I’ve only been at Hogwarts for three weeks and I’m already ready to call it quits. My mum insisted I come for my last two years of education, because NEWTs from the school will carry more weight than NEWTs from our homeschool. That seems lame, but who am I to argue? The castle is cool and all, but it’s not home.
I’m in Hufflepuff House, which is pretty awesome. Everyone has been super nice, and my dorm mates are good guys. But they’ve all known each other since first year, so I stick out because I don’t know the inside jokes or the bathroom schedule. Regardless, they welcomed me as one of their own right from the start so I guess I should be more grateful.
The thing is… Uniforms suck, curfew sucks, the long, boring classes suck. I’m used to wearing what I want, going where I want, and studying what I want as long as I turn my assignments in on time. It’s been quite a culture shock, and that’s coming from someone who spent six weeks on the outskirts of Siberia.
Tonight we’re all heading to Hogsmeade for a special event just for sixth and seventh years. I feel a little awkward in the group, not just because I’m new. Margaret said to dress casual, and silly me thought that meant jeans and t-shirt. But really she meant a different kind of robe. Don’t they get sick of wearing robes?
As we walk down the path, Margaret and her friend Olivia drag me by the arm from group to group to introduce me around. She’s been talking the last few days about a blind date, and I’m part excited, part terrified. Dating opportunities have been pretty thin on the ground, and not because I’m homeschooled. More like we move too often to settle into a relationship beyond light friendship. My mum is thrilled I’m finally getting the chance to date, even if it’s just to a school sanctioned event in Hogsmeade.
“Oi, Red!” Margaret yells, and I follow her line of sight to the most gorgeous head of auburn hair I’ve ever seen. It falls in gentle waves, just long enough for a ponytail, catching the sunlight enough to look like it’s glowing. The distance between us is too far to discern any eye color, but the sight of a snug-fitting t-shirt and faded blue jeans is enough to make me swoon. After weeks of robes and more robes, the sight of muggle clothing is like a little taste of home. Plus, I don’t feel so odd in my own muggle clothes.
I smile and wave awkwardly and get a return smile and a nod. Margaret pulls me along until she can grab Red too and say, “This is the new boy I was telling you about. Jake, meet Red. Red, this is Jake.”
I get a quick once-over and try not to squirm for it. Thankfully, Red smiles in approval. “Lookin’ good, Jake. Muggleborn?”
“Half-blood. My mum’s a witch, but dad’s a muggle. So I use a wand but dress like this.” I spread my arms and do a little twirl for reasons I cannot discern and immediately want the ground to swallow me up.
But Red seems to like it. “My parents are both magical but my dad loves muggle things. Me and the siblings prefer to dress muggle when we can.”
“Nice.” I smile calmly, but butterflies are fluttering like mad in my stomach. My mum says all the time that there’s no such thing as love at first sight, that’s it’s more like lust at first sight, but whatever it is, I’m enjoying it.
It’s still light when we get to Hogsmeade, where set-up is still happening for a concert. Everyone meanders around, waiting for things to start. Our group ends up in the Three Broomsticks, with butterbeer all around. They all want to know what homeschooling is like, and how I like it at Hogwarts. It’s hard not to babble with nerves while Red watches my every move with smouldering eyes. I can’t help but stare back, caught up in what plump lips with a trace of butterbeer might taste like. Ugh… like butterbeer. What am I, an idiot? I’m spiraling out of control and I don’t even care.
As we walk to the field for the concert, Red laces our little fingers together. I feel a light blush coming on, but lace our fingers more fully anyway. Red gives me a small but wicked smile and I know it was the right move. When we sit on the blanket, I think I’m being sly about bumping our thighs together, but probably I’m fooling no one.
“So who’s this group again?” I ask no one in particular.
Red says, “It’s the Weird Sisters. They left school last year, before finishing their exams, to start touring.”
“Yeah,” Olivia interjected, “I heard Flitwick was the one that got them their first gig.”
Margaret snorted. “No way!”
“Yes he did! Myron Wagtail was in the school choir and it was Flitwick told him to start a band in the first place.”
While Olivia and Margaret get lost in their conversation, I lean into Red, “You like this kind of music?”
“Yeah, I mean, they’re no Shrieking Mandrakes or Frozen Fiendfyre, but they’re just getting started.” I shiver as warm breath tickles my ear. “And anyway, anything to get out of school."
Indeed, the fresh air feels brilliant after weeks of stone walls. I mean, they let us out of the castle, but wandering the grounds just feels like a slightly larger cage. “Amen to that," I whisper back. There's something so deliciously cozy about a whisper. A shared moment between just two people, feeling almost as intimate as a kiss. At least here and now it does.
The butterflies in my stomach have settled, but the general excitement remains. Something feels special about tonight. The band comes on stage amid loud screaming and whistles. At first there's just a general group jumping into and around each other, but by the third song, people have started pairing up. Olivia grabs me by the hand and laughs through my completely wretched attempts at rhythm. Thankfully that song ends and something slower begins. With a wink, she throws me at Red and wraps herself around her boyfriend.
I settle into this song much more naturally. I can follow the sway of hips under my fingertips. Every now and again our bodies bump together, and by the end of the song I know I'm grinning like a fool. But I don't even care.
Red tugs my hair lightly to pull me in and asks in a voice only just louder than the music, “Want to get out of here?"
“Yes," I sigh. I don't even know where we can go, but surely after years at the school and visiting Hogsmeade, Red knows of a good place.
We end up in a sparsely wooded meadow on the outskirts of the town. The music is faint here, and there doesn't appear to be anyone around. It’s special, and somehow hidden even though we’re out in the open.
“Got a handkerchief?"
I pull the plain white square from my pocket and hand it over.
"Not even initials?” Red asks with a laugh.
“My dad says he doesn't want magic needlework next to his face where it might backfire and blind him, and my mum refuses to embroider by hand. So plain white is all we get.”
Red enlarges the square and I cushion it for comfort. We lie down next to each other and stare at the night sky, trading stories of home. I don't have siblings, and Red has bunches. I've lived in twelve different cities worldwide, and Red has never left England. I specialize in History and Ancient Runes, and Red prefers Charms and Defense.
As we talk, we wiggle closer and closer together until I can feel the vibration of every word in my whole body. Our legs tangle together and I rest my hand on Red's hip. The light is nearly gone, and I know we'll have to head back to school soon. Based on the loud cheers, the concert is winding down.
“I don't want to leave,” Red whispers against my lips.
“Me neither." I press back, a light kiss that hardly qualifies for the name. “There's just… something magical here…”
Instantly I regret my words. In the muggle world, you can say something let that and everyone will agree with a sort of awe in their voice, swearing they feel it too. But I've learned in the magical world, statements like that lead to physics-level boring discussions of the actual magic involved.
And I definitely don't want that. I want to revel in the sparkly, warm feeling inside. I want to imagine the stars have aligned to bring us here at this moment, not chart actual stars aligning. I want this moment to live in my memory as the start of something new and wonderful, and not dump it into a pensieve to peruse and over-analyse later.
I want to cherish the figurative magic without the literal magic getting in the way.
So when a real kiss lands on my lips, I slide my eyes closed and feel it in every part of me. The cool slide of auburn hair through my fingertips, the fresh scent of soap, the weight of a warm body covering mine, and the slick heat of our kiss.
“It’s the best kind of magic,” Red says, and I slip that much closer to love at first date.
The faint noises from the concert have shifted and we know everyone is heading back to the castle. We stand and brush off non-existent grass from our clothes. I shrink my handkerchief back to its regular size and stuff it in my pocket. I don’t want to leave here, back to the school and the chaos and the people. I want to savour the magic.
Red takes my hand to kiss the back of my fingers and says, “It’s not the last time.”
“Good.” We share one more kiss and start the walk back in companionable silence. Crickets chirp and an owl hoots. I miss being outside at night. I miss a lot of things, but looking at Red makes me glad, for the first time, that I’m here and not at home.
Inside the Entrance Hall, we pause for one more last kiss goodnight. As Red moves away, I hold tight. “Wait,” I say, “your nickname… for your hair, right? What’s your real name?”
“William, but most people call me Bill. Only Margaret and Olivia call me Red - because they’re both jealous.”
“Bill… it’s nice.” I’ll have to readjust my thinking, to call him Bill and not Red in my mind. We share one last, last kiss. “Goodnight, Bill.”
It’ll be pleasant dreams tonight.