Chapter Twenty: Epilogue

Al's Point of View: Spring, Seventh Year

"I thought you'd quit."

I didn't bother glancing away from my cigarette. "I did."

"'For good this time,'" Scorpius mocked, making imaginary quotations with his fingers.

"I did, okay?" I snapped at him. "I fucked up again, don't expect like you didn't know it would happen."

"I knew it would," he admitted. Then he added in a quieter voice, "Though I hoped you wouldn't."

I sighed and took a long drag. Why the hell did this stupid little stick filled with tar and Merlin-knows-what have to be so tempting? Why did I spend so much time thinking about it and craving it? I was supposed to be over this habit. I wanted to be over this habit.

But things got difficult sometimes.

"So why this time?" Scorpius asked, throwing his first fag and reaching for another one. "Head Boy duties? N.E.W.T.s? Mandy?"

"All of it." I sunk down and leaned against the wall. He sat down and joined me. I could already feel my insides numbing. "Everything. None of it makes sense anymore."

"We both know that's not true."

"What the fuck do you know."

"Enough to know that you take things way too seriously sometimes," he said, shrugging off my insult. I grunted at him, and he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you do. Just because one thing goes wrong, it doesn't mean your entire life is falling apart."

"I know."

"No, you don't," he retorted, rolling his eyes again. "So what happened? Not Head Boy stuff, because you're good at that –"

"No, I'm not –"

"Just skip to the chase and tell me what got you here." I immediately fell quiet.

He knew me too well.

Scorpius Malfoy and I became friends when he first caught me sneaking a smoke – which, I'm not proud to say, was quite early on in the year. He had the same habits as I did – smoking, drugs, drinking, all of it. But he held no shame, and no plans to stop.

He was aware of how bad these things were for him, so he wanted me to stop. He and Mandy had helped me through this year in that sense, and I no longer had any regrets about ignoring my former friends. They made it clear they didn't want anything to do with me, and I was fine with that. I didn't like their lifestyle anymore. Scorpius and Mandy helped me figure that I'd never really fit there in the first place.

Scorpius hated my old friends, and I often wondered if he realized he hated them for the same reasons he hated himself. He was stuck in the cycle and he liked it. But every time I found myself in his corner and demanding for a cigarette, he told me he didn't want to put up with my bullshit, even if I put up with his. I knew it was just because he didn't want anyone to be as miserable as him. Even if misery loved company.

But he was a good friend. He cared deeply for people he trusted, and for some reason, he trusted Mandy and I. But he didn't like his place in Slytherin, his place in society as a Malfoy, and above all, he hated his family. I was waiting – dreading – for the day he was going to finally crack.

After all, I knew exactly how that felt like.

And it doesn't just happen once. It happens all the time, creeping up on you when you least expect it, when you feel like you've gotten somewhere, when suddenly, everything just comes crashing down and falling apart. Scorpius was held together by a string of cigarettes, and he needed one breakdown to start healing.

I took one last drag and put out the cigarette on the stone floor. I couldn't bring myself to look in his eyes. "I had a fight with Mandy."

"That's more like it." Scorpius didn't even seem surprised, even though I barely ever fought with Mandy. "Did you finally have a row, then?"


"The sexual frustration between you two is suffocating."

I chuckled. My face muscles felt stiff, but it felt good to laugh. "Sorry."

"Don't worry, it's entertaining," he said, sniggering. "So what happened?"

My smile fell and I instantly ached for another cigarette. Or Mandy.

"I said something I shouldn't have," I admitted quietly, covering my eyes with the palms of my hands. "It just came out." Scorpius seemed to sense I didn't really want to talk about specifics.

"What made you say it?" he asked.

"I dunno." I clenched my hand in a fist. "Sometimes when she thinks she's helping me… it's like she thinks she's better than me. Because she's not caught up in smoking or alcohol or anything of the sort, and sometimes she gets so condescending –"

"What the fuck, Al?" he said disbelievingly. "Mandy's not like that, and you know it."

I crossed my arms against my chest. "Sometimes that's just how it feels."

"People don't help other people if they think they're better than them," he said, scoffing. "If Mandy thought she was better than you, she wouldn't bother. She'd write you off as a charity case. She wouldn't love you, and I've overheard her telling you that she does."

I felt unnaturally warm with guilt. "I should apologize."

"Probably." He put out his second cigarette. "We really do hurt the ones we love."

"Do we?" I asked absent-mindedly, remembering the summer again. And how badly I'd screwed up in just that way with my siblings and parents.

"Which is why my family must really love me," he muttered under his breath. My jaw tightened.

"Scorpius, you can come over for Easter, you know that."

"I'll never hear the end of it," he dismissed quickly, standing. "Look, I'll see you after hols, all right?" Without waiting for an answer, he left.

He was a great friend. But sometimes I wished he accepted my side of things, too.

I knew Mandy went home for Easter holidays, too. I was tired from travelling all day, then spending time with my family and wrestling with James and eating until my pants felt too tight. But that little fact kept nagging my mind as I tried to go to bed that night.

Why had I said that to her?

This wasn't like the summer before, when I said all this bullshit to try and convince myself I didn't like her. We were best friends now. We were practically inseparable. Sure, things got a bit awkward when we were trying our best not to jump each other, but we were fine. Why had I blown up at her?

I think it was clear that I wasn't going to be able to sleep until I apologized. I swung my legs off of my bed and forced myself to get up and climb out of my window. I did my best not to look when I had to leap over the gap between my house and Mandy's – still hated heights – and made my way to her window.

I couldn't remember the last time I'd done this. I didn't think I'd gone over to her room like this, even last summer. She'd crawled over to my window more times than I could count.

I opened her window easily; she always forgot to lock it when she was younger, and clearly that hadn't changed. She was curled up in her bed, fast asleep. I slipped inside her room and shoved the window down gently so I wouldn't wake her.

I sat down at the edge of her bed, feeling a little annoyed. How could she be sleeping when my stomach was in knots? We just had a fight that morning. I never understood how she had the remarkable capability of letting things go. I envied this quality. I sometimes wondered how she was in Gryffindor, with her ego practically nonexistent, but then I realized she did have pride. There were just some Gryffindors who had the decency not to flaunt it.

I was so, so, pathetically in love with her.

And I could say that now, without internally doubting it even a little. I knew Mandy better now. Our seventh year was, oddly enough, spent mostly rediscovering each other. I understood her, even if she still surprised me at times.

Sometimes she bugged me with her adventure talk. It was a little hard to admit that her insecurities bothered me, because they were my fault, but they did. I hated when she was tugging at the hem of her shirts and how she was trying out makeup and spent more time in front of the mirror.

It didn't seem much like Mandy to me. Just seemed like any girl. But I realized that she was any other girl, even if she was someone to me. I couldn't possibly expect her to be who she was in my head, especially when she put up with me, just as I was. I'd been overcoming addiction and speaking to my family again and trying not to let my former friends bother me, and she'd been nothing but understanding and patient.

And then I took my anger out on her.

Maybe I was just tired of being the one who needed help.

Deep inside, I knew it wasn't true. She was experiencing insecurity for the first time in her life, and I knew other girls bullied her for it. I knew, from the way I held her at times, that the almost-rape in August still bothered her. Mandy was so much better at dealing with these things than I was. She never asked for help, even when she needed it, and maybe it was just a Gryffindor thing she did, but I hated being the vulnerable one.

I still shouldn't have said what I said.

Time to suck it up and apologize.

I reached over and took her hand, pulling my fingers in between hers. Mandy blinked sleepily and stretched, squeezing my hand as she did so. She didn't seem the slightest bit surprised that I was there.

"Couldn't sleep or something?" she asked, closing her eyes.


"Well, are you getting under the covers or not?" she asked irritably, slipping her hand from mine and rolling over to make room. "Eleni made me play tag with her for hours, I'm exhausted."

"But you – what?" I spluttered, flabbergasted. It wasn't the invitation to sleep in her bed that shocked me – that happened sometimes – but that she didn't seem the least bit angry.

"It's not that surprising, she had two chocolate cupcakes."

"No – you're not mad at me?"

"For what? Oh – oh." Her eyes snapped open suddenly. Her brown eyes shone in the moonlight. "Well, I'd forgotten about that up until now."

"You forgot?" I repeated to myself. And there I was, practically tearing myself up over it.

"Wouldn't you have preferred that?" she asked, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "Wasn't exactly nice, what you said."

I shifted uncomfortably. "I guess."

"Eh." She shrugged. "It's okay. I'm over it."

"You are?" I asked in disbelief.

"I mean, it was sort of true, wasn't it?" she pointed out, beginning to fiddle with her blanket. "I was thinking something like that, back in summer when I'd tried weed. That the high felt artificial and I liked my adventure highs better."

"I still shouldn't have said that," I mumbled guiltily, eyes dropping down to my lap. I could see her nod in the corner of my eye, and I knew she was thinking of my words.

'You're no better than me! You're constantly searching for your own high in your own, fucked up way!'

"How did that even come up?" she asked, chuckling almost sadly.

"No idea." Everything before that point was a blur. After I'd said that, she'd looked so shocked and hurt and I'd wanted to rewind and put those words back in my mouth. Then she'd run away. For good reason.

"I don't think you're better than me, Al," she said quietly. "You know that, don't you?"


"I really wonder what goes on in that brain of yours," she teased, reaching over to tap my head lightly. "How that thought could get in there for even a second."

"It's hard to imagine differently," I admitted with some difficulty.

"But you don't have a reason to feel that way," she said, biting her lip as her fingers traced down my head to my jaw. "You're clean. You're doing brilliantly as Head Boy. You're going to try Quidditch once it's warm enough."

"I said maybe."

"Good enough for me," she said, smiling and scooting closer. "My point is that you've come a really long way since last summer. And I –" she cut off, her hand dropping to her lap. "Well, I haven't, really."

"What are you talking about?" But I knew what she meant. She hadn't changed since last summer – but I didn't think she needed to.

"You know," she said uncomfortably.

"You're getting better grades," I joked, and she cracked a smile. Though this was true. Being friends with a Ravenclaw did have that side effect.

"Girls talk," she confessed, "and it bothers me. And maybe you think you don't deserve me, but there are girls telling me that I don't deserve you."

"That's not –"

"Don't say it's not true," she warned, "because we could go back and forth all night. Maybe this just never goes away."

"Maybe," I said, "and we just have to live with it."


A silence fell between us. I couldn't help but think that maybe she glorified me as much as I glorified her. Was that normal? I hadn't a clue what I was doing anymore. I'd been in relationships before, but not one where I actually felt something for my girlfriend. I couldn't tell what to do in this situation. There's no guidebook to falling in love.

I resented that very much.

"Oh, bloody hell," Mandy burst out in a moan. "We're not even dating, Al! We've spent seven months trying not to snog the living daylights out of each other and convincing ourselves that we deserve this friendship, you realize that?"

A small smile tugged on my lips. "Imagine going through all that to not date at all."

"To not – you just – are you serious?" she spluttered. I was shaking with silent laughter by this point, and she lightly smacked my arm. "Stop laughing at me!"

"It's funny!" I insisted, grinning broadly. "If we actually just did all that and stayed friends –"

"Oh, shut up," she demanded, grabbing my shirt in her fists. And before I could register that she wasn't going to head butt me, her lips were on mine.

My hands were immediately reaching for her, one buried in her hair, one gripping her waist to bring her closer. It had been so long since we'd done this, and whatever we'd done last summer couldn't compare. It was every kind of rush and every kind of calm. It was as though I could fathom how we deserved each other – because it felt like this.

She pulled back. Our noses were still touching. "I didn't really expect that to work."

"You usually don't use that tactic to get me to shut up."

"I panicked."

"Because you think," I said, grinning again, "that after I told you that I loved you, we were really going to stay friends?"

"Well, forgive me for not being able to perform Legilimancy," she said crossly, but I could see she was trying not to smile. She pressed her forehead to mine and closed her eyes. "It's been a long seven months."

"I love you."

"I got the gist of that, yeah."

"I do," I insisted, making her laugh. I dipped my head and kissed under her jaw. "Even if you're insane."

"I'm going to have to shut you up again."

This time when she kissed me, there wasn't even a trace of fear that was in the last one. I felt her lips curve into a smile before she nipped at my bottom lip and pushed me onto my back.

It was familiar, like that summer morning all those months ago. The one I looked back to and thought of more than I would ever admit. Warm and peaceful and right. But it was also different. Nothing in between, no restraints, no pressure, no misunderstandings. Just Mandy and how she smelled like peaches and how she felt in my arms.

Her kisses were a bit groggy - a little sloppy. I guessed mine were, too, but she seemed to be trying very hard not to be. Over the year, Mandy confessed quite a few things to me, and one of them was the reason she'd had a panic attack when we almost had sex. I never realized how those offhand comments - well, I guess they were insults - had made her feel. I'd said stupid things to try to convince myself I didn't care about her, but I hadn't known she was thinking of those that night.

I knew she didn't tell me to make me feel guilty, but I did. I knew I wasn't nice to her, but degrading a person like Mandy enough to make them insecure wasn't okay. And I couldn't help remembering how she'd told me that when we nearly had sex, all she could think about was how I was going to taunt her. For her body. For the way she kissed. Or if I was going to forget it was her first time.

I wanted to fix that.

Because I wanted her to know that nothing felt as good as her, and how close she felt. Like I knew her inside out. I moaned as she moved against me, her knees pressed to the mattress on either side of my hips. I felt her smile again.

"Am I doing this right?" she whispered against my lips. I opened my eyes and let my hands slide down from her waist to the back of her thighs, pressing her closer.

"There's no right or wrong," I said. She was nervous again. I could tell. I made sure our eyes were locked before I spoke again. "Tell me if we're going too fast or not enjoying it. Or if you want to stop. Anytime."

She took a deep breath and nodded. For some reason, we'd both sensed that this wasn't just fooling around. And I knew she was nervous that she wouldn't be good enough, but I don't think any guy in existence has been so picky as she'd thought me to be. Especially about someone they love.

The truth is, I was terrified when she'd panicked so badly. I thought I hurt her or did something wrong. I thought maybe I'd pressured her into doing something she didn't want to do. I found out later that it wasn't the case, but still: I never wanted that to happen again.

"Are we really doing this?" she murmured, still hovering closely above me.

"If you want to."

"I think I do." She bit her lip. Girls never realized how effing sexy that was when they weren't trying so hard. "Do you think we're ready for a relationship now?"

"Yeah, I do." I leaned up and lightly kissed her nose. "We definitely weren't last summer. But we can give this a shot if you're ready."

"I am," she confirmed, dropping down to kiss me again. I felt her hands reach under my shirt, fingertips sliding against my chest and my abdomen. I repressed a shudder and opted to kiss her harder. The hem of my shirt was slowly pushing higher and higher, and I got the hint.

The bed creaked as I turned us over, careful to make sure we didn't tumble to the floor. I pulled my shirt off before leaning down and kissing her again. Her hands cupped my jaw softly. She sighed against my lips and I could feel her relaxing as she tilted her head. Just enjoying the feeling.

Because she honestly felt incredible. I felt heat and a few nerves start to build in my gut. The good kind. The kind that made things a bit more exciting. I let my hands slip underneath Mandy's shirt, tracing the smooth skin of her waist. She let me move it up until her stomach was uncovered, trying to push at my chest to let me take her shirt off. Instead, I pinned her down again and began to attack her neck with my lips.

She let out a small moan, as though she'd tried to repress it. I pressed my lips slowly down her neck, stopping to suck at the side. Gently. She let out a shuddering breath as I made my way up to her other ear, and pressed a kiss behind it. Her eyes were closed, but it didn't seem like she was nervous anymore. I wished she could see herself like this. How I did.

I realized I was staring, because she opened her eyes a few moments later. She bit her lip again, instantly looking worried. "What happened?"

"Nothing." I pressed an open-mouthed kiss to her lips. "You're beautiful."

She rolled her eyes. "Not naked yet, Al."

"So?" I asked, grinning. "I know what you look like."

"And the cliche compliment still stands?"

"Had to say it at least once," I said, chuckling as I brushed her dark hair away from her forehead. "Just so you know."

She blushed. Merlin, I loved when she did that. "Okay."

"Now you should say it back."

"Oh, shut up," she said impatiently, pulling me back against her. She kissed the laughter off my lips, gently coaxing me down until our bodies were pressed together. I felt her bare skin against mine and instantly wanted more.

I pulled her up until we were sitting, Mandy practically in my lap, still kissing me. My hands were pushing her shirt up again, and she broke off abruptly to pull it over her head then immediately went back to kissing you. I pulled away, dodging her lips.

"What?" she said, sounding a bit annoyed as she opened her eyes. "Why're we stopping?"

"Not stopping," I said, looking at her as much as I could make out in the moonlight. "Want to see you."

She struggled for words. "Why?"

"Same reason you watch me work out," I shot back cheekily. She turned crimson. I pulled her fully onto my legs and kissed her. "I don't know what you've been thinking, but I've been wanting to see more of you for months."

She was quiet for a moment. "People say I'm the ugliest girl in school."

I wanted to kill Kevin for saying that. "No, they don't."

"They do."

"Those people wouldn't know what beauty was if it hit them in the face," I said dismissively. "All they know is what they've imagined to be perfect. But you're real."

She wouldn't meet my eyes. This was my fault. "Al."

"You don't get it, you know?" I found myself saying. I didn't know where the words were coming from. "You can't see you how I see you. And you don't understand how lucky I feel."

Her face was hot in my hands as I cupped her jaw and pressed our lips together. Her arms, previously wrapped around herself, came loose and clung to my shoulders. I felt like we were easing into this again. Into being comfortable. As much as a first time can be comfortable for a girl.

She sighed into my mouth as my hands travelled down. She was so warm and soft and pretty. I heard her breath hitch as my hands reached her bare chest. Her eyes were closed. Just feeling. I hoped it felt good. She deserved that.

She didn't open her eyes when I leaned her back onto her sheets. I kissed her lightly, dragging my lips from the corner of her mouth down her jaw, stopping to nip at her neck for a second before starting to kiss her collarbone. Then lower, as slowly as I could. Sure, she was nervous, but I didn't want to freak her out by doing too much at once.

I pulled off my pyjamas. I thought it would've been better if I went first - and I was pretty sure I was right. She was beginning to get more and more nervous at this point, especially when I tugged off her own pyjamas. Her legs drew closed, so I settled above her carefully and stopped.

She took a deep, shuddering breath as I stroked the hair out of her eyes. If I hadn't been as close as I was, I never would've heard her next words.

"I'm scared," she admitted.

"I know." I kissed her forehead. "It's okay."

"It's not okay, it's weird," she corrected, "and not for the reason you're thinking. It's weird because I live for this stuff. All the adrenaline. And there's lots, trust me."

"So what's wrong?"

"I don't know." She took another deep breath. "Sometimes I just remember that night. Like in that bedroom. I don't know if I'm just imagining it, because I don't remember their faces, but sometimes I just... feel their touching. And taking off my clothes."

I let her bury her face in my neck. She wasn't crying, but she still seemed pretty shaken from just admitting that. "Mandy, I know it bothers you."

"You do?" she asked weakly.

"Yeah." I dropped my side onto the bed, so we could talk properly. "Sometimes, when we're just sitting in your common room on the couch or whatever. You just tense up all of a sudden, and I usually I was touching your leg or something."

"Oh Merlin." She seemed embarrassed. "Al, I.."

"It's okay," I assured. "I just want you to want this. Completely relaxed and comfortable. Otherwise it'll really hurt."

She swallowed and nodded. "I really want to. If I haven't killed the mood."

"I'll be fine if you will," I said, grinning. She smiled and I kissed her, tangling my hand in her hair.

When she broke off, her eyes were shining. I had a feeling she needed to tell me, just to get it off her chest, and now she could let it go. She looked excited, though still very nervous.

"Just go really slow," she whispered, "okay?"

I answered by rolling back on top of her and kissing her neck again. She let out another moan, and I couldn't help smiling against her skin. I made sure to be as slow as I could as my hands slid down her sides, lingering at her hips. I traced the top of her underwear, still kissing her neck, just trying to get her used to it. But her breath hitched even when my hands felt downwards, and I held still.

"Mandy, if -"

"I'm okay," she said breathlessly. "Honestly."

I reached up to kiss her once before continuing movement with my hands. I was suddenly very aware of sounds around us. The furnace. The fan in the corner. The faint noise of crickets chirping outside. Mandy's panting. My own breath held in my lungs.

She let out another small noise from the back of her throat. I hoped it was a positive one. I just wanted her to enjoy this. And she seemed to slowly relax, her legs falling a little more apart every minute. I hesitantly tested the hem of her clothing before slipping underneath.

Her face buried in my neck immediately. Her hands clutched at my chest as I felt her, gently, slowly. She made another small moan before her breath hitched, and I hesitated again.

"Don't stop," she mumbled against my shoulder. "Feels good."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah." She moaned again, muffled against my skin. I felt relieved, but most of all, I was really, really turned on. I hoped Mandy didn't notice.

Her eyes were closed as her hands came up to hold my jaw, lifting her head off the bed to kiss me. Her lips lowered to my neck, hands sliding down my chest as she placed lazy kisses on my skin. My forehead fell against hers as she took my hands and moved them away so she could wriggle out of her underwear. And she was the one who took off mine.

That was Mandy. Always daring.

I'd quickly put on protection, and then we stayed still. Foreheads pressed together, nearly every inch of our bodies brushing lightly, causing tingling and vibrations at every touch. I'd never done this with someone I loved. It was Mandy's first time, but mine as well, in a way.

She let out a long breath. "I love this."

"We haven't started yet," I whispered teasingly.

"Maybe that's why." I kissed her smiling lips, and she sighed. "I love you."

"Love you too," I said softly. And as slowly and carefully as I could, I moved into her.

"We just had make up sex."


"We just had make up sex." Mandy turned to face me, eyebrows scrunched together in disbelief. "Make up sex. For our first time."


"So?" She huffed and turned away again. "Bloody hell."

"Are you complaining?" I asked, nuzzling my face in her hair. "Sexual tension is gone."

"Speak for yourself," she grumbled, and I laughed. I couldn't care less that our first time had been after a big fight. This was a long time coming. After everything we'd been through, I didn't give a shit where we were or when we did it. I just wanted her.

Okay, so the sexual tension was killing me too much to care.

"Fine," I agreed, my fingers tracing her hip. She snuggled into me. "Tension is gone for now."

"Again, speak for yourself."

I grinned, and she turned around to kiss me. She didn't seem shy anymore. I think after having sex, most people realize it's not exactly the thing you centre your life around. But it was fun, and as I realized that night, so much better with the person you love.

"So it was good?" I asked. "I mean, for the first time?"

"Yeah." She kissed me again, on my neck this time. "It won't hurt the next time, right?"

"No, it shouldn't." My breath hitched involuntarily as she nipped at the juncture between my neck and shoulder. "That will be sooner than later, if you keep doing that."

"Maybe," she murmured, grinning mischievously. She opted to snuggle into my chest instead.

"Maybe not," I teased.

She sighed and closed her eyes. "Need some sleep. Adrenaline is wearing off, and Eleni did chase me for hours, remember?"

I chuckled and stroked her hair, staring up at her ceiling. Her walls. Nothing much about her room had changed since we were eleven. Same blue walls, same posters of mythical creatures everywhere. She'd changed more than she'd redecorated, which I couldn't say for everyone.

"Al?" she said sleepily. "I need to tell you something."


"I'm going away next year."

I was suddenly wide awake, all exhaustion slipping away from me. "Away? Where?"

"All over the world," she said softly, soothingly. Like she could sense my sudden panic attack. "I got into this Care of Magical Creatures program. Hagrid recommended me. I get to do a solo trip to research these creatures."

"That's incredible."

"Yeah." She smiled at me. "I'm not really sure what I want to do, but I think these sort of things are it. Adventures. Trying new things. I don't want to be tied down to the same job for the rest of my life."

"I wouldn't expect less from you," I said honestly. This had 'Mandy' written all over it, and I wasn't going to say anything to ruin it, even though my heart was beating painfully in my chest. "You're going to have the time of your life."

"I know."

"When are you leaving?"

"Halfway through July."

"That's..." Soon. Too soon.

"Al." She was trying to catch my eye, but I was avoiding it. "I don't want to go alone."

"You - what?"

"I want you to come with me." My eyes snapped immediately to hers. I could see in the little light that a blush had spread across her cheeks. "I really want you there."

"I..." I was stammering. "Am I allowed to?"

"Doesn't say you're not."


"It's just a year," she said pleadingly. "You could come back after and go to school or something. And you said you didn't know what you're doing, anyway."

This was true.

"But this is your adventure," I said. I didn't want her to leave. I didn't want to go an entire year without seeing her. I felt like I'd just gotten her back, even though we'd technically been with each other for a year now. But this was not my comfort zone, or even close to it.

"I don't want to go without you," she said quietly.

"Are you sure?" I said weakly. Because all I could think of was that time I admitted that I was a bit scared of her doing that. Going to her adventure and never coming back.

She was silent for a moment. "I think everything in your life is going to influence you, somehow," she said, reaching for my hand. "I want to be influenced by as many things as possible."

"You have been craving this for years," I said, trying to smile and failing. She was going off on her adventure. She could see the world now, like she'd always wanted to, and I didn't see my place in that. I was selfish. I knew she could tell how I was feeling.

Mandy squeezed my hand tightly. "I don't want to go on any adventure if you're not there. You just..." She trailed off and took a deep breath. "You mean too much to me to leave behind."

And just like that, my mind was made up.

"Okay." I was nodding, but my mind was racing furiously in every direction it could. But I was sure about this. "Okay."

"You'll go with me?"

"I'll go with you," I said firmly. Maybe I needed to take a chance. Maybe I needed to do something crazy and unexpected and unlike myself. Maybe that's what you needed to do, to figure out who you are and what you wanted to do in this world. I kissed Mandy, again and again until I could believe it myself. Her eyes were shining with excitement when I pulled back, a smile edging its way onto my lips. "I'm going with you."

If there was one thing I'd learned, it was to figure out what exactly made you happy. What made you want to get up on the rooftops and show everyone how deliriously wonderful you feel. To figure out what made you feel proud of yourself. What made you feel like you belonged.

And then never let it go.

A/N: Okay. Well. This is the end of Mandy and Al's story. I can't even tell you how much I enjoyed writing these two. I loved exploring these themes in this story, and though it's been a bit of an emotional roller coaster and a huge challenge in writing in general, I am so glad I decided to write it. It was a coming-of-age story to me, and hopefully for someone else out there.

I may be doing a spin-off for the Scorpius in this story, and how he meets Rose. Maybe a one-shot or a short story. Keep a lookout!

Thank you so so much for reading. Love you all :)