaine had ever heard it, but it was unmistakably Emmeline Vance’s.
Germaine peered around the doorframe, her stomach sinking. Emmeline and Chris were standing uncomfortably close, alone in the kitchen. Suddenly Germaine did not want to get water; she wanted to get out.
Turning on her heel, she hurried back to the party. Her stomach was in knots. The dryness in the back of her mouth had nothing to do with the bitch cup. The walk to the sitting room felt like the longest thirty seconds of Germaine’s life — because she knew, finally, why she liked spending time with Emmeline so much, and why she was so worried what the other girl thought of her. But it didn’t matter, did it? It didn’t matter that Germaine fancied her...sort of friend. Because Emmeline was too busy flirting with Chris Townes, of all people.
Miraculously, Dorcas was right by the door, talking to Michael Meadowes. Germaine grabbed her by the elbow, not caring that she was interrupting their conversation.
“Ouch, Germaine—” Doe took one look at her expression, and her annoyance softened to worry. “Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine,” said Germaine. “I want to go home.”
Doe frowned, glancing at Michael, and then steered her away from him.
“Did you have too much to drink? Do you feel sick?”
Germaine shook her head forcefully — although, that did make her feel a bit sick. “I just — want to go home.”
“Okay — okay, don’t worry—” Dorcas turned back to Michael, who looked similarly concerned. “I’m going to take Germaine home. Could you tell Mary we’ve gone?”
Michael nodded. “Of course. Do you need me to come with you?”
Germaine felt a pang of guilt. “Please don’t worry. Actually—” She looked at Doe. “You stay too. I can take the Knight Bus.”
Doe was already shaking her head. “Don’t be ridiculous, Germaine, you shouldn’t go alone. Right, Michael?”
“Definitely not,” Michael said.
“I don’t want to ruin your night—”
“You’re not ruining anything!” Dorcas squeezed her fingers.
But Germaine pulled her hand away and tried on a smile. “I’ll ask Marissa to let me use her fireplace. I can just Floo home, and that way no one has to go on the Knight Bus.”
She was already backing away. “I’ll owl you tomorrow, first thing in the morning. Promise! Have fun, and don’t worry about me.” And with that, she pushed through the crowd, looking for Marissa Beasley and trying very hard not to think of Emmeline and Chris.
“You lost!” James crowed, pointing his staff — seven beer cans long at this point — at the table.
“What?” Sirius frowned, looking around. He groaned when he caught sight of his own staff, abandoned not five minutes ago on the table. “Oh, come the fuck on. I had it on me the whole bloody game of — bounce the ball into the cup or whatever it’s called, and I put it down for five seconds to give King the bitch cup—”
James was shaking his head throughout this little speech. “All I’m hearing is that you lost, mate.”
Sirius picked up his staff with a forlorn sigh. “Peter can still beat you.”
James gave him a look of disbelief.
“All right, not likely. Fine. Fine!” Sirius threw his hands up. “You win, then. I’m going to take a smoke break. Coming?”
James grinned, resting his staff against his shoulder like a Buckingham Palace guard. “Nah, I don’t smoke.”
“Fine. I’ll go chat up—” Sirius scanned the crowd “—Annie Markham.”
“Be my guest,” James said. He did not mind the solitude. He leaned back against a wall, searching the dancers for Peter. His friend danced like a possessed cat, and so should not have been difficult to spot. But he wasn’t trying particularly hard. All those beers had turned James’s brain to a sea of happy numbness. He wasn’t much bothered by anything.
“So,” said a voice at his shoulder. “You won your game?”
Surprised, James moved his wizard staff out of the way to peer at the girl who was leaning against the wall beside him. She had a fringe, and long wavy dark hair — and her mouth was pursed into a little pout. Cecily Sprucklin, he realised; he had almost not recognised her with her hair free of its signature plaits.
“Oh, hello, Cecily,” said James, privately very pleased that he hadn’t accidentally called her the Duckling to her face. “I did win, yeah.”
“Good,” she said, with a brisk nod. “I only snog winners.”
Cecily was pretty, sure, but that was a funny sort of come-on. James spluttered out an incredulous laugh. She looked at him, apparently dead serious.
He managed to pull himself together. “We can go somewhere quieter.”
She smiled, a toothy, sweet expression that made him grin back instinctively. This, James thought, worked far better on him than the clinical appraisal she’d been giving him before. Not that he’d planned on saying no to that, either.
“Come on,” Cecily said, and he followed her away from the music.
Someone had put Celestina Warbeck on. Mary paced the room restlessly, wondering how soon was too soon to go and change it. She held a half-full cup of Butterbeer in one hand, and was sipping from it as she walked — she’d had enough to drink, she judged, but switching to water felt like a cop-out, even though it was nearing midnight. Some of the partygoers had already left; the ones who remained were mostly Gryffindors and seventh years, people who knew Evan well enough that the late hour did not bother them.
Mary’s thoughts turned to Germaine, who’d apparently bolted some time back. Marissa Beasley had said she’d safely seen her home. Mary could only hope it hadn’t been because of the bitch cup.
Part of her wondered if she ought to demand Marissa take her to a fireplace she could Floo from. But she had no idea what she had to say to get herself to Germaine’s house — she had very little experience Flooing at all. Whatever it was that had happened, Mary could find out tomorrow, when she was sober and therefore far better equipped to wring the truth from her friend. Sometimes Germaine got like this — quiet, melancholy, even. The others knew when they had to just let her alone. Perhaps tonight was simply one of those nights, and Germaine would be right as rain the next morning.
Mary spun to face the record player. She’d had enough Warbeck.
But someone else was already changing the record. A voice that was unmistakably Elvis Presley replaced Celestina Warbeck, and that was unmistakably Doc Dearborn by the player, gazing at it with a look of profound satisfaction.
“Dearborn!” Mary stalked up to him, perching on the arm of a nearby chair. He looked down at her, eyebrows raised. “Did you go and research Muggle music?”
“Yeah,” he said, sounding a touch defensive. “I had a whole year to look into it, didn’t I? I didn’t want the party to go without music again.”
Mary pointed at the stack of records she’d hidden out of sight. “I brought those. For the same exact reason.”
Doc’s lips twitched into a smile. “How thoughtful of you.”
“It was really very selfish. I didn’t want to have to sing again.”
She met his gaze, thinking of last year — and he was thinking of it too, she was certain. In return he gave her a knowing look, as if they shared a secret. The very idea made her smile; she fought to hide it.
“That’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one,” Doc said. “You’d love to sing again.”
Mary scoffed, but then erupted into giggles. “You chose well. The White Album was you too, wasn’t it?”
“It’s pretty damn good. This, too.” He looked down at Almost in Love.
“Pretty good!” Mary repeated, delighted. “I’m going to count this as the first success of my shop.”
“Your shop?” Doc frowned. “You have a shop?”
“Not yet,” said Mary. “My future shop. That’s the plan, anyway. It’ll be in Diagon Alley—”
“Expensive real estate,” he cut in.
“Shh, don’t interrupt.” Her voice took on a breathless excitement that it only did when she was very drunk, or discussing her grand plans — this was a little bit of both. “It’ll be on Diagon Alley, and it’ll sell Muggle and magical records. Maybe other entertainment things too, I don’t know; comics? I have to ask my brother about that. Anyway, part of the problem is that wizards don’t know anything about what Muggles do. Not just regular Muggle life — but Muggle dreams, and what Muggles stay up at night thinking of, and what Muggles can create. Don’t you see? It’s art, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Doc echoed. He looked a bit stunned, Mary thought, as if she’d socked him in the face. This was an expression she was used to seeing on boys, only it was usually once she’d taken her top off.
“Plenty of magical people would love the Beatles, or Elvis. It’s a matter of changing your perspective. It’s all about— Why are you staring at me?”
Because he was. Staring at her, that is. The record player was between them, but other than that, Mary realised, they were standing quite close together. Doc seemed to come to this realisation at the very same time. They moved towards each other simultaneously, without saying a word; Mary bumped her knee against the corner of the record player hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. Doc swore, steadying her by her waist. She inched around the player; he opened his mouth to speak. Before he could do something silly and unnecessary, like ask if her stupid knee needed tending to, Mary kissed him.
The next morning, three of the girls woke up in their own beds. All four were groggy, hoarse, a little bit hungover. The day after a party — even and especially an enjoyable one — was always dreary, a dull return to normalcy. It was a bit like Cinderella on the morning after the ball, Lily thought. They groped for water, stumbled to brush their teeth, and sighed at their reflections in the mirror. Two more days, and they’d be together again, headed back to Hogwarts, about to learn just how much things had changed.