Her heart sits somewhere by her feet as she descends the stairs down from the girls’ dormitories. Her hands are practically stuck to one another, and she resists the urge to reach up and check if her hair has fallen out. You can’t feel it on your neck, so it’s still up, she reasons. She is the second-last girl from her year to leave the safety of the dormitory, where it doesn’t matter if your dress robes are skewed or if your make-up is too heavy. Her mouth is dry.
In the crowd, she spots him, smiling at her. His robes are a classic black, with the same navy blue accents as her dress. Anthony looks older, she thinks, although he appears to have swiped at the light fuzz that creeps onto his cheeks now and then. She wonders if they can get a photograph, and pictures how his mother would laugh, to see her son all dressed up. Maybe she’ll have to write a really good letter, because she knows Anthony and knows he’ll go on and on about some conversation he and Michael or Terry had and forget to mention the Ball at all. She’s been on the receiving end of his letters.
Then Mandy realises she’s been standing still, staring at him, and she practically runs down the last few steps towards him. A group of third year girls duck out of her way, and Loony Lovegood claps. Mandy wishes she wouldn’t.
“Anthony,” she says. “Sorry. Hair was a nightmare. Did you know that Georgina has fourteen different hair products?”
“I can’t say I did,” he replies, with his soft Anthony smile, slightly teasing but always kind, “nor did I ever expect to find that out. It paid off, though.” Warmth creeps into her cheeks, but she shakes her head and shakes it away. Then she remembers her hair, and her hands reach to grab it. “I think it’ll only fall if you touch it,” he says. “Be careful.”
“Thanks. I didn’t know you were a hair expert.”
“Hair?” he asks. “No. Gravity? A little more.”
“I forgot, you’re McGonagall’s favourite Ravenclaw,” Mandy grins. Anthony shakes his head, and his blond hair stays perfectly still.
“Ma’s so pleased.” He sticks his arm out at her, and Mandy looks at it, before looking up at him. Then it clicks.
“Sorry,” she says, taking it. The navy ruffs on his robe sleeves brush against her, and there’s not the itch she expects.
Together, they leave the common room, feet in time with one another. Mandy watches their shoes. She’s never really noticed this before, but she supposes it makes sense - they’re the same height, after all. Maybe it’s practice, too. They walk to class together, share paths to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to Hogsmeade. It makes sense they can match strides. They usually don’t walk this close, though. She can feel the rise and fall of his body as he breaths, and the steady pulse in his arm that she holds onto. It’s funny, she thinks. You know people are alive, of course, but knowing it and feeling it are two very different things. She can feel everything working to keep him standing by her, and she’s thankful. She holds his arm a little tighter.
“Thanks for matching with me,” Mandy says. “It makes me feel like not so much of an oddball.”
“You’re hardly an oddball,” Anthony says. “Have you met Sophie?”
“ Anthony ,” Mandy chastises, but not very seriously. “Just because she believes in aliens doesn’t make her weird.”
“It isn’t that,” Anthony said. “I’m not going to go around judging people for what they believe. Too many people have done it to me.” It’s a more serious note, and while their strides continue, Mandy focuses on him moreso than their path.
“I’m sorry,” she tells him, squeezing his robes of navy blue.
“No,” he says, shaking his head. A lock quivers beneath the Sleekeazy’s. Her own hair stays up, thank goodness. “It’s okay. Sophie can just be a lot. You know? A bit overwhelming.”
“Mm.” Mandy doesn’t need Anthony to tell her that. Sophie sleeps in the bed next to hers, and Mandy is not unfamiliar with being woken up at all hours of the night for one of Sophie’s plans.
“Why do you think Terry asked her?” She’s been wondering that since Sophie first told her they were going together. Terry’s one of the tallest boys in the grade, slim too, with dark hair, and onyx eyes that missed nothing. He’s one of the best in the year at Potions, and has a real knack for levitation charms. Mandy’s written probably a hundred poems about him, all kept in a locked box beneath her bed.
“Sophie’s funny,” Anthony says, and something in Mandy’s chest flares. “Terry will have fun with her.”
“I guess,” Mandy says, loosening her grip on Anthony’s arm. When have he and Sophie ever talked? she wonders. What do they have in common? They turn a corner and start down another set of stairs.
“Do you ever wonder why it’s called navy blue?” Anthony asks.
“The colour. I think it’d have something to do with the muggle Navy, don’t you think?”
“That would make sense,” Mandy says. “Do they wear blue? I thought that was the police. My mother still has my great-grandfather’s police uniform hanging in a wardrobe.”
“He was a police officer?” Anthony raises his eyebrows. “You never told me that.” In fairness, sometimes she forgets it herself. He was dead before she was born, On paper, she’s a half-blood, but only a sliver of muggle runs through her veins.
“He was for a few years,” she tells him, picturing the sole photograph of her zayde’s parents. “He resigned when he met my mum’s Bubbe. But he’d been working for years before that.” Her teeth scrape her bottom lip. There’s a lump in her throat the size of one of Sophie’s conspiracies as she thinks of the twist of her family tree.
Something touches her arm, and then her hand. Anthony. His hand is holding hers, squeezing it, before she knows what’s happening. Her hand tingles, and then burns. What is he doing? Her arm is basically limp.
“Are you okay?” he asks, not moving his hand, as if this is the new normal, the new okay. Her eyes flick down to where their hands meet. “Yeah,” she says, her mind spinning. Is this what all the boys are doing with their partners? Is Terry holding Sophie’s hand? Surely not. He can’t be. Her throat hurts all of a sudden. She tears her hand away, pulling it to her stomach.
“Mandy?” Please don’t touch me, she thinks. Please don’t. She finds herself stepping back, feeling entirely off-kilter. How did they go from discussing her great-grandfather’s life to Anthony holding her hand? Yes, sure, okay, they’re going to the Yule Ball together, but it’s hardly as if everyone going together is a couple. She certainly doubted Padma had any kind of interest in Ron Weasley.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s okay,” he shakes his head. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. It’s my fault.”
Her muscles tense, the back of her legs ache, and she wants to run, but can’t. It seems like the kind of thing you’d read about in a story, not something that would happen in real life. She can almost guess what will happen next, she knows the formula, she’s always got a novel on her. Mandy wants to cry. She wants to spin a time-turner and go back to just ten minutes ago. They’re nearly at the Great Hall anyways, in a corridor near the Grand Staircase. Couples lurk on the stairs, a girl fixes her make-up under barked instructions of a portrait.
“You can’t,” Mandy tells him, pre-empting. “Please say you don’t.”
“Do you want some water?” His hand reaches into the pocket of his robes, producing a navy flask. “I promise it’s just water. The flask is just because I think it looks cool.” She stares at it, knowing he’s drunk from it. They’ve shared drinks before, waterfalling, using opposite parts of the mouthpiece, they have done since they were children playing together after Kiddush. She could be sick. She might be sick. She has to nip this in the bud, she can’t worsen things, she can’t hold off.
“Anthony,” she says, trying not to let her bottom lip tremble. This is quite possibly the most dramatic thing that’s ever happened in her life, because of course it is, because naturally the Yule Ball has to be an absolute terror instead of something fun to remember. He looks over at her, his lips downturned, his eyebrows furrowed. Her heart is racing.
“Mandy?” His voice is softer, lighter, fluffy. Like a perfect souffle.
“You know I like Terry, don’t you?” The words burn her mouth, and she can’t meet his eyes, can’t even look at him - she turns away, eyes focused on the floor. It’s the first time she’s admitted out loud. It’s true, though - isn’t it? She does like him. Surely. She writes poems about him. She wanted him to ask her, so badly, so, so badly, and until now had a fantasy that would involve him spying her across the dancefloor, entranced by her navy blue gown and her twisted-up hair, and would ask her to dance. She’d nod, and he’d grow to like her, enchanted by her perfect ballroom dancing, and by the end of the night, they’d be a couple. In the fantasy, Anthony didn’t mind. He was probably her best friend. He would be supportive. He didn’t hold her hand.
“Terry?” he asks. Still, Mandy looks at the ground. Her pulse thuds in her ears. “I didn’t.”
“Well, I do.” She can’t give him room to budge, to interrupt, to form those three words. I know now, she thinks, desperately hoping he mastered legilimency at some point and failed to mention it. It would be a lot easier than having a conversation.
“Okay,” he says, and then there’s silence. Even the portraits are quiet, the girl doing her make-up is gone. “I’m sorry for grabbing your hand. Do you want to find a seat for dinner? Any later and we might get stuck by Crabbe and Goyle.” Finally, she rips her eyes away from her feet and onto him. He doesn’t look blue at all. He’s still Anthony, still wearing a soft smile, still holding the flask. He makes her feel like liking Terry isn’t some kind of revolutionary action, like it’s not strange, like twenty girls tell him that a day, twenty of his best friends. Wordlessly, she nods, taking the flask from him.
“Thank you,” she says, swallowing. “I didn’t mean to freak out.”
“No, it’s okay,” Anthony tells her. “It’s a scary night. You wouldn’t believe how nervous I was.”
“About what?” Maybe it’ll make her feel better.
“I - I like Lisa,” he tells her, the words catapulting out of his mouth. Her eyes widen, and she can’t help it - her mouth really does fall open. She feels like an idiot.
“Lisa?” she says, as if following a flipped script on their words not five minutes earlier. “Turpin?”
“Lisa Turpin,” he says, as if he hadn’t tried to hold her hand tonight. “Yes.”
“Why didn’t you ask her to go with you, then?”
“I’d rather go with you, Mandy.” He takes back the flask, and offers his arm. She takes it, fingers fumbling. “You’re my best friend.” They descend down the Grand Staircase, reaching the double doors. Music spills out, as does the sound of laughter, and hundreds of chattering voices. Something curls in her stomach, a low knot, pulsing. She feels even worse than she did before. Lisa? That’s almost worse than Sophie. Don’t get her wrong, she likes Lisa, she likes Sophie, but right now the thought of them makes her want to vomit. She supposes he and Lisa did pair up for that one project in Charms. They do talk to each other. It makes sense. Maybe.
“You’re mine,” she says, searching his face. “And I hope we’re always friends.”
“Of course we will be,” Anthony says. “I’ll never talk to you again if you’re not at my wedding.” Mandy laughs, but she can’t imagine it, can’t picture Anthony marrying Lisa Turpin or any other faceless girl. It stings worse than imagining Terry and Sophie - but she’s known Anthony longer, she reasons, she’s more used to him, of course he’s more important to her than Terry. Terry’s just a crush. Her toes curl in her shoes. Lisa’s just a crush to him, right?
“Fingers crossed Crabbe and Goyle didn’t make it,” she jokes, with only half her heart, and they enter the hall under a navy blue sky.