BESOMS AFLIGHT

Thu. 4 July

“... and the Puddlemere chaser has just been knocked to the ground by a bludger; a deft shot by Joey Jenkins, the senior beater for the Cannons. Can Joscelind Wadcock get the quaffle to the goal without a third chaser? Whoa! Joscelind dodges her own seeker who is hot on the trail of what seems to be a very ornery snitch. But undaunted Wadcock has lined up her shot. Now it’s up to Gordon Horton to stop this advance. What’s it going to be folks...”

The announcer’s narration of play was interrupted by a grand cheer from the fans of Puddlemere United as they celebrated a well fought goal. The commentary was much more subdued than that of Lee Jordan, but it also made more sense.

Harry took the moment to glance over to his right to see his smile reflected on Susan’s face. Harry wasn’t sure if Susan liked Quidditch as much as he did, but she seemed to be having a good time.

“Thanks again, Susan. And tell your Aunt that she’s awesome. Ginny would’ve loved to see this.”

Harry had been to a few pro games. And there was the final of the world cup that he’d been able to attend. Well... until the Death Eaters had terrorized the event. That had been a very bad beginning to a very bad year.

“No problem, Harry. Auntie Em, already had the tickets and was planning to give them away if we didn’t use them. I just hope that this isn’t too much for Neville.”

At that prompt Harry turned the other direction to look past Hannah and examine Neville. He actually seemed happier than he had since before the ministry battle. Perhaps getting lost in the game was providing a distraction from what he was going through.

Harry turned back to Susan.

“He seems fine. It’s very confusing. I see Neville going through so much struggle and I’m having the best Summer since...”

Harry trailed off. This couldn’t be the best summer of his life—not with the loss of Sirius—but as his mind cast back year after year in a single instant compiling a long history of a childhood lost to caretakers that had never tried to be parents, he finished his sentence with a quiet almost sacred whisper.

“... ever.”

And then catching Susan’s earnest, asking glance, his mind dug a hole through time to the present. The last two weeks had been different to any other fourteen days of his life.

And then realizing that he was on the verge of breaking a cardinal rule of the masculine gender, Harry waved off Susan’s concerned interest.

“Never mind. It’s nothing.”

And then Harry made a show of turning his attention back to the game. But while his eyes tracked the quaffle from one end of the field to another, his thoughts also ran in circles inexplicably looping periodically to the caring eyes that had locked into his only moments ago.

Harry didn’t remember the rest of the game.

Puddlemere United won 210 to 160 after their seeker caught the snitch.

* * *

“Harry!”

The words hammered in Neville’s head. He’d done really well through most of the game. Beforehand—knowing that it would probably be too much—he had finally tried his first bit of magic since the ministry. It seemed that he hadn’t lost much if any of his magical control, so Neville had cast a weak muffliato on his ears before the start of the game. That and a pair of sunglasses had largely served to ameliorate the intensity of the game.

But the voice yelling Harry’s name and pounding on Neville’s temple was familiar.

“Oliver!” Harry yelled back. For some reason that hurt less. Maybe because Harry was shouting away rather than towards him.

The group had been waiting for the pitch spectator stands to clear—presumably to make it easier for Neville’s wheel chair. Despite Nathan’s assurances, his body still sat in a sedentary prison of sorts.

But from the mass of departing witches and wizards emerged the Gryffindor team captain from their first three years at Hogwarts.

“Harry, how have you been? Still a seeker last I’d heard.”

Neville noticed the odd look that crossed Oliver’s face when he saw Neville in his chair. He’d noticed that look a lot. Like no one knew where to look fearing that they would cause offence by looking too much or too little. The odd thing was that Neville just wanted people to be normal around him.

“I-I’ve been fine. Um, how are you? Why are you here? Not to say that you shouldn’t be. It’s good to see you.”

“Harry. It’s fine. As you know, I play on Puddlemere’s reserve team. The captain wanted me to observe the match to pick up some specific techniques off of ‘my betters’.”

Oliver included actual air quotes with this.

“Though to be fair Gordon Horton has stuff I’ve never seen before.”

Oliver shook himself as if reprimanding inattentiveness.

“Sorry, Harry. The reason I came up to the stands was because I saw you and thought you might like an opportunity to meet Puddlemere United.”

Neville didn’t need to see Harry’s eyes to visualize the astonishment upon them. Harry would surely jump at the opportunity.

“Of course! Please! Um... what about...”

Harry signaled behind him and Neville realized with a jolt that Harry was asking whether Neville’s condition would prevent him from getting into the pits. Neville flushed with a mix a shame and resentment. Harry didn’t have to make this an issue. Neville wasn’t sure he wanted to see these athletes if Harry was going to make it an issue.

“Yeah! Your friends are always welcome.”

Oh. Harry hadn’t meant Neville. Harry had just been indicating that Oliver hadn’t actually invited Susan or Hannah or Neville. The resentment drained away but the shame remained. He wasn’t a judgemental person. He really wasn’t.

He had to get out of the chair. Tomorrow at the latest. No... that wasn’t the real reason. Neville knew that in reality he resented others’ strength juxtaposed with his own weakness.

And while Neville’s natural response to this was to commit to getting stronger. It occurred to Neville—maybe for the first time—that he wasn’t that person. He wasn’t a chosen one or a leader. Maybe that was okay.

* * *

“Harry, this is Joscelind Wadcock captain and lead chaser of Puddlemere United. Jo, this is Harry Potter the boy who lived and the youngest Hogwarts seeker in more than a generation.”

Oliver Wood was clearly proud of himself. Susan Bones watched as Harry and ‘Jo’ shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

Hannah and Neville had found a corner of the room. A ‘pit’ Oliver had called it. The two were taking a rest and just sitting in silence. Susan envied the comfort that they had found in each other. They weren’t even officially dating as far as Susan knew, but they already looked like a couple. A tired couple. But a couple.

Susan didn’t really know where to put herself. She knew Quidditch of course, but this really was a world that Harry knew much better. Her attention focused back in to the conversation between the players when she noticed her name used.

“Yeah. I’d like to get Susan or Hannah to play sometime. Or Neville when he’s ready. I finally have a Summer where I could get some actual play in and I’ve got no opponents.”

Susan didn’t love riding a broom. She didn’t hate it either. But the idea of using one recreationally seemed absurd. It was like the muggles that Justin talked about who went out driving their cars for fun even when they didn’t have anywhere to go. Some witches were broom witches and some weren’t.

“I don’t really think that I am a broom person.”

Joscelind turned to her.

“Nonsense, everyone is a broom person. You just haven’t had a chance to really enjoy it. I mean it. Promise me this—sometime this Summer you’ll get on a broom and take it up maybe one hundred meters in the air. Just take in a deep breath and feel the air around you. Trust me. In that moment, you will find yourself.”

Susan nodded politely, but inside she knew the truth. She just wasn’t a broom person.

* * *

“I don’t think I’m a broom person, Ginny.”

Hermione was being silly. Flying was as easy as breathing. She was just stuck in this guilty victim mindset. She didn’t want to be happy.

“Hermione, you did this in your first year. Anybody can do this.”

Ginny was frustrated. Hermione was the strongest muggle-born witch that she had ever met. She was determined and always accomplished what she set her mind to.

The problem was that Hermione apparently was intent on blaming herself and thus was passively riding a flow of depression and self-pity that circled a drain that bottomed out in dark places that Ginny did not want to visit.

“Fine. Just get on. We’re losing the sun and you promised me that you would do this.”

Ginny assertively took the broom from Hermione’s limp grasp and mounted it in the pilot position subsequently indicating that Hermione should get on behind.

Hermione nodded and straddled the broom behind, which recognizing a second rider protruded two additional stirrups allowing Hermione to rest her feet. Not a necessity for broom flight but psychologically comforting. Then Hermione grasped the broom just behind Ginny and closed her eyes.

Ginny sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose before placing Hermione’s white knuckle hands around her torso.

“You can’t hold the stick or the broom will get confused about who is steering.”

Hermione definitely knew this. She must be particularly distracted today. Ginny knew that Hermione hadn’t been sleeping well. She had come to a maternal awareness that Hermione snored lightly when she was asleep. She had been keeping a tally and could assert that Hermione was sleeping no more than five hours a night.

“Sorry, Ginny.”

Ginny shook her head and visualized a flow of magic emitting from her hands and flowing into the broom as she had been taught and had done hundreds of times before.

Ginny kicked off elevating herself and her passenger to a height of ten or so meters in a couple seconds. The acceleration had its desired effect eliciting a gasp from Hermione. Ginny felt the pressure on her mid-section increase as Hermione grasped at her.

She slowed the rise and came to a steady hover feeling the breeze caress her face.

“Ginny...”

She smiled at the aggravated tone in Hermione’s voice.

“Hey, you had the chance to drive. You didn’t want to so now I get to take you where I want the way I want. You’ve been moping around like some slug, so I’m going to get your mind working and heart pumping. So... hold on.”

And Ginny leaned forward increasing the flow of magic. The broom accelerated commensurately but more gradually then before. Ginny didn’t want to terrorize Hermione, but rather she wanted to rouse Hermione from this waking sleep that had taken over a previously unstoppable witch.

She lost track of time as she was known to do when in the air. And the first few minutes went with Ginny just circling around the property feeling the rush of air and the pull of momentum around turns.

As air breezed by, Hermione’s grip on Ginny’s midsection lessened which was good because proper breathing was important for ideal broom control and Ginny was getting uncomfortable with the restriction.

“Looks like Dad needs to get into the garden again. The gnomes are overrunning it. I hope he doesn’t ask for our help. I hate de-gnoming.”

Ginny had to shout to be heard. Astride a moving broom was not the best setting for a conversation, but Ginny thought it might help Hermione stop over-thinking the whole flying thing.

“He’s had so much else to do. You can’t blame him for ignoring the garden when his son is in hospital. I...”

Ginny sighed noting Hermione’s return to Ronald’s condition. Everything came back to Hermione’s guilt. She needed to get past this.

“Hermione, do you know what an inside loop is?”

“Uh. Not really.”

“Good.”

Ginny cast a wandless sticking charm on the broom and Hermione’s hands. And began climbing. She poured on the acceleration and as the climb increased the g-forces grew. Maybe Hermione needed a small dose of terror after all.

As she and the broom reached plumb, Ginny felt Hermione begin to panic, but with her legs and hands bound she was in no real danger. Only the best racing brooms could reach damaging g-forces.

“GINNY!!!”

But Ginny continued undaunted watching the horizon to her left to keep track of the progression. The broom continued up and now back becoming fully inverted. The g-forces lessened briefly.

It was hardly the time to be thinking of it, but Ginny hoped Hermione didn’t vomit. Some people did around a manoeuvre like this. Oh well, too late to stop that. The broom stick began its downward turn and Hermione’s audible expression was reduced to a clenched ‘eeee’ sound as she bore through the increased g-loading.

Ginny shifted her view forward and up from her perspective (which was back and down relative to the ground) and again sought out the horizon to guide her level as she pulled out of the loop. The nose was pointing down. Then at forty five degrees. And finally level as Ginny gently braked to bring the broom back to an idle hover.

Hermione was breathing erratically and shaking violently. Ginny hoped that she hadn’t gone too far. This kind of physical response was not unusual for a novice flyer but traumatizing her friend and summer roommate was not her intention.

Hermione said her first post-loop words through clenched angry teeth.

“What was THAT! I agreed to get on a broom. Not be subjected...”

Hermione’s voice broke as her uneven breath spoiled her cadence.

“That was NOT FAIR!”

Ginny—always the firebrand herself—knew where Hermione’s psyche was at right now. She was terrified and felt vulnerable and was therefore responding with defiant outrage. She was ready to attack Ginny at a moments notice. So calm but firm was in order.

“Hermione. I will not listen to you berate yourself and dig an emotional hole that you don’t deserve to fall into. That was for self-pity and undeserved blame. And every time it comes from your lips I am going to do that again.”

It was weird having an argument without being able to face her opponent.

“This ‘flight’ is over! Put. Me. Down... NOW!”

“No.”

“What?! What do you mean ‘no’? You can’t say ‘no’. You brought me up here and you will deliver me back to the ground immediately.”

Hermione’s voice was tinged with fear now. Ginny kept hers steady.

“Hermione. No. You’ve been in a waking stupor for days. I have you awake and alert right now, so we are not going to land.”

Hermione was silent. Ginny could imagine the angered, stubborn eyes that pierced the back of her skull.

“Okay. What does my abductor want of me?”

“I want you to look around you. Feel the wind, smell the air, and listen to the world. I want you to taste the joy right in front of you and stop wallowing in despair.”

Ginny accelerated only slightly taking a cantering pace. The trees and farmland. The burrow with garden and in the distance the lake. They all passed under view in an almost lazy path.

Hermione seemed to relax a little, leaning in to Ginny’s back.

“You don’t understand. It isn’t that easy for me.”

Ginny rolled her eyes, but was gentle.

“First, that was very close to deserving another loop. Stop pitying yourself. But second... do you really believe that? Do you think I can’t understand what it means to have someone get hurt rescuing me? Or do you think my love for my brother can’t match yours?”

The broom riders had almost made a full circuit of the grounds. Ginny began to slow down and descend in a gentle curve.

“Everybody’s hurting from what happened, you included. But no one needs you hurting yourself constantly. We don’t want to see you do it and we don’t want to carry the burden of it.”

Ginny stopped just four feet off the ground.

“So can you wake up please?”

Hermione was crying. It had been harder to hear when they were higher in the air but the telltale sniffles were obvious.

“I’ll try. But I don’t know if I can.”

“You like thinking. So lets think ahead. What’s the worst that can happen to you now?”

“You mean other then some crazy bitch trying kill me with a flying broomstick.”

Ginny giggled and heard Hermione reflect the jocularity even if it was mixed with tears.

“Yes. Other than that.”

Hermione was silent for a few seconds.

“Ron could die.”

Ginny felt a weight drop in her stomach. She hadn’t made a hobby of imagining that possibility the way Hermione had. So the impact of the thought given a voice hurt more than she imagined it would. Yes. Ron could die.

“Then what?”

Ginny waited for Hermione to reply.

“What do mean ‘then what’? He’d be dead.”

Ginny swallowed the lump at the back her throat.

“Yes. And you would still be alive. Then what?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’d go back to school when the year started and... go on.”

“And you’re going to that if he lives, right?”

“Yes...”

Ginny took a deep breath. She wanted so desperately for this to work. She couldn’t watch Hermione continue to self-destruct like this.

“So go on living right now. And when Ron gets better, you’ll still be there. You can make your apologies to him if you still insist on this guilt complex and you can move forward together.

“Or if Ron doesn’t get better... if Ron doesn’t, then you’ll be no worse off than if you sat immobilized for months.”

Ginny finally lowered the broom to the ground expecting Hermione to jump off and kiss the ground. When she remained leaning into Ginny, Ginny prompted her.

“You can get off now.”

“No, I can’t.”

That wasn’t what Ginny expected. She turned back to see Hermione’s challenging glare attempting to hide a creeping smile.

“Why?”

Hermione laughed out loud. It was a sound that almost brought Ginny to tears. A sound that had been absent from those lips for too long.

“Because you haven’t released the sticking charm that has me locked to this infernal stick.”

Shoot, Ginny had meant to dispel that after the loop. She silently issued a finite against the charm and Hermione all but fell off the broom. Ginny was suspending the broom and the broom was suspending Hermione; so when the charm released, Hermione lost her balanced and rolled of the broom. And since Hermione was still holding on to Ginny, she came along too. And since Ginny was suspending the broom, it gave out too.

Brooms don’t have feelings—usually. If this one had, it would have been very annoyed lying in a tangled pile of giggling limbs.

* * *

Fri. 5 July

Leanne Pentangle was a silly girl. She shouldn’t worry so much about what boys thought. And she didn’t in general bother with it too much, but this boy was different.

Ernie Macmillan was confident and competitive. He never let anything stand in his way. And though he sometimes said things that Leanne wouldn’t dream of—things that probably hurt people—Leanne felt a strange attraction to him.

When Ernie had asked her out on a date to Ajji Majji, she had jumped at the opportunity. Literally jumped—like on the bed.

She was slightly disappointed to learn that they were going as a group with a bunch of other Hufflepuffs, but her mother had always said that a foot in the door was all that a beautiful girl needed.

The brush sifted through her hair without catching. She had lost track of time letting her thoughts wander. She needed to put the brush down. If she didn’t, then her hair was going to fall out in protest.

She wasn’t very beautiful. She didn’t have the striking profile of the average Slytherin or the raw sexuality of a Gryffindor. No, Leanne pursued a look of natural beauty—a misnomer if ever one existed.

Ernie would be a catch though, if she could manage it. The Macmillans were a strong power in the Wizengamot. Not quite as much as the Malfoys or the Longbottoms, but more powerful by far than her own family. With influence came resources. And resources meant a comfortable life.

And the truth was, Leanne could see herself with Ernie. So many wizards of her age lacked the anchored system of values that kept society working and Leanne didn’t want to marry some old ugly wizard that would just ogle her.

And he was funny.

* * *

“Are you sure you won’t come?”

Susan asked Hannah one last time hoping the answer would change. Hannah wanted to go, but Neville really needed to stay inside and she seemed to be such a comfort to him.

“No Sue, Nathan has some exercises he wants Neville to try and I want to make sure that he has the help he needs. Lady Augusta is out with your Aunt preparing for the session that starts on Monday, so there wouldn’t be anyone here if something went wrong.”

“You have to get out sometime.”

Susan gave Hannah a knowing look.

“I know that you want to be there for him, but you can’t let it consume your life. It’ll destroy you.”

Then let it. Hannah sometimes felt weak. As though this burden would crush her. And in those moments she might be prone to despair. But this was not one of those times. Hannah felt a confidence growing. Life had started settling into a pattern. The pessimist would describe it as a rut. But Hannah would describe it as stability. And from a place of stability, she thought she could bear any burden necessary.

Hannah just shook her head.

“Tell Justin and Ernie ‘hello’ for me.”

Susan nodded in acknowledgement and turned to Harry.

“Well we need to get going, Harry. Ernie is planning to meet us out front in about twenty minutes.”

Hannah watched her best friend depart. She smiled, thinking of how uncomfortable Susan must be accompanying Harry-the-boy-who-lived Potter. She hoped the best for them both.

The mirth faded into melancholy as Hannah reflected on the task in front of them. She hadn’t shared Nathan’s plan with Harry and Susan, but the ‘exercises’ were a practice in desensitisation.

Helping Neville by hurting him would surely be harder than any other task that his recovery had required of Hannah. Nathan had provided her with resources about the treatment. The material explained the reasoning logically and clearly, but a core part of Hannah retched at the thought of what was to come.

* * *

“Leanne, this is Harry Potter. Harry, this is Leanne.”

Ernest Macmillan knew Harry from Dumbledore’s Army and knew him to be a powerful if idealistic wizard. Leanne would appreciate a formal introduction.

“Leanne.” ... “Harry.”

The group of six stood outside the main entrance to the Ajji Majji La Tarajji World of Wonders. One of a few British parks certified for magical amusements. While witches occasionally moonlighted at muggle theme parks, those with a wizardry certification could use magic out in the open.

The difference was unmistakable. The muggles would never be able to compare. It was a truth that some wizards refused to acknowledge that muggles were simply a lesser form of evolution. At some point in the last several thousand years humanity had forked into those whose blood contained the power of magic and those who didn’t.

It had never made any sense to Ernie that the wizarding world had backed down from the backwards fools that persecuted them. A wizard could crush a thousand muggles in seconds. So why did his ancestors bend a knee and retreat into hiding.

If ever faced with a similar choice, Ernest would not make the same mistake.

“Harry, I know you were brought up with the muggies. Have you ever been to a wizard’s fun park?”

Despite his prestige and notoriety, meeting Harry Potter in his first year at Hogwarts had been a disappointment. The legend of his infancy engendered great expectations. And while Harry was an accomplished wizard, he really wasn’t anything spectacular.

He lacked a certain raw quality of power or menace, an intent to kill maybe. Ernie could not see how a boy of Harry’s temperament for all his altruism could defeat a dark lord. Was he hiding a profound power or was he just an average boy who’d lived by pure chance, like a twister that destroyed home after home in a straight line only to leave one inexplicably standing.

“No, this is a first for me. Susan was suggesting I should try the scrimmage pitch—that they have a drop in game of quidditch running all the time.”

Ernie would hedge his bets on Harry Potter.

“Yeah, that sounds right up your alley. Maybe you and Zach here can show them what real quidditch players can do.”

Zacharias Smith stepped forward to shake Harry’s hand. Zach had taken the D.A. a lot more seriously than Ernie and he couldn’t deny the difference.

“Harry, good to see you again.”

“Same.”

As Zach stepped back, Justin stepped in. Justin was an okay wizard for a mudblood. He came from a family that understood tradition and knew their position in society, Justin had always respected the higher status of his betters. As such, Ernie counted him among his friends.

“Harry.”

“Hi, Justin.”

Introductions were sometimes a tiresome ritual, but civilization required order and order required protocol. But Ernie had a quiet corner of the Starlight Atrium that was calling to him. Leanne was giving him all of the right signals and he wanted to see exactly what she had in mind.

* * *

Harry certainly knew how to handle a broom. Susan wondered at the forces Harry must be feeling around those turns. It was always a balance with a broom. Since acceleration can injure even a wizard’s body, brooms were usually enchanted with governors to protect the rider. Turn too hard and the broom would slow to compensate, but too easy and your opponent would fly circles around you. Knowing the feeling of a broom that was at its full potential was one of the most important skills for any competitive or tactical flyer.

The game had been short with Zach and Harry running the field. Now the entire group was indulging in an all out capture-the-snitch competition. The prospect of flying competitively against Harry Potter had brought out dozens of participants and the pitch had begun to look like a flock of starlings with Harry Potter leading twists and turns this way and that.

The twists and turns reflected those churning within Susan’s chest. What were these feelings? She had had a crush on Harry Potter since she was little, but it was a crush and Susan knew academically the difference between that and... and what? Love? Was she falling in love?

Susan had always been overly analytical. It was part of what had drawn her to Hermione in Herbology. Hermione always broke problems down and searched for the truth of each piece constructing from the result a more complete picture than was evident from the puzzle as a whole.

Hermione had described to Susan once how she broke down spells to learn them. Each spell had an ‘internal’ half and an ‘external’ half. That’s what she had called them, but the exact difference still wasn’t clear to Susan.

The internal aspects could be divided into ‘power’, ‘direction’, and ‘colour’. ‘Colour’ was the most difficult to understand, but there were different pools of magic that behaved differently. It was possible to cast using any colour of magic, but one colour was usually the best for a given purpose.

The external aspects were ‘identity’, ‘cadence’, and ‘step’, which corresponded roughly to the facets of incantation: ‘vocabulary’, ‘rhythm’, and ‘gesture’.

Hermione said she always broke the spell down and learned each piece before trying to put it all back together. And that thought process made so much sense to Susan that she had adopted it wholesale and had much success with it.

So how could one break down what Susan was feeling? Some part of it was fascination with Harry Potter. He was just very very interesting. And Susan wanted to know everything about him.

Part of it was that Harry was gentle hearted and protective. He looked out for others and lead others to look out for him. He was a leader even though he didn’t want to be. Did that mean he would make a good partner in life?

So much of his life was recognizable to Susan. If anyone could understand what it was to grow up without your parents—to never know them—it was Harry. He had lost so much and striven though it. So there was a familiarity... a likeness.

And there was the other thing. Susan felt a stirring in her chest whenever she thought about Harry, but sometimes—and lately more often than not—when she saw Harry she felt something lower down. A sexual attraction? Susan wasn’t unfamiliar with the sensation. She was a teenager after all. But it hadn’t ever been anchored to a specific person so much as general desire to be sated.

The aspects seemed to flow together and morph in ways that defied analysis. How could she reconstruct a complete understanding if she couldn’t isolate the pieces? Susan found this infuriating and even more infuriating was the fact that the confusion only magnified the desire to be closer to Harry.

And just on top of that composite feeling was an anxiety. Susan knew where that was coming from. Auntie Em wanted to talk about Harry and specifically Susan’s feelings for Harry. She knew that Em was only looking out for her best interests, but there was a part of Susan that knew with absolute clarity that it was none of her aunt’s business. These feelings were hers.

Would Auntie Em stand in her way? ... Why? Harry would be as eligible a bachelor as any Susan’s age. He had status and influence and money and...

And honestly... to hell with all of that.

* * *

Zach clapped Harry on the back. Harry hadn’t caught the snitch. But to be fair Zach hadn’t either. A young red-head had snatched it out of the air when Harry was just in grasping distance. He had given her an autograph which had resulted in unreserved fan-girl jumping and hugging and after that Harry was ready to move on.

Susan had been following them. She seemed preoccupied with something, but Harry wanted to talk Quidditch and when he was preoccupied he usually wanted space to think.

As they approached the Starlight—the location’s only provider of food—Harry heard the sounds of music and money changing hands and a rather loud argument.

The three stepped into the establishment and Zach immediately grabbed his shoulder and pointed over to the back corner of the building where Justin and Ernie were in each other's face shouting angry words. They looked moments from blows.

“Why can’t you mind your own damn business?”

“Because you can’t stop being an ass long enough to see that I was trying to help?”

Leanne was in the back corner of the booth the boys were standing in front of. Her expression was taken aback but also tinged with amusement.

Harry reached for his wand to intervene, but Susan caught his hand.

“Do you really think bringing wands into this is a good idea?”

And then Justin threw the first punch. Ernie staggered but regrouped and threw his own back at Justin who grappled Ernie and struck again.

Zach grabbed Justin and Harry grabbed Ernie. And the two were hauled apart.

“Let me go, Potter. He needs to be taught a lesson.” Ernie spat these words more at Justin than Harry.

“For a ‘proper’ wizard, you have a real shitty way of treating a date. I only asked you to show some decency!”

Justin was still pulling at Zach, but Harry and Zach were easily the physical superior of their respective captives.

“The stupid mudblood doesn’t know his...”

Ernie caught what he was saying too late. The words were already spoken before they registered. Harry paused loosening his grip but Ernie had stopped resisting.

Zach still had a tight grip on Justin but he wasn’t pulling away either.

“What? What did you say? How long have we known each other? How long?!”

Justin was breathing heavy, his face a picture of betrayal. Ernie’s gaze was downward, not meeting his former friend’s glare.

“I never knew you for a bigot. ... I have things I need to do.”

Justin shrugged off Zach’s loosening grasp and stormed out. Harry wasn’t sure what to think. But Zach looked to Ernie with a worried glance.

“You better go fix that, mate.”

And then Ernie was gone, too.

Then all eyes shifted to Leanne. Her eyes grew wide when she realized that her explanation was expected. She shrugged.

“I don’t know. Ernie put his arm around me and we were talking. He tried to kiss me a couple times.... we were just playing. Then Justin comes over and starts asking Ernie about whether this is how he treats women. Ernie got mad and started telling Justin to stay out it. It wasn’t a problem, really, it wasn’t. Ernie didn’t do anything wrong.”

Except call Justin a mudblood.

Susan said what Harry was thinking.

“He shouldn’t have said that though...”

An uncomfortable silence opened up as no one knew where to proceed from here. Zach broke the moment with more than a little sarcasm in his voice.

“Well this was fun. I think we should call it a night. Leanne, would you like me to escort you home?”

“Sure, thank you.”

Leanne gathered her bag, took Zach’s hand as he helped her up, and then it was just Susan and Harry.

* * *

Susan sat in the booth letting the hot cup of tea warm her hands. The whole affair with Ernie and Justin disturbed her. They had always been good friends as far as Susan knew, and maybe they would get over this, but there was something about it that still bothered her. If she could just figure it out.

The Macmillans were a very respected pureblood family and had been close friends to the Bones family. Susan had even had play-dates with Ernie when they were little. It was hard to believe that he would see Justin—one of his closest friends—as a having dirty blood.

The moment swirled in Susan’s mind much like the milk diffusing into her tea as she replayed the event in her mind. It wasn’t an accident. It definitely hadn’t been a joke. It was like Ernie had been waiting with the thought on the tip of his tongue holding it back and Justin had finally ripped it out of him.

So he must really believe it. Either that or he was just looking for the word that would hurt Justin most, but that wasn’t Ernie’s way. They were punching each other. They didn’t need to insult each other.

And what of Justin? If Leanne wasn’t bothered—and hadn’t acted bothered, which maybe she hadn’t been because she had referred to it as ‘play’—then why would Justin intervene? This answer seemed more obvious. Justin might be jealous. It was an assumption, but it fit, but why attack Ernie. Hufflepuffs didn’t tear each other down. They built each other up.

And then there was Leanne. Susan was angry with Leanne. It wasn’t fair, necessarily, but Susan knew how to read Hufflepuff and how to read girl. Leanne had been enjoying the fight. She knew exactly what was going on and rather than put out the fire she just let it burn. It was the worst caricature of the catty teenage girl that Susan had never been able to stand.

Susan had lived with Leanne at Hogwarts for five school years and had never picked up on this strain of her personality. Of course, Leanne had never really connected with her dormmates. She had been seen many times in the company of Tracey Davis, so Susan always assumed she had aspirations to Slytherin.

“Susan?”

Susan looked up from her tea to Harry who was considering the bottom of his cup having finished his tea more quickly.

“Yes, Harry.”

Susan watched as he took a long breath and sighed very visibly.

“I need to ask you something. There hasn’t been a good time and this isn’t it either, but if the recent days have taught me anything it’s that time doesn’t wait.”

Susan felt anticipation explode through her manifesting a ball in her throat and a weight upon her chest. Why would he preface something this way?

“I like you a lot. And you’ve help so much. You’ve looked out for everyone. Not that it’s your job, or that you have to... I just mean that you do it so well. I...”

Harry shook his head, confused.

Susan knew what this was. She knew! She wanted him to just get the words out! The weight upon her chest doubled. She felt her breathing deepen and increase in pace, but at the same time she felt like she was holding her breath.

“I’m sorry. I mean that I like you. And I thought that maybe you might be liking me. And I wondered if you might want to try a date sometime...”

The weight of anxiety rose with joyous potential. Susan was right. Harry did like her and wanted to give it a go.

“... like a real one. Not like this one. Well of course not like this one. This was a disaster ... not that you were bad ... I mean of course not ... I mean with Ernie and everything ... you’ve been great...”

He was so cute right now. Susan comforted herself that finding joy in Harry’s bashful approval-seeking was perfectly normal even if it did feel a little sadistic. She needed to slow him down though.

“Harry...”

“I-want-to-go-out-with-you!”

Susan put her hand on top of his stopping the adorable rant. And not a moment too early because in the wizarding world going on a date was very different to going out together. Harry was asking her out. Her stomach leaped in giddy tumbles.

“I really like you. And I would be very honoured to accompany you on a date.”

Susan knew that there was something she was concerned about just a minute ago. It had seemed important at the time, but she honestly couldn’t remember what is was or why it could possibly matter.