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The Seeker Blinding Playbook

Another one for Lyrical! If it’s not Tonks, it’s… I hope you all enjoy this slightly rarer pairing too!

The four colours of the badge gleamed in the bathroom’s brightness, shining in the mirror. Hogwarts Quidditch Captain. 

Harry straightened it, rubbing at the golden eagle’s head. ‘I really don’t know why she chose me. The seeker is the worst person to make captain, they can’t even pay attention to the rest of the game because they have to hunt for the snitch.’ He sighed. ‘Everyone else is going to be annoyed and think I’ve been chosen because Hooch is friends with Dad.’

‘Quidditch is a stupid game.’ A boy’s voice called from within the cubicle. ‘I don’t know why you waste time on it. You could do great things. Change the world. Push the boundaries of magic.’

‘Yeah, but I enjoy quidditch.’

‘The scoring system doesn’t even work. You should just get the whole team to look for the snitch in the first few minutes and then go catch it. You would win every time as long as you blocked off the other seeker.’

‘They actually changed the professional league’s rules this summer, so that wouldn’t work.’ Harry glanced over his shoulder at the cubicle door. ‘Because of sponsorship, the games have to last longer than fifteen minutes, so they enchanted the snitch to be invisible for that long after it’s released. Not sure what I’m now meant to do for the first fifteen minutes to be honest.’

‘It’s still a stupid game. Until forty years ago we didn’t even have a way for people to watch it properly because it was too far away and too fast.’

Harry pulled a paper towel out and balled it up, tossing it over the cubicle. ‘Are you coming out, Tom? Or are you going to lurk in there like a bad smell?’

A tall, handsome boy of silver mist drifted through the cubicle. ‘Do you know what I would have done to anyone who dared to throw a paper towel at me when I was alive?’

Harry snorted. ‘Try and set a giant snake on them, and immediately get eaten by said giant snake?’

Tom glowered. ‘I was going to be the greatest wizard that ever lived. That stupid worm ruined everything.’ 

‘I mean, I don’t know what you were expecting to happen when you woke up a giant, man-eating snake after, like, five centuries.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Obviously it was going to be pretty hungry.’

‘All the other snakes always did what I told them,’ Tom muttered.

Harry snickered. ‘Bet you regret that assumption now.’

‘When are you going to stop whining about quidditch and do some more experimental magic.’ A gleam of hunger rose in Tom’s silver eyes. ‘Show me something interesting. The night vision transfiguration was ages ago.’

‘Well, I have to captain the whole quidditch team now, so I guess whenever I’m not trying to come up with plays.’ Harry cocked his head. ‘Also, my mum got really mad about that, apparently I could have done severe damage to my eyes if I’d messed it up.’

‘It looked excellent,’ Tom said.

‘It was quite cool, but it wasn’t all that useful except for when I needed the toilet in the night.’ Harry grimaced. ‘Also, I think the quidditch stuff is going to take me a lot of time, because I don’t really know what I’m doing, so mostly you’ll have to watch me do that.’

‘Can’t you do that elsewhere?’ Tom swept his fringe across his forehead. ‘Anywhere but here.’

‘Well, I could.’ Harry grinned. ‘But nobody comes to bother me in here since you convinced those three firsties to go into an acromantula colony and they locked the door. Also mostly because watching you sulk about quidditch is hilarious.’

‘Lord Voldemort does not sulk.’ 

‘Lord Voldemort thought making his name into an anagram was cool. You know Gilderoy Lockhart bought your diary and wrote a book based on you? It was a best-seller. I can get a copy for you, if you want.’

Tom glared. ‘People would have learnt to fear that name. It wouldn’t have been so funny then.’ He clenched his jaw. ‘But yes, I would like a copy of the book.’

‘Yeah, I bet all the linguists would have been terrified of your influence on the world.’ Harry laughed and headed for the door. ‘Okay, I’ll get you a copy of the book, but I have to go meet the team and figure out how to make this work without everyone hating me.’

‘Stamp your authority on them,’ Tom said. ‘Ban anyone who disagrees with you from the team.’

‘But what if they have good ideas or I’m making a mistake?’ Harry paused, his hand on the door knob. ‘Like, imagine, I thought I’d made a really clever plan, and was absolutely sure it would work, but I’d overlooked something kind of obvious. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have someone who’d point that out and not a terrified bunch of people who’d just nod along until I got eaten by a basilisk?’

‘I hate you,’ Tom muttered. ‘Get out of my bathroom.’

‘Bye Tom. Don’t convince anymore firsties to go into the Forbidden Forest or I think they really will exorcise you this time.’

‘I said I wouldn’t,’ Tom grumbled. ‘And how was I even supposed to know that moron, Rubeus Hagrid, had started an acromantula colony right next to a school? His idiocy is more dangerous than I ever was.’

‘Imagine aspiring to be the greatest wizard that ever lived and the worst student in the school’s history is still more dangerous than you by complete accident.’

Tom’s eyes narrowed. ‘Get out, Potter, or I’ll haunt your little sister.’

‘Yeah, she’s, like, a hundred times more annoying than I am, so…’ He pulled the door open, stuck his head out, and slipped into the corridor, tugging it shut and reapplying the locking charm. ‘There we go.’

A pair of second years shot him an odd look as they skipped past. Harry gave them a wave and headed down the corridor, slipping through the lunch crowd and out toward the quidditch stands.

A small huddle leant on the barriers on the front row, chatting in twos and threes as they stared over the short grass at the far set of hoops. Crabbe and Goyle sat beneath the bench, sucking on acid pops. Katie passed a pack of gum to Alicia and Angelina, tossing a slim, rainbow-coloured strip of gum into her mouth.

‘I’m here!’ Harry called, hurrying across the pitch. ‘Sorry I’m late!’

‘You’re late.’ Angelina swung her heels up onto the barrier; a muscle twitched in her jaw. ‘Good show, captain.

‘Er… Yeah, sorry about that. I was talking to a ghost.’

‘The homicidal edgy kid in the toilet?’ Katie poked her head past Angelina’s shoulder. ‘Isn’t he, like, really mean?’

‘He tries.’ Harry shrugged. ‘But he got himself eaten by a giant snake, so really there’s nothing he can say that there isn’t a snake-related comeback to.’

‘As much as I really want to hear about whatever you and some ghost do together in the bathroom, we have quidditch to talk about.’ Angelina swept her heels off the top of the barrier and jumped to her feet. ‘Since Hooch has decided you’re captain.’

‘Well…’ He caught Angelina’s cold stare and glanced away across the grass. ‘I thought the first thing we should do is pick the reserves. Obviously, I picked all of you for the first team, because, well, you’re here… but I thought we should pick the rest of the squad together, since you all know your own house teams better than I know them.’

‘Smart thinking.’ Ron flopped across the bench. ‘So who’d we need as back-up? Chasers? Keeper.’

‘All the positions, Ron.’ Alicia rolled her eyes. ‘Otherwise what happens if we lose someone?’

‘I knew that,’ he grumbled. ‘I was just… getting things going.’

Harry’s the captain,’ Angelina said. ‘He’s the one who has to get things going.’

‘So, I thought Daphne Greengrass for reserve seeker?’ Harry suggested.

‘Who?’ Ron asked. ‘The blonde Slytherin chick?’

‘That’s Pansy,’ Angelina replied. ‘Harry means Blaise Zabini.’

‘No, Blaise is a guy,’ Harry said. ‘He’s been one the whole time, too, apparently. Daphne just appeared a couple years ago, but she looks pretty good. It’s her or Ginny, and I think we all know she’s a better choice than Ginny.’

‘Cho Chang,’ Angelina said. ‘She really deserves it more than either of those two. Ginny’s good, but still pretty young so she’ll have other chances, and, like, I actually know who Cho is, so the other girl…’

‘Cho?’ Harry glanced around the group.

Angelina nodded. Crabbe and Goyle stared across the pitch, tugging blades of grass from between the cracks in the ground.

‘Cho it is.’

‘What about a keeper? Who’s good?’

‘Don’t say MacLaggen,’ Ron muttered. ‘I’ll end up murdering him before we even get through the first practice.’

‘Yeah, he’s not an option.’ Alicia wrinkled her nose. ‘I can’t stand him. He just—’ she turned a little pink ‘—he doesn’t exactly make eye contact when he talks to us.’

Harry frowned. ‘He doesn’t – oh.’ Heat rose on his cheeks. ‘Yeah, okay, not him.’

‘How about Hufflepuff’s keeper?’ Ron suggested.

Crabbe grunted. ‘Ours is better.’

‘At shot-stopping,’ Angelina said. ‘Not at distributing play, and we play with a long-distance chaser game for some plays, so we need a keeper that can make those long passes.’

‘Let’s go with Hufflepuff’s then.’ Harry pointed at Ron. ‘You okay to go find them?’

‘Yeah, sure.’ Ron sat up on the chair. ‘Now?’

‘After the meeting, Ron,’ Angelina said. ‘We can just take Ravenclaw’s chasers, by the way, Harry. They play the same way we do, but not as good.’

‘Keeps it simple.’ Katie blew a huge bubble of gum, watching it swell and flash through the colours of the rainbow until it burst over her face. ‘Oops.’

‘Nice one.’ Alicia giggled. ‘Are we done?’

Harry shrugged. ‘Yeah. I’ve got some plays I want to think about. They changed the rules over the summer and I had some ideas.’

Angelina’s eyes narrowed. ‘We already have plays. The seeker rule changes are irrelevant to everyone but the seekers.’

‘Well, we’ll see how they work out.’ He waved a hand at Ron. ‘Keeper?’

Ron nodded.

‘I’ll tell Cho when I see her in the common room,’ Harry said. ‘And our house chasers.’ He frowned. ‘Wait, am I choosing too many people from Ravenclaw? Will that seem too biased?’

‘Maybe.’ Angelina shrugged. ‘Are we done, captain?’

He sighed. ‘Yeah, we’re done, Angelina.’

‘Good. We have better places to be.’

Katie rolled her eyes as Angelina towed Alicia away. ‘She’s such a bitch sometimes.’

Harry shot her a helpless look. 

‘I’ll head off as well,’ Ron said. ‘Tubby twins, you coming to the hall for cake?’

Crabbe and Goyle shared a look and grunted, dragging themselves to their feet on the barrier. 

‘Angelina’s pretty mad about you getting picked,’ Katie said as the trio wandered out of earshot toward the Great Hall. ‘She’s probably going to be bitchy about it for a bit.’

‘Great.’ Harry poked a small clover with his toe. ‘I was kind of hoping to talk about the ideas I had with her as she made all the other chaser plays.’

‘What did you make?’ Katie blew a fist-sized bubble, watching it flash through the different colours until it burst with a quiet pop. 

‘Well, I thought since the new rules basically mean I have nothing to do for fifteen minutes I should find a way I can get involved.’

‘Yeah, the professional managers and coaches were talking about that, something to do with acting as a false second keeper or something.’ She poked bubblegum back into her mouth with the tip of her finger. ‘Which makes sense.’

‘Yeah…’ Harry stared up at the hoops. ‘Only, the seeker can’t really do much to keep, they’d just be an obstacle and you could pass right round them in front of the hoops because they’d be motionless.’

‘There’s a penalty rule about seekers blocking shots, too.’ Alicia drifted back across the grass. ‘What Katie’s talking about won’t work very well, but I don’t think anyone’s really figured out what to do with the seeker for the first fifteen minutes yet.’

‘What about further away?’ He pointed into the middle of the pitch. ‘Like the Vultures do with their centre press?’

‘Cut off the wings of the pitch with beaters and press in a vertical three?’ Alicia patted down her robes and pulled out a piece of parchment and a blue crayon. ‘That only works if your chasers are good enough to win the one-on-one duels most of the time and you have an amazing keeper to stop or slow a good amount of the breakaways that happen if they get through.’

‘Yeah, but let’s say we do that, only instead of pressing in a vertical trio, we press in a vee shape and I fly in a circle over the top to block off the top part.’ Harry waved a hand at the air between the hoops. ‘They’d have to get away from the vee and that means they’d have to go back to their keeper or over me—’

‘Which means they’re isolated if we push forward.’ Alicia slapped the parchment down on the bench and scribbled in a blue crayon. ‘Wait, what’s the vee meant to look like?’

‘So at the top there’s me, then there’s the vee with two of you in the middle layer and one at the bottom.’

‘Angelina should be bottom,’ Alicia said. ‘She wins most of her duels.’

‘Okay, so Katie and you are the two in the middle.’

‘And you’re on top of us.’

Katie giggled. ‘Sounds exciting.’

Harry snorted.

‘Not like that.’ Alicia sighed. ‘You’re so immature, Katie. I love you, but not everything needs to be a lewd joke.’

‘I’ll stop doing it when people stop laughing.’ Katie blew a huge bubble, watching it change from green, to blue, to purple to red. 

It burst like a thunderclap over her face and Harry flinched.

‘Ow.’ Katie picked bits of bubblegum off her face and flicked them away into the grass. ‘That was a big one.’

‘That always happens when you blow them.’

Katie snickered. 

Alicia shot her a flat stare. ‘Really?’

‘What?’ Harry’s brain caught up and heat flooded his cheeks. ‘Oh.’

‘Sorry not sorry.’ Katie grinned. ‘Alicia wouldn’t mind it so much if she actually said yes to any of the boys that ask her out.’

‘They’re all idiots.’ Alicia folded her arms. ‘Like, seriously. They just want to date me because I’m on the quidditch team and popular and because I say no to most guys they seem to think they should all ask? They don’t know anything about me.’

‘But it’s still fun to make out with cute people.’ Katie clapped a hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘Actually, Harry, there’s that Yule dance thing coming up soon. Have you—’

‘Hush.’ Alicia dug through her pockets and held out a stick of bubblegum. ‘Just put that in your mouth and try not to say anything for the next minute. I want to talk about quidditch, not school dances. Urgh. They’re so not fun.’

Katie laughed and grabbed it. ‘Fine, fine.’ She peeled off the wrapper and stuffed it into her pocket. ‘I guess setting Harry up to be brutally rejected by you is probably not good for the team dynamic.’

Alicia sighed. ‘You’re so blonde, Katie.’

‘I’m not blonde.’ Katie waved a fistful of bubblegum and mahogany hair in the air. ‘See.’

‘You have the spirit of a blonde. A really blonde blonde.’

Harry chuckled. ‘Okay, so, what did you think?’

‘Of the quidditch plays?’ Alicia studied her crayon drawing. ‘Not sure. Could work. We’ll have to try it out in practice and see how it goes.’

‘Yeah, alright.’ He smiled. ‘Thanks. I kind of wanted to actually contribute something as captain, you know. I don’t know why Hooch thinks a seeker is a good choice as captain, because I can’t really watch the plays much in the game.’

‘Yeah…’ Alicia wrinkled her nose. ‘Odd one. Like, you’re not a bad captain or anything, but it would make more sense if it was one of us or Ron.’

‘I know.’ Harry shrugged, curling his toes into the sole of his shoes. ‘I don’t get it, but she picked me, so it’s me.’

‘Well, maybe it’s still better than if it was Katie.’

‘Hey!’ Katie pouted. ‘Why not me?’

‘You’re too blonde,’ Alicia said. ‘You’d have us scoring in our own hoops or something.’

‘The only scoring I’d try and make you do would be to finally get you to kiss a boy.’ Katie drew herself up in triumph. ‘But you’re too chicken.’

‘I’m not interested in any of the boys who ask me out. They’re just idiots.’

Harry shuffled back toward the hall. ‘I’m just going to—’

‘If you like kissing boys so much, Katie, why don’t you kiss Harry?’ Alicia demanded.

‘Run away,’ he muttered, flushing. ‘I think it’s nearly the end of lunch now.’

Katie flared bright pink. ‘That’s not the same.’

‘I know how many boys you’ve really made out with, Katie,’ Alicia declared. ‘In fact, I know all the people you’ve kissed. Your cousin, weird, but whatever, I guess you wanted to try it and they were someone you knew. And the only other people you kissed was that time we snuck out here and got really drunk and—’

‘Okay,’ Katie blurted. ‘I give.’

Harry studied Alicia’s crayon drawing, his face burning. ‘Erm… bye?’

They burst into giggles. ‘Bye Harry.’

‘Why are you squandering your time on this?’ Tom demanded, floating back and forth through the sinks. ‘It’s such a waste. Who’s going to care if you win or lose?’

‘Me.’ Harry glanced up from his box of quidditch toys. ‘Now I’m trying to find the instructions for this game, so shut up for a second.’

‘Lord Voldemort—’

‘Got eaten by a snake while wearing only one sock.’

Tom glowered at his bare foot. ‘It fell off after I got eaten.’

‘Like your shoes?’

‘Shoes make lots of noise and I was being sneaky, so I took them off.’ Tom floated into the wall, muttering under his breath. 

‘Your sock has pumpkins on it,’ Harry called after him, arranging the small model quidditch players on the tiled floor.

‘Shut up, Potter,’ Tom jibed, drifting out of the wall. ‘At least my little sister doesn’t steal my underwear.’

Harry glanced up from his set of players. ‘You don’t have a little sister. And mine steals my socks, not my underwear.’

‘Same thing.’

‘What, like a grass snake and a basilisk are the same thing?’ He chuckled at the darkening expression on Tom’s face. ‘You asked for that.’

‘You are such a waste of talent.’

Harry shrugged. ‘It’s my talent to waste.’ He pulled the instruction leaflet out and skimmed through the bit at the back. ‘Okay, so the enchantments are meant to simulate a game—’ he flicked through a bit further ‘—and it works by having the models’ enchantments interacting with each other. That’s good.’

‘Why?’ Tom drifted over, a hungry little gleam in his eyes. ‘Are you going to do something to them?’

‘Yeah.’ Harry pointed at the blue players. ‘If I can charm them to do the system I want, then the other players are basically enchanted to try and beat it.’

‘It’s a toy.’ Tom sneered. ‘It’s not exactly going to be a great test.’

‘Well, if the toy can beat my play, then I might as well ditch it, or tweak it.’ Harry tapped his wand on the blue players, tugging the thin film of safety enchantments away. ‘We don’t need those.’

‘What was that?’

‘Safety ones. Stops them flying into each other and me tampering.’ He hooked his magic into the enchantments beneath, a handful of plays flashed through his mind. ‘Oh, wow, this isn’t even complicated stuff.’

‘It’s a toy.’

‘Yeah, but still. I could have done this in my third year.’ Harry coaxed the impression of his play in amongst the others and ripped the rest away. ‘That should do it.’ He grabbed the little box with the balls and tapped it with his wand.

The players rose to hover in the air and the balls burst out. The blue team seized the quaffle and tore through, hurling it through the floating hoops. 

‘Not a good start,’ Tom said.

‘It doesn’t matter and you know it.’

The red team picked the quaffle up from the bathroom tiles and passed it out. 

‘Here we go,’ Harry said as the blue team moved into position for his new play. ‘Let’s see how it goes.’

The red chaser passed down and the vee of blue chasers pinned him against the ground and stole the quaffle.

‘Good start.’

Tom scowled. ‘You’re going to have to watch this for ages, aren’t you?’

‘I am. It learns each time according to the enchantments, just a basic iterative charm approach.’

‘You know she’s going to come and annoy us.’

Harry glanced at the bathroom door. ‘That’s your fault. You told her I came here regularly.’

Tom glowered. ‘I thought that would stop her coming back.’

‘I guess we can add fourteen year old girls to the list of things Lord Voldemort’s been defeated by.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Wait, how old was Myrtle when you got eaten by your own snake?’

‘Fifteen,’ Tom muttered. 

‘So you’ve set a new low. Well done.’

‘The whole reason you’re in here is to hide from her,’ he spat.

‘She doesn’t leave me alone,’ Harry replied. ‘She’s the most annoying thing alive.’

‘I’m not alive.’

‘That’s why I had to specify,’ he retorted. ‘Now shut up, it’s going ‘round again.’

The red team passed up to the upper chaser, down to the middle, who was forced back by the top of the vee and up to the top chaser again. 

‘They’re going backwards.’ Tom sneered. ‘Why not try going over the top through the seeker’s silly circle pattern.’

The red chaser streaked up, smashing into the circling seeker. They both bounced across the tiles. 

‘I guess that’s why,’ Harry said.

‘Congratulations, you’ve invented a new way to kill your players,’ Tom jibed. ‘You’re a great captain.’

‘At least I didn’t kill myself.’ Harry jabbed his wand at them and the toys fell still and swept back into the box. 

‘Done?’ Tom scowled. ‘What about all the other ways?’

‘The enchantment won’t learn from that crash, so it’s just going to keep trying over and over,’ Harry said. ‘Also, she probably will come and annoy us, so I’m going to find someone else who actually knows something about quidditch to talk to.’

‘Wait, but then she’ll just annoy me,’ Tom cried. 

‘Yeah, tragic that.’ Harry sniggered. ‘I’m sure Lord Voldemort can handle my fourteen year old sister.’

Tom glared at him. ‘That girl just won’t be quiet. She’s more annoying than Myrtle. I wish—’

Harry slashed his wand and Tom’s silver form wavered. ‘Were you about to say something that might make me want to shut you in a jam jar for a week again?’

Tom huffed and flitted into the cubicles. ‘No.’

‘Harry!’ A small fist pounded on the door. 

‘Oh, bloody hell,’ Harry muttered. 

Tom’s cackling echoed from inside the stall. 

‘You shut up, Lord Voldemort.’

‘Open the door, Harry!’

‘Go away, Rosie,’ he yelled. ‘I’m doing things.’

‘I wanna see.’ 

‘No.’ Harry levitated the box and tugged the door open. 

Rosie’s wand poked him in the stomach. ‘Harry!’ She beamed and grabbed him in a tight hug. ‘What were you doing? Can I help?’

‘I’m basically done.’ He poked the top of her head, mussing her red hair. ‘I need to go find Alicia Spinnet.’

‘The cranky girl?’

‘What?’

‘That’s what all the boys in Hufflepuff call her.’ Rosie squirmed and stuck her wand in her pocket. ‘That and things I’m not supposed to say.’

‘Alicia’s fine. I guess they all got brutally rejected.’ 

‘Wait… is she your girlfriend?’ Rosie jumped back, her green eyes going wide. ‘I’m going to tell mum and dad.’

‘You do that and I’ll transfigure all your soft toys into snakes. Real ones.’ Harry fixed her with a serious look. ‘I don’t have a girlfriend.’

‘No!’ Rosie screwed her face up. ‘I hate snakes!’

‘Smart girl,’ Tom muttered over Harry’s shoulder. 

Harry flinched. ‘Stop doing that.’

‘Hi Tom.’ Rosie waved at him with a huge smile. ‘How’s your bathroom?’

‘It is exactly the same as it has been every time you’ve asked me that pointless question,’ Tom replied. ‘If you weren’t Harry’s sister, I would send you to a really exciting part of the Forbidden Forest.’

Harry cleared his throat. ‘Jam jar.’ 

‘It’d be worth it,’ Tom muttered.

‘I will stick the jam jar to Sir Cadogan’s picture and ask him to tell you all his best stories about questing. I won’t exorcise you even when you beg me to, either.’

‘Fine.’

‘What’s in the forest?’ Rosie demanded. ‘Fairies?’

‘Giant man-eating spiders.’

‘Oh.’ She shuddered. ‘That’s worse than snakes. Tom is a bad ghost.’

Harry chuckled. ‘Yes. He is. Don’t go into the forest. In fact. Why don’t you go and read about how to avoid giant spiders in the library?’

‘You’re trying to get rid of me!’ Rosie balled her fists. ‘You always try and get rid of me.’

‘I have to do stuff.’ He patted the box. ‘Quidditch season starts soon and we need to be all ready.’

‘I’ll help.’

‘Rosie, you don’t even like quidditch. The only thing you know about quidditch is that I like it.’

‘I can still help.’ She grabbed the box and tried to wrestle it into her grasp. ‘I’ll carry the box.’

‘Why? It was floating quite happily.’

‘I want to help.’ Rosie’s face fell. ‘You never let me help anymore.’

‘I think you should let her help,’ Tom whispered. 

Rosie beamed. ‘I knew you were a nice ghost really.’

Tom glowered at Rosie’s smiling, freckled face. ‘Help somewhere a long way away from me.’

‘Stupid ghost.’ Rosie stuck her tongue out at Tom. ‘And a creepy boy. What were you doing in a girl’s bathroom to begin with? Peeking at our underwear?’

Tom’s face flushed dark silver. ‘Lord Voldemort—’

‘He was,’ Harry said. ‘He denies it, but everyone knows it’s true.’

‘Get out of my bathroom,’ Tom hissed. ‘Both you and your little… sister.’

‘I was already leaving, remember.’ Harry flicked his wand, tugging the box out of Rosie’s grip and locked the door. ‘Right… where would Alicia be?’

‘I know where she is.’ Rosie bounced after him, watching the box bob in his wake. 

‘No you don’t, you’re just saying that so I’ll follow you around. Like when you pretended you saw a troll in the dungeons.’

‘There was a troll!’ 

‘Really? How did it get in? Did it climb in through the window?’

‘Professor Slughorn said it probably came in through the ruined wing,’ Rosie said. ‘The collapsed bit connects to a load of caves that come out in the forest.’

‘Huh.’ Harry paused. ‘That’s interesting. I’ve never heard about that.’

‘The cranky girl is in the library with her silly friend.’ Rosie grabbed his hand, bouncing away from the bathroom. ‘Come on.’

He let her lead him down the corridor and up the moving staircases toward the library. ‘Why are you always so hyper? Did you have sugar quills for breakfast again?’

‘No.’ Rosie beamed, a cheerful gleam in her green eyes. ‘We played Every Flavour Bean Roulette in Snap Club and Tori got bogey three times in a row.’

‘Poor Astoria,’ Harry muttered. ‘I’m pretty sure some of those flavours should be illegal.’

‘Are you going to the Yule Dance with someone?’ Rosie froze at the library door. ‘Who are you going with? Harry?’

‘I’d forgotten it was happening, actually.’ He grimaced. ‘Great. Now I have to ask someone.’

‘The cranky girl?’

‘Yes, the girl who has a reputation for rejecting every boy that asks her out seems like a great choice, Rosie. You should give out dating advice more often.’

Rosie scowled. ‘It was just a question. You don’t have to be mean about it.’

‘It was a silly question.’

‘I just want to know what you’re doing,’ she whispered. ‘You don’t tell me anything.’

‘You always tell our parents!’ 

‘They want to know too!’

‘Yes, but they don’t need to know everything.’ Harry sighed and patted her on the shoulder, stepping into the library and scanning the tables until he glimpsed the back of Katie’s head. ‘Come on, imp. You can tag along if you’re not going to be annoying.’

Rosie’s scowl evaporated. ‘I won’t be annoying. I promise!’

‘I’ll hex you to only speak in haikus if you are.’ He wound through the tables, waving at Cho as he passed.

‘What about her?’ Rosie piped up. ‘You could ask her?’

‘Wow, you lasted literally about three seconds, Rosie.’

She squeaked. ‘Sorry. Don’t haiku hex me again.’

‘Then shush.’ Harry took the seat beside Katie and quirked an eyebrow at Alicia’s huge earmuffs. ‘Hey, what are you two doing?’

Katie snickered. ‘Hiding. That’s why Alicia has her silly earmuffs on.’ She cocked her head. ‘Hi, Rosie. You finally managed to find your brother again?’

‘Yup.’ Rosie grinned. ‘But I promised I wouldn’t be annoying. Why are you hiding?’

‘People keep asking Alicia to the Yule Dance.’ Katie counted on her fingers. ‘At least eight boys so far today.’ She lifted up Alicia’s earmuffs. ‘Hey, Alicia, another boy is here to talk to us.’

Alicia whirled around. ‘Oh. Harry.’ She turned a little pink. ‘Sorry.’

‘So, I tested out the quidditch plays on an old toy.’

‘How?’ Rosie chimed in. ‘Did you do something amazing again?’

‘What? No, Rosie. I just stripped some safety charms off and messed with a few things.’ Harry put a finger to his lips. ‘It seemed to work before they tried going up through the seeker, but the model’s self-learning charms aren’t good enough for me to know any better.’

‘So we try it out in practice?’ Katie leant forward. ‘Us versus reserves?’

‘Yeah, we could do that,’ he said. ‘Why not?’

‘But you’ll have to actually organise some practices, Angelina’s getting kind of mad about it.’ Alicia tugged her earmuffs off and dropped them on the table. ‘What do you want to try?’

‘The pressing system I talked about, the chaser vee with me circling on top.’ Harry gestured in the air with both hands while Katie squinted at him. ‘I’ll show you when we actually do it, we’ll make sense.’

Alicia pulled out her blue crayon and stole Katie’s parchment. ‘So the vee—’ she scribbled three stick figures on brooms and a big circle above them ‘—and then you’re up top. That?’

‘Yeah.’ He stole the crayon and drew an arrow down toward the stick chaser on the bottom. ‘So the toy I messed with tried to go underneath the press, but that didn’t work because there’s no space to get under the press. And it didn’t try going through the two chasers in the middle at all.’

‘Was it a good toy?’ Katie frowned at the drawing. ‘Because real players are going to be much better at getting through it than a toy.’

‘Oh, of course,’ Harry said. ‘But it was a good first test. If the toy could beat it, then it probably wasn’t going to work.’

‘Did it?’ Alicia asked.

‘No it crashed its chaser into the seeker, and because it crashed the basic self-learning charm means it would just keep doing that,’ he replied. ‘That’s why I wanted to talk to you about trying it out.’

Katie snickered. ‘You mean you want us to talk to Angelina.’

‘A little bit of that too.’ He shot her a rueful grin. ‘She seemed pretty mad about the whole captaincy thing.’

‘That’s cos she is,’ she said. ‘But yeah, we can talk to Angelina. Now the rules have been changed, the seeker might as well be doing something useful in the first fifteen minutes of the game.’

‘What are you going to call the play?’ Alicia asked. ‘You have to call it something.’

‘I hadn’t really got that far,’ Harry admitted. ‘I was more thinking about it working.’

‘Well, what does it do?’ Katie asked. ‘It’s a seeker play, really, only not doing any seeking.’

‘Blind seeker?’ Rosie piped up. ‘If you’re flying in circles you’re not going to be able to see anything.’

Harry sighed. ‘No, Rosie—’

‘Yes,’ Alicia said. ‘Because you’re not exactly looking for the snitch during this play, you can’t be.’

‘I know,’ Katie said. ‘The seeker blinding play.’

‘But that sounds like we’re blinding their seeker,’ he said. ‘Which isn’t at all right. And actually blinding the seeker has been against the rules since the twelfth century.’

‘That’s fine.’ Alicia glanced up and turned red, snatching up her earmuffs and cramming them over her ears. ‘It will just confuse the opposition.’

Harry tracked her line sight across the library to a small group of Gryffindor boys lingering by the door watching their table. ‘Oh, I think you’re about to be asked out again.’

Katie cackled. ‘It looks that way.’ She plucked Alicia’s earmuffs off. ‘Remember, try not to completely traumatise them, Alicia.’

‘It stops them asking me again,’ she muttered. ‘Otherwise they just keep asking.’

‘Er… should I do something?’ Harry asked. ‘Like, tell them not to?’

‘No.’ Alicia scowled. ‘It won’t help. Nothing does.’

‘Ah well.’ Katie patted Alicia on the head. ‘Maybe one day you’ll think one of them is cute enough to say yes to.’

‘You’re so blonde, Katie.’ Alicia sighed. ‘So so blonde.’

‘I am not!’

‘If you weren’t so blonde, you’d think about more than just how cute people are and if you want to make out with them or not,’ Alicia retorted. ‘But you don’t, so… blonde.’

Katie crossed her arms and huffed. ‘You’re just mad because you don’t know how to say yes to cute boys.’

‘You’ve not said yes to any of them either!’

Harry grimaced and faked a cough. ‘So… practice?’

Alicia nodded. ‘We’ll try it a few times, it’s not that different to some of our current pressing systems, so a few sessions and we’ll start to pick it up. You’ll need to get Crabbe and Goyle to work on closing down the flanks of the pitch without hitting us as well. That Dutch school is coming for a friendly game in a couple of weeks. We can try it out against them, their seeker is rubbish anyway, so it doesn’t matter if Harry’s distracted for a bit.’

‘And…’ Harry shot a hopeful look at Katie.

‘And yes we’ll tell Angelina.’

Relief swept through him. ‘Thank you.’

‘Is Angelina the girl you want to ask to the Yule Dance?’ Rosie asked. ‘Is that why you’re scared of her?’

Harry pulled out his wand and jabbed it in her direction. ‘That’s it. It’s haikus for you, Rosie.’

Rosie squeaked and clapped her hands over mouth.

Katie countered his curse with a flick of her wand. ‘No it’s a valid question. Who are you asking to the Yule Dance?’

‘I haven’t thought about it. I forgot.’ He shrugged. ‘I’ll think of someone.’

Rosie perked up. 

Not Angelina, imp.’ Harry sighed. ‘Didn’t you promise not to be annoying?’

‘Sorry,’ Rosie whispered, her face falling. ‘I just got excited. Please don’t haiku me. Or avoid me again.’

‘Fine, but stop asking me about girls. Or the Yule Ball. Or girlfriends. Or anything like that.’

Rosie pouted. ‘But all you do is quidditch… and magic I don’t understand!’

‘Get better at magic, mini-mum,’ Harry teased, ruffling her red hair. ‘Or quidditch, I guess, but you couldn’t even catch a cold, so that’s probably not going to happen.’

‘Wow, you’re a mean brother.’ Katie giggled. ‘Funny, though. I wish I had an older brother like you, or maybe an older cousin.’

‘That you could kiss?’ A triumphant smile flashed across Alicia’s face. ‘Or maybe you’d like to try and kiss your best friends again?’

Katie turned crimson and buried her face in her arms. ‘We agreed not to tell anyone else about that!’

‘You agreed to come here and help me hide from stupid boys, but now you’ve obviously noticed them, they’re coming over here!’

Harry glanced up at the group. ‘I think that’s my cue to abandon ship.’

‘Nooooo.’ Katie grabbed his arm. ‘It’s hilarious. Stay and watch.’

The tallest of the boys, swept a hand through his dark hair and pulled a shaky smile onto his face. ‘Hey Alicia, I know I’m probably not the first guy to—’

‘No. I would rather spend the entire evening flying in a hailstorm than at this stupid dance.’

Katie burst into giggles.

‘All that time trying to come up with a great line and he never even made it that far,’ one of the other Gryffindor boys muttered. ‘Too funny.’

They sniggered.

‘Alright then, I – er – I guess have fun with whoever you end up going with.’ The dark-haired boy turned red. ‘Sorry to bother you.’

The group slunk away.

‘That wasn’t so bad,’ Harry said. ‘He just asked and left.’

‘He was fine,’ Alicia replied. ‘It’s the ones who are shocked you don’t want to go with some random boy you don’t know and demand an explanation.’

‘Maybe you should ask someone you want to go with,’ he suggested.

‘But then I have to ask someone.’ Alicia shook her head. ‘I’d be too scared to ask someone I actually liked.’

Katie snickered. ‘That’s why she’s so nice about turning them down. She can just see herself in their shoes and treats the poor boys just how she would want to be treated.’

‘Katie…’ Alicia dug her hand into her pocket and thrust a strip of bubblegum out. ‘Put this in your mouth and be quiet.’

‘One day you’re going to want some nice boy to say that to you, Alicia.’

Alicia growled.

‘Okay. Okay.’ Katie crammed the gum in her mouth and grinned. ‘Only, we’ll have to leave now. Madam Pince will mount my head over the overdue loans notices if she catches me chewing exploding bubblegum in here.’

Rosie raised a hand as Alicia and Katie packed their stuff away. ‘Can I ask a question, Harry?’

‘Is it an annoying one?’

Her lower lip trembled. ‘I don’t think so?’

‘Fine. Ask.’ He sighed. ‘But it better not be you asking me to the dance.’

‘Ew! No!’ Rosie screwed her face up. ‘I wanted to ask if that was why you hadn’t asked anyone, because it’s too scary?’

‘I just don’t really like dances, imp.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I get bored. They’re just not that fun.’

‘That’s because you have to ask the right girl, Harry.’ Katie grinned. ‘But since you need help, I’m sure Rosie will be happy to.’

‘Thanks, Katie.’ He shot Rosie a flat look. ‘Don’t even think about it. The last thing I need is you going out to proposition random girls on my behalf.’

‘I wasn’t going to do that!’

‘Oh? What were you going to do?’

‘Ask them.’

‘That’s what I said.’ He shook his head. ‘You need to spend less time eating sweets and more time reading.’

‘Reading is boring!’

Madam Pince rose from her desk and fixed them with a fierce glare, pointing toward the door. 

‘Good job, imp.’

‘Sorry,’ Rosie whispered.

‘It’s fine, we were leaving anyway.’ Alicia prodded Harry on the shoulder. ‘Remember to book some practice sessions, Harry.’

A line of orange-robed players trudged toward the changing rooms, hanging their heads and muttering amongst themselves.

‘I think that went well.’ Katie beamed up at the scoreboard. ‘Like, it really couldn’t have gone that much better.’

‘We could have not conceded thirty points,’ Alicia replied. ‘But scoring over four hundred is good.’

‘It would have gone a lot worse if we’d not stopped trying Harry’s useless seeker play,’ Angelina said. ‘Our plays are good enough already. They nearly caught us up at fifty thirty.’

‘It worked,’ Ron said, resting his broom on his shoulder and yawning. ‘Only trouble is that it’s a work in progress, don’t think Harry was expecting their beaters to try and paste him to open up the top of the pitch and beat our press.’  He frowned. ‘Let me have a think, actually, because if we can find a way to stop their beaters disrupting it, there’s not much they could have done.’

Angelina huffed. ‘We’re winning, why change what works?’

‘Well, what if someone did that to us?’ Alicia asked. ‘Then we’d be losing.’

‘Whatever. We can keep trying the play if Harry insists. He is the captain, after all.’

Katie rolled her eyes. ‘Come on, let’s get back to the changing rooms. We should talk about it there where nobody can hear us.’

Harry tucked his Firebolt under his arm and strode toward them. Ron’s right, I think. If we can keep hold of the bludgers they can’t get through our press.

The rest of the team clustered around the small wooden table beyond the lockers, resting their brooms against its edge. Cho and the other reserves waited at one end, all smiles and cheerful chatter.

‘What now, captain?’ Angelina stalked around to the far side of the table and crossed her arms. ‘Got any useful feedback for us players?’

‘Give it a rest, Angelina.’ Ron shot her dark look. ‘Nobody’s going to suddenly make you captain, so you might as well be nice, or you’re probably going to get yourself sent into the stands instead of onto the pitch.’

Angelina’s lips tightened to a thin white line.

‘Right, so I think all our usual plays worked just fine.’ Harry waved a hand back at the pitch. ‘My new one nearly worked—’

‘If they hadn’t used you as bludger target practice to stop you blocking off the top section of the pitch, you mean,’ Alicia said. ‘Crabbe and Goyle you need to stop them doing that.’

‘I’d rather I didn’t try this until we’ve fixed that,’ Cho said, biting her lip. ‘I can’t get away from two bludgers every time like Harry was. I don’t think even Harry could do that against the better teams.’

Crabbe and Goyle exchanged a look and grunted.

‘About that.’ Ron leant over the table edge. ‘Do you know the rotating beater circle play?’

‘Yeah.’ Goyle drew circles in the air with his finger. ‘We fly around and hit the bludgers back and forth between us.’

‘Right.’ Ron pulled his wand out and drew a circle of glowing light on the table. ‘We need to keep hold of the bludgers better when closing off the pitch, or they can use them to escape the press. So if you two use that play, but rather than fly in a circle, fly in a semi-circle on one side—’

‘Which leaves one side free,’ Angelina noted. ‘We’re changing everything just for this play.’

‘Right, but if they try and escape by going to the free side, we just move everyone across and they get trapped against the stands.’ Ron tapped his wand on one edge of the circle. ‘That should work, I reckon. Might even be better, because they’ll fly themselves into the stands thinking they can get out instead of taking the chance to beat our chasers in a duel.’

Harry nodded. ‘Alright. We’ll give it a try in practice. Anyone got anything else they want to add?’

‘Ron needs to buy dress robes for the Yule Dance,’ Katie said. ‘Because Lavender has officially announced to the common room that she is not going to be dressing down for the occasion.’

‘Bloody hell,’ Ron muttered. ‘Why did I ask her?’

‘The prospect of going alone was too humiliating?’ Katie asked.

‘Yeah, well, I’m regretting it a bit, okay.’ He swept his broom up onto his shoulder. ‘Now I’m going to grab a shower and go look at dress robe catalogues. Any attempts to save me are welcome.’ Ron trudged off with a sigh.

I still need to ask someone to that dance. Harry frowned at the fading circle of light on the table. I guess, maybe, Cho? A little knot of apprehension drew tight in the pit of his stomach. Fuck it. I’ll do it now. 

‘Alright, I think that seems to be it. I’ll book some practice sessions before Christmas so we have a bit of time before the next game.’ He tucked his Firebolt into the locker. ‘Cho… er… have you got a moment?’

The rest of the team drifted toward the showers, chatting and chuckling.

‘Of course.’ Cho lingered beside the table, a small frown on her face. ‘What is it, the seeker play thing?’

‘No… this dance—’

‘Sorry, Harry—’ she chewed her lower lip ‘—I’m flattered, if you’re about to ask, but I already said yes to someone, my boyfriend.’

‘Ah.’ He flushed. ‘Well, now I feel like an idiot, a bit for asking, but mostly for not realising you had a boyfriend. No worries. I’ll have to ask someone else.’

Except I really don’t have that many friends who are girls. Or not ghosts.

‘Sorry.’ Cho offered him a strained smile. ‘I – I’m going to get back up to school.’ She hurried away.

‘Not quite as brutal as Alicia, but still, that must have stung.’ Katie appeared from behind the lockers, a huge grin on her face. ‘How do you not know about her and Diggory? Pince throws them out of the library for kissing almost every day.’

 ‘I don’t actually spend much time there.’

‘Right, you hide in that sealed girl’s bathroom with the edgy ghost.’

‘I don’t like that you’re describing it that way, but yes.’ He flashed her a smile. ‘It’s the only place Rosie hasn’t yet found a way into to pester me. Although she will bang on the door for a while before giving up.’

‘Isn’t the ghost more annoying?’

‘Than Rosie?’ Harry snorted. ‘I don’t think that’s possible, although he does try.’ He chuckled. ‘I’m going to go ask him for dating advice now. Tom will hate that.’

Katie snickered. ‘Do you even know who you’re going to ask now you’ve finally learnt about Cho’s boyfriend?’

‘I was only going to ask her as a friend,’ Harry muttered. ‘It’s not like I was about to propose.’

‘Well, who’s next?’ Katie cocked her head, fumbling through her pockets. ‘Alicia?’

‘Are you just determined to get Alicia to reject every boy in the school?’

She giggled. ‘Not in the school… But she has got about half the year now. I’ve been mentally keeping a tally.’

 I guess I could ask Alicia, but she’s not likely to say yes. Or…

Harry took a deep breath. ‘Hey Katie, want to go to the dance with me?’

Katie blinked. ‘Me?’

‘Yeah…’ Harry felt the heat rise on his cheeks and pretended to check under the table. ‘Unless there’s another Katie here with us?’

She laughed. ‘No, I mean – it’s just – well…’

‘She’s not sure she’s interested in boys, Harry.’ Alicia’s voice carried through the lockers. ‘So, she’s trying to find a nice way to say no. It’s still a no.’

‘Huh.’ Harry glanced between the two girls. ‘I never knew that.’

Katie stared at her feet. ‘Sorry.’

‘Sorry?’ Harry cocked his head. ‘There’s nothing to be sorry about. It was a spur of the moment thing, I just realised I kind of like chatting with you and maybe the silly dance would be less terrible.’

Alicia drifted closer, a small frown on her face. ‘If your next move is to ask me, it’s also going to be a no. I don’t owe you a yes just because you asked.’

‘Well, he’s not going to ask you now, is he?’ Katie rolled her eyes. ‘And since you outed me, you owe me, Alicia.’

Alicia winced. ‘Sorry. I didn’t think Harry would be stupid about it, though.’

‘You’re going to the dance with him, to make up for it.’ Katie beamed. ‘It’s the only way you’re going to get over yourself enough to go with someone. Because I know you aren’t gay, Alicia, and as someone who doesn’t really get many options, I can promise you that you really shouldn’t be so stubborn about ignoring all of yours.’

‘Er…’

‘Hush Harry.’ Katie flapped a hand at him. ‘You get no say in this.’

‘Not even—’

‘Do you want a date or not?’

Harry sighed. ‘I’d quite like one that wants to go with me…’ 

‘At the moment it looks like Alicia or Rosie.’ Katie snickered. ‘Slim pickings. And Rosie didn’t seem keen either.’

‘This is why we buy her bubblegum,’ Alicia said. ‘It shuts her up.’

‘You hush too.’ Katie pointed at Harry. ‘You’re going with Alicia. Alicia is going with you.’

‘I’m not going to be a bauble.’ Alicia crossed her arms and scowled. ‘If I feel like you’re just dangling me about to show off to all the other stupid boys, I’m leaving.’

‘Alicia…’ Katie rolled her eyes. ‘You get upset when boys don’t think you’re pretty or clever and then you get upset when they’re proud of how clever and pretty their girlfriend is.’

‘So?’

Harry snorted.

Katie shook her head. ‘You don’t see a contradiction there?’

‘No,’ Alicia snapped. ‘They don’t have to rub it in or be so smug about it. I’m a person.’ She turned to Harry. ‘We might dance, maybe, if I want to. But you’re not going to pull me because Katie’s twisting my arm to finally go to something with someone, and if I see you looking anywhere I don’t think you should—’

‘And she’s going to wear a low cut top so she feels pretty, but will absolutely get mad when boys look,’ Katie chimed in. ‘Also, if you’re nice to her, she’ll think you’re just trying to pull her. And if you’re not nice, she’ll be really offended.’

Harry buried his face in his hand. ‘Can I back out?’

‘Nope.’ Katie beamed. ‘I’ve called in my favour.’

‘Not with me. Rosie’s genuinely starting to sound like the better option and that’s really disturbing when I think about it.’

A peal of laughter burst from Alicia. ‘I will try and be nice, just don’t do anything annoying.’

Katie rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘And, well, next time you need a date, you can come ask me. I’ll owe you one for helping me try and knock some sense into Alicia.’

Alicia glowered. ‘I’ll knock some sense into your air-headed blonde brain with a bludger.’

‘You would if you could catch me.’ Katie cackled and bounded out. ‘Make sure to dress nicely together!’

Harry hovered above the game, drifting in circles through gusts of wind as he watched Crabbe and Goyle swat the bludgers back and forth between them, along one flank of the pitch. 

‘Harry…’ Cho hung just above his head on her cleansweep, chewing her lip. ‘Sorry about, you know, before…’

He leant out of his circling, staring up at her as he wracked his brain. ‘Sorry about?’

She squirmed on her broom. ‘Turning you down for the Yule Dance…’

‘Oh…’ Harry shrugged. ‘Nah, that’s fine. I wouldn’t have asked if I’d known you had a boyfriend. Just need someone I like to go with so I don’t look like an idiot.’

‘Marietta still needs a date…’

‘I’m going with someone now.’ He glanced back at Crabbe and Goyle. ‘It’s all good.’

Cho drifted down beside him, her robes rippling in the wind. ‘This seems to be working. Your play.’

Harry grinned. ‘It’ll probably need more work when someone figures out a way to get around it or we hit another snag, but I’m quite pleased so far.’

‘Angelina’s not.’

‘No…’ He peered past Cho’s foot at where Angelina yelled at Katie and Alicia. ‘I think I might need to talk to her.’

‘Yeah.’ Cho wrinkled her nose. ‘She’s being a complete bitch to everyone.’

Harry glanced at the clock above the gate. ‘Well, we’re basically done with practice, so I might as well get it over with.’

‘I’ll head in then.’ Cho dived down and jumped onto the grasp, swinging her broom up onto her shoulder. 

Angelina’s harsh voice rose up from beneath, carried on the buffeting wind. Harry sighed into the wind and descended down into the vee. 

‘Are we done, captain?’ Angelina wrenched her broom about to face him. ‘We’re spending hours on this play and we’ve already got plenty that work just fine.’

‘Yeah, we’re done.’

‘Good—’ she leant right on her broom ‘—I’m going—’

‘We need to talk,’ Harry said as Katie and Alicia rose up beside Angelina.

Angelina froze. ‘About what?’

He hunted for the right words. ‘You’re not exactly helping the team dynamic at the moment, Angelina…’

‘You can’t drop me,’ she snapped. ‘I’m the best chaser one-on-one, and your play needs that!’

‘I mean, I can drop you.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I’m captain, as you’re so keen to keep reminding me.’

Angelina drew herself up. ‘Your play isn’t worth all this effort. Risking results on this half-baked plan isn’t a good idea. Some of us want to go pro and don’t want to waste time on it!’

‘Nobody’s come to a single game here yet,’ Alicia said. ‘Calm down.’

‘Untwist those panties,’ Katie chimed in, waving a hand at the rest of the team alighting below them. ‘It’s obviously working.’

‘And nobody else is complaining,’ Alicia said.

‘Oh defend your boyfriend.’ Angelina’s upper lip curled. ‘Is that how you’re planning to get picked, Alicia. Hope he puts a good word in for you with his dad’s friends?’

‘Fuck off,’ Alicia hissed.

‘Yeah, I was just going to tell you to get over yourself, but now you’re off the team until you apologise,’ Harry said. ‘And it better be a damn good apology.’ He stared Angelina dead in the eye. ‘Go tell the rest of the team there’s a chaser spot available or go back to your dorm.’

Her knuckles whitened on her broom shaft and she yanked it around, diving down and stalking toward the changing rooms.

‘What is her problem?’ Harry asked Katie.

‘She really wants to go pro,’ she replied. ‘Like, really really. She’s worried nobody will come watch us if we’re losing because of a new play.’

‘But if it works…’

‘She doesn’t like taking risks,’ Alicia replied. ‘Which is fair, I don’t really either.’

‘But it’s going to work,’ he said. ‘It’s worked so far…’

‘Risks are good,’ Katie declared. ‘Leaps of faith are important.’

‘No, they’re stupid.’ Alicia jabbed a finger at Katie. ‘You just end up chasing a rubbish guy who won’t ever change. You should pick someone who’s smart, kind, funny, well off, good-tempered, doesn’t have any bad habits.’

For quidditch? Harry frowned. What?

‘So romantic.’ Katie rolled her eyes. ‘Let’s take our grocery list to Honeyduke’s and see if we can find a boy just like that on the shelves.’

Alicia growled. ‘It’s important. Or it just falls apart.’

‘Well you don’t like it when boys treat you like a checklist. Pretty face—’ Katie mimed ticking off a list on her palm ‘—decent boobs, nice butt, sporty, willing to do things boys like girls to do for them… big cross.’

‘I would!’

Harry felt the heat rise on his face. ‘Okay, I’m just going to leave you two—’

‘Oh no, you need to hear this,’ Katie said. ‘This is how Alicia is going to think about your date. She’ll have a big list of all the things she expects.’

‘That doesn’t seem terrible.’

‘But you’re not allowed to expect anything from her,’ Katie said, shooting a huge grin at Alicia. ‘Because that’s not fair.’

Harry sighed. ‘What?’

‘Don’t listen to her.’ Alicia hurled bubblegum at Katie; it bounced off her shoulder and fell away. ‘It’s a trade off. Balanced. That’s the only way it works. I do some stuff he likes, he does things I like, so we balance.’

‘Urgh.’ Katie threw her hands in the air. ‘That’s so depressing. Like it’s some kind of bargain. Don’t you want something a little more – more… beautiful?’

‘No!’ Alicia crossed her arms. ‘Because if you do that, you end up shackled to some horrible guy who turns out to be nothing like you thought. He’ll just cheat on you all the time and ignore his daughter and eventually just run off and leave his family. And then they will all wait for him to come back, but he never will. And even when you track him down and demand he comes back then he’ll just pretend he doesn’t even know you.’

That seems really specific… Harry bit his tongue.

Katie dropped her arms. ‘Alicia…’

‘Just shut up.’ Alicia took a deep breath. ‘Sorry, Harry. I promise I won’t be awful, okay. It’s not like it’s a real date, anyway.’

‘I mean…’ Harry grimaced. ‘It’s clearly a touchy subject, so I’m just going to not touch it.’

‘Thanks.’ She shot a glare at Katie. ‘Unlike this stupid blonde who claims to be my best friend and constantly tries to make me date boys that are going to be terrible and just won’t work.’

It’s not very fair to date a list of things. He peered down at the pitch and found Rosie staring up at him from the edge of the stands. It’s not like the guy’s not going to notice you’re only interested in those things and not him.

Harry drifted down. ‘What is it, imp? Did you get lost on your way to wherever your other midget friends are?’

‘Harry!’ Rosie bounded forward and wrapped her arms around his waist. ‘You smell.’

‘I’ve been playing quidditch.’ He pried her arms loose. ‘If you don’t want to smell me, you can try letting go.’

‘But I need you to help me!’

‘And that means you have to be clinging on like some kind of limpet?’ Harry quirked an eyebrow at her. ‘Really?’

‘You’ll try and ditch me!’

Katie alighted beside him. ‘No, Harry. You agreed to go with Alicia. You can’t ask Rosie.’

‘That is… that is not even close to what is happening here.’ Harry pulled his wand out from his robes. ‘I will haiku hex you too, Katie.’

She snickered. ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll be good.’

Rosie glanced between them. ‘Is Katie your girlfriend?’

‘No,’ Harry said. ‘We are just friends. I don’t have a girlfriend and if I did it wouldn’t be Katie.’

‘Why not?’ his sister demanded. ‘I like her.’

‘Er…’

‘Not interested,’ Katie replied. ‘He’s not my type.’

Harry snorted. ‘I don’t fit the checklist.’

‘Well, I need your help.’ Rosie fiddled with the collar of her robes, tugging at loose threads and bits of fluff. ‘I want to go to the Yule Dance with someone, but I don’t know if they’d say yes or what people will think if I ask.’

Oh. I know what this is. He shot Katie a quick glance.

She smiled and retreated toward the changing rooms with a wave and a thumbs up.

‘You want to go with them?’ Harry shrugged. ‘Just ask. If it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work.’

‘But – but…’ Rosie stretched onto her tiptoes. ‘I want to ask Romilda.’

‘Huh.’ Harry tried to put a face to the name. 

Rosie stared at her feet, her lip quivering as the colour rose on her cheeks. ‘Harry?’ she squeaked.

‘I can’t remember who Romilda is,’ he admitted.

‘She’s a girl,’ Rosie whispered.

‘Obviously.’ Harry patted her on the head. ‘I’m not stupid, imp. I just can’t remember which girl.’

‘You’re not…?’

‘Horrified you like girls?’ He shook his head. ‘That would be a bit hypocritical, since I also like girls. Also, I’m not all that surprised, because I’ve seen your magazine collection and there’s a conspicuous absence of hot boys and an awful lot of girls in underwear.’

‘Oh.’

‘Oh what?’

‘You think I should just ask her?’ Rosie murmured. ‘But what if she laughs at me?’

‘I’ll come and beat her up.’ Harry grinned. ‘That’s what older brothers are for.’

‘She’s fourteen.’ 

‘I didn’t say it would be very hard.’

Rosie giggled and threw her arms around his waist, burying her face in his stomach. ‘Thank you, Harry.’

‘Don’t thank me for beating up a fourteen year old, imp, it’s not a very nice thing to do.’ He wrapped his arms around her and gave a gentle squeeze. ‘You’re welcome, squirt. Good luck with Romilda. Don’t listen to any nonsense from anyone else. And if they’re horrible to you, let me know and I’ll encourage them to be nice.’

‘You mean beat them up?’ Rose squinted at him. ‘Won’t you get into trouble?’

‘I’ll get Tom to go haunt them.’ Harry chuckled. ‘He’ll do it as long as there’s no risk he gets exorcised. He hates teenage girls. I think he might have been gay too, actually, only he died before realising.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, he’s not going to be very supportive, though. He’d rather send you to the giant spiders than help you. Actually…’ He glanced over his shoulder. ‘Never mind. She’s gone.’

‘Can you come help me with my homework?’ Rosie yanked at his arm. ‘Please. Romilda’s in the library…’

Harry sighed. ‘I’ll come and help, imp. With Romilda, not your homework. I don’t want to do first year arithmancy.’

‘I’m a fourth year!’

‘Whatever midget year you’re in, I don’t know, do I?’

Rosie fought her laugh and lost. ‘You’re so mean.’

‘You’re so annoying.’ Harry prised her fingers off him and rested his broom on his shoulder. ‘Now wait here for a second while I grab a shower and get changed. Then you can go and ask this girl to the Yule Dance and I can think about this quidditch play while I watch you stutter at your feet.’

‘Remind me again why I went along with this?’ Harry fiddled with the collar of his dress robes, glancing up at the stairs.

‘Because Rosie turned you down,’ Katie said, smoothing the front of her cream dress. ‘And Alicia wasn’t allowed to.’

‘So romantic,’ he muttered. ‘And Rosie did not turn me down, she’s my sister. I didn’t ask. Honestly, do I look like one of those purebloods?’

She batted his hand away from his collar. ‘Stop fiddling with that, it’s fine.’

‘It feels weird.’

‘You’re just nervous.’ Katie snickered. ‘Alicia’s coming down now.’

Harry glanced up the stairs. Alicia skirted the trick-step, her dark heels flashing beneath the hem of her deep purple dress.

‘Huh.’

‘You’ve got a couple of seconds to think of something better than huh,’ Katie whispered. ‘Quick, Harry. And remember not to look down the front of her dress.’

‘You remember not to look down the front of her dress,’ he muttered.

Katie choked, spluttering into giggles.

‘You look lovely, Alicia,’ Harry said. ‘Is it okay if we linger for a moment just to make sure Rosie’s okay?’

She fixed him with a long look, a strange gleam in her brown eyes. ‘Of course.’

‘Look at her trying to work out if you’re genuinely waiting or just saying it to look good,’  Katie said. ‘You can almost see the pen hovering over part of her checklist. To tick or not to tick…’

Alicia gave Katie a withering look. ‘If you were less completely blonde there might be something going on in your head, too.’

‘She’s trying not to look down the front of your dress,’ Harry said. ‘It’s taking all her thought power.’

Katie snickered.

Alicia shot Katie a sharp look. ‘Are you going to be annoying?’

‘Always!’ She beamed. ‘You’d just sulk at the edge of the room if I wasn’t—’ she turned to Harry ‘—make sure you make her dance at least once. She’d like to, but she’ll stubbornly refuse for no sensible reason if you don’t twist her arm a bit.’

‘I don’t want to be dancing,’ Alicia said. ‘That’s why. And I don’t see why I have to make a fool of myself.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Harry replied. ‘I’m very sure you’re better than I am.’

Rosie’s laughter echoed down the stairs and he glanced up. She bounced down the stairs in a charcoal-grey dress, her red hair in loose curls and a huge grin on her face. A dark-haired, dark-eyed girl held her hand, running her fingers down the bannister.

‘All good, imp?’ Harry asked as Rosie reached the bottom of the steps.

‘All good!’ She released the other girl and bounded forward, wrapping him into a hug. ‘Thank you, Harry.’

‘Get off, midget. I don’t love you like that.’

Katie laughed. ‘You’re so mean.’

Rosie giggled and squeezed him tighter. ‘Really thank you,’ she whispered. ‘I’m so happy. I never would have been brave enough to ask if you’d not come up with me.’

‘Yeah yeah,’ he pried her loose. ‘Go have fun mini-mum.’ Harry caught her wrist. ‘But don’t you dare drink more than one glass of anything that has alcohol in it, and nothing stronger than wine or champagne at all. And be good with Romilda, you’re fourteen not seventeen.’

Romilda turned pink a few steps away.

Rosie rolled her eyes and pulled away. ‘You’re the mini-mum, not me. I won’t, though. You’d probably haiku hex me again.’

‘I will.’ Harry patted her on the head. ‘Now go away.’

She cocked her head and glanced between Alicia and Katie with a curious glint in her green eyes. ‘Which one is your girlfriend?’

‘Neither,’ he said. ‘Now shoo, midget.’

‘Alicia!’ Katie giggled. ‘But only after Harry signs the bottom of her completed checklist in blood.’

Alicia sighed. ‘Shut up.’

Rosie studied both of them with a deep frown. ‘I like Katie more.’ She shrugged, grabbing Romilda’s hand and leading her into the hall.

‘Let’s go find some drinks,’ Harry said. ‘That will at least distract Katie.’

‘It won’t.’ Alicia folded her arms. ‘Katie never gets a date to these things, she just follows me around to annoy me.’

‘Strange,’ Katie said. ‘Because I’m sure I remember you asking me to stay with you because you don’t usually have a date.’

‘I do now.’

‘Because I forced you.’

Harry edged toward the hall. ‘Well I’m going to get some drinks for us. Is there anything you particularly hate?’

‘I don’t drink,’ Alicia replied.

‘I’ll drink for the both of us,’ Katie declared.

‘Wonderful.’ He wound his way through the crowd to the array of drinks on the tables against the wall of the Great Hall and frowned. ‘Damn…’

Harry grabbed a pair of champagne glasses and wandered back across the floor. Rosie and Romilda danced on the far side of the hall, stumbling over each other’s feet and giggling.

Nice moves, Rosie. A little smile crept onto his lips as his sister laughed her head off amidst her gaggle of friends. You have a fun time.

‘I brought drinks,’ he said, offering the champagne glasses. ‘These were easiest to carry.’

‘Is your sister okay?’

‘Yeah, she seems to be having a great time.’ Harry sipped his champagne and wrinkled his nose. ‘I forgot I don’t really like this that much.’

‘Give it to Alicia,’ Katie said. ‘A few drinks will help her be less uptight and it’s not going to make any difference to her dancing.’

‘I don’t drink.’ Alicia scowled. ‘And at least I have someone to dance with.’

‘Thanks to me.’ Katie beamed. ‘We’d be third wheeling Angelina and Lee Jordan if not for that.’

‘Urgh.’ Alica watched the bubbles rise in Katie’s champagne.

‘Urgh?’ Harry asked.

‘Massive PDA,’ Katie said. ‘Always kissing and touching and stuff.’

‘It’s so childish,’ Alicia replied. ‘They just whisper and make out and mess around. They have nothing in common.’

Katie rolled her eyes and sighed. ‘It’s not like they’re off to get married, Alicia.’

‘I don’t think it has to be all that serious yet,’ Harry said. ‘We’re seventeen. Plenty of time to be all serious later.’

‘Didn’t your parents get married at nineteen?’ Alicia asked.

‘Engaged.’ Harry took a sip of champagne and grimaced. ‘They got married at twenty two, probably because I was coming at that point.’

Katie snickered. ‘And then three years later they had the upgrade.’

‘Rosie is not an upgrade.’ He pointed his champagne glass toward the gaggle of fourth years. ‘Look at her dancing. She is terrible.’

‘But brave enough to dance and actually ask someone herself.’

‘She spent more time looking at me than Romilda when she asked her.’ Harry levelled a mock glare at Katie as she grinned into her drink. ‘And I remember asking two girls.’

Alicia frowned. ‘One with a boyfriend and one who’s gay.’

‘Admittedly my research wasn’t great.’ He abandoned his champagne on a nearby table. ‘I don’t think I want the rest of that.’

‘I’ll have it.’ Katie plucked the glass off the table. ‘Saves me walking.’

‘Keeps you quiet, too,’ Alicia said.

Malfoy and Zabini poked their heads around the corner, levitating a swathe of mistletoe up into the air above the dancers.

‘Those two idiots are causing trouble again,’ Alicia said. 

Harry watched it float across the room. ‘It seems fairly harmless, nobody has to kiss. And you know what the Sixth and Seventh year parties are like, everyone’s made out with at least a few people in this hall.’

‘If they got invited,’ Alicia muttered.

‘Harry got off with that Slytherin girl.’ Katie snickered. ‘The blonde one.’

‘You leave Daphne out of this.’ He glanced around. ‘Seriously, if Rosie hears it will be a disaster. She won’t shut up about it for months.’

‘Does she not know about Daphne? Or that other blonde girl?’

‘Gemma.’ Harry shot Katie a mock glare. ‘And no. For good reason. She heard about the first girl I kissed and ratted me out to our parents in a letter. I got a three page essay back from mum about safe sex, a list of contraception charms and which ones interfere with each other.’

‘Tracey Davis.’

Harry’s stomach fluttered. ‘Yeah. She was really pretty.’

‘Also blonde.’ Alicia’s brow furrowed.

‘No wonder he tried to ask me,’ Katie chimed in. ‘What happened to Tracey?’

‘Family moved. We wrote to each other a bit over the last year, but she’s got a boyfriend out there now and the letters kind of just stopped after a while.’

They watched as the mistletoe settled over Professor Sinistra’s head. The hall let out a big cheer, scattered whistles echoing back off the enchanted ceiling. She rolled her eyes and swished it away with a flick of her wand.

‘Don’t you want to dance?’ Katie asked.

Heat crept to Harry’s cheeks and Alicia turned a little pink.

‘Harry hasn’t asked,’ Alicia said.

He mustered some courage through the fluttering in his stomach. ‘I mean, if you want to dance, we can dance.’

‘That doesn’t sound like you want to dance with me.’

Katie snickered into her champagne. ‘And Alicia was brave enough to ask, so you know she wants to.’

Alicia scowled. ‘He’s the boy, he’s meant to ask if he wants to dance with me.’

‘Could have sworn I did,’ Harry muttered. ‘Although the prospect of humiliation was a little daunting.’

‘Well it sounded like you thought you were doing me a favour.’

‘Harry can dance with me,’ Katie chimed in.

‘He’s my date.’

‘You said you didn’t want to dance.’

‘But that doesn’t mean he can go dance with another girl.’

‘What about if I go dance with Ron?’ Harry asked, pointing across the hall. 

A crimson-faced Ron waved his arms, nodding his head in time to the music as Lavender danced around him in a swish of dark green skirts. 

‘He looks like he needs saving,’ Katie said. ‘But it can’t be you, your date is over here.’

Harry caught Alicia’s eye. ‘It’s not a real date and Alicia’s not exactly going out of her way to make the occasion better, which is the only reason I wanted a date to the silly dance to begin with.’

She stared back at him. ‘I’m not some toy you can use to improve your evening.’

He snorted. ‘I was going to try and make it less awful for you, too. You know, a trade.’

Alicia scowled.

‘He’s got you there.’ Katie beamed. ‘Now you two go dance together and when you get back, I’ll get you to kiss.’

Alicia’s cheeks turned pink. ‘That’s not going to happen.’

‘Yeah…’ Harry sighed. ‘Want to dance Katie?’

‘No.’ Alicia grabbed his hand and pulled him out onto the floor in the midst of the music. ‘If you’re dancing, which you obviously hate, it’s going to be with your date.’ She took his hand in hers. ‘Just follow my lead.’

Harry swallowed a flutter of nerves and stumbled after her steps, tracking her feet across the floor as close to the beat as he could manage.

‘You’re meant to be looking at my face.’

‘I can only do one thing at a time, I’m afraid,’ he said, raising his hand to let her spin. ‘And making sure I’m not standing on your feet is hard as it is.’

Alicia laughed and tugged him to the right. ‘I learnt for a wedding a couple years ago. Everyone had to dance. It’s awkward being able to dance well at school though so…’

‘So you just dragged me out here to make me suffer.’ Harry snorted. ‘Even Ron looks like he feels sorry for me and Lavender is all over him.’

‘You should dance with me before you dance with Katie.’ She pursed her lips and let go of his hand as the music faded. ‘I know Katie is the fun one of us. You asked her first. If she wasn’t, you know, you’d probably be out here dancing all close with her.’

‘I never really thought of her like that,’ he said. ‘Although she is fun to spend time with.’

Alicia glanced across the hall to where Katie watched them, sipping her champagne. ‘And I’m not. I know.’

‘I enjoyed making quidditch plays with you,’ Harry said as she strode toward the wall. ‘You are a tiny bit terrifying when it comes to dates, though.’

‘Well, it’s not a date. You wanted someone to talk to and Katie and I needed an excuse to get away from Angelina and Lee.’

‘I was thinking more about having some friends to chat with so we could enjoy ourselves together somehow. Otherwise it’s really boring.’

‘Same thing.’

‘It doesn’t feel like it to me,’ Harry muttered.

‘Have fun, Harry?’ Katie asked.

‘I’m sure I was very funny to watch.’ He sighed. ‘But I have escaped.’

‘Not going to come dance with me?’

Alicia’s lips thinned.

‘And discover that you can also dance really well?’ Harry shook his head. ‘You’d mess with me, too. Alicia’s nicer than that.’

Katie grinned. ‘I can dance better than Alicia, but you’re not really who I want to dance with, so if you’re not keen, we can just stay and chat.’

‘Thank you for your mercy.’ Harry laughed, casting an eye around for Rosie. ‘You haven’t seen my midget sister, have you?’

‘Going to dance with her?’ Katie scanned the room. ‘She’s in the corner by the tallest tree, giggling away with her friends.’

‘She is the only person here that will make me look good,’ Harry replied. ‘But nah, she’s having a good time. Doesn’t need her older brother appearing to ruin it.’

Katie snickered. ‘Careful, Harry, being good with kids is on Alicia’s checklist.’

‘I’m going to the loo,’ Alicia said. ‘No need to come with, Katie.’ She vanished around the corner.

‘I can’t believe you convinced me to do this,’ Harry said. ‘I don’t think Alicia is having a great time.’

Katie rolled her eyes. ‘What did she say?’

‘That it was some kind of deal, I got you two out of third-wheeling and you got me out of being bored.’

‘Yeah, that’s Alicia.’ She laughed and finished the last of her champagne. ‘She’s very romantic.’

‘She seemed kind of mad that I’d dance with you instead of her.’

‘I’m the fun one.’ Katie shook her head. ‘She’s stupid about it. She always thinks everyone would rather be friends with me.’

Harry snorted. ‘Yeah she said that. Something like if you weren’t gay, we’d be out there without her.’

Katie cocked her head, a strange gleam in her eye. ‘She said that?’

‘Yeah.’ A little heat crept into his cheeks. ‘I mean, that’s not why I asked you, obviously.’

‘Obviously.’ Katie hummed. ‘That’s interesting.’

‘Is it?’

‘Yes.’ Her eyes flicked up. ‘Ah.’

‘Ah?’ Harry glanced up into the floating green leaves and white berries. ‘Ah.’

‘Go on Potter!’ Malfoy whistled from across the hall. ‘Nobody will tell Daphne!’

Harry flushed. ‘I’m not here with Daphne!’ He shook his head. ‘We literally haven’t spoken apart from that one party and I was so drunk I can’t even remember what she looks like beyond her being blonde.’

Katie rolled her eyes and grabbed the front of his robes, dragging him down into a long kiss. The faint taste of champagne hovered on his lips as she drew back and grinned at the cheering hall.

‘I thought—’

‘It’s just a kiss. I tried kissing a few boys to figure stuff out, so it’s not a big deal.’

‘Okay but don’t tell Alicia.’

Katie giggled. ‘Yeah, let’s not tell Alicia.’

‘Let’s not tell Alicia what?’ Alicia appeared from around the corner.

‘Nothing,’ Harry said. ‘Nothing about you, either.’

Alicia scowled. ‘The mistletoe is still hanging over both of you and you have Katie’s lipstick on your face.’

Harry swiped a streak of red off on his thumb as Katie shooed the mistletoe away. ‘Sorry?’

‘This isn’t a proper date, so it doesn’t matter.’ Her brown eyes bored into him. ‘And you still have lipstick on you.’

Katie winced. ‘Alicia—’

‘I’m going to find Angelina,’ Alicia said. ‘You two seem to be having plenty of fun by yourselves.’

Harry watched her stalk off. ‘Is she actually mad?’

‘Yeah…’ Katie scrunched up her face. ‘I’m going to ditch you and make sure she’s alright, Harry.’

‘Fair enough.’ He rubbed the rest of the lipstick off. ‘I feel like I should say thank you for the kiss?’

She snickered. ‘You’re welcome. It wasn’t so bad for me, either.’

‘I guess I’ll go rescue Ron after all.’

‘Go find Daphne.’ A sly little gleam welled up in Katie’s eyes. ‘Or whichever blonde girl you fancy now.’

‘You’re blonde.’ His brain caught up. ‘Wait. No.’

She laughed. ‘One kiss is all you’re getting, you’re not my type.’ Katie bounced away across the floor.

Harry stared at the hall of dancers. Nah, it’s not worth it. I’m going to go ask Tom for dating advice. That’ll be much more fun.

‘I can’t believe she’s done this again.’ Harry waved the letter aloft. ‘I take back what I said. She is acromantula bait.’

Tom’s face perked up. ‘Really?’

‘No, you psycho of a ghost, she’s still my little sister.’ Harry glowered at the letter from his mum. ‘I might throttle her a bit though. Maybe curse her to speak in iambic pentameter for a week.’

‘I know an excellent curse for annoying girls.’ Tom drifted through the sinks. ‘First their hair gets all dry and splits at the ends, then they get spots, then their teeth fall out—’

‘What?’

‘And then they throw up blood and die.’

‘You really need to be exorcised.’ Harry shook his head. ‘Seriously. If I hear you told anyone how to actually do that, I’m going to do it myself.’

Tom crossed his arms and glowered. ‘Fine. I can’t remember the incantation anyway.’

A loud knock echoed through the room.

‘Can I at least send her into the greenhouse with all the baby mandrakes?’ Tom asked. ‘She’s started coming here to annoy me even when you’re not here.’

‘No you can’t do that either.’ Harry waved his wand at the lock. ‘Rosie you are dead, so you better start running.’

The door swung open to reveal a frowning Alicia.

‘That’s not your sister,’ Tom said.

‘Your keen intellect serves you well, Lord Voldemort.’ Harry swallowed. ‘Hi, Alicia?’

‘Get out of my bathroom,’ Tom muttered, drifting into the wall to seethe under his breath.

‘What did Rosie do?’ Alicia asked.

‘Wrote to my mum that I took you to the dance and kissed your best friend in front of you. Told mum not to be cross with me because Katie’s not as cranky as you, as if mum would have even known to be cross in the first place if Rosie hadn’t squealed.’ Harry balled the letter up in his fist. ‘Do you know how many contraception charms I know now? I could write a NEWT paper on them. Mum said if I’m going to mess around with lots of girls then she’s going to test me.’ Heat flooded his cheeks. ‘I might have to actually kill that blabbering midget.’

Alicia stared. ‘She’s going to test you? How?

‘Don’t repeat it.’ Harry groaned. ‘Do you have any idea how embarrassing this is? My mum isn’t going to drop it. She’s probably making a bloody mark scheme now.’

She burst into laughter.

‘Oh laugh. It’s not even my fault.’

‘You did kiss her.’

‘Malfoy put the mistletoe over us and she kissed me.’ He scowled. ‘And then you two ditched me.’

Alicia’s forehead creased. ‘Katie said I should say sorry for getting wound up.’

‘You don’t have to, it’s fine.’

‘Do you want to come down to Hogsmeade and we can look at those quidditch plays?’

‘Have you got your blue crayon?’ Harry asked. 

‘Yes.’ She shuffled her feet. ‘So…?’

‘Yeah. Sure.’ He stepped toward the door. ‘Let me just lock Lord Voldemort in his bathroom.’

‘I was going to be the greatest wizard that ever lived!’ Tom yelled through the wall. ‘People wouldn’t have even dared speak my name.’

Harry caught Alicia’s eye and broke into laughter, pulling the door shut and locking it with a tap of his wand.

‘I was thinking we could go to the café and get brunch?’ A touch of colour rose on her cheeks. ‘It’s supposed to be good.’

‘I’m game.’ He stuffed his wand in his pocket. ‘And, look, I’m sorry about the dance thing, yeah. You’re fun to spend time with too. It’s not all about Katie.’

Alicia’s lips twisted as they wandered down the corridor and out into the cold, crisp winter air. A faint white veil covered everything but the shivering Whomping Willow and stray snowflakes drifted down from the grey clouds filling the sky.

‘Did Professor Sinistra really set fire to all the mistletoe?’ Harry asked. 

‘Yes.’ Her expression lightened as they crunched through the shallow snow down toward the village. ‘They kept sending it over her head and eventually she got annoyed and got rid of it.’

‘Fair enough. Wish she’d done it earlier.’

Alicia led him down a couple of side streets and into a small café. Little wooden tables sat under hovering paper lanterns and floating potted ferns drifted overhead, bumping into one another.

‘It’s nice.’ Harry glanced at the menu. ‘I’m not amazingly hungry, but that fruit smoothie looks good.’

‘I’ve had the mango one. Katie and Angelina and I come out here a fair bit.’ Alicia pulled a piece of parchment out and unfolded it, tapping her wand on the menu. ‘I was thinking about the play, about what happens after it.’

‘After it?’ Harry picked a raspberry and banana smoothie. ‘After we get the quaffle back?’

She dug in the pocket of her robes and produced her blue crayon, drawing an oval. ‘Yeah, so, if it works, we win the quaffle back against the stands—’ Alicia drew a cross on two opposite sides of her oval ‘—or in the middle.’

‘We should just go score, I think.’ Harry grinned. ‘We already have chaser plays for counterattacks.’

‘But what if they go back to their keeper?’ She bounced the crayon on her palm. ‘We can’t go forward to pressure the keeper without breaking our shape and if they’re clever they could go back to their keeper and then play long and we’re caught in the middle.’

‘Huh.’ Harry frowned at the blue circle. ‘That’s a good point.’

‘Angelina brought it up.’

He snorted. ‘Course she did.’

Alicia smiled. ‘She’s cooled off now. Katie convinced her she’d have better odds of getting scouted if she’s part of something new and exciting.’

Their smoothies floated across in tall, curved glasses and thudded onto the table.

Harry took a sip of sweet, cool raspberry and banana froth from the top of his. ‘Has she apologised?’

‘Yeah.’

‘A good apology?’

Alicia nodded.

‘Then I guess she’s welcome back on the team.’

‘Good, she kind of is our best chaser.’ She tapped the centre of the blue circle with crayon’s tip. ‘Anyway, she thought we could still make it work, but it means you have to come down from seeking and circle in the middle when their keeper receives the quaffle. That frees up one of Katie or I to come forward from the top of the vee and press the keeper to pass.’

Harry nodded. ‘And then they have to go over me to avoid losing possession, and there’s no way their chasers get through me or you to beat Ron to it.’

‘That’s what Angelina reckoned, yeah.’ Alicia drew arrows across her crayon circle. ‘Like that.’

A cool breeze whispered across the back of his neck, fluttering the menus and Alicia’s hair. He glanced up.

Katie, Angelina and Lee wandered in.

Alicia frowned as Katie waved at them. ‘I didn’t realise they were coming here this morning.’

‘As long as nobody brought any more mistletoe,’ Harry said. 

‘If she kissed you again, would you really object?’ She tucked her blue crayon behind her ear and scooped a stray lock of brown hair off her nose. ‘It’s not like you don’t like her.’

‘I mean, I wouldn’t want her to kiss me if she didn’t want to.’ He studied the blue crayon over her ear. ‘And I’m pretty sure she only did it to get us out of the mistletoe, so…’ Harry shrugged. ‘Yeah.’

‘But you do like her?’

‘She’s fun and funny and yeah, I enjoy chatting with her, but I don’t know her as well as you know her or anything. She could turn out to be secretly really evil.’

Alicia laughed and drank some of her smoothie, dabbing condensation off her fingers onto her leg. ‘She likes bugs. That’s about as bad as she gets. When we were younger she used to catch grasshoppers and try to keep them, but they always died.’

‘So she murders insects.’ Harry snorted. ‘You know, I can kind of see that, she does seem like she would have been an outdoors kid.’

‘Yeah, she used to drag me around bug hunting and tree climbing.’ A warm little smile crooked the corner of Alicia’s mouth. ‘Mum used to yell at me for coming home all dirty and Katie would fold her arms and tell Mum that it was her fault I got dirty.’

‘Wait, you were an indoors kid?’ Harry raised an eyebrow. ‘Really?’

‘I got into sports because Katie made me join up, and then yeah, here I am.’ Alicia glanced across at Katie laughing with Angelina and Lee. ‘I was sporty when I was really young, with my dad.’

The touchy subject.

‘I’m fairly sure I promised I wouldn’t touch that topic.’

‘It’s alright. I don’t talk about him much. He just turned out to be a real dick.’ Alicia poked a straw into her smoothie. ‘So, what is it you like so much about Katie? What makes her fun?’

This again…

‘I’m pretty sure it’s because she’s funny.’ He took a long sip of smoothie. ‘Being funny is fun. But, she’s funny in a nice way, not like Malfoy, who’s a bit of a prick.’

‘Funny,’ she murmured. ‘And obviously she’s pretty. And she’s sporty and cool and popular.’

‘Are you making a list?’ Harry asked, hiding a smile behind his drink. ‘

Alicia twitched. ‘I like lists. They’re tidy.’

‘My mum loves lists, mostly of weird contraceptive charms if my recent letters from her are any indication,’ he said. ‘But why are you making a list of Katie things? Don’t you already know her well enough to remember?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ she muttered. ‘It was a stupid idea.’

‘Would you like a list of contraceptive charms? It’s the only list I have.’

Alice shot him a withering glare. ‘I’m not that sort of girl. I don’t want to mess around with the wrong guys and I don’t want to end up pregnant at nineteen because of one of them like my mum.’

‘Fair enough. What about a younger sister?’ Harry asked. ‘She’ll be second hand, I’m afraid, and really really annoying, but I will let you have her for free, if that helps.’

‘You shouldn’t joke like that,’ she said. ‘What if Rose hears?’

‘She’s heard me make that joke at least a hundred times.’ He laughed. ‘I’m very sure she knows I’m not serious. Well, not usually. Sometimes it seems tempting. Like that time she tried to learn to fly when we were younger and flew into a wall, snapping my broom.’

‘You only cared about the broom?’

‘Rosie jumped into the pond and was fine. Not a scratch on her.’ Harry shook his head. ‘My broom was murdered. And then, she tried to murder me with her breakfast cooking, claiming it was an apology. I threw up all morning until my sick was bright yellow.’

‘Urgh.’ Alicia shuddered. ‘But she seems like a pretty nice girl. I always wanted a sister.’

He grinned. ‘Well…’

She laughed. ‘I think your parents would be upset if you traded me their daughter.’

‘They can have another one.’ Harry took another sip of his smoothie. ‘Maybe this one will be less incredibly annoying.’

Alicia glowered over smoothie and past Harry’s shoulder. ‘Just wait until she gets a boyfriend like Angelina.’

‘I think Angelina’s too old for her.’

‘I mean someone like Lee, who’s just all wrong for Angelina.’ She pulled the crayon out from behind her ear and doodled stars across her quidditch diagram. ‘Angelina is healthy and smart and motivated and all Lee wants to do is lie about and eat and make jokes. They are nothing alike.’

‘Opposites attract?’ Harry suggested.

‘We’re not magnets. There has to be something a person does or is that keeps you wanting to be with them.’ Alicia pointed her blue crayon at Katie. ‘Like Katie being funny so she’s fun to spend time with and being pretty, so you want to kiss her and stuff.’

‘Isn’t she gay?’ Harry frowned. ‘Or did I seriously misunderstand some stuff?’

‘She flirts with everyone,’ Alicia muttered. ‘And she’s happy kissing boys. She kissed you.

He snorted. ‘I’m not sure if the emphasis there means I’m a boy or I’m such an ugly boy she has to find boys attractive if she kissed me.’

‘No I meant that she has things that would make you keep liking her. And you obviously have some things she likes. She doesn’t just kiss anyone.’

‘She said it wasn’t a big deal. Also that I only get one kiss.’ 

Alicia picked the strawberry out of her drink and ate it. ‘Katie likes leaps of faith. She probably told you that to see if you’d kiss her anyway.’

Butterflies fluttered in Harry’s stomach, swirling into a tight, trembling ball. ‘Really?’

‘You have most of the things she likes,’ she said. ‘You’re nice. You’re funny. You’re smart. Really smart. I heard about that eye thing you did. And you stand up for yourself but you’re not always picking fights with people like some guys do. And you’re really good with girls, like your sister.’

‘You have a list of things Katie likes…’

Alicia turned pink. ‘Someone has to make sure she isn’t just jumping into the arms of someone bad for her.’

‘Is there anything I’m missing?’ he asked, taking a long drink of smoothie to calm the fluttering in his stomach.

‘Boobs.’

Harry choked on his smoothie and flushed. ‘I mean… if I can transfigure my eyes…’

‘True.’ Alicia smiled, her brown eyes lightening. ‘Do you like bugs?’

‘I don’t hate them?’

‘That’s probably as close as Katie’s getting. You have to compromise a bit, her bug-love and your terrible dancing.’ She filled in the oval quidditch pitch with a lopsided spiral of blue crayon. ‘What about you?’

‘Me?’

‘What’s your list?’

‘I don’t think I have one.’

‘Everyone has one.’ 

‘Then I guess someone funny? And pretty. I like girls with pretty eyes—’

‘Boobs.’ Alicia wrote it down with a smile. ‘And funny. Anything else?’

Harry laughed. ‘No that’s it.’

‘Katie has nice boobs.’ She stuck her crayon back over her ear. ‘And she’s funny.’

Heat crept across his cheeks as his gaze slipped across the room. ‘I think there’s probably more to it than that.’

Katie glanced up and caught his eye, a huge grin spreading over her face. She slipped off her seat and swept her smoothie off the table, drifting toward them through the tables.

‘Oops,’ Harry muttered.

‘On a second date with Harry, Alicia?’ Katie leant forward over the table, slurping on the straw of her smoothie.

His eyes dipped past the striped straw to the vee of her shirt.

‘Do your buttons up, Katie,’ Alicia said. ‘You’re giving Harry a very good view down your top.’

Harry flushed.

Katie laughed and shrugged. ‘He’s seen more than that, wet quidditch robes don’t leave all that much to the imagination. Especially not when it’s cold.’ She set her smoothie glass down. ‘How’s your date going?’

‘We were just talking about quidditch stuff,’ he said. ‘Angelina found some more holes in my play.’

‘Ah.’ Katie dropped into a chair. ‘Angelina was talking about that just now. Apparently she heard from Oliver Wood that some scouts got word we were trying something new and interesting and are coming to watch the next game after the holidays.’

Alicia frowned into the last inch of her smoothie. ‘We should get some practice sessions in. Make sure everyone’s up to scratch.’

‘Angelina is super excited about the chance of getting scouted. It’s all she’s talking about. I think Lee is pretty sick of it, he only does the commentary to be funny.’

Alicia scowled. ‘They have nothing in common, it’s never going to last.’

‘Pretty sure Ange is going to break up with him over the holidays,’ Katie said. ‘That means you’ll be the only one of us with a boyfriend, Alicia.’

Harry blinked. ‘Wait, Alicia has a boyfriend? Since when? I’m really confused now.’

Alicia sighed and dug into her pocket. ‘Shut up, Katie.’ She slid a piece of bubble gum across the table. ‘Harry likes funny girls with nice boobs—’

‘Pretty eyes,’ he said. ‘Boobs were Katie’s thing.’

Katie snickered and tapped a finger on her cheek. ‘My eyes are up here, Harry. Which is not where you were looking earlier.’

‘Only because Alicia said you had nice boobs—’ Harry fought the furious heat flooding his face and lost horribly ‘—she had a list of things you like and…’ He sighed. ‘Sorry. I shouldn’t haven’t looked, should I?’

Katie picked up the bubblegum and unwrapped it, cramming into her mouth with a shrug. ‘What else was on my list?’

‘Funny, smart, good with girls.’ Harry ticked things off on his fingers and Alicia squirmed in her seat. ‘And boobs.’

‘Interesting.’ Katie blew a small bubble of orange gum until it popped, sucking it back into her mouth. ‘Anything about guys who talk about their feelings? Or loyalty? Wanting to have kids one day?’

Alicia poked her smoothie dregs around with the end of straw, staring into the fruit-streaked glass.

‘Wait are you not gay, Katie?’ He stared into the blue spiral of crayon as heat rose on his face. ‘I’m so confused now.’

‘I think I prefer girls. Kissing girls is more exciting. I don’t mind kissing guys though. I’m kinda undecided on that whole thing.’ Katie pointed her smoothie at Alicia. ‘She’s right about the boobs though, Alicia catches me staring in the changing rooms all the time. She’s got like two sizes on me and they’re really perky—’

‘Katie!’ Alicia glowered. ‘I’m not just—’

‘She’s really proud of them. She said they were her best feature.’ Katie beamed. ‘Of course, she hates it when people look at them, because she’s not an object, but she also hates it if you don’t look because she’s proud of them and all the boys should want to look.’

Harry finished his smoothie, his face burning. ‘I’m not getting tricked into taking a look so you can laugh when Alicia yells at me.’ He swung himself off his seat. ‘I actually need to go murder my midget sister and book some quidditch sessions, so I’ll catch you later.’

‘Bye Harry,’ Alicia murmured. 

Katie winced. ‘See you later, Harry.’

He hurried out, releasing a long sigh as the door thudded shut behind him. I’ve escaped whatever that was. Harry took a deep breath of cool air. Rosie’s probably somewhere out here in Hogsmeade, time to vengefully out her love of that sappy muggle mermaid TV show. That’ll teach the little blabbermouth.

Katie drifted down out of the grey sky on her Cleansweep, her red quidditch robes fluttering. ‘It’s a little windy when you get above the stands, but not lots.’

‘So we should be fine, then.’ Harry pulled his gloves on tighter and glanced around the hovering circle. ‘We’re halfway through January now, so there’s only this game and a couple more before the professional league starts.’ He glanced up into the visitors’ section of the stands. ‘But don’t think about that or who might be watching. We’re just going to play our game. And we’re going to win.’

‘New play?’ Angelina asked. 

‘We’ve got some practice in. And we all know there’s at least two scouts up there.’ Alicia glanced over her shoulder at the referee and the blue-robed opposition. ‘Let’s do it.’

Harry nodded. ‘New play. That means you need to stay sharp, Ron. You’ll have have to come out if they go back and try and go long.’

‘We’re in the vee,’ Katie said. ‘We know the drill.’

‘Tubby twins.’ He bumped his fist against the end of their bats. ‘You keep hold of those bludgers, I can dodge a few shots circling, but we have to make the most of the fifteen minutes before the snitch appears.’

Crabbe and Goyle grunted.

Harry grinned. ‘Let’s go. And remember, if we win by more than sixty, we’re top of the league on points difference.’ He angled his broom into the sky and corkscrewed up until the breeze tugged at his robes and hair.

The referee glanced at the other captain and twisted to Harry.

He gave her a thumbs up. Let’s see if it works.

Cheering rose from the stands, the thunder of drumming feet swelling like a great wave of sound. The referee fired a shower of red and blue sparks from her wand and jabbed it at the box on the ground.

Two bludgers burst out, hurtling at Angelina and the quaffle shot into the sky as Harry drifted forward into a slow circle. Crabbe and Goyle intercepted the bludgers, knocking them back and forth as they sped to one side of the pitch. A blue-robed chaser snatched the quaffle, diving down, corkscrewing, and flattening out along the grass. Angelina ripped the quaffle from their hand hurling it to Alicia, who arced right and tossed it over the keeper’s head into the third hoop.

Ten nothing.

Their seeker hovered above their goal, yawning as he watched the blue-robed chasers spread out into a line, and their beaters chased Crabbe and Goyle along the edge of the stands. Katie pushed forward, forcing the quaffle along the line and down as Alicia and joined her. The red ball bounced off Alicia’s arm and a blue-robed chaser knocked it back to the keeper who punted it over Harry’s head. 

Their chasers streaked after it.

Ron surged forward and smacked the quaffle back past them into Angelina’s arms. She curved left, drew the keeper in and tossed the ball to Alicia who zipped through the hoop holding it and looped back, dropping the quaffle to their keeper.

So far so good.

He watched the quaffle sail through their hoops over and over with a satisfied little smile. 

At this rate, the game will be out of sight before the snitch appears.

Their keeper shouted something at his beaters and seekers, pointing up at Harry.

Not again. He sighed and took a firm grip on his broom, watching the beaters wrest control of a bludger away. 

Harry spiralled up and down, leaning away from the dark ball hissing past his shoulder. Beneath him, the blue chasers passed the ball about from side to side, tossing it back to the keeper whenever they were pressed.

They’re not trying to go forward into our pressing any more. He glanced at the clock, ducking a bludger. They want to win this with the snitch when the time runs out in a minute.

‘Ron!’ Harry yelled, accelerating back as Alicia intercepted the quaffle with her arm and Angelina snaffled it. ‘Tell them press even higher than they are. Our time’s about to run out and they’re going to try and get the snitch before we can get the point count any higher.’

Ron nodded. ‘Three more scores and it doesn’t matter.’

Angelina feinted and lobbed the quaffle through the middle hoop.

Two. Harry scanned the sky for a glint of gold as the clock hit fifteen. Where is it?

A bludger whistled past his head as he soared higher, arcing back down at the beaters below.

Gold shone just beyond Goyle’s broad shoulders.

Harry glanced at the other seeker and met his brown eyes. ‘Shit.’ He dived, forcing himself flat on the broom, angling to intercept in the middle of the beaters.

Their seeker’s shoulder crashed into his and they bounced apart. Harry ripped himself out of the spin and swallowed the sick churning in his stomach, diving after the glimmer of gold.

A bludger hissed past his hip and grazed his broom.

What are Crabbe and Goyle doing? He corkscrewed around the other dark ball and swerved across the front of their seeker, smacking the snitch away with the back of his broom. That ought to do it.

A flash of black came out of the corner of his eye and everything went dark.

‘Ow,’ Harry muttered, wincing from the dull throbbing on the top of his skull. ‘That hurts.’ He cracked open one eye into bright light.

‘You’re alive!’ Rosie’s squeal went straight to the ache in his head.

‘That or this is hell,’ he said.

‘Hey!’ She put her hands on her hips. ‘It’s not hell just because I’m here. Mum… Harry’s being mean to me!’

His parents laughed from the other side of the bed.

‘He’s fine,’ his dad said, pushing his glasses up his nose. ‘Probably got a sore head though.’

‘How’re you feeling, sweetheart?’ His mum drifted to the foot of his bed.

‘Not great.’ Harry grimaced. ‘Did we win?’

His dad chuckled. ‘You won. Their seeker got the snitch a minute after you got knocked out but by then it was too late.’

‘We won by forty,’ Katie said, stepping around Rosie with Alicia. ‘Alicia and I came to make sure our glorious leader hadn’t died.’

‘She’s Harry’s girlfriend,’ Rosie announced. ‘The one he kissed at the Yule party.’

Harry pushed himself up and reached for his wand.

‘No!’ Rosie snatched it off the table. ‘Don’t haiku hex me. It’s true.’

‘No it isn’t.’ Harry thrust his hand out. ‘Give me that, midget, so I can curse you.’

She stuck it behind her back. ‘No. I don’t want to be cursed.’

‘It’s nice to meet you,’ his mum said, glancing between Katie and Alicia.

‘Both of you,’ his dad muttered. ‘Nice work—’ 

His mum elbowed him in the side. ‘James…’

Heat crept onto Harry’s cheeks. ‘Rosie you will pay for this. You’re going to be singing that mermaid theme song for weeks this time.‘ He sighed, avoiding Alicia’s sharp stare. ‘Katie’s not my girlfriend, mum. I don’t have a girlfriend.’

‘Well it’s Valentine’s Day soon,’ his dad said. ‘Maybe you’ll change your mind then. Remember to be safe.’

His mum nodded, sweeping her long red hair over her shoulder. ‘I hope you’ve been practising the charms I sent you.’

‘No,’ Harry growled. ‘Go away, mum.’

His parents laughed.

‘We’ll leave you to catch up with your teammate, Harry,’ his dad said with a wink. ‘Come on, Rosebud.’

Rosie pouted and handed his wand to Katie. ‘Don’t wear him out kissing and stuff,’ she said. ‘He’s supposed to rest so he feels better.’ 

Harry glowered at her and she scampered out with a squeak. ‘I am going to murder that squealing midget.’ He shook his head. ‘Sorry about that…’

Katie laughed and put his want down on the side table. ‘No harm done. I’m not embarrassed.’

Alicia folded her arms beside her. ‘Does Rosie actually think you and Katie are together?’

He snorted. ‘Probably. She saw us kissing and we get on well so she’s seen us hanging out a bit. Once Rosie has an idea stuck in her head, it takes a while for her to let go of it.’

‘Guess you’ll have to ask me out for Valentine’s Day,’ Katie said with a little grin. ‘You can ask Alicia what I like.’

‘Boobs, from memory,’ Harry replied.

‘Not just boobs.’ 

Does she actually want me to? He glanced between Katie and Alicia, butterflies fluttering in his belly. This is horribly confusing. I kind of wish she’d just say what she wants.

‘Angelina said the scout was impressed,’ Alicia murmured. ‘She’s very happy. I think we should change the play at the start, or you’re going to end up like this every game.’

‘We did win.’ Harry poked at the sore spot on his head. ‘Although I missed the best moment.’

‘We should get Crabbe and Goyle to take the bludgers more out of the game or something.’ Alicia stared at the red on the tips of Harry’s fingers with a small frown. ‘I’m going to shower, I’ll let you and Katie have some time together.’

Katie blinked. ‘No, I definitely need a shower.’

‘Run, Alicia,’ Harry joked. ‘She’s trying to peek at you in the shower again.’

‘No—’ she flushed scarlet ‘—I just smell, Harry.’

Alicia’s lips pursed. ‘She usually peeks when we’re changing.’ She swept toward the open door.

Katie’s flush brightened and she hurried after Alicia. ‘I’m not that bad… am I?’ she called.

Harry slumped back into his bed and picked up his wand. ‘I know you snuck back in, squirt.’

Rosie poked her head out from under the invisibility cloak. ‘How do you always know?!’

‘Because I know you.’ He grinned as she pouted. ‘I’m going to tell them about Romilda for that.’

‘No!’ She squirmed. ‘I’ll die. Please don’t. I’ll be good. I’ll lie and tell them I made it up and you’re not with Katie.’

‘Lie? You did make that up.’

‘You kissed her. I saw.’ 

‘That doesn’t mean she’s my girlfriend. That was just because of the mistletoe.’ Harry raised his wand. ‘It’s Romilda or the mermaid theme song.’

Rosie stared at her toes. ‘Mermaids.’

‘What?’

‘I choose the mermaids!’ Her cheeks turned pink. ‘If you tell mum and dad about Romilda I will curl up into a ball and die. Mum will ask me questions.’

‘Mermaids it is.’ Harry jabbed his wand at her and grinned as she burst into song, conducting the mermaid theme song with his wand. ‘I’m keeping this memory to blackmail you with by the way.’

Rosie glowered at him as she sang.

Harry laughed. ‘You used to love this show, mini-mum. I know you still know the moves.’

She rolled her eyes and started to dance, a little grin spreading across her face as she got through the moves.

‘No more blabbering,’ he ordered her, ending the curse. ‘Try and be less annoying for a bit.’

Rosie flopped over the end of his bed. ‘But they want to know.’

‘If I get a girlfriend I’ll tell them, otherwise they need to know about as much as they need to know about you and Romilda.’ Harry poked her in the cheek with his toes. ‘You can go back to daydreaming about kissing pretty girls in a cupboard after you get sorted into a school house next year.’

‘I was sorted years ago.’ She grabbed his foot, huffing her red hair off her face. ‘I’m a fourth year.’

‘All you midgets look the same to me.’ Harry laughed as she dragged the spare blanket from the end of the bed and hurled it at him. ‘Go find Madman Pomfrey for me, Rosie, I want out of here.’

‘Okay!’ She beamed and jumped up, skipping toward the office.

Katie danced around the locker room waving her hands over her head. ‘Top of the league! Top of the league!’ she sang. ‘Top of the league.’

Harry reached out and shoved her into the pile of crash mats. 

‘Oi!’ She leapt back out and clapped a hand to her butt. ‘That might bruise.’

‘You can show him later,’ Ron joked, tossing his gloves into his locker. ‘But let us get out of here before you mis-use the locker room.’

Harry snorted, avoiding Katie’s eyes. ‘I don’t want to see that.’

Katie nodded. ‘Harry would much rather I unbuttoned.’ She mimed taking off her top. ‘Alas, he still hasn’t asked me out for Valentine’s Day, so he’s going to be disappointed.’

‘Not as disappointed as Rosie.’ Harry strangled the air in front of him. ‘This is all her fault.’

Ron laughed. ‘I’d say be safe, mate, but I heard you know all the charms you could ever need to know.’ He clapped Goyle and Crabbe on the shoulders. ‘Come on Tubby Twins. I’m starving.’

Alicia’s eyebrows drew down into a small frown as Angelina disappeared into the showers. ‘Are you—’

‘Wait for me, Ange!’ Katie darted after her. ‘You’re single now, so you’re all mine again.’

Harry chuckled. 

‘Are you going to ask her?’ Alicia asked. ‘I can see why she would say yes.’

‘I’d need to borrow your boobs, otherwise I won’t fit her checklist.’

Alicia scowled. ‘She doesn’t just like boobs. She likes people with a sense of humour. Who are nice. And stick up for themselves—’

‘And good with kids,’ Katie wandered back out wearing a broad grin with a big damp patch on her shoulder. ‘Also guys who talk about their feelings. Who are very loyal. And who want to have kids one day, probably a few kids.’

Harry flushed and eyed the door. ‘Do I have to like bugs?’

‘No.’ Katie flopped into the crash mats. ‘But you’re going to have to like more than just perky boobs, Harry. You’re going to have to like a blunt girl who won’t hesitate to say what’s on her mind. Of course, you’ll also have to be able to navigate through the minefield of he better like my boobs but he better not look at them and—’

A stick of bubblegum bounced off her forehead.

‘Ow,’ Katie murmured. ‘Alicia…’

Alicia stalked into the showers.

‘Er…’ Harry shot Katie a helpless look. ‘What’s wrong with her?’

Katie tucked the bubblegum into her pocket. ‘Don’t worry, Harry. That was my fault.’

‘Is she upset about—’ he tried to find a good way of saying it and came up empty-handed ‘—us.’

‘She’s being silly about me being the fun one,’ Katie said. ‘It’s okay. I’ll talk to her. You go. It’s not about you.’

He weighed her words. ‘It kind of feels like it is, though.’

She grinned. ‘Not really. Alicia’s been in a weird mood for a week now.’

‘Oh.’ Harry released a long sigh. ‘I’m glad it’s not me.’

‘Well, if you want to help, you should ask someone out for Valentine’s Day.’ Katie dragged herself out of the mats and poked at her wet robes. ‘That would be nice, don’t you think?’

So she does want me to ask? She keeps giving me hints.

‘I’m so confused.’ He let out a long breath. ‘But alright. Katie, would you like to go to Hogsmeade with me on Valentine’s Day?’

She stared at him, a small frown wrinkling her forehead. ‘Oh.’

‘Oh?’ Harry curled his toes and held his breath, heat rising on his cheeks. ‘You’re just going to leave me hanging here?’

‘No, I don’t know what to say.’

‘Sounds like a no.’ He smothered a small pang and a flash of disappointment. ‘For the best, probably, can’t have Rosie being proven right, she’d be even more annoying.’

‘No—’ Katie’s lips twisted ‘—I kind of want to say yes, but I can’t.’

‘What?’ Harry searched for some answers in her brown eyes, but found only a sad frustrated little gleam. ‘I don’t get it. Why say no if you want to say yes?’

It’s just confusing. I liked it better when we were just hanging out as friends and having fun. I wasn’t guessing at stuff all the time then.

‘You know what, I give up. I don’t know why I’m even doing this.’ He pulled his gloves off and tossed them into his locker, biting back the surge of sharp hot anger. ‘I should never have asked. Forget I did. From now on it’s just quidditch. Nice, safe, fun quidditch.’

He caught Katie’s eye as she chewed her lip. And you’re just going to stand there. You’re not going to explain at all.

‘I’ll see you at practice, Bell.’ Harry slammed his locker shut and strode out.

Stupid. He took a deep breath as he swept through the halls and up the stairs to Tom’s bathroom. That was stupid. You’ve probably just upset her.

Harry unlocked the door and stepped in.

‘Oh, you’re back.’ Tom drifted through the cubicles, a hungry glint in his silver eyes. ‘Have you given up on that stupid sport?’

‘It’s growing increasingly tempting.’ 

‘Did your little play not work.’

Harry snorted. ‘It works really well, actually. I’ve tweaked it a few times and now we’re top of the league.’

‘It’s still a pointless waste of time. You could be pushing the boundaries of magic—’

‘Or at the very least learning about girls.’

Tom froze. ‘Girls? You want to learn my curse?’

‘No, you psycho.’ Harry sighed. ‘I asked a girl out, because she we get on and she kissed me, and she seemed to be giving me hints, but she told me she had to say no even though she wanted to say yes.’

‘That doesn’t make any sense.’ Tom floated through the taps. ‘Why won’t she just do what she wants?’

‘Maybe because she thinks she’s gay?’ Harry turned the whole tangle over in his head. ‘But she said she’s undecided about that. And that she wanted to say yes.’

‘She sounds stupid.’

‘She’s not. She’s a good friend. I like her.’

‘She’s being stupid.’

‘Did you even ever have a girlfriend?’ Harry demanded. ‘Or were you too busy trying to murder girls?’

Tom scowled. ‘I could have if I’d wanted to. But I had more important things to do than chase skirts—’

‘Like getting yourself eaten by a snake.’

‘Like taking magic further than it had ever been taken!’ He balled his fists. ‘I was going to live forever. And that stupid overgrown worm ruined it all.’

‘What happened to it?’ Harry asked.

‘They killed it with a chicken.’ 

‘Humiliating. At least you got killed by a highly dangerous magical creature. Imagine being killed by a chicken.’

‘Serves it right for preventing the rise of Lord Voldemort,’ Tom muttered. ‘I would have been the greatest wizard who ever lived.’

‘Couldn’t get a girlfriend though,’ Harry said.

‘Neither can you,’ Tom retorted. ‘You’re in this bathroom whining about it like Myrtle.’ 

‘It’s not my fault. I asked her. She likes me. She just said no for no reason.’ He wrenched open the tap and watched the water swirl into the sink. ‘Like, if she didn’t want to, that’d be fine, that’s fair, I wouldn’t mind at all. But she does. So, like, why…?’

‘Am I really going to have to listen to a soliloquy about your teenage romance troubles.’

‘Sorry, I’m sure the great Lord Voldemort has better things to do,’ Harry snapped. ‘Like count how many tiles are on the wall or float into the wall.’

Tom folded his arms. ‘There are one hundred and twenty nine tiles. Why would I count them twice?’

‘What if you miscounted the first time?’ 

‘I didn’t.’

‘You think you didn’t. You also thought that a giant snake that had been hibernating for a millennium wouldn’t eat you.’

Tom whirled around, muttering under his breath.

Harry laughed. ‘You’re counting them again, aren’t you?’

‘Shut up,’ Tom hissed. ‘You made me lose count. Go back to whining over that girl.’

‘No. No, I’m not going to. We’re just friends. Valentine’s Day is just as stupid as the Yule Ball and it’s more optional, so I don’t have to do anything.’

And I won’t. Should never have asked Katie. Or gone with Alicia to that ball. It just made things confusing.

Old dents scattered the ceiling and down the far wall, shedding little fragments of paint and plaster.

I wonder who stole a bludger and let it loose in here?

‘Are you seriously pretending we’re not here?’ Alicia snapped.

‘No, I was wondering how the bludger dents happened,’ he said. ‘And if Angelina had any more useful ideas to share about our pressing play. Or any other plays.’

‘Before our time,’ Katie murmured as Ron, Crabbe and Goyle wandered in. 

‘Sorry, someone released all those biting books in the corridors and they’re scuttling around snapping at angles.’ Ron slouched into the crash mats. ‘We miss much?’

‘No.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I talked to the reserves, since they’re mostly in my house, and they’re pretty happy they’ve got the hang of things. Except Cho, she’s afraid she’s going to get pasted by bludgers.’

‘She has a point,’ Alicia said. ‘You’re going to get targeted every game and if Crabbe and Goyle lose a bludger or both, they can’t get them back without opening the pitch up.’

Angelina shrugged. ‘I’m not sure. We can’t change much because the play stops working. But any smart team will realise they have to catch the snitch or break up Crabbe and Goyle to stop us.’

‘I can probably handle it,’ Harry said. ‘Got to compromise, right. The structural integrity of my skull for victory.’

‘It’s only a problem if the snitch appears quickly,’ Ron said. ‘Otherwise, Harry can just dodge and we keep stacking up points. Once we’re ahead, we swap back and go for bludger control and defensive play until Harry ends the game.’

‘So we’re happy?

‘Mate, we’re top of the league by two points and eighty points difference after a handful of games. Couldn’t be going better.’

‘Oliver said those scouts were impressed,’ Angelina said. ‘With all of us. I told him that it’s the system, really. Harry’s system.’

A small smile crossed his lips. ‘I’m not the only one who worked on it. You did. Alicia did. Ron did. It’s our system now really.’

Katie beamed. ‘How modest—’ 

Alicia slid a stick of gum across in front of her. ‘Hush.’

Harry watched them exchange pointed looks in the corner of his eye with a little stab of anxiety. ‘Guess we’re done then. Might have to find a new reserve seeker, though. I don’t think Cho will be keen to play like this.’

Ron jumped up. ‘Awesome. Right. Time for Hogsmeade.’ He hurried out.

Angelina snickered as Crabbe and Goyle plodded after him. ‘He has another date. With Lavender Brown.’

‘Good for him.’ Harry swept his wand off the table and headed for the door. ‘I’m meeting my parents and Rosie for lunch, so I’d better head off too.’

‘Harry…’

Nope. He kept walking, glancing over his shoulder as he crossed the pitch. Not a chance.

Something thudded into his stomach and clung to him with loud sobs.

‘Woah…’ Harry wrapped one arm around Rosie’s shoulders and patted her on the head. ‘Okay, which other six year old do I have to beat up for pulling your hair?’

A small laugh choked through her tears. ‘I told mum and dad about Romilda.’

‘Ah.’ He glanced back at where Katie and Alicia lingered and shook his head at them. ‘Did mum make you learn contraception charms? It was upsetting for me too, although I don’t see why you’d need contraceptive charms with Romilda, not unless she’s a lot better at transfiguration than I am.’

‘No they were weird about it.’ Rosie sniffed. ‘Like they were just hoping I’d change my mind and do what they did.’

‘You might. You’re only about ten, after all. If you do, you do. If you don’t, well, they’ll get used to it. As long as you’re happy, midget.’

She socked him in the arm. ‘I’m not a midget.’ 

‘Look like one from up here.’ Harry patted her on the head and conjured a handful of tissues. ‘Don’t worry about them. I’ll tell them all about one of my friends who’s also gay, or thinks she is, and seems perfectly happy. That’ll help.’

‘Thank you, Harry.’ Rosie wiped her tears on his shirt, leaving dark lines of mascara on the white cotton.

‘No—’ he waved the tissues under her nose ‘—what did you think I conjured these for?’ Harry poked the thin smears. ‘Now I look I’ve been attacked by some kind of tiny flying imp.’

‘Don’t call me a tiny imp.’ She wiped her face on the tissues, smudging mascara over her cheeks.

‘I suppose you’d be a terrible flying imp, you did fly my literally uncrashable learning broom into a wall.’ He shook his head. ‘Look at me, Rosie, you look like a wet panda.’ 

Rosie gave him a tearful smile as he conjured more tissues and dampened them with a cleaning charm. ‘Thank you.’

‘If you went wandering around like this everyone would tease you for crying.’ Harry lifted her chin and wiped the smudges away one by one. ‘And then I would have to go and bully the Hogwarts crèche class. I’m too busy for that.’ He vanished the tissues with a flick of his wand. ‘There you go, Rosie. All good. Are you coming back down? Or do you want me to make something up for you?’

She grabbed his arm. ‘I’m coming now you’re coming.’

‘Wait.’ Katie stepped forward. ‘Harry…’

‘Not a good time.’ He shot her a sharp look.

‘No – I mean – Alicia has something she would like to say.’ Katie nudged Alicia forward with her elbow. ‘And if she doesn’t now, she probably won’t ever, so…’

‘Fine. But it better be quick.’

‘Are you fighting with your girlfriend?’ Rosie asked, glaring at Katie. ‘What did she do?’

Katie laughed. ‘I’m the friend who’s gay, or thinks she is, Rosie.’

‘Oh.’ Rosie pointed her finger at Alicia. ‘Then what did you do?’

‘Hush, midget. I’m not going out with her either.’ Harry pushed her arm down with one finger and glanced toward the Great Hall. ‘They’re my teammates, we just do quidditch stuff.’

Katie winced. ‘Alicia your moment is disappearing really fast.’

Alicia stared at her feet. ‘I would like to go to Hogsmeade with you again. For a second real date. The Yule party doesn’t count.’

Second?

‘I’ll wear something nice,’ she said. ‘And I won’t get mad about stuff. And I’ll try and be funny and talkative like Katie is—’

‘Okay… still needs some work,’ Katie muttered. ‘Maybe a lot of work…’

‘This was your idea,’ Alicia hissed, drawing herself up, pink-faced. ‘I enjoyed going out with you to the café, Harry, and I would like to do it again. I didn’t realise you weren’t happy, but now I know why I’ll try and not do it.’

This is just more confusing.

‘Is she your girlfriend now?’ Rosie asked, tugging on his arm.

Harry covered her mouth with his hand. ‘Okay… I didn’t think you were interested at all. Or that that café trip was a date date.’ He glanced at Katie who gave him a thumbs up.

At least I know why Katie couldn’t say yes. 

‘Alright then,’ he said.

‘I’ll make a list of things for us to do,’ Alicia said. ‘And if – if you get bored, we can meet up with Katie…’

Katie grabbed Alicia and dragged her away. ‘You were nearly doing so well,’ she said as they walked back toward the Great Hall. ‘And then you had to go and bring me into it…’

‘That was weird,’ Harry muttered.

A sharp pain flashed through his hand.

‘Ow.’ He pulled it back from Rosie’s face and studied the ring of teeth marks. ‘Rosie, I know you’re kind of pale, but you are not a vampire.’

‘So she is your girlfriend now.’ Rosie frowned. ‘Can I tell mum?’

‘No you absolutely cannot.’ Harry grabbed a handful of her hair and gave it a light tug. ‘Or I’ll charm this red mop beige.’

‘Nooooo.’ She pouted and swatted his hand away. ‘Beige is the worst colour.’

‘Mum loves beige.’

‘Yeah but mum loves you.’

‘Harsh.’ Harry laughed. ‘Come on, mini-mum. Let’s go.’

Harry sipped his mango smoothie, glancing out through the pink-hearts in the window at the bustle of students.

She’s late. A tight ball of anxiety fluttered in the pit of his stomach. Or not coming.

Condensation trickled down the glass as he poked the straw around in the bottom, pooling on the table.

The door jingled and Harry glanced up.

Alicia shot him a small smile and a wave, hurrying across trailing her red and gold scarf. ‘I’m sorry, I got stuck in Charms.’

‘It’s okay.’ Relief swooped through him. ‘I thought you’d ditched me for a minute or two. Was nearly out of smoothie.’

She slid into her seat, shaking her fringe out. ‘Sorry.’

Harry caught the glitter of gloss on her lips. ‘You’re wearing make-up.’

A little pink rose on Alicia’s cheeks. ‘It is a date. I thought I should try and look pretty. Boys like that.’

‘You do look pretty,’ he mumbled, heat creeping up his face.

She flushed. ‘I’m not a doll, though.’

‘I never liked playing with dolls as a kid. Rosie didn’t either. She used to behead hers, actually.’

‘That’s a little concerning.’ Alicia laughed. ‘Is your sister okay? She seemed… upset.’

‘Yeah she’s okay.’ A small smile crept onto Harry’s lips. ‘She’s a very excitable brat. And very dramatic. She’s probably out somewhere with Romilda causing havoc in a very cheerful giggly way right now.’

‘You’re a good brother,’ she murmured. ‘She always comes to you to help her.’

‘She’ll annoy me forever if I don’t do something to help.’ Harry grinned. ‘I’ve got a great memory of her doing the mermaid song and dance though now. Excellent blackmail material.’

A green smoothie floated over Alicia’s shoulder and thudded onto the table.

He glanced at the little dark seeds floating in the glass. ‘The kiwi one?’ 

‘It’s the only one I haven’t tried so I thought I’d get it this time.’

‘Kiwis are good.’

‘I’ve never actually had one.’

‘Really?’

‘Not that I can remember.’ Alicia took a long sip through her straw. ‘Mmmm, I quite like that.’

Harry slurped the last of his mango smoothie up. ‘So what did you want to do? You said you were going to make a list…’

Alicia squirmed. ‘I planned some things. I thought we could do something you like and then something I like?’

‘Ah, a trade.’ Harry chuckled. ‘Okay, what’s first?’

‘I booked us a spot in Honeyduke’s make your own enchanted chocolate thing tour because I think that’s a thing you’ll like.’ She frowned and poked at her lips. ‘But it’s not for a few minutes yet.’

‘No rush,’ he said. ‘We can linger here for a bit. I’m pretty comfortable.’

Alicia smiled and took another sip of her drink. ‘And after, I thought we could go to the dance class.’

‘Dancing…’ Harry winced. ‘I’ll try not to embarrass you too much.’

She pressed her lips together, the creases deepening on her forehead. 

‘I don’t hate dancing,’ he said. ‘I’m just not good enough at it for it to be any fun for you.’

‘It’s a beginner’s class,’ Alicia said. ‘For a type I haven’t tried. We’ll both be bad. I know you won’t want to feel like you’re much worse than I am.’

‘I don’t mind being worse, it just feels like I’d be ruining it for you by not being better.’ 

She poked at her mouth.

Harry glanced down at her swollen lower lip. ‘Er… are you okay?’

‘My lips are tingling a lot,’ she admitted, reaching for the straw of her smoothie and taking a long drink. ‘Like pins and needles.’

‘Have you used that lip gloss before?’ he asked. ‘I think you might be allergic to something in it. You look like you’re pouting.’

Alicia grabbed a knife from the pot in the middle and peered into the gleaming blade. ‘Oh no…’ 

Harry conjured her a tissue. ‘Here.’

She smeared the lip gloss off. ‘That’s what I get for trying to look all pretty like Katie.’ 

‘You still look very pretty.’ Harry shot her a smile. ‘Although you do look a bit like Rosie after someone’s told her that I got to the treacle tart before she could.’

‘Is it bad?’ Alicia glanced at the lip gloss on her straw and pulled it out. ‘It feels really bad.’

‘Ten out of ten boys would still kiss you, if they weren’t all terrified you’d murder them for it.’ 

She turned pink and took a gulp of her smoothie. ‘Are you one of the ten?’

‘Am I terrified you’d murder me for kissing you?’ Harry laughed. ‘A little bit, yes.’

‘No. Do you want to kiss me?’ Alicia poked at her lip. ‘I’m probably not as good at kissing as Katie was. Or Daphne. Or Gemma.’

‘Don’t worry, I’m not exactly some kind of kissing genius.’ He snorted. ‘Tracey laughed at me when we first kissed. I squished our noses together.’

She pressed her fingers against her mouth. ‘I think the tingling is getting worse.’

Harry peered at her lips. ‘I think they’re both swelling up now.’

Alicia growled and grabbed her smoothie. ‘Stupid Katie and her lip gloss. I don’t know why it’s messing everything up now. I’ve had it on my lips before.’

‘You’re used it before.’

A little pink rose on her cheeks. ‘Katie wanted to see what kissing a girl was like.’

‘Oh.’ Harry let that image hang before his mind’s eye. ‘Give me a couple of minutes, that’s a very pretty picture.’

‘Oi!’ Alicia growled and flicked her straw across the table at him.

‘But then it’s probably not the lip gloss.’ His eyes dipped to the green smoothie. ‘Don’t drink any more of that. It might be the smoothie.’

She thwacked the glass down. ‘Of course it is. Of course it’s the drink I picked to try and be spontaneous and fun. It’s just not fair…’

Harry winced and slid out of his seat. ‘It’s not a huge disaster, but we should probably go to the hospital wing just in case.’

‘I’ve ruined the whole date,’ Alicia snapped, balling her fists. ‘Because I know you like romancey romance like Katie and I—’

He leant in and kissed her soft, swollen lips, tasting the faint sweetness of strawberry gloss beneath the sharp tang of kiwi.

Alicia turned crimson and hid her face in her scarf. 

‘That bad, was it?’ Harry felt the heat rise in his cheeks. ‘Well, at least you didn’t murder me.’

‘It can’t have been nice with my giant fish lips.’ Alicia peeked out through her scarf, pink-cheeked. ‘Was it okay, at least? I know Katie—’

‘I don’t think I really want to date Katie after all.’ He held out his hand. ‘She confuses me a lot. You yell if you’re upset and just say what you think, she makes me feel like I’m about to do something stupid all the time.’

‘But Katie—’

‘She is fun. And pretty.’ Harry sighed and took her elbow, tugging her toward the door. ‘You know, we should really get you to the hospital wing, your lips aren’t getting any smaller and I don’t want to try anything in case I make it worse.’

Alicia tugged her scarf up over her chin. ‘And I was trying to be like Katie for this whole date.’ She growled. ‘I just always get it wrong.’

‘The Honeyduke’s thing sounds like fun,’ he said. ‘We should definitely do it next time. Just without any kiwi smoothies.’

‘You mean you want to try again?’ She stared at her feet as they headed up toward the castle. ‘Really?’ 

‘Yeah, it’s not like the date went wrong. We just learnt that kiwis hate you.’ Harry flashed her a grin. ‘I will definitely try to escape the dancing though.’

‘No. You have to come dancing. If I’m making myself all pretty and undoing an extra button on my shirt, then you have to do something for me.’

Harry’s eyes slipped down. ‘Huh, you really did undo an extra button.’

‘Yes,’ Alicia mumbled. ‘Boobs were on your list and I do have quite nice ones according to Katie.’

He laughed. ‘Katie has good taste in my opinion.’ A sudden thought occurred to him. ‘Wait. My list?’

‘The things you like. The things I have to do and be for you to want to stay with me.’ The colour rose on her face. ‘Like being funny. And kissing. And other stuff after kissing.’

‘You make it sound like a business deal,’ Harry murmured as they reached the school gates. ‘You know boys probably don’t like being reduced to a list all that much. I don’t. It’s better being a list someone likes than one they don’t, but still…’

‘You don’t like it?’

He wrinkled his nose. ‘It makes me feel like you’re only here so long as you don’t find a nicer looking list.’

‘Isn’t that what boys do?’ Alicia demanded from behind her scarf. ‘Pick a girl and stick with her until they find one they like more?’

‘Well, maybe, I guess. I don’t know, but I’d still want someone to actually like me.’ Harry paused. ‘Otherwise everything you do that I like is just buying the things from me that you like.’ He frowned. ‘What do you even like about me? You don’t really go out of your way to make it easy for boys, but you asked me…’

A soft little gleam shone in her brown eyes. ‘You’re really good with Rosie. You’d be a really good dad. You’re so kind and supportive with her, if I can be good enough that you want to stay with me, you’d be everything I want one day.’

Harry flushed. ‘Not just funny and sporty?’

‘I think I’d be very happy with you,’ Alicia murmured. ‘And I can be all the things you like. I just need to know what they are.’

‘Boobs, apparently.’

‘I have those. Nice ones.’ She squirmed. ‘You can see them.’

‘It’s kind of cold out here for undressing.’ Harry took her arm and led her back toward the hospital wing. ‘And I don’t really know what I want, although obviously I do like boobs. But… something with a bit of… magic, I guess. Not just working my way through lists until I find one I’m content with.’

Alicia scowled. ‘Katie.’

‘Not that much magic.’ He shook his head. ‘Katie just throws out hints and expects people to magically know how to make it perfect. I thought she was gay, and then not gay, and then fancied me, and then didn’t. I can’t do that all the time, I’d go mad guessing what she wants. I think I’m somewhere in the middle.’

‘So a bit spontaneous? But you still want to know the list.’

‘I don’t know. Maybe.’ Harry opened the hospital wing door. ‘Let’s get Madam Pomfrey to check you’re okay. I’m fairly sure the kiwis have messed with your head.’

‘My head?’ Alicia touched her fingers to her cheek. ‘How bad is it?’

He laughed. ‘It’s just your lips. I meant you offering to show off Katie’s favourite part of you on a second date in the middle of the school yard. That’s not what I was expecting from a girl who’s rejected a good chunk of the boys in our year.’

She glowered. ‘I wasn’t going to do it there! Or even today. I meant one day in the future.’

‘I mean, if you want me to come dancing it would be a sure way of bribing me,’ he promised, lowering his voice as Madam Pomfrey bustled over.

Alicia turned pink and lowered her scarf. ‘I think I’m allergic to kiwis.’

Madam Pomfrey’s eyebrows went up. ‘It does rather seem that way.’ She pulled her wand out and summoned a small clear vial. ‘Drink this. It will taste like orange pith, but it’ll settle everything back down for you.’

Alicia grabbed it and gulped it down with a grimace and a little shudder. ‘That was bitter.’

Madam Pomfrey tucked her wand away and took the empty vial. ‘That’ll do it. Just give it a minute.’

‘We probably can still make the dancing,’ Harry said.

Alicia narrowed her eyes. ‘Are you trying to get me to bribe you.’

‘Is it working?’ He laughed. ‘No, not really.’

‘Good because it wasn’t working.’ She poked at her lips as the swelling shrunk away. ‘Are they back to normal?’

‘Looks like it.’

Alicia darted forward and kissed him, slipping her tongue into his mouth. A bitter taste lingered as she pulled back.

‘That potion really doesn’t taste good,’ he said with a smile. ‘But consider me bribed. Let’s go and be terrible at dancing, shall we?’

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Published inFanfiction StoriesThe Seeker Blinding Playbook

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