Settling the Score
Epilogue: Part Two
Snippet 5, Part 1:
A slow, crooked smile pulled up the corner of my mouth as I gazed down at her sleeping form. She was curled up against my side, dark hair fanned out over my chest in a cascade of wild curls that spoke volumes of her personality. Her eyes were ringed with long, thick lashes that cast crescent moon shadows over the slope of her nose, and her lips were pursed into a subtle frown.
Her head was nestled onto my shoulder, hand resting on my chest and legs tangled with mine. My arm was draped loosely around her waist, and at the moment, she felt so small, so delightfully warm and delicate, that I couldn't help but pull her closer. She just felt so completely… mine.
And I'm a bit of a possessive bloke.
The movement caused her to stir ever so slightly, but instead of waking, she merely shifted more comfortably against me, snuggling deeper into my shoulder. That is, of course, until she grumbled out a throaty and disgruntled, "I'm going to punch you if you keep staring at me."
A wry grin flickered over my lips—there's the girl I masochistically fell in love with. "Morning, love."
Her eyes fluttered open, revealing half-lidded slivers of bright, yellow-speckled green that sleepily fixed onto my stare. She looked tired and unbelievably sultry all at once, her hazy eyes catlike and her lips slightly parted, and my head had trouble processing the disparate reactions each expression triggered in me. "What time is it?" she asked in a voice like a cat's tongue.
I glanced over at the clock on my bedside table. "About a quarter till seven." A predictable slew of curses spit-fired out of her mouth, causing the corners of my mouth to quirk upward. I don't think I'd ever met anyone more allergic to morning cheer than Andora Sunrise-Equals-Apocalypse Wiles.
"Are you bloody kidding me?" she hissed, propping herself up on her elbow to glance at my clock herself. She groaned upon seeing the time, collapsing back into my bed and yanking the covers over her face. Something muffled sounded from beneath the blanket, and I quirked a brow.
"What was that?"
Down came the covers. "I said I hate you." Up went the covers.
"We should probably break up, then."
"Yes," came the muffled response.
I furrowed my brow in mock-thought. "You know, if we're broken up, you should probably leave my bed."
She was silent for a few moments, and then: "We're back together."
My lips twitched. This girl. "I'm getting breakfast," I announced, dropping my head down to kiss the unidentified lump of covers I suspected was her head before pushing myself up into a sitting position. She fished her hand out of the covers and reached out blindly before catching onto a fistful of my shirt.
"Come with me," I said, swiveling around to grab her hand, and she immediately switched her grip to my wrist and tried to pull me back down. I chuckled.
"Stay," she whined, looking like nothing more than a lumpy blanket with a disembodied arm sticking out. "No one eats breakfast at seven in the morning."
"Everyone eats breakfast at seven in the morning."
"No one worthwhile eats breakfast at seven in the morning."
"I eat breakfast at seven in the morning."
She yanked the covers down from her head and shot me a sleepy, satisfied grin. "Like I said."
My eyes darkened with a sly glitter. "If I'm so worthless," I drawled, slowly dropping back down so that my body was once again hovering over hers, "why are you so desperate for me to stay?"
"Easy," she said, hands instinctively gliding up my chest before entwining around my neck. "I'm cold."
I looped one of her wild curls around my finger. "Do a heating charm."
Her nose scrunched up, contorting the constellation of freckles I had memorized. "Too much work."
"Yeah, and you're pretty shit at heating charms, so…"
Her eyes flashed as she dropped her hands to my shoulders and shoved me. "Not true!" She shook her head. "God, you light one little third year on fire and suddenly your heating charm's a danger to society."
"Aw, no one thinks it's a danger to society, love," I replied, lips tipping up into a smirk. "Just humanity."
Her eyes flattened. "We're breaking up again."
"Brilliant," I said, swinging my feet off the bed and drawing open the curtains, "I can go to breakfast now."
"Fine," she replied, yanking the covers back over her head, and I rolled my eyes, got to my feet, and made my way over to the bathroom to wash up. Zach Davies and Dexter Jones were dead asleep, as usual, the former snoring loudly from his impending hangover and the latter clad in his token Albert Einstein pajama set, and Gabe was likely out for his morning swim. Even if they had been awake, they were pretty used to hearing Andy grumbling about the room on Saturday and Sunday mornings and knew not to mess with her.
Well, Dex and Harris knew. Davies had learned the hard way.
The first thing I saw when I walked into the bathroom was an explosion of rubbish. Combs, hair gel, broken bottle of cologne polluting the air, boxers with kiss marks all over them, 'Sexy Beast' written across the mirror in shaving cream. I groaned. "For fuck's sake, Davies." Zach had pretty much come to be known as a universal ruiner of peaceful Saturday mornings, largely due to his tendency to get shit-faced every Friday night.
And every other night, really. I'd seen him take a Potions exam completely hammered before: he did the entire thing upside down, walked out with it after the bell, and tried to turn it to an incredibly confused Professor Sprout during Herbology two hours later. Still, Friday nights were definitely the worst.
"Alcoholic git," I muttered, splashing some of the water I was using to wash my face onto the mirror to clear it. Davies was hilarious and entertaining as hell, but between Dex, Harris, and I, we were all pretty worried about him. He didn't have any sort of plan after Hogwarts, nor had he really learned anything other than how to look perfectly normal in a classroom while high as a bloody kite. His family situation wasn't the best, either, so he had no intention of going back home after the few months left of school ended. Gabe had offered to let him crash with him in his London flat for the summer if he still needed to figure things out, but we were all hoping he'd get it together before then.
Then again, if anyone could get him back on track, it was Gabe. The bloke had a God-given talent for knowing exactly what to say at any given moment, it was ridiculous. Zach always said the wrong thing, Dex turned everything into math, and I never said anything at all, but Gabe always ended up charming the pants off of anyone in any situation with a few perfectly placed words. It was annoying as hell, but it had also gotten a lot of us out of quite a few close calls.
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand as I left the bathroom, skin emanating the scent of Davies' smarmy cologne, and headed straight back over to my bed. Without a word, I scooped the chaotic bundle of sheets, limbs, and hair that was my girlfriend up into my arms and carried her out of the room bridal-style. "Wood!" Andy squawked, clawing through the blanket for a few seconds before finally emerging in a wild-haired mess. "What the hell are you doing!?"
I grinned as I began to descend the stairs. "Why, taking you to breakfast, darling."
She began writhing in the mess of sheets. "Put me down!"
"Wood, I swear to God—"
"Sorry, I can't hear you over how romantic and gallant I'm being."
"This is not romantic, this is kidnapping and it's illegal!"
"Oh my God, that's so romantic!" a redheaded third year squeaked as she saw me carrying Andy down the stairs, nudging her friend. "Look at that!"
I smirked. "See?"
"Your death is imminent."
"You say the sweetest things."
"Castration, dismemberment, and then death."
"Easy, wildcat, not in front of the kids," I murmured, nuzzling her ear as if she'd just said something incredibly racy.
"I'm dumping you."
"I think we're still broken up."
"Then we're getting back together so I can do it again!"
"I wonder if they'll have waffles again today."
"Oh my God, he is so perfect."
"Then you bloody date him!" Andy snapped at the girl ogling us, causing her to jump back in shock, and I shot her a consoling look.
"Sorry. Ms. Norris gave her rabies. Freak accident."
"Oh my God, and you're taking care of her? That's so romantic."
Andy shot me a dark look. "I'm going to Petrify this girl." But then, something changed in her expression. It was dark, sly. She'd gotten an idea. Nothing good ever came from that. "You know," she said, turning back to the impressionable pair of girls, "it's funny that you think he takes care of me, because I'm actually his castration counselor."
Their eyes widened as I groaned. Not this again. "His what?"
"Castration counselor," she said, squirming against my grip to talk over my shoulder as I carried her away. "I help him deal with the embarrassment of having no bollocks—literally!—and hold him he as cries for hours about his inability to get it u—"
The portrait slammed behind her before she could finish, and she settled back into my arms with a smug look. "How you holding up today, tiger?"
"I fully support our breakup."
She laughed. "Perfect, then we're even."
My mouth tipped up into a grin at the bright sound of her laugh, and my stare flickered down to her face. She was staring up at me with those bold lemony green eyes of her, lips parted into the kind of smile that was so strikingly genuine that it could only happen after a burst of laughter, and after a moment, I shook my head.
"You know what."
Her smile grew—of course she did. It was what I always did when I thought she looked annoyingly gorgeous. She took compliments hilariously badly, so instead of telling her out loud, I always just shook my head and told her she knew why. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
I shrugged easily. "Then I guess you'll never know."
She laughed again, and we bickered all the way to the doors of the Great Hall, where I finally, after a lot of begging and whining, agreed to put her down. The first thing she did after ditching the blanket was knee me in the thigh. Hard. "Ow."
"Pull that stunt again and I'll aim higher."
My expression soured. "I'm castrated, remember?"
She snorted despite herself, unable to keep a straight face. "Oh, yeah."
She did just that, lapsing into a sunny laugh as she turned around and pushed the door open before I could open it for her. I shot her back an exasperated look: we never really agreed on that. She told me that it didn't matter who opened the damn door and if I really wanted to do something nice for her I could write her Potions essay. I always opened it for her anyway, and now it'd become a competition.
"Sweet bloody Merlin, do mine eyes deceive me?" a dramatic voice called, and I saw George Weasley stand up from the Gryffindor table with a scandalized expression, stare directed at Andy. Beside him, Fred placed a horrified hand over his heart. "Is that Andy Vampire Wiles awake before noon on a Saturday?"
"Sod off," Andy muttered, taking a seat at the empty bench across from them and gravitating to the coffee like a crack addict. I took the seat beside her and Fred immediately gave me a sly look.
"How'd you do it, mate?" He dropped his voice into a lascivious whisper, "You wake her with some of your 'Quidditch' moves?"
I smirked as Andy groaned.
"You know, Chaser sleep away?" George chimed in, and Fred grinned.
"I bet it's hard to Keeper satisfied."
"Yeah, and you wouldn't want to Beater to the punch, if you know what I mean…"
"What he's trying to say is make sure you Seeker satisfaction before yours."
"Don't be a Snitch, Fred."
"That's a Quaffle thing to say, George!"
"I'm never waking up this early ever again," Andy muttered, staring at her cup of coffee as if wondering if she could drown herself in it, and I snorted at her expression, slinging an arm around her shoulders. Her lips twitched upward as I pulled her against me, though her eyes promptly shot back over to the twins. "Oi, speaking of early—what the hell are you two doing up?"
Their smug expressions immediately dropped. "Nothing."
"Nothing at all."
"We're always up this early."
"Got a thing for sunrises."
"Big morning fans over here."
Andy and I exchanged a look. "In my experience, it's better not to know."
She lifted her mug in agreement. "So," she said, taking yet another sip of her coffee and offering me some. I took a swig and grimaced—Andy always poured half a bloody pound of sugar in her coffee and drowned it in milk. She rolled her eyes at my reaction before continuing to speak, "I may have been slightly less than sober last night, but I'm pretty sure I saw you leave the party with Caroline Abbott," she pointed at George, "and you obviously left with Angelina," she pointed at Fred, "and Kats was in bed by 10 because she had a make-up exam at the crack of dawn. Did anyone see Alicia leave?"
George frowned. "Actually, no."
Fred scratched his head. "Can't say that I did."
She glanced over at me and I lifted my palms in defense. "I was distracted and it's entirely your fault."
She smiled slightly before biting down on her lip, eyes narrowing in thought. I knew that look. "Okay," she said in a light voice that I wasn't buying for one second. "Nevermind." George and Fred immediately went back to discussing whatever it was that had really woken them up this early, and Andy immediately seized the opportunity to lean in closer and drop her voice into a whisper.
"Did Gabe come back to the dorm last night?"
"I was definitely distracted at that point."
"I don't remember hearing anything."
"The Silencing Charm might've had something to do with that, love."
"His bed was still made this morning."
I shrugged. "He goes for morning swims—he probably made it before he left."
She shook her head. "No. Gabe's messy. Something's up."
I snorted at her conspiratorial look, giving her hair a brief ruffle before dropping my arm and leaning over to grab the plate of sausages. I dumped half of them on my plate, and proceeded to add a mountain of eggs, waffles, hash browns, bacon, and fruit to the sides until I had no space left. Andy side-eyed the plate and I smirked.
She glanced away without comment, stirring a spoon in her obscenely sweet coffee and thinking about Gabe and Alicia. I knew it was something she wanted to happen. She'd asked me if Gabe had ever talked about Alicia during any of our 'bro' talks before and wanted to know what I thought about it. I told her the truth—as long as Alicia was playing like one of the best damn Chasers in Hogwarts, I didn't care who she dated, and Gabe was surprisingly private for being such a universally loved bloke, so I didn't know.
She occasionally brought it up to me again, but even when she didn't, I'd see her eyeing them whenever they were around each other. Sometimes she'd nod in their direction and quirk a brow, and I'd look over and see Alicia being her blunt, fearless self and Gabe being the smooth bastard that he always was. I'd glance back at her with a clueless expression and she'd sigh exasperatedly and tell me I was blind.
"Whoa, you lot are up early," a voice rang from behind us, and I turned around and saw Katie smiling as she walked up to the table. She must've finished her exam. "What's this all about?"
"Did Alicia come home last night?" Andy asked, completely ignoring her question, and Katie frowned as she took the seat beside her.
"Not sure. I didn't see her this morning."
"Aha!" Andy said, whipping around with a triumphant look. "See?"
I paused, forkful of sausage hovering a centimeter from my open mouth. "See what?"
"Oh my God, you're hopeless. Kats," she said, turning back around to face the brunette, and from there the conversation fell into an alien language of hyper fast best friend speak that only terrified me a little bit. I glanced over at the twins, who'd stopped their unquestionably illegal dealings to stare at the two wildly gesticulating girls in fascination, and gave a sly smile.
"So you never managed to make a pun with 'bludger'."
Their faces broke out into two identical wicked grins.
End of Snippet 5, Part 1.
There's more to the scene, don't worry! It's just that from here, even though I wanted the whole thing to be from Oliver's perspective to give you guys some much deserved insight into his head, I really have to switch back into Andy's PoV. It just feels wrong to have her last interactions with her nutso group of best friends be told by anyone other than her.
Snippet 5, Part 2:
"—the song with the mooing—"
"—and the thing—"
"—and the sodding pen—"
"—don't even talk to me about that pen—"
"—and the nail polish—"
"—bloody Marshmallow Yellow—"
"—so obvious!" Kats and I both said at the same time, and with that, it was concluded.
Alicia Spinnett had spent the night with Gabriel Harris. It was motherfucking law and there was nothing that could convince me otherwise.
"Hey," Katie said with a frown, nodding over my shoulder at something going on behind me, and I glanced over and saw Gabe walking in with his arm around… Gwen Clearwater.
Well. Okay. Except maybe that.
"The hell?" I murmured, eyes narrowing in perplexity before swinging around to meet Katie's. "But that doesn't make any sense."
"I know," Kats agreed, expression ablaze with confusion. "Didn't you say Gabe liked smart girls?"
I snorted despite myself—I loved Katie's subtle bitchy moments. "That's what he told me once, but…" I glanced back over at Gwen's straining tank top, "maybe he makes an exception for a slammin' D-cup." I mean hey, I would.
Katie let out a frustrated groan. "But he's perfect for Alicia."
I smiled a bit—Kats was a really dramatic romantic. Everyone was always 'perfect for each other' or 'completely blind' or 'disastrous'. They were never just 'cute' or 'nice' or 'whatever'. Bronte novel or bust. "They're pretty damn adorable."
"I still think something's up."
I followed Gabe and Gwen to the Hufflepuff table with my eyes, noticing the way he dropped his arm from her shoulders once they got there and sat down facing away from the table. He propped his elbows back on the surface in a casual manner, leaning his back against the tabletop and kicking his legs out into the walkway. It gave the impression that he wasn't planning on staying there long. "Hm. Maybe you're right."
Deciding to put it on the backburner till Alicia herself woke up, I turned back to face everyone, grabbed what I presumed to be my mug of coffee, and took a sip that I spat back out in 0.2 seconds. "Wood! What did you do to my coffee?"
Let's get one thing straight here: Oliver has the world's worst taste in coffee. Seriously, it's like a talent. He thinks a single iota of sugar is disgusting, grimaces if a cow is even mentioned because just the thought of something capable of producing milk occurring near his coffee is too much milk, and will only be satisfied if it tastes like a ground up bar of soap.
"Moved it," he said, and nodded to the mug closer to Katie. "It's over there. And calling that coffee is a bit of a stretch, don't you think, love?"
I smiled sarcastically. "Oh, yay. Coffee-snob Oliver. My favorite."
"Stroppy Andy!" he said with way overdone enthusiasm, like a kid seeing his favorite superhero, and my flat expression cracked into an actual smile. "My favorite!" His zealous face normalized into an easy grin, and he reached up to tug on a curl. "Actually, Stroppy Andy really is one of my favorites."
"I guess coffee-snob Oliver's kind of sexy."
His arched an intrigued brow. "Really? Well," he drawled, lowering his voice into seductive murmur and leaning down to whisper in my ear, "coffee beans happen to be cultivated in over 70 different countries, most of which reside in the regions of equatorial South America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and—"
"Go away," I laughed, shoving him back and shaking my head. He pulled me back and kissed the top of my head, and for the millionth time since I'd started dating Wood, I was overcome by the paradox of how the hell did I fall in love with this idiot and who in their right mind wouldn't?
"Okay, what the hell?" We all glanced up to see Angelina standing behind Fred and George, brows raised and hands on her hips. "In what planet do you guys wake up earlier than me?"
"Morning, beautiful," Fred said with a grin, pulling Angelina into his lap before she could protest and dipping her into a hilariously elaborate kiss. "Sleep well?" She tossed him a pointed look, lips fighting back a smile, and we all knew from that exchange alone that neither of them had gotten much sleep at all.
"Blech," George said, faking a shudder, and Fred merely grinned.
"Hey, did you see Alicia come home at any point last night?" Katie asked Angelina, cutting her omelet into little squares, and Angelina glanced away from Fred for a moment.
"Uh… actually, come to think of it, no."
Katie dropped her fork. "So no one saw her leave the party yesterday? What if something happened to her!"
"Kats, relax—she was in the shower when I woke up."
I perked up. "Really?"
"Yeah, she was singing opera, it was awful."
Katie and I made eye contact. "Singing? Like… happy singing?"
Angelina shrugged, sliding off of Fred's lap into the seat beside him. "It was in Italian."
Katie frowned. "Alicia doesn't even know Italian."
"So you can imagine, then, how bad it was."
We all winced: Alicia's singing voice right up their with wailing cats. Combine that with a butchered language and it's just aural carnage all around.
"So you couldn't even get an inkling of if she was in a good mood or not?"
Angelina sighed exasperatedly. "I was completely exhausted, Andy, I have no idea." Her eyes caught on something behind my shoulder, and with a relieved expression, she raised a hand and gestured behind me. "Perfect: ask her yourself."
Katie and I immediately whipped around. Alicia was the world's most transparent person: all of this would be settled the second we talked with her, and possibly before. She was big on facial expressions. For example, the one she was wearing now was a potent cocktail of anxious, defensive, and bitchy.
Bad mood. Definitely bad mood.
"Well, that's not good," Katie muttered beside me, and I shook my head in agreement.
Curious, I switched my stare over to Gabe, and in a bit of an upside, he was watching her from where he sat. Gwen was going on about something that had him smiling his easy, lopsided smile, but his eyes were disconnected. They were dark as they followed the glaring blonde across the room.
I nudged Katie. "You see that?"
"Morning, Alicia," Katie greeted with a bright smile, and as if she was having an allergic reaction to the cheer, Alicia went out of her way to walk around the table and sit next to Angelina instead.
"Nice opera this morning," the Prefect said sardonically, slathering pumpkin jam onto her roll of bread. "I had no idea you thought you knew Italian."
Alicia scoffed defensively, reaching for Angelina's cup of tea and taking a sip. "That was German, hello."
Angelina laughed in outright disbelief. "Wow—list of ways to know your German bloody sucks, number one: anyone in the history of ever accidentally confuses it with the most effusive and romantic language in the world."
"Oh my God, it's not my fault you don't know the difference between German and Italian, Angelina," Alicia snapped, setting her mug down with a twitchy motion. "Get educated."
"Seriously," I agreed, more to get Alicia on my side than to piss Angelina off, though both were fun. Predictably enough, Alicia immediately seemed to warm up to me, and I smiled knowingly. "Where'd you run off to last night?"
Her warmth immediately disappeared. "Ugh."
"Is that Troll for 'with Gabe Harris?'"
"Andy," Kats groaned, frustrated with my lack of subtlety, but really? This was Alicia we were dealing with.
"WHAT?" the blonde all but screeched, forcing a manic sort of laugh that was far more terrifying than convincing, "oh my God, Andy, what even. Of course not. Wow, why would you even think that? That's so—HA!"
Okay, the 'HA' sealed it. Kats and I shared a look, and Angelina straightened a bit in her seat, finally catching on to our wavelength. "Wait, you were with Gabe last night?"
"I just said I wasn't!"
"Oh my God, are you deaf?"
"Did you guys snog?"
"How many times do I have to—"
"No one's buying your stupid story, you bint, fess up."
I smirked as I took a long sip of my coffee: Angelina usually took the longest to engage, but once you got her vested, she was ruthless. She'd been best friends with Alicia since the first day of first year, and despite the fact that we were all practically sisters now, Alicia and Angelina were like a pair of twins. Zero boundaries.
Alicia sighed exasperatedly, dropping her head in her hands. Her shoulders were tensed, fingers digging themselves into her obnoxiously pretty hair, and we all stared at her in mild consternation.
"Did…" Katie began tentatively, always the much needed sensitive one, "did something happen last night, or—"
"No," Alicia groaned, shaking her head without bothering to lift it from her hands. We all traded skeptical glances, thrown by the fact that it was taking her so long to open up—it was obvious something had gone down, and Alicia was physically incapable of keeping something to herself. "Nothing happened, and that's exactly the sodding problem."
My brow immediately furrowed. "What?"
"We left the party to go outside because it was stuffy and hot and impossible to hear anything," she muttered, still refusing to lift up her head, "and we ended up sprawled out by the lake, talking about everything under the sky."
I fought back the urge to snort: Alicia always got idioms wrong.
"And?" Katie pressed, visibly struggling to hide her excitement, and Alicia groaned.
"And it was fucking wonderful." She finally glanced up, eyes bright and miserable, and zeroed in on me. "Why the hell did you introduce him to me?"
"Uh." I frowned, sharing a perplexed look with Angelina. "Sorry, but I'm sort of failing to the problem here."
"The problem," she growled, reaching over for a random waffle and taking a gigantic bite out of it, "is that nofin' 'appened. Nofin' a' all."
Angelina grimaced at her table manners. "Can't imagine why not."
Alicia rolled her eyes and made a big show out of swallowing. "Look, he had every opportunity in the world to make a move. We were totally isolated under a velvet tableaux of a night sky with the perfect amount of stars twinkling over us."
Katie shot me an odd look and I shrugged in implicit agreement: the hell was 'the perfect amount of stars?'
"He isn't interested."
"I mean…" Katie began, "did you make a move?"
Alicia snorted in indignation. "What? No!"
"Since when do you have a problem with doing that?" Angelina asked, and Alicia shrugged all testily.
"Since… I don't know. Yesterday."
"Oh my God, you really like this kid," Kats murmured, eyes widening in excitement, and Alicia scowled.
"No I don't, he's just…" she shrugged again, taking another violent bite of her waffle and chewing like a caveman, "...annoying."
"Oliver," I called, keeping my eyes trained on Alicia. "I require your assistance."
I heard Wood pull away from his conversation with the twins and switch his focus to me. "What's up?"
"Gabe and Alicia spent the entire night together but he never made a move." Alicia groaned, dropping her head back in her hands at the fact that I was consulting Wood. "You know Gabe's dating habits better than I do. Is he not interested?"
He gave a noncommittal shrug, grabbing a grape off my plate and popping it into his mouth. "Not necessarily."
Alicia scoffed. "What does that mean?"
"Well, Harris is a pretty private person. I mean, what people generally see is this really easy-going bloke who gets along with everyone, but I live with him. Behind closed doors, he's always writing, thinking, observing. Keeps to himself a lot."
"So maybe," Wood said, lifting his hand in warning gesture, "and don't take my word for it because I'm admittedly rubbish at this kind of thing—"
"Fact," I interjected.
"—maybe showing you that more reserved side is his way of, you know, opening up."
We all stopped to consider this. Actually, it made a lot of sense.
"That's… huh," Angelina said, contemplating the notion, and Alicia's expression brightened a bit.
"Maybe you're right."
"Oliver!" I beamed at Wood, clasping my hands together and holding them over my heart. "You just analyzed a relationship. I'm so proud of you!" He rolled his eyes as I pulled him into a hug, wrapping an arm around my waist. "Your emotional IQ has officially surpassed the disabled range."
"It might also be that Harris was just distracted by how badly the Harpies annihilated the Cannons last night."
"Aaaand you're right back down there again."
He smirked, stealing yet another grape off my plate, though his gaze promptly caught on something behind Alicia. He gave my shoulder a light squeeze. "Alright, Harris?"
My gaze immediately snapped over to where he was looking, and sure enough, Gabe was walking over with his usual laidback confidence. "Can't complain, mate," he said, holding his hands out in shrug, though he promptly settled them down on either side of Alicia, framing her against the table. "Morning, 'Locks."
She visibly struggled not to react to the sound of his voice so close to her ear, and it was like watching a radioactive isotope struggle not to explode. "Hi."
"You're all up uncharacteristically early—did you lot lose a bet or something?" he asked, nodding to the rest of the table, and I almost laughed at his choice of words.
"The twins were doing something illegal, I was brought against my will, Katie had a make-up exam, Angelina and Oliver are just lame, and Alicia…" I trailed off, lips curling up slightly, "well, she never really made it to her bed last night, so who knows?"
His eyes fell back on her, and I struggled not to laugh as she stared at me with a murderous expression. God, revenge was sweet. How many times had Alicia mortified the living hell out of me in front of Oliver before we'd gotten together? I'd honestly lost count.
Everyone slowly fell back into their own conversations, and I watched as Gabe leaned down and muttered something that sounded a lot like, "Can we talk?" in Alicia's ear.
Alicia, ever the volatile psycho, scoffed. "Not like we do anything else."
Nonetheless, she got up and followed him out of the Great Hall, and I watched them the entire way until the door closed behind them. I immediately turned to Angelina and Kats, the former of which already had a piece of parchment out and the latter of which was saying, "Put me down for five galleons on them snogging before she gets back."
"What? You can't change your bet!"
"I just did."
"No way, you already lost!"
"Just give it to her, Andy—poor girl can't win a bet to save her life."
"Oi, I don't recall you winning a bunch either."
Angelina snorted. "More than you."
"Fine," I said, "but it can't take away from the twenty galleons I had on this week."
"Doesn't matter anyway—next week's the winner."
"Dream on, Johnson."
"I'm getting those bloody shoes from Hogsmeade, you cow."
"Yeah, if you borrow the money I'm about to win from me."
"And me!" Katie chimed in with a bright smile, entirely horrible at being intimidating, and Angelina rolled her eyes.
And we did see. It took about two hours, but halfway through George and Fred's reenactment of Lee's sleepwalking episode with McGonagall, a particularly suspicious-looking Alicia Spinnett slinked back into the Great Hall with messy hair, fuller than usual lips, and cheeks that were straining against the urge to smile.
She sat down to an entirely quiet table (well, the twins were still at it, Wood was laughing, and Lee, who'd woken up about half an hour ago, was loudly protesting, but other than that, silence), and tried to look nonchalant.
Kats, Angelina and I all stared at her unblinkingly.
She poured herself a goblet of pumpkin juice.
"Thirsty?" Katie asked, voice entirely innocent.
"Is that a crime?" Alicia snapped, taking a quick sip, though as she tilted her head back, her hair shifted to reveal a particularly obvious hickey that decidedly was not there before.
"HA!" I screeched, jumping up onto my feet in an explosion of vindication that caused everyone to turn and look at me in alarm. Uncaring, I hurled a finger at Alicia's neck. "PROOF!"
Angelina immediately groaned as Katie laughed in delight, clapping her hands together. "I finally won something!"
"Pay up, Johnson."
"Don't be annoying."
Alicia put the goblet down with a scandalized look. "You guys made a bet?"
"Yes, we did," I replied with a smug look as I sat back down, remembering very clearly the one she'd made on me. "How does it feel?" She parted her mouth to respond, clearly outraged, but I interrupted her before she could. "Oh, right—thanks for being a whore, Alicia."
Her mouth closed as the very same words she'd hit me with came right back at her, and after a second, she just started laughing. "God, we're the worst."
Angelina snorted. "It's true."
"No, we're not, we're the best!" Katie cheered, lifting her mug up in toast, and begrudgingly, Alicia and Angelina lifted their drinks, laughing at Katie and her equal parts annoying and adorable optimism. For a moment, I couldn't help but sit there and smile like an idiot as I looked at the three of them. They all looked so happy, so lovely, so bloody brilliant, a trio of perfect imperfections and flawless flaws, bursting with confidence and quirks and insecurities. My perfectly imperfect best friends.
"Andy," Katie cried, gesturing at my coffee mug. "Don't be a Grinch, we won!"
I lifted my mug, throwing my own unique set of attributes and flaws into the schizophrenic collage that was our friendship, and cleared my throat. "To the best and worst friends anyone could ever be lucky enough to get stuck with."
"Cheers!" they all chorused, and Katie gave an impish smile.
"And to beating the crap out of Angelina."
"Oi," Angelina exclaimed, dropping her mug with a surprised look. "Shove it, Kats." She glanced at Alicia with a look of disbelief. "Mean streak, that one."
"Told you I wasn't the mean one."
"No one calls you the mean you, they call you the bitchy one. Get it straight."
"Uh, speaking of bitchy."
I laughed at the three of them, mood still weirdly sappy, and after a moment, turned back to Wood. He was eyeing me a smug look. "Bet, huh?" My smile turned into a grin. "So that's why you cared so much…"
"You got me." I heaved a gusty sigh. "My name is Andy Wiles and I'm a gambling addict."
He lifted a hand to wave. "Hi, Andy."
I chuckled at the response, leaning into him and resting my head on his shoulder. His arm immediately came up around my shoulders, fingers dropping to skim the top of my arm in light, aimless patterns, and I took a moment to really just look around and think about how much, yet how little, everything had changed over the course of the past few months. The Weasleys were still the Weasleys, Lee was still Lee, Kats, Angelina, and Alicia were still Kats, Angelina, and Alicia, Wood was still Wood, and I was still Andy.
But we were the newer models, the updated versions. Debugged and better adjusted.
Fred and Angelina, for example, were stronger than ever despite a pretty major fight about the Weasleys potentially dropping out last month. It was something that had always cast a shadow over their relationship, and now that it had finally been confronted, they were happier than I'd ever seen them. George, like Fred, had decided to stay the final year and finish out school, but because of this, he'd started giving a shit about his grades again. That resulted in him rocketing from the bottom of the class to somewhere near the top in the span of a month, and it'd shocked the hell out of every professor except McGonagall. She'd always known he had it in him.
Lee and Kats, despite the complete failure that was their two-week attempt at dating, had actually grown to be pretty damn great friends once they realized they had absolutely nothing in common. Kats was now coaching Lee on how to be romantic, which meant he was constantly reading Jane Austen novels with a confused expression and muttering things like "I don't get it, this Darcy bloke is a git", and Kats was learning how to be a little more realistic about love. There was this one really cute Ravenclaw seventh year that had asked her to be his date to the next Hogsmeade trip, and for the first time in the history of ever, she took a chance and said yes.
Alicia was the same tactless alien as ever, but at the same time, there was something about Gabe that really grounded her. A lot of guys saw Alicia and couldn't see past the fit blonde. Gabe only ever seemed to see everything else. He appreciated her quirks, found the same odd things endearing about her as we did, and found her bluntness endlessly entertaining. At the same time, he was so absurdly skilled with words that he could easily keep up with her in an argument and force her to see things from a different perspective. They'd grown pretty close while working on the Wobbler together, and if today was anything to go by, there was quite a future lined up for them.
And then, of course, there was Wood. Bloody Wood. I knew the git was destined to ruin my life one way or another—I just never imagined it'd be because I was so ridiculously, deliriously, embarrassingly in love with him that I would turn into everything I used to make fun of. I sang in the shower now. Cheesy ass love songs. All the time. I smiled at everything—everything—because my delirious brain would find a way to trace it back to him. Someone sneezed? Aw, Oliver sneezes! A bird chirps? That's the first thing I hear every morning when I wake up in his arms. It's a nightmare. I'm a nightmare. I would punch me if I met me. But I'm seriously too happy to even care.
Wood, too, had lightened up a shocking amount since we'd started dating. I didn't notice it as much as other people, since I was with him most of the time, but to friends that hadn't seen in a while, it was like meeting a different person. He was brighter, happier, more open—quicker to laugh or joke or partake in something stupid. Don't get me wrong: he was still the OCD old man who color-coded his broom polishes, pre-dated his parchments, and scheduled 6 A.M. Quidditch practices in the middle of a blizzard. He was also still very much married to his game book. It was just that now, every once in a while, I got him to cheat on it with me.
"Hey," he murmured, breaking my out of my reverie, and I glanced up from the crook of his neck to meet his warm, whiskey-colored gaze. "What's going on in that madman brain?"
I smiled—I smile at fucking everything—and lifted my hand up to play with a loose string on the neckline of his t-shirt. "I'm just… trying to think of the word for this moment." His brow furrowed, a bit puzzled with the response, and I laughed. "I know, it's lame, but for some reason… I don't know, it's like right now, at this precise instant, everything feels… not special. Not…" I shook my head, "not perfect, but…" I dropped my gaze as I searched my brain for the right word.
'Special' and 'perfect' were too shallow to mean anything. They were scripted words, imaginary words, words loaded with so much artificial importance and grandiosity that they could never accurately describe something real.
"Something like content, or right," I said after a moment, brows gathering in thought. "Like everything's just fallen into place. Everyone's right where they're supposed to be. Everything is finally—"
"—settled," he finished, and my eyes immediately flickered back up to his.
"Everything is finally settled," I repeated, and after a moment, broke out into a large, uncontrollable smile. "Exactly."
He smiled back, taking the time out to simply stare at me for a moment, and I knew that he was going to shake his head before he even did it. However, like clockwork, I asked the question that always made me feel like the luckiest girl in the entire sodding world.
His eyes crinkled at the corners. "You know what."
And with those three little words, everything fell into place.
Everyone was right where they were supposed to be.
And everything, after years of drama, was finally, finally settled.
(Below is mainly geared to said HPFF following that reached out when I left, but can really be applied to anyone who connected with the story in any way/enjoyed it. If you're just like 'eh, it was aight' or 'wtf this story sucks', then you'll probably be confused, but thanks for reading it anyway!)
Alright, guys. That's it. That's all I got. I tried to fit as much as I possibly could into this epilogue type thing because I really wanted to give you all the closure you deserve. You guys are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best freaking readers I could have ever dreamed of asking for and your dedication to finding this story after what happened on HPFF (which I SWEAR I still don't have an explanation for, otherwise I would give it to you!) has utterly blown me away. You guys are the story. Seriously, somewhere along the way I stopped writing it for myself and started writing it for you, and it became 1000x better because of it. I'd anticipate your reactions, think of certain reviewers who tended to like certain things and know that this line was for them, and pour hours of writing into getting a chapter out between thermodynamics and mechanics psets because I didn't want to let you guys down. I appreciate beyond BELIEF all the kind words and messages and encouragement you've all given me, and I want to let you know that it's because of you that I'm actually giving this whole writing shenanigans a shot. I'm actually midway through my work of original fiction right now, and I've set aside any careers related to my engineering degree for a year to give myself a shot at being an author. Some of you know about this, some of you don't, but I want all of you to know that I'm pouring my heart and soul into that, and I think that if you enjoyed Settling the Score, Wyr will hopefully be right up your alley. It's nowhere near as romance-oriented—it falls much more into the fantasy/fiction/coming-of-age genre—but it has the same spunk, the same humor, and the same narrative tone as STS. It's just much broader in what it aims to tackle. Therefore, I know you'd love more STS, but perhaps this won't be such a bad alternative!
Anyway, I should probably stop rambling and just send this out so that you can read it and stop feeling like I abandoned you, but I love you guys. Seriously, I do. I owe you a lot more than I can possibly articulate, and I hope that the inconsistent mess of crazy I've decided to call an epilogue above expresses a fraction of that.
Stay hilarious. Stay wonderful. Stay kickass.
Love from your Friendly Neighborhood Fountain Pen,