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Episode I: The Sexually Confused Loner Who Can't Stop Thinking About a Blow Job

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, an independently wealthy man-about-town gets caught up in a bit of confusion: 21, male, straight(ish), single(ish).


DAY ONE

10:00 a.m.: Alright, look. It's not my fault. Let me just start with that, okay? Of course I slept late. She wears me out. Who is she? Good question. Excellent question. Let's call her Aphrodite: she's a goddess, and I suspect she's fucking with me. I look over; she's still here. Fuck, she stayed over. Fuck.

10:30 a.m.: Aphrodite's definitely fucking with me. She asks me to go down on her first thing in the morning, and I do. No, wait, no. She doesn't ask me. She takes my hand and slips it between her legs, and she's already wet. It's really fucking hot, and you wouldn't think so—or maybe you would think so, I don't know your life—because she's older. Like, a lot older. But honestly? It almost makes it hotter. She pulls my hair while she rides my mouth, and I'm fucked. I'm fucked.

11:00 a.m.: Aphrodite leaves to go back to her husband; let's call him Zeus, because as far as I know, he's fucking everything that moves. He doesn't know about me, thank god. Don't get me wrong, I'm not afraid of him (I was, sure, but I'm basically a man now, despite what my best friend tells me), but in my opinion, it's just better to keep it a secret. She gives me an open-mouthed kiss before she leaves, and I wonder if she can taste herself on my tongue. I hope so. I really fucking hope so.

2:00 p.m.: I shower, have some coffee, lounge around, and then my best friend owls me for a late lunch in Diagon, which I accept. He's sort of an aimless little shit. Like me, sort of, but he's not as happy about it. He's always looking for purpose, looking for meaning. I'm not looking for shit, honestly, but I don't think he minds. He's all fidgety, kind of frantic. I ask him what's wrong but he doesn't tell me; figures. Let's call him Apollo, because he can be cruel and destructive, and his love affairs are rarely happy. Fun, right? Eh. I think I'm fun.

3:00 p.m.: Apollo suggests we go out for drinks tonight; he says we haven't gotten laid in a while, and we could use some fun. Part of me wants to laugh, but I can't. Why not, you ask? Well, bad news, friends. I'm fucking his mum.

6:00 p.m.: Apollo and I go for a walk, buy some things, chat aimlessly. He really is my best friend, and has been my entire life. I'd think of him as a brother, but then I'd be fucking both our mums, and I'm not willing to get that gross. We part ways, agreeing to meet up later.

7:30 p.m.: Aphrodite sends me an owl that just says 'Thinking of you. About to come.' God, she's so fucking hot. Fuck. FUCK. I can't help it. I'm already dressed but I take my pants off anyway, because she owns me, so why fight it? She does this to manipulate me, I'm pretty sure, but I don't care. I come embarrassingly fast and send her an owl back. 'Now we're even,' I scribble hastily on the back of her note.

10:00 p.m.: I hate clubs. I fucking hate them. When it happened with Aphrodite, I'll admit that I was the one who initiated it. During the war, she was horribly neglected; Zeus barely knew she existed, but I did. Hell, I had my first orgasm with her name on the tip of my tongue, and it's not like I ever stopped looking. It was a late night, a few months ago, and I was at her house, hanging out with Apollo (he still lives there, but that's pretty common for us manor house types). He passed out, a little drunk from the night. I was drunk too, but fuck if I was going home after I ran into Aphrodite downstairs. "Where's your husband?" I asked her, like the little shit I am. "Fucking someone else," she said. Barely even blinked; because she's a damn goddess, for fuck's sake, and I told her so. Told her I'd worship her if she were mine. "Prove it," she said, so I fucked her against the wall. I came so hard I thought I was dying.

10:30 p.m.: This place is shitty and I want to leave. I could be balls deep in an actual goddess right now, but I'm not, and I'm really not happy about it. I tell Apollo that I'm bored, but just as I say so, a group of guys walk in that we know from Hogwarts. Correction, guys that we hate from Hogwarts. Let's call this one Hercules—you know, hero complex, blah blah—and the rest of them are his pointless minions, so they don't get names. Hercules and Apollo trade jabs, as usual. I'm bored. "Fuck off," I tell Hercules. He smiles.

11:00 p.m.: I'm drunk now, and I can't get over the fact that Hercules fucking smiled at me. What the fuck? It bugs me. I take three shots just to force myself to think about something else, but then I'm thinking about the little dimple on Aphrodite's back, the one just at the base of her spine. I want to bite it. I'm dying to bite it. Hercules smiled at me. Why did he smile? Fuck, I'm drunk.

11:30 p.m.: I run into Hercules in the bathroom and I can't really see straight, but I want to punch him in the mouth. I tell him so. He says do it. I laugh. I laugh so fucking hard. Fuck, I'm really drunk, and I tell him so. He says, "I know." I tell him to go fuck himself. He kisses me. I fucking stop breathing.

11:45 p.m.: Hercules pulls me into a stall and he's fumbling with my trousers. I put my hands on his head and shove it down. I have no idea what I'm doing but his mouth is hot and perfect on mine, and when he puts it on my cock I shudder. He looks up. "You sure?" he asks. Fuck him. He's so fucking earnest, but we're both sweating and his hair is a mess and he looks—I don't know. I don't know. "No," I tell him. I'm not sure. "I've never done this," he says, and I think he's telling the truth. "Neither have I," I say back. I'm telling the truth too, which is something I almost never do. He slides his lips along my cock, slowly, and runs his tongue along the underside. "You know," he says, "you taste, like … really good." I laugh. He laughs. "Keep blowing me," I say, "I like it." He slides his tongue along my shaft. "I like it too," he says quietly, and my knees go weak.

11:50 p.m.: I come hard, and he swallows. I still can't breathe. He opens his mouth and I know what he's going to ask me, I fucking know, but I can't do it. I run. I run.

12:00 a.m.: I get home and beg myself to fall asleep. I don't. I can't.

2:00 a.m.: Exactly how drunk was I?


DAY TWO

6:00 a.m.: Today I wake up early, because I can't fucking sleep. 'Come over,' I write to Aphrodite. 'I need you.' I clean my house and wait for a response. This house used to belong to my father, but I'm the only one left. I let all the elves go a long time ago, and it's too much for me to keep the whole thing clean on my own, so I mostly occupy three rooms. She responds quickly, as I knew she would. 'Zeus is here,' she says, and I roll my eyes. 'Where would you rather be: with him, or with me?' I write back.

6:30 a.m.: No answer yet. I fix tea.

7:30 a.m.: I almost give up, but then her owl shows up. 'With you,' she says. 'Be there in half an hour.' I'm not happy about the wait, but I'll take what I can get. She knows that.

8:00 a.m.: I'm almost positive that I'm not Aphrodite's first extramarital affair. I sometimes wonder if I'm even her only affair, because I honestly don't know. But then I see her face, and it doesn't matter. It doesn't fucking matter. "Hey stranger," she says. "Tie me up?" she asks. She owns me. I oblige.

8:30 a.m.: I should point out that I've had sex with other women before. I had a girlfriend but with all the usual pureblood shit, she was married off to someone else about a year ago. It broke me a little, but I'm one of those people that's better broken. Makes me more interesting, because otherwise I'd just be another pureblood with a bad attitude and too much money. I wish someone would take the money. I wish someone would take everything. I put my mouth on the inside of Aphrodite's thigh and I bite down, and then I suck a little on her perfect skin, just to leave a mark. I never leave a mark. She yanks my head up. "Don't," she warns. "I deserve to," I say, defensively. "I know you do," she says back, "but don't."

11:30 a.m.: After she leaves I stare at the ceiling. I get an owl from Apollo but I don't feel like answering. I close my eyes and I think about Hercules, about the way his hair felt between my fingers, about that fucking smile, about the way he sucked me off with what can only be called utter fucking gusto. He's hot, I think, and wonder if I just noticed.

3:00 p.m.: I get out a quill. 'Why?' I write, and send it to Hercules. I have self-destructive tendencies. Can you tell?

7:30 p.m.: An owl from Apollo. 'Where the fuck are you?' he demands. He's so demanding. 'Fucking tired,' I say back. 'Come out tonight,' he says. I growl out loud. 'Fine,' I say, because hell hath no fury like Apollo scorned, and frankly, I'm not up for an argument.

10:17 p.m.: We go to the same club from last night. It just opened in Diagon, so it's still pretty packed, even though it's a weeknight. I hope Hercules is there, but I also hope he's not.

11:08 p.m.: Just as I'm about to give up on Hercules, the bastard shows up. He's alone, and suddenly I realize that so am I. Where'd Apollo go? I don't know. I guess I don't care. Hercules makes a beeline straight for me, and I pretend not to see him coming. "What?" I ask, when he just stands there. "I got your owl," he says. "What owl?" I lie. He looks around, and then he grabs my hand. "Come on," he says.

11:15 p.m.: He takes me outside. "I don't know why," he says, but he doesn't move. I look around; people can see. I'm the kind of person who is very sensitive to what people can or can't see. "Whatever," I say, and I leave. He calls after me, but you know what? Fuck him. This isn't what I wanted.

11:17 p.m.: I'm walking. WALKING, like I'm not even a fucking wizard, and I'm doing it furiously. Violently, even. What did I want? I don't know. I don't fucking know, but it wasn't this.

11:30 p.m.: I get home and my bed smells like Aphrodite's perfume. I think I love her. I think I hate her. I definitely hate Hercules. I wonder where Apollo went tonight. I fall asleep with a thousand questions, and my heart hurts. I assume it's something I ate.


DAY THREE

8:00 a.m.: I wake up to two owls. One from Apollo: 'My parents are making me do a dinner thing tonight, so you're coming. No excuses.' Fuck. The second doesn't have a signature, but I know who it's from. 'I'm sorry.'

9:00 a.m.: He's sorry? Fuck him. I consider writing something back—something dickish, and entirely capital letters—but ultimately decide it wouldn't be worth it. I want to see his face when he gets no response, though. I want him to think about me. Is that weird? I want him to think about me. I'm thinking about him. This can't be good.

11:00 a.m.: I read a book.

1:00 p.m.: It's not a great book. I throw it at the window, but when the glass doesn't shatter, I find I'm disappointed. So I pick up a vase and I break it, watching the pieces cover the floor.

3:00 p.m.: I've broken all my father's vases.

5:00 p.m.: Apollo shows up through the Floo. "What the fuck," he says, finding me lying down on the floor. I sit up. "What?" I say, and he shakes his head. "Dinner," he reminds me, and then, again, he says, "no excuses." "Why?" I demand, but it's no use. He's my best friend. I change while he cleans up the glass. If he thinks anything is wrong, he does me the favor of not saying so. Sometimes I wonder if I deserve him. But I don't wonder for long, because I know the answer: I don't.

7:00 p.m.: Aphrodite and Zeus look perfect, like they always have. Zeus leans over, brushes his lips against Aphrodite's cheek. She crosses her legs tighter. I wonder if it's because the outline of my teeth is still on them, and then I wonder whether she can feel it. I think she can.

7:15 p.m.: Apollo keeps checking his watch. I think this is suspicious, but as I'm fucking his mother, I very politely say nothing.

8:00 p.m.: Zeus has had a lot of wine and he leans over, kissing Aphrodite on the lips. She freezes in place; I know that this is because Zeus doesn't kiss her often, and she doesn't know what to do, but she covers her shock quickly. She used to ask me to kiss her, but she no longer has to ask. I stare, but she refuses to look at me, even after Zeus' attention wanders. Apollo is checking his watch again, and I make my excuses: I'm tired. I have a headache. I feel sick to my stomach. It's all true, and I take my leave.

8:30 p.m.: I go back to that club. Hercules is there, and he's alone, standing in a corner and facing the door. I realize with a jolt that he's been waiting for me, but I do him the favor of not mentioning it. I'm a nicer person than people give me credit for. "What the fuck are you doing here?" I ask him brusquely. He locks eyes with me, and then his tongue slowly passes over his lips. "I like women," he says. "Me too," I say, because I fucking do. He nods. "Want to go somewhere?" he asks. Fuck me. Yes, I fucking do, and I tell him so.

8:45 p.m.: He takes me to his house. It's a weirdly old school pureblood house, but I don't say anything because I don't care. "I have a roommate," he says, and pulls me into his room. I look around, but I'm not really looking at anything. "I'm fucking someone right now," I tell him, "and she's toxic." He conjures two glasses of Ogden's. "That's too bad," he says, handing me one.

9:00 p.m.: I ask him why he blew me, and he seems displeased with my choice of language. "I don't know," he says again, and I shove him hard against the wall. "Did you like it?" I ask, with my thumb sliding across his throat. He doesn't look afraid. "Yes," he says, and his eyes drop to my mouth. I swallow hard. He slips his hands down my chest, running them down my torso, and then he pulls them back. For a second I'm disappointed, but then I realize he's unfastened his own trousers, and his cock is in his hand. I stare at him, and he reaches out, gripping the back of my neck. "I dare you," he says, very seriously. What a dick. I lower myself to my knees.

9:15 p.m.: My cock is throbbing while I blow him. When he comes he whispers my name, so softly I almost miss it. For a while after, I don't get up; I just stay there on my knees, and then I rest my forehead against his hip. I tell him about Aphrodite. I tell him I might love her. He strokes my hair, and then he gets down on his knees and looks me in the eye. "I'm sorry," he says. I don't ask for what.

10:00 p.m.: We kiss. We kiss a lot. He tastes good, steady, sure. He feels present, in a way that Aphrodite never is. It's a primitive, stupid, juvenile mess of a make-out session, and I come from grinding against his leg. He cups my jaw and holds it, and I tell him I hate him. He says nothing.

10:30 p.m.: He's not a goddess. But fuck me, he's a god.


DAY FOUR

7:30 a.m.: I didn't make it home, but he wakes me. His roommate is getting up soon, he says. I disapparate without a word, and then I pass out in my bed.

9:30 a.m.: I wake up to Aphrodite standing at the foot of my bed. "Fuck," I say, scrambling backwards, and she grimaces. "I'm sorry," she says, and for some reason, she actually looks sorry. I take her in my arms, which is something she almost never lets me do, and she melts a little. I kiss the top of her head, which I know immediately is too much. She pulls away. "Fuck me," she demands, "now." I take off my pants and she shoves me back on the bed.

10:00 a.m.: I can't believe my dick's not tired.

10:30 a.m.: This shouldn't even be scientifically possible.

11:15 a.m.: "I hate him," she whispers to me after, "but I'm not going to leave him." I know this, but I don't tell her so, because it feels like admitting a loss. "Just tell me this," I say, putting on my best mask; telling my best lies. "Can he make you come like I can?" For a minute she looks far away, and then she looks up, her nails digging into my chest. "No one makes me come like you do," she says. I take it as a win.

11:30 a.m.: "You slept in your clothes from last night," she says, while she's pulling her clothes back on. I know what she's really saying, and I tell her the truth; I was with someone else. She looks hurt, or maybe I just imagine that she looks hurt. "Good," she says.

11:35 a.m.: She fucks me again because she's a liar, and I briefly wonder if that's why I love her, if I even do. "Leave a mark," she says. "Where?" I ask. "Somewhere he can see," she whispers, and I think to ask what's wrong—I wonder what he did—but I know she won't tell me, so I don't say anything. I set my lips against her throat and she shudders while I make her mine.

6:00 p.m.: After she leaves I sleep for the rest of the day, and when I wake up, I'm starving. I need to take better care of myself.

8:00 p.m.: I go to bed early. My mind wanders and then I find myself thinking about Hercules, and the way it felt to sleep beside him. He has a presence, I think to myself, trying to put a finger on it. He's just very present.

10:00 p.m.: I think about the way his arm felt, slung across my hip. I can't sleep.

1:00 a.m.: Fuck.


DAY FIVE

10:00 a.m.: I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm having altogether too many affairs. I wake up late, groggy and exhausted, and then I send Apollo an owl. 'Let's get coffee,' I write. He agrees, and I take a shower and get dressed.

11:00 a.m.: We meet up at the Leaky Cauldron, and I notice he looks a little bit disheveled. He says it's nothing, but I have the odd suspicion he didn't sleep at his own place last night. I ask him about it, but he waves it off.

12:00 p.m.: "I think my parents hate each other," he says. I don't say I hope so, or I know, or any other true answer. "Nah," I say instead. He isn't really listening. He has lipstick on his collar; I'm a little impressed, but I keep it to myself. I wonder what he's up to, but I can't very well ask, can I? He'd only return the favor, and I don't know what's worse, that I'm fucking his mother or that I'm also fooling around with his mortal enemy.

12:05 p.m.: Okay, fine. I know what's worse, but then Hercules comes in. He stops and stares at me, or maybe at Apollo, but either way he's staring. "What?" Apollo snaps, and he shrugs. Hercules picks up something to go, but then, oddly, he steps into the bathroom.

12:07 p.m.: I don't know what comes over me. I follow.

12:08 p.m.: "Come over tonight," he says, as soon as I enter. "I can't," I say back, and when I say it, I'm telling the truth, but he laughs. "Why'd you come in here, then?" he asks. "Shut the fuck up," I say. His eyes linger on my mouth and then he steps forward. We're about the same height and our eyes should be at the same level, but he's still looking at my lips. Fucker. Motherfucker. Fuck.

12:15 p.m.: We make out ruthlessly. I've never liked kissing enough to do it when it doesn't lead to sex, but I'm not going to fuck him right now and we both know it, so at the moment the kissing is enough. It's more than enough; it's fucking good. Too good. I shove him against the sink and he lets out a hiss in my mouth, closing his fingers around my shoulder. "Fucker," he says. I laugh, and then I bite down on his lip. "Fuck you," I say, and like everything else, I think he'll swallow it, but instead he shoves me away. "Come over tonight," he says, "or we're done here." My heart is pounding. He leaves.

12:20 p.m.: "What took you so long?" Apollo demands. I shrug. "Don't care," he says, grabbing my arm. "Let's go."

2:00 p.m.: Something is bothering Apollo. For two hours we wander Diagon and barely speak. But he seems better after, and I think I get that. Sometimes it's just nice not to be alone.

4:00 p.m.: We part ways. All in all, I had a nice day.

4:15 p.m.: Spoke too soon. I come home to an owl from Aphrodite: 'This has to stop,' she says. I crumple it up and throw it in the fireplace. It means nothing to me. She's said it before.

6:00 p.m.: I doze off and wake up in time to fix a light dinner. I still haven't decided what I'm going to do. In the back of my mind I'm aware that Zeus is probably sitting down to dinner with Aphrodite, and I wonder if I hate him or envy him or if the burning in my chest is a strange sort of numbness that indicates that he means nothing to me, and she means everything. But then I think about Hercules and the taste of his tongue on mine and I think maybe I have no idea what everything even means.

7:00 p.m.: I think myself into a spiral and open a bottle of wine.

7:37 p.m.: I'm not really drunk enough to be sending Hercules an owl, but I do anyway. 'I want to fuck tonight,' I say. Surprisingly, he responds. 'I don't know how, but I have a computer,' he says. I frown. 'A what?' I write back. 'Come over in an hour,' he says. I don't want to wait that long, but I do.

8:45 p.m.: Computers are fun. "Lubrication seems to be the thing," says Hercules, and I agree. I'm nervous now, and wish I'd had more to drink. He seems to know that, and he picks up a bottle of Odgen's.

9:15 p.m.: "I have a girlfriend," he says, and I blink. "No, wait, sorry," he corrects himself, "I had a girlfriend, until recently. Very recently." "Ah," I say. "Maybe we shouldn't do this, then."

9:30 p.m.: His. Lips. Taste. So. Fucking. Good.

9:45 p.m.: He gets me naked faster than I will ever admit, but I'm nothing if not a team player, so I tear his trousers off and flick my wand to do away with the rest. He's covered in scars, and my throat is dry. "Who hurt you?" I ask. "Everyone," he says. I swallow. "I know the feeling," I say, and though I mean to say it loudly, it comes out as a whisper. He kisses me again. I'm lost.

10:00 p.m.: He's got his hand curled around my cock and I stop him. "Why?" he says. "I can't," I say. "Why?" he asks again, but I don't know the answer. He takes my face in his hands. "I think you're going to ruin me," he says. I kiss him. "I promise," I say, "I will."

10:30 p.m.: I fall asleep on my back. He falls asleep on his stomach, his arm tossed over my torso. I wake up that way a few hours later but I don't move. I'm fucked.

3:00 a.m.: I'm fucked.


DAY SIX

7:30 a.m.: "Want to hang out?" he says. I say yes, but I need to go home first. Shower, I say—"I'm dirty." "Filthy," he jokes, grinning that stupid grin, and I can't help it. I kiss him. The sun's out, and I'm kissing a man, and I'm not drunk and I'm kissing this man, whom I hate, and holy hell, I'm fucked. He kisses back. "See you soon," he says.

8:27 a.m.: When I'm getting dressed after my shower, an owl comes. Her owl. 'I'm serious,' she wrote, meaning the lie she'd told about it being over. 'Give me an answer so I know you know I'm serious.' I think about it. Let her sweat a little, I think. I miss her, but she's cruel.

8:45 a.m.: I miss her. She's cruel.

9:15 a.m.: I miss her.

9:29 a.m.: One minute before I leave to spend an entire day with Hercules, I finally think of something to say. 'If you want me to lie to you, I will,' I say. I know she'll know what I mean; I'm quoting her. During one of our first nights together, she told me that she was the best liar she knew. "I tell the prettiest lies," she said, and I kissed her shoulder. "Will you lie to me?" I asked, and she turned, locking her blue eyes on mine. "If you want me to lie to you, I will," she said, "but you're the only person who sees the ugliness of my truth." I shook my head. "There's nothing ugly about you," I admonished her, and she laughed it off, chalked it up to youth; straddled me and fucked me, like I hadn't just given her my heart.

9:30 a.m.: I shove her from my thoughts and meet Hercules at the Leaky Cauldron.

9:31 a.m.: "What do you want to do?" he says. I'm restless. I don't know. "Come on," he says, and thankfully he doesn't take my hand, but he just starts walking. "Where are we going?" I mutter, half-chasing him, and he arches a brow. "Who cares," he says, and I don't. I breathe a little easier.

10:00 a.m.: He takes me into muggle London, which is a place I've never really been. I think he knows that. I comment that the architecture is nice. He says he prefers open space. "Then take me somewhere spacious," I say. I'm joking, but he's not. "Come on," he says, and this time he takes my hand, but it's just to apparate. In the moment, though, I hold on tight.

10:05 a.m.: "Isle of Skye," he says, and I look around. It's fucking gorgeous. "I want to conquer it," I say. He shrugs. "Follow me," he offers.

3:00 p.m.: We hike for hours, and I look down at the rock formation he says is some old man, though I don't see it. "Muggles," I say, shaking my head. He laughs. I make him laugh.

6:00 p.m.: I make him laugh for hours.

8:07 p.m.: "Should we go home?" he asks over drinks, but the thought of it, of the smell of her in my bed, is unbearable. "I don't want to," I say, and he nods. We get a room above a small pub. "One bed?" they ask at the front desk, eyeing us. "Two," Hercules corrects without hesitation, and I am more grateful to him than I know how to express. When he unlocks the room, I shove him against the wall. "Geez," he says, which is such a ridiculous thing to say, and I hate him.

8:08 p.m.: When he kisses me, I curl my fingers into his clothes, burying them in fabric and clinging to muscle and bone. I wonder if he notices how tightly I'm holding on. I wonder why I'm holding on so tightly.

8:15 p.m.: He shoves me back onto one of the beds, almost like it's a fight and he wants me to die, which I appreciate. I like how he's so fucking rough with me, and this time I'm the first one to initiate the removal of clothes.

8:17 p.m.: I pause for a minute, my hands on his chest, and he tells me to take my time. I start to wonder if what I actually like is how he's so fucking gentle with me; but that can't be it. Fuck him.

8:20 p.m.: We stop to drink from a bottle of muggle whisky that he bought from the coastal town's small grocer. He leans forward as I've only half-swallowed and laughs when it seeps into his mouth. The kiss burns.

8:25 p.m.: I pour a little into his belly button and slurp it out, laying my tongue flat against his navel. His fingers tighten in my hair. "Please," he grits out, and I slide a little lower. His cock nudges me in the jaw and part of me wants to laugh, but he looks down at me and holds his breath and I take him in my mouth and let him rut against me, thrusting between my lips. It's wrong. Is it wrong? Aphrodite is wrong, isn't she?

8:30 p.m.: He yanks me up and lays me on my stomach, kissing his way down my spine. What the fuck is right and wrong? I have no fucking idea.

8:32 p.m.: He clears his throat. "I want to try something," he says. I don't say anything, but I let him adjust me, let him work me around like I'm a fixture in the room, a lamp or a chair at his disposal, and then he puts his mouth on me. I go rigid, because this is fucking gay, but he persists, because he's a fucking hero and I figure he's used to getting his way.

8:35 p.m.: This feels really fucking good, so fuck him entirely.

8:45 p.m.: He's got his head on my chest. "How did I taste?" I ask him, and accidentally think of her; of the time she asked me the same question. "Like heaven," I'd said to her, and I wonder what he'll say. He looks up, squinting at me. "Clean," he says, and for some reason I'm so fucking grateful I kiss him again.

10:00 p.m.: We've finished the bottle and we're still naked and we've each come once. We both seem very aware of these statistics. "Who is she?" he asks, and I wonder what's made him think about her. "Aphrodite," I say, and he nods. "Yep," he says, and I ask the same question, only I phrase it as he had; in the past. "Who was she?" I ask. "Aphrodite," he says.

10:05 p.m.: I hate how well I understand this man.

10:15 p.m.: "Thanks for spending the day with me," he says. I tell him to shut up. He ignores me. "When we have sex," he says, sitting up to look at me, "which one do you want to be?" I stare at him for a moment. "When?" I ask, aiming for skepticism. "Yes," he says, "obviously." I feel horribly exposed, and it's not because I'm naked.

10:30 p.m.: "Come on," he says, and pulls me towards him. We don't fall asleep in each other's arms; it's not like that. But I fall asleep with my shoulder touching his, and I know he's put it there on purpose. It's so I can feel him. It's so I can feel him stay.


DAY SEVEN

6:30 a.m.: He's set an alarm, responsible fuck that he is. We wake up early and apparate home separately. "I want you tonight," he says, before he leaves. "You missed a few words," I joke. "No," he says very seriously, and repeats himself. "I want you tonight." It rings in my head as I travel through space and time.

6:31 a.m.: "I do the impossible every day," he'd said last night. "I am magic and you are magic and we are impossible beings." I can't believe he said that.

7:30 a.m.: I fall asleep to the sound of his voice in my head, invading my space. We are impossible beings. Fuck him, I think to myself. I loathe him. I wish he were dead. I wish he were a lie I invented to help myself sleep at night. I hate him. I need him. I want him.

8:30 a.m.: I wake to Aphrodite beside me; I smell her perfume and it calls me back to consciousness, coaxing me on a breath. I'm startled, of course, but she has said nothing; she seems very small, so I pull her close and go back to sleep.

10:00 a.m.: She stirs, and I kiss the back of her neck because I love her still, I'm still hers, no matter what my deviant penis has been up to. She turns to face me. "I came here last night," she says. I'm glad I wasn't here, but I don't say so. She draws her finger across my lips and I apply the slightest brush of pressure, just so she knows I'm here. "This has to stop," she says. "This has to stop," I agree, for the first time.

10:05 a.m.: We stare at each other in silence. We do not say how we feel. We break into pieces and drift away on a breeze. We are impossible beings. I am fucked, so very, very fucked, and she holds me while I break.

12:00 p.m.: We say goodbye with sex because we both speak it so well, and so fluently. I say everything I need to when I'm inside her, probably because my mouth is mostly shut. I find it says the damndest things. I wonder if I love her. I'm sure that I do, but I'm also positive I don't, I can't, because I'd be loving something I'd never really have, and so I admit to nothing and I fuck her. I make my goddess come.

1:00 p.m.: She says nothing when she leaves and if I'm being honest, I don't really believe it's the last time. I hope it is. But in the stupid fucked up corners of my heart, I don't really think so.

3:00 p.m.: I go to her house. Not for her. I bang down Apollo's door. "You're not telling me something," I say, loud and accusatory. He blinks, swallows, looks like he might cry. "I can't tell you yet," he says, and I understand. "Fine," I say gruffly, but he's better now, because he knows. He knows I'm here. He knows I'm watching. I feel good, and strong, and I walk outside and I resolutely do not look at the gardens that smell of her. "Bye," Zeus says as I leave, and I wonder if he knows. "Fuck you," I say, because I think he does, and then I promptly run away, but I smile as I do it.

6:00 p.m.: I finish another book. Not bad. Something about resilience, or irony. I understand both.

9:00 p.m.: I show up in Hercules' bedroom. He's lying back on his bed with his arms crossed, and I get the feeling he's been waiting for me; but I don't apologize, because we're not like that. He stands up and eye-fucks me for a second, and fuck, I guess he's kind of sexy. Fuck, he's sexy. I think I like women, but I think I like him. It's confusing. I'm fucked.

9:10 p.m.: He makes out with me against the wall. I tell him we can go to my house if he wants to ruin some heirlooms. He laughs. "I have heirlooms," he says, but I think he understands the offering.

9:30 p.m.: He's going to fuck me. I think he's decided which one he is. "We can switch next time," he whispers gruffly, yanking my trousers down. "Cool," I say.

9:45 p.m.: It took a bit, but this feels good.

9:50 p.m.: I put my hand on my cock and stroke it. This feels better. He looks down, watches me do it, and comes; then he shoves my hand aside, replacing it with his, and he uses his other hand to cover my mouth when I finish, like he knows I'm going to shout his name and fuck—I'm fucking going to. "Roommate," he whispers in explanation, in apology, because he forgot the Muffliato, and I want to laugh; but that, too, would be smothered into his palm, and that seems like a waste. I want to gift it to him on a platter. I want to wrap up my happiness and give it to him like a hat; something to wear. Something to put on when his ears are cold.

10:30 p.m.: We switch. We're gentlemen. This time we remember the silencing spell and he comes with his face in the mattress, and I'm well and truly fucked. Though, in the spirit of fairness, we both are.

11:00 p.m.: "Who is she really?" he asks, and I tell him, and I realize he is only the second person in the world that I don't think I would lie to. He seems startled to find out, but he nods. "We can take this slow if you want," he says, gesturing between us. I get the feeling he never takes anything slow, so this is an offering. I shake my head. "I want it fast," I say, "like lightning. I want violence. I want it to strike. I want it to burn." He stares at me a minute, and then he nods. "I can do that," he says. Fuck him. Of course he can.

11:30 p.m.: We fall asleep. He can do anything; he chooses me. I choose not to run, which seems a similar decision. The world goes on.

11:58 p.m.: In my sleep, I hear his voice. I breathe him in.

11:59 p.m.:  We are impossible beings.

Chapter Text

Episode II: The Good Girl Who's Pretty Sure She's Not Cheating

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a promising public servant gets talked into questionable behavior: 22, female, straight, in a relationship.


DAY ONE

8:00 a.m.: I arrive early to work and am instantly flooded with owls and interdepartmental memos. This is the problem with politicians who stay in office too long; tenure ruins a person. Instead I end up with the majority of the work, and as usual, the head of my department is absent. I'm snippy this morning, and being that I'm a person with a rather quick temper to begin with, this is not helpful. I yawn into the palm of my hand, smothering it.

9:10 a.m.: I was up late last night, and it's killing my productivity. I'm still ten times more effective than everyone else in this department (in this whole Ministry, as I sometimes suspect) but my head is hurting, and I'm exceedingly grateful that my best friend made extra coffee this morning. I suppose I should discuss him—and my boyfriend, too, who is actually the reason I was up late—so let's call my best friend Arthur, and my boyfriend Lancelot. It's always been the three of us; though of course, as the legend goes, it ended up being Lancelot and me romantically. Not for lack of interest in Arthur (or lack of affection, I guess) but I think we always knew we needed the friendship more. Not so for Lancelot. He makes me laugh; makes me feel an odd, almost literary sort of giddiness. Of course, it only took us seven years to discover that was love.

10:05 a.m.: How many legal briefs can a person annotate before they go insane?

1:00 p.m.: The answer: thirteen.

3:25 p.m.: Give my brain to science. Tell my mother I love her. Scatter my ashes at sea.

5:25 p.m.: I'm barely functioning, and yet I'm still at work, so I figure it's time I make it clear that this is entirely Lancelot's fault. Sex—or, more accurately, the weak attempt at sex that went on for far too long—last night led, as usual, to a fight, which then lasted well into the morning. It seems we're entirely out of rhythm these days. To be honest, I'm not that interested in sex. I know he is, so I make the faces and do the sounds, but then he tells me that I act like sex is a chore. It is a chore, isn't it?

6:45 p.m.: What's a chore is the obligatory fighting, I remind myself, near collapse over my desk. I sometimes wonder if we couldn't just take sex out of the equation altogether. We're compatible, we're each other's best friends; we have history, and we have a perfect sort of happiness when he's not pawing at my knickers. Why can't that be enough?

7:30 p.m.: I get an owl from Lancelot's sister, one of my only female friends. I'll call her Morgana, which isn't quite right, but let's blame the patriarchy for the lack of Arthurian females. 'Let's go out tomorrow night,'Morgana suggests. I want to die. 'Absolutely,' I write back, with as many exclamation points and handwritten kisses as I can conjure, which ends up being three of each. Morgana and Arthur broke up about about three years ago, not long after she started playing quidditch professionally—I think the distance got to them. She's not in town that often, so I'm obligated to agree. Hopefully I actually manage to get some sleep tonight.

8:15 p.m.: I finally arrive home—not my home, which is a fairly sparse flat in central London that I generally prefer, but Lancelot's home, which he shares with Arthur.

8:16 p.m.: Arthur is sitting in the kitchen, sipping some tea. He looks dazed when I say his name. "Sorry," he says, frowning, "what?" Poor thing. He looks like he's had a harder day than I have. I kiss his temple, wiping my lipstick away. "Everything alright?" I ask him. He lies to me, says he's fine. I'm not particularly good at social cues, but still, he is always underestimating my perception. I'm not sure he realizes that I've known about him seeing someone for the past four months. I don't know who it is, but I try not to pry.

8:26 p.m.: "He's upstairs," Arthur says eventually, referring to Lancelot. I realize that I haven't seen them together in about a week, but I don't have time to think about it; I'm already dreading the inevitably poor episode of seduction awaiting me upstairs. "I love you," I tell Arthur, because I think he needs to hear it. He smiles wanly; he looks sad. "I love you," he says back.

8:45 p.m.: "You're home," Lancelot exhales, grinning when he sees me, but then his grin falters. "We need to talk." Uh oh. Is this better or worse than sex?

9:14 p.m.: "I think we're putting too much pressure on this," he says. "I love our relationship, but at the same time, I think we need … more." "More what?" I ask. He glances down, clearly embarrassed. "More, um—" "Oh," I realize, and my breath quickens. "You want to sleep with other people?" I ask. "And you," he says quickly, and I frown. "I love you," he says earnestly, "and I love what we have, but—" He trails off. I pause. I take several deep breaths. Part of me wants to be insulted by what he's suggesting, but he's right, isn't he? I'm a logical person. In fact, I'm the one who wanted to take sex out of the equation. "Okay," I permit slowly, "so how would it work?"

10:00 p.m.: We're not breaking up. He's calling it an 'open relationship,' which sounds like as good a term as any. "I want rules," I say. I like rules. I like to feel appropriately constrained. Like a hug, almost. An embrace of reason. "Okay, well how about this," he suggests, "we don't sleep with any of our mutual friends." "Done," I say, and tilt my head. "Do we tell each other?" I ask. He thinks about it. "No," he says, "unless you want me to tell you." I don't, really, so I shrug. "No bringing them to our homes," he adds. "I'm not sleeping with someone else in a bed we share, you know what I mean?" "Yeah," I agree, and start to wonder if I might actually be insane. Am I really agreeing to this?

10:15 p.m.: Apparently I am. "I'm so glad you agree," he says, and pulls me close. He presses his lips to the back of my neck as he curls around me, and he feels, as always, like home. We're not fighting, and I'm not being made to fake an orgasm, so I start thinking maybe this is a good idea after all—or at least not entirely a bad idea. I settle myself in his arms, and it genuinely feels like a weight is lifted. "I love you," he whispers in my ear. "I love you, too," I say honestly, and together, we fall asleep.


DAY TWO

8:30 a.m.: I'm in a better mood today. Not that work is any easier. I can't believe I agreed to go out tonight, but I can't cancel. Besides, I think Arthur and Lancelot are going out with their auror friends, so I might as well.

11:00 a.m.: I wonder if Lancelot is going to sleep with someone tonight.

3:00 p.m.: I think he is. Oh god, he is, isn't he? I can't concentrate.

5:00 p.m.: It's starting to feel too real. I leave early, taking some of my work with me, and I head back to my flat. 'Going out tonight, don't wait up. Have fun,' I write to Lancelot. I want to throw up, but I'm too logical to let it sicken me.

6:14 p.m.: I need a drink.

7:25 p.m.: Correction: I need several drinks.

8:25 p.m.: I finish the work I brought home with me and pour myself into a red dress with a pair of nude heels. I have some sense of fashion, I think, though nobody ever expects it of me. I clean up rather nicely, in my opinion.

8:49 p.m.: At the last minute, I rifle through my underwear drawer and pull out a pair of lacy black knickers. If Lancelot is sleeping with someone, I should too, shouldn't I? I mean, I know the arrangement was more for him than it was for me, but I think I'll feel better if I put on the Dastardly Knickers. I take off my sensible underwear and swap them, nearly ripping a hole through the lace with my heel. I place a cushioning charm on the shoes, check my reflection once, and then I'm off.

8:52 p.m.: Why am I here? I hate this. Morgana hands me a drink. "Don't speak until you've finished the glass," she says. "You may be dating my brother," she adds, "but I still expect you to have fun tonight." I don't tell her about the Dastardly Knickers, and I obediently finish the drink, keeping my personal disasters to myself.

9:45 p.m.: I spot a familiar silhouette across the room that gives my stomach a brief lurch; a sleek head of blond hair so pale it's nearly white. We'll call him Tristan, since that's the most needlessly tragic Arthurian character I can think of. "Oh no," I say, nudging Morgana, and she turns with a delighted smile on her face. "Oh yes," she says, with an unsettling amount of excitement. She brings her straw to her mouth, placing it lightly between her teeth. "I want that," she proclaims, eyeing him. "Have it," I tell her, "I certainly don't want it."

10:15 p.m.: Morgana is still plotting ways to ensnare Tristan, who doesn't exactly look happy to be there. Then again, he never looks happy to be anywhere. I'm incredibly bored. I hate him, have hated him for years; though, by now it's mostly in a nostalgic sort of way, like something to cling to as a reminder of easier times. In reality, Tristan and I had to work together quite often when we came back for our last year at Hogwarts, so my feelings towards him have shifted from uninhibited loathing to a reasonable level of persisting opposition. Either way, he's far from my favorite person.

10:17 p.m.: "What?" Morgana asks, catching my look of displeasure. "He's hot." She's still talking about Tristan; unbelievable. "So?" I counter, rightfully. "So nothing," she says, and repeats herself. "He's hot."

10:20 p.m.: I suppose he is hot, if you like your men to have a bit of a smarmy look to them. He's primarily smarmy, secondarily hot. No, wait—swap those. In the same moment that this occurs to me, I realize I am deeply intoxicated. I blink. The room spins. I think he spots me. Does he? I don't know. I hide under the table.

10:30 p.m.: I'm still under the table, as it's quite nice down there. Roomy, and safe. "Oh no," Morgana says, joining me, "my brother's here." I never swear. "Holy hell," I say. "I know," she agrees, and claps a hand over my mouth. "SHHHH," she says, obtrusively.

10:45 p.m.: Morgana slips out, intent on getting more drinks, and shortly thereafter there's a knock on the table. I lean back, squinting up. "Hello," Tristan drawls, looking horrifically smug. He calls me by my last name, the git. "Oh no," I say. "Oh yes," he declares, and hands me a drink. "Now," he says, "tell me why you're hiding." "I'm not," I lie. He smirks again. "You're the worst," he says. He's not wrong.

10:48 p.m.: "I don't want my boyfriend to see me," I explain, pulling Tristan into a corner, "because we're in an open relationship now." He looks unsurprised. "What an idiot," he says, and flatteringly, I think he's referring to Lancelot. "It's my fault," I say, "because I don't like sex." He stares at me. "What do you mean you don't like sex?" he demands. He almost sounds angry. I, for whatever reason, laugh.

11:00 p.m.: "If you don't like sex, he's doing it wrong," Tristan declares, and I shake my head. "I just don't like it," I insist. "Nobody doesn't like an orgasm," he retorts, and I shrug. "I'm not sure I've had one," I tell him, which is the first time I'm saying so out loud, but at the moment, I don't care. He stares at me. "Do you masturbate, at least?" he asks. "Ew," I say, blinking. "Jesus fucking Christ," he says, and calls me by my last name again. "Not one orgasm?" "No," I say, and laugh. "Why, are you going to give me one?" I ask, and I'm not sure how much I'm joking. I'd estimate 76% joking. He stares at me some more. "Come with me," he says, and because I'm drunk, and I can't find Morgana, and because Lancelot is dancing with someone else across the room, I agree.

11:15 p.m.: We walk away from the club and he pulls me into an alley. "Are you going to murder me?" I ask. "No," he says, "I'm going to teach you how to have an orgasm." I stare at him. "What?" I demand, and he repeats himself. "I heard you," I say, because I'm not that drunk, and he shakes his head. "Here," he says, positioning me against the wall. "Are you going to have sex with me?" I ask him again, 60% joking this time, and he vehemently shakes his head. "You're not mine," he tells me, "and I don't share. But you know the old adage," he drawls. "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish—" "Am I a fish in this scenario?" I interrupt hazily. He grabs my hand. "Just pay attention," he says gruffly. I sigh. He's terrible.

11:17 p.m.: He nudges my knees apart, widening my stance, and then he slips my hand under my dress, approaching my Dastardly Knickers. I ask him what the hell he thinks he's doing, and he shakes his head. "Nobody can see," he says, and asks me if I'm wet. "What?" I ask, dazed. He leans forward, his lips near my ear. "None of this is personal," he says quietly. "Don't get carried away." I blink. He starts talking.

11:20 p.m.: "We're in a hotel room; a nice one. Silk sheets. Expensive silk sheets, and I can't wait to see you bare on them. I want to unzip your dress slowly, carefully, but I can't wait that long—I get the zipper to your waist and then I tug it down over your hips. God, you're fucking sexy. You're so fucking sexy, and I'm going to fuck you on the fucking silk sheets. You're whimpering in my ear and I'm so fucking hard. Fuck, this is what you do to me." I shudder. "I pick you up, lay you back on the bed, spread your legs." He runs my fingers up my thigh. "I spread them as far as they go. Are you flexible? Of course you are. Look at you. Of course you are." His breath is hot on my neck. "Leave your knickers on," he says, "I want to ruin them." I moan. I moan. He smiles. "Now," he says, "are you wet?" "Yes," I gasp, and I am. I know I am.

11:25 p.m.: He takes my hand and rubs it over the lace of the Dastardly Knickers, stroking my clitoris and then using my own fingers to tease the slit of my—I blush. Even in my head I can't say it. He pulls my hand away, holds it to my lips. "Lick your fingers," he says. I stare at him; my cheeks are burning. "Lick them," he repeats, and for completely unknowable reasons, I put two of my fingers in my mouth, and I suck them slowly. "Good," he says, and now even he seems a little bit entranced. "Now I'm going to teach you how to come."

11:30 p.m.: Tristan turns me so that my back is against his chest, and I'm bracing myself with one hand against the wall. He puts one hand beside mine, the other still covering my fingers. He slides our hands under my dress and uses his hand to guide mine, slipping under the Dastardly Knickers to stroke my clit. "I bet you have the most fucking gorgeous cunt," he whispers in my ear. Cunt. I shiver. "If I could get on my knees and lick your pussy right now—" "You could," I invite, half-pleading, and now I'm about 35% joking. He laughs in my ear. "Nah," he says. "Unlike your twat of a boyfriend, I don't share. And anyway, that's not what we're doing right now." He's controlling the strokes of my fingers, slow and luxuriant. I sigh. "Talk to me again," I say.

11:35 p.m.: "I spread the lips of your cunt with my fingers and lick you, slowly, and I do this over and over until you're crying out for me. You arch your hips up, begging for more, but I don't give it to you yet—not yet. I slide a finger into you—" Here he takes one of mine, slipping it in. "Feel that?" he whispers. He tells me it's my g-spot; tells me what to do. He presses the palm of my hand against my clit and tells me to keep rubbing. Normally this would traumatize me; right now, though, I'm panting. I want more. I want more. It's a weird convergence of sex and academia, and I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I like it so much. Why hasn't anyone explained it to me like this before? I listen, study his voice like there's an exam at the end. And I suppose, in a way, there is.

11:37 p.m.: "When you're at home," he says, "you can play with this more. Take your time. Feel your body, explore it. Fuck," he breathes, somewhat startlingly. "I want to touch you," he explains when I stiffen, and maybe it's the alcohol, but I believe him. "You could," I say again, breathless, and about 10% joking. I can feel him smirk against the back of my neck. "Don't beg," he warns, with his usual arrogance. "It's unbecoming."

11:40 p.m.: I speed up, because for once, I actually feel something. I feel something, and it's itching and nagging and desperate and oh god, oh god, oh god

11:41 p.m.: "Come for me," he coaxes me, shifting to place both hands on either side of my shoulders as we both brace against the wall. I throw my head back, obliging, and see bursts of white light behind my eyes. I say something unintelligible. I dissolve to dust and reappear in solid form. He grabs a handful of my hair, holding it. "Ride it out," he instructs me, pulsing my palm against my cunt. My cunt. My heart is pounding. "Good girl," he whispers. I can barely stand.

11:45 p.m.: "You were wrong," he says, looking smugly victorious. "About what?" I ask. "You said you don't like sex," he reminds me, "but you just weren't having good sex." "This is good sex?" I prompt drily, dubiously. He shrugs. "Personally, I'd rather fuck your hand than your boyfriend," he says. I make a face. "Don't," I warn, rolling my eyes, "we were doing so well." I'm chiding him. I can hear myself whining. He puts his hands up, feigning innocence. "Sorry," he says, insincerely. I can feel my lips betray me with a smile. He's such a child.

11:51 p.m.: Tristan apparates me to my front door. "Friends?" I ask him, though I think the word comes out somewhat slurred. I guess I forgot how drunk I am. "I just taught you how to masturbate in an alley," he reminds me, "so as far as terms go, 'friends' seems somewhat of an understatement." "Want to have sex?" I ask him, 0% joking, and then I blink. "No, wait, I can't," I amend hastily, because of the rules; no sex at my house. Not in my bed. Those are the rules, and I am nothing without rules. "I keep telling you," he grunts irritably, "I'm not fucking you." "Right," I say. Right.

12:10 a.m.: He leaves, and I stumble into bed. My entire body is buzzing. I ask my brain please not to remind me what I did tonight, but then I recall that I haven't technically done anything wrong. I didn't even have sex. Did Lancelot? No. Again, I politely ask my brain not to consider the possibilities.

12:35 a.m.: My brain declines my request for peace and quiet, and after a long, chaotic thought spiral, I realize that I might like sex.

1:05 a.m.: Do I like sex, or do I like orgasms? This might require additional exploration. I make a note in my diary scheduling time to look into it, and promptly fall asleep.


DAY THREE

7:30 a.m.: I'm both incredibly hungover and surprisingly refreshed. My body and my outlook are in complete disagreement, but a little hangover potion does the job, and now we're back on the same team.

8:30 a.m.: I get an owl from Morgana, who rises early for training. 'Did I see you leave last night with Tristan?' she asks, and I groan, having forgotten I probably had witnesses. 'He helped me get home. Must have been having a stroke or something,' I write back, joking. I get a little lost in my head for a minute, biting my lip as I remember the sound of his voice in my ear.

8:47 a.m.: 'Maybe he's a gentleman now. Hope not. I should find out and report back,' Morgana writes back. I feel my brow crease, feel something rise up in opposition, but that's crazy. 'Maybe we should go out again tonight,' I suggest, because clearly, I've lost my mind. She responds instantly, with enthusiasm.

12:15 p.m.: Lancelot surprises me for lunch, and I'm genuinely happy to see him; he's sweet when he wants to be. He brings a couple of sandwiches and we have a picnic on my desk, chatting about our day. Lancelot and Arthur are both aurors, though Lancelot mentions that Arthur's been paired with someone else. I'm surprised to hear this, but he skates over it, so it must not be important.

12:35 p.m.: Lancelot tells an animated story about a mutual friend of ours who can probably be best described as 'loony,' mean as that is. Apparently he ran into her this morning, and she told him there was something clouding his aura. "I asked her if she saw the grim in her tea leaves," he says gravely, and I laugh, reminded of a joke from our school days. He leans forward, catching my lips from across the desk, and I can feel my smile broaden.

1:05 p.m.: He kisses me goodbye and heads out the door with a wave, telling a joke that makes the receptionist laugh as he goes. All in all, lunch was great. In fact, lunch was very nearly almost perfect; I just wish he hadn't told me he'd be out tonight. "But tomorrow night," he promised, "it's you and me." "Right," I said back. "I love you," he said, and I stared at the blue of his eyes, at the freckles dusting his face. He's mine, and I know he's mine. "I love you, too," I said back, and I meant it.

3:00 p.m.: I should clarify that it's not like us spending the night apart is abnormal. I'm the kind of person who needs a lot of quiet time, and Lancelot is very noisy, and constantly in motion. I was probably only spending 2-3 nights a week with him before, so this is fine. Nothing has changed.

5:30 p.m.: Nothing has changed. I repeat it like a mantra. I'm a logical person, after all. Maybe not everyone would be able to compartmentalize their lives like this, but I certainly can. I'm brilliant, after all. I know that sex is sex and love is love, and they don't have to be the same. Nothing has changed.

7:00 p.m.: I get home and fix myself a salad, and I eat it while I stare blankly at my closet, wondering what to wear. I wonder if Tristan will be there. I wonder if Lancelot will be there. I wonder what Arthur's doing. I pull out my cell phone; I rarely use it, but Arthur and I text sometimes—we were both raised by muggles. I ask Arthur if he's going out with Lancelot tonight, and he says no, which I find surprising. 'Doing okay?' I ask him. He waits a few minutes before he responds. 'Sort of,' he says. I tell him that Morgana and I are going out, and that he can come with us if he wants to; they're amicable exes, and he agrees, though I'm not sure how sincere he's being.

10:15 p.m.: "Drink," Morgana says. She's wearing a little black slip of a thing and so am I (a present from her, actually) but I feel lumpy and strange next to her. "Oh look," she says, indiscreetly nudging her head towards the door, and I do. Tristan's here.

10:17 p.m.: He sees me right away. He smirks. He's some kind of smirky mutant, I think, and I can't decide if the tightening of my chest is active disgust or just another gentle pulse of loathing. "I want to unwrap that like it's my birthday," Morgana growls, and I sputter with uncomfortable laughter. "Come on," she says, and grabs my hand, pulling me after her.

10:30 p.m.: We're sitting with Tristan now, and his best friend—let's call him Percival, because I've only had two drinks but already other names are escaping me. I'm not meant for this level of social interaction. It's like a million things have converged to bring me the strangest week of my life, and I can already tell I'm going to have to bury myself deep in vice just to get through it.

10:35 p.m.: Tristan's knee brushes mine. I think he did it on purpose.

10:47 p.m.: Percival looks distracted. Morgana spots someone from her team, and then she's distracted. I'm at the bottom of what was a very, very blue drink. Tristan stands. "Bathroom," he says, directly to me. "Need help?" I say, attempting a very dry sarcasm. His lips quirk slightly. I take it I'm not very good at sarcasm. "Walk with me," he says.

10:50 p.m.: "Something's wrong," he notes, and I think we're having something akin to a friendly conversation. "No," I protest, and he glances at me, skeptical. "Still the sex thing?" he asks, and I sigh loudly. "I thought I fixed it for you," he says, grinning. I don't tell him that he actually made it worse. In fact, I say nothing. "Come on," he sighs eventually, gesturing for me to follow, "I'm starving."

11:00 p.m.: We settle into a corner at the Leaky, eating some chips. I'm eating chips with Tristan, which feels consummately strange, and becomes stranger still when I remember that Lancelot might be sleeping with someone else right now. I shove it aside, or try to, but I don't seem to be doing a very good job. "Tell me this," Tristan invites, "would you have sex with him right now if you were both at home?" I pause to think about it, and the chip goes chalky in my mouth. "My head hurts a bit," I say, "and I'm tired." It's not a no, but it's something very close to one. "Interesting," he remarks.

11:11 p.m.: "Something's going on with my parents," Tristan comments offhandedly, "and they're making me have dinner with them tomorrow night. I really don't want to." "Why not?" I ask. He shrugs, looking like he regrets bringing it up. "Let's talk about you," he says. "You mean let's talk about sex," I predict drily, and he chuckles. "You just need to learn what you like," he says.

11:20 p.m.: "So, are you seeing anyone?" I ask, because if he can be invasive, so can I. He smirks. "Curious, are you?" he asks, and I roll my eyes. I tell him Morgana's interested. "Hm," he says, and looks thoughtful for a moment. I cough, something stuck in my throat, and he looks back at me. "Come on," he says, "I'll take you home." I sigh. "I'm not sleeping with you," I remind him, and he looks gloriously indignant. "I'm not sleeping with you first," he retorts.

11:30 p.m.: "Try sleeping with someone else," he suggests outside my door. "Treat it like a learning experience—a practice test before a final exam. You love to study, don't you?" Ugh, I want to slap him. "Go away," I say, shaking my head, but as I turn to leave he reaches out, grabbing my hand. At first, neither of us says anything, and I stare at where his fingers are touching mine. It feels familiar. Less intimate than last night—or possibly more. Not sure. "It'll get better," he says quietly. I toy with a response on my tongue, though I'm not sure at first what it is. "You've changed," I decide eventually. He releases me. "I hope so," he says.

11:45 p.m.: As I get ready for bed, I consider that he might be right. I think I do need to learn a little bit more about what I like.

12:01 a.m.: I can't sleep, so I slip my hand into my knickers. They're not dastardly—they're very much Practical Knickers—but I'm alone, so who cares?

12:04 a.m.: This isn't working. I get up, take all my clothes off, and lie back down. Tristan said to explore, right? I touch other parts of myself. My breasts, my stomach, the curves of my thighs. I've never thought about my own body much; never really wondered what I like. He knows what I like, though, doesn't he? How does he know? I remember what he said about spreading my legs. What was it? Oh, right. I close my eyes. He said he'd spread them and lick me. I shudder. It's awful. It's awesome. Okay, here we go.

12:10 a.m.: I bet you have the most fucking gorgeous cunt, he said. I move my hand a little faster.

12:15 a.m.: I remember things from last night that I don't think I was conscious of at the time, like the way his breath felt on my neck, or the way his cologne smelled. Then I remember the way his hand shook slightly over mine. I wonder if he wants me. I wonder if I want him. I slip my fingers inside me, arching my hips up. Oh, I want him. I imagine telling him so. In my mind, he doesn't say no, and he's touching me, and I love my boyfriend but inside the unbreakable vault of my brilliant brain, Tristan's got his lips on the top notches of my spine.

12:17 a.m.: I come with a sputtered whimper and force my eyes shut, catching my breath.

12:34 a.m.: Uh oh.

12:37 a.m.: At least I didn't break any rules.


DAY FOUR

7:15 a.m.: I get to work insanely early, but I need to get things done. Also, work tends to clear my head. I find it soothing.

10:03 a.m.: I was doing fine at first, but then I get an owl from Tristan, and am now decidedly unsoothed. 'Planning to take my advice?' he asks.

10:30 a.m.: After thinking about it for entirely too long, I answer. Strangely, I decide to tell him the truth. 'I'm staying with Lancelot tonight,' I say, and then, after thinking about it again, I add another line. 'Everything's fine,' I add.

11:13 a.m.: 'You fucking liar,' he writes back.

11:17 a.m.: 'What is this?' I demand. 'What do you care?'

11:30 a.m.: 'I don't. Would it be so bad if I did?'

11:32 a.m.: 'You just said that you don't, and I don't have time for this. I'm really quite busy, you know, accomplishing things. You should try it some time.'

11:45 a.m.: 'Tried it. Don't care for it. So what are you two planning to do tonight? Romantic night in, perchance? Rose petals on the bed? Or is he taking you out? No, of course he's not taking you out. Silly me. I nearly forgot who I was talking about. You're definitely staying in.'

11:47 a.m.: 'For your information, I happen to like staying in. And anyway, who are you to talk? Aren't you having dinner with your parents? Not like you've got anything to boast about.'

12:05 p.m.: 'Being the paragon of chivalry that I am, I'll let you have that one. When do you get off work?'

12:07 p.m.: 'When I'm done working. What do you care?'

12:10 p.m.: (Even after writing back, I find it odd that he asked. I can't concentrate now. We need to come up with faster things than owls. We're wizards, for Godric's sake. We can teleport ourselves. Why do we use birds to communicate?)

12:35 p.m.: 'I've got more to teach you, obviously,' he writes back in answer. My stomach drops. 'I thought you said you weren't sleeping with me?' I prompt.

12:47 p.m.: 'I'm not. As I've mentioned several times, I'm not interested in sharing. But I feel it is my duty as a citizen of the world to spread as much knowledge as possible. Consider it philanthropy. Community service, even. Reparation for my heinous crimes of war.' God, his arrogance is unparalleled. He's the worst person I've ever known.

12:51 p.m.: 'If you can get away from dinner,' I say, because I'm pretty sure he can't, and strangely, I feel like toying with him, 'I'll be in the office until 8:00. If not, I'll be living my life, having sex with my boyfriend and pretending you don't exist.'

1:09 p.m.: 'Deal,' Tristan says simply.

1:10 p.m.: The morning's insanity is finally over, and I promptly realize I missed lunch. Now there's a bunch of new memos on my desk. I shake my head and get to work.

6:01 p.m.: I get a little bit distracted by the time. Tristan's probably at dinner now. He said they keep to an early schedule.

6:37 p.m.: I hate myself a little more each time I check the clock.

7:15 p.m.: I'm not even working. I should really just go home.

7:30 p.m.: 'Coming over soon?' Lancelot writes. His handwriting is loopy and messy and I have coveted it for years. Not like Tristan's, which is as showy as he is, all neat and ordered and narrow. Elegant. Annoyinglyelegant. 'Around 8,' I say back, and I eat a salad at my desk.

7:45 p.m.: He's not coming. Besides, even if he did, what would we—no, I tell myself. Stop it.

7:59 p.m.: I turn out the light in my office and head to the Floo networks in the lobby. I'm relieved, honestly. Am I disappointed? I guess I am. I think it's because I was enjoying feeling like I had the upper hand, but clearly I didn't. I've never been good at people, anyway; only books.

8:05 p.m.: "Hi," Lancelot says, leaping towards me. I look around for Arthur, but I don't see him. Lancelot leads me up the stairs.

8:15 p.m.: "You work too much," Lancelot says, kissing my neck. "Let me take care of you." He slowly slides his hand around my cheek, taking my face in his hands. I kiss him. He's my boyfriend and I love him. The kiss feels and tastes familiar, and by the way he's pulling at my clothes, I'm not sure he actually slept with anyone the last two nights. Difficult to tell, but I feel better, and in the spirit of things, I promptly do away with his trousers. He looks positively delighted.

8:25 p.m.: He coaxes me back on the bed and slides his fingers into me. He frowns slightly, and I feel a pang of something—embarrassment? Vexation? Stress? I lick my lips, closing my eyes. I bet you have the most fucking gorgeous cunt, I hear, and a soft sound slips from my lips. Lancelot moves his fingers in and out. "More," I whisper, and his eyes widen.

8:30 p.m.: "Talk to me," I suggest, and he stops, frowning. "What do you want me to say?" he asks. "I don't know," I say, "just—something. Anything." "You're so beautiful," he says, staring at me. "You're beautiful." I smile, sort of.

8:32 p.m.: I close my eyes. (You're so fucking sexy, and I'm going to fuck you on the fucking silk sheets. You're whimpering in my ear and I'm so fucking hard. Fuck, this is what you do to me—)

8:34 p.m.: Lancelot lies down beside me and I clamber awkwardly on top of him, assuming one of our three positions. I like this one, for the most part. I like having a little bit more control, I guess, or he likes it when I have control and I like that, or something. It's—I can't—I shift slightly. Better.

8:40 p.m.: He's looking at me and I feel—pressure, again. Like he wants so badly for me to come. I start making noises, start moving my hips faster. He looks at me hopefully, but the more I'm faking it, the less I'm enjoying myself. I feel it again—the stress, the whole reason I don't like sex. Maybe I really don't like sex. Maybe I just—

8:41 p.m.: It dawns on me. I lower my hand, rubbing my clit—(going to fuck you on the fucking silk sheetswhimpering in my ear, and I'm so fucking hardthis is what you do)—and beneath me, Lancelot freezes, staring at my fingers as I continue to ride him. "Yeah," I breathe, moving faster. Okay. Okay. I've got this.

8:52 p.m.: I come with my eyes closed. Lancelot comes shortly after. "Bloody hell," he says, and oddly, I'm a little bit proud of myself.

9:30 p.m.: Lancelot and I fall asleep together, his arm curled around my waist. "I love you," he says in my ear. "I love you too," I promise.


DAY FIVE

7:05 a.m.: I run into Arthur in the kitchen. "Hey," I say happily, greeting him with a hug. He looks a little distracted, but he hugs me and hands me a cup of coffee. I notice that he has another cup out on the counter, but it's empty. He's staring at it, as if he's trying to decide something. "Everything okay?" I ask. He blinks, and then locks eyes with me. "Yes," he says, and it seems like he means it. I'm pleased.

7:15 a.m.: "The three of us should have breakfast together," I suggest, since I'm in a good mood. I had a good night, and Arthur and I both rise earlier than Lancelot, but he'll be up soon. Arthur looks uncomfortable. "I can't," he says, "sorry." He kisses my cheek and goes upstairs. He hesitates, glancing at the empty mug, and then shakes his head. "See you," he tells me, and heads up the stairs.

8:30 a.m.: I get to work slightly later today, since I'm pretty sure it's going to be slow. It is, and I'm relieved.

11:15 a.m.: 'I'm off with the team again, but I had fun with you this week!' Morgana writes. 'Sorry I disappeared the other night'—hm, I think, relieved, as I had thought I was the one who disappeared—'but I hope we hang out again soon!' I smile. 'We will,' I promise.

5:30 p.m.: It's been a pretty good day, and I think I can get out of here early. I wonder if Arthur is doing anything; I should see how he's doing.

5:45 p.m.: Just before I get ready to leave the office, Tristan shows up, startling me completely. "Hello," he says, leaning against my doorframe. He's wearing a slate grey suit beneath black robes and he looks unfairly good. "What do you want?" I demand, and he smirks at me; his favorite activity. "Dinner?" he asks. Entirely coincidentally, my stomach growls audibly. "I'll take that as a yes," he says, looking smug.

6:30 p.m.: We grab some tapas at a place right at the outskirts of Diagon, which I didn't even know existed. He asks if he can order for me, and I let him, though I doubt he'll actually know what I like. He makes a lot of small talk and gets a bottle of Andalusian wine that he says is from a vineyard owned by Cantabrian goblins. At first I assume he's being pretentious, but it's actually a really good wine, and the variety of food he's selected is excellent. It's nothing I would have chosen for myself, but it's inconceivably delicious, and inexplicably, I remember the time I told Lancelot about my fondness for bouillabaisse. He replied "bless you," which was adorable—but, needless to say, he has a particular set of tastes. An unwavering set of tastes.

6:45 p.m.: "Do you like it?" Tristan asks, gesturing to the food. "Immensely," I admit. He smiles, toasting me. "Salud y amor, y tiempo para disfrutarlo," he says, and I tilt my head. "To love and health," I guess, "and time?" He nods. "To health and love, and the time to enjoy it," he translates. I roll my eyes, but I smile. He's definitely a pretentious arsehole, but I'm actually having a really nice time.

7:02 p.m.: "So what's this about?" I ask him, swirling the wine in my glass, and he shrugs. "You had a hard week," he says, "and so did I. I thought it might be nice." This is not what I expected. "You thought it might be nice?" I echo, scoffing. "Since when?" He arches a brow. "Why must you distrust me so thoroughly?" he demands, almost childishly, and I sputter with laughter. "There you are," I declare, and though he looks indignant for a second, he cracks slightly; the corners of his eyes crinkle, and his mouth quirks. "I thought we could be friends," he admits. "I thought you said friends was an understatement?" I ask playfully. He shrugs. He plays coy. I play coquettish. We have a wonderful evening of pretend.

7:45 p.m.: People have come and gone, and we order another bottle of wine. Tristan tells me his best friend, Percival, has been acting slightly off, and I comment that Arthur has, too. Tristan makes a face at the mention of Arthur, and I groan out loud. "If you want to be friends with me, you have to be friends with him," I say. "Friendship canceled," Tristan announces. I laugh into my glass.

8:15 p.m.: "Won't your boyfriend be looking for you?" he asks. I shrug. "Maybe, maybe not," I say, and then I look at him, toying with a question on my tongue. "What?" he asks, waiting. I'm not sure yet. I frown, thinking some more, and he lifts his glass to his lips, taking a sip. His tongue passes slowly over them and I watch the motion of his throat as he swallows. "What?" he asks again, his brow furrowing, and I clear my throat. I'm going for it. "What did you want to teach me?" I ask him. He looks astounded, and then, slowly, he smiles. "What are the rules again?" he asks.

8:30 p.m.: "Not my flat," I remind him, and so we get a room in Diagon—not the Leaky. Too many people we know there. I don't think I'm going to sleep with him, and he insists he's still not going to sleep with me—but still, it's a rule, and I follow it. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know the rules. He throws his robes onto the chair by the door and walks in, scrutinizing the room. He has a way of making a room his, I notice; of declaring dominion over it. Not me. I am subject to the room's laws and customs. I slouch in deference to the authority of the ceiling.

8:32 p.m.: He slips off his jacket and I watch the lines of his shoulders through the outline of his shirt. "I'm not fucking you," he reminds me, and I can't decide how I feel about that. He turns, meeting my eye. "I don't sh-" "Yes, you don't share," I cut in, shaking my head. "I know," I say, impatiently. He smirks at me, as always. "What can I teach you?" he asks. Maybe it's the wine, but I feel oddly brave. "Sit," I say, gesturing to the bed. Amazingly, he sits. He says nothing. He waits. I try to manage my rapid pulse. "This isn't personal," I say hoarsely, and for a moment he stares at me, speechless. Then he nods.

8:35 p.m.: "I don't like doing this," I say, walking over to face him. He doesn't ask what; gratifyingly, he remains silent. "I don't like it," I explain, "because it doesn't feel like I'm doing it right, and I don't like to do things wrong. I like to do things right," I say, and then I can feel myself start to rant; my nerves are creeping in. "I like to be the best at things, and this—" "It's okay," he interrupts, seeming to understand what I'm babbling about, and slides back on the bed. "What are you doing?" I ask faintly, and he props himself up on his elbows. "I'm not going to make you get on your knees," he explains. I blink. "Okay," I say.

8:38 p.m.: I move to climb onto the bed but my skirt is vaguely restricting. I pause, considering it, and he sits up, slowly removing his shirt. "This is purely academic," he reminds me, though I think he's saying it aloud for himself. I kick my shoes aside and slip out of my skirt, watching him lift his hips, removing his trousers. He pauses, his hand on the band of his underwear, and looks at me. "I'm hard already," he warns matter-of-factly, as I undo the buttons of my shirt. "If I weren't, you'd have to work a little harder." I slip out of my clothes, still in my bra and knickers. They weren't dastardly before, but they certainly are now. "Okay," I say again, and climb onto the bed as he removes his underwear.

8:40 p.m.: This is only the second penis I've ever seen in my life. It's different from Lancelot's, though I'm not totally sure why or how. I should conduct a more comprehensive study, maybe, but I think I like this one. I take it in my hand, studying it, and Tristan lets out a hiss through his teeth, leaning his head up to watch. "What do I do?" I ask. He shuts his eyes. "Fuck," he whispers miserably to nothing, and then sighs. "Okay," he says, collecting himself. "Here's what you do."

8:45 p.m.: I follow his instructions. I touch him first—he shows me how—and then I lower my head. He says to start slow; I tease my tongue over his tip, slide my lips over it. I suck it lightly, though he hasn't said to do this. I think the shape just calls for it. His hips jerk up as I do it, and suddenly, I understand. I thought this was an act of subservience, but it isn't. This is an act of power. He makes a desperate sort of sound, a choked out groan, and reaches down to take hold of my hair. "Slow," he warns. I slide my lips down. Slowly.

8:50 p.m.: There are still elements to this that I don't like—it remains slightly uncomfortable, and my jaw quickly gets tired—but Tristan is devolving, dissolving between my lips, and I can't help being a little fascinated while I watch him squirm. I bet he thought he had me pinned. I bet he thought he had me figured out. I'm a good girl, but I'm not entirely predictable. I reach down, tracing a line up his thigh with my finger. He shivers, his fingers tightening in my hair.

8:52 p.m.: "I'm going to come," he says, panting, and grips the back of my neck, like he's going to pull me up. I lock eyes with him and slowly shake my head, my fingers digging into his thighs, and he groans, loud. He convulses when he comes, and I swallow it. It's surprisingly sweet, I think, and wipe my mouth. He props himself up, staring at me. "Your turn," he says, and I blink. "I thought you said—" "I know what I said," he cuts in gruffly, and pulls me against him. "Come here."

8:55 p.m.: He props himself up against some pillows and settles my back against his chest, placing me between his legs. He takes my hand; rubs it against the lace of my knickers. I make a keening, mewing sound, and he slips my fingers under the material. "Go ahead," he says, releasing me, and I touch myself, feeling his chest rise and fall beneath the blades of my shoulders. "Talk to me," I whisper, and he moves my hair, placing his lips near my ear.

9:00 p.m.: "Fuck, you're so fucking sexy. I want you so badly, so fucking badly—I want to leave teeth marks on your stomach, want to lick the curves of your thighs, want to get you on your hands and knees, want to fuck you against the wall. In the shower. On the floor. Want to fuck you all over this fucking room, want to fuck you all night, fuck you again in the morning. Want you so badly, want to be the one who makes you come—"

9:15 p.m.: I come so hard I can't breathe. I feel his name on my tongue but I bite down hard. I'm not his. He's not mine. This is nothing, this doesn't mean anything, this doesn't mean anyth-

9:20 p.m.: "I don't want to share you," he says hoarsely, "I can't share you." I turn in his arms, kneeling between his legs, and I slip my bra off, letting it fall to the floor. "Touch me," I say. There's no rules against this. I'm not breaking a single rule. "I can't," he says, but he's staring. He's lying. "You can," I say. You want to, I don't say. I think he already knows. He's got his hands curled into the sheets, his knuckles white. Restraint, I realize. "I can't," he says. I straddle him, like I did with Lancelot, but it's not awkward. I fit comfortably in his lap. We're naked and I want him and I'm not breaking any rules. He turns his head away; I take his face in my hands. "You can," I say, and kiss him.

9:25 p.m.: Almost immediately the kiss turns desperate, and I know that however badly he wants this, I want it more. I grind against him, and I'm wet and he's hard and this is still a learning experience, isn't it? Academically, I want this. I want to know the science of it, the chemistry. The anatomy, the physics. It's rigorously rhythmic, almost like music. The cadence is fast, so fast. Too fast. The fingers he's had tangled in the sheets are on my waist now, digging into the skin of my ribs, coveting my breasts. They settle across my neck, and I gasp. "I fucking told you," he rasps angrily, "I'm not going to share you." "Oh come on," I say, breathless, "break a rule." He groans. Flips me onto my back. Spreads my legs. Puts his mouth on me.

9:35 p.m.: I arch my hips up, begging for him. He knew this would happen, didn't he? Divination. Apparently all it takes is wine and tapas.

9:45 p.m.: By the time he's inside me, I've already come hard and I know it's going to happen again. He yanks my hips up, holding me, and he's positioned so perfectly against my clit that the thought of using my hands now feels unspeakably ridiculous. I suppose technically this is missionary, so it's one of the three I've done countless times with Lancelot, but my legs are wrapped around Tristan's hips and I'm arching towards him and it's never felt like this before.

9:50 p.m.: I come. He comes. We pause for a moment, slick with sweat and suddenly staring at each other, and I wonder which of us will regret what we've done first. I don't want to talk about it; I want to sleep for three days. I look over at him, see the marks I left on his chest, on his neck; look down at me, at the marks on my breasts and my thighs. What if Lancelot sees them? I sit up, suddenly haunted. "This," I say, "this was—nothing's changed." Tristan says nothing; after a moment he rises to his feet and then, slowly, he starts putting his clothes on. I watch him. He's beautiful in a way I didn't understand before. I watch the motion of his hips, his abdomen, the twisting of his torso, and I see the way he touches me; see the way he feels.

10:05 p.m.: "Wait," I say, grabbing his arm as he touches the doorknob, ready to leave without a word. He doesn't move. I give him a gentle tug backwards and slip between him and the door. He swallows, and I lean onto my toes, pressing my lips against the motion of his throat, accidentally getting my Sleekeazy's Magically Long-Lasting lipstick (worth its weight in gold, I now know) on his collar. Reality almost sinks in, nearly sticks to the back of my teeth, but then he licks his lips when I lean away, staring down at me. "Shower," he says. It's not a question, so I don't argue.

10:30 p.m.: I come twice in the shower. A week ago I hated sex—thought orgasms were a myth, frankly—and tonight I can't stop reaching for him. This is what I've been missing? No wonder Lancelot wants it all the time.

11:05 p.m.: I'm drifting off, my head on Tristan's chest. "Hope you learned something," he murmurs. "You're such a child," I retort, rolling my eyes, and he strokes my hair.

11:15 p.m.: I didn't break any rules, I remind myself.

12:07 a.m.: I didn't break any rules.

2:08 a.m.: I didn't break any rules.


DAY SIX

6:15 a.m.: I bolt upright, panting. "Saturday," Tristan mumbles into the pillow, throwing an arm across my torso. I catch my breath and nod, lying back down. He pulls me into him, and before I put much thought into the intimacy of the motion, I fall back asleep.

8:20 a.m.: I stir again. This is the longest I've slept in for a long, long time, but I'm restless now. His eyes crack open, considering me, and I turn on my side, looking at him. "What are you staring at?" he mutters. I laugh; quietly, stifled. It doesn't surprise me that he's not a morning person, but it seems wrong to garner too much humor from it. I worry that if I permit myself to laugh too hard, affection might bleed into the sound. I lean over, giving his shoulder a nudge. I say his name. "What?" he demands, his eyes closed. I reach under the blankets. "One more?" I ask. Might as well get all my sins out, I think, and leave them in this room. His eyes snap open. "Get on your back," he growls.

8:45 a.m.: I don't know what to call what we're doing. Not making love; that's too intimate. We're having sex. Screwing. Fucking? It feels dirty to say, but surely this is the time to use such a phrase. Anyway, whatever we're doing, he's aggressively inside me, my back pressed against the wall with my legs tight around his hips.

9:15 a.m.: I'm on all fours on the bed as he stands at the edge of it. This is one I've done with Lancelot, and even now—even with Tristan—I'm still not sure I like it. He seems to sense that and nudges me further onto the bed, joining me on top of it, and then he pulls me up so that we're both sitting back on his haunches. He slides his hand down my torso and down to my—cunt, I remind myself, because if I can't say it while Tristan's inside me, when can I possibly say it?—and now I like it. I love it. How much sex have I been missing? There must be hundreds of ways to do this; thousands of combinations. I want to do them all.

10:00 a.m.: When we're finally pulling our clothes on, we don't speak. I'm not sure I have any words, and he doesn't look like he does either. I wonder if I'm sorry. I wonder if I've erred horribly, if nothing will ever be the same, or if this is simply my life now. I still don't know if Lancelot's been doing this; I remind myself that I didn't break any rules, and thus if he'd done any of this then he, too, would have done nothing wrong. The thought doesn't help much.

10:15 a.m.: We're almost ready to leave when Tristan gets an owl from Percival, his best friend. "It's nothing," Tristan assures me, and scribbles an answer, sending it back. I stand in the doorway, watching him. I see my lipstick on his collar but say nothing; for some reason, I can't stand the thought of it being gone.

10:30 a.m.: He touches my cheek and calls me by my last name. "Nothing's changed," I remind him, and he nods. "We're not doing this again," he warns. I find I'm selfishly disappointed, but I do have a boyfriend, and I'm sure there's other people I can have sex with if I really want to do this again. That's all it was, wasn't it? "Never again," I promise him. He nods. I leave first, heading home.

11:55 a.m.: I take a long shower and clean my apartment, busying myself with nothing, but it doesn't quite work; I'm still seeing pale blond hair in the back of my mind, still hearing his voice. I need to talk to someone, I think, and pull my phone out. 'Busy?' I ask Arthur. 'Nope,' he says. He tells me he'll get lunch from the Leaky, and says to come over. I ask if Lancelot is home, and he says no. I try not to think about that.

12:30 p.m.: Arthur seems a little distracted, but all in all, he's better than he has been. We chat over sandwiches, and eventually I tell him the truth about me and Lancelot. I tell him I slept with someone else, but I don't say who. "I feel guilty," I confess. "Should I feel guilty?" I ask, hopeful that he'll be honest with me. Arthur stops chewing. I frown, and then he puts his sandwich down, swallowing heavily. "I have to tell you something," he says. I set my food down too.

12:45 p.m.: "I was dating someone," Arthur begins, "for about six months." That's longer than I thought, but I admit I suspected as much, and he grimaces, shrugging. "It's over now," he says, and I ask why. "Because she slept with someone else," he tells me, his voice unsteady. My stomach lurches. I wait for the impact. I know it's coming.

12:47 p.m.: "She said she didn't want something serious," Arthur says, but he explains that he doesn't think that was it; he thinks she was scared. He's a hero; he doesn't know what that's like. "I think she panicked and she needed a way out, and so she did something she knew would hurt me. She slept with someone," he clarifies, clearing his throat, "that she knew would hurt me." I say nothing. My stomach hurts. I want to vomit. Arthur looks at me. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" he asks. I do. I wish I didn't.

1:15 p.m.: We're still talking about it, but I can't seem to process the reality that Lancelot slept with Arthur's girlfriend. No, not slept with, I tell myself firmly; fucked. Even with what I've done in the past twenty-four hours, it still doesn't compute. "She said it was just the one time, and I didn't tell you because it wasn't my information to tell," Arthur explains, and then, quietly, he adds, "and he hasn't told me the truth, either." I'm stunned. I'm speechless. Arthur reaches out, gently closing his hand around my shoulder, and for a moment I can't believe he's comforting me when he's the one who's been hurt—and then, with a dull clang, I realize why I'm the one he feels sorry for. "When was this?" I ask, and he can't look me in the eye. "Two weeks ago," he says. Disappointment weighs on my shoulders. My relationship with Lancelot might be open now, but it was closed back then; it was ours. At least, I thought it was ours. Now I'm not sure.

1:30 p.m.: "He said no mutual friends," I say slowly, explaining the rules of our arrangement. Arthur looks miserable. "She isn't a friend," he admits, and though I have guesses now about who she is, I don't want to know. "I have to go," I whisper, and he nods.

1:32 p.m.: Arthur pulls me into a hug. "I'm so sorry," he says, "I'm so, so sorry." "I'm sorry too," I say, because the pain he suffered is not lost on me, and without warning, I realize something terrible. Maybe I was right; maybe they are Arthur and Lancelot. But maybe I was never Guinevere at all. Maybe I've been in the wrong story all this time.

3:07 p.m.: I go home and I sit on my couch, staring into space. I wonder who Guinevere really is; I wonder if she's with my boyfriend right now. I wonder if Lancelot loves her. He said he loves me; was it just about sex? I of all people should know that love and sex are not the same.

5:15 p.m.: I wonder if Lancelot and Arthur will be okay. I wonder if Lancelot and I will be okay. I wonder what Tristan is doing. I wonder what will happen to me. I wonder what will happen next.

8:07 p.m.: Lancelot sends me an owl but I don't read it, and I don't answer. I watch an old muggle film I love instead: Breakfast at Tiffany's. "I don't want to put you in a cage, I want to love you!" Paul Varjak says desperately to Holly Golightly, and I sigh. It's amazing what a contortion the film is of the original story. In the film, Holly's fleeing the country to freedom, but in the end she goes back for her nameless cat; for her foolish love affair. She finds the cat, kisses the handsome man, reveals herself to have wanted love all along, and I always thought I loved that ending. Nightmarishly, in the book, the cat is long gone; the handsome man lets her go, and Holly leaves. She wanders into the unknown, alone.

9:45 p.m.: It's not a happy ending—but it's real, isn't it? It's real. The film is a pretty story about the strangeness of romantic love, but the book, I realize, is about Holly. I wonder if this changes everything. Then again, I wonder if this changes nothing.

10:05 p.m.: I wonder a great many things.

10:25 p.m.: I lie in bed thinking about where I woke up this morning. I have to do something about all of this tomorrow.

11:18 p.m.: I have to do something about all of this tomorrow. I just don't know what.


DAY SEVEN

8:30 a.m.: I lie in bed a long time before I finally reach over, picking up the owl from Lancelot. It contains two lines. 'We should talk,' he says in line one. 'It's not what you think,' he says in line two, along with 'I love you.' I assume Arthur has told Lancelot about the conversation we had. To be honest, whether it is or isn't what I think it is, I'm not sure if I'm ready to talk.

10:05 a.m.: The problem is that I can't decide if I'm angry, or if I'm sad, or if I'm just totally numb about the whole thing. I'm not sure I want to know the truth; not sure if it'll be better or worse than I'm imagining. I definitely don't want to tell Lancelot about Tristan. I just want to talk to someone, I think. I want to talk to someone about my feelings—which is difficult for me, a deeply logical person, to admit. I sigh out loud, and then I pick up a quill.

10:25 a.m.: 'Can you come over?' I write to Tristan. It's an unfair request, and I assume he'll tell me so, but I ask him anyway.

10:45 a.m.: 'Is everything okay?' he writes back. 'Yes and no,' I say.

11:00 a.m.: 'I'll be there in twenty minutes,' he says.

11:20 a.m.: I open the door and Tristan stands there, staring at me. "Well," he remarks, "I see you're not dying." "No," I agree, "I'm not." He sighs, raking a hand through his hair. "Well, are you going to invite me in?" he demands. I step aside, wordlessly gesturing for him to proceed. "Finally," he mutters, striding in.

11:30 a.m.: "Tea?" I ask. He shakes his head. "Coffee?" I attempt, and he glares at me. "Why did you ask me to come here?" he asks gruffly. He looks irritated with me, and I don't blame him. "I'm trying to figure out how to say it out loud," I tell him honestly, and he sighs. "Coffee," he finally says, and I nod, turning into the kitchen to make some.

11:45 a.m.: He's drumming his fingers against the table as we sit there, absurdly sipping coffee together. "I want you for myself," he blurts without warning. I force myself not to react; I'm not sure I can handle this. Not with everything else that's happening. I don't know what to say, so I say nothing. "I want you for myself," he begins to say again, and adds, so quietly I almost miss it, "but if I have to share you—" He trails off. I look up at him, startled. "I will," he confesses, and I can feel myself gaping at him, at the most stubborn and arrogant man I've ever known, as he bends to my demands. "You will?" I ask, disbelieving. He nods, miserably, and before I know what I'm doing, I'm on my feet.

11:48 a.m.: He takes me in his arms, and I know instantly he's going to kiss me. He's going to take my clothes off, he's going to put his hands on me; his lips, his tongue, his teeth. He's going to screw me. He's going to fuck me. He's going to make love to me. "Rules," I barely manage to remind him, because according to the laws of my open relationship, I can't have sex like this. Not here. He shakes his head. "I broke a rule for you," he says, "so break one for me." I can't help it. I relent.

12:06 p.m.: The sex this time is brutally intimate. He kisses my neck, locks eyes with me when we both come. There are no rules about this, but suddenly, I realize that there should be. Tristan should not be allowed to look at me like this; shouldn't be permitted to tuck my hair behind my ear, to slide his thumb across my lip. I shouldn't be allowed to curl my hand around the back of his neck, pressing his forehead to mine. I shouldn't be allowed to let him thread his fingers through mine like this; he shouldn't be allowed to let me whisper his name like that. I never agreed to a rule specifying that when presented with a choice between Lancelot's owl and Tristan's lips I'd choose the former, but now I realize that was a terrible oversight—because if I'd written the rules as thoroughly as I should have, I'd be breaking every single one.

5:14 p.m.: I know I've gone too far when I tell Tristan what I should have told Lancelot: that after everything, I feel betrayed. That maybe sex and love are different, yes, and maybe it's irrational for me to feel one way and yet demand another set of behaviors altogether, but I didn't want to hear that I wasn't enough. That despite my skill at compartmentalization, I didn't want to be placed in a compartment of his life. And when I'm crying into Tristan's chest—when he's holding me, and I realize I don't want him to leave—that's when I finally, finally tell myself the truth.

5:15 p.m.: I'm cheating on my boyfriend.

Chapter Text

Episode III: The Heiress Who Didn't Sign Up For This Threesome

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a self-destructive former Prefect makes an abundance of terrible choices: 22, female, straight, ambiguously attached.


DAY ONE

8:45 a.m.: I wake up to the man I'm currently sleeping with (or not sleeping with, as the case may be) as he starts running his hands over my bare hip. We're both still naked from last night and once again, he's making my bed his domain. I mutter something in opposition; it's early, and I don't like to be disturbed. He tuts disapprovingly, calls me some juvenile pet name like 'princess' or 'sweetheart' or 'love' and rolls me onto my stomach, pulling my hips up and putting his mouth on me from behind. "Well then," I remark at a murmur, not entirely opposed to the greeting. He laughs into my pussy, slips his tongue inside it. "Good morning," he returns.

9:15 a.m.: Let's call him the King. My father used to tell me fairy tales by my bedside, and I'm fairly certain that every single one of them had a King. My King has an appetite that seemingly cannot be satiated. Not by me. Certainly not by his wife. We'll call her the Snow Queen; heart like ice, as far as I can tell. Sort of a pale, wintry beauty, too, so it seems more than appropriate. I have a certain insatiability for the King myself, however questionably that reflects on my morality. To my understanding, though, both King and Queen have strayed. And anyway, it's not my job to keep him to his marriage vows for him, is it? He presses his fingers into my waist as he fucks me and I come for him, loudly, as I always do. He smiles. "I've missed you," he says, and it hits me harder than it should.

9:27 a.m.: Do you ever have someone you can't stay away from? He's mine. He's a curse, and a blessed one. I cling to him when he lets me.

9:35 a.m.: I let him come over last night after several months away. Five, in fact. He reminded me of that the moment he walked through the Floo; tried to impress me, I think, with pretty lies about how he's missed me. Oh, I believe he missed me, but I don't believe he waited long. Why would he? He's an attractive man still, and the best fuck of my life, so I'm sure he's been with other women while I've been away. I don't mind, anyway. I'm happy he's here. I need to forget. I need to drown myself in him, and watch him absolve himself in me. He obliges my self-destruction, all morning long.

10:45 a.m.: "I hate that you have no elves," he comments, pursing his lips in disapproval as the sheets are tangled messily around his waist and he, King that he is, requires service. "Elves are out of fashion now, old man," I remind him, and he smirks at me. It pains me to watch him do that. It's an expression far too familiar, and I start to wonder if I'm carrying around more ghosts than I know what to do with. The King yanks my head back, revealing my throat. "Old man?" he echoes, feigning anger. I smile sweetly. "Teach me a lesson, your majesty," I whisper.

11:05 a.m.: He sits upright and fucks me while I place myself on his lap, and in the reflection from my vanity I see that he is kingly as ever and that I am a wreck, my makeup smeared and my hair cast wildly over my shoulders. I see myself in the mirror and remember a different moment like this one, only a couple of weeks ago. "I love you," he'd whispered in my ear, the stupid boy who hadn't known those words would make me run.

11:10 a.m.: "You look distracted," the King tells me, gruffly taking my chin in his hand. I look away. "Is this about that boyfriend of yours?" he asks slyly, and I think he's doing it to be cruel, or to remind me that he owns me. "No," I say honestly, "that's over." He smiles beatifically. "Good," he says, and flips me onto my back.

12:07 p.m.: After the King leaves I wander around my bedroom, doing something akin to cleaning. I try not to think about my ex and fail spectacularly. Let's call him Petr, from my favorite tale my father used to tell me: the prince, the Tsarevitch, who destroys Koschei the Deathless. A hero—though I'd always thought my Petr mostly lucky, and I'd told him so numerous times, in rather unflattering terms. He'd only ever smiled at me. He was impossible to shake. Nearly impossible, of course, until I managed it.

5:30 p.m.: I don't do much of anything. Balance my father's accounts, manage his affairs, etc., because that's about all I'm good for lately. 'Can I come over?' I receive in an owl, as I'm staring blankly into space. I think about it. It's a terrible idea. 'Fine,' I eventually reply.

5:52 p.m.: Coming through the Floo is a man I'll call Jack, as that's another thing my father's tales always seem to have: a relentless knave who ruins everything. "Hey," Jack says, grinning when he sees me. I can't imagine why I've let this happen again. "Hi," I reply. "What are you doing?" he asks me. "Nothing," I say. He nods. "Cool," he tells me, and smiles.

6:30 p.m.: Jack's been doing this lately, ever since something happened between us last week. He's Petr's best friend. His roommate, too, and though Petr didn't tell Jack about me, I'd run into him early on in that stupid house they shared, and the truth had come out. As far as I know, Jack's the only one Petr ever told about me. "Doing okay?" Jack asks me, watching me play idly with the handle of my cup of tea. "Not really," I confess, and sigh. "I'm fucking the King again," I tell him, and Jack shakes his head wearily. "We talked about this," he says, arching a brow. Is he parenting me now? Fuck him. "How's your girlfriend?" I say impatiently, reminding him he has one. Again, though, it's not about my morality. It's about retribution. "I took your advice," he says with a shrug, "and we're giving the open relationship a try." He's not looking me in the eye. "Well, I'm not interested," I tell him, as flatly as I can, though I think he saw me force moisture to my throat. "I didn't ask," he reminds me.

7:45 p.m.: I'm not lying when I say I have no intention of fucking Jack. He's used up his usefulness to me, and I tell him so, all the time. I tell him he was just a shoulder to cry on, even though I didn't—would never—actually cry. I do my best to hurt his feelings, to break his heart, to make him feel small. "You don't have to be like this," he usually tells me. "Stop trying to save me," I typically snarl, but I rarely push him away.

8:30 p.m.: After Petr told me he loved me, and after I slept with him for what I knew was the last time, I ran into Jack in the corridor of their house. He was a little tipsy from a night out, I think, or possibly drunker than that, and I pulled him into his bedroom. "I want you to fuck me," I whispered, and Jack frowned. "I have a girlfriend," he said, and I rolled my eyes. "You think I don't hear you fighting?" I whispered, taunting him. He looked away. "Does she even want you?" I pressed ruthlessly, as cruelly as I knew how. He blinked, stunned. "No," he confessed, forcing a swallow, and I took advantage of his weakness. I kissed him. He kissed me back, agonizingly well, and for a moment I think he wanted it. I think he wanted me. We broke apart and stared at each other. "I can't do this," he said hoarsely. I left. The next day I told Petr I'd slept with Jack; I knew it was the one thing he wouldn't forgive.

9:15 p.m.: As Jack chatters on about his day, trying to keep me company, I think of Petr. I miss him, miss the way he laughs, miss the way he rarely thinks before he speaks, miss the way he's cleverer than I ever predicted, and quicker, and funnier, and sharper. I pegged him for a good guy when I was at school, hated him for his unrelenting virtue—his undeniable hero complex—but he wasn't nearly as one-dimensional as I'd thought; he had an edge. A bite. (For the record, he hated me because I was, without question, a total bitch. Why he thought it safe to love me I'll never understand.) Jack, on the other hand, is something different. When I used to lash out at Petr, Petr snapped back. We fought, and often. When I lash out at Jack, though, he stares at me for a minute, reads me, and shakes his head. "You're lying," he always says, and it frustrates me.

9:20 p.m.: "By the way," Jack says, just before he leaves to go out for the evening, "I don't know how to do this open relationship thing. Am I just supposed to have sex with someone I meet?" "Yes," I tell him, pursing my lips, "obviously." He winces. "Damn," he says. I roll my eyes. "It's easy," I tell him, "you just take your pants off and let your dick do its thing." He chuckles. "Bye," he says, and gives me a hug. I don't push him away. "Stay away from that guy," he warns. He means the King. "Whatever," I mutter into his shoulder.

10:45 p.m.: I miss Petr, but I'm confident I did the right thing. It would only have been worse if I let it go on longer. When I ran into him again after Hogwarts, I'd already been with the King for months, addictively. Compulsively. I kept coming back, and I told Petr that, even after we first slept together. "If he wants me tomorrow," I said, "I'll go to him. I can't help it." "What if I want you tomorrow?" he asked, surprising me. I thought when we'd run into each other at a pub and stumbled back to his place it would be a one night event, even after the third night in a row. "I don't care," I said, but eventually, I did. It's a damn shame, caring. Pointless. Hopefully he learned something from the mistake he made with me.

11:15 p.m.: The King walks through my Floo. I look up from where I'm lying on the couch, naked. I knew he'd be back. He knew I'd be waiting. He smiles. "Hello, princess," he says. He can't get enough. I can't get enough. I, in particular, am royally fucked.

12:45 a.m.: He doesn't stay the night. "Have to get back," he says, stroking my cheek, and then kisses me gruffly, his fingers around my throat. "I'll see you tomorrow," he promises. I shrug. He smirks that awful, horrible smirk, the expression of smugness that has owned me in so many different iterations. "Do you love me?" he whispers in my ear. "I do," I tell him. I do, however wrong it is, however much I felt for Petr. This is love of the worst variety, but it's love nonetheless. Or a sickness. A fever that won't break. "I love you," he lies to me, and I shiver.

1:01 a.m.: I take a shower. I don't bother with clothes.

1:30 a.m.: 'No luck,' says an owl from Jack. 'Why is sex so hard?' he complains. 'For fuck's sake, there's nothing easier,' I write back, and there isn't. I know. I do it all the time. It's easier than feeling. Easier than telling the truth. 'Sleep well,' he says.

1:45 a.m.: 'You too,' I write back.


DAY TWO

7:30 a.m.: I wake up thinking about Jack's girlfriend. Let's call her Cinderella, because that story seems to fit. She didn't belong in my world; not in Jack's world, or even Petr's world, but by some stroke of fate or fairy godmother, she came to rule it. She's a war hero, and I'm nothing—though, if I hate her for anything, it's not for that. Abruptly, I wonder why on earth she would agree to an open relationship. She's not like me. What I have with the King is essentially an open relationship, and it's terrible, and she should be smart enough to know that. Fuck, shouldn't she be smarter than that? Isn't that her whole thing, being smart? Suddenly, I want to find her and slap her. I want to make her demand more. Doesn't she know anything?

8:15 a.m.: I'm finally dragging myself out of bed and getting dressed when the King steps through the Floo. "I don't have time," I tell him, but he backs me against the wall and hikes my skirt up, tearing my underwear aside. "Won't take long," he assures me, sinking his teeth into my neck. I sigh, relenting, and then I moan. I can never say no. I can never, ever say no, and I never want to. "Make me forget," I whisper. He obliges.

8:45 a.m.: "I'm going to see my father," I tell the King as he's re-fastening his trousers, and he looks up, concerned. "Alone?" he asks. "Yes," I say. He strokes my cheek, slowly. "Poor thing," he murmurs, and I close my eyes.

8:47 a.m.: He kisses me slowly. With my eyes closed, he almost reminds me of my first love. We'll call him Prince Charming, because if ever there is a King, there is always a charming Prince—but my Prince was never this tender. Never softened his voice like this with me. Never cared enough to lie. He's the son of a King and a Snow Queen, and he never had it in him to be gentle. Sometimes I think he's the one who taught me to go cold. Funny that it would later push me towards his father.

8:49 a.m.: The King promises he'll come to me soon and then he leaves, and so do I. I step through the Floo to St Mungo's, arriving in the foyer. The healers and medi-witches know me by name now, but I don't engage them.

9:30 a.m.: I bring fresh flowers to my father's room, even though I know they'll die. I hate it here. There's a dementor in the room, hovering, and I try my best not to acknowledge it. "How are you feeling?" I ask my father. He looks at me blankly.

10:01 a.m.: Most of the Dark Lord's followers went to Azkaban, or, like the King, they bought their way out of it. My father, however, fell ill. In lieu of Azkaban, his crimes are paid here, in a cramped infirmary room with a dementor sitting in the corner. The dementor seems happy, in my opinion, and why shouldn't it? This is St Mungo's. Death and devastation is everywhere, and I think it has no need for my father's soul. I imagine this is like a party, like a feast. My father doesn't say much. "Are the accounts in order?" he asks vacantly, and I nod. His one question. "Good," he says, and turns his head away.

10:30 a.m.: I shudder as I leave, and I ask the nurse to borrow a quill. 'Can you come over?' I write to Jack.

10:55 a.m.: The owl finds me when I'm back at home. 'Tonight,' he promises, but it's early still, and I think I'll drive myself insane if I stay here. 'Busy?' I write to my best friend, whom we'll call Briar Rose, because she's a beautiful woman living a coma of a life.

11:15 a.m.: 'Shopping?' she writes back. 'Yeeeeeeeeees,' I say, because why run the accounts if I can't use them, right?

12:34 p.m.: I meet Briar Rose in Diagon Alley outside of Twilfitt and Tattings. She looks perfect, and perfectly melancholy, dreamily staring into space. "Hey," I say, snapping my fingers, and she wakes. "Come on," she says, grabbing my arm, and we go inside to look at pretty things to adorn ourselves with.

12:50 p.m.: "How's your father?" she asks me, and I shrug. "How's your husband?" I ask her, and she shrugs. Perfunctory questions. "How's this?" she asks, picking up some expensive lingerie. I arch a brow. "Think it'll work?" I ask, unconvinced, and she grimaces. "No," she admits. Her marriage is one of convenience. "Maybe you should make him try something new," I suggest, because I'm the deviant one. "Don't they have those swingers' parties, or sex clubs, or—" "Keep your voice down!" she hisses, and then giggles, because she only pretends at primness. "I can't see myself doing that," she admits. I shrug. "Stretch your imagination, then," I say, not unkindly.

4:30 p.m.: I get home and eat a couple of the pistachio macarons I bought with Briar Rose, falling asleep on the sofa.

6:47 p.m.: I wake up to the Floo, and Jack emerges. "Ooh," he says, emptying his pockets—an annoying habit of his, making himself at home in my space—and reaching for the open box of macarons. "Hey," I snap, "savor those. Don't scarf them down like an animal." "Shush," he tells me, and while he reaches for one, I look over at the thing from his pocket. "What's that?" I ask, pointing to it. It's a thin, rectangular box that has the letters WANDR across the top. "Thing my brother invented," Jack explains, swallowing. "It's enchanted to tell you other witches and wizards who want to—" "Fuck?" I guess, and he laughs. "Date," he corrects me. "The charm takes into account the user's proximity, interests, personality—" "Pathetic," I interrupt, making a face. He shrugs. "Some people," he muses, "are not at an old man's beck and call." "He's not old," I retort, and Jack shrugs again. "He's not great," he delivers flatly, and I smack his shoulder.

7:15 p.m.: We make dinner and then sit on the couch, legs curled under us like children. "So are you using it?" I ask, pointing to Wandr. He shakes his head. "Still trying my hand at the old-fashioned thing," he says, "but I don't know. My heart's not in it." What a ridiculous thing to say, I think. "This isn't about your heart," I remind him, "it's about your dick." He laughs, then sobers. "She seems fine," he comments sadly, referring to Cinderella. "She seems good, even." Huh. Not what I expected. "Think she's having sex with someone?" I ask, taking a bite of his pasta, because I grabbed too little and I'm still hungry. "No way," he says, letting me eat his food, "she hates sex." "Maybe she just hates it with you," I taunt him, and he looks incomprehensibly hurt. I sigh.

7:25 p.m.: "Maybe we should just sleep together," I joke, and he looks surprised, but also conflicted. "I don't think I should," he tells me uneasily, and I glance up. He wanted to before, I think. I wonder what's changed. "Why not?" I ask, and he swallows. "Because I want to do it with you," he says, "and the whole thing is supposed to just be about sex."

7:30 p.m.: I change the subject. We don't discuss it any further.

8:30 p.m.: If you're wondering how Jack and I got to be friends, I don't know. I really don't. I guess we just existed in each other's space for so long that eventually boundaries broke down, and now that we're squeezed together on my couch, it just feels natural. Comfortable. Sort of like it was with Petr, but also not, because there was pressure there. Petr demanded things; feelings. He demanded loyalty, even if he didn't say so out loud. He wanted all of me and I could never give it to him. The King wants sex. Jack wants—I don't know. The worst parts of me. The boring parts. I never really knew what Petr wanted, except everything. And that was always too much.

9:15 p.m.: We're drifting off, Jack's arm slid across my waist, when he asks me if I told Petr about our kiss. "He's avoiding me," he explains. I force a shrug. What's another lie? "Probably just finally realized he hates you," I tell him. He laughs quietly, pulling me closer. "Shut up," he murmurs.

9:30 p.m.: He asks me, not for the first time, why Petr and I broke up. I turn to face him. "Because we're not right for each other," I say. "Isn't that why everyone breaks up?"

9:35 p.m.: "What if we're not right for each other?" Jack asks, and he's talking about Cinderella again. Fuck her, I think, but don't say so. She got everything I want—the happy ending. Or, at least, she's got a life so perfect she doesn't notice that her boyfriend is in my arms tonight, or doesn't care. What a gift that would be, I think, not to care. I always care. I only care, and when it comes to her, I doubt she has any idea how much I blame her for. She and Petr were always so close; platonic or not, she already owned pieces of his heart that I would never get to have. Even Prince Charming used to stare at her while he was with me, used to want her, however much he denied it. And now Jack? I'm tired of men who belong, in some way or another, to her. I push Jack away. "Go home to your girlfriend," I tell him, as harshly as I can.

9:40 p.m.: He doesn't leave. He holds me tighter.

10:30 p.m.: I tell Jack I fucked the King this morning. He shrugs. "You're only hurting yourself," he warns. I don't tell him I think I deserve it.

11:15 p.m.: "Do you love him?" Jack asks, and I scoff, even though I do. "Love and sex aren't the same thing," I say. He looks like he's heard that before.

1:25 a.m.: We fell asleep on the couch but after a couple of hours he carries me to my bed. He doesn't kiss me. Doesn't do anything, really, but he pulls the blanket over me, his hand resting for a moment on my shoulder. He takes care of me, and I want to say thank you. I want to say something. I want to beg him to stay.

1:27 a.m.: Instead, I say nothing. He leaves. Eventually, I fall back asleep.


DAY THREE

8:15 a.m.: I have a meeting at Gringotts today, so I rise relatively early, though I'd much rather stay in bed. It's important, I remind myself. There's a reason my father didn't have me buy his way out of St Mungo's. There's a reason my mother fled. It's because only I can do this. I'm the only one who can lie without betraying myself.

9:00 a.m.: I arrive in the Gringotts foyer in modest robes, having left my heirlooms—my father's signet ring, which I wear around my neck—at home. A goblin sees me into a small office that feels more like an interrogation room and I sit, pretending this is normal. I keep my chin high. I'm an heiress in my own right, and beloved by a King. When political tides change, someone has to lose. My father made certain it wouldn't be us, and I carry on his lies.

9:35 a.m.: "Where's the rest of your family's fortune?" the goblin asks, frowning as he gestures to the parchment listing the contents of our vaults. "You have it in front of you," I say, and I say nothing else. "You realize you may be audited," the goblin tuts, disapprovingly. I'm prepared for this. My father prepared me for this; don't let the Ministry take what's ours, he said in our last real conversation. "So be it, then—I have nothing to hide," I reply melodically.

11:15 a.m.: When I arrive back home, the King is waiting for me. He greets me hungrily, both hands on my face, and backs me against the wall, lifting me up. I wrap my legs around his hips, grinding against him. "How was it?" he asks, and I don't ask how he knows. I suppose it's not out of the question that he's checked on my father, since my father is the reason that I even spent time with the King in the first place. "Successful," I say, and then, coyly, I add, "Reward me?" He smiles.

11:35 a.m.: The King flicks his tongue possessively over my cunt and looks up, locking his grey eyes on mine. He looks so like his son that it takes my breath away for a second, but I don't look away. "I want you tonight," he says, "in my bed." I frown. "Why?" I ask, because surely the Snow Queen won't allow it, or it's at some impossible cost. He positions my legs wider, shoving my knees apart, and speaks directly to my pussy, admiring it. "I want what I want," he says simply.

11:43 a.m.: I come quickly; he's absurdly gifted at cunnilingus. After I come, I reach for him, but he dances out of reach, toying with me. "Tonight," he says, brushing his lips against my knuckles. Then he takes my hand, dragging it against my still-sensitive clit, and I gasp. He smirks again. "I don't want to go if your son's going to be there," I tell him sulkily, and the smug expression promptly fades. I wonder if it bothers him that his son took my virginity; taught me how to please a man, in fact. Taught me how to do the things he likes.

11:45 a.m.: The King tells me the Snow Queen has demanded a family dinner that evening, and that he's certain Prince Charming will have left the moment it's over. I comment, coquettishly, that it's all very mysterious. He shrugs. "Tonight," he says, and leaves, saying he'll tell me when to come over.

12:30 p.m.: He'll tell me when to come over? I can't decide if I like the mystery or I dislike the flex of authority. I shiver, though, at the possibilities. He is so very enticing, much as I find his methods distressing.

3:30 p.m.: I spend most of the afternoon with my father's books, because I think the goblin's right; I'm sure an audit is coming. Doesn't matter. I've got it taken care of.

7:45 p.m.: I'm eating a light dinner when I get an owl from the King. '9:00,' it says, and 'wear the black lace.'

9:02 p.m.: I arrive through the Floo in nothing but the lingerie beneath my robes, and stumble over my own feet as I realize the Snow Queen is waiting for me. She's sitting on the chaise, fully dressed, and she purses her lips when I step through the fireplace. "I'd hoped it wasn't you," she comments dully, and I lift my chin. "Where is he?" I ask. She rises to her feet, handing me a glass of champagne. "Do not mistake this for a victory," she warns, and then she turns, gesturing for me to follow. For some idiotic reason, I do.

9:15 p.m.: "We're trying to make our marriage work," the King tells me, raising the Snow Queen's fingers to his lips. He holds my gaze as he does this, and I realize now why he made the motion earlier. "I think you're precisely what we need," he adds. Oh. Oh.

9:17 p.m.: Oh, fuck.

9:20 p.m.: "Get more champagne, darling," the Snow Queen suggests to the King, and he does her bidding, looking ecstatic. The moment she's alone with me, however, I realize she's baring her teeth, in a sense; showing me her authority. I will have to break her, I think, swallowing hard, or she will devour me. I've broken people before, I remind myself, thinking of Petr. I can do it again. For the King's favor, I can. I've done it for less.

9:22 p.m.: The Snow Queen leans forward, slipping my robes from my shoulders and leaving me in my lingerie. I'm so much younger, my body is taut and lean and full of promise, and I should be proud of my desirability, but I'm shaking. "We don't play for love," the Snow Queen whispers to me, her lips near my ear. "We play to win—and sweetheart," she says with a dark, breathy laugh, "you are not a winning hand."

9:23 p.m.: I open my mouth to answer but the King returns, holding a bottle aloft. "Starting without me?" he asks, mockingly reproachful. The Snow Queen takes my face in her hands and leans forward, kissing me slowly. She tastes like the champagne and her mouth is supple, sweet, soft. She licks my bottom lip, tasting me, and I shudder. Poor choice to show weakness, I know. She bites down.

9:25 p.m.: I undress the Snow Queen slowly. I still want to win, somehow. She thinks I'm a child, but I'm not. I'm a little bit rough, my movements a little unpolished; I've never undressed a woman before. I've certainly never entertained the thought of undressing this woman before. The King is entranced, and the Snow Queen herself is icily indifferent. The moment her gown falls to the floor, she steps out of it, settling herself on the bed and beckoning. "Darling," she says to the King, her gaze locked on mine, "I hope you've taught her a few things about how to put her pretty mouth to use, hm?"

9:30 p.m.: As I kneel on the bed and crawl towards her, I can't tell if I'm terrified or aroused. Part of me wants to turn and run. Part of me wants her to come so hard she chokes. Either way, I slip her lace underwear over her legs as the King approaches me from behind, kissing down my spine. I arch my back as appealingly as possible and bend to the Snow Queen's royal cunt, sparing it a moment of worship. She betrays herself with the tightening of her fingers in the duvet. I almost feel sorry for her.

10:00 p.m.: The King fucks me as I inexpertly lick his wife's cunt, and when she stares at her husband I feel a sickening, twisting horror in my stomach. I don't think I'll be able to come; the King's cock feels as good as it always does, but I fake it instead.

10:10 p.m.: He pulls out of me and turns to the Snow Queen. I don't know what to do, as the math doesn't really make sense to me right now, but I catch a look in his eye; a hunger as he looks at his wife that he doesn't possess when he looks at me. I rise to my feet, stepping off the bed. "Go," the Snow Queen instructs coldly, not looking at me, and reaches out, taking the King's chin in her hand. She leans forward, her lips by his jaw, and then her blue eyes meet mine as she whispers in his ear. "I hate you," she says to him; says it so quietly that I wouldn't hear the words if not for having read them from her lips. He lays her back, his fingers tight against her thighs.

10:15 p.m.: I watch the tension in the King's spine and know that he doesn't hate the Snow Queen at all; he loves her. He wants her. He's forgotten about me, in fact, and I pick up my clothes. I hate this house.

10:30 p.m.: The King was wrong. His son, the Prince, is most definitely here, and I am most definitely tousled. "What are you doing here?" Prince Charming asks me. He looks anxious about something. He looks so like his father. Their faces look the same when I make them come. "Leaving," I say, and shove past him towards the Floo.

11:00 p.m.: I shower vigorously, scrubbing at every bare inch of my skin.

11:30 p.m.: 'Do you hate me?' I write to Petr, like the selfish idiot I am.

12:45 a.m.: 'No,' he writes back.

2:57 a.m.: 'You should,' I say.


DAY FOUR

10:15 a.m.: I waste the entire morning. I don't want to get out of bed.

10:30 a.m.: I hear the King's footfall coming towards my bedroom from the Floo and I turn, my back to the door. He opens it slowly. "Princess," he says, which is becoming more and more ironic, "did I upset you?"

10:35 a.m.: This all began a year ago, when my father's illness was getting steadily worse and the King showed up in my house. "What are you willing to do to preserve your father's legacy?" he asked me, very seriously. I wondered then if he still saw me as I was when I was a girl; the girl, in fact, that we both had thought his son would eventually marry. "Anything," I said, and that's when I watched his face change. "There will be secrets," he warned, stepping closer, "and lies, and you'll have to follow my instructions very carefully." I watched his gaze flick over me. "Anything you ask, your majesty," I told him, with my wry humor, my dry wit, my biting sarcasm. I think, even then, I made it a game for him to play; a game he could win, and he had lost so many that he couldn't say no. He held a finger to my lips and dropped slowly to his knees, slipping my knickers out from under my skirt. I let him do it. I was entranced. "Tell me when to stop," he said, but I didn't. Not then.

10:37 a.m.: "Stop," I say now, as he climbs into bed with me. I want to shut him out entirely, but my mouth (and my temper) get the better of me. "What do you think you are, some kind of lord for me to serve?" I demand, and yes, I know how ridiculous it is that I would say that, since it's quite obviously what I believe. "Let me serve you," he offers.

10:45 a.m.: Why have I let him kiss his way down my torso? Why haven't I stopped him while he's stroking my clit? I must be Imperiused. I must be faulty. I must be broken.

11:30 a.m.: We fall back against the pillows, panting. "Don't ever," I say, my voice breaking, "do that to me again." He turns his head to look at me, and I see his son again in his grey eyes. I see, once again, a set of grey eyes that belong to someone who doesn't love me. "I won't," the King promises, and he kisses me slowly, fully, and I hate that even a thousand lies can't turn the taste of his tongue bitter; can't turn me away.

12:15 p.m.: After he leaves, I can't do anything. I take a shower, try to do something productive, try to eat—but it seems that everywhere my thoughts go, I'm met with misery.

3:30 p.m.: I get an owl from Jack after I get up long enough to have some coffee. 'I haven't heard from you in a while,' he says. I don't answer.

5:45 p.m.: I'm lying on the couch with a cold cup of coffee and wearing nothing but a blanket when Jack arrives through the Floo. "I was afraid of this," he says when he sees me. I look up, and I can't tell if I'm relieved he's here or if I want to kick him out. I think about it. Then I think about myself, how I must look, what he must think of me. I'm ashamed and horrified and embarrassed. I'm humiliated and painfully sad. "Have you fucked someone yet?" I ask brusquely. He shakes his head. "No," he says, and then, with a gentleness that makes me want to strangle him, he kneels on the floor beside me, taking my face in his hands.

5:50 p.m.: "I'm so sorry," he says, "about everything. I'm so sorry you're sad." "I'm not sad," I say furiously, shoving him away. He sways backwards but returns—like he's floating on a current, brought in with the tide. "I'm sorry you don't believe me when I say you deserve better," he says. I decide I want to make him suffer. I don't want to suffer alone.

5:52 p.m.: I kiss him, letting the blanket fall from my shoulders. It's needier than the first kiss, and my hands are holding his face and his fingers are tangled in my hair, and the gasp that escapes us as we pull apart feels like we've surfaced from something, from drowning. I stare at him, watching the light from the fireplace lick the edges of his face, and then I stand up, letting the blanket fall.

5:53 p.m.: "How do you want me?" I ask him. For the King I am a princess, I am an ingenue, a plaything. For Prince Charming I was a stepping stone, a toy. For Petr I was the bad girl, the rebellion he took home, the escape from a life of prescribed loves and healthy choices. I know Jack will have a new role for me. Something. Whatever it is, I wait for him to fail, to ask me to be some fantasy he's had that his perfect girlfriend is too fucking proper to give him, to be his filthy, wild escape. Sex is easy. Sex is easy and I'm so good at it—so very good at it—and I wait for him to decide. I dare him to disappoint me.

5:55 p.m.: He rises to his feet, picking up the blanket, and he wraps it around my shoulders. "I'm not a game," he says, and kisses my cheek, holding me. I beat my fists against his chest, furious, and he shakes his head. "I'm not a game," he says again, and buries his lips in my hair. "Get dressed," he says, "and I'll make us dinner." I swallow, fighting tears. "Okay," I say eventually, and I go to my bedroom as he goes to the kitchen.

6:30 p.m.: He's not the greatest cook ever, but the risotto isn't bad. I reach over, taking a spoonful from his bowl, and he shakes his head, smacking my wrist. "Ouch," I say, scowling at him. "Why do you always eat mine?" he demands, his hair falling into his eyes. He's wearing a soft grey t-shirt and I find myself thinking about his lips. "Yours tastes better," I say, shrugging, but I think he saw where my mind went.

7:45 p.m.: I tell him about my horrible night with the ice monarchs last night, and his blue eyes widen so much I nearly laugh. "Bloody hell," he says, disbelieving. "Did it—was it—" "Oh my god," I interrupt, "are you asking if I enjoyed it?" He flushes violently. "Well, I mean—" "I kind of did, until it was horrible," I admit, and then I start giggling. "I was trying to win," I explain, and he shakes his head. "How does someone win a threesome?" he demands, and I can't answer, because I agree—it's ridiculous. Then he tilts his head, looking at me, and says, "I think you did win, actually." I tell him that's crazy, and he shrugs. "You don't have to go back," he says, "but they're trapped." I hadn't thought about it that way.

8:30 p.m.: He tells me that he and Cinderella had sex last night, and the words he's using should indicate that he's happy about it, but his eyes drift elsewhere as he speaks. I lean forward, gripping his shoulder. "Don't lie, fucker," I say. He grimaces. "She had her eyes closed," he says, hesitating, "when she, you know—" "Came?" I prompt, brusquely. He looks as though I've slapped him, but he nods. "I sort of felt like she was—" "Elsewhere," I supply, because I know that kind of sex. I've had it before. Suddenly, I'm enraged on his behalf.

8:45 p.m.: "Break up with her," I say, "you deserve better." "I love her," he insists, but it feels practiced to me. Like something he says because he's used to it. I crawl forward, settling myself in his lap, and he looks surprised, but doesn't speak. He sets his hands lightly on my hips. "What about me?" I ask, and then, before I can stop myself, I blurt out, "and please don't lie." I don't think I've ever said 'please' to him before. I doubt I ever said it to Petr. Jack stares at me. "I think I would love you if you'd let me," he says, and I can hear in his voice that it cost him everything to say it.

9:30 p.m.: He takes my hand and I lead him to my bedroom. His footsteps are quiet and his fingers are relaxed and comfortable in mine. "Stay with me," I whisper, "please." He kisses me, slowly, rests his forehead against mine. "Okay," he says.

9:45 p.m.: I climb into bed with all my clothes on and he follows after, facing me on his side. He reaches out, stroking my cheek. "Should I tell you a bedtime story?" I ask him. I'm joking, but he nods, very seriously, and I think about it.

9:50 p.m.: "Once there was a rich man with a beautiful daughter, who was his life's most precious treasure. One day, the girl was encountered with a beautiful woman bearing a little wheel, and the woman said to the rich man's daughter, 'Tell me, child, would you rather have a happy youth, or a happy old age?' The daughter thought about it, and said to the woman, 'If I say a happy youth, then I would only suffer all the rest of my life. I would rather have trouble now, and have something better to look forward to.' Then the woman turned the wheel she held in her hands and said, 'So be it,' and vanished. The beautiful woman was the daughter's Destiny."

9:53 p.m.: "Did the girl suffer, then?" Jack asks, guessing the ending when I pause. "Yes," I say, rolling my eyes at the interruption, "for a while." "But not for always," he notes. "Eventually she was happy?" he prompts hopefully. "She marries a king," I say, trying to recall the details of the ending. "Sure," Jack presses, "but is she happy?" I think about it. "I hope so," I say.

10:05 p.m.: I move towards him on the bed, tilting my chin up, and our lips brush. It's not a kiss, really, but we don't move. We just lay there, lips touching, and close our eyes.

10:15 p.m.: "Thank you for staying," I whisper. "You're welcome," he says.


DAY FIVE

8:47 a.m.: When I open my eyes, I'm in his arms. I shift slightly and he wakes, his gaze falling on mine with something like contentment, or relief.

8:50 a.m.: "Make love to me," I ask him. I don't think I've ever asked before. I don't think I've even called it that before. It's a stupid thing to say—a stupid thing to ask—but I don't think I can take it if he says no. Nobody ever says no, but if anyone should, it's him.

8:52 a.m.: He stares at me, thinking about it, and then he asks me again if I told Petr something happened between us. I pull away and sit up—because once I tell him, he'll hate me, and I don't want to know what it feels like for him to hate me while I'm still in his arms. "I told him we slept together," I admit, and don't look at him. "Why?" Jack asks. I hesitate. "I wasn't—I couldn't do it," I babble, "it was too much, and I was—I just needed—" He cuts me off, kissing me. "Thank you for telling me the truth," he says. I'm baffled. I'm flabbergasted. I'm shocked into silence. He kisses me again, and then his hands drop to my blouse, hovering over the buttons. "How do you want me?" he asks. I can't breathe.

8:59 a.m.: We shift to face each other on our knees and he leans forward, kissing my neck, his fingers toying with my necklace. "How do you want me?" he asks again, and I shake my head. "I just want you," I say, and his fingers quicken on my buttons, peeling the blouse from my shoulders and letting it fall to the floor. I pull his grey t-shirt over his head and spread my fingers across his chest. He pulls me close, his hand cradling the back of my head as he kisses me.

9:10 a.m.: By the time I've taken off my skirt and we're both in our underwear, I suddenly feel shy. It's the way he looks at me, I think. There's something unconcealed, unsubtle, unprotected. I want to warn him to guard his heart, but I'm tired of guarding mine. I kiss him again, and with another few motions, we're naked. I don't know how to start. I don't know what to do. He lays me on my back. "Are you sure?" he asks, and I can feel his heart pounding. I can feel his heart.

9:30 a.m.: It's a little cautious at first when he slips himself inside me, and I suddenly remember he's only ever been with one woman, and she's never exactly made it magical for him. I push lightly on his chest and he frowns, confused, but I lay him on his back and straddle him, placing his hands on my breasts as I slide onto his cock. "I want you," I tell him, because I know he's never heard those words before. "I want you," I repeat as I lean forward, kissing him. "Only you," I whisper, and he pulls me into his chest.

9:45 a.m.: He comes relatively quickly, and I make sure to look at him when he does, to promise him I'm here with him—just him. When he catches his breath, he looks concerned. "You didn't—" "It's fine," I tell him, and it is, but he shakes his head. "No," he growls, "no, I'm not okay with that." He pulls out of me, kisses me roughly. "Wait here," he says, and suddenly leaves.

9:55 a.m.: He comes back with coffee and a plate of eggs, and I sit up, surprised. "Here," he says, handing me a fork. I notice he doesn't have a plate. "One plate," he explains, gesturing to it as he holds up his fork, "so you don't have to engage in thievery." "You're ruining it," I complain, but it's actually sort of clever ploy, and I have to hide my amusement. "I'll make it up to you," he promises, taking a bite and then giving me a teasing smile. I lean over, kissing him. His smile broadens.

10:25 a.m.: When I set my empty coffee cup on the nightstand, he leaps forward. "Finally," he exhales, and I laugh into his mouth as he kisses me.

10:40 a.m.: It's different this time. The hesitation is gone, and I gasp, a completely different man in his place as he yanks me up, setting me on top of my vanity and sliding his cock inside me, his fingers digging into my hips. I lean my head back with a groan and he kisses my neck, my clavicle, my chest, his tongue flicking over my nipple. It isn't gentle, but he's still got that look on his face—that indiscreet rapture as he looks at me—and I lose my breath, lose my mind, lose my immovable superiority as I cling to him, holding on tight.

10:51 a.m.: When I come, I do it without restraint, biting into his shoulder and clawing into his back. He picks me up again, tucks my legs around him and throws me onto the bed, rearing up on his knees with my ankles resting on his shoulders. He pauses, stroking the inside of my thigh with his finger. I thrust my hips up, urging him, but he holds me still.

10:52 a.m.: "This," he says hoarsely, "this means something to me." My head spins. "Are you doing this because it's me," he asks, and I can see he's pained by the asking, "or is it because—" "It's you," I cut him off, because I can see the insecurity seeping in, and I can see the places I've kissed him and I want to do it again. For once there are no kings or princes or heroes clouding my judgment. Jack closes his eyes, collecting himself, and turns his head, taking my ankle and placing the lightest, most delicate kiss against the arch of my foot. I have high arches; dancer's feet. I'm built to soar, sculpted to retreat—to leap, to disappear—but I don't want to lose the feel of him.

10:57 a.m.: He leans forward and starts to thrust again, slowly and fully and deeply, and I slide my hand around his jaw, cupping his cheek. His hair falls into his eyes and I brush it away, and I am on the brink of something terrible and beautiful and monstrous.

11:15 a.m.: I come twice more, and then he does, his lips against mine. I capture the taste of his satisfaction on my tongue, and savor it.

11:25 a.m.: He settles my head against his chest. "I'm not sure this works with your arrangement," I say. I feel him nod slowly. "I don't think my relationship is going to work," he admits, and I can hear how much it pains him to say it. "People change," I tell him. We're proof of that. He seems far away.

2:45 p.m.: We doze off for a while, his arms still around me. "Stay in bed all day with me," he whispers. I nod, and then I kiss him. I think he knows when we leave this bed he has to do something difficult. Something painful. He has to break something he used to have faith in. For once, I don't envy Cinderella.

3:30 p.m.: We take a shower together and when I wave my wand to remove the water, I'm struck by how little I've noticed about him before, and how much I admire him now. He's tall and lean and dusted with freckles and he catches me staring as he slicks his hair back from his face. "What?" he asks, and I lower myself to my knees. I lick the tip of his cock and his reaction is visceral.

4:45 p.m.: He's sucking enthusiastically at my clit when an owl comes, rudely interrupting just as I'm about to finish. He looks over, prompting me to mewl my opposition, and his face turns pale. "What is it?" I ask, sitting up, and I see it. Petr's handwriting. Jack's name. "That can't be good," I say, swallowing.

5:15 p.m.: He's pacing my bedroom floor. Apparently Petr told Cinderella the lie I told him about sleeping with Jack, and she believes it. "You realize he doesn't want to speak to me," Jack half-shouts, waving the letter around, "and knowing her, she's going to avoid me—" "I told you already," I say quietly, "and you said—" "I know what I said!" he barks, and then he stops, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry," he groans. I let it go; I have a temper too. "I thought he would ask you," I admit slowly, "and obviously, I assumed you'd deny it." "Why wouldn't he ask me?" Jack demands furiously, as if I know the answer. I tell him I don't know, because of course I don't. To my knowledge, this is out of character for Petr. "Maybe he wanted it to be true," I say, though I don't know why that's the answer that escapes me.

5:35 p.m.: "Tell me the truth about why you broke up," Jack says. I sigh, but relent; I tell him how I left because Petr said he loved me. I couldn't love him back; not well. I couldn't wait for things to get worse. I'm not a good person. I'm involved in bad things. I'm fucking a King and probably committing some kind of tax fraud and I'm the kind of woman who would lie to a good man and ruin his friendships with others, simply because I'm afraid of his goodness. "He deserves better than me," I say. Jack goes cold. "And what do I deserve, then?" he asks. I say nothing.

5:57 p.m.: "I have to go," he says. I don't stop him. I don't move. He leaves.

6:05 p.m.: He comes stomping back to my bedroom with a groan. "DO NOT," he shouts, jabbing a finger in my direction, "FUCK ANYONE ELSE." I stare at him. "Excuse me?" I ask furiously. "Don't go to someone else for comfort," he says, and tells me not to call the King. Tells me to stay put. Tells me not to do something stupid, not to destroy this. "I'm coming back," he informs me, and that, more than anything, makes me want to cry. "I'm coming back, so don't sleep with anyone else!" he yells, and then he leaves.

7:30 p.m.: I make a little extra pasta. Just in case.

8:15 p.m.: I try not to watch the clock.

9:45 p.m.: I'm about to give up and go to bed when Jack reappears in my fireplace. He looks exhausted. "She's not answering me," he says. I force myself to swallow. "She's probably hurt," I say, and then, at great cost to myself, I add that he should go to her. "If you want to fix things," I say slowly, and he shakes his head, falling onto my couch. "I don't know if this can be fixed," he murmurs, his head in his hands.

10:05 p.m.: I step behind the couch, wrapping my arms around him and pressing my lips to the top of his spine. He reaches up, tangling his fingers with mine.

10:30 p.m.: "You're a better cook than I am," he says, taking a bite of my pasta. "I know," I say.

11:38 p.m.: Jack kisses the back of my neck while I put the dishes away, and his fingers tease the hem of my skirt. I reach down, slipping out of my underwear and kicking it aside as his hands run over my breasts, my ribs, my waist, and then one hand drops under my skirt, brushing the lips of my cunt. I'm wet, and he seems awed. "Still?" he asks. I turn in his arms. "This is what it's like to be with someone who wants you," I tell him.

12:24 a.m.: People think that because I'm a bitch I'm not capable of softness, but the truth is I'm too soft. This is my problem. This is my curse, that I fall so easily; my heart breaks so fragilely because I'm too quick to give it away. I'm in Jack's arms and I feel it again, the warning in my mind that says I will suffer for this, for caring, for coveting something that belongs to someone else. But sex is easy, even with him, and I come just as I fall.


DAY SIX

10:34 a.m.: "I have to get her to talk to me," Jack says, murmuring it into the bare skin of my torso.

11:45 a.m.: I know he does. I let him go.

2:13 p.m.: 'You are hereby summoned to present your family's finances for an official Ministry-supervised audit,' reads the message with the Gringotts seal. I groan aloud, realizing what I have to do.

3:34 p.m.: "I wondered when you'd ask for me," the King says as he strides through the Floo, smirking knowingly at me. "I didn't call you here for that," I say, thrusting the audit summons into his chest. He frowns and reads it quickly. "Well, that's nothing," he says, and he means it's nothing for him, because he's not the one who has to lie. "It's been my father's crime until now," I remind him impatiently, "but once I'm the one withholding things—" "I'll take care of it, princess," the King says, resting his hand on my hip.

3:45 p.m.: I take a step back. "Don't," I warn, and his pale brow twitches into a frown. "Is this about the boyfriend again?" he asks. "I told you," I say, swallowing heavily, "that's over." The King purses his lips. "Sure," he permits skeptically.

4:30 p.m.: The King's least favorite game is the one where I say no, so he leaves without much comment. I think he assumes I'll be back in his clutches shortly enough, and though I hope he's wrong, I can't really say for certain if he is. After all, I tried this before, didn't I? I wander my father's study, wondering what will happen next week.

11:15 p.m.: I've already fallen asleep when Jack wakes me, kneeling by my bed. "It's over," he says. He looks like he might have been crying. I gesture beside me, and he crawls under the duvet. "What happened?" I ask. He tells me she admitted she was hurt. He throws the word 'betrayed' around a bit. I ask if Cinderella slept with someone else and he says yes, but that she didn't say who. I'm not sure he's telling me the truth; I think he does know who, and doesn't want to say it. "Is she with him now?" I ask. He shakes his head. "I asked her that too," he says, "and she says no. Says she needs to sort things out." Sounds like her, I scoff internally. "Are you okay?" I ask him. He looks at me, opens his mouth to say something, and then closes it.

11:45 p.m.: I give him the sort of kiss that goes somewhere. The kind of kiss that makes a man's knees weak. A kiss that leads, in my experience, to reckless, careless sex. A kiss he needs. He kisses me back, and then pauses. "We don't have to," he whispers against my lips, and I feel a sudden, gripping fear. This could get serious if I let it.

12:39 a.m.: Jack falls asleep while I toy with his hair, both of us still fully dressed. The problem with serious is that it means the mundanity I've always avoided: sharing friends. Making decisions as a unit. Wondering if something I do today will mean trouble weeks, months, years down the line. Serious means consequences. It means honesty and commitment. Things I'm allergic to. Things I'm bad at.

1:24 a.m.: Serious with Jack means, eventually, Cinderella. It means Petr. They're his friends, after all, and they never stay apart for long. Serious means that someday, when I've come to trust him, to believe he'll stay, he might still put Cinderella's needs—or Petr's—above mine. Serious means letting him do it.

1:45 a.m.: Why do I always give my heart to people who can't give me theirs? The King has the Snow Queen. Jack, however much he might genuinely care for me, will always have loved Cinderella first. He loves her now, I'm sure of it, even if he's spent the last several hours in my bed.

2:15 a.m.: He stirs. I trace the freckles on his arm. "This means something to me," I whisper. He holds me tighter, but doesn't wake.


DAY SEVEN

7:00 a.m.: I wake up to him looking at me, his mouth arched grimly with sadness. "This is over, isn't it?" he asks me, and my breath catches. "I think it has to be for now," I admit. He shuts his eyes.

7:30 a.m.: Sex this morning is slow and contemplative, and everywhere we touch seems like a devastating tragedy. My heart breaks when he brushes his lips against my brow. I watch him suffer while I dig my fingers into his ribs. His touch is unfairly reverent, like I haven't wronged him. Mine is unfairly steady, like I haven't let him down.

7:59 a.m.: "Stay away from people who are bad for you," he pleads, cupping my face in his hands. "Promise me," he says sternly. I promise I will. "Sex is easy," I remind him in return, which is probably the wrong thing to say, but he kisses me goodbye. Kisses me again. Then once more. "You deserve to be happy," he tells me, and though I feel the same way, I don't say it back, because it doesn't seem like it would mean much coming from me. He steps through the Floo without looking back.

9:00 a.m.: I step through to St Mungo's, heading for my father's room. The dementor gives me its usual wordless stare, and I shrug something like acknowledgement in its direction. "Daddy," I say to my father, sitting at his bedside, "we're being audited." He gives me a blank look. "How are the accounts?" he asks me. I force a smile. "They're fine," I say.

10:15 a.m.: 'Shopping this afternoon?' I ask Briar Rose in an owl. She responds with enthusiasm. Poor thing. She's terribly bored. I stop by the Leaky, picking up two sandwiches.

12:05 p.m.: I have one more errand to run. I step through the Ministry Floo, heading up the elevator and slipping quietly into the familiar office. "Hi," I say, and Petr looks up, surprised to see me. "Hi," he says, and I hand him a sandwich. He accepts it, but doesn't unwrap it.

12:10 p.m.: I tell him I'm sorry, and he leans back, unimpressed. "There are easier ways to say you don't love me than the one you chose, you know," he says quietly. I tell him that wasn't it; that wasn't it at all. "I loved you," I say, and I'm sure of it. After all, I love so easily, and at such terrible risk to myself. At such terrible cost to others. "Then why?" he asks.

12:25 p.m.: I can't really explain myself, but to my surprise, he says he thinks he understands. "I've learned something recently," he says, rising to his feet and leaning against his desk. "I've learned that if I really loved you, I should have told you what I wanted. I should have told you I wanted to be with you, to be open about being with you. I shouldn't have believed you when you said it was okay to keep things quiet." I'm surprised. "I was okay with it," I protest, but Petr shakes his head. "I wanted a long love affair with you," he says. "The whole thing. Marriage, babies, joint bank accounts, chocolates on Valentine's and sleeping on the couch when I inevitably forgot." I balk, and he smiles knowingly. "What great love affair do you know of that starts with someone who worries about what other people will think?" he asks. "Plenty," I say, but he shakes his head. "Not yours," he says. "Your great love affair should be with someone who doesn't let you hide, right from the start," Petr informs me. Then he reaches over, unwrapping the sandwich I brought him and taking a large bite.

12:35 p.m.: I tell Petr not to hold my mistake against Jack. He shrugs. "You two would be good together," he says. I bite my tongue. "I want a love of my own," I say delicately. Petr seems to know what I mean.

12:37 p.m.: "I might be in the news soon," I sigh carefully, "and not for anything good." Petr shrugs again. He tells me to stay away from the King. "He's trouble," he warns, "and I don't want to see that come down on your head."

12:40 p.m.: "How can you still care about me after everything I've done?" I ask, disbelieving. This, too, is met with a shrug. "Despite what you believe, you're not a bad person," he tells me. I roll my eyes. "I told a lie that nearly cost you your best friend," I remind him, "and all because I couldn't tell you that the thought of being loved by you was terrifying." He spares a small chuckle. "Yeah, well—" he waves a hand carelessly. "I didn't say you were perfect."

12:55 p.m.: I give him a hug when I leave. "I hope you find someone brave," I tell him fiercely, "someone brave enough to love every impossible facet of the fucking hero that you are." He kisses my cheek. "I think I've got it covered," he replies.

2:30 p.m.: I meet Briar Rose outside of Twilfitt and Tattings and she's staring at something behind me. I turn over my shoulder, frowning. "What?" I ask, and she points to a display in a shop window. "What's that?" she asks, and I recognize it. It's Wandr, the little enchanted box that Jack's brother invented. "Is it for sex?" she asks, confused, and I laugh. "It's for dating," I inform her, shaking my head, and she pulls my hand. "Let's go look at it," she says, delighted.

2:35 p.m.: "I wish I were dating," Briar Rose sighs beatifically, and I shake my head. "No you don't," I tell her, because as of this morning, I suppose I am, and I'm not excessively thrilled about it. She holds up Wandr, wiggling her brows suggestively. "Try it," she urges, and I groan my opposition. "It sounds awful," I say, and she shrugs. "But what if it works?" she prompts. "Would you rather suffer now," she asks, gesturing pointedly to Wandr, "and have a happily ever after, or would you rather suffer later when you're alone and wrinkled and old?" I stare at her, and then I burst out laughing. "You're a beautiful woman presenting me my Destiny," I tell her, but she doesn't understand why I'm laughing. I grab it from her, shaking my head. "Fine," I say, heading for the cashier. "I'll suffer now, then."

5:45 p.m.: Briar Rose and I have an early dinner. We don't discuss her husband or my father. I tell her about Jack, and she pouts over my decision. She believes in love stories; she wants me to ride off into the sunset with him. "I can't," I say, because of Cinderella, and she sighs. "But it would be such a fairy tale," she laments. I disagree, but it doesn't matter. "Life isn't a fairy tale," I tell her sternly. "Don't I know it," she agrees.

6:15 p.m.: "Oh, also," I add casually, chewing my asparagus salad, "I had the worst threesome ever." Her face lights up. "Tell me everything," she demands.

7:30 p.m.: When I get home, I change my wards. I don't want the King coming and going as he pleases. This is my castle, after all.

7:35 p.m.: I consider changing them for Jack, too, but I don't. Just in case.

8:45 p.m.: I forget all about Wandr until I pull it out of my purse later, waving my wand to turn it on. The face of it lights up, welcoming me, and asks if I'd like to start. "Are you ready to find love?" Wandr asks, and I pause for a minute. I sigh.

8:47 p.m.: "Yes," I say, and wave my wand. Destiny tips her hat.

9:15 p.m.: Just like that, my story starts anew.

Chapter Text

Episode IV: The Straight-Laced Banker Who Desperately Needs an Out

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a Gringotts employee tries to navigate the world of casual dating: 26, male, straight, hopelessly single.


DAY ONE

9:00 a.m.: I arrive to work exactly on time, as I do every day. I have my own office inside Gringotts and I'm one of the few wizards who works here in the building, aside from my brother. I know I should be grateful to him for getting me the job (and I am, really, considering that politics was not a particularly healthy place for me when I worked in the Ministry) but on groggy Mondays like this one, it's difficult to face the paperwork I suspect will be sitting on my desk the moment I arrive.

9:05 a.m.: Well. Always nice to know I'm not wrong.

9:30 a.m.: One of the goblins comes into my office to tell me that I will have to meet a bank patron this afternoon; an unpleasant task, by the looks of it. "An audit?" I ask, and he nods uneasily. I tell him that's fine, and thank him for coming by. My own voice sounds flat to me, and dull; it always does, really, but I make an effort to conjure some enthusiasm. "Have a great day," I add. He looks uncomfortable, and leaves.

10:45 a.m.: I mentioned my brother, who got me this job. I'm going to call him Henry—as in Henry Plantagenet, an early conqueror-king, because in my mind, that seems to fit. He's the eldest of the six of us (five boys, of which I am smack in the middle) and always a favorite of our mother's. I have done everything in my power to emulate Henry, to varying degrees of success; he was Head Boy at Hogwarts, as was I, and now that we're adults, we look strikingly alike, so we're not entirely dissimilar. The list ends there, though, and presently, Henry has everything I could hope to possess: a beautiful wife; a flourishing career; the respect of his colleagues; the adoration of our family. I begrudge him nothing, but I envy him perhaps more than I should.

10:50 a.m.: Henry joins me in my office, lounging in my vacant chair as I scribble details on an account I'm managing. "Busy?" he asks, grinning. His face is scarred from a werewolf attack but still, he remains unreasonably attractive, and I know the handful of witches who work here are whispering about him outside. I lean back, considering it. "I could take a break," I say. He rises to his feet, beckoning for me to follow. "Come on," he says, and suggests we visit our other brother who works in Diagon Alley.

11:00 a.m.: Henry and I walk into our brother's store. It used to belong to our twin brothers, of which only one remains; we'll call him James, as in King James II of Scotland, who also had a twin—Alexander. OurAlexander died during the war, and now James runs the store alone. He's in relatively good humor, although I scarcely recognize his humor as it once was. He brightens when he sees me; tells me a joke. "You're like a mushroom for sore eyes," he says, and I shake my head. "You know, a fungi," he clarifies, "as in—" "A fun guy," I permit drily. He laughs, as does Henry. They find my lack of humor to be something akin to hysteria, though I've learned to take it in stride.

11:15 a.m.: Is it wrong of me to prefer James' company now that our brother is gone? Sometimes I suspect it is, though our relationship as adults comes from a place of mutual struggle. Alexander died in my arms; James and I were the hardest hit by his loss. Now James and I are perhaps the closest of our siblings, and though I abhor the circumstances that brought us there, I value him more than ever. He tells me he's finally rolled out the concept that Alexander initially came up with; some sort of dating enchantment. "Try it," he insists, handing me a slim rectangle. I look at the letters WANDR across the top. "What is Wandr?" I ask, and he shrugs. "You know, like wand, but also wander, so—" "Ah," I acknowledge, shaking my head, "puns." He and Henry dissolve into laughter again.

11:35 a.m.: "Oh, just try it," Henry insists, shaking his head as I continue to regard the rectangle with dubious reticence. "You could use a date," James adds. Between the two of them, I know Henry is toying with me, but James is serious; he knows I'm somewhat lonely. I know he's quite lonely. I think we understand this about each other and while I have my suspicions about why James has chosen to feature this particular product now, I do him the favor of not saying anything. I shrug. "How does it work?" I ask, pretending not to care.

11:45 a.m.: "Whoops," Henry says, and I groan, because this is almost certainly not an accident. "Looks like you have a date tomorrow night," James informs me delightedly. I am intensely undelighted. "With whom?" I ask, sighing, and James shrugs. "That's the thing," he explains, "you won't know until you get there. You're matched by interests, personality—" "So this is a blind date?" I ask, mildly horrified. He smiles. "Be sure to use my mushroom joke," he advises.

11:50 a.m.: Henry and I return to work. "Have fun," he says, winking at me. I tell him he's obligated to say things like that; he's happily married to the world's most perfect woman, so of course he luxuriates in my suffering. "Oh, I wouldn't say that," he says, and leaves. I'm bemused, but he enjoys being an enigma. I settle myself at my desk and return to work.

1:28 p.m.: My afternoon appointment arrives on time; actually, a few minutes early, which is how I prefer people to operate. A promising start. "She's here," the goblin says. I tell him to send her in.

1:30 p.m.: "Oh," she says, and I echo the sentiment. "Hello," I say, and I can feel myself grimacing. I know her; not well, but I certainly know her. I'll call her Margaret, because if my family are Plantagenets, she is a Tudor. She sits down unhappily, reaching unconsciously for her throat. I suspect the reflex is because she normally wears a necklace that isn't presently there. "Well, let's get this over with," she says stiffly. She seems to be avoiding my eye, as if I remind her of something unpleasant; perhaps I do, as she should certainly not expect much pleasure from this process.

1:35 p.m.: I pull up the account of Margaret's vault. "Well," I say, displeased, "this isn't all of your money." "Yes it is," she insists flatly. It sounds practiced. I arch a brow. "We'll see," I say.

1:59 p.m.: I'll be honest: I don't trust Margaret or her family in the slightest. Margaret herself rather infamously tried to turn over the Boy Who Lived during the Battle of Hogwarts, and though I can't actually blame her for my brother's death, I certainly don't consider her hands to be clean. I remember the necklace missing from her neck and I notice the rings that she isn't wearing on her fingers; I can see the pale lines that indicate their lack of presence. She sees me looking and frowns.

2:14 p.m. "You're hiding your wealth," I comment, because I would stake my reputation (however damaged it is) on the fact that there is more to her family's name than is currently present in her vault. She scoffs. "Prove it," she challenges me.

2:15 p.m.: This has just become personal.

2:30 p.m.: "The account is in your father's name," I tell her, and ask her why he isn't here. For the first time, her mask wavers. "He's indisposed," she says. "Your mother is in hiding," I comment. This time, her expression doesn't change. I tuck that away; she's close to her father, but not her mother. "She is also indisposed," she says.

2:35 p.m.: Margaret is a hustler, but I decline to be hustled. "Come back tomorrow," I say, and give her a list of things I want to see; expenditures, mostly. Receipts. I know she's going to try to trick me but I want her to understand that it won't work, so I lean forward across the desk. "I'm going to find the money," I say, as quietly as possible. Her mouth contorts in displeasure, but she disguises it quickly. "Best of luck," she invites sweetly, and then she stands, smoothing out the lines of a practical, unadorned dress that I'm positive she chose for appearances.

2:40 p.m.: She pauses as her hand touches the door. "I suppose it brings you some satisfaction," she murmurs, "seeing my family brought low." I cross my arms over my chest. "This isn't personal," I say, though it is. In fact, I couldn't care less about her family; it's her I'd like to see exposed. Perhaps she was too young to fight a war, but if that's the case, then my brother was far too young to die for it. She glances over her shoulder. "Funny you're the one with power now," she says, but I don't have power, really. I put myself in a job with almost no power, because I know myself; I've found I always come to regret the person I become when I extend my reach. "Fair is fair," I tell her. She seems to know what I mean, but shrugs. "In my experience, that's not true at all," she says, and then she leaves.

4:30 p.m.: I spend the rest of the day sorting through her account. She (or whoever has been running it, since she's likely been too young) has been careful not to move any large sums. The file I've been given by the goblin includes a Ministry-requested audit, which means I will be reporting my findings to them. I know the Ministry would only take an interest in this if her family has failed to pay their reparations from the war, which ignites a bit of fury in me.

5:15 p.m.: How dare she be so selfish? I can feel my own bitterness fester. What has she lost? What are her losses compared to mine?

5:30 p.m.: "Dinner?" Henry asks, appearing at my door. I look up. "Is that an invitation?" I ask, because it's sometimes hard for me to tell. He smiles. "Come on," he says, and I follow.

5:45 p.m.: We arrive at his house and his wife, whom I'll call Eleanor—as in Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen of France first and then England, and royal in her own right—looks up from her cooking. She is breathtakingly beautiful, and her voice still carries a bit of its French accent, though she's lost most of it over time. She says my name slowly, savoring it like caramel, and I have to shake myself, reminding myself she's part Veela and this, my adoration for her, is hopefully just chemical. "Hello," I say back. Henry strides up to her, kissing the side of her neck. "Mind if my brother joins us for dinner?" he asks her. "Not at all," she assures him. No—not him. She assures me. "Not at all," she said, her eyes settling intentionally on mine.

6:01 p.m.: Steak for dinner. Eleanor and I have ours prepared medium, expertly pink, and my brother's is slightly bloodied, per his more wolfish tastes. Once again I feel a pang of envy for him, for having a wife who cares about him; about his needs, without regard to the costs. She slides her leg out under the table, her bare foot brushing my calf. I look up, startled. "Sorry," I say. She smiles into her wine glass. I frown.

6:30 p.m.: Henry toys with Eleanor's fingers, telling a story about work. His work is far more exciting than mine; he's a curse-breaker, and while he no longer does the actual curse-breaking himself, he serves as a consultant. I mostly look at numbers all day, and have nothing to offer for show and tell. I'm silent for most of dinner.

6:45 p.m.: Eleanor rises to clear the table and Henry stretches upwards, saying he has to answer an owl. I join her in the kitchen. "Need help?" I ask. She turns, leaning her back against the sink, and I am once again entranced by her. Her face is exquisite. Her body is—I can't possibly begin to think about her body, or I will simply dissolve into the floor. "Yes," she murmurs. I'm normally slow to read people's intentions, but this, I admit, is agonizingly ambiguous. "Dishes?" I ask unsteadily, holding one up. She laughs, and suddenly the spell is broken.

7:00 p.m.: I am abruptly grateful to my brother for trapping me into a date tomorrow night. Being near Eleanor is torturous in ways I can't even explain. She reaches over, her hand brushing my spine as she grabs a dish towel from my side of the counter. I jump, and she steadies me, settling both her hands on my hips. "Careful," she murmurs. I have to go home immediately.

7:15 p.m.: I say a rushed goodbye to Henry and arrive in my flat in Diagon Alley, falling back on my bed. It's a small place, but it's mine, which is more than I can say for anything I had while growing up. I get an owl from James suggesting I drop by his shop after my date tomorrow; 'I want to hear all about it,' he says, and I can picture his smug grin. I agree, albeit not happily.

9:30 p.m.: I nod off while reading a book and decide to go to bed early. I could really use some excitement in my life.


DAY TWO

9:00 a.m.: I'm at work on time. The paperwork is here. The goblins are here. Monotony persists, and I buckle down.

12:15 p.m.: I scarcely notice that hours have passed when there's a knock at my door; Eleanor's here, and I blink, surprised. "I thought I'd stop by," she says, because she's here to see Henry. She's here to see her husband—my brother. I repeat this in my head, trying not to let my gaze slip as she leans over my desk, eyeing my bookshelf. Or pretending to eye my bookshelf. No, I remind myself, she has no reason to pretend.

12:21 p.m.: "How are you?" I ask Eleanor, and she looks down, locking eyes with me. She tells me not to ask questions I don't care about the answer to. "I do care," I protest. Her lips curl up slightly. "No, you don't," she says. If this is some sort of psychological experiment, I'm not equipped to play. I rise to my feet, politely escorting her to the door, but she steps in close. "This job," she says, "isn't it boring?" I blink. "A little," I say. Abso-fucking-lutely would be a more accurate answer, but that's more James' style than mine. "Aren't you bored?" she asks. This appears to be a different question altogether, but I give the same answer. She smiles brilliantly.

12:25 p.m.: There's a faint smell of orchids and something darker, like black currants, as she leaves the room to go to my brother's office. Wonderful. As if I needed her to linger.

2:28 p.m.: The goblin steps in, and I look up. "She's here," he announces, referring to Margaret. She's not royalty, I scoff internally; I don't think she needs a herald. "Send her in," I say, waving a hand.

2:30 p.m.: Margaret returns. Once again she's wearing no jewelry, and though she's chosen a green dress for the occasion (probably not a thoughtless choice, as she seems a woman of intention) it's not particularly showy. Her dark hair is loose around her shoulders and while I can't help thinking she's rather pretty, there's something off about it. She looks like she's playing at innocence. "Do you have them?" I ask. She dumps a box on my desk. "Sorry," she says, sing-songily, "they're not really in order." She did this on purpose. I pinch the bridge of my nose. "Sit," I say. She sits, smiling.

3:35 p.m.: This is a mess. She looks pleased. I do my best not to look as frustrated as I am.

3:45 p.m.: "Finding what you're looking for?" she asks, propping her chin up on her hand and blinking coquettishly at me. I hold my tongue. "Not yet," I permit simply. She rises to her feet, surveying my office, and I am distinctly annoyed by it. She seems to be trying to make me uncomfortable, and though I want to treat this like any other assignment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do.

3:55 p.m.: "So many books on accounting," she says, and glances at me. "All work and no play must make you a dull boy," she adds. I refuse to look up. "Don't toy with me," I warn. "But then we'll both be bored," she laments. This again; boredom again. "I'm not bored," I remind her, "I'm working. And I warn you, I'm excellent at my job." Her expression falters. "Your boring job," she says, with a meanness that strikes me as childish. This time, I glance up. "My boring job will bankrupt you," I promise her, and I see what I was looking for: a flicker of fear. I smile politely. "Why don't you go home," I say, "and we can continue this tomorrow."

4:00 p.m.: She leaves without much comment. I'm not even sure how much of the expenses in this box are real. This could take days, I realize, and put it aside with a groan.

6:05 p.m.: "Ready for your date?" Henry laughs, bounding into my office and throwing a tie at me. "Wear this," he suggests. I rub wearily at my forehead. "Go away," I say, and he laughs again. "I hear my wife came to visit you," he comments offhandedly, and I freeze. "Oh, don't worry," he assures me, "it's fine." I don't understand, but I really, really don't want to talk about it. He shrugs. "Have fun," he says again, and disappears.

7:23 p.m.: I wave my wand and Wandr does the work for me; it delivers me to a table for two at a restaurant in Diagon Alley. I'm a few minutes early and I settle in, choosing a wine and hoping she likes it. The little rectangle tells me we share an interest in ancient runes and historical fiction, and I admit I'm intrigued. I wonder who she'll be.

7:30 p.m.: There's the distinct sound of apparation and I am exceedingly nervous, but I'm a little relieved she's reliably punctual. I notice her robes first; plain black, which is fine, but then I realize there's something distinctly familiar about her. "Oh my god," I say, and her face blanches.

7:31 p.m.: "Professor—" "For the love of god, do not," she snaps, and we are both so mortified that for some reason the only thing I can think to do is take an inhumanly large gulp of my wine, and then I'm choking, and it seems like this will be a good time to die. She casts a quick charm, mercilessly delivering me, and sits down. "Well, I don't see why we can't at least have dinner," she says stiffly. I nod, and bury my face in the menu.

7:35 p.m.: Having now foolishly agreed to have dinner with my former Head of House, I find the tension passes rather quickly. We'll call her Victoria; she's had rather a long reign, and it seems to fit. She must be … no. I can't think about her age; I'll simply choke again. "So," I say, and she glances up, pursing her lips. "Don't," she warns. "Right," I agree, but I can't help it. "So, are you—" "I'm a single woman," she reminds me sternly, as though I am still one of her Prefects. "Is it out of the question that I would want some sort of companionship?" It's a fair point, and I force a smile. I ask her if she's read the latest bestseller on wizardry during the Crimean War. She relaxes. "It manages to be both outlandish and banal," she pronounces ruthlessly. I agree.

7:40 p.m.: She primly orders a salad, as do I, and we both enjoy the wine. Conversation, too, is effortless. I'll say one thing for my brother's invention: it does match people quite effectively, if small things like reality don't get in the way.

8:00 p.m.: "There is, of course, not a future here," Victoria warns me, gesturing between us. I feel my cheeks burn. "I'm aware," I say. "Well, that's a relief," she pronounces.

8:30 p.m.: We part with an overly formal handshake, and then I disapparate, materializing in James' workshop. "You need an age filter," I say without preamble, and he looks up, his mouth twitching. "Oh, tell me it was someone interesting," he begs. I tell him. He falls to the floor, convulsing with laughter.

8:45 p.m.: "This isn't funny," I insist. He can't breathe.

8:55 p.m.: He wipes tears from his eyes. "I want to be sorry," he says, "but I can't." I tell him I'm so pleased he's enjoying this, and remind him that his entertainment is very much at my expense. He shakes his head, gesturing for me to follow. "Come on," he says, "let's fix it."

9:10 p.m.: He tries a couple of new enchantments and now there are age filters on Wandr. "Here, this should—oh, hold on," he says, and frowns. "I accidentally set it to the married filter, so—" "The what?" I ask, stunned. He waves a hand. "It's, you know, for swingers," he says. People who are committed, but still looking for casual sex. I'm astounded, but not as astounded as I am when he waves me over. "Look," he says. My jaw drops.

9:15 p.m.: 'Male, 32, red hair, blue eyes. Female, 25, blonde hair, blue eyes.' The description includes more details, but there's almost no question that this is Henry and Eleanor. I look at James, my eyes wide. "They're SWINGERS?" I shout, because this is the strangest thing I've ever heard, despite the fact that I just came from dinner with my former professor. James shakes his head, lightly stunned. "This," he says, "is the weirdest night ever."

9:30 p.m.: "Do we tell them we suspect?" I ask fretfully, and James shrugs. "Nope," he warns me, because it's none of our business—but still, he's not not-curious, so he checks his purchasing list. He points to Henry's name. "Looks like they did buy it," James says, chuckling, and I am in such a state of disbelief that I need to lie down. "Oh, you're such a square," James says, but waves a hand. "Better rest up," he advises me, and raises up Wandr with a grin. "Just got you another date for tomorrow night." I take a page from our youngest brother's book of vocabulary. "Bloody hell," I mutter.

10:00 p.m.: I arrive home and fall into bed. The world is insane. I am insane. I am slowly being driven to madness.


DAY THREE

9:00 a.m.: Another day. Another series of tasks.

1:28 p.m.: The goblin steps in. "She's h-" "Send her in," I interrupt, shaking my head.

1:30 p.m.: Today Margaret is wearing a pale pink dress, her hair tucked behind one ear as she enters with another box. "I found more," she says, dropping it on my desk. More than a small part of me wants to strangle her. "Sit down," I say.

1:45 p.m.: "You were rising in the Ministry," she notes, uninvited, "so why did you take a job at a bank?" I ignore her. "Surely you'd have risen in your department by now, or at least—" "Where is your father?" I interrupt, glancing up at her. I find (with a bit of satisfaction) that I have not underestimated her attachment to him, and once again, she falters. "He's in St Mungo's," she says, clearing her throat. I see the cracks in her foundation.

1:50 p.m.: I shove the box aside, staring at her. "Why," I say, "is this so important? If you get caught, this will fall on your head, not your father's." "Get caught with what?" she asks, but I brush past her denial. "Why not simply spend your time with him?" I ask her, because by the sound of it, her father is almost certainly ailing. "Not everyone was ruined by reparations, but you will be if you get hit with penalties for fraud," I warn her. I'm not totally sure what my intent is, but she takes it as a threat.

2:00 p.m.: "Does it still bother you that your family was poor," she says nastily, leaning forward, "and so you took this job because it gives you a reason to feel superior?" She's baiting me, and I try not to suffer her intended insult. "If I am superior, it's not because I control your finances," I tell her, "but make no mistake, I do control them. Anything you spend going forward will need to be approved by me. Everything you do is under Ministry scrutiny until I say otherwise. This audit will go on as long as I say it does, and you can lie to me all you want, but your future is entirely in my hands." She scowls. "It's just money," she says. "Yes," I agree. "But you've never lived without money, so take it from someone who's 'still bothered' by being poor," I tell her, and meet her sullen glare with a blow of honesty that impacts us both. "You are making a foolish mistake," I promise her.

2:10 p.m.: She slams the door behind her as she leaves.

4:30 p.m.: "Tough day?" I hear, and look up. I was engrossed in my work, but I'm not anymore; Eleanor's here again. I clear my throat, beginning to wonder how intentional this is. I want to bring up what I discovered about her last night, but I don't. "A little," I say, and she walks around my desk, perching atop it. She's wearing black trousers and a loose white blouse and she looks effortless and cool, and as she leans forward I smell the orchids again, the hint of something that's both dark and sweet. "Poor thing," she says.

4:45 p.m.: I ask her if she's meeting my brother for dinner, and she shrugs. "Sort of," she says. "I'm sure he's available," I say, and she gives me a long, searching glance. "Say I came to see you," she suggests. I let out a scoff of a laugh. "I'm boring," I remind her. Her lips, which are presently a rose-colored bit of cruelty, twist upwards. "I never said that," she says.

4:54 p.m.: She's intoxicatingly beautiful, and it isn't fair how close she's sitting to me. I ask her about her day, and she says she's been working here. For a while she and Henry thought about having children, but she says she's gone back to working part time. I try not to ask questions. I try not to watch her blouse drape against her chest.

5:01 p.m.: I tell her I have a date tonight, and she asks if this is what I'm wearing. It is, I say. She purses her lips. "Wear the blue shirt," she says, and I'm surprised that she can describe my favorite shirt in detail. "It brings out your eyes," she explains. I tell her I will. She gives me an intriguing half-smile.

5:10 p.m.: "I suppose I should go," she says, so I stand, but we both shift in the same motion and then I find I am steadying her, my hands on her waist as we accidentally collide. Her arms coil around my neck and she pulls my chest to hers, and if I wasn't falling before, I certainly am now. I stumble, and then I'm leaning her back against my desk, and I'm thankful I'm not much of a creative person, or my imagination would take me a thousand impossible places right now.

5:12 p.m.: She tilts her chin up, and I start to wonder if I'm dreaming—or if, possibly, I've died—when the door to my office bursts open and my brother is there, watching me hold his wife in my arms. "I was looking for you," he says, grinning. I stagger backwards, absurdly raising my hands in the air, persisting innocence, and Eleanor clears her throat, smiling at him. "Darling," she says, and strides over, kissing his cheek.

5:15 p.m.: "See you," Henry says to me, languidly slipping his arm around his wife. I wave awkwardly, but say nothing. "Have fun on your date," Eleanor adds, and they leave. I sit down, exhaling sharply.

5:30 p.m.: I desperately need this date to go well.

7:15 p.m.: I'm very early. I down a glass of Ogden's, and then I order a bottle of wine.

7:25 p.m.: I drum my fingers on the table, anxious. Wandr tells me she has an interest in politics and she works in magical law. I take another sip of wine. Please, I think, just let her not be one of my former professors.

7:31 p.m.: I see her and recognize her instantly as she apparates in. I'm not sure whether to be relieved. "Hi," she says, smiling. She's prettier than I remember, but still.

7:33 p.m.: My date tonight is the girl I thought my youngest brother was in a relationship with, though she tells me they've recently split. "It wasn't working out," she explains, settling into her chair and smiling politely as the waiter pours her a glass of wine. "Are you sure you can be here with me?" I ask, and she shrugs. "Why not?" she says, though I feel that should be obvious.

7:45 p.m.: I'm going to call her Marian, as in Maid Marian, because I cannot imagine her separate from my brother and his best friend, whom I suppose I'll call Will Scarlett and Robin Hood respectively. I always think of them running around in the woods, evading capture, and so to be sitting with Marian now is incredibly strange. I find her to be an apt conversationalist, of course—I always have, and Wandr isn't wrong; we do share quite a lot of interests—but I don't see this going anywhere. Still, I resign myself to another evening that ends with a platonic goodbye.

8:05 p.m.: I ask Marian why she decided to use Wandr, and she says she's trying to broaden her horizons, or something equally cliched. "I'm trying to figure out who I am," she says, and just as I open my mouth, there's a clatter from behind us as a young man with exceedingly pale blond hair approaches, stomping angrily. I realize with a start that this is my youngest brother's nemesis, and am about to ask him to leave when he rounds on Marian.

8:15 p.m.: "You're joking!" he says, and I suppose out of loyalty to my brother, I'll call him Guy, as in Guy of Gisborne, who is one of Robin Hood's foes. He's angry, but Marian seems unfazed. "You're clearly also here on a date," she says, pointing, and I realize that she's known he's been here for some time; she knew precisely where he was sitting in the room. "I thought we agreed—" "I agreed to wait," he shouts, "but you can't seriously tell me this is what you want!" I'm a little offended, but I've had quite a lot of wine at this point, so I sit back in my chair as Marian and Guy fight.

8:20 p.m.: "I told you," she insists, "that we should see other people before we jump into something." "I don't want to!" he shouts, and he is so very shouty and angry that I raise a hand to politely intervene, but Marian rises to her feet. "Calm down," she snaps, and she looks like she might hit him—privately, I want her to, if only because it would be a good story for James later—but Guy takes her face in his hands and kisses her, hard, and she melts, kissing him back. I give it a minute (several minutes, in which Guy's fingers tangle in Marian's hair and her nails dig into his waist) and then I clear my throat, gently. Marian blinks, pulling away. "I have to go," she tells me, and I nod my agreement.

8:30 p.m.: Marian and Guy disapparate and I down my glass of wine. James is going to love this.

8:35 p.m.: "Well," someone says, and then I see a woman drop into the seat across from me. "That was fun to watch," Margaret mutters, and she looks so different I scarcely recognize her. "Can I have this?" she asks, reaching for Marian's abandoned glass of wine. I blink. "Go ahead," I say.

8:45 p.m.: Tonight, Margaret is wearing a fitted black dress, and I'm not especially good at fashion, but even I can tell it's expensive. Her hair is loose and curled and she's wearing darker lipstick—and she was certainly pretty before, but she's in her element now. She's incredibly sexy, but my attention is caught on something else. She's toying with her necklace. It's a man's signet ring, and I recognize the initials of her father. She's wearing earrings, rings, bracelets—heirlooms. She fucking glitters with them. "So," I say, gesturing to her, "where's your money?" She rolls her eyes. "Don't do this now," she tells me, "we're drinking."

8:50 p.m.: She tells me Guy is her ex-boyfriend and that Wandr paired them up for a date this evening; I remind myself to tell James that his product is certainly being widely used, but could clearly use some refinement in its enchantments. "It would never have paired them," she adds, gesturing to where Guy and Marian were just assaulting each other's mouths. I shrug my agreement. "How did your relationship end?" I ask her. "He broke my heart," she says. "How badly?" I ask. She looks me dead in the eye. "Shattered it," she says.

9:05 p.m.: "Tell me about your father," I say. "He's sick," she says, "and some days, he doesn't remember me." She takes a sip of her wine. "Tell me about your father," she suggests. I pause. "I don't think he likes me very much," I say, and I haven't thought about it before, but at the moment I'm fairly certain I'm correct. Her mouth quirks slightly. "Not many people do, do they?" she asks, and strangely, I don't think she's trying to insult me. I tell her I don't think so, and she smiles into her wine. "Idiots," she says.

9:15 p.m.: We finish the bottle and I offer to apparate her home, but she declines. "See you tomorrow," she says. I nod. We part ways, and I go to see James.

9:20 p.m.: He's still in his workshop, as always. "Hey, I was thinking," he says, without looking up. "What did you set your age limit to?" "Oh, I don't know—around 30," I estimate, and wonder why he asks. He pauses, straightening. "What do you think about dating someone older than that?" he asks me, and I shrug, because the thought had never crossed my mind. "Nevermind," James says quickly, and asks about my date. I tell him she left with another man, and then I tell him which man she left with, and he promptly sputters into another fit of laughter. "I'm so glad one of us is enjoying this," I say drily.

9:45 p.m.: It's a short visit, but before I leave, I tell him about Eleanor. I ask him if I should say something to Henry. "You're overthinking it," James says, and shrugs. He says Henry knows I would never be inappropriate with his wife, but I'm not sure. I hate to say it, but I don't think I was very in control of my limbs while she was that close to me. "Okay," I agree.

10:15 p.m.: I fall into bed. Dating is terrible.

10:30 p.m.: I wonder how tomorrow will go with Margaret. Perhaps it won't be a day of monotony, since she's shown her hand a bit. I know she's got the money; she knows I know that. I wonder what will happen moving forward.

10:45 p.m.: I fall asleep thinking about Eleanor. I think I should say something to Henry. I also wave my wand, scheduling another date on Wandr. Why stop now?


DAY FOUR

9:00 a.m.: Sometimes I wonder if I will simply collapse over my desk and die, and whether that will make a difference to anyone. The paperwork would certainly be inconvenient, I think, so I make a concerted effort not to.

12:00 p.m.: "Lunch?" Henry asks, and I agree, because I need to talk to him. We grab some takeaway and I join him in his office.

12:30 p.m.: "So," I say slowly, "about yesterday—" He looks up, smirking slightly. "Is this about my wife?" he asks, and I feel my cheeks burn. "I wasn't going to do anything," I assure him quickly, and he shrugs. "You're just a distraction for her," he says, and I don't really know why, but I think I might be bothered by the phrasing. I ask him what he means. "She's using you for entertainment," he tells me, and I insist that I wouldn't cross that line. "No, go for it," he says, and laughs. "I doubt it would last," he adds, shaking his head.

12:45 p.m.: "Are you telling me you want me to sleep with your wife?" I echo, feeling like I must be having a stroke. Henry looks incredibly amused. "Like I said, it wouldn't last," he reminds me, and I still can't believe we're having this conversation. "You've been half in love with her for years," he adds, "and I'm sure she knows that. If she wants to, then go ahead." I am astounded. I cannot close my jaw. "Oh, come on," he says, "I'm not threatened. I mean, it's you," he says, laughing. Now I'm stunned for other reasons altogether.

1:00 p.m.: I make an excuse to leave. "Hey, you get what I'm saying, don't you?" he asks, placing a fraternal hand on my shoulder. I am gobsmacked. I am incapable of speech. I make a sound that might be confirmation, and then I leave.

1:28 p.m.: The goblin appears in my office and it takes everything I possess not to throw one of my books at his head. "Just send her in!" I snap.

1:30 p.m.: "Someone's rather cross," Margaret comments when she enters my office. She looks both more like herself, and less; she's wearing her necklace, and she's wearing clothes I can see she actually likes, but I also get the impression she's dressed up for me. "Sit down," I say. She places a box on my desk. "Here's more," she says. I rub my temples, and she sits.

1:45 p.m.: "You're going to do this every day, aren't you?" I ask her, and she shrugs. "Look," I say, shoving the box towards her, "we don't need to play this game. I can find your accounts if I want to. I have a pretty good idea who moves money around, and I'm pretty sure they can be bought, and I'm also fairly certain I've got the leverage to do it. I have the Ministry on my side," I remind her, and I can see that what I'm saying is taking root. "You don't want to make an enemy of me," I finish. She pauses for a moment, toying with her necklace. "I don't want to make an enemy of you at all," she says, "but I have to do something." I make a mental note of what she looks like when she's telling the truth. For some reason, I'm pretty sure that will come in handy.

2:00 p.m.: "Just pay the reparations," I tell her again, and she shakes her head. "It isn't up to me," she says, and she's still playing with the necklace, and I'm positive this is about her father. "I know what it's like to feel responsible to your family," I say, but I don't think she likes that. I don't think she enjoys sympathy. She stands up. "I'll have another box of expenses for you tomorrow," she says. I say nothing, and she leaves.

7:28 p.m.: I'm early for my date this evening, but they're already there. Correction: he is already there. "Oh," he says, startled, and I want to pound my forehead into the table.

7:30 p.m.: This is another one of my youngest brother's friends. I'll call him Little John, because that is in keeping with the theme. Little John is quite loyal to my brother's best friend, the one I think of as Robin Hood, and is rather a war hero himself. He's an academician of sorts, which is likely the reason we've been matched, but his area of expertise is herbology. He seems to be fascinated with plants, and I, in any case, am fascinated with my glass of Ogden's.

7:45 p.m.: "So," Little John says nervously, giving me a rather intensive once-over, "are you—" "No," I assure him quickly, shaking my head. "I'm sorry," I say, "but I'm straight." "Me too," he says slowly, "or at least, I thought I was." He looks to be in the midst of a moral crisis, and I can't deal with this right now. I order another drink. James is going to love this.

8:05 p.m.: I'm trying to listen to some story about underwater plants in Chile and beginning to wonder if this is what I sound like to other people when I'm talking about the things that interest me, which I'll admit are deeply niche. Our niches, in any case, do not mesh, and I'm eager to escape, because I think Little John might have stumbled upon some important information about himself this evening. I wish him luck and leave, deciding to walk rather than apparate; I've had a lot to drink.

8:35 p.m.: "Stop laughing," I tell James. He steadfastly refuses.

8:45 p.m.: "Here," he says, finally recovering and pouring me another glass of firewhisky. "You need this." He's not wrong. "How's it going with the older woman?" I ask him, but I'm drunker than he is, and apparently he doesn't want to answer. "Fine," he says, squirmily. I let the whisky burn its way down my throat.

9:05 p.m.: "I need to have sex," I say. "Me too," he says. Maybe this is a weird conversation to have with my brother. Maybe it gets weirder when I tell him I want to have sex with Eleanor. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that James is not surprised. He cautions me against it, but I'm barely listening. "What about the audit girl?" he asks, and I think about Margaret for a minute. I think about the undeniable appeal of her decolletage, which is difficult not to notice when she's playing with her necklace all the time. "Daddy problems," I hiccup. James grins.

9:15 p.m.: James gets me through the Floo, telling me I should go to bed. "You," I counter incoherently. "Good comeback," he says. "Be sure to speak clearly," he warns me, and I slur something in response, but miraculously I end up in my living room.

9:16 p.m.: Eleanor is on my sofa. I blink three times. Once to make sure it's real; a second time because she, the most beautiful woman on earth, requires an extra blink; and then a third, because she's naked. "Uh oh," I say, stumbling. She rises to her feet. She is perfect. She is perfect and I fall to my knees.

9:20 p.m.: My lips are against her thigh and she's running her fingers through my hair. "This isn't real," I mutter, and she laughs. "You're drunk," she says, somewhat disapprovingly. "Sorry," I say, and she shakes her head. "I'm afraid I've been thinking about this for far too long," she tells me, "and I don't think I can waste it on a night like this." She steps away and reaches for her clothes; a silk wrap dress, which she puts on without underwear. "You've been thinking about this?" I ask vacantly, and she looks over her shoulder at me. She smiles. "Well, maybe a little," she says, and the moment I've risen to my feet, her lips are on mine.

9:30 p.m.: It takes less than a minute for the kiss to turn ruthless, and she's grinding against me with absolutely no mercy. "Where's my brother?" I gasp, as she tears my shirt from my shoulders and the silk of her dress slides against my skin. "Oh, he's having his fun," she assures me, and then her hands are in my trousers.

9:35 p.m.: She's stroking my cock with spectacular determination and I reach down to stop her, my hand wrapping around her wrist. "Stop," I gasp, and she doesn't, so I have to tighten my grip. "Stop," I say again, shaking my head, and she looks up with surprise. "If you want this, then come back," I say, because I'm drunk and I don't want to be her distraction. In my alcohol-tinted stupor I don't want to be stumbling; I don't want to be her spur-of-the-moment decision she comes to regret. The firewhisky that's making its way through my blood is telling me that I've loved her too long to let it be wasted like this, and even if it's my only chance, I want her too much to have her like this.

9:45 p.m.: She seems a little stricken by my offer, but she recovers easily. She leans forward, her lips near my ear. "Tomorrow night," she whispers, "wear the blue shirt." "Wear nothing," I reply.

9:55 p.m.: After Eleanor exits the Floo, I stand there for a moment, shell-shocked.

10:15 p.m.: I come in the shower and it's like I'm a teenager again, touching myself because I'm just too fucking hard to go to sleep.

10:35 p.m.: It occurs to me that I maybe don't want to be sober when I fall asleep, but I'll be hungover in the morning, so I set a potion on my nightstand. Somehow, I feel like Margaret will have a new set of games for me, and I suspect I'll need to be sharp enough to play.

10:47 p.m.: I think about setting up another date on Wandr, but I can't bring myself to do it. Not when I have somewhere else I'd rather be.


DAY FIVE

9:01 a.m.: Okay, I'm here. I made it. Thankfully the week is almost over.

12:05 p.m.: "Hey," Henry says, sticking his head in my office, and I jump about a foot in the air. "Come over for dinner tonight," he tells me, and I'm not an idiot, but I cannot possibly make sense of this. "Seriously?" I ask, and he nods. He says he and Eleanor are going to a party later tonight, but he feels there's tension between us, so he thinks I should come over. "Besides," he adds, laughing, "she's fond of you." Is he torturing me? I think he must be. "Okay," I say, because apparently I am, in fact, an idiot.

2:30 p.m.: Margaret enters with a surprising lack of ceremony. "I think the whole goblin announcement process was starting to bother you," she says, setting yet another box on my desk. "I didn't think you cared much what bothers me," I return. She shrugs. She's Eleanor's opposite in many ways, I note; Margaret's eyes and hair are dark, and while Eleanor has a look of casual effortlessness, Margaret's appearance is meticulously crafted. Her hair is pulled back to showcase the line of her neck. She's the opposite of Eleanor, but I'm still looking. "Maybe I do," she says.

2:45 p.m.: I'm dutifully sorting through her box of receipts and bank transactions when she rises to her feet, pacing the room. "How much trouble am I in?" she asks, and I lean back in my chair, watching her. "A lot," I say, because I haven't told her yet, but I have a lead on who has been moving things in and out of her vault. It's only a matter of time. She turns over her shoulder. "What will you let them do to me?" she asks. I don't say anything, because I don't know what to say. She faces time in Azkaban. She faces financial ruin. She faces social ostracization, but she already knows all that. She's an exceedingly clever witch and she knows the consequences, and more importantly, that's not what she asked.

3:00 p.m.: She walks behind my desk and turns my chair so that I face her. "Well?" she asks. I am finding it difficult to breathe. "It's not my job to punish you," I remind her, "it's only my job to find out where the money went." She nods slowly, her gaze on my mouth. "Yes," she permits softly, "but your findings change everything, don't they?"

3:10 p.m.: "You're seducing me," I tell her. "Yes," she agrees without hesitation, "because I need you on my side. Because I'm desperate." I shake my head. The statement is undoubtedly confessional, but I remember what she looks like when she's telling the truth, and this isn't it. "I don't find women's desperation to be arousing," I tell her, because I don't, and in the larger scheme of things, I'm not like that. Perhaps in her world this is how things work, but I'm not like her. She leans back, catching her breath. "Good," she says.

3:30 p.m.: She dutifully sits as I sort through the box and then she looks at her watch. "I should go," she says. I wonder if I should stop her. "Would you like to have lunch with me tomorrow?" she asks. "That would be inappropriate," I tell her. She shrugs. "Would you like to?" she asks again. I pause. "Noon at the Leaky," I suggest, and she nods. "See you then," she murmurs, and leaves.

5:45 p.m.: Henry sticks his head in. "Ready?" he asks.

6:00 p.m.: Eleanor looks as perfect as ever even with her hair piled without refinement atop her head, wisps of blonde sticking to her neck as she bends over the seafood stew she's making. She sees me and I remember that I know what she looks like naked, and it's burning me from the inside out. She says my name, playing with it on her tongue. "Hello," I force out neutrally. Henry claps a hand on my shoulder, leading me into the dining room.

6:15 p.m.: I go to the bathroom to wash my hands before dinner and there's a knock on the door. I open it, and it's Eleanor, and she quickly shoves me inside. "Hi," she says, and kisses me, yanking me against her. She's a little hot from being in the kitchen but she still has that darkly floral smell, and I can feel the perspiration at the small of her back. Even with evidence of her humanity, she is divinely perfect. I lean her back against the sink and she shifts in my arms until she's shimmied out of her underwear, bending to pick them up and shoving them in my pocket. "Hold onto these," she whispers, kissing me once more, and then she disappears.

6:45 p.m.: I cannot believe I'm eating dinner with Eleanor's underwear in my pocket.

6:53 p.m.: "We'd invite you along to the party," Henry tells me, "but it's the sort of thing you need a partner for." Suddenly the food turns to ash in my mouth; I remember a number of things I'd forgotten, like the fact that they're swingers. Specifically, the fact that Eleanor thinks I'm a game. I'm an incredibly easy game, aren't I? I have always been the object of entertainment; even with the best of intentions, my brothers have always laughed at my expense, and suddenly I feel overtly used. I set my fork down. "I should let you go, then," I say.

7:00 p.m.: I get home and fall back on the sofa. I should have just scheduled a date for tonight. Or at least made a point to see Margaret—only I can't, I remind myself. I can't have Margaret because of my job. I can't have Eleanor because of my brother.

7:30 p.m.: I go to James' workshop, but oddly, he's not there. I'm disappointed, but it's probably best. I leave a note and head back to my flat.

8:15 p.m.: I'm having a glass of wine when someone comes through the Floo. It's Eleanor. I look up, and she locks eyes with me. "You're not wearing the blue shirt," she says, sounding disappointed. I rise to my feet. "Have you done what I asked?" I remark in return, noting that she is clothed. She lets the robe fall from her shoulders. She's bare underneath. "Yes," she says.

8:20 p.m.: I take another sip of wine, biding my time. "My brother tells me I'm a distraction for you," I comment, taking a seat on the edge of my sofa. "I like you," she says, and I shake my head. "You don't," I tell her, "because I'm boring." She steps forward, reaching for me. "You're not boring," she says, her thumb curling around my cheek, "you're bored."

8:25 p.m.: "You're bored," she says in my ear, "and so am I. There's something about you—something beneath the surface. Same with me." I don't tell her that I have known that since the moment I met her. I don't tell her that I have loved her for it, adored her from afar, wished every moment that I could have been the one to love her. "Where are you supposed to be right now?" I ask her, and she shrugs. She tells me my brother is with someone, but that she slipped away. "For you," she tells me, stroking my cheek. I step away. I don't want to be played with. "Sit down," I say. Slowly, as if in a trance, she sits.

8:35 p.m.: "What does my brother not give you?" I ask her. Her brow twitches for a moment, and then she regains her certainty. "Awe," she says. She doesn't mean veneration; surely he worships her, or he did once. She means he doesn't awe her—and why would he need to, being the eldest, the most successful, the most loved? I realize I have identified everyone around me as a person of power, and perhaps I have misjudged. "Lean back," I say.

8:41 p.m.: I tell her to touch herself and she looks startled for a minute, but she does it. She closes her eyes and I tell her to open them. "Look at me," I say firmly, and settle myself between her legs, my hands wresting her knees apart. Her dark blue eyes widen, her tongue slipping between her lips, and she runs her hand down her stomach. I watch her fingers as they slide along her clit and I take one of mine, sliding it inside her. She gasps and I lean forward, catching the feel of her breath in my mouth. Her hands fall to my chest, fumbling with my shirt, and I grab her hand. "Slow," I tell her. She blinks, mesmerized.

8:45 p.m.: I take my shirt off, tossing it on the floor, and she reaches for me but I keep her at arm's length, lowering my head to kiss the lines of her abdomen and making my way down. I shift my shoulders, settling them beneath her thighs, and pause. "Tell me how you want your pussy licked," I say, and she shivers. She reaches out, trapping her fingers in my hair, and I stare up at her. "Tell me how you want me to lick your pretty cunt," I say again, because it seems to be making her a little bit crazy, and her fingers tighten against my scalp as I slide another finger inside her, moving them in and out. She's breathing hard, but I tell her not to come. Not yet. Not until I've tasted her. She groans. "I'm going to fuck you with my tongue first," I say, "and finish with my fingers while I suck your clit. Tell me when you're about to come," I warn. She nods numbly. I lower my head.

8:50 p.m.: For all the times I've thought about how she would taste, I still find that I've underestimated the sweetness. She grinds against my lips and I think that's what makes it all the sweeter; she's pulling at my hair and losing control and when she grits out that she's close—she's coming she's coming she's coming I am making her come—I stop, and she cries out in frustration. I press her thighs apart, kissing the curves of them, and when she lowers her hand to her clit I take her fingers in my mouth and suck them once, lightly, before shoving them away, because I'm going to be the one who does this. I sit up to take her breasts in my mouth and she's squirming, she's writhing, and then she says it: "Please." This is what I've been waiting for. "Please what?" I ask, flicking my tongue over her nipple. "Please suck my pussy until I come," she begs, and I smile.

9:04 p.m.: She screams my name when she comes and I can't wait any longer. I stand up, my hands shaking as I take off my trousers and kick them aside, and then I pull her against me, her back to my chest. "Do you trust me?" I ask her. She nods, and she reaches for my cock but I push her hand away. I turn her, picking her up, and she wraps her legs around my hips. "Obscuro," I whisper, and conjure a blindfold over her eyes.

9:15 p.m.: I take her to my bedroom and lay her back across the mattress, climbing on top of the bed. I take my time kissing her; she's an excellent kisser, her lips are supple and pliant and she tastes so goddamn sweet, but I move lower, tracing my tongue over the faint freckles on her shoulders, trailing my lips down her thighs and then back up. She wants awe, and she will feel it in the way that my lips mold to her skin; the way I make her so wet my cock slides easily against her.

9:30 p.m.: I tell her I'm going to fuck her and she lets out a gorgeous little whine. If this is all I get, it will have been worth it. I am coveting my brother's wife but at least that means she is being coveted—being adored, being glorified.

9:45 p.m.: She comes with a devastating shiver and then so do I, choking out the sound of her name on what part of me hopes will be my last breath, because it's hard to imagine a moment more perfect than this one. But then she slips the blindfold from her eyes and looks at me, and we catch our breaths, and this moment is perfect, too.

10:15 p.m.: I have always known her to be more than her beautiful face, but it's only now that I realize just how much I admire her. She tells me she's lonely, tells me she's unstimulated and bored, and I listen while I kiss the tips of her fingers, memorizing the way her hair looks when it's swept across my pillowcase like this. Then the conversation turns to other things, to little things; to telling me about her childhood home, and the games she and her sister would play. To the things she misses most about France (the smell of the sea, which she insists is different than it is here) and how she wishes people understood her better (she knows her English is fine, but still, her words are never quite right). She spills out her secrets for me and I confess one to her: "I'm in love with you," I admit, because my heart will break if I don't say it. She kisses me as if I belong to her, as if she's come to possess me.

12:20 p.m.: "I have to get back," she whispers once she's stolen the breath from my lungs.

12:30 p.m.: I send her off through the Floo and expect that I've fucked everything up.


DAY SIX

8:15 a.m.: I lay in bed all morning, and I can't stop thinking about what she said to me. You're bored, she said, and I am. My job bores me. My life bores me.

11:25 a.m.: I turn my head to look at the clock and realize I should take a shower.

12:00 p.m.: "Right on time," Margaret says. Her legs are crossed daintily and she's toying with her necklace again. "Why am I here?" I ask her, and she blinks. "Aren't you supposed to know the answer to that question?" she prompts dubiously, and I shake my head. "Why did you want me to come here?" I demand. She rises to her feet and steps towards me. "Let's talk in private," she suggests.

12:15 p.m.: The moment we apparate into my apartment she throws me down on my sofa, straddling me and bringing my lips to hers. I admit, I've been curious about her, and my hands instantly fly up to her clavicle, tracing my thumb along her neck. I find that when I think about her, my thoughts are always on her neck; the way she holds it, I think, when she's got her chin held impossibly high—but also that necklace, the manifestation of her loyalty. She intrigues me, and while part of me is certain she's using me to at least some extent, I let her fingers drop to the buttons of my shirt.

12:45 p.m.: I slam her against the wall of my apartment. "If you don't stop me," I say, "I'm going to fuck you right now." "I don't want to stop you," she says, but she's lying. I know what her truths look like and this isn't one of them. I take a moment, still pressing her against the wall, forcing myself to think clearly. She tastes different from Eleanor, but part of me wants that. Part of me wants to rid myself of Eleanor entirely, though I know this is no better an idea. "You're thinking about someone else," she says, and reaches out, brushing my hair away from my forehead. There's something about the motion; it seems meditatively intentional, as if she's done it before, but it hasn't been me she's been touching. "So are you," I say, and she smiles, and I recognize it as truth.

12:51 p.m.: I let her down slowly, and we're both slightly shaking. "I have to recuse myself from your case," I tell her hoarsely, and she looks up. "I know where the money is," I tell her, and I do, and it would almost certainly take me a while to prove it but still, I'm positive I could. "Another auditor might find it," I add, "but I don't want it to be me." She swallows. "That's not the same as protecting me," she says, and I shake my head. "No, it isn't," I agree. She's pensive for a moment, her brow creased with thought.

1:05 p.m.: "I'm glad I didn't have sex with you," she says, and although I suspected she was using me, it still stings a little bit. I take a step back and she shakes her head, pulling me against her again. "No, not because of that," she insists, "but because now, I can like you." I stare at her. "What?" I ask. She sighs impatiently. "If I'd had sex with you, I'd have to hate you now," she says, and though it's essentially the same thing she said the first time, it makes sense to me this time. "I see," I permit quietly.

1:15 p.m.: "You can't rely on me for anything real," I tell her, "at least not yet." She nods. "Same," she agrees, and slides her thumb across my lip, as if she's contemplating the feel of it.

1:30 p.m.: We apparate back to Diagon and she tells me she's going to meet one of her friends. She tells me, in a highly conspiratorial tone, that her best friend finally decided to try one of those sex parties where people switch partners. Her take on the whole situation is very dry, and I realize with surprise that she's actually quite funny. "I don't understand it," I say, and she shrugs. "Love and sex are different," she says, and while I'm sure she's correct, it still doesn't seem much clearer. "Maybe I'm too boring to understand it," I say, and she glances at me. "You're not boring," she tells me, and for reasons I cannot possibly fathom, I'm incredibly grateful. "Well, you're not ruined," I say, hoping that's a sufficient trade. It seems like it is.

4:27 p.m.: We're still talking and I happen to look at the time, surprised. "What time were you meeting your friend?" I ask, and she glances over at my watch. "Oops," she says. "An hour ago."

6:34 p.m.: Eventually she leaves, and I go to meet James. "Hey," I say, stepping into his shop. He looks up, smiling. "There's my fungi," he says, and I roll my eyes.

6:54 p.m.: "Any hilarious new dates?" he asks, and I tell him I just had a date (because I think I did) but that the only hilarious bit was that she seemed to genuinely enjoy my company. He laughs. "Nah," he says, "sounds fake."

7:15 p.m.: "Do you think I'm boring?" I ask. "Nah," he says again. I pause. "Do you think I'm bored?" I ask. He thinks about it. "Yes," he says firmly.

7:35 p.m.: "Just because you fucked up once doesn't mean you can't learn from it," he tells me, shaking his head. "I mean, you don't have to be locked up in that office. Maybe you should get out."

9:45 p.m.: I spend the rest of the night thinking about what James said; about where I would go if I did get out.

11:15 p.m.: I'm still thinking about it.


DAY SEVEN

8:15 a.m.: I send an owl to my brother Henry asking him to meet me at the office in an hour. He agrees.

9:15 a.m.: "What's going on?" he asks, and I tell him I'm removing myself from Margaret's case. I tell him to give it to an auditor who is thorough, but patient, because she is a uniquely difficult case. "Thousands of expenditures," I explain, thinking of the boxes, "and no organization whatsoever." "Okay," Henry permits, "but why am I here?"

9:30 a.m.: "I want a transfer," I tell him. Specifically, I want to be a curse-breaker, and more specifically, I want to do it abroad. "Where?" he asks. I tell him I'd like to go to Romania, where one of our other brothers currently works. "I need a change," I say. Henry nods thoughtfully. "You do seem bored," he says.

9:45 a.m.: He asks me when I want to leave. I say today. "How about tomorrow," he offers, chuckling, and I agree. "Okay," he says, and holds a hand out, "but I'll miss you." Surprisingly, I think that he will. I realize that if Eleanor is lonely, then maybe Henry is, too. Maybe it's not as easy as I think it is being so universally adored. "By the way," Henry says, "how good does my wife's cunt taste, right?" I wince. "Ha," he says, laughing as he turns to leave.

12:45 p.m.: I'm eating lunch at home when Eleanor steps through my Floo. "You can't leave," she says, and her eyes are wild. She looks like she might have been crying. I rise to my feet and open my arms and she throws herself into them, beating her fists against my chests. "You can't say that you love me and then leave," she sobs. I'm stunned.

1:02 p.m.: Somewhere in the midst of Eleanor's tears her arms have twined around my neck and she's kissing me desperately, and I rapidly lose my self control. She strips my clothes off and I let her; I want her to ruin me, to break me, to fuck me up entirely. "This is precisely why I'm leaving," I say as she yanks my underwear down my legs and then slides her dress from her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. "This," I say, even as I take her in my arms and kiss the side of her neck, "is exactly why I can't be here."

1:20 p.m.: We're on the floor when she takes hold of my face, wrenching it towards hers. "I should have told you," she says, and I pause. "I should have told you that this is not just for entertainment," she whispers. I wish I could read her like I read Margaret, because I need to know if this is true. Of course, if it is true, then I am a man in love with my brother's wife and she is a woman in love with her husband's brother, and we are both bound for something horrible and filled with pain. "Make me come," she begs, and I oblige—because this, at least, I can do.

2:15 p.m.: When we're finished she rests her head on my chest, drawing absently on my stomach. I tell her I'm still leaving. "Think about it, though," I add, feeling her stiffen in dismay, "and if you still want me, then come find me." She looks up at me, and I try not to think about the way her legs are tangled with mine, or how frustrating it will be when they aren't. "Are you sure that you'll want me?" she asks, and I kiss her slowly, rolling over her and drawing my thumb across her cheek. "I will always want you," I promise, though if tragedy awaits, I desperately hope that there comes a day that I don't.

5:15 p.m.: After Eleanor leaves I start packing my things, fitting my life into boxes. It's a small life, and a dull one, but it's an easy one to walk away from. At least, I think it is, but then the Floo roars to life and someone clears her throat.

5:30 p.m.: Margaret's head is in the fire. "Can I come through?" she asks. I say yes, and she materializes in my living room.

5:45 p.m.: She tells me she's been assigned a new auditor, and I nod. "I would have recused myself even if I weren't leaving," I assure her, and she nods. I wonder if she'll ask me to stay, but she doesn't. If anyone is going to understand why I'm leaving, I suppose it will be her. "You could come with me," I say, attempting a joke, "seeing as you might want to go on the run anyway." She smiles wanly. "I think I'm getting a bit tired of that kind of life," she says.

6:30 p.m.: "Can I come visit you?" she asks. I tell her that in my professional opinion, leaving the country probably isn't going to look good for her criminal investigation, and she grimaces. "That bad, is it?" she asks, disappointed, and I nod. "They're going to find the money," I tell her. She sighs. "But," I say, "I think I'd like to see you, if you ever wanted to come see me."

8:30 p.m.: "I fall in love so easily," she laments. I tell her I know what she means.

8:45 p.m.: "I think of the people around me as if they're infallible," I say, "as if they're all kings and queens." "Me too," she says, and I find I'm not surprised.

9:15 p.m.: "Imagine there is a door," she says, "and behind it is your future. What does it look like?" I pause, thinking about it. "What does yours look like?" I say, because I don't know. She turns her head to look at me. "We're idiots," she says.

10:06 p.m.: "I think if you love someone," I say slowly, "you should fight for them." "You're not talking about me," she notes. I shake my head. "You're talking about you?" she guesses. I nod. "Tragic," she sighs.

10:35 p.m.: "Tell me how starting over goes," she says, "because I'd like to know if it's something I should look into."

11:45 p.m.: We're falling asleep. "We're idiots," she murmurs.

11:55 p.m.: "Stupid idiots," I agree.

Chapter Text

Episode V: The Escape Artist Suffering From a Voyeuristic Mishap

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, an affluent publicist finds himself unexpectedly smitten: 22, male, bisexual, decidedly uninterested in commitment.


DAY ONE

9:00 a.m.: Is it just me, or is everyone else a total idiot? Today I'm traveling to Paris to meet with a client, and it seems like none of the people in this apparation queue have any capacity for efficiency. We're wizards, you fucks. If I wave my wand, you won't be a problem, and yet you're telling me I need to wait fifteen minutes for you to check me for 'contraband' while I, for some inexplicable reason, fight a losing battle to be polite? Trust me, idle hands are not the devil's workshop; international travel is.

9:30 a.m.: One thousand years later I'm finally through customs at the French Ministry, set to apparate to Bordeaux. I send a quick owl to the client (a new one, signed quite recently) apologizing in advance that I will be about ten minutes late; aside from the headache involved, though, I'm not all that fussed about the delay. They'll wait, of course. I'm the sort of person people wait for. I send a second owl to a friend of mine, informing her that I'm available to meet her this evening back in Paris. Calling her a friend is, of course, a deeply ineffectual misnomer, but it seems the polite term. 'Sex friend' is probably less ideal, albeit more true.

10:11 a.m.: The client is a rising singer that I vaguely remember as the sister of the Beauxbatons Triwizard champion from my years at Hogwarts. The singer, a young ingenue who seems scarcely more than a sliver of blonde upon first glance, "greatly admires" my mother, as she makes a point to continuously say. I wonder if she can see my skepticism. My mother is a former opera singer; a soprano, and a prima donna in the truest sense. However, that aspect of her life is not what she's famous for, so for this young slip of a thing to tell me that she sees herself having a career like my mother's strikes me as more than a little questionable.

10:45 a.m.: "Do you also plan to be widowed seven times?" I ask neutrally, and when the Ingenue—I'll call her Mimi, after the soprano role in La Bohème; the character dies in the end, but that's opera for you—pales, I stifle a laugh. "Only asking because as your publicist, I need to be prepared in advance," I tell her, hiding my amusement. Mimi stammers something in response, and I shake my head. "I'm joking," I assure her, and I remind her that she's in good hands; hands with a track record of more than considerable success. She looks relieved. The color returns to her cheeks, and I realize that she's not unattractive. In fact, she's quite beautiful, in an ethereal sort of way. She's also of age, and if I know a thing or two about covert glances—and believe me, I do—she's hardly as innocent as she seems. "What are you doing for lunch?" I ask neutrally.

12:30 p.m.: Lunch is a bit of agneau de Pauillac, some of Bordeaux's best fairy-made wine, and, as I predicted, Mimi, who rides me with a noteworthy enthusiasm. "Your hair looks better undone," I tell her, watching the silvery blonde of it stick to the back of her neck as it comes loose from its girlish twist. In response she says something about how good my dick feels, which is nice, but not strictly necessary. "Have your stylist fix it this way for the French Witch Weekly spread," I continue, and she freezes, finally recognizing that I am still conducting business. "Doesn't this mean anything to you?" she asks me, referencing the sex, and I pointedly remind her we only met this morning; I warn her, as my mother has so often warned me, not to get carried away. Mimi stops, panicked, and I sigh, taking her face in my hands. "What would you rather have," I ask her, "a lover, or a singing career?" She swallows heavily. "A career," she says, and I flip her onto her back. "Then you chose wisely," I promise, flicking my wand to tie her wrists gently to the bed.

3:15 p.m.: "I don't want to be too sexualized," Mimi tells me afterwards, and I don't bother to hide a scoff. I remind her that my mother is more famous for her beauty than she ever was for her talent, and in the end, it was her notoriety that sold records, not her voice. "Everything is an act," I tell her. "Talent isn't," Mimi protests, and I roll my eyes. "You just worry about your talents, then," I say, "and I'll engage mine. I'll make you famous," I promise her, because such is my skill in life. She looks more aroused by that than anything, so I'm not that surprised when she strokes my cock again, hoping for a second round. "Can't," I tell her, rising to my feet and reaching for my trousers. "But I'll see you tomorrow for the shoot."

5:05 p.m.: By the time I'm back in Paris, I've heard back from my friend, whom I'll call Carmen in honor of one of my mother's favorite arias. The Habanera is so inescapably in my blood that I suppose I know the cheeky rhythm of it about as well as I know my own pulse, and though the girl I call Carmen will likely never know this, I feel approximately as fondly of her as I do of the song. She's feisty, a rebellious bird and a gypsy child, and I look forward to chatting with her nearly as much as I enjoy undressing her. 'Practice running late tonight,' she says, and offers a late dinner, around 8:00. I agree.

8:15 p.m.: Carmen is fifteen minutes late when she arrives at my favorite restaurant in Paris' wizarding alley, her hair freshly dried and smelling of roses but her attire completely inappropriate for a place like this, where the waitstaff (nymphets, essentially) wear gauzy, translucent drapes of fabric. Carmen is dressed casually, wearing a skirt that's entirely too short for the setting, and flips her red hair over her shoulder as she sits. "I'm starving," she announces. "Should have come on time, then," I admonish her, as I am not a person generally made to wait. She looks at me for a moment, and then gets up to join me on my side of the booth, undoing the clasp of my trousers and sliding her hand beneath my underwear. I choke on my champagne. "What was that about being late?" she asks.

8:25 p.m.: Her fingers stroke me expertly beneath the table as I attempt, weakly I'm sure, to maintain my composure. Carmen smiles at the nymph who takes our order—tartare of course, for my carnivorous siren—and doesn't bat an eye as I'm struggling to conceal my rapid panting. "Take your time," she adds, handing the menu over to the server with a smile, "we have a long night ahead of us." The moment the nymph leaves, I come with a sputter that takes me by surprise (I don't oppose a digital manipulation from time to time, but I'm a man with experience, so this is hardly the height of pleasure) and she flicks her wand, relieving us both. "God," she yawns, "could you be more predictable?" I glare at her. "Your turn," she says, her gaze flicking pointedly under the table.

8:47 p.m.: "He just had to step out," she tells the server as they conjure our food onto the table. I'm beneath it, wresting her legs apart as I flick my tongue over her clit. "Is there anything else I can get you?" the nymph asks politely, and I slide two fingers into Carmen, just to hear the subsequent catch in her breath. "No, thank you," Carmen replies, "the service here is exemplary."

8:54 p.m.: Carmen's hand drops to linger on the back of my neck, pulling me closer. I love this about her—that she wants what she wants without much regard for how deeply my face is buried in her cunt. I drag her hips down and finish her off, feeling her legs shake around my shoulders as she comes. When I surface, she glances over, handing me a frite. "Good boy," she says.

9:15 p.m.: Dinner is excellent, conversation is excellent. Carmen tells me that she's coming back to London in the next day or so, and I tell her I'll be back as well, once I've handled Mimi's photoshoot. It's the ingenue's first big solo spread, and I want to be sure they follow my guidelines. "She sounds naive," Carmen comments, and asked if I slept with her. Of course I did. "Of course you did," she agrees, shaking her head.

9:33 p.m.: I first met Carmen when my agency assigned me to the U.K. Quidditch All-Stars series early in my career. Well, that's not quite accurate; I knew her at Hogwarts, but she never registered as much other than the daughter of a bunch of blood traitors. I was young then; I said a lot of things I didn't mean, like "I'm straight," or "of course I'll call you tomorrow." Am I supposed to be held accountable for those, too? Anyway, as the token nouveau riche amongst the ruthlessly ancient purebloods of Slytherin House, I couldn't afford to acknowledge Carmen at the time for anything. Once I'd made money of my own and owed nothing in reparations, though, things changed; the purebloods came to me. Turns out they'd rather have friends in high places than stick to their cult of inbreeding … fancy that.

9:35 p.m.: In any case, Carmen was one of my first clients. She had a boyfriend then—I think of him as Aeneas, the prince of Troy, duped by a foolish prophecy—but that was never going to work out with as much as she traveled. His world, heroic or not, was far too small for hers, which was limitless. The moment she was single, it took all of about 30 minutes for me to have her pinned against the wall of her hotel room. She told me she'd never consider me for a romantic relationship; "Good," was all I said.

9:50 p.m.: We apparate to my hotel, which has more luxurious accommodations. She and a teammate are sharing a room elsewhere, but we both know she's not going back there tonight. "I was wondering," she murmurs as I turn the shower off, "can you teach me how to lick pussy like you do?" I glance at her, surprised. "Interesting in switching teams?" I ask her, and she shrugs. "Have someone in mind," she says, which I have to admit is intriguing. I shake my head. "I can't believe you're requiring cunnilingus twice," I say, lamenting her trickery. She quirks a brow. "Can't you?" she prompts arrogantly, grinning. She's right. She loves it, which is something I surely ought to know by now. I shake my head, relenting. "The trick," I say, "is in the angle." I get on my knees and she leans against the shower wall, throwing one leg over my shoulder. "I'm listening," she assures me, patting the top of my head.

10:35 p.m.: "So who is she?" I ask, and she shrugs. Someone on her quidditch team, it seems. "I'm curious," she admits. I've been there. "Teach me how to sell myself," she says, and I remind her that's prostitution. "No," she laughs, "I mean—you're my publicist. Teach me how to make people want me." I sit up to look at her. "You don't need my help," I remind her, but because I'm an excellent sex friend, I position her so that the taut muscle of her legs and the crisp sharpness of her scapulae are prominent as she looks over her shoulder at me on the bed. "No one could resist," I promise her, and then, because I am worth every penny of my exorbitant fee and I sell things so fantastically well, I reward myself. I roll her onto her stomach and kiss her spine before slipping inside her.

10:39 p.m.: She moans. I am an excellent publicist.

11:47 p.m.: We fall back, exhausted. "Set an alarm," she tells me, not bothering to move or dress. "I have practice in the morning," she says, as if I don't know that. I roll my eyes. "Sweet dreams," I tell her, but she's already asleep.


DAY TWO

5:15 a.m.: I wake up to room service arriving and Carmen is helping herself to pain au lait. I groan, furious that I'm awake, but she only leans back, getting crumbs on the bed. "One more for the road?" she asks, and I tell her no. "I'm fucking sleeping," I snap, because she is a monster, and she rolls onto her back, closing her eyes.

5:45 a.m.: "Are you masturbating?" I ask, squinting at her. "Shut up, I'm close," she gasps. She is fucking impossible. "It helps me focus," she insists. "I'm trying to sleep," I remind her, but she seems uninterested in the particulars of my displeasure. "She's so hot," Carmen says, presumably discussing her teammate. "You should see her. Her tits are so fucking perfect, and her mouth—fuck, I want to taste her mouth—" "Again," I snap, "I'm trying to sleep." Carmen moans. I shake my head.

5:50 a.m.: She comes, and I finally go back to sleep.

6:15 a.m.: Peace is short-lived. "I'm leaving," Carmen tells me, slapping my backside with something like fraternal affection. It's a good thing I'm pretty openly bisexual, because she's not even remotely a lady. "See you in London," I tell her, not bothering to lift my head.

10:15 a.m.: I wake up a little groggy, but I pull it together and head over to the Witch Weekly shoot.

11:35 a.m.: Mimi is five minutes late. I tell her for future reference that seven minutes is the sweet spot. "You want them to wait a little," I tell her, "but don't inconvenience people." She looks around, nervous, and I wave her into makeup and repeat the same thing to her stylist that I did to Mimi herself the day prior: make sure she looks undone.

12:27 p.m.: "They want me in a fountain?" Mimi asks, glancing nervously at it. I nod. "It's beautiful," I tell her, "and it'll give you an aura of something expensive—something natural but out of reach." She bites her lip. "But the clothes," she says, and I nod. "They want you wet," I confirm. She looks panicked. "Take five," I tell the photographer.

12:34 p.m.: I pull her aside and press her against the wall, anchoring her hips in place. She swallows hard, staring up at me. "This isn't sex," I tell her, "it's theater. This is an act, a role." She nods, but looks dazed. "You're a woman who enjoys sex," I remind her. I tell her she doesn't have to be a child; she can embrace the part of her that chose to fuck me on a hotel room floor. She looks doubtful, so I kiss her, hard. She hesitates, and then she reaches up, drawing me closer. I let her get into it a little, let her get a little rough with me, and by the time I pull away, her lips are swollen and her hair tousled. "Perfect," I say.

4:13 p.m.: She looks perfect. She looks totally untouchable. I discuss the spread in detail with the photographer and he keeps it tasteful; a glimpse of a slender upper thigh or a hint of decolletage, but never too much. The focus is on her face, her earnest eyes, the covetous glory of the ingenue. Men will want her and women will want to be her, and I've never even heard her sing. I am excellent at my job.

6:15 p.m.: Mimi talks me into a drink after the shoot and I permit a few sips of champagne, but with the excitement of the day and the admiration from shoot that she's just now discovering can be hers, she's got her hands on my cock well before she finishes her first glass. "You can have any boy you want," I remind her, and I'm ready to get back to London, but she is very, very compelling. I sigh, and she slips out of her dress.

7:07 p.m.: "Tell me again how I'm going to be famous," she pants as I fuck her on the loveseat of her hotel suite, gifted to her for the night by Witch Weekly. This is, of course, problematic; but better this, I suppose, then any sort of undue attachment. "I'm going to make you immortal," I tell her, and she comes with a strangled yell.

7:35 p.m.: I wish I could say I feel remorse as I leave her; my mother got pregnant when she was seventeen years old after a tryst with a boy she never saw again, so you'd think I'd see a parallel with my behavior, but I don't. There's a difference between my father, whoever he is, and me; I never lie. I tell Mimi not to romanticize what happened between us, and as I go, I wish her luck.

7:37 p.m.: The other important difference between my father and me? I always use a contraceptive spell; that was my mother's second most important lesson. Her first, the one that ultimately brought her wealth and comfort, was to always guard my heart. I learned that lesson well.

10:25 p.m.: I finally arrive back at my penthouse flat in London far later than I anticipated—there's something strange going on with the enchantment wards in the building, and I couldn't apparate into my unit directly—and there are several owls waiting for me. One from Carmen: 'thanks for the head,' she says. Typical. There's also a few packages; I often get sent samples of things for my clients to try, and one of them is a small rectangle with the words WANDR across the top. I've heard of this, but personally, I'm not interested in dating. I put it aside.

10:34 p.m.: I could use something to take the edge off—travel takes it out of me. I write to a particularly self-destructive friend I have asking if he's got anything on hand. We'll call him Romeo; I always think of him as a tragic romantic figure, prone to idiotic self-sacrifice, though I'm not sure others see him that way. He was essentially the leader while we were at Hogwarts and I have always turned to him when I've been in the business of sabotaging myself.

10:47 p.m.: Romeo saunters through the Floo, as smug and blond as ever. "I'm behaving myself these days," he tells me, tossing a vial at me, "but, you know." I roll my eyes and ask how our friends are doing; it's been awhile since I've been home for any long period of time. Romeo tells me I should check on one of our friends, the son of a particularly infamous Death Eater whom I think of as Mercutio, since he's that attached to Romeo. "Feel like he's up to something," Romeo explains, which I'm almost certain is true; when it comes to Mercutio, he's either up to something or he's wallowing in melancholia. Either way, he shouldn't be left unsupervised.

11:16 p.m.: "What's new with you?" I ask, taking a hit of the vapor. Romeo's gaze darts away. "Nothing," he lies. I'm grateful the intoxicant (and, I suppose, my personality) prevent me from caring much.

11:46 p.m.: Romeo leaves and I lay back on my bed, enjoying the drifting euphoria. I've been absent for quite some time and it's nice to be back here, specifically; I never let anyone into my bedroom. This is my safe space, my utopia.

12:01 a.m.: I fall asleep, blissful. Even though the bliss is manufactured, I consider my night a success.


DAY THREE

8:35 a.m.: I wake a little unsteadily but feel fine by the time I make it into my office; not that I really needed to come in. The agency is owned by my mother, who used the riches she inherited from all her dead husbands to go into business for herself. I'll call her Agrippina, who plotted to secure the throne of the Roman Empire for her son. "Ah, there's my heir," she trills, and I roll my eyes. Unsurprisingly, she has a flair for the dramatic. "Hello Mother," I say.

10:30 a.m.: She calls me into her office for coffee and we discuss my most recent trip. She's pleased with Mimi's addition to our clientele, and tells me she wants me to stay within that vein. More ingenues, it seems, and fewer athletes. "Any bumbling tit-wit can sell sports to the primates that watch them," she says, and while I realize this means I may no longer represent Carmen, I'm not that bothered. "Whatever you say," I assure her, and she smiles beatifically.

11:14 a.m.: 'You dead?' I write to Mercutio. Presumably he isn't, and honestly, I suspect I'd be a bit furious if he were. I'm reluctantly fond of him.

2:17 p.m.: 'Not yet,' Mercutio replies, and thankfully he's had a moment of cognizance and written slightly more. 'Come out tomorrow night,' he suggests, and I'm surprised he wants to go anywhere, but I accept the offer. There's a new club in Diagon; I suppose it's within my work detail to check it out.

4:32 p.m.: I leave the office early, bidding my mother farewell and heading home. I need to decompress; there are a lot of potential new clients and some of them will require a great deal of travel in the near future. The idea is exhausting. I'm relieved Romeo left me a couple of extra vials.

4:45 p.m.: I have some problems apparating into my flat again, so I have to go through the enchanted lifts in the building. While I'm waiting for one, I spot someone familiar; not unusual. I know a lot of people. I realize it's someone I went to school with, only he's not nearly as I remember him. "Is that you?" I ask, using his name, of course, and he turns. His hair's gotten a bit darker now than it was when he was in school, and he seems taller and far leaner. He mutters something in response, ducking his head. I'm going to call him Banquo, because he was—or might have been—the subject of a prophecy, but ultimately he's more of an operatic sidekick than anything.

4:51 p.m.: "I didn't know you lived here," I say, and Banquo mumbles something about just having moved in. "The wards," he adds, "they tend to be finicky with so many enchantments from each flat." I realize he's discussing the problem that's requiring us both to use the lift; dissecting it, like I've asked him for a foot of parchment on the subject. "Right," I permit, hitting the button for the penthouse as he hits the button for the third floor. "I'm not quite that high up," he mutters. I chuckle. I'm rich; I know I'm rich. I've grown accustomed to the fact that that makes other people uncomfortable, but I don't apologize for it.

4:53 p.m.: Banquo seems intimidated by me, which makes me want to laugh. He hasn't changed at all, though his face has certainly lost its childish pudge. He wears his facial hair at a vaguely unkempt length—as though he's forgotten to shave for a couple of weeks, and now his surprisingly sharp cheekbones have cast an exceedingly pleasant shadow. "What do you do now?" I ask him, since I might as well make conversation. He hedges for a bit before he answers. "I teach herbology," he says eventually, and hesitation aside, I'm not surprised. The man's exactly the same and yet I'm drawn in by what, his ability to grow hair on his face? The elevator reaches his floor. He stammers a farewell and I wave ambiguously in response, continuing up the lift.

6:47 p.m.: Food is better stoned. As is sex. The first experience I had with a man was while I was stoned out of my mind, and to this day I don't think I've ever had head that compares; not even from Carmen, who's certainly no slouch. My mind wanders and abruptly, it arrives at a glimpse of Banquo's features. I'd love to fuck him, assuming he could keep his mouth shut. One word about plants and I'd almost certainly lose my erection.

7:56 p.m.: 'Want to come out tomorrow night?' I ask Carmen in an owl, because I remember she's back in London this week. I've never invited her out with Romeo or Mercutio before, but seeing as she won't be a client for much longer, I figure it's an offering that makes sense. She agrees. 'That club is fun,' she adds, and tells me she recently went with one of her friends.

8:17 p.m.: 'Every muscle in my body is sore. Want to have sex where I lay still and do nothing?' she asks hopefully, and I roll my eyes.

8:20 p.m.: 'Take your clothes off,' I reply instead.

8:25 p.m.: 'What am I doing?' she asks.

8:27 p.m.: 'You're touching yourself. I'm standing by the bed watching you. Don't come until I say you can.'

8:35 p.m.: 'You know I hate indulging your ego trips,' she writes back, 'but fine. I'm touching myself. My left hand's on my tits and my right hand is stroking my clit. Are you going to play?'

8:36 p.m.: I take my pants off and then I write to her about how I'm fucking her with my fingers. In my head, though, I'm still sort of fixated on Banquo's mouth; probably a side effect of the vial. When she writes back that she's sucking my cock, I picture the stubble on his cheeks instead. I bet he'd be so hesitant. He'd be so nervous. Probably ask me if he was doing it right—fuck, I'd love that.

8:47 p.m.: 'HELLO,' Carmen says. Oops. 'Come for me,' I tell her.

9:15 p.m.: 'Well, that was hardly your best effort,' she says, irritated. I find it difficult to care; part of being sex friends means that I don't actually owe her shit. I come again imagining Banquo begging for my cock, and then I gradually fall asleep.


DAY FOUR

10:15 a.m.: "You're late, darling," says my mother the empress. "Sorry Agrippina," I say. She looks flattered, and I laugh as she preens. She's as beautiful as ever; it's hard to imagine ever finding a woman more beautiful than my mother, which I suppose is why I occasionally include men in my fantasies (and outside my fantasies, when circumstances present themselves favorably). Mercutio mocks me relentlessly for it, but I can take his teasing. In reality, he's far more Oedipal than I am; I have no interest in fucking my mother, but he certainly longed to kill his father. What a troubled pair we've always been.

10:30 a.m.: "Are you behaving yourself, love?" Agrippina asks me, and I notice that she's holding a letter from Mimi; evidently the ingenue has requested that I personally accompany her when she begins her European tour. "Not very well," I confess with a grimace, and rather than disapprove, she smiles brilliantly. "I'll let the ingenue down easy. You just guard that heart of yours," Agrippina reminds me, "and take no prisoners." As if I need reminding. I kiss her cheek and slip into my office.

5:15 p.m.: The day passes slowly. I feel twitchy and bored, and I greatly look forward to my evening out. I even look forward to traveling next week; my prospective clients include a very intriguing actress in Ireland and a fairly high-profile model seeking new representation for a campaign currently shooting in Rome. Sometimes business is pleasure. Sometimes pleasure is pleasure. Either way, it seems I always come out on top.

7:30 p.m.: I head to Mercutio's, as we agreed to have a quick dinner beforehand. I tell him Carmen will be joining us later, and he arches a brow, but doesn't remark on it much; he only informs me he's seen her recently. He tells me that what Romeo was hesitant to confess to me two nights ago is that he's feverishly chasing a woman who is, aptly, forbidden by his bloodline. I love it when I'm right; despite the golden boy that Romeo always was, I've always been cleverer. Mercutio, on the other hand, is another story. "What's your deal?" I ask, because I can't possibly guess. He smirks. "What is it Agrippina always says?" he muses. "Guard your heart and take no prisoners," I remind him, and he nods, toasting me with a laugh.

7:52 p.m.: "I wish I could tell you who I've been fucking," Mercutio remarks. "Not my mother, is it?" I prompt. He chokes on his firewhisky. "Not quite," he coughs up, grinning broadly.

8:31 p.m.: "Question," Mercutio says unsteadily, and I realize we're already deeply, inescapably pissed, which is probably not a great start. "What do you do when things start getting serious with someone?" he asks me, and I shrug. "Leave," I say, and then ask why he's brought it up, since there's no possible way he's managing an actual relationship. I assume he means sex, and he grimaces. "Anyway," he says, and abruptly changes the subject. "How many men have you fucked?" he asks me, and I'm a little surprised, because while this information about my sexual preferences is certainly not a secret, he's never shown much interest before. "A few," I say.

9:15 p.m.: At this point Mercutio's asked me so many questions about cocks that I ask him if he's writing a book. "And whose mother are you fucking?" I demand, because it better not be mine. He shakes his head. "Not anymore," he says, though he looks like he might be lying; in any case, he's already focused on something else. Something he's not going to tell me, which is irritating. Either he's coming onto me, or he wants to fuck a bloke, or he already is fucking a bloke—but none of those options really seem likely.

9:43 p.m.: I ask Mercutio if he's seen Banquo lately over yet another bottle of Ogden's. "The guy's unrecognizable," I say, and even I can hear the little tinge of awe in my tone. Mercutio shrugs. I think he only finds people interesting if they pick fights with him, which the Banquo of our schooling would never have dared to do. "Until the end," I amend, because he did take quite a beating at the hands of our corrupt heads of house our seventh year. Regardless, Mercutio's not interested, which I suppose is fair.

10:27 p.m.: We head to this new place, which is packed; not my favorite. It seems that idiots from all walks of life have surfaced from their various circles of hell to join us for the evening, and while money means nothing to me, I fundamentally oppose the inflated cost of my glass of Ogden's. "Geez, smile, would you?" I hear behind me, and Carmen's there. "Excellent," I exhale, and she promptly steals my drink.

10:36 p.m.: I am. Not. Sober.

10:45 p.m.: We manage to grab a seat at a table in the corner and Mercutio, who's probably drunker than I am, promptly disappears. Carmen, meanwhile, is regaling me with tales of this teammate she wishes to bed; she still won't tell me who she is, but she details the way she longs to lick this mystery woman's nipples. I, meanwhile, am distracted, as I've noticed that Banquo is here too. Nevermind all previous efforts at inter-house cooperation; all it takes is one shitty club in Diagon Alley to bring people together after a war. Deviants unite.

11:15 p.m.: I look around, noting that I'm one deviant short. "Where's Mercutio?" I ask, and Carmen shrugs, disinterested.

11:25 p.m.: Can't find Mercutio, but I need some air, so I stumble into the alley. Guess who's there? Mercutio. Guess what he's doing? Even I can't process it, as it seems the alcohol has lessened me to an idiot myself. Mercutio's lips are on someone's throat; a man's throat. Whose throat? Aeneas, the fucking scar-faced prince of Troy himself. They're furiously touching each other in the midst of what looks more like a fight than a drunken hook-up and Aeneas looks up, catching my eye as Mercutio fumbles with his trousers. He holds Mercutio's head still, yanking it by the hair at the back of his head, and Mercutio glances over his shoulder, finally noticing me. His tongue slips slyly between his lips and then—slowly, and with obvious deliberation—he kisses Aeneas' neck, his eyes still locked on mine. Aeneas, meanwhile, flips me off, smirking as Mercutio drops to his knees. Aeneas' eyes close, accommodating a groan, and I finally regain the presence of mind to turn, heading back to the club.

11:41 p.m.: Fuck. With as much sex as I've had, you'd think nothing could faze me, but that was unforgivably carnal. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't inconveniently hard.

11:48 p.m.: "Where are you going?" Carmen asks, and I shake my head. "You should ask what your ex-boyfriend is up to," I tell her, but she doesn't care. "Come on," she says, "let's fuck on the dance floor." I don't have the heart to tell her that my mouth is practically watering from watching Mercutio suck Aeneas off, and she's just not the flavor I want this evening.

11:49 p.m.: "Go find that girl," I tell Carmen briskly, "and don't waste your time on me." I think maybe what I meant was don't waste my time, and I think maybe she heard it. Her eyes narrow. "I knew eventually you'd be as selfish with me as you are with the other people who are dumb enough to fuck you," she retorts furiously, "but—" This is too much. This is ridiculous. "When will you learn you can't rely on me for anything?" I demand, cutting her off. Her eyes widen, and then she leaves.

12:02 a.m.: I find Banquo. "Hey," I say, and he catches me; apparently I've stumbled. "Are you okay?" he asks; a stupid question. Of course I'm not okay, and even if I were, that's not important. I want his mouth on my dick. I want to stroke his cock until he's shaking in my hands. I want to fuck him and discard him like I've done to a thousand other people a thousand times before. I want to lay claim to him and take no prisoners and by the end of Act II, I want to leave utter fucking devastation in my wake. Banquo, however, seems unfazed. "Let me take you home," he offers.

12:10 a.m.: "You kind of saved me," he says, in some sort of awkward confessional. I wish he'd stop talking. He tells me about an unpleasant Wandr date he was on, but I can't possibly summon the energy to care. We take the stupid lift into my stupid flat and he looks around, his mouth falling open. "Wow," he manages. "Does yours not look like this?" I joke obnoxiously, and he wordlessly shakes his head. "I just moved here," he says, "because I'm on sabbatical, so I'm not sure I'm going to be able to aff-" "Cool," I say disinterestedly, pulling him towards my bedroom.

12:34 a.m.: He seems to be keeping his distance, which pisses me off. "Don't tell me you're straight," I mutter as I tumble onto my bed. He gives a throaty chuckle and I fervently wish my dick were in his mouth. "I'll owl you in the morning," he says, "and maybe we can have dinner." If I could open my eyes, I would roll them. "Dinner," I scoff. He nods and tells me about some fucking plant I should take to alleviate the dehydration in the morning. I'm furious. "Fine," I say, with as much bitterness as I can muster.

12:45 a.m.: "Why me?" he asks. "Fuck if I know," I say, "I just want what I want." He leaves. I'm going to kill Mercutio.

1:14 a.m.: How's that for an opera plot?


DAY FIVE

11:24 a.m.: "Not your best work, darling," my mother says as I stumble in close to lunchtime, having struggled through the morning after stubbornly forgetting whatever plant Banquo was rambling on about. "What, am I late?" I ask drily, and she sighs, handing me some hangover potion that she keeps in her desk drawer. "Why don't you take the day?" she suggests, and I nod, fumbling with the vial.

11:25 a.m.: "Oh darling," she says, taking my face in her hands. "What's gotten into you?" she asks. "Just tired," I say, because I'm not sure I have a better answer. She kisses my cheek. "You are my favorite thing," she tells me, softening a little as she looks at me, and repeats herself. "You are my favorite, favorite thing, my darling." "I thought your independence was your favorite thing," I comment, and she shakes her head. "It doesn't have my eyes, though," she laments, and I sigh.

12:15 p.m.: The fucking wards to my flat are still misbehaving, so I make my way to the lobby again. Horrendously, Banquo is there. "Hey," he begins, "so, about dinner—" I can't help it. I groan aloud. He blinks, startled. "Look," I say, "you're making me jump through hoops, I get it, but whatever you want from me, I'm not going to give it to you. So we can fuck," I say emphatically, "but the pretense of dinner is not going to happen." He swallows heavily, and I want to strangle him and blow him at the same time. I convince myself to do neither. "Have a nice day," I say, getting in the lift without bothering to wait for him.

12:35 p.m.: I go to my bedroom to take a nap, but I did a terrible thing by letting him in my bedroom. I see where he stood in the room—where he sat on my duvet—and the whole thing is ruined. I walk out to the sofa and pass out there instead.

3:32 p.m.: I wake up to an owl. 'Are you really not going to apologize?' says Carmen. I go back to sleep.

4:14 p.m.: Naturally, I can't actually sleep. Perhaps I should have introduced myself as Don Giovanni; I could see myself dragged down to hell right about now. Such is the end of the evildoer, of which I am certainly one; the death of a sinner always reflects his life. Wouldn't it be right—wouldn't it be a perfect reflection—for me to waste away to nothing on this sofa having just disappointed two pure-hearted idiots? I marvel at my unrelenting cleverness. I despise my guarded heart.

4:47 p.m.: 'Fine,' I write to Carmen. 'I'm sorry. I just really needed some dick.'

5:02 p.m.: 'Could have just said so,' she says.

5:05 p.m.: 'You try with that girl yet?' I ask.

5:08 p.m.: 'Not yet. Did you get the dick you wanted?'

5:15 p.m.: 'No. Fucked that up.'

5:24 p.m.: 'Never too late to fix it, right?'

5:30 p.m.: 'You're hopelessly optimistic. You're terrible and I hate you.'

5:34 p.m.: 'Blow me.'

5:43 p.m.: Well, all's well that ends well.

6:51 p.m.: Eventually I get dressed with a sigh and head downstairs, knocking on Banquo's door. He looks surprised to see me, but he's dressed sharply, as if he's going out; his shirt is unbuttoned far enough that I can see the hint of tattoos on his chest. That's a surprise. "What?" he asks, folding his arms over his chest. I lament the loss of my highly intriguing view. "Dinner," I say. "Can't," he replies stiffly, "I'm meeting someone else." "Where?" I ask. He gives me the name of some restaurant in Diagon. "I can take you somewhere better," I say, and it's less an offer than a certainty. I can get us in anywhere in London—anywhere in the world. I'm objectively the better choice. "I don't want you," he says flatly, and leaves.

7:14 p.m.: Well. That's unacceptable. How long does it take for a date to go badly? Ten minutes? I pace my living room and then I head to the restaurant he mentioned.

7:34 p.m.: "Thank you so much," I say a touch too loud to the elf who seats me beside Banquo and his date, who is some wizard I don't recognize. Looks like an idiot, I think, and probably is. Banquo's gaze instantly snags on me, his mouth curling into a childish scowl. "Well," I declare, opening the wine list. "What's good here?"

7:42 p.m.: He can't stop staring at me. What a pity.

7:52 p.m.: After I've ordered an insanely expensive bottle of wine and Banquo's listened to his date drone on at length about the unseasonable weather, Banquo appears to have finally had enough. "Can I see you for a minute?" he asks me, gripping my wrist, and I let him pull me away. "Sorry," I say to his date, "I suppose he's just intent on something—" fucker, I think, laughing internally and glorying in my superiority until Banquo drags me into the corridor by the bathrooms.

7:54 p.m.: "What are you doing?" Banquo hisses, and I shrug. "Providing you options," I say, backing him against the wall. I slip my hand under the gap in his shirt, loosening another button and drawing a fingertip over the lion that's tattooed there. He grips my wrist, his teeth gritted. "Don't," he says. I laugh, and he tightens his grip. "I mean it," he warns quietly. "Don't what?" I ask innocently.

7:56 p.m.: "Either you're willing to give me what I want, or I don't want you at all," he says. This surprises me; I suppose I'm too used to ingenues. "And what the fuck do you want, then?" I ask. His expression turns to a tightened grimace. "Take me seriously," he growls, and then he returns to his table without another word.

8:04 p.m.: Suddenly, I no longer feel like returning to my table. I have the server give the bottle of wine I ordered to Banquo's table. "Tell him he knows where to find me," I say, dropping several galleons in her palm.

8:25 p.m.: I'm reading a book on my sofa when there's a knock on my door. I wave my wand to open it and see Banquo standing there, loping in the doorway. "You have control problems," he says without preamble. I set the book aside. "I can take control," I tell him, and feel a thrill up my spine; I know precisely what I'm going to make him do—what I'm going to make him say.

8:27 p.m.: He shuts the door behind him and sets his jaw. "I don't have a lot of experience with this," he opens carefully, and I step towards him. "I can make it good for you," I promise him, but rather than let his eyes widen or set his lip coyly between his teeth, he shakes his head. "We do this the way I want," he says, "or we don't do it at all." I'm intrigued. "I'm listening," I say, warily.

8:38 p.m.: He steps forward, looking a little dazed. "Why am I living here?" he asks, and I blink. He arches a brow expectantly. "You weren't listening, were you?" he asks, and I grimace. "Listen," I begin, "it's not like I was—"

8:39 p.m.: He cuts me off by taking my face in his hands and kissing me, firmly. It's not an overlong kiss, but it has substance. It has promise. I lick the taste of him from my lips and he stares at me. "That was my first kiss with a man," he says, "and you don't even give a fuck about me, do you?" I blink. "I'm happy to give you your second," I tell him.

8:42 p.m.: He turns to the door and I reach out, stopping him. "What do you want from me?" I demand. He doesn't turn back around. "Just—give a fuck," he mutters. Fine by me, I think; that's as much an act as anything, and I'm so excellent at pretend. I step closer, letting my hands float over his shoulders and down the length of his upper arms before brushing my lips against the back of his neck. "Tell me again why you're living here," I say.

8:49 p.m.: He's on sabbatical. He felt claustrophobic staying in the castle, and living in Hogsmeade wasn't much better. It haunted his every move, he says; it was the place he loved the most, but also the place he suffered the most, and he can't bring himself to forgive it.

8:57 p.m.: He thought he needed an outlet, so he got the tattoos. He thought he needed a purpose, so he buried himself in research. Everything he thought he needed turned out not to help at all, and now he's running away. "It's just for a year," he says, "but it'll have to be one hell of a year if I can ever manage to go back."

9:05 p.m.: "So you're living here because you're an escape artist," I summarize, finally able to answer the question. "So are you," Banquo notes. I clear my throat. "Now what?" I ask. He turns to face me on the sofa, considering it, and then he kisses me again. This time it's longer, and I slip my tongue against his. He lets me do it. I pull him on top of me, grinding my hips up against his, but he stops me as my hands start to wander. "Tell me what you're running from," he says. I stroke his cock over his trousers and he shakes his head, withdrawing to sit up on the couch. I recognize that this, too, is nonnegotiable.

9:15 p.m.: "Caring," I say, "only hurts people." "Couldn't you argue that it makes people stronger?" he asks, which is just like a fucking Gryffindor. If he wants me to be the kind of person who luxuriates in cliches, that's not a tragedy I want any part of. "I don't even want to fuck you anymore," I say. He stands. "Come find me tomorrow if you change your mind," he says, and leaves.

10:35 p.m.: He's a right little shit. I take the last of Romeo's vials.

11:14 p.m.: You know what's not better stoned? Masturbation. I see Banquo's face and taste his lips and it makes everything a thousand times worse.

1:25 a.m.: I'm done with this. I'm done.


DAY SIX

12:15 p.m.: An owl is tapping upsettingly at my window and I rise with a groan, accepting the letter. 'You know, I'm back on the road VERY SOON,' Carmen threatens. I shake my head and give in, inviting her over.

12:30 p.m.: She shows up at my door in a pair of tight black trousers, her hair in a long braid that's presently tossed over her right shoulder. "Should we fuck first, or talk?" she asks. I shrug. "How sore are you?" I ask. She tells me she's in top form. "Take your pants off, then," I say.

12:41 p.m.: She rides my face on the floor, moaning up a storm, and when she comes I put her on all fours on the sofa, admiring the curve of her arse before I fuck her. "Do you think I have control issues?" I ask, teasing the tip of my cock against her as she moans again. I enjoy how vocal she is, and I also enjoy that she's not relentlessly quizzing me about her life or my personal philosophies just to get a fucking kiss. "Absolutely," she gasps, and I respond with a none-too-gentle thrust. "Fucker," she hisses, and I yank on her braid. "It's not your fault," she pants, "your mum fucked you up. You think doing things for other people is weakness." I slam into her as punishment; naturally, she seems to like it. "You think keeping people at arm's length is smart," she says, throwing her head back, "but you'll never feel anything that way—you'll never—oh fuck, YES—"

12:55 p.m.: "What was I saying?" she asks, trying to catch her breath as we both fall back on the rug. "I have no idea," I reply.

1:14 p.m.: "Why wouldn't we work?" she asks me. I shrug. "I think it's because you'd rather have your space than have me," she says. "Sounds right," I permit, but I remind her that she never wanted me either. She shrugs. "Listen, I'm a realist," she says, "and I want things you can't give me. Thus, I don't want you." It should sting—and it does, in a way—but in the wake of it, I'm mostly silent.

1:45 p.m.: "You're not an idiot," I tell her. She glances warily at me. "What a fucking compliment," she remarks wryly.

2:35 p.m.: "Listen, I can't just go after a teammate," she tells me when I bring up her mystery love interest. I shrug. "Will she give you whatever it is that I can't?" I ask, and she thinks about it. "You know, you could," she says, "I just don't think you want to, and I don't want to wait for you to change your mind." "That's probably best," I say.

3:43 p.m.: I give her a little more advice, sex friend-to-sex friend, about how to pleasure a woman, and she gives me a high five, apparating out. I'm sure we'll see each other soon.

4:37 p.m.: She apparated out, I realize with a start. This occurs to me with a strange blow of disappointment, because it means the problems with the wards have probably been resolved. If I don't want to run into Banquo, I likely won't have to.

7:47 p.m.: I can't be in this apartment. I just keep thinking about the friction from Banquo's trousers against my leg, the stubble on his jaw, the look in his eyes. How desperate am I?

8:45 p.m.: "I'm this desperate," I say when he opens the door. He steps aside, waving me into a flat about an eighth the size of mine.

9:15 p.m.: "Hungry?" he asks. I'm not. "Me either," he says, but he hands me a beer. I don't drink beer. This is cheap beer. He's wearing a jumper that looks like his grandmother knitted it. "Take that off," I say, almost irritably. He puts his hand in his pocket, leaning against the wall as he eyes me. "What the fuck do you want?" he asks me. "Your dick," I say. "You can have anyone's dick," he tells me without expression, and he's not wrong. "Why mine?" he asks. I don't have an answer, so I slam the beer down on the counter and turn to leave.

9:20 p.m.: He stops me, stepping to block the door. "I'm not going to get involved with someone who doesn't give a shit about me," he says. I scoff. "Haven't you heard of casual sex?" I drawl. "I've heard of it," he says, "but I don't want it." I stare at the motion of his throat as he swallows. "My bedroom is that way," he says, pointing to it. I frown. "I thought you said you don't want casual sex," I say. He shrugs. "I don't," he says, "so if I ask for too much, just stop me."

9:30 p.m.: The first thing I do when he kisses me is take that fucking jumper off, and I see that his tattoos cover more than just his chest; he has two full sleeves in addition to a chest and back piece. "Fuck," I say, "what on earth were you trying to cover up?" He pulls my shirt off in response, resting the palms of his hands on my unblemished skin. "Memories," he mutters, and shoves me onto the bed.

9:45 p.m.: The kissing is good, but I want more. He shoves my hand away. "What do you want?" he asks. "Your dick," I reply, and then, more of a retort than anything, I ask, "what do you want?" He smiles. "Well, that's step one," he remarks, sucking at the base of my throat.

10:02 p.m.: "What do you want?" I ask again, breathing hard, and he pauses his lips on my torso, considering it. "I want control," he says. I blink. Once. Twice. I go rigid. He sits up. "That or nothing," he says. "Fine," I say eventually, and he gets out his wand. "What the fuck?" I ask, scrambling away, and he pauses. "Do I have control or not?" he asks. I want to kill him. "Fine," I say, and he flicks it carefully, strapping me to the bed.

10:05 p.m.: I immediately panic, and he covers my mouth with his, catching my sharp exhalation on his tongue. "Relax," he says.

10:10 p.m.: He kisses my neck, my shoulders, my chest. With my eyes closed and my hands tied I can do nothing but endure it, wondering what he'll touch next. I'm unreasonably, devastatingly hard, and then I feel his hands on the button of my trousers. I hold my breath.

10:20 p.m.: His tongue flicks over my tip. "Tell me what you want," he says. "I want you to suck me off," I say instantly, ready to drown in a river if he doesn't. Miraculously, he takes my cock in his mouth, humming his agreement, and my hips jerk up. "Do that again," I gasp, and then, for some reason, I say please. He hums something like approval and I writhe beneath him, unraveling.

10:27 p.m.: I've never come this hard in my entire goddamn life.

10:45 p.m.: His tattooed chest slides up against mine and he's clearly exploring me, seeing how he feels against me, and I think I understand this now. I tell him to let my hands loose; I promise, somewhat wryly, that I won't touch his cock. He agrees, looking dubious, but I let my hands float over his waist, his hips; I drag my fingers up his spine and settle them beneath his shoulders. He's learning me, so I learn him.

11:05 p.m.: In the Verdi, Banquo returns to haunt Macbeth. My Banquo does the same to me; even after I leave him, I feel his touch on my skin.

11:35 p.m.: "I want more," he said before I left. "More of me?" I asked, dubious. He shrugged. "All of you," he replied.

12:16 a.m.: I'm not ready to give him that.

12:48 a.m.: I may never be ready to give him that.


DAY SEVEN

12:45 p.m.: I do nothing for most of the morning. I pack, seeing as I'm leaving tomorrow. I also send Mercutio an owl, since I still have some questions.

1:15 p.m.: "Oh, hello," says Mercutio as he apparates in. "So," I say, and bring up him and Aeneas. He shrugs, looking smug. "Is it real?" I ask him, finding that difficult to believe. He thinks about his answer for a second.

1:16 p.m.: "You know how everyone is the worst?" he asks, and I laugh. "Yeah," I say. He shrugs. "He's not the worst," he says slowly. I shake my head, underwhelmed. "What a compliment," I remark, but then I remember that I said something similar to Carmen, and it really had been a compliment. It was, in fact, unparalleled affection. "Oh, so you're fucked, then," I realize, and Mercutio sighs. "Catastrophically fucked," he agrees.

2:35 p.m.: We chat for a bit, since I won't be back for a week or so, and I promise not to say anything to anyone about Aeneas. Mercutio shrugs. "They'll find out eventually," he says. "Sure," I say, "but why should I be the one to open that door?" He looks grateful, but also indignant, as though I have snatched the gratitude out from under him.

2:36 p.m.: "Don't die," I say, patting him on the back. "Guard my heart and take no prisoners?" he asks. I think about it. It doesn't seem as necessary as it used to. "Just don't die," I say again.

6:45 p.m.: 'Enjoy your travels, darling,' says an owl from my mother. I consider, strangely, that if she had always guarded her heart as she advised me to guard mine, we would never have had each other. 'I'll miss you, Agrippina,' I write back.

7:16 p.m.: "I'm surprised you're not out on a date," I tell Banquo when he opens the door to his flat. I lean against the frame, imitating nonchalance; I am, after all, so very good at making things look real. He runs a hand through his hair. "I think I'm going to lay off that for a while," he tells me. I ask him why, and he sighs. "Come on," he says, shaking his head, "you know why."

7:30 p.m.: "I can't give you what you want yet," I say. "It's going to take me a long time."

7:32 p.m.: "Does a year sound feasible?" he asks.

7:33 p.m.: I nod slowly. "I'll be gone for a bit," I tell him. "For work."

7:35 p.m.: "Can I ask you to come back to me?" he says.

7:36 p.m.: I think about it. "Yes," I say.

7:38 p.m.: "Yes I can ask?" he prompts, with a faint smile.

7:39 p.m.: I shake my head. "Yes," I clarify, "I'll come back."

8:30 p.m.: He grips the back of my neck so tightly while I blow him that I feel strangely anchored. I suspect I should feel adrift in unfamiliar territory, but instead I feel steadied. Besides, he tastes like expensive merlot.

9:15 p.m.: "Tell me about your tattoos," I tell him later. I'd like to do a lot more, but I've resigned myself to waiting, even if that means stocking his flat with better alcohol. Banquo looks surprised by the request, and then hesitant. "Could take a while," he tells me, somewhat sheepishly, "and a lot of them are plants, so—" I shrug, settling myself beside him on the sofa.

9:16 p.m.: "As it turns out, I've got lots of time," I say, and it comes out like a promise.

Chapter Text

Episode VI: The Single Mother Who's Just Been Spectacularly Kissed

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a former disinherited pureblood attempts to find hope in the future: 45, female, straight, widowed.


DAY ONE

7:01 a.m.: I wake up to the feel of my grandson's fingers tightly gripping my nose. I open my eyes, arching my brow expectantly, and he smiles at me. "Morning," he says insistently, and I'm not sure if he's offering it as a greeting or if he's simply informing me that it's time to wake up. I suspect it's the latter. "Hungry?" I ask him. His smile broadens, his scruffy turquoise hair rippling brilliantly as the sun drips in through the window.

7:30 a.m.: Let's call my little troublemaker Caelum, like the constellation. It feels strange to call him my grandson; not because it makes me feel incredibly old (although it does) but because it saddens me as well. I feel a small (not small—rather immense, actually) twinge of pain each time I remember that I only have the privilege of raising him because his mother, my daughter, was killed three years ago. Each day Caelum grows bigger, cleverer, and more wonderful, and I cherish my time with him, but it's a remarkably conflicting thing to watch. Each day he changes is another day that passes without my daughter—without my son-in-law, who I barely even got a chance to know, and without my husband. Still, I'm glad that if I had to lose them, I didn't lose everything. They're here, my husband's sense of humor and my daughter's clever mischief, in the way that Caelum gives me a look of skepticism, waiting for his omelette. "Hush," I tell him, flipping it in the pan. He promptly gives himself a snout, bleating at me.

8:15 a.m.: Caelum is a messy eater, like my husband was. If anything, actually, my husband was worse; though he always made me laugh, getting sauce on his nose and then rubbing it shamelessly into my cheek. I'll call him Perseus. He and my daughter were thick as thieves, and though I feel terrible admitting this, it's sometimes a very cruel blessing to be raising Caelum on my own. When my daughter was born I was only eighteen, and barely more than a child myself. I worried relentlessly about her development and her health (and whether she was eating sufficient nutrients or if she'd been dressed warmly enough) while Perseus bonded with her over laughter, over joy and freedom and fun. She was never close to me, and I don't blame her. Perseus was always irresistibly charming; I never stood a chance. Caelum, however, seems to find me hilarious. He hands me his banana peel and I graciously accept it, wearing it as a hat. He laughs, turning his hair yellow.

11:15 a.m.: Caelum and I play for a bit and then his godfather, a young man who was close to Caelum's father, walks in through the Floo; I'll call him Leo. He likes to visit with Caelum during his lunch breaks on occasion, and today he's watching Caelum while I take a meeting. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?" I ask Leo, and he looks up, nudging his glasses up on his nose before smiling at me. "Sure we will," he says easily, and Caelum, who has devotedly made a matching scar appear on his forehead, solemnly nods his agreement. "Tell her I say hello," Leo tells me, and I sigh that I will, stepping through the Floo.

11:20 a.m.: It's exceedingly odd returning to Hogwarts; I try not to remember that my daughter and son-in-law died here in the castle and instead recall my life the last time I actually lived here, in what feels like a thousand lifetimes ago. The markers of the love I had with Perseus are everywhere, even with all the time that's passed. The library was where he first kissed me; he told me he loved me in the courtyard. I told him I loved him in his bed—which was also (coincidentally, of course) where we slept together for the first time, and the second time, and for several dozen more times until we gained the confidence to make use of the rest of the castle.

11:21 a.m.: "Ahem," I hear behind me, and break from my reverie. "Hello," I tell the headmistress, whom I'll call Sagitta. She was my Transfiguration professor, and Gryffindor's head of house. "Hello," she says pleasantly, gesturing to the desk.

11:35 a.m.: After a minimal effort at small talk, Sagitta tells me she's asked me here to offer me a job. "You've been monumentally helpful with returning the castle to its former glory," she says, and though I feel 'monumental' is a stretch, I offer a nod. "It's the least I can do," I say, and I don't explain why. I don't have to. She nods. "The problem is that I'm having some staffing shortages," she explains, and gives me quite a list of problems; her Herbology professor is on sabbatical, her History of Magic professor has been dead for a few too many years, and she can no longer afford to split her attention between her Transfiguration students and her duties as Headmistress. I frown. "How can I help?" I ask.

11:45 p.m.: She wants me to teach Transfiguration in her stead, and to say I'm surprised is an understatement. To be asked to teach at all is certainly one thing, but to be asked to step in where she herself once taught is quite another. "You were quite a good student, you know," Sagitta tells me, as unambiguously if she is remarking on the weather, and I accept the compliment for what it is; but my talent (alleged talent, of which I'm not wholly convinced) aside, I have others to think about. I remind Sagitta that I'm raising Caelum in his parents' absence, and she waves a hand, somewhere between reassuring and unfazed. "Professors have lived here with children before," she tells me, "and he would be welcome in the castle, or we could set you up in Hogsmeade—up to you."

12:00 p.m.: I press for logistical details, but in reality, my mind is elsewhere. I cannot imagine living in the castle, but there's a tiny voice in my head that whispers things; things like aren't you tired of living alone with your husband's ghost and can you really stand to depend on others for money for the rest of your life and can you really say no?

12:02 p.m.: I shake myself, telling Sagitta I need to think. She nods. "Take the week," she suggests kindly, and I manage a nod in return, swallowing hard.

12:15 p.m.: We part with a somewhat awkward hug, and then I step through the Floo into my living room. I call for Leo and Caelum, but they don't respond; out of the corner of my eye I see motion from the garden.

12:17 p.m.: Leo is helping Caelum learn to fly on a child's broom we bought a couple of weeks at a shop in Diagon—Leo's idea, of course. He was quite a good Seeker when he was at Hogwarts, and I know it brings him endless pleasure to infect Caelum with his own love of the sport. I was hesitant at first, worried for Caelum's safety, but I know it means something to Leo to be able to share this with his godson. "How was it?" Leo asks me breathlessly, catching sight of my approach.

12:30 p.m.: I tell Leo about Sagitta's offer. He seems excited by the prospect initially, but his expression stiffens slightly at the idea of us moving to Hogwarts. He knows, as do I, that it is unquestionably more difficult to travel to and from the castle from anywhere outside it; entry to the school requires several levels of permissions—especially from the Ministry, which is where he works. "What did you say?" he asks cautiously, but Caelum interrupts, his hair turning violently purple as he insists Leo return to their game.

12:40 p.m.: Leo has set up a bit of an obstacle course in the garden, teaching Caelum what he calls "cornering," and as Caelum excitedly shouts his way through it, Leo seems to have forgotten my news. "We need a quaffle now," he announces, and looks up at me, his eyes bright and hair more unruly than ever. "Could you meet me in Diagon after work this evening?" he asks, and Caelum looks up, his gaze as brilliantly green as Leo's. I hesitate, but Caelum begs. "Please?" Caelum asks me, and I melt. "Fine," I sigh, and Leo gives Caelum a conspiratorial high five.

12:45 p.m.: Leo tells me he'll meet us in Diagon Alley outside the novelties shop his friend owns. I nod; we did the same thing when we got the broom. I feel a thrill of something that's either curdling dread or a prickling of excitement, but Leo doesn't notice. "See you later!" he tells Caelum, and Caelum waves.

2:45 p.m.: I'm tidying up in the kitchen when I receive an owl from my younger sister, whom I'll call Lyra. She wants to have lunch tomorrow, and I quickly agree. We've been on better terms recently, and considering how much of my family I've lost in my life (namely: all of it), having her back is an unexpected gift. From the sound of her note, I suspect something is bothering her, but I don't ask her yet. We've been estranged for more than half our lives; we're still re-learning sisterhood.

3:57 p.m.: Caelum falls asleep in my lap as I read him the Beedle the Bard tales, and while he sleeps my mind wanders to our planned visit this evening. I didn't tell Leo that his friend, the shop owner, ran into me in Diagon shortly after our first meeting. I'll call Leo's friend Pol, as in Pollux, the immortal twin in the Gemini constellation. Pol bumped into me while I was running errands and asked me if I would have dinner with him, which I accepted, thinking the offer friendly enough. He's a charming young man, inordinately funny, and Caelum worships him, though I suspect Caelum's at an age where the lack of one ear is simply too novel to pass up. I suspect, too, that Pol may have more of an interest in me than he should. I remind myself to put a stop to it just as my eyelids start to feel heavy, and I succumb to a nap of my own.

4:35 p.m.: "Mummy," Caelum says, nudging me. I open my eyes, waking. "Nanny," I correct him, not for the first time. He shakes his head. "Mummy," he says again, and I sigh. Of course he doesn't understand, and why would he? I kiss his temple, sweeping his turquoise hair from his forehead. "We're going to be late," he tells me disapprovingly, and I lightly pinch his cheek. "So true," I agree.

5:15 p.m.: We get there a little before Leo arrives, but Pol sees us outside the window and leaps out, waving us in. "What'll it be this time?" he asks, and pulls a chocolate galleon from his cursed ear; Caelum's cheeks instantly break out in freckles as Pol offers him the sweet. "I presume you've been asked to join the English National team by now, have you?" Pol asks very seriously, and Caelum shakes his head. "FOOLS," Pol declares, ushering him into the store and winking at me.

5:30 p.m.: Leo arrives, breathless, just as Pol is tasting Bertie Bott's beans at Caelum's behest. "Sorry I'm late," Leo mutters, shaking his head, "got caught up with something." "No problem," I say, gesturing to where Pol pantomimes the scrubbing of his tongue and Caelum laughs in delight. "Hey, that's enough fooling around," Leo interrupts, feigning sternness. "We need to find you a quaffle." Caelum, instantly reminded of the pivotal task at hand, takes Leo's hand, leading him to the children's quidditch supplies and leaving me behind with Pol. I try to conjure a smile, but it isn't until he flashes me his broad grin that I manage it.

5:45 p.m.: "Sorry you're left with the granny," I say, and Pol shakes his head. "You haven't returned my owls," he commented. "Haven't called, either, and I checked—pretty sure my Floo's working," he jokes. I force myself not to blush, not to be sheepish. "It was a lovely dinner," I say, "but it was just that—dinner."

5:47 p.m.: Pol steps closer and I swallow heavily, nearly tripping over a set of enchanted wooden ducks that quack their way across the floor. He says my name in a low voice, his brown eyes settling on mine. "Am I really so terrible?" he asks me, and it's a devastating question, because he is not. He's charming and funny and clever, and he's really rather handsome and oh, so young—and therein lies the terror.

5:50 p.m.: "Is it my ear?" he asks, gesturing to the side of his head. "Is it because I'll never be able to wear glasses?" he bemoans. I try to hold in a laugh, and only partially succeed. "Tell me," he warns, resting his arm on the wall behind me, "or I'll be forced to give you my full list of ear-related puns."

5:52 p.m.: Laughter leaves my lips in a heavy sigh. "Can't you see why not?" I ask him, gesturing to myself, to the twenty years between us and the heartbreaks in our pasts, and to where my grandson was—my grandson, I remind myself, whom I have a duty to raise without distraction. Pol simply shrugs. "I see the cleverest woman I've ever met," he tells me, "and the most wickedly funny, too. Who has the most brilliant laugh," he adds, stepping closer to me, "and whose dress I'd like to—"

5:56 p.m.: "Mummy," Caelum interrupts, and Pol and I leap apart. "Nan," I attempt to correct him, but he's having none of it. He tells me about something else that he wants, some ball or stick or something, and Leo asks Pol if he has any in the back. Pol, looking devilishly knavish, turns to me. "I don't have any bats in stock," he begins, and I frown, processing the word bats, "but I could get one. Perhaps I could bring it for you when it arrives?" he asks, glancing innocently at me. Leo's brow furrows slightly, but Caelum is elated. "Fine," I relent. "Brilliant!" Pol says, winking at Caelum. I know I've made the right choice when the boy turns neon pink with excitement. "Spoiled," I inform Caelum lamentingly, but he merely takes my hand, leaning his head against my leg.

6:15 p.m.: Eventually I make excuses for us to leave, ushering Caelum out, and Leo turns to me. "About the Hogwarts offer," he begins, and I remind him I haven't made a decision. "I know," he assures me, "but before you go—if you go," he qualifies, and I nod, "there's something I'd like to do." He asks me if he can introduce someone to Caelum, and I'm a bit bemused, but I agree. "Saturday?" Leo asks. I nod; I trust his judgment. He looks relieved.

7:00 p.m.: Caelum and I have a quiet night at home, as we often do. It's a quiet life, I know, but hopefully a happy one; Caelum certainly seems happy enough, chatting endlessly about Leo's quidditch plans.

8:00 p.m.: By the time I get Caelum to bed, I'm met with a sudden surge of energy. Part of me wishes I could have a glass of wine with an adult, and then I remember I'm seeing my sister tomorrow. That will be nice.

9:30 p.m.: I get into bed with a book but my mind wanders, and I end up thinking of Perseus. I gave up everything for him, my family and status and wealth, and I never once regretted it. Sometimes, though, on nights like these, I'm angry with him. "You left me," I tell him, speaking into the empty air. He could have just registered as a muggle-born—it might have been okay—but he left me instead; we both knew he wasn't coming back. "I love you," he said to me when he left, as warm and brilliant as always, even as we both knew what he was saying was goodbye.

9:57 p.m.: I hate that he stood for his principles; I needed him. I wanted him to stay. I lost everything once, rebuilt a new life from scratch, and then lost it all again; but I know in my heart the worst of it started with losing him.

10:01 p.m.: "I love you," I whisper to the empty room, and then I gradually slip into sleep.


DAY TWO

6:59 a.m.: "I'm hungry," says Caelum. I give him a squeeze and he touches my face, his hair briefly taking on my own light brown tint. "Mummy," he says, hoping to cajole me, and I sigh. "You're impossible," I tell him.

11:15 a.m.: I'm struggling with his hair, which he unrepentantly makes stand on end as I try to smooth it down. I remind him we're going to have lunch with Lyra, who's rather conservative, and who will be alarmed by the sight of the indigo spikes he has chosen for the day. "How about brown," I suggest, and he makes a face. "Or black," I attempt, like Leo's, and he shakes his head, turning his hair a coppery shade of red. "Or that," I sigh, recognizing that he's adapted Pol's loose waves. "She'll love that."

12:00 p.m.: "My goodness," Lyra remarks, glancing down at Caelum as we step through the Floo. "What's this?" she asks, her pale brow furrowing. "My fault," I explain, shrugging, "I told him you wouldn't like blue." Lyra bends down, tapping Caelum's nose. "Give me green," she suggests, "like my gown." Caelum blinks for a moment, and then his hair is a bright, ebullient emerald. "Better," Lyra pronounces, looking pleased.

12:15 p.m.: Caelum is quick to run off to play with a house elf, and I join Lyra in the garden. "What's new?" she asks, and I tell her about Sagitta's offer. "It's not a bad idea," Lyra comments carefully, sipping her cup of tea. I nod. "The idea of making a living is rather a necessity," I admit, and she pauses, her pale brow creasing. "Did we not give you enough?" she asks, and though the question might be uncouth coming from another woman, I know Lyra is simply being practical. I tell her I don't wish to rely on her generosity; neither that, nor on what my husband, daughter, and son-in-law left behind. I want all of that to be for Caelum. "Besides," I add, "don't you have reparations to pay the Ministry? I don't want to be a burden." Lyra conspicuously changes the subject. "We're fine," she says, and comments blithely on the state of her gardenias.

12:35 p.m.: "Are you seeing anyone?" Lyra asks casually, and I promptly cough up a lung's worth of Earl Grey. "My, my," she comments, giving me a devilish smirk from our childhood, and I shake my head, protesting. "I went on one dinner," I say, "and it's nothing. He's young." Her lips quirk up. "I see no reason to discount the benefits of youth," she says, with suspicious ease. I arch a brow, questioning, and she waves a hand. "Not every marriage is like yours," she tells me. She looks a bit disillusioned by the statement, but for her sake, I try not to dwell.

12:45 p.m.: I tell Lyra the boy in question is a tragically infantile twenty-five years old, and she, to my discomfort, laughs. "That's a man," she tells me, unfazed. "A man who fought a war, and if he wants you—" "But aren't I responsible for holding him to better choices than a woman he has no future with?" I demand, and immediately feel lost and selfish and sad, watching her hesitate to answer. "I already had love," I remind her, thinking of Perseus, but Lyra shakes her head. "Your husband loved you, didn't he?" she prompts. "Wouldn't he want you to still have love without him?"

12:55 p.m.: The question lingers in my mind. If it were me, I'd want Perseus to long for me, to miss me and treasure me and honor me in my absence, but he was always a better person than I am. I picture his easy laughter, his kind heart, and I'm quite certain he'd wish the opposite for me; he'd want me to be happy, even at the cost of his own memory.

1:01 p.m.: "Did you want to discuss something?" I ask Lyra, realizing I've been staring helplessly into space. She hesitates, her gaze darting towards the house behind me. "No," she pronounces after a moment, shrugging. She reaches over, covering my fingers with hers. "Having you here is rewarding enough," she says, and I note the cumbersome weight of her diamond ring resting atop my finger. It's impossibly heavy; I wonder if she bears it with ease, or if it weighs on her, too.

1:17 p.m.: After a while Caelum appears, and Lyra pulls him into her lap. "Oh, careful," I warn her, noting he appears to have something sticky on his fingers—but despite the finery of her clothes and jewels, Lyra doesn't seem to mind. I remember, then, that Lyra has raised a son of her own, and as far as I can see her son is far closer to her than my daughter ever was to me. I realize with sadness that I missed witnessing my younger sister's venture into motherhood, and wonder how things might have been different if we'd raised our children together. "Mummy," Caelum says, reaching for me, and Lyra looks up, surprised. "Nan," I correct him, feeling my cheeks flush, but he climbs into my lap without comment.

1:35 p.m.: "You're effectively his mother, you know," Lyra remarks quietly, as Caelum and one of the elves run off to provoke a nearby peacock. "You don't need to correct him," she adds, but I shake my head. "I feel as though I'm robbing my daughter of the title," I confess, and Lyra gives me a sorrowful glance. "Don't make him live your tragedy," she murmurs, and though the words certainly resonate, I feel as if they are more for her than they are for me.

2:01 p.m.: I step out to the bathroom and when I return, Lyra is sitting on the living room floor with Caelum. "I wonder," she ventures gently, tilting her head, "would you do me a favor?" Caelum nods solemnly. "Could you do blond hair?" she asks, gesturing, "like mine?" Caelum thinks for a moment, and then his hair is a pale, silvery blond, and Lyra smiles beatifically. "You remind me of my son when he was a boy," she tells him, stroking his hair back. "You're good to your Mummy, aren't you?" "I think so," Caelum replies, the tips of his hair turning faintly turquoise again. Lyra kisses the top of his head, and from afar, my heart melts.

2:39 p.m.: As we get ready to leave, Lyra looks saddened. "Why don't you come visit us this weekend?" I suggest, as Caelum sleepily buries his head in my skirts. She hesitates, and then nods. "That sounds nice," she agrees, and we embrace as Caelum releases a loud, unrestrained yawn.

4:01 p.m.: When Caelum awakens from his nap, I show him the drawing that Leo sent via owl while he was sleeping. It's a crude little sketch of Caelum on a broom—in Gryffindor colors; which, frankly, we'll see about—but Leo's enchanted the drawing to fly, and Caelum croons with delight.

8:30 p.m.: The rest of our evening passes in relative normality. When Caelum asks for a story I tell him the usual one: in which a wolf and an enchantress bravely defend a castle from an evil beast. "What do you think about living in a castle?" I ask him, and tell him about the magic staircases, the grand library, the ghosts and the students and the feasts. He seems excited for a moment, and then he frowns. "Will Leo come?" he asks, and I hesitate. "Or Pol?" he asks hopefully. "Just us," I say, and he considers this information. "Okay," he says, but I can see the enthusiasm is gone. I kiss his cheek. "Nothing to worry about now," I assure him, tucking him in.

9:30 p.m.: After Caelum goes to bed, I can't help thinking about Pol's open invitation. Is it wrong to admit that the prospect of sex itself worries me as much as it lures me? I've only been with one man, and Perseus had only been with me, and perhaps the sex was mundane. How would I possibly manage to keep Pol's interest, even if I were to entertain it?

9:45 p.m.: I permit myself half a glass of wine and then, feeling bold, I strip down to my underwear, looking at myself in the full-length glass. After Perseus died, I cut my hair; it's blunt and sitting at my shoulders, and I'm relieved that—to me, at least—I don't much resemble the person I was when I was his wife. Lyra and I aged well, both looking far younger than we are; but even so, it's in our eyes, I think. There's a ghostly sadness in them that gives us away.

10:15 p.m.: I'm laying back on the bed when I think of Perseus; of his touch, specifically. Of the way he made love to me; always equally rapturous, whether it had been five stolen minutes or hours to ourselves.

10:35 p.m.: Is it wrong that I want to be touched?

10:37 p.m.: "I love you," I say to Perseus, closing my eyes, but predictably, there's no response.

10:55 p.m.: Is it wrong that I want Pol to touch me?


DAY THREE

8:05 a.m.: This morning, the prospect of having an entire battalion of elves to do the cooking sounds deeply tempting. I again toy with the idea of the Hogwarts job, but am interrupted by Leo's head in the fire. "Good morning," he says to Caelum, who preens with excitement. "Thought I'd tell you that Pol's coming by with your new things today," he says, and Caelum looks up at me with a grin. "See you later?" Leo prompts, and Caelum trills his enthusiasm, promptly leaping up to find his broom.

12:35 p.m.: Children are always exhausting, but there's nothing quite like the exhaustion of chasing a levitating child. I'm winded within minutes, grateful I at least managed to maintain some sort of decent shape despite my ongoing struggle to catch him. "FASTER, MUMMY," Caelum roars as I slow him up, charming his broom to a reasonable speed. "Nan," I pant, but he's not listening, instead kicking his legs and turning to me with a pout. "TOO SLOW," he declares.

6:45 p.m.: By the time Leo walks through the Floo, I'm too exhausted to even be made anxious by Pol's appearance beside him. "Well?" Leo prompts, holding out the ball and the bat, and Caelum takes off running, dragging Leo behind him.

6:50 p.m.: "So," Pol says, once we're alone. "So," I agree. "Should I leave?" he asks me, stepping closer. I hesitate. "Only if you want to," I tell him. He smiles. "I don't," he says.

6:55 p.m.: He inches closer while he pretends at innocent small talk, and by the time his gaze drops tentatively to my mouth, I'm shaking my head. "We can't," I say, and rather than say any of the many, many obvious reasons why not, I blurt out that I'm considering moving to Hogwarts. "I need the job," I say, which is only half true; what I need is to get away from him, to catch my breath, to regain my sanity long enough to push him away. He blinks, startled. "I can give you a job," he says.

7:06 p.m.: I'm about to protest that I don't need just any job—I'm not a charity case, after all—when Pol goes on to inform me he's been looking for someone to help out at his shop; it's too much work alone, and he's been considering either more employees or a new managing partner. I barely manage to supply Caelum's name in gut-wrenching opposition (an internal drop of sorts that feels, suspiciously, like fear) but Pol assures me that's not a problem. "You'd be welcome to bring him in everyday," he says, and just my luck, Caelum reappears in time to hear Pol's offer. "Mummy!" Caelum declares. "Can we?"

7:10 p.m.: I sigh. "Dad works in Diagon, too," Caelum informs me, hoping this information will convince me. I blink. "What?" I say, astounded, but by the time I recover, Caelum has distracted Pol with something else, so I turn to Leo. "Does he call you—" "Yes," Leo confirms, looking torn. "I told him not to," he adds guiltily, "but—" "No, no," I assure him, "it's fine."

7:30 p.m.: It's not fine. Is it fine? What is fine under these circumstances?

8:01 p.m.: It's time for bed, so I tell Caelum to say goodnight to Pol. "Is Mummy going to work for you?" he asks Pol, and they both glance up at me, expectant. "How about a trial run?" Pol suggests lightly. "I could use some help in the store tomorrow," he adds, "if you're available." I hesitate, but by the look on Caelum's face, I see no way out of it. "Okay," I agree, "tomorrow, then." Caelum freckles with excitement, and Leo laughs, leading him to bed as Pol turns, stepping through the Floo.

8:05 p.m.: For a minute or so it's quiet in the house except for Leo's voice echoing from Caelum's bedroom, and then the Floo returns to life, Pol's stocky form materializing within it. "Forgot something," he says flatly, and takes me in his arms, pressing his lips to mine.

8:06 p.m.: The breath in my lungs escapes into his mouth, one of his hands sliding through my hair to take hold of it tightly as the other wraps around my waist, pulling my chest against his. He's broader than Perseus, firmer, and I can feel the muscle of his torso even through the fabric of my dress; even through the layers of clothing that still remain between us. My hands, frozen at my sides, rise without warning to pull him closer, tugging at the collar of his shirt. He spins me, pressing me back against the kitchen wall, and slides my hands over my head, pinning them in place as his head drops to slide kisses down my neck, ending with a slow, syrupy pressure against my throat. He releases my arms and they fall slowly, settling around his shoulders, as he looks me in the eye.

8:11 p.m.: "I want you," he whispers to me. I'd cower in fear, I think, or turn and run, if I weren't inescapably trapped between two such immovable objects. "Why?" I ask, and he brushes my hair from my eyes, his gaze skating over my face. "Don't you know?" he asks softly, and I do. I really do.

8:15 p.m.: When Pol and I had dinner together, I could tell right away there was a connection. He made me laugh, and I made him laugh, and since the day I lost my husband I hadn't felt with anyone else the way I did with him. The strangeness of it—the inescapability, really—was the darkness, though; Pol had lost his other half, and so had I. There was a loss to him, a sense of tragedy that felt more tangible to me than anything else, and a depth of understanding of my life—of me—that was wholly unmatched. Much as I hate to say it, even Perseus had had his moments lacking sympathy. Giving up my family had been an easy sacrifice for him to make (understandably, given how poorly my family would have treated him) but I knew instinctively that Pol would understand how I'd never truly recovered from the loss. "I'm so sorry," Pol had murmured, his gaze lingering on the tightened interlacing of my fingers, and he was; and only then did I realize that not one person had ever expressed sympathy quite so beautifully—or, in fact, at all.

8:16 p.m.: He hasn't released me. "If tonight's not the night," he says, "or if this isn't the place, that's fine. But if I'm not the man—" "No," I interrupt him, swallowing hard. "That's not it," I say quietly, and it isn't. He isn't replacing Perseus; he isn't filling a vacancy. But still, it hurts to think I might be ready to put my husband in my past, and Pol's still so young—he has his own life to think about. Part of me knows I shouldn't be in it, even as I fear that's precisely what I want.

8:20 p.m.: Pol nods, tilting my chin up, and kisses me again, slowly. "I'll wait," he tells me, and then he disappears, swallowed up by the emerald flames of the Floo.

8:35 p.m.: "He's asleep," Leo tells me, wandering in from Caelum's bedroom, and frowns. "Everything okay?" he asks.

9:30 p.m.: "Things are not okay," I tell Perseus from my bedroom, and I swear I can hear him laugh.

10:07 p.m.: Things weren't always easy between me and Perseus, despite the passion of our love story; despite the romanticism that Lyra sees, for a long time I struggled with the choice I'd made. "If you'd be happier with someone else," Perseus once told me, his forehead pressed against my hands as he knelt at my feet, "I wouldn't hesitate to step aside." Difficult to believe there was a time I once considered it, but I had, and yet still chosen him. Now what will I choose?

10:10 p.m.: "I love you," I say to Perseus, but tonight more than ever, I'm painfully aware he isn't here.

10:15 p.m.: I fall asleep to Pol's voice in my head.

10:17 p.m.: I'll wait, he says, and in my dreams, I close the distance between us.


DAY FOUR

8:30 a.m.: Pol starts early, but Caelum has been awake since dawn. I stifle a yawn as we take the Floo into his workshop. "Good morning," I attempt, stumbling slightly over the corner of a misplaced workbench, and Pol catches my hand, holding me up. "Isn't it?" he says, grinning.

9:45 a.m.: I find I'm very relieved that his job offer wasn't a ploy in the slightest; Pol genuinely does need quite a bit of work done, and his office is an utter disaster. "Do you mind?" he asks, gesturing vaguely to the pile of special orders and expectant customer owls as Caelum impatiently tugs at his hand, pointing to a set of enchanted mice that seem to be repeatedly crashing into each other. I assure him I have it taken care of, and he and Caelum leave me alone in the office while they run off to take care of business in the shop.

11:30 a.m.: I've never actually had to work much in my life aside from childcare or housekeeping (which were certainly both grueling and rewarding, in equal parts, and in spades) and I find the methodical process I adapt at responding to customers and organizing Pol's business to be quite soothing—in a strange, satisfyingly productive sort of way.

12:15 p.m.: I've made significant progress, settling into a rhythm, when Pol appears in the door and tells me that Leo and Caelum have gone out for lunch. He holds up a couple of boxes of take-away from the Leaky. "Hungry?" he asks, and moves to set them down on the desk before freezing in place. "Wait," he declares, gaping at the empty surface of his desk. "Where's my mess?"

12:27 p.m.: He looks as though he might faint when I tell him it's been taken care of. "If you don't let me kiss you for this," he says solemnly, "I'll cut off my other ear." I feel myself flush. "I expect to be paid with more broadly accepted currency," I remind him primly. He laughs, and then takes my face in his palms, stroking my cheek with his thumb. "You don't understand," he says, and I hold my breath as he launches into a tirade of sorts. He tells me that his brother used to handle this part of the business; that despite what most people believed, they weren't the same and their strengths were distinct, and he has felt lost and helpless and smothered by worries he feels he hasn't been able to share.

12:32 p.m.: "This is an odd seduction," I comment, trying not to get carried away, and he laughs again. "Please let me kiss you," he says. "That will make the subsequent payment exchange so much more questionable," I reply. He closes his eyes, chuckling. "You're funny," he whispers, and his fingers move to brush the line of my jaw as he tilts my chin up towards his.

12:35 p.m.: I don't know how I'm going to be expected to focus after having suffered the feel of Pol's hands on my ribs, my waist, my hips. Part of me wants to stop him, but instead I pull him closer, and before I quite know what I'm doing I've slipped his shirt from his trousers, running my fingers along the bare skin of his torso. I feel his breath catch beneath the pressure of my palms and he swallows hard, the motion of his chest growing burdened against mine, but he doesn't push me; he waits while I explore him. The muscle of his stomach is hard and lined, and in another episode of terrifying want I dig my fingers in, drawing him closer until he's flush against me and I can feel him. All of him.

12:47 p.m.: Pol's hands take on a path of their own and his fingers reach the top of my dress, his thumbs sliding under the neckline to linger on my breasts. He holds his breath, pausing, and then lowers his head, kissing along the line of my décolletage. He peels the fabric back from the silk of my dress and the lace of my bra, sliding his tongue over my nipple. A sigh slips from my lips, and I barely recognize the sound.

12:51 p.m.: He leans me back against the desk and drops lower, his hand sliding under my dress and along my leg. His fingers skate delicately across the skin of my ankle and up to my calf, my knee, my thigh, and then he pauses, looking up at me from one knee. "I don't want to rush you," he says, glancing up at me. I blink, and without warning, the moment is shattered. "The food will get cold," I say, clearing my throat.

1:15 p.m.: We're finishing up lunch when Caelum and Leo come into the office, hand in hand. "Had a good lunch, sweetheart?" I ask Caelum, and he regales me with tales of the Ministry tour that Leo provided. Leo smiles at me, patting Caelum's head. "Thanks for doing this," Leo tells me, and presumably he means permitting the time spent with his godson, not the episode of selfishness I had with Pol. I feel immensely guilty, but manage a nod.

3:45 p.m.: When I finish with the day's owls, I head out to watch Pol and Caelum in the shop. Caelum is sitting atop one of the registers, chatting happily with a customer as Pol rings them up, but he brightens when he spots me approaching. "Mummy, look," Caelum says, showing me a small rectangle that says WANDR across the top. "What's this?" I ask, and he solemnly arches a brow. "For grown-ups," he says gravely. Pol laughs.

4:15 p.m.: "It's for dating," Pol explains, as I help him restock one of the shelves. I tentatively moisten my lips, biding my time. "Do you use it?" I ask him, as innocently as possible, and he glances at me for a moment, weighing his response. "I thought I might need it," he admits, "but life is a funny thing, isn't it?" I say nothing, and he gives me a somewhat comforting smile; or rather, he smiles, and I find it comforting. "It's difficult being lonely," he says simply, and then we don't speak for several minutes, quietly replacing Decoy Detonators on the shelf.

5:30 p.m.: Caelum is asleep in my arms when we finally head out for the day. The shop is still open, so Pol continues to work, but he hands me an envelope with a check from Gringotts before we leave. "I wasn't joking," he says, referencing the contents. "I really would like you to work here. As you can see, I'm drowning in inadequacy," he laments, and promises that Caelum is no trouble at all. I hesitate, unsure what to say, but Pol shakes his head. "No rush," he assures me, just as Sagitta did. "Do whatever is right for you."

8:15 p.m.: I would have thought Caelum would be up later given the alteration to his schedule, but the day has clearly exhausted him, and he climbs into bed without argument. "Mummy, are we going to work with Pol?" he asks, rubbing at his eyes. Normally they are light brown and flecked with grey like his father's were, but at the moment they are deeper and darker, like Pol's. "We'll see," I tell him, and he nods, yawning.

8:30 p.m.: I write to Sagitta, asking if I can take Caelum to Hogwarts tomorrow for a couple of hours, and she writes back without delay. 'Of course,' she says, and schedules access through the Floo for the afternoon.

9:05 p.m.: I sit at my desk for a few minutes before sending another owl.

9:15 p.m.: 'You need to consider your future,' I write to Pol. 'I understand being lonely, but wouldn't you be better off with someone your own age? Someone who can give you the things you deserve,' I add. Like youth, I don't say, or a life without tragedy. 'I don't know if I can be what you're looking for.'

9:35 p.m.: 'Can I come over?' he writes back. I hesitate.

10:01 p.m.: I'm pacing in front of the Floo when he enters, holding my letter in his hands. He stands before me for a moment, opening and closing his mouth, and I wait. He steadies himself, taking a breath, and when he looks at me again, I find I am barely managing to stand.

10:04 p.m.: "Three years ago my brother died," he says flatly, "and I stopped caring about what came next—about my future, as you said. I lost my other half," he explains, and swallows, and I feel his pain as fiercely as though it's my own; and perhaps it is, in a way. "The possibility of having anything to look forward to only exists because of you," he tells me, and then he tells me something that makes my heart ache with something both rounder and sharper than sadness, because I feel it just as fully once it leaves his lips.

10:07 p.m.: "My future started again the moment I met you," he tells me.

10:08 p.m.: I don't know what to say, so I say nothing. He steps forward, taking my hand. "If you need time, I will wait," he says again, "but don't fool yourself into thinking I would be better with anyone else, or that you aren't what I'm looking for." He looks down, running his thumb over my knuckles, and gives me a weary, hopeful smile. "Tell me when you're ready," he says, "but be sure to do it loudly, as my hearing is somewhat faulty." I stifle a chuckle, because if I let it out—if I let him bring me joy—I don't think I will be able to stop myself from running to him. He steps towards the Floo, turning over his shoulder, and gives me a last, lingering glance before disappearing through it.

11:24 p.m.: It isn't until well after he leaves that I realize I never said a word.

12:38 a.m.: "Hey kid," Perseus says to me in a dream, "what's new?" I tell him about Pol, about Hogwarts, about the shop, about how Caelum would have adored him and how much it hurts me that he's gone. "Yikes," Perseus says, laughing, and touches his thumb to my lower lip. "Don't suffer for me," he says, "it won't bring me back."


DAY FIVE

6:45 a.m.: This morning I'm awake by the time Caelum makes an appearance in my bedroom. "What are you doing?" he asks, watching me charm things around the room into place. I step back, eyeing my handiwork. "Rearranging," I say. He shrugs, unimpressed.

7:33 a.m.: "Look what I found," I tell him, handing him a picture of his mother from when she was around his age; she had already started wearing her hair in her signature bubble-gum pink, and had given herself a unicorn horn in the center of her forehead while sticking her tongue out at the camera. Caelum stares at it, his fingers floating over the image of her face, and his hair flickers slightly until it's the exact shade as the picture he holds in his hands.

7:35 a.m.: "This is my mother?" he asks, looking up at me. I nod. "You can keep it," I tell him, as he tries to hand it back to me. "I remember her perfectly," I tell him, "so I don't need a picture." He wanders back to his bedroom, still looking at the picture of her, and I fight the urge to be curious what he's done with it; I figure he deserves the privilege of his own space.

10:15 a.m.: After breakfast, Leo calls via the Floo. "Is it still okay if I come spend the day with you tomorrow?" he asks Caelum, who nods enthusiastically. "I'm bringing someone," Leo adds, which is a reminder for my benefit. I'm curious who it will be; I assume Leo has dated several women over the last three years, being as youthful and well-liked as he is, but he's never brought them to meet Caelum. Still, I do him the favor of not asking questions. "See you tomorrow," Leo says with a grin, and tells Caelum to keep practicing on his broom.

11:34 a.m.: This broom is going to kill me. "FASTER, MUMMY!" Caelum shouts again, and I groan, pausing to take a much-needed breath. Suddenly, I recall that Caelum's father was nearly my age, and then I remember that he, too, had reservations about getting involved with my daughter. More than a small part of me wishes he and I could have this moment to lament our winded lungs.

11:49 a.m.: Don't suffer for us, I hear Perseus say, it won't bring us back.

2:00 p.m.: Caelum's eyes are wide as we step through the Floo into Sagitta's office. She smiles at him, and though I know she's quite stern with her students, there's an unmistakable warmth in her eyes when she sees him. I'm certain she recognizes Caelum's parents when she looks at him, and for a moment that knowledge brings me comfort. "Would you like a tour?" Sagitta asks Caelum, and he suffers an episode of shyness but manages a nod. "Well," Sagitta pronounces briskly, "off we go, then."

2:15 p.m.: "This is the Great Hall," Sagitta says, and Caelum looks up at the enchanted night sky, awestruck. I am, too, in a sense, though I'm not looking up; I'm looking across the room to where I first saw Perseus, sitting countless worlds and impossibilities away. I remember where he was, his blond head bent over a book, and I see him there as clearly as if he's present now.

2:20 p.m.: "Mummy," Caelum says, tugging at my skirts, "what's that?" I look up, following the line of his finger. "That's Andromeda," I say, and tell him the story of the princess and the hero who set her free, and how after they defeated a monster, the gods immortalized them in the night sky. Sagitta turns to me, a subtle smile on her lips. "You know your astronomy," she murmurs. "I know my constellations," I reply, though that's not really what I mean. I know my history; I haven't forgotten that for much of my life, I defined myself by what I knew of the stars.

3:15 p.m.: Unsurprisingly, Caelum's favorite part of the tour is the quidditch pitch. I tell Sagitta that Leo's been teaching him to fly, and she looks nearly as excited as Caelum does. "Excellent," she declares crisply, "I can't wait to have him on my team, then." I remind her that she's headmistress, and likely can't have favorites. She gifts me a dubious glance. "I'll do as I please, young lady," she says, sniffing.

4:01 p.m.: By the time we head back to her office, I still haven't decided either way, though Caelum is pleased enough by the prospect of living with ghosts (specifically Gryffindor's ghost, who obligingly swings his partially-severed head back and forth several times to Caelum's fascinated amusement) that he seems at least open to the possibility. "Give me until Monday to decide?" I ask her, and she nods. "Let me know," she agrees.

6:35 p.m.: Dinner is relatively quiet back at home. "Are we moving to Hogwarts?" Caelum asks, and I tell him that depends; we still have to decide. "Can we move the castle closer to Diagon?" he asks hopefully, and I laugh. "I'm afraid not," I say. "Hmph," he replies moodily, picking at his food.

8:04 p.m.: I tell Caelum the story of the wolf and the enchantress again, but this time, he slips the picture of his mother out from under his pillow, and I notice he's placed another one there, too. "Who gave you this one?" I ask, looking at a picture of Caelum's father standing beside Leo's father, both smiling with the particular recklessness of their youths. "The lady in the castle," he says simply, and asks for the story again.

8:35 p.m.: "Goodnight, Mummy," he tells me sleepily, his hands still tightly clutching the pictures. I kiss his forehead and leave as quietly as possible, but the moment I shut the door, I feel an ache that settles heavily in my chest.

8:57 p.m.: I sit down with a glass of wine, considering my options. Either job would be a step forward, but one feels considerably more like reliving the past than giving either Caelum or me any chance at a future.

9:01 p.m.: The moment I realize I'm thinking about the future—my future—something lingers in my mind.

9:05 p.m.: 'I thought about what you said,' I write to Pol.

9:15 p.m.: 'And?' he writes back.

9:25 p.m.: I wait until the bottom of my glass.

9:30 p.m.: 'Can we talk in person?' I ask.

9:45 p.m.: I'm waiting for him when he steps through the Floo. "If you can go slow," I say, letting out a breath and clinging to something I hope is courage, "I think I could be ready."

9:47 p.m.: For a moment Pol stares at me, swallowing heavily, and I force myself to wait, my heart beating itself violently against my chest.

9:48 p.m.: "I can't go slow," he rasps, and then he takes three steps to close the distance between us, capturing my gasp between his lips.

9:51 p.m.: The kiss escalates quickly, becoming a frenzied exploration of him and me and whatever we are together, and whatever we could be. His hips press inescapably against mine until I stumble back, feeling for the sofa behind me, and he puts pressure on my shoulders, setting me back against the cushions. He bends to kiss me again, hungrily, and this time when he sets himself between my legs, I don't want to stop.

9:57 p.m.: The softness of his lips, the reverence of his fingers on my cheek bely the forceful craving in his touch as one hand drops to gather my skirt, tracing the line of my thigh. He presses a kiss to my knee and then up, higher, up to my hips; I writhe under his lips and he carefully, breathlessly, and with tormenting gentleness presses a kiss against my clit, his tongue flicking out to rub against the lace. I moan, stifling it, and he looks up, watching me as he does it again. This time it's harder to bite back the sound of my own desperation; he slides my underwear down my legs with devastating certainty, his fingers lingering on the curve of my inner thigh. He strokes his thumb against the slit of my cunt, languidly kissing his way back up my leg, and I'm frozen, holding my breath; I'm far from inexperienced, but still—it's been years since I've been touched, and my legs tremor almost instantly.

10:15 p.m.: He lays one hand flat, pressing down on my hip, and slides his fingers inside me with the other. "Oh hell," I whisper, and he looks up, his lips twitching upwards, before flicking his tongue over my clit again. This time, without the shield of fabric between his lips and mine, I can't prevent a stuttered groan.

10:21 p.m.: He yanks my hips down on the sofa, burying himself in me, and I cast a hasty silencing spell just in time to stammer some incoherent series of words—his name, some nameless deities, a few stammered bars of yes yes there—and he leans back to gruffly beckon do you like that? and I say never stop, never and when he makes me come, when I shudder out something equal parts longing and anguish and mounting stupefaction and when his lips have risen to mine, I barely notice my hands dropping to his trousers. I scarcely process that I'm tearing open the buttons of his shirt, laying my hands flat against the muscle of his chest, his stomach, his hips. He's strong and firm and steady beneath my fingers and he's fumbling with the fabric of my dress and my placement on the sofa, pulling my skirt up around my waist before setting me on his lap, sliding himself inside me.

10:35 p.m.: I pull him close, my fingers winding tightly in his hair, and his lips are on the tops of my breasts as he rocks me back and forth, up and down, grinding on his cock like we've stolen a moment from time itself and nothing, nothing, nothing matters; nothing but this, his lips on my skin and my nails in his back and the blessed, exalting friction between us. Everything is frantic, chaotic, a rush of craving and traded gasps and moans, and when I let go—when I let my head fall back, knowing my hair is an ungodly mess and his tongue is darting over my exposed breast and dear god, how can he feel like this, how can anything feel like this—I hear his breath hitch, watch his jaw tighten, and know that for all that he's stolen my breath, I've conquered him as well. I come with a dizzying sense of displacement just as he chokes out my name, and after the wash of sensation I feel light, unburdened, satisfied, as he presses his forehead to mine.

11:15 p.m.: For a while I let him hold me; he pulls the fabric of my dress aside and kisses my shoulder, my collarbone, my neck. It feels strangely calming. My nights have been mostly a ritual of mundanity, but he makes me something else entirely; he pays homage to every bare inch of my skin, and it makes me want things I haven't wanted in a long time. Namely, one thing in particular that I can't have: a night without feeling alone.

11:35 p.m.: "You can't stay," I whisper to him as we face each other on the sofa, the fingers of his left hand slowly tracing patterns up and down my thigh. I tell him I'm not ready to explain this to Caelum, and Pol nods slowly, taking my hand and placing a kiss against the curved lines of my palm. "I want you to be clear," he says, "that I want this." I remind him that I come with a child, with responsibilities, with burdens and heartache and loss, and he nods. "I know," he says, "and I want you all the more for that."

11:45 p.m.: "We don't have to be two halves of a whole," he murmurs to me, stroking my cheek. "You are more than a widowed wife, and I'm more than a severed twin. We can be two people who find happiness together."

12:15 a.m.: We make love on the floor, and I wonder how I can feel so strongly; how my heart can still leap after everything I've lost, and persist through all the versions of myself that I have been. I teeter on the brink of fear, but Pol makes cowardice impossible; he holds me so unflinchingly that my reservations drift away on a sigh, buried between his lips.

1:01 a.m.: "If I could hold you," he says, buttoning his shirt up and glancing over at me as I step back into my dress. "If I could stay with you—" "I know," I tell him, letting out a sigh, and I walk forward to rest my hands against his chest before I kiss him. It shouldn't still feel like a novelty, but it does, and he has to tear himself away, dragging his hands from the small of my back.

1:07 a.m.: "Someday?" he asks. "Someday soon," I promise, and he gives me one last charming smile before slipping out through the Floo.

1:34 a.m.: Neither my frantic heart nor my racing thoughts want to help me sleep, so I step out into the garden, looking up at the stars.

1:54 a.m.: "Hey kid," I imagine Perseus saying to me, "what's new?"

1:57 a.m.: "I think I see a way to be happy," I tell him, "but I'm afraid it means having to let go."

1:58 a.m.: "Will you forgive me if I let you go?" I ask fearfully.

2:14 a.m.: Don't suffer for me, I imagine him saying. It won't bring me back.

2:30 a.m.: In truth, though, he says nothing, because he's already gone.


DAY SIX

6:34 a.m.: "Mummy," Caelum whispers loudly, nudging my cheek. My eyes snap open. "Leo's coming today," I realize, and Caelum nods. "Morning," he informs me.

9:14 a.m.: 'Are you around today?' I receive in an owl from my sister Lyra. 'Yes,' I reply, and tell her we can likely do dinner, since Leo will probably watch Caelum for the night. She agrees, and then Caelum and I direct ourselves to the task of baking something for our guests.

1:34 p.m.: The moment Caelum hears the Floo, he grabs his broom and starts running. I sigh, wiping frosting from my forehead, and follow after. "Be gentle," I shout, entering the living room, and then I pause as a second person enters after Leo. "Oh," I say, surprised.

1:36 p.m.: There's a young man in my Floo, which is not what I was expecting. He has a distinctly pureblooded look to him—it's the posture, I think, or the wary look about his eyes—and he's a strange combination of starkly overdressed and unassumingly casual, his pressed white shirt rolled up past his forearms but tucked neatly into a pair of dark trousers. Caelum throws himself into Leo's arms, instantly chattering about his broom; the other man watches from afar, his brow slightly furrowed, as though he is assessing the scene. I get the feeling he's more comfortable observing than being observed, but I step towards him to introduce myself. His voice is a deep, steady thrum of something faintly affected and slightly drawling. "You look surprised," he comments, eyeing me without expression. Leo gives him a warning glance. "What?" the man sniffs, "she does."

1:52 p.m.: I'll call him Aries, mostly because it reminds me of Ares, and this young man has a distinctly war-like quality to him, all unsettled and combative. He doesn't quite enjoy chasing after Caelum in the garden, and after a few minutes of play, he sits down beside me. "It can be exhausting," I offer sympathetically. His gaze slides listlessly to mine.

2:14 p.m.: "You were expecting a woman," Aries says, shading his eyes as he watches Leo and Caelum. I open my mouth, but he cuts me off. "No, you were, it's fine," he says curtly, "but I take it that means he doesn't bring people here often." I pause; there's a certainty to his voice that I suspect means there's no need for me to confirm as much. "Why are you here?" I ask him, and he turns his head, considering me.

2:17 p.m.: "I suppose it's that I wondered what he was doing, and he felt the need to explain," Aries says. "I told him I wouldn't be good at this," he adds, glancing down at his hands. For a moment, he loses his facade, and I watch him falter as his gaze drifts towards Leo. "You care about him," I say, gesturing to Leo. "And," I add delicately, "he cares enough to share this with you." Aries blinks. "Shit," he declares, suddenly straightening. "I'm fucking this up, aren't I?" he demands, glowering into nothing. "Language," I tell him, gesturing to Caelum, and Aries sighs. "I'm definitely going to fuck this up," he mutters to himself, but he stands, striding forward to rejoin Leo and Caelum in the garden.

3:23 p.m.: Aries grows on me the more I watch him, and the same seems to be true of Caelum, who slowly grows more enamored. "Faster," Caelum says, gesturing to his broom, and Aries shakes his head. "You can't go faster," Ares explains, "because if something happened to you, all the people who cared about you would sink into a hole of despair and suffering, and that's less likely to happen if you maintain some sort of reasonable speed." "What kind of hole?" Caelum asks him. "A big one," Aries replies without hesitation, "so deep that no one could ever get out."

3:24 p.m.: Caelum looks distraught. "Are you trying to traumatize him?" Leo hisses in Aries' ear. Aries shrugs. "Look, the world is fucked," Aries says, "so the least I can do is be honest."

4:07 p.m.: "Sorry about him," Leo says, gesturing into the garden as he helps me with the dishes. "I knew he was going to be weird, but—" "I don't know," I say, gesturing to where Aries is telling Caelum a story of some kind; something about knights, or kings. Aries seems to like to tell stories; he grows more animated as he talks, his hands motioning wildly, and Caelum's widened eyes take on Aries' brilliant shade of green. "I like him," I say, and I do, because despite his sharpened edges, there's something of a softness to him; a vulnerability that's undeniably appealing. Leo swallows hard. "So do I," he confesses.

4:15 p.m.: I'm about to ask Leo how serious it is with Aries when the Floo roars to life and Lyra appears, her entrance to the kitchen timed perfectly with Aries and Caelum wandering in from the garden. She stumbles to a halt, and across from her, Aries freezes. Beside me, Leo's face turns pale. Caelum, however, releases Aries' hand and wanders over to Lyra, excitedly telling her about a magic sword before tangentially offering her a cookie.

4:18 p.m.: "What's going on?" I ask Leo, as Lyra's gaze consistently slips back to Aries—who, by contrast, looks as though he's been heartily slapped. "Maybe we should leave," Leo says slowly, frowning. "We can take Caelum for the night," he suggests, and adds something about his house elf being available to help; Lyra looks up, startled, to glance first at Leo, and then at Aries. "We?" she asks Aries quietly, and he stares at her for a moment before nodding firmly. "We," he tells her.

4:20 p.m.: Caelum is overjoyed by the prospect, and drags Aries into his bedroom to pack his things. Leo follows slowly, warily, and I notice he gives Lyra a particularly telling glance; something that's part sympathy, part warning. She looks up at me, and I see something in my sister I haven't seen since she was a child; she looks lost, and it stabs at my heart. "Wait in my bedroom," I tell her, and she turns without a word.

4:45 p.m.: Aries looks shaken, but Leo touches the inside of his arm and he lets out a breath, Caelum's hand still in his. "I'll bring him back in the morning," Leo tells me, and I nod, kneeling to speak with Caelum. "You just let me know if you need anything, okay?" I tell him, and Caelum nods, giving me a distracted hug. "Bye Mummy," he says, pulling Aries towards the Floo. "Nan," I call after him, trying again, but he ignores me, and they're about to disappear when Aries pauses, asking Caelum to wait with Leo as he approaches me.

4:48 p.m.: "Whatever happens next," Aries says, "whatever you learn about me, know that I—" He hesitates. "Know that this is real," he says decisively, and glances over his shoulder at Leo. "Or I wouldn't be here," he adds, and I nod. "I sort of figured that out about you already," I tell him. He smirks, but there's a layer of appreciation underneath it. "Well, so much for my unfailing intrigue," he drawls, and then he, Leo, and Caelum leave through the Floo.

4:55 p.m.: When I walk into my bedroom, Lyra is sitting on my bed with her knees pulled into her chest, her expensive shoes discarded on the ground. I sit beside her, stroking her blonde hair, and she turns to look at me with a terrible desperation. "He's my son's best friend," she whispers, and I lean her head against my shoulder. "He's more than that," I say, and she nods slowly, her eyes falling shut. "He's more than that," she confesses.

6:15 p.m.: We go to dinner in Diagon and she tells me the whole story; how her marriage was plagued with infidelity from the start, and that they'd had their better years, but her husband hasn't been the same after time spent Azkaban. She tells me that since she gave up Aries, she's never felt so alone. "Do you love him?" I ask. She looks me dead in the eye. "I loved him enough to let him go, didn't I?" she asks, and I can see how much it has cost her.

6:35 p.m.: I tell her maybe I should do the same with Pol; I feel immeasurably selfish, but she shakes her head, gripping my arm. "It's different," she says firmly. "I'm not free." "So?" I ask, shrugging, because put that way, it seems like a small distinction. "I'm not free to give my heart away," she says, "but you are, and so is he, and that's the only thing that matters."

6:53 p.m.: I tell her I worry I'm giving up Perseus, and she shakes her head again. "People don't just replace people," she says. "We love who we love because of who we were, and what we had. You wouldn't love him now if you hadn't lost everything first," she tells me quietly, referring to Pol, "and perhaps he would have wanted something different if he had not suffered such a loss. But you did, and he did, and how lucky you are now," she sighs. "How lucky you are to have found each other."

7:06 p.m.: I suppose she's right; without Perseus, I might never have found Pol, and so maybe my fears of letting go of my husband have been foolish. I cannot outrun my past, after all; clearly, even after all these years, my past has never left me. I still see the world as if I am looking at the stars.

8:01 p.m.: "Go," she says, as we reach the bottom of our glasses. "Go where?" I ask, as I assumed she would want me to stay with her. She shakes her head sadly. "Go find him," she says, "go be with him. You deserve love," she tells me. "But what about you?" I ask, and she laughs; and then, as if by magic, she re-fastens her remarkable mask, looking regally untouchable. "I'll survive," she says drily, "I always do."

8:32 p.m.: I find Pol in his workshop, his sleeves pushed up as he adjusts the enchantment on a pair of self-tying trainers. He looks up as I enter. "I have to tell you something," I say. He waits, and I eye my hands, uncertain how to proceed.

8:33 p.m.: "I think you are ear-resistible," I venture solemnly.

8:34 p.m.: He stares at me, and then, abruptly, he laughs at an alarming volume, shaking his head as he sets down the shoes. "I think you mean ear-responsible," he says, taking me in his arms.

8:36 p.m.: "Ear-relevant," I murmur. He bends with a chuckle, kissing my neck, and he smells oaky and sweet and inviting and I lower my lips to his ear. "I have all night," I tell him quietly, and he leans away, giving me a long look of something that might be gratitude, though it quickly turns to something more like hunger. "I f-ear it will be quite a long one," he remarks, with a promise that sends a thrill up my spine, and then he apparates us into his flat above the store.

8:45 p.m.: Our unforgivable pun work is halted as he divests me of my dress and I struggle with his trousers, both of us stumbling across the floor amidst the process of shoe removal and supreme unwillingness to waste a moment without the necessity of skin on skin. When we're naked he stops, his fingers digging into my hips, and he stares at me, his eyes traveling the length of my body as I slide a hand against the muscle of his stomach, admiring him. When he draws me back in, kissing me again, it's wilder, and he pins me against the wall without hesitation. "Stop me if it's too much," he grits out, yanking one of my legs over his hip, and I shake my head. "Don't you dare stop," I gasp, and obligingly, he fills me.

8:57 p.m.: He pins my hands against the wall and I feel the loss of my burdens, the blissful vacancy as my histories and futures slip away. The sum of my parts diminishes to nothing more than how the world feels in his arms, and I am left to falter in his grasp.

10:48 p.m.: By the time we fall into in his bed, slick with sweat and still pressed against each other, I want to memorialize him by touch, to be able to recraft him inch by inch from memory. He rolls over me, reigning above me, and I want to immortalize him as a hero; I want to set him up among the stars.

11:37 p.m.: "I don't remember sex ever being like this," he tells me raggedly, his head lolling to the side as he catches his breath. I prop my head up on my elbow, tracing patterns on his chest, and slide my fingers slowly down the contours of his stomach. "Let me remind you," I say, and kiss the places my hands have touched.

1:25 a.m.: For a moment I remember that our lives have been touched by losses, and I want to cling to him, knowing this could end; that it could end sooner than we expect it, sooner than we believe possible, and that perhaps I've already had my love story and might be undeserving of another. But Pol turns to me, that smile on his face, and I feel precisely the opposite of fear; I feel like a woman who has risen countless times facing a man who has learned to put tragedy behind him, and in a moment of tranquility, I see no proof we can't do it again.

1:26 a.m.: Three years ago my husband died, and I stopped thinking about the future. But the moment Pol looks at me, his fingers laced with mine, I feel my future start again.


DAY SEVEN

6:57 a.m.: I wake up to Pol's arms around me, still naked in his bed. I rise to use the bathroom, charming my hair into submission, and when I re-enter his bedroom he's sitting up, propped up against the pillows. He looks at me as though he can't quite believe what he's seeing, and in a similar episode of admiration I pause in the doorway. Light starts to stream through the window, settling itself in panes across his torso; I internalize it, taking a breath of contentment.

7:25 a.m.: I crawl towards him on the bed and then settle myself with my back against his chest, letting his hands travel along my waist before reaching my breasts. He shifts my hair aside, kissing my shoulder, and I slowly start to move against him. "Fuck," he whispers, and slides his hand down my stomach to my clit, the skin of his arms pebbling slightly as I let out a moan. I lean back, reaching behind me to take hold of the back of his head, and pull him close to my lips. "What will you do with me?" I ask him, and his fingers dip inside my cunt, his breath unsteady beside my ear. "Anything you ask," he says hoarsely, and I shift above him, sliding him inside me.

7:56 a.m.: "Breakfast or sex?" he asks me, eyeing the time. There is something to be said for youth; his stamina is admirable, and I am at once pleasantly satiated and desperately craving more. In answer, I pull him into the shower.

8:15 a.m.: "Will you let me into your life?" he asks, kissing the jut of my hips and working his way up, caressing my breasts. "I want the whole thing," he says, "all of it." He asks me not to leave, by which I think he means that he would prefer me not to disappear to Hogwarts; "you don't have to work for me," he assures me, "just please, give me a real chance with you and Caelum."

8:35 a.m.: "You're too young to have a child to worry about," I tell him, and he pauses, glancing up at me. "When will you understand that you're not a burden?" he asks. "Besides," he adds, giving me a look, "I need an heir to my ear-refutible mischief." I laugh, and he gathers me in his arms. "So," he murmurs, kissing my cheek, "what will you do?"

9:15 a.m.: "Hi Mummy," Caelum says when he arrives at home, bursting through the Floo with Leo and Aries behind him. He throws his arms around my knees and instantly starts telling me about a game that Leo taught him, and about something called a DVD. I glance up to see that the other two look deeply exhausted, but contentedly so; Aries' fingers comfortingly brush Leo's knuckles in the quietest, most trivial of motions.

10:35 a.m.: "Please," Leo says to me while Aries and Caelum are out of earshot, "I know you have to do what's right for you, but—" He trails off, and I turn, giving him a hug. "I won't take Caelum away from you," I promise, and tell him I've decided to turn down the Hogwarts job. I also tell him I've decided to work part time for Pol; it's not a permanent arrangement, but for now, we're trying things out. "What specifically are you trying out?" Leo asks, with a rather telling curiosity, and I turn back to the salad I'm making, channeling Lyra's best smirk. "None of your business, young man," I tell him.

1:44 p.m.: After they leave, I ask Caelum what he thought of his night away. He tells me that he likes spending time with Leo and Aries; he mentions that Aries makes Leo laugh, and vice versa. "Dad's funny," he says firmly. "Why do you call us Mum and Dad?" I ask him, wondering if he has a reason, and Caelum shrugs. "You take care of me," he says, and promptly sneezes, accidentally releasing his golden snitch into the house.

4:56 p.m.: Rather than think about the very poignant thing my grandson has just told me, I'm forced to chase a flying gold ball for several hours. By the time I start making dinner, though, I find he's already said it perfectly.

8:04 p.m.: "And so the wolf and the enchantress give their lives to protect the castle," I say with practiced finality, and I realize as I say it that the statement is filled with hope now instead of pain. "So that someday, their son will walk the same halls that they did, and he will know that he was protected and loved by the heroes who fought for his future." Caelum looks down at the pictures of his parents and nods, holding them close to his chest. "Night Mummy," he tells me, closing his eyes. I don't correct him. "I love you," I say, kissing his forehead.

9:15 p.m.: "Hi," Pol says, walking through the Floo, and by now the kiss he gives me is expected but I still feel the thrill of it in my bones, tingling in my chest and buzzing in my head until every inch of me is ignited.

9:47 p.m.: "Have an idea what you'd like to do tonight?" he asks, as I step into my bathtub. "I'm all ears," he adds knowingly, climbing in after me, and I roll my eyes, holding up my glass. "I thought we could have a little wine, a little conversation," I say carefully, toasting him, "and maybe a little—" I trail off, lifting myself to perch on the edge of the tub, and his grin broadens as I pointedly part my legs, leaning back against the wall behind me. "Ear, ear," he murmurs, leaning forward to lick my cunt.

9:50 p.m.: It occurs to me to say he's ear-redeemable, but I gasp instead, tightening my fingers in his hair.

11:55 p.m.: A few minutes after we fall back on the bed, he pulls me closer, resting my head on his chest. He draws his fingers up the side of my arm, contemplating something in silence. "You said you thought about what I said," Pol reminds me, "about the future." "I did," I say, and I have; and because of him, I know things now that I didn't know before.

11:57 p.m.: I know that the future is the boy in the other room, and the man whose arms are wrapped comfortably around my waist. I know, too, that the future is the alarm we've set for the morning, so that he can stay with me tonight. The future is learning a new trade, new trust, finding a new road to travel. The future is new challenges. The future is knowing that I am still the facets of my past—a past incomplete without mentions of both loss and love. But the future is also knowing that I will rise to the occasion, and that when I do, I will not be alone.

11:58 p.m.: The future is uncertain; it isn't written in the stars. But as Pol kisses me, his thumb drawing slowly across my cheek, I know one thing that is unquestionably true.

11:59 p.m.: The future is mine for the taking.

Chapter Text

Episode VII: The All-Star Who Doesn't Handle Rejection Gracefully (Or At All)

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a rising quidditch star gives chase, leading to unexpected consequences: 20, female, tastefully bi-curious, fantastically single.


DAY ONE

5:45 a.m.: I wake up to get a warm-up in on the pitch before our final practice of the regular season. It's my usual workout; I do a few laps on the field and then head up to the stands to run stairs. I work twice as hard as anyone else on the team, but gratifyingly, that's not for nothing; it's my face that hangs on the banner outside the field, and I'm the one featured on the season tickets.

6:30 a.m.: Nothing like breaking a sweat this early in the morning, right? I should be clear that it's not like I'm obsessed with quidditch; it's really that I'm the kind of person who appreciates things more when I have to work for them, and I had to work very hard to get where I am now. I had to steal my brothers' brooms just to learn to fly, so there's still some element of thrill in knowing I've earned the right to play professionally.

6:45 a.m.: For the record, the same basic concept is true for my romantic life; I like the chase, and I'm good at it. I am a chaser, after all.

7:00 a.m.: "Hey," my teammate says, yawning as she pulls her long black hair into the world's most perfect ponytail. There's something about exercise ("endorphins," one of my female friends would very pertly correct me) that makes my attention wander directly to the sliver of midriff I can see as my teammate stretches her arms up. "Good morning," I say, fairly relieved I've worn a somewhat attractive sports bra.

7:05 a.m.: We engage a bit of small talk as I stretch out my quads. "Congratulations on being named to the World Cup team, by the way. Have I said that yet?" she asks vacantly, stretching out her shoulders. She tells me she owes me a proper celebration, and not for the first time, I'm not totally sure if there's something else being implied—but hey, what's the point of life without a little risk? "You certainly do," I reply slyly.

7:10 a.m.: She gives me an alluring smirk. Have I mentioned I love the chase?

7:36 a.m.: My father is a bit of a muggle enthusiast, and while I don't necessarily share all of this curiosities, he did secretly bring home some things from time to time that caught my interest. I used to love going through the things he called "comical books," which were essentially these peculiarly stiff drawings of heroes and villains that he and I found equally fascinating. My teammate reminds me a bit of one of them—a woman called Natasha, a Black Widow and a total femme fatale, so that's what I'll call her. My Natasha and I were quidditch rivals while we were at Hogwarts, though she was two years above me. She was the only girl on her house's team and even though our team is all female now, she's still got this amazingly unerring take-no-shit attitude that I find highly irresistible. I suppose it comes from having her boyfriend die while she was in school and then having to suffer through all the same shit I did, except surrounded by people who gave her no credit for it. Natasha seems to have come a long way since then. Though, of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention that I won twice going head-to-head with her while we were in school.

7:47 a.m.: "Hey," says one of our other team members, nodding to me as she enters the locker room, "congrats on the national team." "We should take her out after the game, don't you think?" Natasha says, and based on the way she's leaning towards me, if this game were being played out on the pitch I'd be closing in on the snitch right now. "You'd better," I say, giving her the kind of smile that's always worked before—on men, true (boys, really), but what can I say? If anyone's going to convince her to switch teams, it's me. Likewise, if anyone's going to lure me, it's her. I feel a decent match coming on.

12:15 p.m.: Practice goes well enough. I've been playing with these girls for a couple of years now, and we've got a rhythm down. It's going to be strange playing with the men who've been selected for the English national team (all of whom have played in the World Cup tournament before) but not any stranger than any other group of athletes. New team, new chemistry. I've always been able to play the field.

3:34 p.m.: During our skills drills I get a second to let my mind wander, and above us, Natasha's doing some accuracy tests with the special teams coach. She's a seeker, so she isn't normally involved in the same sets of tasks as we are. What is it with me and seekers? My ex was one, too, though he's an Auror now. I'll call him Steve, like Captain America, because he's best friends with my brother, whom I'll call Bucky. Steve and I broke up shortly after I started playing professionally; he's good enough to have played professionally and I know he got several offers from teams, but it's more of a hobby for him. I get that.

4:05 p.m.: "Oi," one of the other chasers calls, and I catch the quaffle just as it's about to fly by. "I've got it," I assure her. She rolls her eyes. "Lucky catch," she says. It's not lucky; I've practiced hard enough to catch anything that comes my way and she knows it. "Suck my dick," I tell her lovingly. From above, I see Natasha chuckle.

4:58 p.m.: It's been a long time since being naked in front of people was a problem for me, so I strip down for a shower without much fuss. Natasha does the same, and once again I feel that little itch of curiosity; that little nudge of want that locates stiffly in my throat. I'm slightly shorter, a bit more sharply cut, but she's lithe and willowy and if I didn't find her so unnervingly attractive, I might hate her, honestly. I'm not normally attracted to women, but her tits are so perfect and my feelings on her arse are somewhere between crippling envy and excruciating interest, so I'm not above giving it a try. She was actually Steve's first girlfriend before me, and frankly, I don't blame him for being interested.

6:15 p.m.: I finally get back to the flat I share with my roommate, a friend from Hogwarts who works as a journalist and editor after inheriting her father's publication. Neither of us are home much so the flat is sort of cramped (and filled with oddities), but it's infinitely better than a hotel. "Hey," I say, surprised to see her; she's conjuring a small sofa for what looks like a terrarium. "What is that?" I ask, catching movement behind the glass, and she shrugs. "A dragon," she replies casually.

6:18 p.m.: I'll call her Wanda, as in the Scarlet Witch, whose powers are mostly chaos. She tells me she found the dragon and plans to do a comprehensive study on parenting across species. "No offense, but that's actual madness. They breathe fire," I remind her pointedly, and she shrugs. "Plenty of human people are toxic," she says. "Yes," I agree, "but, you know. Perception. And insurance. And this is a very small flat."

6:24 p.m.: Wanda's pouring the dragon a bowl of cereal when I finally take a closer look. "Nevermind, this isn't a dragon," I tell her, "it's just a lizard." She looks up, tilting her head. "Don't discourage him," she says, "he can breathe fire if he wants to." I sigh. At least the curtains aren't in immediate danger. "What's his name?" I ask her, and she considers it, tilting her head. "I was thinking something like Marcus Aurelius," she says solemnly, "but you know how I have a tendency to aim for excess formality." I bow to the lizard. "Your imperial majesty," I say with reverence.

6:54 p.m.: We're convening with the Emperor lizard when Wanda remembers the mail. "Here," she says, handing me the first of the official propaganda for the World Cup team. At first I'm excited, flipping through the images; the beaters are shown with looks of fury as they slam away the bludgers, the seeker is shown catching the snitch as he shoves the rival seeker's face away, the chaser epically swats a quaffle from the air, and the two other chasers are shown scoring as lights flash behind them. I get to my picture, though, and abruptly, my mood sours. They've shown me in my sports bra, water slicked down my torso as I pour it over my head; it's an image I don't even recognize, and it definitely wasn't taken during a game.

6:57 p.m.: "What the fuck is this?" I demand, and Wanda glances over. "Is there a sexual component to the World Cup?" she asks, and adds, "I've never really understood organized sports." I'd glare at her, but she wouldn't understand why. "No," I grumble, "there isn't." At least, I'd hoped there wouldn't be, but maybe I was wrong.

7:15 p.m.: 'What's this about?' I write to my publicist, who is conveniently a good friend I have highly satisfying, no-strings-attached sex with. I'll call him Tony, as in Iron Man—he's got that insufferable playboy quality, plus somewhat of a business magnate thing going on. He sells sex for a living, sure (he's definitely not any sort of science-robot genius), but he manipulates perception better than anyone I've ever met. He'll know right away how this makes me look compared to the men on the team.

8:03 p.m.: While I wait for an answer from Tony, Wanda and I catch up—or something like that. "What do you think you'll be in your next life?" Wanda asks me, and I shrug. "A fruit bat," I say. "Aw," she says, "I think you can do better." "Doubtful," I say, but then I'm curious, so I ask her what she thinks. "Something carnivorous at least," she says. "Like a moth?" I ask. She laughs vacantly.

8:35 p.m.: I tell Wanda I should get to bed before the season closer tomorrow; she nods, tickling the Emperor under the chin. "You know, for pleasant dreams," she advises me, "you should be sure there are no wrackspurts around your bed before you drift off." I tell her I'm probably going to masturbate first, and she gives me a solemn nod. "That will help," she says seriously.

8:55 p.m.: I indulge my usual fantasy: Natasha in the locker room after a winning game; in the showers, ideally. I know it's strange for me to think about a woman seeing as I've never been with one before, but it might just be that I'm surrounded by tits all the time, or that Tony's so wildly bisexual—he's a terrible influence, really. In any case, I'm looking forward to getting it out of my system now that the season is over.

9:04 p.m.: I come twice and sigh, sated. For now.


DAY TWO

5:45 a.m.: I'm on the pitch bright and early, ready to go.

6:15 a.m.: Natasha gets here early, sipping from a charmed thermos before slowly starting to stretch as I wrap up some sprints along the stairs. "Saw the World Cup promo shots in the Daily Prophet," she comments, and I roll my eyes. "Fucking ridiculous," I say, prepared to start another rant, but she shrugs. "Hey, at least you look hot," she says. Interesting.

6:35 a.m.: "You should come out tonight," she says, and tells me she's meeting up with a couple of her friends in Diagon to celebrate the end of the season. "I'll see if I can make it," I casually reply—though in reality the words fuck yesare floating around in my mind. I jot a quick note to my brother Bucky, who's supposed to be here for the game—'put on your big boy pants,' I write, 'we're going out later.'

7:05 a.m.: 'Blech,' he replies. That's a yes.

7:30 a.m.: The rest of the team makes their way to the pitch and we run a few lazy pre-game drills. As much as I enjoy playing with my current teammates, I'm looking forward to playing with the World Cup team—after all, they are the best of the best. Ah, correction: we are the best of the best. The rest of the girls on my team are talking about what they're going to do in the off-season, but for me, prep for the World Cup tournament starts this week. As they chatter about vacationing in the Turks and Caicos, I slip into my lifelong daydream of lofting the World Cup into the air.

3:00 p.m.: We win the toss and it's game on. Let's go, girls.

4:05 p.m.: The difference between me and other chasers? I don't waste my time counting on my seeker to win the game for me. She's hot, but irrelevant; I'm here to score. By the first half I've scored nearly as much as the snitch is worth.

6:30 p.m.: During a celebratory lap I look up to catch Steve, Bucky, and the friend I'll call Jane (after Dr Jane Foster) cheering in the stands with Wanda, and I feel sufficiently adored. My own face winks down at me from a banner in the stands. It's good to be queen.

7:15 p.m.: Natasha grabs the snitch right from under the other seeker's nose and we win it 620 to 130. It's a record, I think, and I hear the commentator say something about how I've just become the first female quidditch player to score 300 consecutive points in a single game, but I don't like to linger in any given moment. Ever forward, I always say, and my night is just beginning. I throw my arms around Natasha and she leans back with a grin. "See you tonight?" she asks. Oh, hell yes.

8:30 p.m.: "We're so proud of you," Jane coos, ever the doting sisterly-type, and my brother Bucky grins as Steve throws his arm around my shoulders. "Yeah, you're not so bad," Steve jokes. "So are you guys coming out tonight?" I ask them, and they groan like the old boring people that they are, but they agree. "I can't," Wanda tells me, batting her eyes in her usual owlish way, "I have to service the Emperor." "What?" Bucky asks, indignantly alarmed, but I shrug. "She has a lizard," I explain. "A dragon," she corrects me. "Oh, that's not good," Jane says fretfully, but Steve looks delighted. "AMAZING," he pronounces.

10:15 p.m.: We have dinner together before heading out to the new club in Diagon; I guess it's not really new anymore, but it's newer than everything else. I suddenly recall that this is Jane and Bucky's first time out since breaking up, and if I weren't still on such a high from winning (and from the strangers recognizing us and congratulating me on being named to the World Cup team), I'd find it a bit awkward. They make extremely polite conversation, which is annoying, but I'm on a mission, so rather than let them have a dainty discussion about how to split the bill, I throw down a few galleons and place my hands firmly on their shoulders. "Ready?" I demand. Only Steve looks amused. "Sure," he says, grinning.

10:25 p.m.: Upon arrival, we run directly into some Slytherins we went to school with; one is Steve and Bucky's nemesis, one is a girl Jane loathes, and the other is … I never know what to make of him. He's friends with the other two, I guess. "Oh, for fuck's sake," says the blond one, who I suppose should be Hitler within the Captain America theme, but that seems overly harsh. I'll call him Max, for Magneto. He seems to be looking at Jane suspiciously closely, and she herself is bright red. "Well," mutters the girl, whom I'll call Raven, for Mystique. She, I note, is avoiding my brother's eye, and Steve's—in fact, she doesn't seem to be able to find a safe place to look, and opts to stare haughtily at the ceiling. Finally, the last one (whom I'll call Xavier, simply because it suits him) bursts out laughing. "So are we all going to fight," Xavier says, "or are we all going to fuck?" "I'm busy," I say, shoving past him, though I tuck Max away as a possible option for later.

10:45 p.m.: Natasha isn't here yet, but all of a sudden my brother Bucky is drinking heavily, and Jane and Steve have disappeared. "What's going on with those two?" I ask, looking around, and Bucky downs a shot of Ogden's, shuddering, before wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve. "You've been gone a long time," he mumbles morosely.

11:05 p.m.: I'm definitely buzzed, but Bucky is positively trashed. "What is your deal?" I demand. "I'm trying to fill my stupid heart with firewhisky," he replies, his words thoroughly slurred. I'm about to ask him if this is about Jane but then Natasha walks in, and I promptly forget what we were talking about.

11:10 p.m.: Natasha brings some of our teammates and two other friends; twins, one of which was a Ravenclaw with Natasha and one that was a Gryffindor with me. I'll call the Gryffindor Amora, for the Enchantress, and the other can be her sister Lorelei. Amora's either dyed or charmed her black hair a vibrant, platinum blonde that's tinted slightly purple at the ends, and for the first time that I can remember, I have no trouble at all telling them apart without checking for their house colors. "What's wrong with your brother?" asks Lorelei, gesturing to where he's slumped in a booth behind me. "He's fine," I say, and offer to get us drinks.

11:25 p.m.: Natasha lifts a glass, toasting me, and I'm feeling good about this. I let the shot drip slightly onto my hand and carefully lick it away, smiling at her as my fingers brush my lips. "She's killing me," Bucky wails incoherently beside me, and Lorelei looks alarmed. "Are you having a stroke?" she asks bluntly. He groans. I ignore them both in favor of offering to buy Natasha another drink, and she smiles. "I've got this one," she says, and gets up to order another round.

11:30 p.m.: I adjust my cleavage, glancing down, and Amora chuckles. "Good luck with that," she pronounces skeptically, and I turn, glaring at her. "What?" I ask, and she gestures to where Natasha was sitting. "Believe me, I've tried," she says, shaking her head. I force a dubious scoff and tell her she doesn't know what she's talking about. "She's just like that," Amora says, "you know, flirtatious. But she's not actually a lesbian, and I don't think she's bi, either." "Neither am I," I persist stubbornly, and Amora laughs. "I know," she says, "it shows."

11:35 p.m.: I've lost track of whether I should be insulted. I frown. "Are you—" "Yes," Amora confirms, and arches a brow. "Didn't you know?" she asks me, and I remember that she was suspiciously close to another of our Gryffindor housemates who died during the war. I tell her I guess I did know, or could have guessed; I hadn't thought about it. "Anyway, good luck," Amora tells me, shifting away as Natasha returns.

11:55 p.m.: "Let's dance," Natasha announces, throwing out her hand for Lorelei, but the other woman is distracted by my brother. "I think he needs to be taken home," Lorelei says, clearly worried, and Amora laughs. "It wouldn't be the first time he ruined a night of dancing for you," she teases her sister, and Lorelei rolls her eyes. "Seriously, he might be dead," she says. "Well, have fun," I tell her, grabbing Natasha's hand and pulling her onto the dance floor.

12:34 a.m.: It's hot and disgusting and difficult to see, but I think I spot Jane and Max grinding furiously in the corner, and I laugh. "I knew she didn't hate him," I say, feeling immensely proud of her. "That little whore!" I add, and Natasha leans closer. "What?" she yells, and I shake my head. "Nothing," I say, and pull her towards me, my hands on her waist as we dance. She slithers her hips effortlessly beneath my fingers and fuck, I could not be more into this. I reach up and take hold of her face, pulling her lips to mine. She tastes like whisky and sour cherries and she pulls away with a laugh.

12:39 a.m.: I'm about to try again when Natasha announces that she has to go to the bathroom, so after she leaves I step away from the dance floor, getting some space. "How's it going?" Amora asks, materializing beside me. "Great," I say, feeling smug. "I still don't think it's going anywhere," she warns, and I shrug. "You're not me," I say. She turns, facing me, and ironically (given what I've just said) I'm struck by how pretty she is; her wide eyes are lined with kohl and the lavender tips of her hair glow enticingly against the bare skin of her shoulders. "Nope, I'm not," she agrees drily, and I think she's teasing me. I change the subject, asking what she does now. "I write for the Daily Prophet," she says, "mostly fluff pieces and horoscopes." "Do you enjoy fluff?" I ask, dubious, and she makes a face. "No," she says, "but that's all my editor will give me. He assigns the pieces to his favorites first."

1:05 a.m.: It feels like ages before I finally spot Natasha again. "I have to go," I tell Amora, and she shrugs. "Bye," she says, still looking skeptical, and I head through the crowd towards Natasha.

1:10 a.m.: When I finally reach Natasha, she's making out with some guy against the wall. I feel a little sick; it's either alcohol or rejection, but either way, I need some air. Part of me withers; that's about a dozen masturbatory fantasies wasted. I like the chase, but I'm not totally shameless—I know when to give up.

1:25 a.m.: Outside, Steve is standing with Xavier. "What's up?" Steve asks when he spots me, and I sigh. "You don't want to have sex with me, do you?" I ask him, and Xavier lets out a loud snort of laughter. "Oh, fuck off," I tell him, but he doesn't leave. "I politely decline," Steve tells me, nudging Xavier in the ribs, "but I can take you home if you want." I make a face. "Bye," I say, heading for my flat.

1:27 a.m.: "Can you not?" I hear Steve say to Xavier behind me, and I try to pretend I'm not listening, but I walk a little slower. "Apology blow job?" Xavier drawls in response, and I stumble to a halt. "BYE," Steve calls to me, apparating away. I note that Xavier goes with him, and I'd think about that more, but I'm too upset about Natasha.

2:01 a.m.: Wanda's asleep, but she's left a letter from Tony out on the table. I open it up, barely skimming its contents as I sit beside the Emperor's terrarium. I write him back (Tony, not the Emperor, who is scuttling around noisily) asking to Floo.

2:35 a.m.: "Seriously?" Tony calls, appearing in my fireplace, and I crawl towards him. "You know it's even later here, right?" he demands. "I'm upset," I tell him, pouting, and he sighs. "Look, I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be your publicist," he tells me, "and to be honest, I don't know what I can do about this." "About what?" I ask, bewildered, and then remember that I initially owled him about the World Cup promo images. "They're probably just trying to sell tickets," he continues, "but I can talk to them if you want." I tell him to do it. "I need an orgasm," I add, and he sighs. "Can we do this quickly?" he asks. "You're the best," I assure him, settling back against the couch leg.

2:45 a.m.: Tony describes in great detail the way he licks my pussy, adding some fun new material about how I taste, and I come with a sigh of relief. "You done?" he asks. "Yes," I tell him, "thank you." He nods curtly. "I'll talk to the company handling it tomorrow," he promises, "but for the love of god, no more late night Floo calls, okay?" "You're great," I tell him, and decide to sleep on the sofa.

3:01 a.m.: Wait. Is Steve fucking Xavier?

3:05 a.m.: Ugh, whatever. I don't care.

3:11 a.m.: I now hold an all-time quidditch record, and I still went home alone. How is this possible?

3:15 a.m.: I hope my brother's alive. Note to self: owl him in the morning.


DAY THREE

8:01 a.m.: I completely miss my workout and wake up to Wanda standing over me. "Oh good," she says, "you're awake." I bolt upright, suddenly remembering I have a World Cup promo shoot and meet-and-greet today, which was conveniently scheduled for after my final game. "MOVE," I shout, shoving past her, and she smiles after me. "You and the Emperor are certainly in high spirits today," she muses, offering him a series of egg selections. "I think he prefers poached," she calls to me as I hurry to make myself presentable. "Make mine scrambled," I yell, downing some hangover potion.

9:07 a.m.: I arrive seven minutes late (as Tony always suggests) and I'm the last to arrive. "You're late," one of the beaters says, and one of the other chasers laughs. "Fixing her hair, probably—you know how girls are," he says, and I catch undertones of mockery but ignore them. "I'm worth the wait, gents," I assure them coolly.

11:15 a.m.: The other two chasers are considerably older than I am, and they've played in the last two World Cup tournaments. They try to lord this over me, but I'm having none of it. "England's missed out on the last two World Cup finals," I remind them, "so I'd say the team needed some fresh blood." They scowl, and the mockery stops. Serves them right.

12:35 a.m.: "Let's take some pictures now," the photographer suggests, arranging us. He places the beaters, the keeper, and the seeker first, arranging all four of them in ridiculous uber-male power poses, and then turns to us chasers. "You two," he says to the other two, "how about holding her up?" He suggests an outrageous pose in which they carry me between them. "Um, no," I say, and the photographer frowns. "Okay, fine," he says, and puts us in a triangle formation, stepping back to look. "Okay, we've almost got it," he says, and then he tells me to "make a sexy face," which makes my teammates snicker. "You know," the photographer coaxes me, "just play a little coy." "I'm a professional quidditch player," I remind him, "and 'coy' is not in my job description." "Jesus," one of the chasers sighs, "you don't have to be such a bitch." I bristle. "Don't be such a cunt," I snap, and the photographer looks mortified. "There's no need for that kind of language," he tells me, and I grimace, but hold my tongue.

2:35 p.m.: When we're finally dismissed, I feel confident this is going to be a problem. One of the chasers, the beaters, the keeper, and the seeker all head out the door without looking back. The other chaser lingers. "Thanks for waiting," I say, and he gives me a sharp sidelong glance. "You realize they'd all prefer to have last Cup's team back in full," he tells me, and I pause. "Do you mean you'd prefer it?" I ask, not very kindly. He doesn't flinch. Instead, he turns nasty. "You're here to appease some ridiculous diversity standard," he says, "and don't think for a second you deserve it. They're using you to sell tickets and to look like they're making an effort at equality, that's all." I decide I hate him, or at least wish him some very severe ill-will. "I'm here to win a World Cup," I tell him, "and we can do that together, or I can carry this team on my back. It wouldn't be the first time." He smirks. "We'll see," he says.

3:37 p.m.: I'm furious when I come home and I'm desperate to vent, but it's always hard to explain myself to Wanda when I'm in a temper; besides, she's currently feeding the Emperor with a baby bottle. "Well, it doesn't matter what one player thinks, does it?" she asks me, and I groan. "It doesn't," I permit, "but still, I want to break his legs." She nods. "You should talk to your brother," she suggests, "since he is particularly adept at pettiness." "SO TRUE," I agree, and owl him, since I did actually want to make sure he was alive.

5:35 p.m.: I meet Bucky in Diagon. "I'm alive," he confirms, and sighs, apologizing about being a mess. I ask him if he's upset about Jane, and he hesitates. "Actually," he begins, somewhat sheepishly, and tells me he has feelings for someone else; he doesn't say who, but considering my observations that evening, I determine it must be Raven, the Slytherin. Figures. Bucky loves domineering women who are fully unable to reciprocate.

5:55 p.m.: He tells me he doesn't see himself getting over this girl (cough, Raven) anytime soon, and I scoff. "Get under someone else," I tell him, and he blanches. "What about Lorelei?" I ask him, and he shrugs. "I probably don't have a chance with her after how pissed I was," he laments, "not to mention the Yule Ball." I disagree, given how much attention she paid him, but I don't push the issue. "What about you?" he asks me, and I tell him I should probably give up on the person I was chasing; it's time to follow my own advice, I tell him, and find someone else. "Ugh, gross," he says, making a face, "you're my sister, I don't want to hear about you having sex." "Oh, shove it," I say, "I've fucked your best friend, you know." "Blech, stop," he gags.

6:37 p.m.: "Have you tried Wandr?" Bucky asks me over an early dinner, and I say no; our older brother told me about it after he developed it, but I haven't tried it. "Let's go get one," I say, dragging him to our brother's store.

7:05 p.m.: "Use this responsibly," our brother warns, grudgingly handing over the small rectangle that says WANDR across the top. "I refuse," I say, and leave. "Bye," I call over my shoulder, and Bucky throws his hands in the air. "What about me?" he demands, and I shrug. "Call Lorelei," I suggest at a yell, and wave my wand to turn on Wandr.

7:30 p.m.: I agree to drinks in Diagon in an hour with someone who shares my interest in quidditch. Boring, really, but I'm not interested in a long game. I'm interested in one night, just to get back the unshakable confidence that Natasha so rudely rattled. To be honest, I just hope he's hot.

8:35 p.m.: Ooh. He is. I show up five minutes late in a tight black dress and he's already there. I'm surprisingly thrilled to find it's actually someone I know—he played keeper briefly on the Gryffindor quidditch team when my brother Bucky was injured and I happen to already know he's a giant twat, so no chance of developing feelings. He's perfectly fit, though, and he looks like he'll be sufficient entertainment. I'll call him Hawkeye—no actual superpowers, but hey, hopefully he can wield an arrow, right?

8:47 p.m.: "Oh, sorry," Hawkeye says, as someone takes a picture from somewhere across the bar. "We can go somewhere more private, if you want," he suggests, and I am deeply pleased by the fortunate proposition. "I'd say my place, but the Emperor takes up the whole living room," I say. He blinks, bemused, but offers up his place. I down my drink and slip my arm through his. "Let's go," I say.

9:04 p.m.: We're making out against the wall and he's sort of rough and artless, but in a great way. I unapologetically yank at his belt and he looks down at me, surprised. "I should warn you, I'm not looking for anything serious," he tells me. "Neither am I," I say, switching places with him and pulling his trousers down to his ankles, dropping to my knees. "Fuck," he exhales, running his hands through my hair as I give his cock a deliberate, steady suck. "I'm bisexual," he adds, babbling, "I've been seeing someone, but he's married, and—" I pause, looking up at him. "Do you want to talk, or do you want your dick sucked?" I ask. "Oh, my dick sucked, please," he assures me. "Good choice," I say, reaching up to pat his stomach.

9:15 p.m.: He comes with a groan and I swallow it, letting him yank me to my feet. He kisses me, which is sort of hot (mostly in that not kissing me would be not hot) and picks me up, carrying me to his bedroom. "A gentleman would return the favor," I inform him as he deposits me back on the bed, and he shrugs, pulling his shirt over his head. "I'm not a gentleman, but I can make allowances," he permits as I wriggle out of my knickers. "Cool," I say, shoving his head between my legs.

9:26 p.m.: Hawkeye's no Tony, but he's not bad. Maybe he's just used to dicks. Rather than wait for what might be an underwhelming orgasm, I wriggle away and pull my dress over my head, yanking him on top of me once I'm naked. "Damn," he says, looking me over, "you're hot." "I know," I tell him, and he slides into me with a groan. "Modesty, much?" he asks. "Unnecessary tool of the patriarchy," I gasp, which is something I've definitely heard Wanda or Jane (or both) say before, and he chuckles as he pounds into me, taking one of my legs and aiming it towards my head. "And flexible," he remarks, licking his lips. "Stop being impressed with me and fuck me," I tell him. He obliges, and I moan.

9:57 p.m.: I'm on top, vigorously rubbing my clit. "Yeah, grind on me, baby, just like that," he urges, gritting his teeth and tightening his hands on my hips, and I'm actually having a very, very lovely time. His married lover must be very satisfied. "Thank you," he says when I impart that particular compliment, lifting his hips to pick up speed as I pin his arms over his head. He watches my breasts bounce, admiring them, and takes one in his mouth. "God, I miss tits," he says, flicking his tongue over my nipple. My mind unwillingly flashes to Natasha, and I come with a near-instant shout of pleasure. Maybe my episode of curiosity's not fully satisfied.

10:15 p.m.: "Pull my hair," I tell Hawkeye as he fucks me from behind, and he grabs a handful, adding a wonderfully satisfying growl. "Fuck," he exhales tightly, throwing his head back with a groan.

10:48 p.m.: "Go again?" he asks, breathing hard, and I grab my wand, summoning two glasses of water and handing one to him. "Sure," I say, taking a long sip, and he grins. "You're sure you're good with casual?" he asks, and I laugh. "Casual? Sweetheart, this is a one time thing," I tell him, and he looks relieved. "Not that I don't like you," he assures me, and I shrug. "You're fine," I say, "but why ruin good sex with longevity?" "I couldn't agree more," he says, and then tells me he tends to avoid women, only because they want more than he can offer. "That's ridiculous," I say, "and a total stereotype." He shrugs.

11:39 p.m.: After we fuck again on his living room sofa, he tells me I can stay over if I want. "Good," I say, because I'm exhausted and there's a lizard taking up half my flat. Plus, morning sex.

12:15 a.m.: We're in his bed trying to sleep, and he rolls onto his back with a sigh. "Go again?" he asks hopefully. "Shh," I tell him. "I'm sleeping."


DAY FOUR

5:01 a.m.: I tap Hawkeye's chest when I wake up. "Go again?" I ask, and he rubs his eyes. "I'm sleeping," he admonishes me, groaning as he looks at the clock, and I shrug, getting out of bed. "Well, I'm either fucking you or going for a run," I say, "but either way, sleep is over." He sighs. "Alright, but you're on top," he grumbles, and I grin before wrapping my hand around his cock.

5:27 a.m.: He's got a great cock. I come about three times just riding him, and then he flips me onto my back. "Too hard?" he asks, smacking his hips against the backs of my legs, and I shake my head. "I'm a morning person," I assure him, just before I come again.

6:05 a.m.: "Well, that was fun," I tell him, offering him a salute as I pull my shoes on and head for the door. "Bye," he says, already half asleep again, and I leave with a smile. That was just what I needed.

6:10 a.m.: I decide to walk home, since it's still early. I always enjoy a quiet morning stroll before the rest of Diagon opens for business, but today, that decision turns out to be a mistake. I hear a camera click and groan, remembering I'm still wearing my dress from last night. I did all of this wrong, I know—but oh well. I look great in this dress, and I'll just have my dad be sure to steal my mum's copy of whatever gossip rag this ends up in.

6:30 a.m.: "Oh good, you're home," says Wanda, holding up a series of albums. "Which of these should I play to stimulate the Emperor's mental development?" she asks, and I point to a recording of Tony's mother's first opera, which is one of his favorites. "That was my leaning," she agrees, obligingly letting me sit down and help myself to her breakfast. She asks me if I have to leave anytime soon, and I shake my head, my mouth full of eggs. "No," I attempt, "just a scrimmage tomorrow," which ends up sounding like garbled nonsense. Luckily, Wanda is fluent in nonsense. "That's fun," she says, and tells the Emperor to sit. "He's a lizard," I tell her, "he can't sit." "Stop discouraging him," she says.

8:37 a.m.: Wanda and I are still chatting at the kitchen table when the Floo comes to life, revealing Tony in the flames. "HEY," he barks, and I wander over to the fireplace. "Is that my mother singing?" he asks me, but before I can answer, he shakes his head. "Nevermind—we have a problem," he says grimly. "Is it that ascot you're wearing?" I ask. He grimaces. "Shush," he says.

9:00 a.m.: Apparently he did intercede with the PR rep for the national team, opposing their choice of advertising, and they responded with a copy of this morning's Daily Prophet, which he holds up for me now. "Oh, for fuck's sake," I growl, looking at the spread that shows pictures of me last night and this morning. "Did they really call me a floozy?" I demand, and Tony shrugs.

9:15 a.m.: "Look, perception matters," he tells me, and I am more than a little irritated. "You're saying that they won't use a different picture of me just because I had sex last night?" I demand. "I'm still the best chaser they've got!" "I know," Tony says, "but their job is to sell what people like, and that's sex and misbehaving celebrities. If you want to be taken seriously—" "I should be taken seriously based on my talent," I cut in sharply, and add that neither of the other chasers have to worry about this, despite having well-documented indiscretions of their own. Tony sighs. "This isn't something I can fix for you," he tells me. "I'd like to, but—" "Fine," I mutter, and he grimaces. "Sorry," he says.

9:45 a.m.: For a long time after he ends the call, Wanda silently watches me pace the kitchen. "You do always say perception is important," she reminds me, and I'm very annoyed that this is the time she chooses to listen to me. "I get it," I growl, "but I shouldn't have to fight this hard to be recognized for what I do on the pitch." Wanda tilts her head, thinking about it. "Well," she begins slowly, "what if you could convince people to see you the way you wanted them to?" I pause, considering it. "That's an idea," I say slowly, and formulate a plan.

12:25 p.m.: I actually aim to arrive right at noon, but it takes me twenty minutes to find Amora's desk inside the Daily Prophet offices. Actually, calling it an office isn't quite right; she's in the corner of what's essentially a bullpen, and the whole place is an utter zoo. My first thought upon arrival (well, second, after the whole zoo thing) is that she looks incredibly different; her hair is tied up, the purple ends concealed in a work-appropriate bun, and she's wearing a blazer and glasses. "Holy shit," I say in greeting, and she looks up, frowning. "What do you want? I'm only on Gemini," she mutters, and adds something that sounds like "never trust a blueberry," under her breath, scribbling it down.

12:30 p.m.: "I wanted to talk to you about something," I say, clearing a stack of newspapers from the chair across from her and sitting in it, narrowly ducking a charmed paper airplane that aims itself at Amora. She picks it up, unfolding it, and scowls. "Sorry," she mutters to me, "just more idiocy." "You look frustrated," I say. She glances up. "Like you wouldn't believe," she confirms flatly.

12:35 p.m.: "Listen," I press, "I want to pitch you an article idea." I tell her I'm willing to give her exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage for the English national team throughout the entire World Cup tournament if she agrees to do one piece in particular. She looks skeptical, per usual. "We have sports writers for that," she says, and I shake my head. "Don't write about sports," I say, "write about me." She lifts a brow, and I hurry to correct what she's clearly assumed is my raging hubris. "I mean, write about women in sports," I say quickly, "and the perception of female athletes." She leans back, considering it.

12:40 p.m.: "They did run a fairly sexist promo spread with you," she comments, and I nod. "You said you were tired of fluff," I remind her, and she drums her fingers on the desk. "Hm," she says, glancing around the room, which I notice is dominated by men. "Quidditch is still not my preferred topic," she says, hedging, "but—" "You can choose the lens of the article," I assure her. "I'm just tired of being treated like an object and yet being dragged through the mud when I act precisely how they want me to be perceived."

12:47 p.m.: She gets hit with another paper airplane, which is apparently how they communicate here, and sighs, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it in the bin beneath her desk. "Fine, I'm in," she says, "but I can't talk about it right now. How about tonight?" she suggests, and asks if I want to do dinner. I agree, and take my leave.

1:37 p.m.: I find I have a lot of excess energy, so I head to the pitch to work out.

4:28 p.m.: When I get home, I still have a lot of excess energy, despite being covered in sweat and exhausted. "Try masturbating," Wanda suggests. She's sitting at a makeshift easel, apparently trying to teach the Emperor how to read. "You know, most human babies can't read," I remind her. "Well, I'm not going to determine the ceiling for him," she says. "You're right, by the way," I add, and she turns. "About reading?" she asks. "No," I say, "about masturbating." She nods solemnly. "I find it clears my head," she says. "In fact," she adds, brightening, "I have my best ideas while masturbating." "Did you have this idea while masturbating?" I ask, gesturing to the easel. "No," she says, "this was just one of my afternoon whims."

4:45 p.m.: I figure I have about twenty minutes, so I strip down and lay back on my bed before hopping in the shower. This is a perfunctory sort of rub-down, so I just close my eyes and let my mind wander as I slide my fingers in and out of my cunt. Before long, my thoughts progress; first to Hawkeye's dick, then to Tony's tongue, and then, oddly, to Amora, to the way she looks when she's thinking, and that dry tone in her voice. "Oof," I say, opening my eyes with a start. "How's it going?" Wanda yells from outside of my door. "Stop doing that," I yell back, "it's disruptive." "Sorry," she calls back.

5:02 p.m.: I decide to entertain the fantasy, imagining how Amora might look naked. It's different than how I've always imagined sex with Natasha; there's something physical about Natasha, something very overtly sexual that leads my brain to concrete things like where I'd want to bite or lick, but my imaginings of Amora are different—more sensual, somehow. I'm picturing her eyes, the poised motions of her fingers, the parting of her lips.

5:03 p.m.: I come so hard it startles me. "How was it?" Wanda yells. "Problematic," I shout back. "Oh, that's fun," she says.

5:34 p.m.: I get to the restaurant and Amora's waiting for me, her hair down and the blazer off. "Okay," she says, immediately getting down to business, "so let's start with some background information. How did you learn to play quidditch?" "When I was six years old, I started breaking into my family's broom shed and taking each of my brother's brooms," I reply. She frowns. "Didn't you have your own?" she asks, and I shake my head. "Nope," I say, "my mum said no, and my brothers didn't think I could play with them." "Oh man," Amora says with a laugh, "this is going to be feminist as fuck."

6:45 p.m.: We talk about my life and career quite a bit, but eventually, I start asking questions about her. "When did you decide to be a journalist?" I say, and she shrugs. "I didn't," she says, and explains that she started writing after her girlfriend was killed during the war. "I didn't know what else to do, so when they wanted someone with divination experience for the horoscopes, I just agreed," she explains. "Now I want to write something that matters, though," she adds, somewhat optimistically. I open my mouth, hesitating, and she chuckles a little. "You want to ask me about her, right?" she prompts, referencing her girlfriend, and I grimace. "Let me tell you something," she says quietly, "you don't know what it's like being intimate with a woman until you're actually with one. Everything feels different. Your body feels different, and you look at yourself in a completely different way."

7:01 p.m.: I ask her what she means, and she pauses, considering it. "Like, okay, consider tits," she suggests, gesturing to her own. "Men see your tits, they think tits in some vaguely generic way. When a woman is touching you, though, it's not just any set of tits—she has her own, you know? She learns you for the sake of learning you, not because she just wants to watch something bounce." I swallow, forcing a nod. "I see," I say, taking a sip of my firewhisky. Amora pauses for a second, steepling her fingers, and watches me. "How did it go with Natasha?" she asks, and I grimace. "You were right," I say, and she smirks. "Good," she says.

7:05 p.m.: "Good?" I echo, and she nods, leaning forward. "You don't want your first time to be with someone who's having some kind of experiment," she tells me, her voice low as the words seem to melt in the distance between her lips and mine. "You want your first time with a woman to be with someone who's going to touch you like they've been longing for it—who's going to let you be in that moment, and nowhere else," she says softly, "so that when you're dying for friction and you don't know yet how to get it, it's someone who wants you just as badly, who's just as desperate to feel every inch of you against her skin."

7:15 p.m.: I don't realize I've been holding my breath until after she leans away, pulling out her purse. "So," she says, clearing her throat, "split the bill?" It takes me a few seconds, but eventually I manage a nod. "Great," she says. "Oh, and by the way, my sister is going on a date with your brother," she tells me, but I have not yet recovered from her most recent speech, and the rush of firewhisky in my veins is not helping my concentration. "I have a lizard," I offer anecdotally in exchange, "or a dragon. To be determined." "Huh," she says, "weird."

8:05 p.m.: "How was it?" Wanda asks when I get home. "I'm honestly not sure," I reply, and after considering it for a moment, I ask her if she's ever been with a woman. "Oh, yes, several," Wanda replies effortlessly. "The clitoris and I are very well-acquainted," she adds. "That's nice," I tell her, but I really need to get to bed, because if this day goes on any longer, I may lose track of it altogether. I need to put Amora out of my head.

8:15 p.m.: "Please tell the Emperor I must retire for the evening," I say, and Wanda blinks at me. "He's right here," she informs me, "and his language processes seem to be developing just fine." "Goodnight, then, Your Imperial Highness," I say, bowing to our pet lizard.

8:17 p.m.: "He won't answer," Wanda tells me, sighing. "I hate to set cognitive limits, but unfortunately, I think expecting speech is aiming a bit too high."

8:30 p.m.: I was worried for a bit about whether I could get to sleep, but I'm exhausted. I drift off easily, my mind pleasantly thoughtless.

8:45 p.m.: Unfortunately, I wake up with a start, remembering that I gave Amora tickets to tomorrow's scrimmage so that she could see the team in action in preparation for the article. "Shit," I say, "shit, shit, shit—"

8:46 p.m.: "Nargles?" Wanda calls. "Wrackspurts," I yell back. "Oh, sad," she sighs.


DAY FIVE

5:30 a.m.: I head to the pitch where we're playing today, deciding to get my usual warm-up in there rather than at my team's stadium. I'm struck by how much larger it is, and then I realize my all-female team doesn't exactly sell out every game. "Damn patriarchy," I mutter, realizing I'll have to do twice as many sprints.

8:32 a.m.: I'm stretching when the others arrive, piling into the locker room. They don't seem concerned that I'm there; they strip down without much concern for me, and one of the chasers—the one that waited for me after our last meeting—gives me a smug look as he drops his trousers. "Oh, come on," he says as I furiously avert my eyes, "I know how you like your quidditch dick." I gape at him, too angry to speak, and he shrugs, referencing my relationship with Steve and then my little stint with Hawkeye. "Is that how you got your spot on the team?" he asks neutrally, and I promptly pull out my wand.

8:45 a.m.: Out of everyone who's ever been on the receiving end of my bat-bogey hex, he takes it with the least panache, and I'd laugh at the sound of his inhuman shrieking if I weren't too busy storming out. I wait on the field for the rest of the team, certain I will receive some sort of discipline for it but determining that I don't care. In the stands, I can see sports journalists and commentators filling in for the nine o'clock start, and I catch a little flutter of purple that tells me that Amora is here.

9:00 a.m.: This event is mostly for press coverage and to garner some publicity, so it isn't all that serious—at least, not unless you're me, and you therefore have something to prove for all of womankind.

9:15 a.m.: Right off the bat, the chasers refuse to pass to me. It's going to be a long, long day.

10:17 a.m.: I happen to wrest the quaffle away and score on our keeper, and while there is some polite applause, I can see the other chasers gritting their teeth in displeasure. I've never played on a team like this before. On the Gryffindor team, nobody was a star; we worked together to get the House Cup. On my own team, too, competition is set aside in favor of winning games. But these chasers would clearly rather lose than deflate their egos, and that could mean trouble for me—if the coaches identify me as the problem, they could replace me with a male alternate. It could derail my career.

11:34 a.m.: One of the beaters aims a bludger that I pull up just in time to miss. "Sorry," he calls insincerely. This could be worse than I thought.

12:27 p.m.: By the time the scrimmage is over, I've worked twice as hard as everyone else on the pitch and scored less than half as much. I'd be willing the bet the keeper let in some of the other chasers' shots, but clearly that doesn't matter to anyone watching. The media reps in the stands are mostly men, and I hear them as they pass—"I expected more from her," one says, tutting, and another adds, "Ireland has three returning chasers, and they work together much more smoothly." I want to shout my opposition, but I know being emotional on the field will only be used against me. "Good game," one of the chasers sneers, grinning wickedly.

12:36 p.m.: In the moment, I want to cry—and then even I hate me for being a girl.

1:14 p.m.: "Hey," Amora says, waiting for me outside the pitch. I shake my head. "I can't talk right now," I tell her, and she nods. "I just wanted to let you know I'm pitching the article to my editor today," she says, "and personally, I think it can't come soon enough. People need to know what the other players are doing out there," she says urgently, pointing to the pitch, and I pause. "Right?!" I demand, and she gives me a solemn nod. "They were clearly edging you out," she says, and I let out a sigh.

1:20 p.m.: "Let's get drinks tonight after my meeting," Amora suggests, and I nod. "Sounds good," I say, and I don't really know if it sounds good, exactly, but at least I'll have the opportunity to vent—and drink.

1:30 p.m.: I head to the Leaky for a late lunch and run into Jane, who seems alarmed to see me. "Hey," I say, heading for her table, "what are you—" "WHAT? NOTHING," she exclaims at the top of her lungs, and then I catch the motion of someone with pale blond hair ducking out of sight. "Oh, come on," I sigh, shaking my head, "I know you two are fucking." "Oh," Jane says, smoothing her hair back. "Well, I wouldn't call it that," she sniffs, and I roll my eyes. "I know you wouldn't," I remark, and she shrugs. "Want to join me?" she prompts, gesturing to the food that Max has just vacated, and I sit down across from her. "Where'd he go?" I ask, and she glances over her shoulder. "Oh, I don't know. He'll come back eventually," she says.

1:45 p.m.: She asks me what's new while I dig into Max's salad, and I tell her about the scrimmage. "Oh, that's got to be breaking so many DMSG equality statutes!" she protests. "That's blatant discrimination," she adds, waving her fork around, "and I'm certain I could find grounds for a lawsuit—" "I don't really want to go that route," I tell her, since I still have to play with them; after all, playing in the World Cup tournament is my dream, and I'm much easier to replace than they are. I tell her about Amora's article, though, and she tilts her head thoughtfully, nodding. "You know, her sister works in magical law," Jane says, "and she's quite good at it."

1:53 p.m.: "Oh," I say, recalling what I've just learned about Lorelei, "I think I should probably warn you that she's dating Bucky." Jane pauses, considering this information. "Well, she's very smart," she permits slowly. I wait, grinning. "Is that all?" I ask, and Jane shrugs. "I mean, we are broken up," she says, and I point to Max's salad. "Obviously," I agree.

2:01 p.m.: "You could have told me you liked him," I tell her, referring to Max, and she groans. "I don't like him at all," she says, "I just seem to be slightly enamored with him against my will." "Slightly?" I ask, arching a brow, and she sighs. "Fine," Jane says flatly, "he's—it's casual." "Oh my god, you love him," I tell her, and then eagerly ask her what he looks like naked. She turns bright red. "He's very aesthetically pleasing," she says carefully. "You fucking slut," I say cheerfully, "I've never been more proud of you." She smiles. "You're sweet," she tells me.

2:15 p.m.: "Well, good luck with the team," Jane says as I prepare to leave, "and let me know if you need my help." "I will," I say, opening the door and ducking out of sight just as Max reappears behind me. "Excuse me, you monster," he says to Jane, "but I've been waiting for forty-five minutes!" "Well, that's on you," she tells him pertly, and he groans. "DID SHE EAT MY SALAD?" he demands, and Jane gives him an adoring, goonish smile. "I'll get you another one," she says, and he relents, letting her kiss his scowl away.

2:20 p.m.: Is anyone I know not in some sort of secret relationship? Not Tony, I'm sure. He's allergic to relationships.

7:30 p.m.: I bum around for the rest of the day accomplishing nothing, and then I leave to meet Amora for drinks. My attitude has turned around a bit and I'm looking forward to seeing her now, but my stomach drops a bit when she storms in, furious. "My editor killed the story," she announces, and my jaw drops. "What?" I demand, and she shakes her head. "He says it's too niche for the Daily Prophet's audience," she says flatly, and grabs my firewhisky from my hand, downing it in one go. "Come on," she announces, "we're drinking."

8:39 p.m.: "Apparently," she slurs, "pieces on 'human interest' do not include women's interests, so—" "Fuck him," I say. "Fuck all of them!" she announces, and my god, we are spectacularly drunk. Transcendently, even. She is transcendent, I think, all glowing and beautiful and glittering with an opalescent rage.

9:05 p.m.: "You're so pretty," I blurt out, and Amora turns to me slowly, blinking. "You," she says, "are probably the most confident, determined, beautiful woman I've ever seen, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a bloody fool." I stare at her, she stares back, and I'm not totally sure what's happening, but I'm so fucking into this I could cry.

9:10 p.m.: "Come home with me," I say, and she slams her glass down. "I thought you'd never ask," she says, and we head to my flat.

9:36 p.m.: "Oh, hi," says Wanda, holding up the Emperor. "Are you two—" "I can't talk right now," I tell her, dragging Amora to my bedroom. "Ooh, okay, fun!" Wanda calls after us.

9:40 p.m.: When the door closes, I have absolutely no idea what to do. I'm used to being the dominant one, and I'm usually the one who makes the first move, but all of a sudden I feel hugely out of my element. Amora drops her purse on the ground and takes her shoes off slowly, one at a time, before stepping towards me. She takes my shoulders, shifting me back and sitting me on my bed, and then she slowly, slowly begins unzipping her dress, letting it fall to her feet.

9:45 p.m.: She steps towards me in her bra and knickers and takes my hands, placing them on her waist. I can see her skin pebbling beneath my fingers and I'm speechless, letting her guide my touch. She slides my hands up to her breasts, running them over the lace, and then down to her hips, brushing the thin cotton fabric of her thong. She straddles my lap, shifting my hands again until they brush the bare skin of her arse, and her hips are moving so smoothly and elegantly that it's almost like she's dancing, and I am captivated as I brush my lips against the tops of her breasts.

9:51 p.m.: She leans away, taking my face in her hands, and kisses me slowly. Her lips are softer than I expect, the kiss itself much more delicate, and then her tongue flicks between my lips, parting them. I shift my hands, drawing my fingers experimentally between her legs, and I shiver gloriously at how wet she is. "What do you want to touch?" she asks, and reaches behind her, unclasping her bra and letting it fall to the floor. "Shit," I whisper, letting her push me back on the bed.

9:56 p.m.: I regain my senses, rolling over her and standing to slip out of my skirt and top, kicking my own shoes off. All in all I feel foolish but I resolve to make up for it with aggression, which I can see is effective when she hurries to help me remove her underwear, lifting her bum for me to pull it down her legs. I climb over her, half-holding my breath, and lower my lips to her nipples, sliding my tongue over them one by one. I see now what she means about tits. I have my own, sure, but there's something far more enticing about the shape of hers; about the way they feel under my hands, and the way I can feel her ribs expand as she holds her breath before letting it out in a tiny, desperate sigh.

10:05 p.m.: I'm dying for more of her and she obliges me, slipping one of her legs between mine. I grind against her with absolutely no shame, and I'm rewarded for my attention with the way her breath quickens, the way she bites her lip and moans.

10:11 p.m.: She gets me on my back and slides her way down my abdomen, ending with her lips against my clit. She sucks it lightly, gently, and then slides her fingers into me, and I reach down to gather her long hair in my hands, locking eyes with her. My pussy fucking glistens from how bad I want her, and her eyes are heavy-lidded as she drags her tongue against me. "Do you like this?" she asks, moving faster with her fingers, and I barely stammer out a yes. Within minutes, I'm coming so hard my vision swims.

10:35 p.m.: We kiss some more, my hands traveling greedily up her waist, and then I'm just furiously thrusting against her and I'm coming again, and then I shove her onto her back, dropping between her legs. "Tell me if I do it wrong," I say, and she stares down at me, shuddering violently the moment my tongue slides against the slit of her pussy. "Fuck," she hisses, tightening her fingers in my hair, "you're doing it exactly right."

11:15 p.m.: For so long I've treated sex like any bodily function—no different than drinking water when I'm thirsty, or sleeping when I'm tired—but with Amora, it regains a little bit of its lore. It feels, again, a little bit like worship, like magic; like something vibrant that sparks between two people and doesn't fade when we pull away. She is stunning and entrancing and beneath her touch I feel—I don't know. It doesn't matter, really. I just feel, and for the first time in a long time, that means something to me.

11:46 p.m.: We whisper to each other at night about little things, about silly things, about nothing. I kiss her slowly and she kisses me back with care.

12:37 a.m.: "I want to see the dragon," she says, as we're both drifting off to sleep. "I'll show you in the morning," I whisper back.


DAY SIX

5:30 a.m.: I'm not one to break a habit and Amora looks restful as she sleeps, so I head out for my morning workout, leaving a note for her on my pillow. 'Out for a run,' I say, 'I'll be back in a couple hours with breakfast.'

6:45 a.m.: I find I'm in a hurry to come back, so I skip the stairs altogether and stick with a reasonable 10k, returning with pastries and coffee from the Leaky. As I enter, though, I hear Amora chatting with Wanda, and I pause briefly to pray to any available deity that Wanda has not asked any questions about my (or Amora's) clitoris.

6:50 a.m.: "You know, I could publish the article," Wanda is saying when I enter. "I do own a magazine," she says, "though I've been working on cross-species parenting, presently." "Actually, that's not a bad idea," I say, disregarding my concerns as both women look up at my entrance. "The article, not the cross-parenting. Wanda always publishes the important things," I clarifies, and Amora smiles. "True," she says, "but I was thinking that maybe this should be about more than just one article."

7:01 a.m.: "My sister always complains that magical law is male dominated," Amora says, "and I know the Daily Prophet's decision-makers are all men. It's starting to feel like we're just outsiders, and it doesn't make any sense." "That's true," I say, "but what would 'more than one article' look like?" Amora shrugs. "A female-run publication," she says. "It wouldn't necessarily contain feminist rants, but just something where the people who decide what's important to print are women," she declares emphatically, and Wanda and I pause, glancing at each other. "You know who would love this," I suggest, and Wanda nods. "The Emperor," she announces, at the same time that I say, "Jane." "Oh," Wanda says, "her, too."

7:30 a.m.: "Why don't you owl her," Amora says slowly, "and I'll get in touch with my sister, and we can meet up later today?" I wither a little, realizing she's leaving; I thought she'd want to stay, but evidently not. "Sure," I say, hoping I don't look as disappointed as I feel.

7:47 a.m.: I walk Amora to the Floo and she pauses, looking like she might say something. "So," she says, and I wait. "Pretty sure that's just a lizard," she exhales, and I let out something of an awkward laugh. "Yeah," I say, "I know." Then she gives me a wave, and she's gone.

7:56 a.m.: "I like her," Wanda says, unhelpfully. "I have to lie down," I sigh.

11:45 a.m.: I spend most of the day sulking after I send Jane an owl, asking her to meet us for dinner. I can't figure out what went wrong with Amora, but I'm also not sure what would have happened to make it go right. More sex, obviously, as sex is something I understand; but what would I have wanted after that? Did I expect her to kiss me goodbye? That seems like too much, but at the same time, her just leaving like that seems like far too little. I don't know what to make of it.

5:36 p.m.: I put together a relatively sad pot of carbonara (my mother's an excellent cook, but I really don't have the time or patience for it) and wait for the others to arrive. Jane arrives perfectly on time, of course, and Amora and Lorelei follow soon after; Lorelei and Jane are somewhat formal with each other, but that's nothing new, really. Jane's always fairly formal. "So," Amora begins, "the idea is—"

5:47 p.m.: She's cut off as Wanda arrives. With her—in an unpredictable move, even for Wanda—is Raven, the Slytherin that I know for a fact not one person in this flat gets along with, and that I still suspect of being involved with my brother (who, much to my sudden delight, I realize would very much not enjoy being in this room. I fight the urge to invite him, though, because we're busy, so my pleasure at his discomfort will have to wait). "Um," Jane says, "why—" "I ran into her in Diagon," Wanda supplies cheerfully, "and I thought she'd be perfect to help us bring down the patriarchy." Raven shrugs. "I don't have a lot going on," she says in explanation, pulling up a chair and glancing at Amora. "Go on," Raven prompts, expectant.

6:10 p.m.: Surprisingly, there is little tension once Amora pitches her idea: it's a news source run by women, without having to appeal to male-dominated publishers but also without catering solely to stereotypically female-dominated areas of interest, like fashion and gossip. "It might not make a lot of money," Amora admits, "but the industry is lacking a female voice, and I think with all of us involved—" she trails off, and everyone at the table glances at Raven. "What?" Raven demands. "Well," Jane says hesitantly, "it's just that traditionally we don't, er." She pauses, tilting her head. "Get along?" she finishes weakly, and Raven rolls her eyes. "I'm a woman, too, you know," she says, "and anyway, all of this"—she waves a hand around the table at Lorelei and Jane, who mentioned the bias they receive at the Ministry, at me, and at Amora—"makes me feel like the more of us there are involved, the better off we'll all be." Strangely, we all nod in agreement, finding ourselves on the same side for possibly the first time ever.

9:15 p.m.: We decide we'll rebrand Wanda's magazine, using her printing resources. I get Tony on a Floo call, and he promises his mother's company's support in distributing it to their clients. "What the fuck are you doing there?" he asks Raven, who makes a face. "Why is everyone so surprised that I have interests?" she counters, and he pauses, thoughtful. "Huh," he says, "I guess you do generally glory in your superiority." "There you go," she sniffs.

9:20 p.m.: Jane assures us that she's willing to use her clout at the Ministry, and Raven adds that she has the money to help it along; "for a while, anyway," she mutters, but we don't ask what that means. Lorelei promises to draw up contracts for all of us, and before I realize what's happening, we've created something on my kitchen table. We decide to call it The Human Interest, or The Interest, for short.

9:35 p.m.: "Well," I tell Wanda in the kitchen, "I suppose this will help with everything except those arseholes I'm on the World Cup team with." "Why?" Raven asks, catching the conversation and frowning as she carries her plate to the sink. "What are they doing?" she asks, and I tell her they're refusing to play with me; they'd rather lose, I say, than treat me like a member of the team. "Oh, well, that's easy," she says briskly, "you just have to put something on the line that they care about." "Like what?" I scoff, "their dicks?" "Those, yes," she permits haughtily, "but I'd be willing to bet men like that also have fortunes they don't want to lose."

9:46 p.m.: "What are you saying?" I ask, and Raven smirks. "I might be able to help you with this," she says, looking maniacally pleased with herself. "I knew you'd enjoy this," Wanda tells Raven dreamily, but I'm not quite buying it. "Why would you help me?" I ask, and Raven shrugs. "Maybe I think it's cool that you can get people together like this," she says, "or maybe I find a strange, twisted pleasure in destroying a man. Who knows. It's a mystery."

10:15 p.m.: I want to talk to Amora before she goes, but with her sister here, that doesn't seem likely. "Have a good night," I say as she leaves, and she smiles, but nothing more.

11:00 p.m.: By the time I get to bed, I can smell Amora's perfume in my sheets and my heart feels heavy in my chest. I guess I should write her off like I did with Natasha, but that seems strange, somehow. Difficult. Different, certainly. I don't know what Natasha cared about, really. I never really knew what mattered to her; she was a warm body I had curiosities about, but Amora is different.

11:15 p.m.: When, exactly, did I let Amora start to matter to me?

12:45 a.m.: I drift to sleep and then wake up to an owl, and for a second I think it might be from Amora, but there's a family crest at the top of the parchment that tells me it's Raven. 'Meet me outside Gringotts tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. sharp,' she says, 'and wear something that says 'don't fuck with me,' if possible.'

12:49 a.m.: I snicker a little to myself, feeling like she and I are going to be great friends. 'Always,' I reply, wondering what stroke of lunacy possessed Wanda to invite her and hoping it continues.


DAY SEVEN

5:45 a.m.: Usual workout. Usual day. If only being someone who worked hard was enough to get ahead, right? It isn't, unfortunately, and seeing the World Cup promo material that flashes my half-naked torso on its enchanted banners reminds me of that—but then I remember that changing it is our entire goal, and we've already taken the first step. I feel better, bigger and stronger, and I finish my run on a high.

9:30 a.m.: I put on my favorite black trousers and the leather jacket that was my first big purchase when I signed the contract to go pro, and I meet Raven outside Gringotts, as she requested. She turns, smirking at me as she removes a pair of oversized sunglasses. "I pulled a few strings," she says, handing me a couple of slips of parchment. I stare at them, disbelieving. "Is this—" "You just need to give them a reason to win," she tells me, winking, "and you and I both know they need you to do that." "But how will I—" "They're on their way," she says, "I already had them summoned."

9:45 a.m.: "How did you pull this off?" I ask her, and she shakes her head, coolly replacing her sunglasses on her head. "I may not be a good person," she says, turning to head down the street, "but I'm a useful one to have around."

9:56 a.m.: Can I just say one thing? If my brother really is in love with her, I totally get it.

10:00 a.m.: Both chasers arrive outside of Gringotts right when Raven says they will, and they look supremely disgruntled at the sight of me. "What are you doing here?" one asks gruffly, and I give them both my coyest smile. "You need to rethink your priorities," I tell them, "because winning the World Cup with my help has now become quite important."

10:05 a.m.: "These," I explain, handing them each a slip of parchment, "belong to you. In case you neanderthals struggle with reading," I clarify with delight, "these are receipts for the bets you've just placed on the results of the tournament. The value of your combined fortunes is now on the line, and you know as well as I do that you can't win the tournament with only two functioning chasers." They gape at me. "We can get you replaced," one says, and I shake my head. "See this?" I say, tapping it. "This bet was placed on the team as the roster is now," I say, "and you know how particular goblins are about details. You lose if the terms aren't met."

10:15 a.m.: They're stunned, staring at the parchments. "This is illegal," one tries to protest, and I laugh. "So is keeping your money in secret accounts," I say, "and I'm sure the Ministry would love to hear that." "We could turn you in," the other counters, and I shrug. "I had nothing to do with it," I remind them, "seeing as these are signatures from both your accounts, and my name's nowhere on it." (Privately, I remind myself not to get an accountant that can be swayed by a pretty pureblooded heiress; a female accountant, preferably.)

10:20 a.m.: "Also, it would be easier just to play with me, because I'm a fucking great chaser," I tell them, "and I promise you, I can win you this World Cup, because I earned my spot on the team. Nobody helped me, and nobody favored me. I earned it." They stare at me, and then, slowly, they both nod. "Team England?" I prompt, and they nod again. "Team England," they echo.

11:45 a.m.: I'm riding a pretty considerable high right now, so I owl Amora. 'Meet me at the Leaky?' I ask, and she agrees.

12:30 p.m.: When Amora walks in, I notice her hair is a different color; the platinum blonde remains, but the ends of the strands are no longer lavender. Instead, there's now a brilliant crimson at the bottom layer of her hair. "What's this?" I ask, gesturing, and she smiles. "For England," she says, and I don't know what this means yet, so I wait. "I had some things I needed to get out of my system," she explains, and I realize that maybe that color meant something to her, and I also realize that maybe I should have stopped to ask if she was ready for what I wanted.

12:45 p.m.: "I quit my job," she says, and tells me she's willing to pursue The Interest full-time, because she wants it to matter. She wants to do something that matters, she says, and I find myself nodding. "You inspire me, you know," she says, and I note that she uses the present tense. "I might never have gotten out of there if I hadn't seen you fight so fiercely for what you deserve," she tells me, and adds that she wants other women to see that side of me; to fight for what they want. "Like you do," she says again, and though it's flattery, I am imminently humbled. "Thank you," I say, with genuine appreciation, and she gives me a lovely, radiant smile. "Thank you," she says.

1:05 p.m.: "When you say for England," I begin, reaching out to touch her hair, and she clears her throat. "I hear the World Cup team has a great new chaser," she says, and I laugh. "You know, I think they do," I tell her, and when she smiles again, my entire body fills with warmth.

2:35 p.m.: We go back to my flat and I kiss her without hesitation this time, and she kisses me back. And when she's got the palm of her hand in my trousers, cupping my cunt and stroking the slickness there as I grind against her, I know I'm going to do this again with her; in fact, I'm going to do things with her I haven't done with anyone for a long time. I'm going to care, for once, and I'm going to make sure that her admiration is something I have well and truly earned.

3:45 p.m.: I've just finished a successful, highly satisfying round of sucking on her clit when I hear a strange sound and Amora sits up, sniffing the air. "Is something burning?" she asks, and I frown, throwing a robe at her and pulling on the t-shirt I keep next to the bed before opening the door to my living room.

3:51 p.m.: "Look," Wanda says gleefully, clapping her hands in delight as half of our living room is fully set ablaze. "I told you the Emperor can accomplish anything he sets his mind to," she tells me, cooing at him as he belches another burst of flame that shrivels our drapes to ash. "OH MY GOD," I shout, as Amora conjures an Aguamenti, probably saving our lives and, thankfully, one of the books I borrowed from Jane two months ago (she would never forgive me).

4:30 p.m.: Eventually the fire's gone and while most of our things smell like smoke, the Emperor is sitting contentedly on Wanda's shoulder, blowing smoke rings and making a loud, screeching sound of triumph. "I have to call my brother about this," I say, and then—out of nowhere—Amora is laughing, and then Wanda laughs, and then I am laughing so hard that I can't breathe, and then we're all falling over each other on the floor.

4:39 p.m.: "No, but seriously," I manage, "you really should take the Emperor to Romania." "But who will stay here with you to take care of the wrackspurts?" Wanda asks, and I turn to Amora, who smiles. "Oh, I have an idea," I say, taking a crimson strand of hair and twirling it around my finger.

4:40 p.m.: "Ooh, fun," says Wanda, tickling the Emperor's chin. He coughs, lighting a horrible throw pillow from my mother on fire.

4:45 p.m.: And just like that, the world is as it should be.

Chapter Text

Episode VIII: The Husband Whose Wife Insists On Meeting His Boyfriend

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a Sacred Twenty-Eight heir struggles to let go of the past: 27, male, discreetly in the closet, married.


DAY ONE

8:30 a.m.: I wake up to my wife stirring beside me, commencing her usual morning stretch. Everything she does is insanely sensual, from the catlike way she arches her back to the little moan that slips from between her perfectly rose-tinted lips, and she turns her head with a contented sigh, smiling at me. She is perfect. She is the perfect woman, and it never becomes any easier that I have neither the will nor the ability to give her the fairytale she so badly (and so obviously) wants.

8:35 a.m.: "Good morning," she says, and I wish she had some sort of flaw—anything, really, to make me feel better about what I'm doing today, and tomorrow, and most of the time, if I'm being honest—but even her morning breath is like a fucking mist of ambrosia from the heavens. "Good morning," I reply, and ask her if she has any plans for the day. "Do you want to have dinner before the party tonight?" she asks me, sounding hopeful, and I turn away so that she doesn't see my look of paralyzing disinterest. "Sure," I say, feigning as much enthusiasm as I can muster.

10:00 a.m.: I'll call my wife Alexandria, after a region in Scotland from which a former lover used to imbibe quite generously in whisky. As for the lover himself—yes, you heard me correctly—I'll call him Skye. He was unapologetically, unrepentantly (disgustingly) Scottish, and now I can't help but identify everything and everyone as some extension of him and that entire ridiculous country. This morning Alexandria hums something to herself; nothing recognizable, and I probably wouldn't have noticed the little inclination she has for it, either, if Skye hadn't used to do the same thing. He used to whistle the song "Loch Lomond" to himself in the mornings, actually, which is a Scottish muggle song I always thought had something of a jaunty melody until I looked up the words. Spoiler: it was disturbingly prophetic.

11:00 a.m.: Alexandria tells me she's going shopping with her best friend, which is fine with me. In case you haven't put it together yet, our marriage is one of convenience (read: forced jointure by our families). With reparations after the war, our Voldemort-sympathizing families were hit with ferocity by the Ministry's financial might, and my fortune in particular was dwindling to begin with. Hazards of being such an old name, I guess—but Alexandria's family somehow managed to hold onto the majority of their wealth. Not sure how, really, seeing as her name's theoretically as 'pure' as mine, but make no mistake: between the two of us, she (and her sister, I suppose) is the one with money. I'd have been happy to play quidditch professionally, but my father made it inescapably clear that shaming my family by declining my right to their swollen, overindulgent aristocracy was not an option. Presumably it would have also shamed them that I was fucking a Scottish half-blood and toying with the idea of throwing my fortune and my future away for him, too. Astoundingly, I never asked.

11:15 a.m.: "Enjoy your game," Alexandria tells me warmly, slipping out through the Floo. Her kindness exhausts me; her intentions are so well-meaning that she makes me feel incurably dirty (particularly because she's six years my junior, and thus still unwisely overflowing with optimism) and it's about to get worse. I'm about to betray her again, even with what little she asks from me, but at this point I can't produce much except a continuing ache of guilt. The sharp pains have mostly subsided.

12:00 p.m.: Part of my birth means never having to work, outside of occasional ceremonial positions. I spend today playing with my recreational quidditch league, which I have to admit is filled with some remarkable former players. I myself was a chaser on my house's team. The keeper on our club team played at Hogwarts, too—sort of. Technically he played one spectacularly terrible game for a rival house a few years after I'd left, but he seems to have grown up a bit since then. Much to my relief, frankly. I don't care about much (true, I had some prejudicial issues in the past; Skye changed them) but still, quidditch remains important to me, and nothing stops me from winning; not a seeker that's relentlessly showing off (a problem I had while I was captain of my house's team); not the rules, nor the opinions of the officials; not the loss of the only person I ever loved, and certainly not a peacocking player. This one in particular has his moments of vanity, but I don't let him get away with much. I'll call him Angus. "Keep your head in the game," I snap, watching him get a little too showy with his blocks. He winks at me. "Aye aye, Captain," he says.

12:35 p.m.: I'd say there are approximately two times a day when I feel sane. One of them is here on the pitch. It's strange that I can do this without thinking of Skye, but I think the fact that we were both so focused on the game actually makes it the one place I feel like I can breathe. We never fooled around on the pitch; we took the game seriously. It was ruthless competition between him and me, and we never let ourselves get distracted.

1:45 p.m.: Of course, after the game was always another story, and welcome to the second time a day that I feel less like the world is going to spontaneously fall around me. "Hey," Angus says in the locker room, slipping the towel from around my waist, and though I'm not going to do anything with him yet, I let him run his thumb over the jut of my hip. "Tonight," I tell him, and he looks up from visibly eye-fucking (eye-licking, eye-fellating, eye-devouring) my dick. "Again?" he asks, surprised, because by now I've gotten him mostly used to twenty furtive minutes in the showers. "Yes," I reply curtly, stepping out of his reach.

2:01 p.m.: I guess you can add Angus to the list of people who've begun causing me further swells of guilt over the last couple of months. I'm extremely aware that he's more invested in me than I am in him, despite his attempts thus far to hide it. I know he recently slept with someone else in an effort to punish me, or possibly forget me—it was plastered on the Daily Prophet's front page after he fucked the English National Team's only female chaser, so there was no missing it—but it obviously didn't work. I don't think he understands yet that this, this thing between us that's mostly sex, isn't remotely about my wife. It's not about anything, really. I feel less numb when he's touching me, but that doesn't mean I want anything out of it. I'm fucking married, and even that's a mess. There's no room here for whatever Angus wants from me, but I think we both take what we can get.

5:30 p.m.: After the game I walk into my kitchen, accidentally interrupting Alexandria's process of setting the vegetables about slicing themselves mid-air. She's the only pureblooded heiress I've ever known to dismiss her elves and do all the cooking herself (granted, I haven't known many all that well, but still), and I consider again how little I really understand her. For the record, it's not that I don't like her—I do, actually. I like her quite a bit. She's witty, she's endearing, she's the sort of beautiful that most women want to hate and end up desperately envying instead—but there's something about her. Some level of expectation, I think. She wants me to be as good a husband as she is a wife, and I can't help but feel pressured by her very existence.

5:32 p.m.: "Oh, hi," Alexandria says, brushing hair out of her eyes, and I think she's wearing a new dress. "Hi," I offer in return, and give her a perfunctory kiss on the lips. She smiles, and I instantly regret it. Give her an inch, she'll mistakenly think me worthy of a mile.

6:15 p.m.: Alexandria chatters a bit while we sit down to an outrageously perfect meal; it's a venison ragout served over tagliatelle with roasted vegetables on the side, and she must have been cooking for hours. I'm positive I'm going straight to hell for what I'm doing later, but I shove it aside. "How was the game?" she asks brightly, and I tell her we won. She smiles, dabbing delicately at her lips with her napkin, and tells me some anecdote about her younger sister and a little gossip about her best friend—who's being audited, if the Daily Prophet is to be believed, though Alexandria is more interested in her ongoing fixation with someone they went to school with, calling it 'romantic' and 'hilariously ironic'—and I nod along, feigning interest.

6:28 p.m.: Alexandria reaches out, covering my hand with hers, and I pause with my fork hovering in front of my mouth. "Are you sure you're okay with doing this again?" she asks me, and she's referring to the party we're going to tonight. "Yes," I tell her, "if you're okay, I'm okay." She nods, chewing her lip. "Mm," she murmurs, removing her hand and picking at her food.

7:00 p.m.: There were no perfect meals with Skye. He couldn't cook for shit. Neither can I. We ate horribly and never slept and always drank too much. Sex was rough and angry, and both of us always came out bruised. We fought constantly, we broke things; I hated him most of the time I was with him. Certainly hated what he did to me, coming into my life like a storm and leaving just as quickly. I miss him so much my stomach churns through the entirety of the perfect dinner I'm eating with my perfect wife.

8:15 p.m.: Eventually Alexandria and I pick up our respective Wandr devices, and she takes a breath. "If it's the same as last time," she begins, and I shake my head, pausing her. "It's fine if you like him," I tell her, and she swallows hard, nodding apprehensively. "I don't," she tells me, definitely lying. Honestly, I'm just relieved she has the capacity for something flawed, but it doesn't last long. "You're my husband," she says earnestly, flashing me a hopeful look, and I hate myself anew.

8:20 p.m.: The party is in an unplottable location, though I'd wager it's a charmed version of some pureblood's house. We're all deviants, really, but there's a difference between reprehensible love and immoral sex, and the former is far more shocking than the latter. The first time we did one of these I was expecting to have to use polyjuice, or possibly wear a mask, but now I think there's something about seeing everyone's faces that serves as an insurance policy of sorts. Nobody's going to rat you out once they've looked you in the eye and established that they're just as carnally perverse as you.

8:25 p.m.: Across the room I see the couple we were matched with last time; a redheaded pureblood (albeit a blood traitor, though it's not really en vogue to use that phrase anymore) and a very blonde, very French transplant who's almost certainly part Veela. She's the only woman my wife has any competition with in this room, and once again, I'm aware how lucky I appear to the other men in this house—which is precisely how I learned to escape my prejudices, to be honest. After enough time with Skye, I gradually figured out that nobody's ever how they appear.

8:27 p.m.: I can see Alexandria's eyes light up when she sees the man, whom I'll call Moray, though she tries to temper it by glancing down at her champagne glass. He's watching her, too, and I know she feels guilty for enjoying his attention, but I'm genuinely glad she's otherwise occupied. There's a fruitlessness to what she's doing with him, considering that both of them are married, but that feels right. It feels apt, more accurately, as fruitlessness abounds in this fucking extravagant house.

8:30 p.m.: Now's the time in the evening when we turn to Wandr to match us. "See you at home," Alexandria says nervously, and I lean down, giving her another kiss. "See you at home," I confirm, and she smiles gratefully, squeezing my arm lightly before we wave our wands over the little Wandr rectangles.

8:31 p.m.: I'm transported into an upstairs bedroom, which is sparsely decorated; probably stripped of any recognizably gaudy flourishes for the evening. My partner is waiting for me, perched non-sexually on the bed. "Oh good, it's you," says Moray's wife, the part-Veela blonde I'll call Eden. I nod curtly. "Same arrangement?" I ask. "Yes," she says firmly, and we turn to the fireplace. "After you," I offer, gesturing her to the flames.

8:32 p.m.: Eden is fucking someone. I don't know who. I don't care, either, but this is what happened last time; I told her that I had no interest in sleeping with her, and she agreed that there was someone else she preferred to see. "What do you say we let our spouses believe whatever they like," she suggested, "and we seek greener pastures elsewhere?" "Fine by me," I replied. Seems strange that we have such indulgent spouses and still feel the need to lie to them, but I know Alexandria likes Moray, and I'm glad she's being romanced somewhere. Meanwhile, Eden and I get what we want.

8:35 p.m.: Angus rises to his feet from his sofa. "Don't talk," I warn him. His lips quirk up and he strides forward, unbuttoning my shirt and kissing the jut of my clavicle. He's tall, like me, and unlike Skye. He's handsome, too. Objectively better looking than me, probably better looking than Skye and me combined (Skye once told me he thought I had some troll blood in me, though I'm pretty sure he was just looking for a fight) but the fact that Angus is so horribly aware of his own attractiveness detracts from the overall effect. He's only a year older than Alexandria, and I'm extremely aware that I need to rid myself of such juvenile pursuits—they're so fucking earnest—but he's got a magnificent cock. Well, he has a cock, firstly, and he's forward and aggressive and I can do the things with him I can't do with my wife—pull his hair, throw him around a bit, leave marks. Angus and I might not be anything worth remarking together, but I'm not opposed to admitting that I always look forward to sex with him.

8:45 p.m.: Angus shoves my trousers down, dropping to his knees, and stares at my dick. "Missed you," he says, either to me or to it, and I grab the back of his head, yanking it back to make him look at me. "I said don't talk," I mutter, and a slow, smarmy grin spreads over his lips. "Shut me up, then," Angus suggests, and I take my time sliding my thumb gently along his lower lip, luring his mouth open. His lips are bitten and red, and his tongue darts promisingly between them; I groan and give his jaw an inelegant yank. Angus rolls his eyes but obediently takes my cock in his mouth, and I close my eyes.

9:15 p.m.: It's good with Angus. I won't lie. It has moments when, from a purely physical perspective—in terms of sensations, of intensity and thrill—he's far and away better than anyone I've ever been with. If sex were purely physical, I doubt I'd need much more than this. But, of course, it isn't. It never is.

10:04 p.m.: I think I'm dominant with Angus because I was so fully at Skye's mercy. The first time anything happened with Skye we were fighting; naturally. It was in the locker rooms off the pitch and it was about something stupid, something almost certainly my fault—Skye follows the rules like religion, so I doubt it was him—and he punched me directly in the mouth. I paused, shocked, and he stared at his hands in wonderment, like he couldn't believe he'd done it. "Fucker," I said furiously, spitting that salt-ridden copper taste from my mouth, and he lunged forward, kissing me so firmly and so clumsily it has to be the worst kiss either of us has ever had. Angus, unlike Skye, is never clumsy, even when he's fumbling. There's a deliberation to him, an undeniable enjoyment, a smile that's like an absurdly present reflex, like he's having the time of his life licking sweat from my abs. It makes me want to fuck him harder, to make him hurt like I hurt, but he just smiles. He laughs. He revels, he preens, he luxuriates. And maybe if I'd never met Skye, I would love him.

10:30 p.m.: Angus knows I'm not staying over, but he yanks me back before I head through the Floo and kisses me hard. I go rigid, because a goodbye kiss feels like more than what this is, but he doesn't let go. "Tell your wife I say hi," he says, and he's joking—I think he likes how it feels when he digs his arrogant fingers into the crevices of my guilt—but I say nothing. I walk back through the Floo and go home to Alexandria.

11:04 p.m.: She comes in through the Floo when I'm already in bed, sketching out some quidditch drills for later this week. I look up and she's mussed and glowing—happy—and I pat the spot beside me on the bed. She looks both grateful for the invitation and inhumanly lovely in her post-sex haze, falling beside me with a sigh. "Tomorrow," she suggests, "just you and me, okay?" I know that she needs to say that for her conscience, so I nod. "Goodnight," she says, not even bothering to get under the covers. Looks like Moray tired her out; good for him. Good for her. We're all good here. "Goodnight," I reply.

11:35 p.m.:  O ye'll tak' the high road, and I'll tak' the low road, and I'll be in Scotland a'fore ye—

11:37 p.m.: "Shut up," I grumble under my breath, admonishing my brain and hating my memory; wishing I didn't hear the sound of Skye whistling, or recall the feel of his lips against the back of my neck as I bent my head over a plate of his runny scrambled eggs.

11:38 p.m.: —but me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.


DAY TWO

9:15 a.m.: Alexandria sleeps in, so I take coffee by myself downstairs. I don't have many friends these days outside of the people on my team and I haven't forgiven my family for pressuring me into this marriage, so I really don't do a whole lot. I have coffee and read a little bit of last week's newspaper that I haven't put away. I'm not quite ready to relinquish this one yet; it's an announcement of the World Cup teams, and Skye's name swims to the surface in a tiny article beneath the promo shots for the English team.

10:07 a.m.: Skye's a reserve Keeper for the Scottish National Team. I, on the other hand, am a married man who's still reading last week's newspaper. I'd wonder what he's doing now that his season is over, but it probably isn't worth delving into; no matter what, we are worlds away.

10:30 a.m.: "Sorry I got up so late," Alexandria says, looking as lovely as ever. I set the paper down, looking up at her. "You look beautiful," I tell her, because she does and there's no point keeping that to myself, and pleasure floods her cheeks. "Did you have a good time last night?" I ask, and she chews her lip, not wanting to admit it. "We don't have to keep doing that," she says, "it was always just supposed to be temporary, you know? To help us get out of our rut." Ah yes, our rut. She's speaking of my secret preference for cock. "If you're enjoying it," I begin to say, but she cuts me off with a shake of her head, letting her robe fall to the floor. She's wearing new lingerie; emerald green with tiny pearls sewn into the lace, glinting in the light that pours in from the window. She climbs into my lap, straddling me, and takes my face in her hands, giving me a very serious, very intensely childlike look of concern. "You're my husband," she whispers, and she's grinding on my cock, but I don't know if I can do this. "You're my husband," she says again, "and I just want things to work between us."

10:40 a.m.: She kisses me and slides her hand down my stomach, slipping it into my trousers. Her face goes slightly blank as she realizes I'm half hard at best and I swallow hard, thinking of something, anything. Skye's name still stares up at me from the table and I shut my eyes, imagining his voice; the way he said my name, raspy and low. He only ever used my first name when we were fucking, and even then it fought its way off his tongue. I groan a little into Alexandria's mouth and her grip tightens on my cock, stroking it.

10:47 a.m.: I pick her up and lay her back on the table, watching her hastily remove her knickers. I stroke her clit; she holds her breath. Her fingers press against the newspaper, digging into the print of Skye's name and I fuck her slowly, carefully. She moans, writhes. If this were Skye, or even Angus, I'd slam into her, spread her legs wide, leave bruises where my fingers pressed into her hips, but this is Alexandria. This is my wife—my perfect, beautiful wife—and I don't deserve to touch her, much less mar her perfect skin with my teeth.

10:55 a.m.: "Is it—" She grits her teeth, like she's holding something back. "Is it good?" she asks, half-whispering with insecurity, and fuck, this is awful. "It's so good," I tell her, though I'm struggling to stay hard. "It's perfect, you're perfect," I promise her, and she nods uncertainly, her fingers spreading across my chest. I close my eyes and think about Skye again, about Angus.

11:20 a.m.: After a while, Alexandria sits up slowly. "It's okay," she says, "it's early. We can try again later." I press my fingers to the bridge of my nose. "Yeah," I agree. "Let's do that." She smiles, hopping down from the table and picking up her discarded knickers. "Are you hungry?" she asks, pulling her robe back on, and I force a smile. "Sure," I say, and she turns to make me something to eat as I drown in putrefying guilt, the paper with Skye's name floating down to the floor. Deliver my wretched soul from the kind, considerate monster I married.

3:30 p.m.: We spend most of the afternoon having an awkward cup of tea in the gardens, staring into space while we both pretend we're not fully disappointed with me. Eventually, though, Alexandria asks me if I would mind if she goes out to see her best friend again. Of course I don't mind, though I wonder briefly if that's who she's actually seeing, because she seems to be avoiding eye contact. "Have fun," I say.

4:45 p.m.: I'm polishing my broom when the Floo roars to life behind me. I turn, expecting Alexandria, but it's Angus. "What are you doing here?" I hiss, though I recall that this is my fault, because I forgot to change my wards after he came over the first time Eden and I played our little game of spousal pretend. He smirks at me. "Saw your wife in Diagon," he says, and I consider asking who she was with, but by then he's shoving me back on my sofa. "Knew you'd be free," he adds, bending over me, and I shake my head, glancing warily at the Floo. "You can't do this," I warn him; not just because Alexandria could be home any second, but also because I'm not about to let this get to a place where he can freely come and go. He ignores me, dragging my lips to his and kissing me firmly, leaving me no escape. I give it a minute, hoping my dick will do me the favor of being as disinterested as it was earlier, but it's no use. I grab him and throw him down, holding his arms down as I straddle him on the sofa.

5:15 p.m.: Angus gets to work stroking my cock and damn, I wish it were magically possible to take the attraction I feel for him and somehow implant it in Alexandria. I'd have so many fewer problems. I sputter loudly, coming on his chest like we're teenagers, and he grins, sitting upright. "Your turn," he tells me, pointedly unbuttoning his trousers.

5:48 p.m.: I blow him as he leans against the arm of the sofa, facing the Floo. I'm starting to wonder if getting caught is some kind of kink he has or if he's just obsessively opposed to my having a wife, but I'd rather not know anything personal about him, kinks and/or obsessions included. He pulls out before he comes and I flick my wand, coolly cleaning us both before stepping away.

6:04 p.m.: "Time to leave," I tell him. He tucks his dick back into his trousers, taking his time. "You know, your wife is gorgeous," he says tangentially, arching a brow to indicate that he's impressed. "I know," I retort, displeased that he's brought her up. "But of course," he adds leisurely, stepping closer to cup my cock through my trousers, slowly grinding his palm against it until my breath quickens, "you are—"

6:10 p.m.: "I'm home," Alexandria announces, and Angus takes a hasty step back, turning to face her. He gives her something of a playful bow, explaining that he was just leaving; she frowns, confused and clearly a little suspicious, and I cough, trying to obscure the erection that's throbbing in my pants. "See you at practice," I tell Angus curtly, and he gives me a wink before he turns to leave, licking his lips so deliberately that my pulsing cock very quickly becomes genuinely concerning.

6:16 p.m.: Alexandria turns to me, frowning. "What was he—" "Thank fuck you're home," I interrupt, and yank her towards me, kissing her. She freezes for a second, surprised, then slides her hand down, wrapping her fingers around the outline of my cock through my trousers. "Did you miss me?" she asks flirtatiously, and I give some incoherent answer. I fumble with her dress, dragging her underwear down, and give it a decent effort, diving my fingers in and out of her until she's wet and panting; in another couple of minutes, I'm pulling her on top of me in the sofa.

6:36 p.m.: I finish fairly quickly, and I think a combination of my enthusiasm and sufficient friction gets her off a couple of times. For me, the guilt sets in immediately afterwards, but Alexandria babbles something about getting dinner together and I try to look as happy (or possibly relieved) as she is.

10:04 p.m.: Another evening passes as uneventfully as it usually does, and Alexandria falls asleep before I do, as she usually does. I'm awake for a long time, thinking again about Skye. We parted on somewhat terrible terms, though that was probably better for us. His career was taking off and he was being traded to a team in—guess where?—Scotland, and with my marriage looming, Skye was starting to make unreasonable demands; specifically, the demand that I give up the sham of heterosexual pureblooded aristocracy and run off with him instead. "Who cares if they cut you off?" he demanded, because he was always braver than I was, and more foolish, too. I couldn't give him a satisfactory answer.

10:36 p.m.: "Is the money more important than me?" he'd asked me. "Would you really rather have some sort of meaningless status than me?"

10:47 p.m.: He never fucking understood. Good for him, honestly. I hope he hates me.

12:32 a.m.: —but me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.


DAY THREE

10:15 a.m.: "Should we, um," Alexandria attempts over tea, cocking her head thoughtfully, "should we talk about yesterday?" I immediately knock my cup over, spilling it all over the table and fumbling for something to mop it up when she sighs, flicking her wand. "Nevermind," she says, and I open my mouth to say something (no idea yet what it will be) and she shakes her head, pausing me. "I just want to know if there's something you want me to do," she begins slowly. "You know, if there's something you like that I can sort of—help with," she adds, and the truth is sizzling painfully on my tongue, but she continues. "I know this is arranged and all that and sure, maybe there's nothing between us yet, but—"

10:34 a.m.: Thankfully we're cut off by an owl arriving, and I hastily take the note and tear it open without bothering to look too closely at it. Of course, once it's open, there's no mistaking who it's from; the handwriting is hastily scrawled and smudged and like I'm trapped in an ongoing nightmare, I know it the moment I see it.

10:35 a.m.: 'In town for a couple of days; need to talk to you. I'm staying at the Leaky Cauldron, room 3. Around noon if you can.'

10:36 a.m.: I shove my chair back so sharply I nearly fall out of it, prompting Alexandria to look up in alarm. "Are you okay?" she asks, reaching for me, and part of me wants to tell her that no, under no circumstances am I okay, but obviously this is neither the time nor the place to relay to her that my ex-boyfriend's shown up after a year of complete silence—and oh yeah, by the way, I'm mostly gay.

11:15 a.m.: I go to my study and pace the floor for a bit, wondering what I want to do about Skye's letter. I've been wondering for nearly a week what he was doing now that his season was over, and apparently now I know—clearly, he's arrived to torture me. I obviously can't go see him; that would be insane. That would be disastrous for my mental health, for my overall well-being. It would be destructive to my psyche. On the other hand, I want to see him. Naturally. I want to know what the fuck has possessed him to send me a letter like this; so carelessly, so nonchalant, as though inviting me to his room like this is nothing. Like he didn't leave me—like he didn't walk out on me without looking back before I had a chance to leave him—and then casually drop a time and a place for some kind of inexplicable rendezvous without so much as an 'I'm sorry' or 'I missed you.' He's selfish, demanding, insensitive, toxic. He's about as good for me as poison, and just as the thought occurs to me, I decide there's no way I'm going. I can't, and I shouldn't. Let him suffer my silence.

11:56 a.m.: No, wait. Maybe I should show up. Maybe I should go, throw something in his face, and leave. No—maybe I should frame him for murder, and then leave. Yes. There's definitely something to that idea.

11:57 a.m.: I can't go. This is ridiculous.

11:58 a.m.: What about this: I go, keep my wits about me, say nothing, and then leave as though he means nothing, never did. I wear my wedding ring, after all. I'm married, aren't I? It's not much of a stretch to prove to him I'm doing fine, if only by virtue of not being alone.

11:59 a.m.: I would just have to—no. I can't fucking see him. I'm not going.

12:00 p.m.: I'm glad I'm not going, honestly. I think the worst thing I could do to him is not show up, so if I'm in this game to win it—which I am, obviously, just like with everything—then clearly, the best option is to not show up. He was probably just going to ask for closure or something. He's the kind of person who likes things neatly tied up, like a game of quidditch. Catch the snitch, game over, clean cut, move on. I don't know what the snitch is in this metaphor, true, but it doesn't matter—I'm not here to play this game.

12:05 p.m.: Why do people always need closure? What's the point of knowing why someone left? How does understanding someone's motives and 'feelings' make their absence any better? Yes, I've missed him. I've missed him terribly, and not just the sex. I miss his humor—more specifically, his lack of it. He's terribly unfunny, and it makes me laugh, because he's so fucking serious; it's like the gravity of every situation is enough to prompt him straight to anxiety, and it's hard not to find humor in the way he's incredibly neurotic, entirely manic. Impossible to control or predict, unlike anyone I've ever known. I've missed him, but that doesn't mean I need to see him. That doesn't mean I need him.

12:10 p.m.: Fucking hell, I need him.

12:15 p.m.: "I'll be back in a bit," I tell Alexandria, hurrying to the Floo. I tell some flimsy lie about needing to do something for my quidditch team, and before she has much time to do anything other than shout goodbye, I'm heading to Diagon Alley.

12:21 p.m.: I hate myself the entire time I walk to the Leaky Cauldron, ducking my head to avoid the unusually busy crowd and climbing up the unsteady stairs. Of course, once I get there, I pause again, still torn, outside the door marked with the number 3.

12:23 p.m.: I wait, trying to think of what to say, when Skye pulls the door open, eyeing me in the frame. He's wearing a fucking Scotland t-shirt, the bastard, and his hair's damp, like he just showered. He's got sort of an oaky, clean smell to him and I'm only mildly distracted as he folds his arms over his chest.

12:25 p.m.: "You're late," he says. Leave it to Skye to fault my punctuality with the first words he says to me after a year.

12:26 p.m.: "Do you want to talk in the hallway like animals," I mutter gruffly, "or do you plan to invite me in?"

12:27 p.m.: Skye waits a moment and then takes a step back, gesturing inside. I step into the room (which is a very normal room, with nothing remarkable except that I know Skye has been naked in here very recently) and I turn to him as he closes the door. "So," he says, clearing his throat, "how've you been?"

12:28 p.m.: I gawk at him for a second and then, before I realize what I'm doing, I've punched him square in the nose, almost certainly breaking it. "Fuck," we say in unison, both because I've broken his nose and because his skull has cracked the shit out of my knuckles, and he glares at me, grabbing what looks like a lace doily from the chest by the door and pressing it to his face. "What the fuck?" he mumbles incoherently into the lace, tilting his head back, and I pull out my wand. "Episkey," I say, fixing his nose, and I pause to revel in another one of Skye's grunts of pain as his nose snaps cruelly back into place.

12:30 p.m.: "That's your opening line?" I demand. "'How've you been,' really?" I mimic, and he glares at me. "What do you want me to say?" he retorts, wiping away the remnants of blood from his face, and I wish I'd thought this through. "Is it so fucking out of your realm of comprehension that maybe I wanted—" I hesitate. "That maybe," I attempt again, "the first words out of your mouth might be—"

12:31 p.m.: Skye stares at me, waiting, but I can't do it. I can't tell him what I came here to hear, because maybe he doesn't feel it. Maybe he doesn't want it, and maybe this was about something else entirely. Maybe he wants quidditch advice; Salazar knows he could use a few pointers. I force my eyes shut, swallowing the words, and turn to the door. "If that's all," I say crisply, "then—" He blocks my access to the frame, shaking his head. "Nope," he says flatly, and I hold my breath as he takes a step towards me.

12:34 p.m.: "Did you want me to tell you I miss you?" he asks. "Would you have preferred if the first thing I said had been that I've thought about you every day for a year and now that my season is over, I took the first chance I had to come see you? To come back and tell you I'm so bloody sorry about what happened with us that I want another chance? Is that it?" he presses, taking another step towards me, and I do not falter. "Yes," I say firmly, "shockingly, that's what I fucking wanted to hear."

12:37 p.m.: "Well. That was all theoretical," he says, his mouth twitching at the corners.

12:38 p.m.: I punch him again, in the stomach this time, for having the fucking goddamn nerve to fuck with me right now, and I've never been more positive he deserves it. He doubles over, choking, and then he grabs my leg, yanking me to the ground. I hit my back against the wood with a hiss of pain, kicking out of his reach, and we wrestle on the floorboards for maybe a minute or two before I find myself face to face with him, staring at him, and he kisses me. I hate him, I hate this, I'm an idiot—but I kiss back. He tastes the same in all my sweetest daydreams, in all my most terrible nightmares, and I am fumbling with his clothes.

12:50 p.m.: I'll say this much: if all closure means is getting the other person naked on the hardwood floor, I fully understand why people do this now.

1:47 p.m.: "I missed you," he says in my ear, his canines scraping my jaw while I'm on my knees on the mattress. "I've thought about you every day for a year, and the moment I could, I came to see you. I'm sorry," he grits out, his nails firmly clawing into my waist. "I'm sorry," he repeats gruffly, "and I want another chance, and—" "Shut up," I force out, "I'm coming." He shifts to touch my cock, stroking it, and it's absolutely brutal how good this feels. "You motherfucker," I choke furiously, forcing back sunspots of mania behind my eyes as I come.

2:34 p.m.: We're naked and panting and lying on his bed when we finally look at each other; really look, like we're counting the lines that have changed since we parted. His hair is a little bit longer now, his facial hair grown in a little more than usual, and for my part, I know I look tired. I know I look vacant and probably older than I did before, my hair slicked back now as part of a continued effort not to recognize myself in the mirror.

3:26 p.m.: We lie in silence for a long time, drifting in and out of sleep, and then I clear my throat, looking at him. "I'm married," I remind him. He lets out something of a sigh, rubbing his eyelids, and turns away. "Not yet," he says, and what he means is that he doesn't want to talk about this yet, but we have to. We have to. "You don't get to just come back here like this," I say firmly; patronizingly, too, as though I didn't just fuck him. "We had problems before, if you recall, and now I'm married, so you don't get to just show up and—"

3:38 p.m.: He shuts me up by straddling me, forcing my wrists up beside my head, and stares at me. "I fucking said not yet," he growls, and before I really process what's happening, his lips are on my neck, my chest, dripping down my abdomen to where my cock is already hard again. He wraps his lips around my tip and I jerk my hips up, thrusting roughly into his mouth. He glares at me, not thrilled. "You deserved that," I tell him. He rolls his eyes, releasing me with a pop. "I could bite your dick, you know," he warns. "You like it too much," I say, and I hate how easy this is, hate how so little has changed between us, especially when he ignores me and starts sucking me off. I close my eyes, trying not to think about my wife waiting at home, which isn't as hard as I'd like it to be. In truth, Alexandria's face fades from my thoughts the moment Skye's tongue drifts up the underside of my shaft.

5:45 p.m.: "Seriously," I say again, this time in the shower, and he turns the water off. "I know you're married," he tells me, "but if the last year's been as hard for you as it's been for me, then I think we both know we can't do this."

5:51 p.m.: I shut my eyes and he drags my forehead to his, locking me in place with his fingers around the back of my neck. "I'm training with the Scottish World Cup team," he says, as if I didn't already know this—as if I haven't spent the last year searching every article in the newspaper where either he or his team might be covered—"and our practices begin next week. You could come with me to Edinburgh," he adds. "Wait for things to blow over with your family, and we can make things work." For a second I'm stunned, assuming he skipped a step, and then slowly it processes. "You want me to leave my wife for you, then," I clarify, and it's a mad thing to say, but he nods. "Can you be with someone else?" he asks me, taking a step back and reaching for a towel. "Can you stand being with someone else? Because I know I can't," he says simply. "I kept waiting for it to get better, but it never did. It never did."

6:01 p.m.: He's right that I can't stand being without him, but still—this isn't all that different from the fight we had before. He wanted me to break off my engagement back then, to defy my family back then, but what could be different now? The only difference is that we're more desperate than we were before, because we know exactly how much it hurts and it's worse than we imagined.

6:15 p.m.: "I have to go," I say, and he shakes his head. "Don't," he says, half-pleading, and I shut my eyes for a second, steadying myself. "She makes dinner for me," I say, "and I can't miss it." "Please," he says, "please miss it tonight."

6:20 p.m.: He doesn't understand. He's never understood. "I have to go," I say, and I pull the door open, and like he once did to me, I don't look back when I leave.

6:30 p.m.: I make it all the way downstairs before I pause, sickened, and can't bring myself to go any further. I ask for parchment and a pen and send an owl before taking a breath and letting it out, deciding what to do.

6:45 p.m.: Skye's holding a half-empty bottle of scotch when he opens the door and I immediately take it from his hand, indulging a long swig and shuddering the smoky aftertaste away. As usual, it's a muggle whisky that he stupidly prefers, so the burn isn't minimized at all as I swallow. "You came back," he notes, as I'm choking on his awful beverage of choice. "Unlike you," I rasp, coughing, and he grimaces. "I came back," he corrects me. "I just took my time about it, didn't I?"

6:50 p.m.: "Don't make me regret lying to my wife," I tell him, and he asks me what I told her. I tell him I wrote that I'd lost track of time; that I was so busy with the team that I might need to stay the night. "The night, hm?" Skye asks, lifting a brow, "That's ambitious." "Yeah, well, don't make me regret it," I growl, and he draws me in for a bitter, burning kiss, pulling me back to bed.

11:43 p.m.: So apparently this isn't closure. Is it the beginning of something? I don't know. I don't know anything anymore; my world as it existed this morning is hardly the same as it is now, and I'm faced once again with a choice that nearly destroyed me the first time.

11:47 p.m.: I don't know what I'm going to do. But fuck, I've missed him, and even while lying beside him, I hear the words of that fucking song; like a past version of him came back to warn me, murmuring it in my ear while I watch him sleep.

12:03 a.m.: —but me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond.


DAY FOUR

8:30 a.m.: When I wake up, Skye's just getting back from a run. "I take it you've just let yourself go, then," he jokes, falling into bed beside me, and he's cold with sweat, so I shove him away. "Something like that," I say, suddenly feeling a little self-conscious, because yes, I've stopped working out every morning—something I used to do with him—and because my angel of a wife makes extravagant meals for no other reason aside from pleasing me. All at once, my stomach churns with dread, and I clear my throat, rising to my feet. "I should go," I say, and Skye takes my arm, pulling me towards him. "I didn't mean it," he says, and lures me back, running his hand down my abs. "You're still hot," he says, sliding his hand down to my cock, but I can't do this right now. "That's not why," I force out, pulling away from him.

8:45 a.m.: His grip tightens. "What is it?"

8:46 a.m.: Will this ever hurt less? I shut my eyes. "Same as last time."

8:47 a.m.: He opens his mouth and closes it, a storm brewing warningly in his furrowed brow. "I don't understand how you can live a lie like this," he begins to rant, and I cut him off. "You don't understand what it's like for us," I say, meaning Alexandria and me, and I can see instantly how much it bothers him that I've chosen to align myself with my wife, even in something as unpleasant as this. "There are rules, traditions, customs," I explain. "If I leave her, especially for you, she'll be humiliated; ostracized. The engagement was about my family," I add, "and not letting them down, but this is about her. I can't do this to her." "Do you really think she enjoys being married to a man who wants someone else?" Skye demands, and it hurts, and I flinch, but I remain firm. "Her parents had an arranged marriage," I remind him, "as did mine, and as will her sister. This is just what life is for us." "Stop acting like because I'm not a fucking pureblood I don't understand things," Skye snaps, his eyes flashing.

9:01 a.m.: "Last time, you didn't give me a chance to make a choice," I remind him. "You left me, remember?" I prompt angrily, but he doesn't have the decency to back down. "And what would your choice have been then?" he snarls, and I don't answer; I can't answer. I don't know what the answer would have been because I never decided back then, and I still don't know now. "It was more than just this," I remind him defensively. "You were traveling all the time, you were hardly ever here—and you don't get to decide it's fair that just because you changed your mind, I should too," I deliver flatly, and I can see that it stings.

9:15 a.m.: "Why am I always such a hard choice for you to make?" he asks me, and then he calls me by my name, and it about tears the fucking air from my lungs.

9:20 a.m.: I let a few breaths pass in silence, because nothing I can say right now will make any sense to him. Eventually Skye leans back, closing his eyes; like he's sleeping, or dead. "Just go," he says. I hesitate. "I'll come back," I offer. He doesn't move. "Do that," he replies stiffly.

9:30 a.m.: I get home and Alexandria's still upstairs, so I decide to make her something for breakfast. It doesn't go all that well; Skye never enjoyed my cooking and I doubt she will either, but I arrange some eggs and toast on a plate and levitate it up the stairs, quietly turning the knob.

10:01 a.m.: She's awake. She's sitting up, staring straight ahead, and her head turns slightly when I enter. She looks cold. She looks angry, I realize, and it occurs to me that I've never witnessed Alexandria angry before. "You lied to me," she says steadily. I forget about the plate I'm levitating and it crashes to the floor.

10:05 a.m.: She tells me a group of her friends met at the Leaky Cauldron last night and saw me come downstairs, and then watched me go back up and stay the night there. "You lied to me," she repeats, and I can see that this is the part she hates the most.

10:06 a..m.: "Who is she?" Alexandria asks blankly, and she looks devastated. "I was trying to make this work," she rambles, wringing her hands. "I've been trying so hard to be a good wife, and—" "Stop," I say, taking a breath, and immediately wonder if anything will ever be worse than this moment.

10:15 a.m.: "I prefer men," I tell my wife slowly, and her eyes widen, stunned. "I want our marriage to work," I rush to add, which even I'm aware is a meaningless phrase after what I've just said, "and I'm sorry I haven't told you the truth, but I was hoping you'd never have to know." She stares at me for a second. "What?!" she blurts out, blinking rapidly. "How could I possibly just not know something like that?" she demands. "I don't know," I confess, feeling trapped, "but—" "Is it the guy from your quidditch team?" she asks, and she's talking about Angus. "Have you been—" she swallows. "Have you been seeing him?"

10:25 a.m.: I'm not ready to tell her about Skye yet. "Yes," I say, and she nods slowly, thinking about something. I start to wonder if by some strange twist of fate she's going to offer me an out from our marriage—or if maybe her time with Moray has been enough to prove that she wants something other than a husband who can't give her what she wants—but she seems determined, somehow, and she turns to me with a firm deliberation.

10:30 a.m.: "Invite Angus to dinner tomorrow night," she says, and I'm positively floored. "What?" I ask, gawking at her, and she shrugs. "If he's in your life, then I want to be in his life, too. This is marriage," she tells me, gesturing between us, "for better or worse, and I want it to be an honest one. I want it to be the kind of marriage where we're part of each other's lives, even if we want—" Her cheeks burn. "Even if we want different things," she finishes, and yes, I've always known she was essentially perfect, but this seems unpredictably generous.

10:40 a.m.: I sit on the bed beside her, taking one of her hands. "Are you sure?" I ask her, hoping she can feel the out I'm giving her, and she nods definitively. "I was in love with someone else when my parents arranged this marriage," she tells me, exhaling it on a breath, and I can't believe I never asked her about this before; about whether it was painful for her to marry me. "I gave up a future with someone I loved, but I don't want to give up the possibility of a partnership," she explains, and it makes a strange sort of sense, even if it does seem a bit insane. "I like you," she adds, and I tell her I like her too—very, very much, and I do. I mean it. I don't want her to be unhappy. I don't want to be the person who disappoints her, even if this isn't technically what either of us wants.

10:59 a.m.: She smiles gratefully. "So invite him to dinner, would you?" she asks me, sliding her thumb sweetly against my cheek.

1:57 p.m.: Well, this is a mess, but I do as she asks. Angus agrees, and then it's official. I'm having dinner with my wife and my sometimes-hook up tomorrow night, and Alexandria's absolutely blossoming with excitement.

4:37 p.m.: "I feel so much better," she tells me, looking up from whatever she's reading beside me on the sofa. It looks like a rough mock-up for a magazine, though I don't recognize the title The Human Interest. "Really?" I ask, and she nods. "All this time I thought it was my fault," she says, and I feel terrible that she's felt this way, but I persist internally that there was no way I could have predicted she would react so favorably to the truth. After all, what woman wants to learn her marriage is pointless? Of course, it occurs to me that perhaps Alexandria's true romantic attention, like mine, is elsewhere.

4:58 p.m.: "What about Moray?" I ask her, since I've now told her the truth about my arrangement with Eden. She frowns. "I don't know," she admits, frowning, and I'm even more positive she likes him. I wonder if she isn't starting to turn the option of him over in her mind more seriously. After all, clearly his marriage isn't exactly stable either. "Well, nevermind," she says, and flips a page of the mock-up. I kiss the top of her head and she relaxes, burrowing into my chest.

10:15 p.m.: The rest of the night passes as it normally does; I want desperately to be with Skye, but I can't bring myself to disappoint Alexandria by disappearing on her again. Instead I lay awake, thinking about the feel of him; the taste.

10:20 p.m.: "Hey," I say, turning to Alexandria, "I need to run some errands tomorrow morning, okay?" She nods sleepily. "Okay," she agrees, enduringly perfect. My brain, unfortunately, is no source of relief; I almost wish she'd stayed awake and babbled more about what she's cooking, if only so that I wouldn't be trapped in an endless cycle of the past.

10:35 p.m.: —on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.


DAY FIVE

6:30 a.m.: "What time is it?" Alexandria asks blearily, but I nudge her back as she sits up. "I'm going for a run," I tell her, tucking her back in. "Go back to sleep."

6:45 a.m.: Well, running is harder than I remember, but there's a purpose to this—I think. I apparate to Diagon and take off, following the route Skye and I ran when we spent our nights at a dingy flat I used to rent here. I catch up to him after a few minutes, my chest burning, and wish I'd opted for something less grand of a gesture. "Fuck, this is hard," I wheeze, and Skye glances over his shoulder as I approach. He's expressionless for a moment, and he doesn't slow down. I wonder if this is working as I intended.

6:53 a.m.: "You need the workout," Skye eventually says, even-toned, and I take that as a positive sign.

7:15 a.m.: We run in silence for a long time; something I would have been used to a year ago, much like Skye's presence, and now can't manage to stomach. I try to ignore the cramp that's evolving beneath my ribs and fail, pausing to take a breath. Gratifyingly, he slows, turning to look at me.

7:17 a.m.: "I'm good for you," he tells me evenly, and I have flashes of the life I could have with him. Granted, it's a life in Scotland, which is already not ideal, but it's a life filled with freedom. A life with Skye means a life with the person I love most; the person I can't spend an hour without thinking about. But my rose-tinted vision of having breakfast with him every morning abruptly sours when I remember his career, and the many, many times I was without him. I remember, too, just how selfish I would be to choose him, because while I'd be off being free with Skye, Alexandria would be left alone. I'd be written off my family tree, too—blasted off, more likely—and left with nothing, forced to rely on Skye, who had his career to think about, and then I would just—I would—

7:25 a.m.: "You okay?" Skye asks, frowning, and I shake my head, gasping for air. "I can't breathe," I choke out, and maybe I'm out of shape, sure, or maybe I'm terrified, I'm drowning, and I know he's never understood what it's like to feel this fear. I wish I were braver. I wish I were better. I wish I'd never met Skye, never learned what it was to feel like this, so that I wouldn't look for pieces of him everywhere. Will I ever be whole without him? And at this point, with the sacrifices I would have to make, could I even be whole with him? I don't know. I really don't know.

7:30 a.m.: "I think that's far enough," Skye suggests quietly, and I nod without a word, taking hold of his shoulder as he apparates us into his room at the Leaky Cauldron. I notice there are two plates set out. "You knew I was coming," I comment, and Skye turns to me, a smile flickering on his lips. "You said you'd come back," he reminds me.

7:45 a.m.: He slips out of his clothes, pausing to glance warily at me. "You coming?" he asks, and I nod, following. He whistles Loch Lomond to himself as he goes, and I sigh. "That song is fucking tragic," I remind him, and he shrugs. "It's about a man dying in a foreign land and being transported back to his homeland," Skye says alternatively, and I shake my head. "Oh good," I say wryly, "so it's about death, then." Skye laughs, rolling his eyes. "It's a song about coming home," he corrects me, and tugs me into the shower, kissing me as we duck under the too-hot water.

9:30 a.m.: I'm exhausted and I definitely don't want to move, but I know I'll have to soon. I turn to Skye, resting my chin on his bare chest. "What made you come back?" I ask him quietly, and he shrugs. "I told you," he says, and I shake my head, disagreeing. "Your season is over, I know," I permit, "but what was it that really made you come back?" He tilts his head, considering it. "It's lonely, you know," he says, "being on the road all the time. Too much time to think. Too much time to remember. And then suddenly I couldn't sort out what had possibly mattered enough to make me walk out."

10:05 a.m.: I kiss him and rise to my feet, ready to head back. "I'm only here a couple more days," Skye warns me, gripping my arm roughly, and I nod. "You can wait, can't you?" I prompt, and remind him that I've waited an entire year. He scoffs. "You didn't wait," he retorts, and I shrug. "Depends what you consider waiting," I say.

10:16 a.m.: When I get home, Alexandria's up and cleaning the house. I can't decide if her eagerness is adorable or alarming, but either way, she seems happy to have a cause. "Wear something nice," she tells me briskly, as though I wouldn't already do that, or as if Angus would care. I kiss her cheek, shaking my head, and head upstairs. I'm pretty sure I'll need at least two more showers to be ready for tonight.

6:01 p.m.: Alexandria has taken the effort to make herself effervescently breathtaking this evening, though I'm not sure it matters short of giving her something to do. Angus arrives through the Floo quite promptly, also looking highly attractive, and I start to feel like I am chaperoning them on their first date. They know each other from Hogwarts, so there's hardly need for a complex introduction. "Shall we?" I prompt, clearing my throat, and Alexandria excitedly gestures to the dining room.

6:10 p.m.: "Well," Angus says, after we've discussed the weather for nearly seven entire minutes, "should we have some wine?" "Oh for the love of god, yes," I say, and Alexandria rises to her feet, picking up a slim bottle of caramel-colored liquid. "I actually prefer whisky," she says, pouring us each a glass of a rare vintage from a wizarding scotch distillery I'm only somewhat familiar with. "I didn't know that," I accidentally say aloud, and she smiles at me. "Well, it's nice that we're still learning each other," she replies with a wink, and Angus laughs.

6:30 p.m.: Dinner begins with a roast bone marrow and parsley salad, but by the time the plates are cleared, Angus and Alexandria are chatting away like old friends. "So, you're straight," Angus says, and Alexandria nods, "but you're okay with him having—" "Other interests, yes," she supplies delicately, and I'm inclined to give into the awkwardness of the situation and melt into my chair, but Angus is positively delighted. "That's very forward of you," he says, and adds, "It's highly fashionable to be so sexually nuanced." He looks up, grinning at me, and though part of me does still want to stab myself in the eye, I'm also inhumanly fascinated by how smoothly this is going. I wait for the inevitable crash.

7:04 p.m.: "So do you sleep with women?" Alexandria asks Angus, and I choke on my lamb. "I do, actually," Angus confirms, nodding. "Are you asking for a friend?" he adds teasingly, turning his arrogant little grin on her, and her cheeks flush. "I was just wondering," she says, glancing down at her lap, and then Angus looks up at me. "You sleep with women, don't you?" he asks, and I pull a face of discomfort. "One woman," I say, threading my fingers through Alexandria's despite how flimsy a statement that is, and Angus delicately takes a bite, chewing slowly. "Would you want to share?" he asks neutrally, and Alexandria's fork clatters to the floor.

7:15 p.m.: "That's not what this is about," I say hastily, glancing at my wife, whose mouth has fallen open. "Oh, I know," Angus agrees, still frustratingly unfazed, "but it does beg the question, doesn't it? You clearly care about her, you obviously enjoy fucking me," he says, and I wince, "and I think she's probably the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. That can't be new information for you," he adds to Alexandria, who still hasn't spoken. "I just think it seems like a possibility," Angus says, "if both of you were equally inclined, that is."

7:27 p.m.: Angus cuts another piece of lamb, cheerfully surveying his plate in the aftermath of the explosion he might have just caused, and I look at Alexandria. "He's like this," I tell her, shooting him a glare across the table. "If you're uncomfortable, we can just—" "I'll do it," she interrupts, and it's my turn to upend something, knocking over my whisky and letting it bleed into the table runner. This, I admit, is not the crash I was expecting.

7:30 p.m.: "I want to," Alexandria says, and sure, sexual nuance is one thing, but this seems needlessly progressive. "Oh, don't be such a square," she tells me, as though suddenly I, the man whose sidepiece is currently admiring my wife's rack of lamb, am the one who is so wildly conservative in this situation. "We were just swinging, weren't we?" she reminds me, and Angus laughs. "Is that why you were—" "Yes, okay? Yes," I say flatly, not enjoying the way the other two are suddenly far too relaxed. "Look, this isn't any worse than that," Alexandria assures me, and I roll my eyes. "You just want to fuck him," I say, and she shrugs. "And you," she clarifies, "because honestly, what woman doesn't want two handsome men?"

7:45 p.m.: "Well, shall we just hop into the bedroom, then?" I mock, flailing a little in my discomfort. "Shall we just forget about dessert," I suggest manically, "and proceed right to fellating one another?" "It's called cunnilingus on a woman," Angus corrects me, and I let out a groan. "Regardless—" "No, not tonight," Alexandria cuts in firmly, and I glance at her, wondering if she's changed her mind. "Tomorrow night," she suggests, and adds, "I need to, you know. Digest this excessively heavy dinner. Do my research. Figure out the logistics first." "The logistics of sex?" I echo, more squeakily than I would like to. "No," she says drily, "of scheduling." "Well, I'm free tomorrow," Angus supplies, toasting her with his scotch. "Lovely," Alexandria replies, "we are, too."

8:21 p.m.: The evening of insanity doesn't end with dinner. We process into the living room, sipping our digestifs as Angus and Alexandria reminisce about their years at Hogwarts, and I do have to admit that the two of them have chemistry, even while Angus' hand is lasciviously settled on my upper thigh and on my other side, Alexandria's half-seated on my lap, her arm wound around my neck. I think we're all a bit drunk, and I'm considerably less mortified, though it clangs around in the back of my mind that Skye's not terribly far away.

8:49 p.m.: "Frankly, this is ideal," Angus says, his words slightly slurred, "because I love his cock, and I think I'd give my right arm to see you naked." "Aw, that's sweet," croons Alexandria, reaching over to tap his nose, and Angus catches her hand, pulling her towards him. "Shall we try a little now?" he asks, and kisses her from where she's seated on my lap. I think my grip on her waist gets tighter because she squirms, taking Angus' face with both hands for a second, and then she turns to me, squinting for a moment before catching my lips with hers. I'm startled, but I kiss her back, enjoying it a bit more than normal.

9:04 p.m.: She leans back slowly, smiling, but Angus lets out a scoff. "I see he's gentle with you," Angus remarks. She frowns. "What does that mean?" she asks, and he glances warily at me. "Do you want to show her?" he asks me, grinning again, as if he thinks I'll say no. I slide my thumb along his lip and tug him towards me, gripping the back of his neck as he leans forward, sliding his tongue along mine. We part after a few seconds and Alexandria gapes at me. "I didn't know you were like that," she says, and then, blinking rapidly, "I want that."

9:15 p.m.: "I should go," Angus says to Alexandria, licking his lips, "before we get carried away and ruin all your advanced preparation." He kisses her again before he tosses me a wink, heading for the Floo. "All in all, one of my better dinner parties," he declares, laughing as he steps through the flames.

10:14 p.m.: "Well, are you happy you asked for this dinner?" I demand of Alexandria as she falls into bed, looking flushed and thrilled. "Yes," she replies smugly, "I am."

10:27 p.m.: Alexandria curls towards me while she sleeps, and I'm thinking about Skye again, though it's comforting to feel her breathing beside me. I guess I'm the lucky one after all; I've never had to be alone. Skye is alone tonight, presumably, and likely has been for hundreds of other nights, biding his time on the road. I think I saw myself as a tragedy, but maybe I've been wrong.

11:01 p.m.: Still, his existence in my mind persists.

11:35 p.m.: on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.


DAY SIX

6:30 a.m.: "Going for a run," I tell Alexandria, and she squints at me. "Before your game?" she asks, and I groan, remembering that I do have a quidditch game this afternoon. Just what I need, really, to see Angus before he and I both fuck my wife. "My goodness, someone's worried about his threesome bod," Alexandria murmurs, drifting back to sleep.

7:15 a.m.: "Go easy on me," I tell Skye, "I have a club game today." He considers this and then apparently discards it, running faster. "What the hell," I shout after him, but he shrugs. "You need to be pushed," he tells me, and I would wonder if that means something else, but I can't think about much other than how sore my legs are right now.

8:30 a.m.: I make it through the morning workout without needing to be apparated back this time, which feels like a victory. "Shower?" Skye prompts, slapping my arse, and I hesitate. "I need to take it easy this morning," I tell him, and he goes rigid, turning to frown at me. "What does that mean?" he asks. "For the game," I hastily lie, because explaining to him that I need my dick to be in top form for its threesome debut doesn't seem like a comforting explanation.

9:26 a.m.: "I want to watch you play," Skye says, and I really, really don't want him to, but there's no stopping him when he sets his mind to something. "Fine," I say, "but I don't know that I'll be worth watching." "I normally enjoy beating you," he says, "so watching you flounder around will be just as satisfying, I imagine." I smack him hard in the gut. "Fucker," I reply, taking a gruff bite of bacon.

10:15 a.m.: I make it back home to lie to Alexandria about my morning for what is hopefully the last (one of the last?) time and fall into bed, immediately succumbing to an ill-advised nap.

11:25 a.m.: "Hey," Alexandria says, shoving me. "You alive?"

12:00 p.m.: I barely make it to the pitch, already sore, and Angus is giving me his usual cheeky stare. "Can you just try to focus on the game?" I ask him, ironically becoming distracted the second I realize Skye's sitting in the stands not far from Alexandria. "Going to be difficult," Angus says, his gaze flicking over me appreciatively, and I sigh. "Let's just get through this," I say wearily.

1:45 p.m.: Astonishingly, I am still able to focus, despite the presence of: 1) the man who owns me completely and wants me to run away with him, 2) the man whose lips and tongue and cock I genuinely crave, and 3) the woman I probably do love in some aggressively unconventional way.

3:34 p.m.: We win the game, although it's somewhat close, and Angus is off his broom and throwing himself at me the moment I land. He's sweaty and disgusting and he tears his helmet off to smile at me like a spoiled, golden prince, throwing his arm over my shoulders. "And to think that's only my first win for the day," he says in my ear, probably too close, and I want to laugh, but I'm pretty sure I only manage a shiver. "See you tonight," he murmurs, and if a few days ago he was the only thing keeping me sane, there's certainly nothing to keep me from plunging over the precipice now.

4:45 p.m.: I tell Alexandria I'll meet her at home and I take my time getting out of the showers, not entirely sure I want to face reality yet. Of course, reality manifests regardless. "You're fucking him," Skye remarks flatly, leaning against one of the lockers. "Who?" I ask, feigning ignorance, but Skye shakes his head. "I know you," he reminds me. "And we've done this a thousand times, haven't we?" he asks, gesturing around the locker room. I can't help a nod. "At least," I admit in agreement, and for me it's a charmed memory, tinted with longing to think of, but he seems more than a little betrayed. "So you're fucking him," Skye says, meaning Angus, and I sigh. "Actually, he's fucking me and my wife," I say, and explain the threesome situation, hoping Skye will laugh.

5:04 p.m.: Spoiler: he doesn't.

5:10 p.m.: "I asked you to think about us," he rants angrily, "and instead you arrange a threesome with your boyfriend and your wife?" "Hey," I snap, "you showed up here without warning. Both of them have been in my life since you left me, and they weren't going to go away just because you decided you were ready to want me again."

5:15 p.m.: "I shouldn't have left," he snarls, and I'm about to agree with him, of course, but he stops me with a look of pure venom. "I should have just waited for you to leave me—because you would have," he accuses painfully, "and if you had, you wouldn't have this ridiculous fucking excuse that this is somehow my fault."

5:17 p.m.: It's a good time to punch him, really, and I would, except I finally figure out the thing that's been stuck in my head like a thorn since he told me yesterday why he came back. "Do you know why I'm even considering this at all? Why I'm even thinking about running away with you?" I ask him, and he opens his mouth, but surely the look on my face is what silences him. "Because for the last year, every waking breath has been for you, about you. Everything I've done has been an act of missing you, of longing for you, of trying to fill the void you left behind. And I don't want to do this, what you're asking from me," I add furiously, "at all, and you know that. I don't want to leave my wife. I don't want to go to Scotland. I don't want to come second to your job for the rest of your career. But I want you," I say, forcing the words out, "and if I didn't, I wouldn't even be here. But you—" I take a breath, and I didn't know what my decision was before, but I do now. "But this isn't about me for you," I tell him definitively. "You're just lonely, Skye."

5:25 p.m.: "That's—" he blinks. "That's not—" "You said it yourself," I remind him. "Your life is lonely," I tell him sadly, "and believe me, I wish it weren't. And I wish I could be the one to fix it for you, and I wish it were easier for us, but it isn't—and to be honest, I don't think this will work out quite as cleanly as you want it to, even if we're together."

5:31 p.m.: "You're afraid," he accuses me bluntly, challenging me, and fuck, I want to sob, because if I'd been any less afraid, I would have gone with him three days ago. I would have dropped everything for him and not bothered to look back.

5:32 p.m.: "Yes," I agree, "I'm afraid, and you deserve better than to love a coward."

5:33 p.m.: He stares at me, stunned; I don't think we've ever thrown the word 'love' around before, and this, the beginning of what is clearly the end, is a terrible time to start, but I drive the point home anyway. "I love you," I tell Skye, compelling my voice not to shake, and take a step towards him. "I love you, and it's hard to imagine that anyone could ever mean or matter or be as much as you are to me." He glares at me, like he wishes I had just punched him instead. "I love you," he replies, forcing a swallow, "and if I had just done things differently—" "Stop," I say, pulling him into me, because I don't want to end on a crescendo of impossible hypotheticals. "I love you," he repeats, shutting his eyes. "I love you too," I say, and it's over. I know it's over.

6:01 p.m.: I get home to find Alexandria waiting for me, looking nervous. "He's coming in an hour," she says, wringing her hands, "but I still haven't figured out exactly how I'm supposed to do this, any of this, and—"

6:02 p.m.: I cut her off, taking her face in my hands, and I kiss her as passionately as I know how, translating the gratitude I haven't been able to express into something I hope she can feel. "What was that for?" she asks hazily. "It doesn't have to be perfect," I tell her, and I suddenly understand that I have done her a disservice by repeatedly presuming her to be the perfect wife, because I never bothered to look beneath the surface. There's pain here that I was missing while I was distracted by my own.

6:03 p.m.: "I love you," I tell her, because I don't think that telling her so detracts in any way from when I said it to Skye minutes ago; in fact, it heightens it, because this time I know I won't waste a moment. "I love you too," she says; part wonderment, part relief. Maybe we don't mean it yet, but maybe someday we will. Or maybe we do mean it, and love doesn't always have to empty you out, drain you. Maybe it can ignite you, too. Maybe it burns over time.

7:01 p.m.: "Libation?" Alexandria asks coolly, handing Angus a glass as he steps through the Floo. I start to learn this about her: that maybe she herself isn't perfect, but her showmanship is flawless. "Don't mind if I do," he says, his fingers pointedly brushing hers.

7:25 p.m.: We chat for a bit, sipping scotch—most likely out of discomfort—but more than a small part of me wants this to work on some grander scheme, so I'd rather alcohol not be the driving force between us. "Come on," I say, reaching for Alexandria's hand, and I gesture to Angus to follow as I take her into our bedroom.

7:30 p.m.: I kiss her briefly, a steadying, reassuring kiss, and sit her down on the bed before turning to Angus. "Come here," I say, beckoning him, and he steps closer to me, that cocky grin on his face. Angus I kiss more roughly, pulling the hair at the back of his head, and then I nudge him down next to Alexandria, sitting myself on her other side. I have no idea what I'm doing, but it doesn't seem like anyone else is any more informed. I slide the dress up Alexandria's legs and she shifts back on the bed, lying flat as Angus bends to kiss her inner thigh. This is an area I'm happy to let him dominate; he grinds his palm against the fabric of her knickers and I catch her moan in my mouth.

7:40 p.m.: When I pull away, deciding I have entirely too many clothes on, Angus leans over and kisses Alexandria in my place, his fingers sliding under her knickers now. She gasps, and he pauses to pull me closer, kissing me as he parts her legs. I draw her thighs wider, stroking the inner curve as Angus' tongue flicks over mine, and Alexandria looks enraptured. Personally, I'm a little rapt myself. "Be rough with me," she whispers to me, and I do to her what I often do to Angus; I draw her mouth open and she sucks the tip of my finger hard, prompting a twitch in my cock that neither Angus nor Alexandria misses.

8:17 p.m.: Before long, my ability to draw lines between who's doing what becomes increasingly hazy; Alexandria sucks me off while Angus goes down on her. We shift, too, and often, and at times I'm stroking Angus' cock, reveling in the feel of it; at others, I bend in worship, licking Alexandria's cunt from behind as she spends some time on Angus. By the time things progress to sex, motions are hazy, but one thing is clear: however deviant this whole thing might be, having Angus here is a piece that's been missing.

9:30 p.m.: "Holy shit," Angus says, lying with his shoulders against my chest as Alexandria curls into him, her legs threaded through both of ours. "Yeah," she exhales, "that was—" They both turn, glancing at me for approval. "What?" I ask, and Alexandria looks sheepish, though Angus doesn't drop his gaze. "You know, people do this," he comments over his shoulder to me before turning back to Alexandria, brushing his lips against her forehead. "What," I ask, "sex?" He chuckles. "That, and this," he says, gesturing to where he's holding Alexandria and being held by me. "I'm not much of a conventional guy," he adds, "and I don't need the monogamy thing." "You had a problem with me being married," I remind him, and he shrugs. "I want to be wanted," he clarifies. "But this," he says, winking over his shoulder at me, "feels pretty fucking wanted, don't you think?"

9:45 p.m.: "Stay the night," Alexandria tells Angus, yawning sleepily, and he nods, already drifting off. "You two are a handful," I tell them fondly (because while I hadn't wanted to feel much for Angus when I thought he would be catastrophic to my marriage, I now find he's really rather endearing) and slip away, needing a moment to myself.

10:15 p.m.: "Come to the World Cup games," Skye had said to me before we parted. "I'll have a ticket reserved for you, and if anything changes by then—" "I can't promise anything," I told him, because I can't, and he nodded. "I won't hold you to anything," he said, "but I'm going to leave the door open this time."

10:57 p.m.: When my thoughts have quieted I go back to my bedroom, where Angus and Alexandria are sprawled out next to each other. I nudge Angus over, lying on my back, and stare at the ceiling.

11:05 p.m.: "O ye'll take the high road, and I'll take the low road, and I'll be in Scotland a'fore ye," I sing quietly to myself, and neither Angus nor Alexandria stir. "But me and my true love will never meet again—" I take a breath, swallowing hard. "On the bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond."


DAY SEVEN

6:30 a.m.: "Where are you going?" Angus grumbles, and I glance over my shoulder. "For a run," I say, and he groans. "This is like a terrible recurring nightmare," he mutters, and I have no idea what he's talking about, but I rise to my feet. "I'm just trying to be better," I tell him.

8:15 a.m.: By the time I get back from a workout that takes me far longer than it should have (this whole 'improving' thing will clearly be a long process) both Angus and Alexandria are awake, making breakfast together in the kitchen. Angus pours me a cup of coffee, humming to himself, and before I can process what he's humming, Alexandria comments on it. "Loch Lomond!" she says, looking delighted, and I freeze, the coffee cup halfway to my lips.

8:20 a.m.: "I've had it stuck in my head all morning," Angus laments in explanation, and I frown. "You know the song?" I ask, and he scoffs. "Of course I know it," he tells me, just as Alexandria says something indignantly similar. "By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes," she sings, Angus joining in, and I hold up a hand. "How do you both know the words to this song?" I ask them, and they laugh. "My mum's Scottish," Angus explains, and Alexandria nods. "My grandmother's Scottish," she agrees, "and my family owns a whisky distillery there. Didn't you know that?" she asks me, quirking a brow, and now I understand where her money comes from.

8:35 a.m.: "Still, it's hardly an appropriate song for breakfast, considering it's about death," Angus remarks, handing me a plate of bacon that he promptly eats a piece of, and Alexandria slaps his hand. "Wait until we're all sitting," she instructs him firmly, and then she adds, "and anyway, it's about more than just death." "Yes, it is," I agree without thinking, and they turn to look at me.

8:36 a.m.: I look from the plate of food—burnt, which is probably Angus' contribution to Alexandria's normally flawless meals, but who doesn't prefer bacon a bit crispy anyway?—to the two people who've suddenly made my world make a bit of sense, pondering how to explain myself.

8:37 a.m.: "The song's not about death," I clarify slowly, and Alexandria and Angus both smile, exchanging a knowing glance. "What's it about, then?" Alexandria prompts, brushing her lips against my cheek, and I feel something that I suspect might be contentment—or, at the very least, some pleasing form of sanity.

8:38 a.m.: "It's about coming home," I say, fighting the onslaught of a smile.

Chapter Text

Episode IX: The Siren Getting a Taste of Her Own Medicine

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a French transplant is in way more trouble than she thought: 25, female, straight, in an open marriage.


DAY ONE

8:30 a.m.: There's a story my mother used to tell me about a goddess named Mélusine, the daughter of a fairy queen and a mortal king. Like her mother and her sisters, Mélusine was a water spirit, half-fish, and a strange, alluring enchantress who held tightly to her secrets. She was a shapeshifter, a succubus, and no man could resist her lure; but for any man Mélusine chose, her mortal mate was always too curious, unable to abide her efforts to conceal her uglier truths, and therefore ultimately destined to disappoint her. Sometimes in my mother's stories Mélusine was a beautiful woman, sometimes a serpent; sometimes, in a rage, Mélusine was a dragon, greedily consuming the faithless men who claimed to love her. Mélusine was many things in many stories—equal parts beauty, entrancement, and vengeance, and all of it at once—but she was a siren above all else, and one who was bound (by fate, and by the very nature of mankind) to destroy the men she loved.

8:35 a.m.: When my husband turns to me, I can't help thinking about the story of Mélusine, the tales floating through my mind in my mother's murmured French. "Good morning," he says, his voice its usual wolfish growl, and I take his face between my hands. "Good morning, sweetheart," I say, as if I am more wife than seductress; as if the softer I am, the better I can hide my terrible claws. He kisses me roughly, and I can tell at once that this is the start of something that will escalate in a comfortable, familiar way, even with how incongruously his fingers dig into my waist. "I love it when you sleep naked," he says, sliding his hand along my inner thigh. I know he does. This is a practiced lure. "Make use of it, then," I tell him.

8:45 a.m.: I'll call him Raymond, like the mortal husband of Mélusine. He takes me this morning the way he usually does; tasting me first, sampling me like an apéritif. He licks me slowly, carefully, sucking my clit with bewitching little pulses from his tongue, and I can still remember the first time he did this. I was so young then; I was only eighteen when I met him, and hardly aware what sex was supposed to be like. I'd been with boys, certainly, but even while I was with them I knew they were only boys. Raymond was twenty-five then (a man in my eyes, and as old as I am now) and truly, faultlessly handsome. For all that I am the temptress, he'd had me from a look; from the moment I learned what his mouth on my cunt could do to the air in my lungs, I was lost to him completely.

8:57 a.m.: Raymond pulls me into him and stretches me out alongside him, my back against his chest as he grips at my hips, entering me from behind. He fucks me with remarkable fluency, breathless dexterity, and there is never any awkwardness; never a movement that isn't a perfectly choreographed dance between us, even while he's wrenching my leg up and using it for leverage. My clit is still thrilling from his tongue but he knows what I want—knows what will make me cry out for him—and he lowers his fingers to it, angling my hips to help me grind against his hand. I doubt I will come less than three times this morning.

9:10 a.m.: I've gotten my perfunctory three and am working up to a fourth, riding him as I run my fingers along the scars on his shoulders and neck. He's still incredibly handsome now, even after being marred by a werewolf, and from this view I can see his gaze roving appreciatively over me. We're an attractive couple; this, the chemistry between us, was always bound to happen, even when he was my tutor all those years ago. I remember his eyes on me right from the start, immediately making even the most elementary conjugation impossible—not that I ever really needed tutoring, of course. I'm far smarter than I look, and I work much harder than I need to. I didn't need his help so much as his unwavering attention. Sometimes I regret having taken a submissive role, particularly given our age difference, but at the time, I think I would have given anything to have him.

9:20 a.m.: Neither of us is in a hurry to get dressed when we're finished. I've always been lean and willowy, so nudity isn't a problem for me; I've been comfortably assured of my body's appeal since well before I was old enough to really understand it. Raymond, meanwhile, has a hero's body, tall and elegantly built, covered in scars and muscle. "How's your girlfriend?" I ask him, and he grins. "How's my brother?" he replies.

9:35 a.m.: It's strange that in a relationship where I've never once felt pressure to lie, I still cling to some things. Like Mélusine, I'm secretive at heart; I think I simply enjoy having secrets, whether or not they happen to have consequences. "I haven't spoken to him recently," I say, which is true. We haven't spoken since he left. Raymond shrugs, getting to his feet to kiss the top of my head. "Well, do tell him I miss him," he says.

9:45 a.m.: Raymond is talking about his third brother, whom I'll call Jason. If I am a siren, then surely Jason is the hero of the Argo who has successfully skirted my lure. He recently went to Romania to live with his and Raymond's second brother, who's some sort of dragonologist. Now, in Jason's absence, I am actively in the throes of pretending I don't care.

11:37 a.m.: It occurs to me later (once I've finished the tedium of housework and have settled onto the sofa, contemplating what to do next) that Raymond didn't answer the question about his girlfriend, which is admittedly not the right word for her. He and I have been seeing other people (in addition to each other, of course) for several months, but neither of us had gone back to anyone with any conceivable regularity until now. The woman he's been seeing is even younger than I am, but I can see why Raymond likes her; she has a quality of innocence—of delicate, sensual beauty made more appealing by a tangible naïveté—and if I am a siren, then she is certainly a nymph. Raymond and I are open about his nymph because he thinks I've been with her husband, but the truth is that I haven't. Strange I would want to cling to the lie, but I think it's less damaging than admitting that the last time we saw them, despite the option of sex, I left to simply be alone. I suppose for all that we're comfortable with baring ourselves, there are still some things Raymond and I prefer to keep concealed.

3:45 p.m.: The day passes slowly, as most do, and my mind wanders to Jason, as it often does. I didn't make a secret of my attraction to Jason to Raymond; in fact, I think Raymond finds my attraction amusing, as if the two brothers look so similar it somehow only reinforces my attraction to him. In reality, though, Jason is a more thoughtful, quieter, more formal version of Raymond, and I can see the many, many differences between them, having looked intently enough. Jason's eyes are a different blue; they're cooler, stiller, and they have a sharpness to them, framed by a furrowed brow and the constancy of his contemplation. His mouth is softer, the angles of his cheeks sharper, a bit leaner around the jaw. Jason's voice is different, too, though I think maybe it's his silences that I'm so captivated by; the careful pauses he situates between words, between sentences, between phrases. It's an indication that somewhere—in some place in his mind that I can't see—something enigmatic is coming to fruition. Often those thoughts, whatever they are, are of me; I can see it in the way he looks at me, as if he's remembering me from some wistful memory, or from a vision he's been having. I've watched him, and found myself helplessly entranced for the way he watches me.

5:26 p.m.: While I'm making dinner, I'm surprised by how much I'm looking forward to work tomorrow. I work part time at Gringotts, which is what I was doing when I met Raymond. It's not very interesting work (it's quite boring, actually) but still, it's something to do, which is more than I can say for housework. I don't know how my mother-in-law can stand it; though, I suppose she had seven children, and therefore not nearly as much free time as I have. I've heard her say a few times that she thinks I make Raymond work too hard, and maybe she's right about that, since admittedly I do very little in his absence. But I envy him, in a way. In many ways. He always comes home with stories, and I am generally relegated to muted listening.

6:45 p.m.: "Delicious," Raymond declares, kissing my cheek after finishing his meal. When we first met, we couldn't get through dinner without getting sidetracked, fucking on the counters (or the table, or the floor, or the sofa, or—) and letting the food go cold. It's not that we don't have plenty of sex now, obviously, but it was different before. We had planned on children, a big family and a loud, vibrant home like the one he'd grown up in, but as it got closer to actually following through, we kept putting it off (and putting it off, and putting it off, and—) until it seemed obvious that one or both of us was lying about how badly we wanted it. We've never said so aloud, but I think it was me, and I think that's what changed everything. When I didn't want children, I think Raymond wanted me a little bit less. It left the door open for other things, and I, in my siren's restless boredom, was just as willing to look elsewhere as he was—if not more so.

9:17 p.m.: We're both in bed relatively early tonight. We're a pretty conventional couple most of the time; the exceptions being the times we have sex with other people, of course, but I'm French. I've seen stranger things. Besides, we always end up together, don't we? Isn't that what counts? Everyone else is just a game. I am a siren, like Mélusine. My effect on people's lives is purely to lead them to destruction. Everyone else is simply collateral.

9:18 p.m.: Except for Jason, my brain reminds me unhelpfully, like a cymbal crash above my head. But I drove him away, didn't I? If that's not collateral, I don't know what is.

9:25 p.m.: Raymond tells me I seem a bit distant. "You still want me, don't you?" he jokes, and two things jump immediately to mind. I say the first part — "Of course I still want you" — but not the second: because you're all I have. But as it occurs to me, I realize how bitterly true it is.

9:27 p.m.: Despite this, I tell him nothing. I hold tightly to my secrets. "I'll always want you," I say, because I'm certain it's true, and because it's what he wants to hear, and I tell myself that the first reason matters more than the second.


DAY TWO

9:00 a.m.: No morning sex today; we both head to work. I'm glad I have something to do, but it's always a very mixed blessing. I know my accent hasn't faded all the way, and I do sometimes have difficulty figuring out how to express myself in English (making communication always a bit suspect). Some of the other witches who work here are incredibly unfriendly, too. I know that some of that is envy, and the rest of it is a dislike that's fostered by my own impatience (I have an unfortunate tendency towards intemperance—but again, I'm French), but knowing the cause never really makes the symptoms any easier. It used to bother me less when Jason still worked here; he was an excellent distraction. Maybe that's all I need: another distraction.

10:11 a.m.: I make up an excuse to walk past Jason's old office on the audit floor. They haven't replaced him yet, though it's been a few weeks since he's been gone. I look into the empty room and wonder when we—I—will move on.

12:17 p.m.: I only have to work a half day, but I don't feel like going home. Instead, I wander Diagon Alley a bit, opting to go to Raymond's other brother's shop. I'll call him the twin, though that is only retroactively true. We all lost something during the war; I often think I lost myself. The twin, I think, feels similarly, though he greets me with a smile. He's one of few in my husband's family who always does.

12:20 p.m.: "Come to see what's new?" the twin asks, showing me around the store, which is markedly more organized than it usually is. He must have a new business partner. "Sure," I say, trying to avoid the many words I know will incite what's left of my accent. The twin chatters for a bit, showing me some of his new products, and it is altogether a terribly mindless process, so I suppose I got what I wanted. I don't really know why I came here, anyway. The twin is close to my husband, but he was closer to Jason. I'm not sure why I know that.

12:36 p.m.: The twin pauses, his hand on a display of Wandr cases (Raymond and I already have one, being as sexually advanced as we are) and turns to me. "I miss him too, you know," he says, and I'm a bit taken aback, as he obviously means Jason. "He tells me you haven't spoken since he left," the twin adds, and I open my mouth to speak but immediately close it again, uncertain what to say. "Do you talk much?" I ask, trying to maintain some façade of innocence, and the twin nods. "Nearly every day," he says. I hesitate again, but ultimately permit the question: "Is he happy?" The twin gives me a wan, indecipherable smile. "I think he's happier than he was," he says, "but still, it's sort of an elaborate escape, isn't it? I don't think happiness was ever really the goal."

12:41 p.m.: I'm not sure what's going on, but considering the undertones, I feel the need to remind the twin that I am Raymond's wife. "I know," is all he says. He seems to know quite a lot more than I do, and it is singularly unnerving. Perhaps I should have called him Orpheus, whose own song is so sweet he outlasts the sirens in the end. "Do you know what I miss most about him?" the twin asks me, and there's a pang in my chest I can't quite prevent, though I manage a nod. "Nobody tells the truth quite like he does," he says, and I laugh in spite of myself. Jason was relatively hapless when it came to deception; he never really managed it. "Tell him I miss him," the twin says as he walks me to the door, though I have no idea why I would.

5:37 p.m.: By the time Raymond gets home, I've busied myself in the kitchen once again. He comes in with a broad smile, kissing the back of my neck, and sets what looks like a magazine down on the counter. It's called The Human Interest,which I've never heard of. "What's this?" I ask, and he tells me that his sister and some of her friends have gotten together to create a female-owned and operated publication. "I'm so proud of her," he adds, looking indeed quite proud, and the question that comes out of my mouth is so faint I'm surprised he manages to catch it. "Why wasn't I asked to be part of it?" I say, before I can help myself.

5:39 p.m.: Immediately, Raymond looks sheepish. He still thinks after six years that I don't know how much his sister and his mother dislike me, and he doesn't want to tell me the truth: that they simply didn't want me involved. Still, I'm restless, and I feel like arguing, so I do. "Why wasn't I involved?" I ask again. "I'm a woman, aren't I? Wasn't I the only female Triwizard Champion? Do I not have something to contribute?" "Maybe they were looking for someone who has something to contribute now," he says, and I'm immediately stung, which is reflected in the panic in his eyes. "Not that you don't," he assures me, and goes on to babble that perhaps they were looking for a certain type of perspective, but I kiss his cheek and walk away. There is no answer that would satisfy me; I shouldn't have asked.

6:34 p.m.: I can tell over dinner that there's something Raymond wants to tell me. "What is it?" I ask, a little grumpily, though by his subsequent hesitation I can see I need to soften. I hide my ugly claws again. "What's wrong, darling?" I ask, brushing my fingers over his knuckles, and he is instantly pliant. He tells me he was thinking of seeing the nymph tonight, which is about what I expected. They've been seeing more of each other recently, though I don't expect it to last. Of course, this is the thing with us, isn't it? Neither of us expects that anyone else will last, but whatever was once enough for us here is slightly filled with holes now. There are cracks where others can get in.

6:40 p.m.: "Go ahead," I tell him. I'm sure the nymph is enamored with my husband. I remember being young and dazzled by him myself. He is still dazzling now, and he gifts me a brilliant smile. "I love you," he tells me, which would seem an ironic time to say it, only I know what he means. "And will you be with someone?" he prompts. "Yes, of course," I lie, or possibly confess. I haven't decided.

7:15 p.m.: After Raymond leaves I think about calling someone. There are a number of men I've toyed with or slept with (or both) who could easily be on hand, but none I feel like making the effort to see. Instead I put on perfume, a little bit of makeup, pick out a dress and pour myself a glass of wine that I'll leave out for Raymond to see. The truth is not always what's important. Better that he believe something he'd like to see in me than expose him to one of my less pleasing forms.

7:38 p.m.: It doesn't take long for my mind to wander to Jason. I suspect Raymond thinks that Jason was a game to me, which is understandable. Most men are. Besides, I doubt Raymond has ever considered his brother much more than a poor imitation of himself, truth be told. I think sometimes Jason thinks that, too. Perhaps some level of imitation is just the nature of siblings. My own sister and I are not totally dissimilar. I wonder how she's doing.

8:43 p.m.: I'm moments away from Floo-calling Jason, but I simply can't bear to do it. He left, didn't he? The twin says he escaped, and I think we both know he means me. I know that Jason wanted more from his career—from his life—but I'm almost certainly what pushed him over the edge. I gave him the reason he needed to leave, and I feel the consequences of that like a twisting in the base of my stomach. I should have known better than to do as I did; I shouldn't have pursued him. I shouldn't have slept with him. I shouldn't have begged him to stay.

9:03 p.m.: Or maybe I should have begged harder.

9:15 p.m.: I fall asleep thinking of the way Jason held me, the way he looked at me. Raymond has never looked at me like that, even at the early stages of our courtship. There was always an inequity involved with Raymond, him being so much older, and I was intriguing to him, certainly, but never unattainable. Never precious. Jason is a year older than I am, and approximately as lost, but I think we both held onto something we'd never felt before when we held onto each other.

11:15 p.m.: I wake briefly when Raymond slips his arms around my waist. "I love you," he says in my ear, and I'm conscious of the sound of it, the timbre, because I can still hear the words in Jason's voice. "I love you too," I reply, closing my eyes again.


DAY THREE

7:14 a.m.: I normally sleep while Raymond is getting ready for work, but this morning I join him in the shower. He looks surprised but not opposed, and before long he has my back pressed against the tiles, his tongue darting up the side of my neck. I try to bury my agitation, my restlessness in the feel of him; my life revolves around the men in it, after all, being what I am. I sink my teeth into his shoulder and possess him, taking shamelessly from him as only I can take.

8:37 a.m.: "Have a good day," he tells me, kissing the top of my head before he leaves. I'm not working today, but I can't stand the thought of a full day alone in this house. I pace the floor for a few agitated minutes before heading to the Floo.

9:05 a.m.: I go to the Ministry to visit an old friend. He's the best friend of Raymond's youngest brother, but I have a relationship with him all my own; we were both Triwizard Champions, and I credit him with having saved my sister many years ago. He's relatively immune to my charms, too, but I'd hardly call that important. I adore him far too much to toy with him. "Hello," he says, and I'll call him David, after the boy who defeated Goliath. "Do you need something?" he asks, not unkindly, and I'm immediately glad I came here. He has an earnestness to him that I always find comforting. "Yes," I say.

9:15 a.m.: I tell David that I'd like to visit my sister, and ask him some mundane questions about international apparation. He tells me he can expedite the paperwork for me. "When are you thinking you'd like to leave?" he asks, and even I'm surprised when the answer that slips out of my mouth is: "Tomorrow." "Huh," he says thoughtfully, looking down at something. "Well, this isn't technically my job, but I can take care of it for you." He hands me some paperwork and we chat a bit; he tells me he's doing well, and I'm happy for him. I'm very happy for him.

9:25 a.m.: "Is there something else?" he asks, sensing my reticence, and I bide my time for a moment, considering it. "What if I want to go somewhere else after Paris?" I ask. "Depends where," he says, and explains that international wizarding travel is more restrictive in some places than others. I hesitate, but eventually tell him. "Romania?" he echoes, looking bewildered. "Isn't that where—" "I may not go," I cut in sharply, and immediately feel foolish, rising to my feet to leave, but David stops me. "It won't be a problem," he calls hastily, and I turn, glancing at him over my shoulder. "You can go there from Paris," he clarifies, "and the same paperwork will be fine. Don't worry." I open my mouth to tell him that's the last thing I'm actually worried about, but upon closer inspection, I'm fairly certain he already knows that.

9:30 a.m.: We part with a hug, and David tells me to say hello to my sister for him. "She's still single," I tell him, because I would love nothing more than for them to fall in love, despite the fact that my sister is a siren of her own and probably equally problematic. "Any man would be lucky to be with her," David assures me, "but really, I'm doing well." He looks like a man in love; I tell him so. He smiles, shrugging in only minimal opposition, and I add that she's a lucky girl, whoever she is. "I'll be sure to tell her you said that," he remarks with a laugh, and waves as I leave his office.

1:17 p.m.: I spend the day packing my things after confirming via owl with my sister. I pack almost exclusively for things like champagne lunches with her, which is all currently I'm planning on doing. Despite what I asked David, I have no intention of doing anything beyond visiting her for a few days.

2:37 p.m.: Besides, I'm a witch. If I need boots and cold-weather gear, I can transfigure them.

6:30 p.m.: "It'll only be for a few days," I tell Raymond when he comes home. Again, he looks surprised, but not opposed. "You've never visited your sister before," he remarks slowly, and I nod. "Still," I say, "family is important, isn't it? And besides, I miss France." As soon as I say it, I can see I've trapped him with that; he knows I never really wanted to live permanently in England, but he's the one who talked me into it. He won't argue with me now—not that I was particularly worried that he would. I have a gift for persuasion. "Have a few days with your nymph," I tell him, and admittedly, he looks more than a little intrigued by the prospect. "Are you sure?" he asks me. Openness, always. The most perfunctory of nakedness. "I'm sure," I say.

7:39 p.m.: For the first time in a long time, we don't make it through dinner. He waits only until I've swallowed a long sip of wine before magically clearing the table, and then he rises to his feet and sets me on top of it, positioning himself between my knees. "Will you fuck anyone else while you're gone?" he asks me. "No promises," I say neutrally, and he slides my dress from my shoulders. I'm not wearing a bra; I rarely am. His gaze lingers on my breasts and scrapes over me, appreciative, before he lays me back on the table and parts my legs, sliding his thumb along the slit of my pussy. I'm not wearing underwear, either, and I prop myself up on my elbows to watch him unzip his trousers, his eyes on mine while he strokes me. "I'll miss you," he says, and I believe him. I believe I'll miss him, too, but Jason isn't the only one who needs an escape. "Show me," I say.

8:17 p.m.: He fucks me expertly, and again I wonder if the nymph is in love with him, too. If she isn't, all the better for her, I think. It's hard to love Raymond as simply a man and not as a pseudo-deity. I would know; I gave up everything for his love, didn't I? I gave up my home for the way that he reigns so powerfully above me; gave up my independence for the unmatched intensity of his gaze; gave up my freedom for the way he holds me unrelentingly in his arms. If the nymph is a woman who wants safety—who wants a protector, wants a hero, wants a knight in shining armor—then surely she is in love with my husband, and I could never hold that against her. I don't hold it against either of them. But while Raymond fucks me to blissful satisfaction, it's Jason who flashes through my mind; the distance he seems to travel when he looks at me, like he's dragging himself home when he looks in my eyes.

10:07 p.m.: By the time we fall into our bed together, we're both exhausted. "Maybe your sister should meet Jason," Raymond suggests, and I don't think he's vindictive, but still, I wonder if he said it to hurt me. He isn't particularly careful with the feelings of others, being as universally beloved as he is. I recall, though, that Jason is approximately as much older than my sister as Raymond is older than me. It isn't outside the realm of possibility that they might find an interest in each other, and I have no claim to him. "Maybe she should," I permit, and approvingly, Raymond kisses my shoulder. Sometimes I wonder if he misses the version of me who bent to his every wish; perhaps he's even hoping I'll come back from this trip ready to have his children. Perhaps all of this is simply a game we're playing until I inevitably fulfill the future I unwittingly promised him.

10:15 p.m.: I feel drained as I drift to sleep in Raymond's arms. They say Mélusine destroyed the men she loved, but I wonder if she didn't destroy herself for having loved them. They took from her, didn't they? Forced their way, uninvited, into the heart of her secrets; betrayed her, rather than simply loving her as she was. And what did she ever really take from them?


DAY FOUR

9:07 a.m.: We said goodbye for hours last night, so the morning is unceremonious. Raymond kisses me thoroughly before we part ways, but he already looks distracted; I'm positive he'll be spending my absence playing house with the nymph, and I have no problem with it. Meanwhile, I sit through the drudgery at the Ministry, feeling an almost jittery agitation as I wait in the customs line. Beside me, my sister's beatific little face looks up from a stand of magazines, and I recognize the image as one from a photoshoot she did a few weeks ago. I should mention my sister is a singer on the rise, and her publicity team have clearly leaned (appropriately) into her blossoming sexuality. She is a siren herself, after all; if I am Mélusine, she is her sister Palatyne, and my sister's gifts are no less stunning than mine. Even in a picture, she is entrancing.

11:15 a.m.: When I finally arrive in Bordeaux, where my sister currently lives, she is speaking rapid French to someone I think might be her agent. She shouts for them to get her publicist through the Floo, and I am more amused than anything to watch my little diva, though she is hardly little anymore. Once she sees me, her expression softens to utter delight, and she throws her arms out for me to hold her. "Sister!" she exclaims, immediately launching into a story about her latest performance. I stroke her silvery-blonde hair, unable to prevent a smile as I listen. Few things are more precious to me than my sister.

12:01 p.m.: "I'm sorry I haven't prepared much," Palatyne tells me apologetically, and I reassure her that it's not a problem. This is, after all, a highly spontaneous visit. "Is everything okay?" she asks me, looking supremely worried, and I laugh again. Hard to imagine my little sister now trying to take care of me, but it seems to be unavoidable. Children do grow up, I suppose. "I'm fine," I assure her, marveling again what a woman she's become. She's my height now, and wearing her hair loose down her back instead of in the long, messy plaits I remember. "Want to show me your recording studio?" I ask, and she lights up. "Let me just tell Merlin where I'm going," she tells me, half-sprinting away. Who on earth is Merlin?

12:37 p.m.: Apparently Merlin is her name for an English photographer who's presently rising to some artistic prominence in France. "He calls me his Lady of the Lake," she explains, making a face, and I laugh at the juvenility of her opposition. "Do you like him?" I ask her, and she shrugs. "He's fine," she says, and explains that Merlin's older brother, who died during the war, was an avid photographer himself. Both brothers were muggle-born, and Merlin took up his brother's hobby towards the end of his schooling at Hogwarts, now making a name for himself in his brother's honor. "My publicist says my relationship with him is helpful for my career," Palatyne says, "and that this way, I can curate my image as a muse." I frown slightly; she sounds far more dreamy when she speaks of her publicist than she does when referring to her so-called Merlin. "Aren't you using him?" I caution her, and her gaze chills slightly. "You know the stories," she remarks, referring to the legends of Mélusine that we were both raised on. "They'll only use me if I don't use them," she reminds me.

4:32 p.m.: Palatyne has quite a way with the people around her; I should be proud of her, and I am, in a sense. She has everyone wrapped successfully around her finger, and she is clearly proud of her own effect on them, delighting in every seductive glance and charming beckon. We have lunch with the boy she calls Merlin (older than Palatyne, though considerably younger than me), who is obviously terribly enamored with her; my sister barely has to breathe a desire for something before he brings it to her, be it a glass of water or a compliment on her dress. Poor thing—it's no easy task, loving a siren. Meanwhile, Merlin's unreserved adoration is doing wonders for my sister's skin.

6:14 p.m.: Palatyne and I chat while we dress for dinner. I miss speaking my native language more than even I suspected, and I'm exceedingly pleased that I decided to come, though she is a bit distracted. Her new album is taking up a lot of her time, and she's a little too enthusiastic about her publicist stopping by later this week before she continues her European tour. "Careful," I warn her, "you said yourself he isn't interested in anything serious." "Neither am I," she insists, but I'm her sister, and I have known that little lying twitch in her brow since she was a baby. "Just be careful," I say again, "because even Mélusine and her sisters were not immune to heartbreak." "No," she agrees, "they weren't immune at all, but luckily we're women who will not be destroyed."

7:31 p.m.: She takes me to a very chic, somewhat crowded restaurant, which I think is partially so that we'll be photographed together. I notice immediately that two people of significance are here: one is Merlin, who positively lights up when he sees Palatyne, and the other is a blast from my past, an attractive man who was once my date to the Yule Ball during the year I spent at Hogwarts. I'll call him Beowulf, after the hero of the Geats. He and I lock eyes from across the room, and I can immediately tell that he's just as taken with me now as he was all those years ago. Beside me, my sister giggles. "Go say hello," she whispers, nudging me. "Ah, but you know better than that," I murmur back, turning my back on Beowulf and pointedly facing her. "Oh, yes, good thinking," she agrees enthusiastically.

8:15 p.m.: Merlin joins us at our table. I find I'm glad for his presence in my sister's life; the two of them talk about his new exhibition in an earnestly thoughtful way, and it occurs to me that, for once, my sister is not pretending for anyone's benefit, which is a relief. I, however, am actively pretending not to notice that Beowulf can't take his eyes off me. It floods me with the same undeniable warmth as the fairy-made wine we have with dinner.

8:39 p.m.: Beowulf waits until I'm pulling on my coat before advancing towards me. "Is that you?" he calls out, outrageously. The whole thing is such a circus of pretend that I almost feel foolish, but I have to admit, the anticipatory tingling in my stomach is something I haven't felt since Jason left. I'm relieved I can still conjure it. "Funny seeing you here," I comment in return, with a tone that's fully disinterested, no matter what I know perfectly well I'm doing with my eyes. Beowulf gives me a goofy—but not unappealing; more like admiring—grin. "Want to take a walk?" he suggests, and beside me, Palatyne gives me a wink. "Meet you at home," she whispers as she kisses my cheek.

8:51 p.m.: Beowulf is as handsome as ever. "I heard you got married," he tells me casually, and I shrug. I tell him it's a less conventional marriage than he might think; after all, I personally have zero doubts about where my husband is right now (and more specifically, who he's with). Beowulf tells me that he's in Bordeaux for business, but I don't ask him what he does. I only ask him if he has a hotel room. He smiles. Of course he does.

9:05 p.m.: We don't waste time with pleasantries once he apparates me into his hotel room, which I'm grateful for. I'm relieved to find it's still so easy; I take pleasure in how little I feel with him. In fact, I feel nothing. He slips his hand along my thigh and then under the lace of my underwear, but I feel nothing. I feel numb. I feel anticipation still, and the tension of what next what next what next that beats like a drum in my subconscious, but when he looks at me, his fingers tangled in my hair, I don't hear my heart pounding. I don't hear my breath quicken. He's attractive—oh, so attractive—and I like how his lips taste and how his fingers feel inside me and I like the power that I feel with him—finally, finally—but nothing about this is special. I doubt that any of it will mean a thing to me, and I interpret that suspicion as progress.

9:17 p.m.: I'm pleased with myself until I close my eyes, and then Jason's face materializes in my head. It's a brief, hazy appearance, but in the moment I can't prevent a loud gasp, the image of his face in my mind equating to a stab in my chest, deflating my lungs in an instant. Understandably, Beowulf takes that as an invitation to lift me in his arms, half-tossing me back on his bed, and I forcibly return my focus to him. I feel as if I need to prove something to him and to myself, and when he takes my dress off, I let him. I wrestle with the buttons of his shirt, yanking at the lapel. I have to be an active participant in this little bout of nothingness, because if I am not a siren, then I am simply sad and lonely and scared.

9:21 p.m.: "You don't seem very into this," Beowulf comments, deflated, and I sigh, sitting up. "I should go check on my sister," I say, and my voice sounds foreign and robotic, even to me. He looks discouraged, so I tuck my ugly parts away, turning up my charm and taking his face between my hands. "You're as handsome as ever," I tell him, and he is helplessly without argument as I leave him on his bed and fix my dress, heading for the Floo.

9:27 p.m.: I walk into my sister's flat to find her chatting with Merlin. I feel worse about interrupting them than I do about abandoning Beowulf, actually, but it appears as innocent as anything. She and Merlin are sitting on the floor, each drinking a glass of wine and talking animatedly, and she appears to be teaching him some phrases in French. Unfortunately, though, she can see distress on my face the moment I walk in, and she wastes no time sending Merlin home. "I have to talk to my sister," Palatyne tells Merlin firmly, and he gives her a shy, approving smile. "See you tomorrow?" he suggests, and she nods, shooing him out as she gestures for me to take his place.

9:55 p.m.: "It's not working out with Raymond, is it?" she asks me, and I grimace, because that is somehow both a wild understatement and a thing I cannot bring myself to say out loud. "Is there someone else?" she asks, and I don't want to say it, but I do. I tell her about my tryst with Jason—"It was nothing," I lie—and then, to appease my sensation of loss at admitting it, I tell her she should meet him. "He's vastly intelligent," I say, struggling to put Jason into words, "though it's more than smart. He's thoughtful and clever, and he's not conventionally handsome, but he has this way about his movements, this elegance to him—" "I think," Palatyne interrupts gently, "that maybe you're the one who should see him, don't you?"

10:15 p.m.: "I'm afraid," I confess, and she looks up at me, half-smiling. "That he loves you, or that you love him?" she asks. "Both," I say. "Well," she sighs, "Mélusine always outlasted the men she loved. You'll survive, whether you fear him or not." "Still, everything could change," I protest, and she shrugs. "Perhaps it should," she tells me, leaning her head against my shoulder.

11:18 p.m.: The truth is that I envy my sister. Oh, I love her more than anything, and I would never wish any less than for all of her dreams to come true, but I envy more than anything the prospect of her choices. She has love, though I don't know if she'll choose it. She has admiration, which I know she will tire of over time. But she has purpose, too, and talent, and aspirations and goals, and though she whispers excitedly for to me to go after Jason, that choice still seems part of a much, much smaller life than the one Palatyne has erected for herself.

12:01 a.m.: "Promise me you'll go," she urges me. "Do it for me," she adds, "if you won't do it for yourself. Because I'm no use to anyone if I don't believe in the love I sing about."

12:03 a.m.: "I promise," I say, and drift to sleep holding my sister, both of us sirens finding refuge for the night.


DAY FIVE

8:17 a.m.: I leave before my sister wakes, because there's no point that I can see to interrupting her day. She has plenty on her plate; and besides, she may not love Merlin, but she's in good hands with him. I hope she gives him a chance. Meanwhile, I make my way back to Paris.

9:45 a.m.: Paris to Bucharest. This isn't exactly an easy day of travel; part of me doesn't really believe I'll make it all the way there. The moment I pass through customs to Bucharest, my knees threaten to give out. It's only one more apparation, though, and even if I make it there, I doubt I'll have to bring myself to stay. I don't know what I'm expecting, really; I think I just need to see Jason again, just to see what it'll do to me. Maybe all I need is a glimpse. Maybe we won't even need to speak, and then I can head back to Paris in peace.

11:11 a.m.: I thought I could downplay my arrival, but the size of the settlement that Jason and his brother live in—a camp called Orasul Dragonilor, situated on a lake in the Carpathian mountains—makes that impossible, not to mention that's utterly freezing outside, and no normal person would be here. There's no avoiding the truth: I came here to see him. There would be no other conceivable reason. I feel more stupid than ever, but there's no turning back. Not yet, anyway. Not until I see him.

11:27 a.m.: I describe Jason to a Romanian trader—"Red hair, glasses, serious expression," I explain in French, and the man nods vigorously, imitating Jason's tendency to nudge his glasses back up his nose—who leads me to the opening of a cave in the mountains, where Jason is apparently overseeing some sort of wizarding dig site. I make my way there, transfiguring my shoes to boots, and stumble over the somewhat icy ground, nearly losing my balance more than once.

11:45 a.m.: I spot him from a distance; it's hard not to, being that he's the only lanky redhead for miles, and I freeze in place, watching him slide his hand through his hair. He gives some goblins some instructions, frowning down at something, and a smile pulls unavoidably at my lips; he looks so different than I remember. Not physically; he's just as I've seen him in my mind, but there's something else now. Confidence, or surety, or interest. I've only ever seen him bent over the tedium of his work at Gringotts, but it seems he's in his element here, his posture conveying a sense of certainty and poise. Then, as I'm watching, he turns, and lacking any reasonable alternative I merely stand in place, the fog of my breath falling still amid the cold air.

11:47 a.m.: He locks eyes with me from afar and blinks, equally frozen. If this were any other person (or any other place) I'd do something to hide, or at least feign disinterest. I'd look away, glance back coyly, bat my lashes. At the sight of him, though, I'm rendered fully breathless. I'm delivered to madness, to weak-kneed hesitation, and I can't look away. I can't manage the pounding of my heart. I can't pretend to see anything but him. I can't pretend at all, in fact, and before I realize it, he's standing in front of me, staring down at me.

11:50 a.m.: "You came," he says, as though he can't quite believe it.

11:51 a.m.: "I did," I reply, and I know that I should look away, I should say something demure, I should let my gaze float knowingly over his lips to trace the shape of his mouth, but I can do nothing. I can do nothing but look at him. I can see, hear, feel nothing but him, and I'm no succubus at all but merely a ghost of a woman lost to uncertainty, the air in my lungs turning painful from ongoing captivity.

11:52 a.m.: I think it's Jason who kisses me, though the moment I feel him moving towards me I reflexively lean into his grasp, so it's equally possible that his lips meeting mine might have been my doing. I have so little control over my own limbs that I barely register that motions around us have ceased, and all I can see and feel and hear now are Jason's arms coming to wrap around me; drawing me closer, welcoming me home. I feel the thrill again, the anticipation, but it's different this time—there is no sense of prediction, no telling what steps will come next. I don't know where he'll take me. I don't know what he'll do. I don't even know how he feels, true, but I know how he tastes, and right now that's more than enough. We break the kiss slowly, but neither of us pulls away; his hand slides up my spine, tracing the notches of my vertebrae.

11:54 a.m.: "I have to go," Jason says to the goblins behind him, all of whom are watching us with interest. "That's enough for the day," he adds, and then turns back to me, his blue eyes on mine in that unnervingly searching way that I've missed so terribly. "Where are we going?" I manage playfully, but he doesn't laugh. He doesn't even smile. This is not a game, and he doesn't let me believe for a moment that it is.

11:55 a.m.: "Bed," he rasps without hesitation, and apparates us away.

12:01 p.m.: He takes me directly into his bedroom, which appears to be inside of a house-like shelter that's comprised of little more than wooden floors, a bed, and a crackling fireplace that comes to life upon our arrival—not that I'm spending much time analyzing his decor. He kisses me again, and then again, and again and again and more until I stumble backwards against his bed, pulling him so close it's astounding he can breathe.

12:06 p.m.: He doesn't ask me if my husband knows I'm here, or if my presence here means something. He doesn't ask me where I'm supposed to be right now, and I don't ask him if he's missed me while he's been away. Instead he takes off my transfigured boots, kneeling reverently at my feet, and looks up at me before sliding his hand in a smooth, careful motion up my calf. "How would you like me to fuck you?" he asks me, and I shiver. He's distressingly incongruent, proper and filthy all at once, and it confounds me as much as it ignites me. "Like you've been waiting your whole life," I whisper, and this, too, is not a game. "I have been," he says plainly. Then he tells me to lie back on the bed.

12:10 p.m.: I haven't exactly been without expert foreplay in Jason's absence, but still, the way he touches me is heart-stoppingly torturous. His fingers run slowly up the inside of my leg, tracing the inner curve of my thigh, and pause just short of my cunt before his lips press against the inside of my knee, a strange, circular tease of sensations. He kisses his way up, positioning himself between my legs with an impossibly calculated slowness, and it is utter agony, watching his shoulders shift beneath my thighs as his breath skates across the damp lace of my underwear. I murmur his name, my nails scraping up the back of his neck, but he won't be distracted. His concentration will not be deterred, and his fingers skim the curves of my hips and thighs and stomach like I'm a landscape he's been painting, and he's revisiting the source. He touches me like he's memorized me, and I have no doubt that I am not the only one who's been suffering in his absence.

12:17 p.m.: We divest each other of our clothes and then he pulls me against him, his hand sliding down my torso for two of his fingers to part the lips of my cunt. I rock back against him, feeling the motion of his jaw as he grits his teeth, and he dives his fingers into me, his free hand cupping my breast as his lips travel over my shoulders. I feel him everywhere at once, heat radiating from the places we touch, and when he tells me what he's going to do to me—where he's going to kiss me, how wet he's going to make me, how deeply he's going to fuck me—I can't think, I can't speak, I can't breathe.

12:25 p.m.: I turn over my shoulder and he catches my lips with his, parting my knees wider to slide inside me. I'm so wet he fills me easily, my gasp catching between his lips before he turns his attention to my neck, my back, my shoulders, dragging his tongue along the sweat I know is already there, my hair sticking to the back of my neck before his hips even start to move.

12:31 p.m.: It isn't the first time we've had sex, but there's something about this time; there's something that's been altered now that I've sacrificed something to come to him. The first time I knew he was tentative. He thought I was toying with him, and I think that at the time, I thought so too. I don't think I realized how permanently his touch would scar me; I didn't think it would make me long for him once he was gone, but I should have known better. The way he touches me is like the way he looks at me: undeterred, like nothing else is clouding his mind. Like he's taken a hand to all the many dials of distraction and resolutely shut them off, and all there is is me. He shifts me forward onto my elbows, but neither of us can take our eyes off each other. I look over my right shoulder as he sweeps my hair over my left, and my gaze catches on the motion of his throat as he swallows.

12:40 p.m.: The longer we move together, the more his kisses are imprecise, scattered across my body wherever his lips can find a place to land. It was desperate before, but it's just starving now, both of us leaning shamelessly into every touch. He closes his eyes briefly, brushing his lips across my collarbone in what reads as penitently as prayer, and then locks eyes with me. I've lost track of how many times he's made me come.

12:44 p.m.: Jason is teasing me, easing slowly in and out of me, when we hear the sound of apparation elsewhere in the house. "You home?" his brother—the dragonist, whom I'll call St. George—calls out, and one look at me comfortably assures Jason that I don't want my presence known; at least not yet, and certainly not in this compromising position. "Yeah," Jason calls back, his hips still moving with meticulously calculated fluidity against mine. "I think I've come down with something," he adds very seriously, as outside, St. George makes some gruff sound of acknowledgement.

12:46 p.m.: "I won't bother you too much," St. George adds as Jason carefully covers my mouth, catching a whimper that I bite into his hand, "but you should know that friend of our dear sister's is here. I think she'll need to stay with us for a few days."

12:47 p.m.: "Oh, is she?" muses Jason, taking a handful of my hair and shifting the angle of my legs, gradually increasing his speed. "Well, I guess she can stay with you then, can't she?"

12:48 p.m.: "I guess so," St. George grumbles as I muffle a cry into Jason's shoulder, sinking my teeth into the span of his muscle. "Well, see you later, then," he adds, "unless you want me to bring you something."

12:49 p.m.: "I'm good," Jason manages incoherently, nearly bending me in half; the bed is getting loud from friction, and I'm teetering on the brink of what I know will most likely emerge in a shout. "See you later," he adds, half-choking on the words, and at the crack of apparation, we both come with gasping, strangled groans, collapsing against each other.

12:51 p.m.: Our breath is translucent in the air between us as we turn to face each other, his blue eyes on mine. "Does Raymond know you're here?" he asks simply, and I shake my head. "I wasn't planning on coming here," I say, though even I know that's only half a truth. "I don't want to lie to my brother," Jason says, and then corrects himself. "I won't lie to him," he amends, "even if my actions don't suggest much in the way of brotherhood." "He won't care about this," I say, and Jason reaches out, touching my face. "He would care," he says, "if he knew how I felt, and how I think you feel."

12:57 p.m.: I let a few seconds pass in silence. "And how do you feel?" I ask.

12:58 p.m.: "I'm in love with you," Jason says plainly, with the sort of unapologetic honesty that only he possesses. "And you?" he asks, and he's absurdly unafraid. I think perhaps he's prepared himself for an answer either way.

12:59 p.m.: I have never had an easy time revealing my secrets. "I think I should talk to Raymond," I say quietly, and Jason nods, shifting to sit up. "But not yet," I blurt out hastily, taking hold of his arm, and he turns to look at me. "It's cold," I tell him, "and I'm not ready to get out of bed yet." He nods again. "You're right," he says, and he does the kindest thing that I think anyone has ever done for me: he says nothing at all when he takes me in his arms.

2:15 p.m.: We're dozing off in silence when an owl taps at his window. I'm alarmed—forgetting, as I have, that the world has foolishly continued on around us—but this looks to be a regular occurrence, as though Jason has been expecting it. "Who's it from?" I ask, and he tells me that it's the young pureblood heiress he was auditing right before he left London. Apparently they write to each other frequently. "She needs a friend right now," he explains, "and so do I." I do him the favor of not asking why, and he has the decency not to make me acknowledge it. "Is it, um—" I hesitate, because I have no right to ask, but he shakes his head. "It's not romantic," he assures me. "It might have been, but—" he trails off, shrugging. "I think we both would have only been filling a vacancy."

2:39 p.m.: He offers to make something for lunch, and I nod. The moment he leaves, though, it hits me with a wave of nausea what I've done, and I immediately feel a guilt that drives me directly to the fireplace. I pull on my clothes and take a deep breath, grabbing a bit of Floo powder and tossing it into the flames.

2:41 p.m.: "How's Bordeaux?" asks Raymond, and I steady myself for the briefest moment before admitting I'm in Romania. "Ah," he laughs, "and you said you hadn't spoken to him." "I haven't," I say, a little bit irritated by his dismissal, "but I wanted you to know where I was." "Well, you're coming back, aren't you?" Raymond prompts, and I can't believe it hasn't occurred to me yet to wonder. "I," I attempt, but can't conjure anything else. I'm vaguely aware that behind me the door has opened, and now two people are listening to my inability to make up my mind. "I'll be here for at least a couple more days," I say, and Raymond shrugs. "Have fun," he tells me, "and tell Jason I miss him. You know, it'd be much easier for all of us if he just came back," he adds, shaking his head. I say nothing. "I love you," Raymond says. "I love you too," I reply, and then I pull my head from the flames.

2:50 p.m.: As I suspected, Jason is standing in the doorway, having heard my side of the conversation. "Soup?" is all he says, offering me a tray.

3:15 p.m.: We eat in silence. "What should I tell my brother?" he asks, referring to St. George this time. "You can tell him the truth. I'm here making a mess of things," I say. To my surprise, Jason almost smiles. "My other brother would like that," he says, and this time, I can tell he means the twin. "You have too many brothers," I say grumpily. "I agree," he replies, without a hint of irony.

8:39 p.m.: We while away the rest of the day with food and sex and conversation in a variety of intervals. I think Jason's resigned himself to taking what he can get, and he doesn't push me, though I find his presence as comforting as I always have. I tell him how pleased I was to see my sister; how much I enjoyed being back in France; how I feel more stagnant than ever in England. He replies that he feels useful here, for once; that he's enjoying getting to know his second brother; that he can't imagine going back, at least not yet. At that, I wonder if he heard Raymond's remark. I don't know how he would, but he seems conscious of it, like it's a thought he's cautiously tiptoeing around. "I'm not going back," Jason says firmly, and I think he's doing me the favor of casting off ambiguity. "Good," I say. After all, I can see how much good it does him to be here.

9:37 p.m.: We had intended to tell St. George I was here, but he isn't back yet, and both of us are drifting off to sleep. It's too cold to sleep in any lascivious way and thus, Jason is subjected to sleeping with me wrapped in thermals, but he doesn't seem to mind.

10:01 p.m.: "I missed you," he says quietly. I say nothing. I'm a siren, after all, and we're not built for such unclouded truths. What's changed, really? Nothing. Nothing that would be aided by me confessing anything.

10:17 p.m.: Still, I do it anyway. "I'm in love with you," I whisper.

10:18 p.m.: He tightens his arms around me, pulling me closer in his sleep.


DAY SIX

8:15 a.m.: "I have to go into work today," Jason tells me somewhat guiltily, though this is no surprise, considering that he rather baldly walked out of work the day prior. "Do you want to wait here?" he asks, but I'm not sure I want to deal with St. George (the best man at my wedding, I remember with displeasure) in such close quarters. I tell Jason I'll find a way to entertain myself.

10:04 a.m.: The little village-settlement they live in is actually quite nice. It's apparently a site for quite a bit of wizarding research—curse-breaking and dragonology alike—and so there are a few shops, a bakery, and a small owl outpost. I send an owl to my sister, telling her I've arrived, and then I get distracted by a flash of multi-colored flames coming from afar. "What's that?" I ask someone, pointing, and they tell me it's where the dragons are kept. I ask if anyone can go see them; the man shrugs, apathetic or ignorant or both.

10:37 a.m.: As it turns out, anyone can go. The dragons themselves are kept in an enclosure of sorts, but nobody stops me as I approach. One dragon in particular is watching me from the moment I appear, and while part of me wonders if I'm in danger, the rest of me is oddly assured it won't harm me. The dragon's dark eyes follow me as I approach, and I offer something of a bow, inclining my head. "A bit cold, isn't it?" I say in French, and it mimics the motion of my head, giving me what I'm absurdly positive is a nod of confirmation. Behind me, I hear a chuckle.

10:50 a.m.: "You're a natural," comments St. George, and if he's surprised to see me here, he doesn't look it. "She loves small talk," he adds. "She?" I echo, surprised, and he nods. "We call her Melusina, like the—" "Folktale," I supply, and he nods again. "She doesn't like men too much," he adds, as Melusina's eyes follow him warily around the enclosure, a bit of smoke emanating warningly from her nostrils. "Though, you're good with dragons, aren't you?" he asks, which surprises me. "You lured a Welsh Green into a sleeping trance. No easy task," he clarifies, and I blink. "I'm surprised you remember that," I say. "How could I not?" he counters. "The only female Triwizard Champion? Simply luring a dragon to sleep? You're unforgettable," he tells me, and I am so grateful for the smallest trifle of appreciation that I hardly know what to say.

11:15 a.m.: "I take it Jason told you I was here," I venture, and St. George nods. "I saw him earlier this morning," he says, gesturing around. "Besides, small settlement, you know. Word gets around when a beautiful blonde is wandering around without an escort." "It's nice here," I comment, and St. George gives me a strange, unreadable look. "What?" I ask.

11:20 a.m.: "You know," he ventures, taking a step towards me, "Raymond's the oldest, the most attractive, the most successful. Why would you give that up for Jason?" I wait to see if there's scorn or mockery in the question, but there isn't. I think he's genuinely asking. "I didn't say I would give up anything for him," I say carefully. "Well," St. George sighs, "you'll break his heart if you don't." I don't tell him that I know my heart will break, too.

11:22 a.m.: "Hearts break all the time," I say. After all, I'm a siren. I would know.

11:23 a.m.: St. George opens his mouth to say something, but a thud to my elbow alerts me that the dragon Melusina has ventured over to interrupt. She makes a low, mournful sound that I could swear is sympathy, her cat-like pupils focusing on my face as she claws somewhat uneasily at the ground. "Hush," I tell her, reaching a hand out before it occurs to me to consider whether it might be bitten or singed; she immediately quiets under my touch, exhaling a gentle shower of sparks.

11:25 a.m.: "Holy fuck," pronounces St. George. "You're a natural."

3:12 p.m.: I spend the rest of the day caring for the dragons; an unavoidable conclusion, seeing as St. George and his colleagues are so convinced I have a gift. "It's amazing," St. George says, coming and going to observe me throughout the day. "It's like you speak their language," he adds, somewhat in awe. Part of me suspects that the dragons and I are simply similar creatures, but I don't expect him to understand that. It's nice, at least, to feel useful.

5:45 p.m.: Jason is already home by the time I return with St. George, cooking something that smells delicious on their little stove. "Oh," he says, surprised to see us together, but he looks as I've already noticed he often does here: unburdened, and uncommonly relaxed. His expression brightens when he sees me, his eyes settling purposefully on mine, and St. George lets out a loud, supremely undelicate cough. "She's got a way with Melusina," he tells Jason, and Jason smiles. "Of course she does," he says, giving me a look of certainty. "They're both sirens, aren't they?"

5:50 p.m.: St. George makes excuses to leave, either for our benefit or for the benefit of whoever he's been with the last twenty-four hours, and Jason and I sit down to dinner alone. Of all the games of pretend I've played, this one feels the most real, and after a few minutes of chatting about our days I reach out on instinct, settling my fingers over his knuckles. He looks at our hands for a moment, looks up at my face, and then he sets his fork down, meeting my gaze. "Take your clothes off," he says without preamble. I rise to my feet and oblige.

6:05 p.m.: "Fuck," Jason says as I lick the tip of his cock, settling on my knees and shoving him back against the table. He normally feels the need to deliver me to wonder, but I take a moment to convey in some comprehensible way how badly I want him, which presently manifests in the way I take him in my mouth. "Holyfuckingshit," he informs me, his fingers tightening in my hair, and I glance up, watching him struggle not to dissolve. He grits his teeth, one hand in a white-knuckled fist against the table, and my god, his restraint is beautiful. "I want you to tell me how I feel while you fuck me," I whisper to him, and he convulses into a full-bodied shudder.

6:17 p.m.: I rise to my feet, thinking he'll want me to fuck me on the table like Raymond did only a few days ago, but instead he turns me, his hands wrapped loosely around my upper arms as he puts his lips near my ear. "I don't have to be inside you to tell you how you feel," he tells me quietly, "because there's not a moment that I'm not thinking about it. I love how wet your pussy gets for me, how slick your cunt feels, how sweet it tastes. I love that I know where to make you moan, where to kiss you softly and where to fuck you hard. You're hot and tight and wet and fuck, I'd die to be inside you, to never leave you, to fuck you always. To love you," he amends, and I shiver, "always. But you're more than that pretty cunt. You're more than that, and this is more than sex, and if you think you're not a fucking dragon queen almighty, you're wrong. You're wrong. You're wrong." He half-shoves me forward, my palms landing hard against the wood of the table, and he kisses down my spine, his hand lingering at the slickness between my legs.

6:30 p.m.: "Fuck," he hisses while he slides his cock into me, "I love you. I won't pretend I don't. I can't, I won't—" He widens my legs, his hand ruthless against my clit, and I'm half-blind and delirious for want of him, for love of him, for what could ultimately be the too-painful loss of him. I come hard, bending over the table with a sputtered cry, and he follows shortly after, pinning me against his chest as I try desperately to catch my breath but can't, panting in restless, terrible panic. Instantly he turns me, burying his lips in my hair, and conjures a blanket over us just before we both fall to the floor.

6:40 p.m.: It takes a few minutes before I realize I'm crying. I don't cry often; even at my most fragile, I rarely break like this. "I love you," I force myself to tell him, because I think if I say it out loud, he'll understand what's so painful that I can't breathe.

6:45 p.m.: "I know," he says, and I think he means to echo what's ripping through my chest right now, burning up my lungs. "I know," he says, and I know that this is what I feared: that he would love me and I would love him and that knowing as much would ruin us. The tighter he holds me, though, the less I can remember what fear is anymore. Ruin seems terribly far away.

9:30 p.m.: We end the night in his bed again, whispering our secrets to each other. It occurs to me that I have none from him anymore, which terrifies me and renews me in equal parts. I tell him of Mélusine, of the heroes who betrayed her that she was bound to destroy, and he shakes his head. "Why should you not be a hero yourself?" he asks me. "What, and destroy myself, then?" I prompt skeptically. He shrugs. "I only mean that whether you're half-fish or all dragon, why bother to keep any of it a secret? Embrace all your forms," he tells me, and I know what he's trying to tell me even before he says it.

10:13 p.m.: "I will love all of your forms, Mélusine," he says in a promise, burying the weight of it in my heart.


DAY SEVEN

10:14 a.m.: We wake slowly and contemplatively, and this version of sex is the intimate kind, without any frills beyond the heat of contact. I love him as naturally and as easily as waking; he loves me as instinctively as a breath.

11:30 a.m.: It's not a workday, but still, part of me wants to see Melusina, as if I now have some sort of guardianship over her. Jason kisses the tips of my fingers and agrees.

12:20 p.m.: "This isn't her home," I say sadly, "and it's too cold for her." Jason wraps his arms around my waist as we watch Melusina look up, catching my eye in her strangely docile way. "Do you mean her," he asks, "or you?"

12:25 p.m.: "The climate is apparently fine according to my brother, or at least controlled," Jason goes on, given to babbling as he is, and I stop him with a shake of my head. "I don't mean me," I assure him, though, admittedly, I do miss home, and I am presently quite cold. "I just like working with her," I clarify, "and I worry no one understands her." He eyes me for a moment, considering something. "You know," Jason says slowly, "you could work with dragons if you wanted. Or other creatures, even," he suggests. "I bet your natural gifts with entrancement would work just as well with any number of magical creatures worth studying."

12:27 p.m.: I turn, frowning. "Are there other creatures here, you mean?" I ask, gesturing around, and he shakes his head. "I don't just mean here," he tells me. "You could go anywhere you wanted," he says, and adds that he thinks Gringotts probably just wasn't the right place for either of us. "You could study any creature, anywhere, if you wanted to," he says solemnly.

12:30 p.m.: I find I'm gaping at him. "What?" he asks, and I struggle to put my disbelief into words. "You're not going to ask me to stay?" I ask, half-sputtering, and he looks, genuinely, as if the thought had never occurred to him. "I don't want you to go," he assures me slowly, "but I don't think that what I want is very important. I find my work fulfilling," he adds, "and I'd like you to find your work fulfilling, if that was something you chose. If it seems like work you'd like to do, then maybe that could be what you're missing."

12:35 p.m.: For some reason, all of this processes very slowly. It seems impossible that a man who loves me would do something as unselfish as to offer me a choice that might lead me away from him, but I recall that this, the thing dancing in my grasp, is what I had so envied of my sister: her choices.

12:37 p.m.: "So," Jason says, "what do you think?"

12:40 p.m.: I glance at Melusina first, and then back at him. It's one choice, yes, but it's also a thousand choices, and a thousand after that; it's the promise of a new future, the shifting of my present, the altering of my past. I have only ever believed one thing of myself, mythologizing myself for inevitable tragedy, but I've never seen before that that, too, was ultimately a choice. I glance down at my hands and unfurl my hidden claws, my terrible truths.

12:41 p.m.: "I think that I'm a dragon," I say, and it's hardly anything at all; but still, I luxuriate in my certainty, feeling Jason wrap me in his arms.

Chapter Text

Episode X: The Incurable Vagabond Who's Finally Seeing Stars

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a wandering dragonologist has a few too many revelations for comfort: 30, male, straight, extremely single.


DAY ONE

6:30 a.m.: I rise early in the dark, stumbling out of bed and conjuring a few warming charms before making my way to the kitchen. My brother, who lives with me, will likely be out here in a few minutes. He's outrageously punctual, but he and I have slightly different priorities. For example, first thing in the morning, I want food. He, on the other hand, will likely emerge fully dressed and ready for the day.

7:00 a.m.: "Good morning," my brother says, fully dressed and ready, precisely as I assumed he would be. I'll call him John, as in John Cabot, the explorer who started his career by diligently making maps, certain that he could find a way to travel the globe more effectively. My brother is not dissimilar; he's methodical, hard-working, and having just moved to Orasul Dragonilor a matter of months ago, not entirely without the need to wander. "Good morning," I reply, though in reality, I think I'd prefer silence.

7:15 a.m.: John's my next youngest brother (about four years younger than I am) but I can't honestly say I know him very well. My older brother and I were thick as thieves and my next youngest brothers after John—the twins—were, unsurprisingly, just as close to each other. I know perfectly well that John spent most of his adolescence isolated on either side, so I suppose in a way I'm trying make that up to him now. Some days the effort comes easier than others; today, unfortunately, it's cold and dark and approaching midwinter, so when he brings up something he's obviously excited about (runes? I don't know) I find I'm immediately wearied. "That's nice," I say, supremely unconvincingly.

7:30 a.m.: Luckily John's used to people losing interest while he talks. "See you later," he says as I leave to get dressed, and I nod. "See you," I reply, wishing I'd managed a little bit more patience. The truth is that I'm surprised he came here at all. It doesn't fit with what I expected from him; I used to think John would have had a lifelong Ministry career like our father, but now, strangely, I get the intangible feeling he's running away from something. I asked our older brother (whom I'll call Francis, like Sir Francis Drake) about it once, but he'd only laughed it off. "You know how John is," Francis had offered in total non-explanation, but as a matter of fact, I don't know how he is, and I'd reminded him of that. "Just don't worry about it," Francis had assured me. In any case, I suppose I'm mostly pleased with the disruption. Before my brother's arrival, all I had to worry about were the occasional (read: frequent) misbehaving dragons.

9:15 a.m.: Work is the same as always. On the reservation we study dragons' behaviors, so most of it is observation and charting. I'm sure it seems like an exciting career, given the intrigue of the creatures, but the day to day is pretty monotonous. I will say, though, that the best way to understand a species is to live among them. I never intended to stay here—actually, I came here thinking I'd only be there for a matter of weeks before moving on to study other creatures—but once I spent time with the dragons, I couldn't leave. I could never have known how much being among them would change my entire perception of the world; how being here would remind me of my own smallness. I'm just one tiny speck in this entire universe, and I don't even remotely breathe fire—which, sadly, seems like a real waste.

12:36 p.m.: Well, it's a normal day. One of our dragons, a female Ironbelly named Melusina, is new to the reservation, and she's been a struggle for a few weeks. She doesn't seem to like any of us (not even me, which is saying something) and lately I've been questioning whether or not we can afford to keep her here. She's got a temperament that would be better suited for the wild, I think, but she came to us a little scorched, which leads me to suspect she might have been banished from her horde. If we let her go, there's a possibility she could be injured or killed. Dragons can be notoriously unforgiving creatures; they're not fucking around.

3:29 p.m.: Well, thank goodness for flame-resistant robes. I put out a few small fires (literally) and get back to updating our logs. When I first came here I was the youngest by far, but by now I have one of the more impressive tenures on the reservation, so I'm not exactly on dung duty anymore. I spend more of my time writing papers, applying for resource grants, and running things around here, which is I think why the title of 'dragonologist' has lost its glamor in my mind. Sure, the things I do now are proof that I was once exceptionally good at my job, but in my line of work, a certain level of success eventually leads to tedium. The paperwork is just as necessary to keeping the reservation going as anything else—and yes, prestige is great and respect from my peers is certainly appealing—but still, I think I'd take the risk of being burned alive over the hours I spend in my office any day.

7:08 p.m.: Home again. It's a little more cramped with John living here, but hey, we're wizards. We make it work, and anyway we're used to our family home, which left us barely enough room to breathe, much less function. On dark, cold nights like this one, it's kind of nice coming home to someone, even if it's just my brother.

7:48 p.m.: "So, how was your day?" he asks, with his particular brand of stiff curiosity. I can tell he's trying to be nice, though it looks distinctly uncomfortable on him. Part of me struggles not to laugh; sometimes when John's trying to behave like a normal person, it almost seems like he's mimicking the behaviors of someone else (probably our brother Francis). Still, John's more relaxed here than he ever was while we were growing up. "It was fine," I say, chewing a bit of a pastie. "Yours?" I ask, and he launches into detail about some translation that he and the goblins he supervises have made. I asked for this, I think with an inward sigh, struggling to listen; at least his job makes him happy. I wouldn't begrudge him that.

8:15 p.m.: "Want to do anything?" John asks me hopefully, and I shrug. "Nothing to do," I say, and there isn't. "There's that tavern in the village," he suggests, but I remind him we'd only see the same people we always see. "Not too many prospects. No Wandr out here," I add, joking, but I'm reminded with a low thrum of disinterest that I haven't had sex in ages. About three years, actually, sad as that is to admit. The last time I was with a girl it was an isolated occurrence; before that, a few one night stands and one long-term friend with benefits. I guess I'm not really the settle-down type, much as my mum probably (definitely) wishes I were. "Ah," John says, returning his attention to his food.

10:37 p.m.: Bedtime. Funny, but thinking about how much sex I'm not having made me think of how much sex I used to have. There was a girl my year at Hogwarts, in a different house; I'll call her Anne, as in Anne Bancroft, an explorer who traveled to both arctics. My Anne was chameleonic (again, literally), and I think that's why she never managed to choose people who could love her back—she could be anything, and could so easily change to fill whatever other people needed. For me she was fun, warm, soothing. She never demanded much because she knew, like I knew, that I was always going to leave. She got married a while after I left, had a son; I think she was still feeling empty, though, as I would get letters from her from time to time. She came to see me once a little over three years ago, which was coincidentally the last time I had sex. She died shortly afterwards, during the war. I haven't felt the need to go back home since then.

11:07 p.m.: Can't sleep, which is an issue that seems far too frequent lately. Just not a lot going on, I guess. Means my brain goes to dark places when it's left unattended.

11:15 p.m.: I'm pretty sure my mum thinks I'm gay. I wish I were, honestly. It would solve a lot of my problems.


DAY TWO

8:30 a.m.: Another day. I'm just getting ready to head to work when the Floo in my bedroom comes to life, revealing the unrepentantly mischievous face of my little sister. "Hey, dummy," she says, her mouth full with the eggs she's shoveling into it and her hair slick with sweat from her morning workout. "Hey," I reply, rolling my eyes, and ask her what she needs. "Remember my friend with the dragon?" she asks, and I nod. Apparently a few weeks ago her flatmate happened upon a baby Hungarian Horntail (a breed which admittedly does look like lizards when they first hatch). "Yeah, well, she's going to be there today," my sister continues. I'll call her Amelia, like Amelia Earhart. In my experience there aren't too many women with those kinds of stones, but my sister is definitely one of them. "She's weird," Amelia adds in something like a warning. "Great," I sigh. Hard to imagine what my sister classifies as weird, but it's not like I have much of a choice. Can't exactly let them raise a dragon as a house pet, can I? Violates all my codes.

8:45 a.m.: "How's World Cup training?" I ask Amelia, and she makes a face. "We don't have to do this," she tells me, referring to the small talk I've irresponsibly initiated. "Good," I say. There's another woman's voice behind her and Amelia turns her head, nodding to someone out of sight. "Right," she says to them, and turns back to me, waving. "Have fun," she sing-songs, and then ends the call. I sigh. Time for work, I guess.

9:15 a.m.: I wasn't expecting to be accosted this early, but there is a very small witch with very long dirty blonde hair standing next to my desk. I notice, in this order, that she is wearing: 1) a pair of earmuffs that are shaped like house-elf ears, 2) a violently turquoise dress that does not appear to be even remotely weatherproof, and 3) a miniature Horntail on her shoulder, its tail wrapped around her neck as it lets out a small cough of ash in my direction. "Hello," she offers, her pale grey eyes growing so wide at the sight of me that my first instinct is to ask her if she's alright. "Oh, you just don't look at all like I thought you would," she replies. I shouldn't press it, I know—how could the answer possibly be anything good?—but I do. "What did you expect?" I ask her. "Taller," she replies, "and the sort of handsome I generally find too picturesque to do anything with." "Whereas I am what?" I prompt skeptically, "too unattractive to do anything with?" She makes a sort of scoffing sound, and the dragon on her shoulder scoffs as well, a puff of smoke dissipating in the air between us. "Not at all," she says, and assures me that she will gladly masturbate to me later. "What?" I ask, alarmed. "Oh, I'm sorry," she offers vacantly. "Amelia tells me I sometimes need to keep things to myself, but I can never tell what." "Well, I did ask," I permit, for reasons fully unknown, as there's no denying that I'm uncomfortable. "True," she trills happily.

9:25 a.m.: I decide I'm going to call her Isabella Bird, like the prolific explorer and writer; I think at first to call her Isabella, but the more she talks the more I feel 'Bird' is the more apt epithet. She has a certain avian quality to her; it's the overlarge eyes, I think, or possibly the general sense that she could sprout wings and fly away at any given moment. She tells me she's a writer and an editor at some publication I've never heard of (not that I'm what I would call a voracious reader in any way), and that she found something that I don't realize is the dragon on her shoulder until I finally connect that she isn't referring to an actual emperor. "You mean her?" I echo, gesturing to the dragon, and Bird blinks. "Her?" she asks. "Yes," I confirm, and explain that the markings around her eyes indicate female. "Oh," Bird says, but immediately looks delighted. "You're an empress!" she says to the dragon, who by contrast looks relatively unmoved.

9:45 a.m.: "Why didn't you bring her sooner?" I ask, gesturing to the Empress, because Amelia told me about her a few weeks ago. "Well, I was hoping to make it work at home," Bird sighs, "but unfortunately she does need more space. I'll need a new subject for my article," she laments, as apparently cross-species parenting is no longer going to work out. I am fucking dizzied by this girl. Is she even from the same species? Nevermind the dragons; someone should study her. "Well, I'll take her," I offer, and I reach a hand out, but the Empress immediately withdraws. "Sorry, she's a bit shy," Bird says, and goes on to say something about a series of letters. I-N-T-J? I don't know. I need her to leave. I need to lie down. "We're professionals," I assure her, sighing. "We can handle the Empress."

10:04 a.m.: "You look tired," Bird comments. I am, but I can't imagine what she would do with that information, so I shrug. "Why don't I just stay until she gets acclimated?" Bird suggests, and at this point, I just really need to get away from her. "Sure," I say, and point her in the direction of one of my underlings in the nursery. "Why don't you go get the Empress settled," I suggest blithely, and Bird says something about being excited, or possibly another comment about masturbation. I'm too bewildered to sort it out.

11:15 a.m.: Once again, work is work, but then Bird is back, popping her head in while I'm trying to focus on a grant proposal for the reservation. "How's it going?" she asks brightly, and oh, the horrible irony of having been up all night wondering if I'm ever going to meet someone in this village. "It's fine," I say.

11:29 a.m.: For reasons I cannot fathom, Bird sits and watches me work. "Why'd you choose to live here?" she asks me. I get this question a lot on the rare occasions that I go home, and it never fails to irritate me. "Listen," I begin, but she cuts me off. "I mean why did you choose to live here this morning, specifically," Bird clarifies. I frown. "I've lived here for over a decade," I say, certain she must already know this (she lives with Amelia, after all) but she shrugs. "Sure," she permits, "but what made you choose it today instead of simply going somewhere else?"

11:33 a.m.: I don't know what to do with this question, or with this girl. "I have to check on the dragons," I tell her, and rise to my feet, only she's still looking expectantly at me. "What?" I demand, suddenly impatient. "Am I just supposed to have woken up, determined this was the place in the world I most wanted to be, and deliberately carried on with that decision?" I ask her, and though my tone is meant to indicate the inanity of the question, she nods. "Yes," she confirms. "For example, I decided to come here today because I wanted the Empress to have a good home," she adds. I sigh wearily. "Well, you made a good decision," I tell her.

12:44 p.m.: I eventually shake her, only I still feel very strange about her presence and opt to come home, looking for solace—or something like it, I suppose. To my surprise, John's door is shut, which is rarely the case. "You home?" I call, and I register the sound of something from his bedroom, but I can't imagine it's anything close to what I think it is. "Yeah," he replies, his voice a little strained, and adds, "I think I've come down with something." I shudder. Sickness is the last thing we need in this little house, so I probably shouldn't stay.

12:46 p.m.: I shout something about Bird being here, and he shouts something back about her staying with me. I suppose that makes sense; if I don't know what to do with her, I can't imagine John would manage to handle it very well. I grumble my acknowledgement and take my leave, offering him some vague niceties and feeling immensely relieved when he doesn't ask for anything.

5:07 p.m.: The rest of the day is unremarkable. Bird has either gained the presence of mind to leave me alone or is having some sort of separation anxiety from the dragon she's unwisely kept as a pet, and she attempts to introduce the Empress to Melusina. It doesn't go well; as I suspected, Melusina's a little too aggressive to get along with other dragons, even the babies, and the Empress has almost certainly been bred to be undersized. I cast an Aguamenti, nudging Bird away. "It takes some time for them to get used to each other," I say, and she smiles up at me. "True for all species, I think," she says, which is far more meta than I feel like being. "Come on," I grumble, suggesting she leave with me.

5:15 p.m.: "Actually, I'm going to stay here," Bird says, gesturing to what I've just noticed is a small tent behind her on one of the outer edges of the reservation. "I don't want her to be alone yet," she adds, gesturing to the Empress. "It's going to be well below freezing tonight," I inform her, and really, it already is. "Well, I'm a witch, aren't I?" Bird prompts, and gestures to the tent. "Come see," she says.

5:20 p.m.: I don't know why I follow her in, but I'm instantly met with the warmth of a fireplace, the smell of fresh pines, and an enchanted ceiling that resembles the stars outside (which are regrettably already encased in darkness, winter being the curse that it is). "Wow," I say, as I'm not above being impressed. Bird gestures to a pot on the stove, which I didn't realize was there; she used the space wisely. "Soup?" she asks.

5:45 p.m.: I get trapped into dinner. In my defense, though, the soup is delicious.

6:35 p.m.: "Whisky?" Bird offers. Christ, I'm never leaving.

7:04 p.m.: I can't believe we have anything to talk about. To tell you the truth, I'm sort of playing a drinking game with myself. Every time Bird says something insane, I take another sip.

7:37 p.m.: Once Bird starts talking about something called a nargle, I'm positive I'm drunk. "That's not real," I say, and at her dubious expression, I remind her that I've devoted my life to studying magical creatures. I would know if such a thing were real or not. Bird, however, merely gives me something of a weary, disapproving stare. "There are at least a thousand new creatures identified in the ocean each year," she says, "and for that matter, muggles don't even believe in dragons, and yet here we are. Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it doesn't exist."

8:27 p.m.: She brings the Empress inside, which is a terrible idea, but I'm drunk and off duty. "Sit," she tells the dragon, and needless to say, it doesn't. "Only if you feel like it," she concedes, and the Empress belches her opposition directly into my trousers. "Oops," Bird says, flicking her wand.

8:38 p.m.: I don't have any pants on. Also, I'm pretty sure she's looking at my dick.

8:40 p.m.:  Don't get hard. Don't get hard. Don't get—

8:41 p.m.: "I'm happy to help you with that," Bird says, gesturing to my erection. Luckily, even in my drunken haze I'm aware I haven't had sex in about three years, and I certainly wouldn't be good at it now. "I have to lie down," I say.

8:50 p.m.: She tucks me into her bed and I close my eyes. I guess this is happening; I should tell John where I am, but he's a big boy. He'll manage. I'm actually feeling pleasantly unconcerned with everything when I feel something slip in beside me, and then I register that it's Bird.

8:52 p.m.: Then I register that she's naked.

8:53 p.m.: "I sleep naked," Bird informs me, and before I can say anything, she gestures up at the sky. "Look," she says, and I glance up. "What am I looking for?" I ask groggily, and she shrugs. "You're just looking," she clarifies. So I look. And look. And look. I guess I haven't really looked before; I'm the kind of person who's more comfortable focusing on the ground beneath my feet than the sky overhead.

8:57 p.m.: "We're tiny, aren't we?" I say deliriously. "We're small and orbiting around something we can't even understand," I mumble, and she turns to look at me. She has the most delicate nose I've ever seen, and her lips are pretty. They're full, and they look like they're accustomed to wonder. There are a handful of delicate freckles around her grey eyes. There's also a hand on my penis. "What are you doing?" I whisper groggily, and she releases me. "Sorry," she says, "curiosity got the better of me." I swallow.

8:58 p.m.: "How was it?" I ask awkwardly. "Didn't really get much time," she says, "but I like the feel of it." I ask her if she needs more. She says she would know how to use it. It sounds like a line, but I doubt she's that kind of girl. "Go for it," I say gruffly. She curls her hand around my dick again, stroking it slowly, and I about quiver and die. "Sorry," she says. I swallow hard. "It's fine," I manage.

9:02 p.m.: "It's a very nice penis," she says. I ask her if she's known a lot of penises. "Yes," she replies, "and vaginas as well." My cock leaps in her hand. "Oh, I didn't mean to arouse you," she says. "You have your hand on my dick," I remind her. "True," she concedes, and releases me. "I mean, you don't have to stop," I say. She smiles.

9:15 p.m.: Thank god I'm thirty. If I were any younger, I'd have already come in her hand. As it is, though, it takes a little more than just inoffensive rubbing to get me off. She's sliding her palm against my shaft without intention, almost as if she's making a mold of it and I'm just the insignificant plaster. "Would you like to touch me?" she asks. Well, that's certainly not going to help. "Where?" I ask. She picks up my hand, settling it on her breast. "Here works," she says, and I slip my thumb over her nipple, shuddering.

9:21 p.m.: She smells so good. She smells so bloody good, and she's sliding her fingertips in the slickness I can tell is dripping from the tip of my cock, and fuck, she has spectacular breasts. They're just bigger than a solid handful, firm and perky with nipples like little perfect pearls, and sooner than I'd like I am sputtering out a groan, coming in her palm. "Fuck," I cough, but she doesn't look bothered. "Do you mind?" she asks. I have no idea what she means. "If I masturbate," she clarifies. I feel a little bit bad about this and start to argue, but she shakes her head. "You should sleep," she advises me, and tells me again that I look tired.

9:27 p.m.: I start to doze off, but then she slides her hand down her torso, hitching her heels up and parting her legs. She makes a breathy sound of satisfaction. "You're very attractive," she murmurs, and adds, "Do you mind if I think about you?" I blink. "I don't have any control over your thoughts," I say, though in fairness to her, I can't actually tell if I should be flattered or repulsed, so I suppose it's a fair question. "Masturbation is fairly easy for me," she comments, "but it's always nice to have a visual." She glances over at me. "Can I see your chest?" she asks. "I'm afraid I have a weakness for pectorals," she explains, "but I think it's purely evolutionary." I strip my shirt off, obliging. Fuck, I'm going to be hungover in the morning, and I hope I can block all of this out. She reaches out, placing a hand on my chest. "Oh, that's good," she whispers, shuddering suddenly.

9:41 p.m.: I watch her until she comes. Her face goes from contemplative to serene, and then she lays back, panting slightly. "Thank you," she says, "that was nice."

9:53 p.m.: My life would be so much easier if I were gay.


DAY THREE

8:01 a.m.: "I think you have to go to work soon," Bird says, poking me in the shoulder. I bolt upright and immediately regret it; my head is pounding. She nudges me, offering me a small red circle. "It's Advil," she says. "Is it like hangover potion?" I ask. "Sort of," she replies.

8:20 a.m.: Eventually I grab my scorched trousers and stumble out, the pounding in my head just barely subsiding. I have time to go home, but I'm not really sure I want to bother. I transfigure my trousers instead and owl John, asking him to bring some hangover potion (whatever this Advil stuff is, it's not working nearly fast enough.)

8:45 a.m.: John walks in, offering me a vial. I thank him and attempt to settle myself at my desk to handle the usual morning owls from our research partners, but he's still standing in the doorway. "I have to tell you something," John says. It doesn't sound promising, but at least my head isn't pounding anymore. "Okay," I say uncertainly.

8:50 a.m.: John tells me our brother Francis' wife is here. "Why?" I ask bluntly. I'll call her Joan, like Joan of Arc, the French woman who came to interfere with England. Of course, I like to think of her as just someone who wanted to travel around on the basis of her own fleeting whims, but she did influence the Lancastrian wars, so perhaps she's a bit more than just an explorer. "Because," John says tentatively, and closes his mouth, hesitating. "We, um," he attempts again, and it dawns on me that I have very much suspected he was running away from something. "You fucked our brother's wife?" I ask. John grimaces. "It's worse," he says, and he looks so painfully morose I can't actually be angry with him. "I love our brother's wife," he explains, and dear god. Talk about Lancastrian wars.

9:01 a.m.: "Explain this," I demand, but then Bird is popping her head into my office, the Empress sitting on her shoulder. "Feeling better?" she asks me chipperly, which reminds me that John said he was sick yesterday. "You're not actually sick, are you?" I ask him hotly, and he shakes his head. "Not in any conventional way, at least," he says.

9:05 a.m.: I don't know what to do this information. "Does Francis know?" I ask. "Yes," John replies. "And he's—" "Okay with it?" John predicts wryly, shrugging. "I suspect he doesn't think it will last," he says, and I have to agree with the sentiment—or, more accurately, with Francis' ostensible doubt. The truth of it is that my loyalty is to Francis first; I can see that John sees that, or at least hears it, and he looks down, eyeing his shoes. "She's going to be staying with us for a bit," he says. "How long?" I demand. He winces. "I don't know," he says quietly, and it occurs to me that perhaps the fact that he doesn't know isn't exactly his choice. I sigh, rubbing wearily at my eyelids. "As long as we're not keeping anything from Francis," I warn him, and John looks up, shaking his head. "We're not," he promises.

9:10 a.m.: I almost managed to forget Bird was here. "This is private," I inform her when she glances wide-eyed between John and me. "Oh, of course," she says absently, but unsurprisingly, she doesn't leave. John, meanwhile, fidgets in discomfort. "I should go," he says, and nods to Bird. "Goodbye," he offers in his stiffly formal way and I watch him leave, still utterly confounded by our conversation.

9:12 a.m.: "There's absolutely no way that Joan would choose him over Francis," I remark, making the mistake of saying it out loud. "I'll believe it when I see it," I add under my breath, and Bird gives me a quizzical look. "You put a lot of stock in what you can see," she comments, and I have to fight not to roll my eyes. "That's because I can see everything I need to," I inform her. She doesn't seem to like my tone. "Fine," she says, and leaves. Turns out the way to get everyone far enough away to let me work is to upset them.

10:15 a.m.: I can't focus on anything, of course, because that would make my life far too easy. Joan and John? Joan is … well, in a word, she's beautiful. Exquisitely, coldly beautiful, like something in a museum; far too out of reach to touch. The sort of beautiful you could imagine ancient kings would fight a war for, if you wanted—but then again, maybe I only see her that way because she never really warmed to me. Or anyone in my family. Well, except one, it seems, but that hasn't gotten any more conceivable, no matter which way I slice it. John, really? He's not unpleasant, I suppose, but he hardly has Francis' charisma, or his innate likability. John and Francis may be brothers—and sure, they're a set of lanky, blue-eyed Head Boy bookends who put the rest of our family to shame—but still. When it comes down to it, they're not remotely the same, and it surprises me that they would both appeal to the same woman; much less this woman.

10:25 a.m.: I didn't even know anything was wrong between Francis and Joan. Has Francis really hidden it that well? It's certainly a possibility; he's always been the best at carrying off a persona. Not in a disingenuous way, but he was the golden boy, wasn't he? Always the one to succeed, and I know better than anyone how much he suffered quietly when he didn't. He's the oldest, the one with all the expectations, so yeah, maybe he's adept enough at hiding what he sees as flaws. Still, I was always his closest brother, his best friend. I'd like to think I've had enough practice seeing through to what's underneath. Have I just been away too long?

10:26 a.m.: Yes, my brain informs me. Yes, I most definitely have.

10:45 a.m.: "There's a woman here," one of our dragonhands says to me, and I sigh. "I know," I say, "she's just dropping off her Horntail—" "No, not that one," he cuts in, looking utterly starstruck, and then I know that it's Joan he's seen. Two blondes in one week; suddenly I understand why everyone seems more pleased than usual to be at work today. "Where is she?" I ask, and he points, alarmingly, towards Melusina. I instantly rise to my feet. That can't be good.

10:48 a.m.: Joan is near impossible to miss. I catch the silvery blonde of her hair from afar and hurry towards her, hoping I can intervene before that pretty adulterous face of hers gets scorched by Melusina's usual fiery greeting.

10:49 a.m.: I open my mouth, ready to shout for Joan to back away, but the closer I get, the more obvious it is that she's not in any danger. In fact, she's speaking French to Melusina, who looks more docile than I've ever seen her. I don't mean to, but a laugh escapes me; of course one haughty ice queen would bond with another. Joan doesn't notice me right away, so I take a moment before I call out to her, trying to think of an opening line. Sure, I've just heard some pretty disconcerting news, but dragons have always come first in my life, so—"You're a natural," I remark, because everything else will have to wait.

10:50 a.m.: Joan turns, looking a little startled at the sight of me. I, in turn, have to swallow a moment of attraction; she has always been unnaturally beautiful ("I know, right?" Francis had laughed in my ear the first time I met her) but I can usually shake her effect after a bit of time passes. I count to three and cough, ridding myself of her momentary hold. (See, Mum? Not gay. Unfortunately.)

10:51 a.m.: "She?" Joan echoes, and for the second time in two days, I confirm that the dragon is, indeed, a she. I wonder if the gender presumption says something about society; does that make me a feminist? Sounds right. "We call her Melusina," I explain, "after the—" "Folktale," Joan supplies for me, her cheeks warming with something like wonder.

10:55 a.m.: I'm pretty sure I want to be angry at Joan for being here, but it's hard to remember that when Melusina appears to be bonding with another creature (dragon, human, or otherwise) for the first time. Of course, it occurs to me in the midst of my bemusement that Joan has always had a way with dragons; I mention that to her, and she looks incredibly pleased that I've remembered. No, not incredibly—painfullypleased, as if she's been hoping someone would and the time that it's taken to happen has stung her, somehow. "I'm surprised you remember that," she says quietly, and against my will, I feel a pang of sympathy. I can feel myself soften, too; she does look a bit starved for something. Attention? Acknowledgement? I know how that goes. I remind myself that I can't judge Joan for something I don't have all the facts about—at least not yet.

11:15 a.m.: She comments that it's nice here, and she seems to mean it. Odd, considering my mother always complains that nothing is ever good enough for Joan. Of course, my mother has never liked her. My sister Amelia doesn't, either, and then I wilt internally; the more I think about it, the more I can see the foundation of loneliness Joan must have. She's away from home, after all, as am I, and I think everyone who bonds with a dragon has some degree of vacancy; of emptiness, of lacking something. There's something mournfully beautiful about a dragon, and hauntingly grandiose. Some sense of yearning. I may not know much about what's brought Joan here, but I know she and Melusina have similar looks in their eyes. It must have taken a lot for Joan to have come here. Or, more accurately, there must be something here she wants badly enough to have come.

11:20 a.m.: Joan looks a bit uncomfortable when she brings up John, but I'm a little relieved she does it first. It occurs to me, too, that John did a good thing coming to tell me the news this morning. He could have hidden it from me if he'd wanted to, but if there's one thing my younger brother isn't, it's a liar. "You know," I say, "Francis is the oldest, the most attractive, the most successful. Why would you give that up for John?" I hope she has a good answer, but she doesn't; not all of us have John's talent for honesty. "I didn't say I would give anything up for him," she replies stiffly. I think of his face this morning and it occurs to me that I am just as much a brother to him as I am to Francis, so I stand firm. "You'll break his heart if you don't," I warn her, feeling suddenly protective of them both.

11:22 a.m.: She says something about hearts breaking all the time (something more self-revelatory than I think she realizes) and I'm about to step forward and argue, but Melusina nudges her, making a low, mournful sound of comfort. This is one of the steps in bonding with a dragon; empathy. I hadn't thought Melusina was capable, but she soothes under Joan's touch. I immediately forget about my stupid brothers and their stupid tangled lives. "Holy fuck," I breathe aloud, "you're a natural."

12:30 p.m.: I immediately take Joan around the reservation, introducing her to all the dragons. Am I testing some sort of bizarre experiment? Maybe, but that's what I do. She has a way with all of the dragons, but not just them. Some of the dragons have companion creatures to keep them calm—hippogriffs or thestrals, for example—and they react favorably to her too, not betraying any sort of disruption at her presence as they normally do around strangers. She may have come here to be with John, but for however long that takes to sort out, I plan to make use of her.

1:45 p.m.: I bring her back to Melusina. "Keep her calm," I say, because for the sake of my team of dragonhands' safety, we need to file down some of her claws. "How?" Joan asks, and isn't that the eternal question? I don't know, and I've been trying to figure it out for months; I've tried music, I've tried bribes of food and trinkets, I've tried spoken word poetry—nothing. "Oh, you know," I say, waving a hand, and Joan looks a bit stunned for a moment, but she recovers quickly. "Okay," she says, and in French, she says something to Melusina; it sounds like a question, though I can't be sure. I'm not great with languages; my Romanian is pretty sad, and I don't speak a lick of French. After a second, though, Melusina lies down with a sigh, her big eyes fixed on Joan.

2:01 p.m.: One of the other dragonologists gapes. "Bloody h-" "Close your mouth and get to it," I snap, and they hurry forward obediently as Joan patiently strokes Melusina's brow, the dragon's eyes closing with a shudder as she seems to fall into a trance.

3:45 p.m.: I won't lie. This is an exciting day for me. I forget about my grant work, instead hurrying Joan from enclosure to enclosure. "What's in here?" she asks, finding the nursery. I'm about to show her when I catch a flash of dirty blonde hair, suddenly recalling that Bird is still roaming around. "Nothing," I say quickly, instead ushering her towards our twin Short-Snouts.

4:58 p.m.: Inevitably there are a few things I have to take care of in my office, and though I've only known her for a day, I find that Bird's unnecessary presence there is starting to feel equally inevitable. "Are you busy?" she asks inanely, as I'm clearly up to my neck in paperwork and thinking about lighting it all on fire. (That's the other thing about working with dragons: a natural tendency towards arson.) "Why?" I ask helplessly, and she shrugs. "I thought I might do an article about you and your research while I'm here," she says. "That isn't a ploy for sex, by the way," she adds neutrally, "though if you'd like to do that, I do think it would be mutually beneficial for me to help solve your wrackspurt problem."

5:05 p.m.: I look up, about to argue that wrackspurts don't exist, but I catch her gaze lingering on my chest. I remember, too, the feel of her chest, and my cock gives a highly unwelcome twitch. "Just the article," I say, clearing my throat. "I don't think sex would be appropriate," I add, and she nods vigorously. "Oh, I agree, sex should never be appropriate," she begins with enthusiasm, but at the look on my face, she stops. "Oh," she says with a frown, "you meant appropriate to society, didn't you?" I nod mutely. "Disappointing," she sighs.

5:10 p.m.: "Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me," she says. I begrudgingly offer for her to stay with John and me, but Bird shakes her head. "I can tell you don't want me there," she says, and tells me she'll be staying in her tent again. I think for a moment to apologize, but she doesn't look upset. "Goodnight," she chirps, and flits out of the room.

5:20 p.m.: I may never know what to make of her.

5:30 p.m.: I find Joan communing silently with Melusina. "Ready to go?" I ask her, and she looks surprised. "I thought you'd be more opposed to me being here," she tells me slowly, her French accent softening the edges of her words, and I nod. "I'm not happy about it," I admit. True, I'm happy about her effect on Melusina, but the circumstances still irk me whenever I manage to remember what they are. She nods. "Okay," she permits, and we head out.

5:45 p.m.: When we get home, John is making dinner. I study behavior for a living; the first thing I notice is the way Joan's expression changes when she sees him, and the way John looks particularly unburdened, his eyes filling with something like relief when they land on hers. All of a sudden, Joan's beauty is something completely different; she radiates with warmth, and she is both more stunning and more real. She is flushed and golden where she used to be stiff and silvery, and as much as I struggle to reconcile the sensation with what I've believed of my sister-in-law in the past, I've known enough of mythical creatures to see when one finds its mate.

5:47 p.m.: "She's got a way with Melusina," I tell John, and he smiles. "Of course she does," he says, never taking his eyes from hers, and all at once I feel as though I'm an outsider, interrupting a private moment. I realize that I never felt this way when Joan was with Francis; if anything, I always felt she blended into the scenery a bit, an extension of my brother, while he and I slipped into fraternal habits and inside jokes. Now, though, I feel like an intruder.

5:49 p.m.: "I have dinner plans," I announce suddenly. John looks bemused. "But I thought you said—" "Well, that friend of Amelia's is here," I say, horrified firstly that that's the first thing that comes to mind, and then increasingly more so as I realize that's the only other place I have to go. Still, I can see these two should be alone. I'll wait until tomorrow to try to wrap my head around it. "Okay," John agrees, and I apparate away as Joan takes a step towards him, the look on her face dazzling enough to light the entire house for a week.

6:05 p.m.: "Oh, hello," Bird says when I slip through the tent flap. She doesn't look surprised at all, and neither does the Empress. I sigh loudly. "I'm not staying the night this time," I tell her, and she nods. "Soup?" she offers.

6:37 p.m.: "So tell me about you," she says. I tell her the basics. I have many brothers. I enjoyed quidditch, I loved being a seeker, but I always felt a calling elsewhere. After all, I'm an explorer too, aren't I? If explorers only have one stop, I suppose, but when you find something that makes you happy, you stop looking, right? She scribbles a few things down as I talk, but pauses at that. "Are you happy?" she asks me. I pause before answering. "I work with creatures," I say, "which is all I ever wanted to do." "Is it?" she asks.

7:05 p.m.: I tell her that it was Anne's idea for me to go off and study dragons (I call her my friend at first; Bird lifts a brow, and I admit there was a bit more to it). Anne always said I was too good for most humans, and I always replied that so was she, and she joked that that's why she wanted to be an Auror: to put most of them in prison. I chuckle at the memory of her, and Bird eyes me curiously. "Did you love her?" she asks. "It wasn't love," I reply, "or else I wouldn't have left." "Or," Bird counters, "maybe it was love precisely because you let each other go." I tell her that's ridiculous, and she shrugs. "It's probably related to your wrackspurt problem," she replies.

7:17 p.m.: I tell her to stop calling it 'my wrackspurt problem,' and she asks me what else she should call it. "You seem like you'd oppose my referring to it as your celibacy problem," she comments, and I'm a little frustrated, though as usual, I'm not at all sure why I'm still here putting myself through this. "Do you really think sex would fix it?" I demand. "Oh, of course not," she says, shrugging delicately, "I simply suspect it would help."

7:20 p.m.: Bird asks me more about Anne. I'd wonder if she were being nosy, but I'm determining nosy isn't the right word for her. She's just curious, I think, though that distinction isn't particularly helpful. For reasons unknown, I tell her about the first time I fingered Anne, which was in the Charms classroom between classes our sixth year. I'll never forget Anne's response. "Ouch," she'd said blithely, and at that moment I'd known I was doing everything wrong, and also that I badly needed to learn how to do it better. Bird smiles, which I realize slowly is an echo of my current expression. "So," she says, "did you improve?"

7:45 p.m.: "I think so," I say, but it's possibly I only ever learned what Anne liked. "Show me," Bird suggests, standing up to wriggle out of her trousers. I gawk at her, and she tilts her head. "Ah, right," she says, and removes her shirt. She isn't wearing a bra. "I forgot you seem to have a preference for my breasts," she clarifies, resuming her seat at the little dining table and placing my left hand on her right tit. I swallow uncomfortably. "I'm right-handed," I say awkwardly, and she smiles radiantly. "You need your right hand for other things," she reminds me, and scoots to the edge of her chair, parting her legs.

7:53 p.m.: I tell her I need to be considerably drunker than I currently am to do this, but she shakes her head. "You're fine," she says, and I could so easily say no, but I think she and I both know I can't stop looking at her, and that I'm hard once again. I shift forward, still not sure if I'm going to manage it, but my heart is pounding and fuck, it's been ages. She smiles encouragingly. "I'll help you if you need it," she says, and I think she genuinely means it. I nod, and then I go for it; I slide one finger into her, watching her breasts shift as she inhales sharply. For having ostensibly experienced so many penises, she fits snugly around my finger, and my dick fucking convulses with yearning. "Good start," she says cheerfully, "but you should probably move it around."

7:56 p.m.: I slide my finger in and out a little; she shifts in the chair. "Don't forget the clitoris," she says, and nudges my thumb up. I move it around a little and she rewards me with a nod, her big eyes falling shut briefly. "I can't get very good leverage," I tell her, gesturing to the way my hand is awkwardly cupping her, and she nods. "Come on," she says, and takes me to her bed.

8:01 p.m.: She lies down on her back. I strip my shirt off, recalling her 'fondness for pectorals,' and she nods approvingly. "Don't be nervous," she advises. "I'm not," I say. "It's sweet that you think you have to do that," she says. "Do what?" I ask. "Lie," she says, and takes my hand, placing it between her legs. Honesty is overrated, she tells me, because honesty is something you do when you aren't worried about damaging someone with the truth. "In my experience, lying means you care," she says, and adds that my sister Amelia always lies to spare her feelings. I tell her I'm not sure she's right about that, but she shrugs, beckoning to me again.

8:10 p.m.: It's easier this way. I slide another finger into her, fucking her with them relatively slowly, in and out. I like the way I fit inside her. I like the way her cheeks flush. My cock positively throbs, but it seems like a waste to use it right now. I'd last about five seconds.

8:15 p.m.: I start to rub my hand against her clit and her breath quickens. When Anne was about to come, it was usually pretty obvious; her hair usually turned an electric shade of violet. That was the thing about sex with her, actually. It was always pretty easy to tell what she liked or didn't like. With Bird, though, all I have are my suspicions until she looks over at me, her little pink tongue darting out as she parts her lips. "Well, if you keep going like that, I'm going to come," she tells me. I tell her that would be ideal. She nods. "I like the feel of your hands," she says, and tells me she likes my hands in general; likes the way they nurture things, and the way she feels safe in them. "Is that strange?" she asks softly. I tell her every fucking thing she's ever said to me is strange, but that doesn't mean it's bad. "Mm," she says, and shifts her hips.

8:17 p.m.: "There," she half-mumbles, and I shift my hand again. I feel her rippling around my fingers, which is oddly rewarding, and I look down at her breasts. What is it about her nipples? I lean down and suck one, curling my tongue around it, and then the other. When I look back at her face, she's watching me, amused. "Would you like to do more?" she asks. I do everything in my power not to say yes. "What about the interview?" I ask gruffly. She shrugs, shifting over in the bed to make room for me. "Just keep talking," she says, and adds, "I'll remember."

9:30 p.m.: Maybe it's because I've just fingered her—or maybe because she's still naked and I'm halfway there—but I tell her things I haven't said to anyone in a long, long time, if ever. I tell her I regret not being home during the war; my brother Francis came home from Egypt, but I didn't. I think maybe I didn't realize how bad it was. I never really believed my family would be in danger; they weren't very active in the first Order, after all, but I suppose my youngest brother being best friends with the person destined to end it all sort of drew them in. I feel selfish for not having gone, but I always felt strange at home. I always felt like I didn't belong.

9:45 p.m.: Bird nods. "I know what it is to feel strange," she says, and I immediately feel guilty for having said as much myself about her, but she cautions me with a quick shake of her head. "There's nothing wrong with feeling like you don't fit in somewhere," she tells me, and gestures up to the stars overhead. "The universe is rather large," she says, "so it must be a very lucky thing to find a place where you belong." I glance at her, at the little dusting of constellations near her eyes, and ask her if she knows where she belongs. "Not yet," she says, "but I'm looking."

10:29 p.m.: I had thought of her first as a wanderer, but I think she's more than that. I had thought her search was aimless, but I think I'm wrong. Difficult to tell, though. She could be lying. She did say lying was a way to show you care, and I think she cares. I think she cares more than anyone I have ever met, and I think that might actually be the strangest thing about her.

11:17 p.m.: I'm falling asleep beside her again. She's already sleeping, her dirty blonde hair spread across the single pillow as she rests her forehead against my shoulder. I wonder if she's really writing an article about me, and I wonder what it would say. I wonder how a person who sees the world so peculiarly would look at me and find me something of interest. I resolve to ask her in the morning, just before I drift off to sleep.


DAY FOUR

7:04 a.m.: I wake up oddly rested, though Bird is no longer beside me. I sit up, grimacing as I realize I slept in my heavy trousers, and Bird glances over from the kitchen, the Empress perched once again on her shoulder. "Hungry?" she asks me, and I realize it's Saturday. "Sure," I say.

7:26 a.m.: "I was thinking that I shouldn't stay too long," Bird says contemplatively, and adds that she must be getting in the way. She isn't wrong (after all, she's currently camped out in the middle of an active research facility, so her presence here is hardly something I can fully approve) but I'm a little uncertain what to say. I take a spoonful of muesli, covering my hesitation with a mouthful of food, but she continues without pause. "So," she adds, "I was thinking that today we should address oral sex." I instantly choke, my eyes watering as everything goes entirely down the wrong pipe.

7:34 a.m.: "Do you disagree?" Bird asks neutrally, once I've recovered from my brush with death. "I don't know what you're talking about," I manage to sputter, and she gives a little ghost of a laugh. "I can start, if that would make you more comfortable," she says, and fuck me, I'm getting hard again, but I do my best to deny it. "I really don't know what you mean," I stupidly persist, but she places the Empress on the table before getting to her knees, prying my knees apart. "Ready?" she asks, glancing up at me. Fuck, her eyes are huge. I've seen dragons with less unnerving stares. Fuck, fuck, fuck. "Okay," I mumble, and she slides my zipper down as the Empress politely turns away.

7:40 a.m.: The moment Bird's tongue slides across my tip I know I'm in trouble. For one thing, I haven't had a blow job since the time Anne came to visit me. I think she was already in the process of pining for her eventual-husband then; I remember that her hair had looked particularly mousy and dull, and she'd seemed listless and low. It's actually difficult for me not to combine the sensation of a mouth on my dick with the memory of suffering Anne's sadness myself; of looking down at the top of her head and finding myself paralyzed with the need to fix it, fix everything, for her. She'd asked me to come back with her; I didn't. In retrospect, I don't think she ever really expected me to. I think she was glad I didn't, even when she kissed me goodbye. We had a habit of disappointing each other, so it was comforting to fall back on something reliable.

7:42 a.m.: I remember that Anne's gone now and flinch. Bird, who has just slid her lips around my shaft, glances up at me, and my entire body suffers a wave of confusion. On the one hand, fuck, this feels good, and at the moment Bird's grey eyes are unsettling in a highly alluring way (probably because her mouth is on my cock? Impossible to tell.) On the other hand, thinking about Anne isn't helpful, and Bird seems to notice. She pulls away, releasing me, and says one word: "Wrackspurts." I sigh. She climbs onto my lap, straddling me, and I let her.

7:45 a.m.: I really thought I didn't care about sex. "If I loved Anne," I ask Bird quietly, "then why did I let her go?" She thinks about it. "I think loving someone is a talent," she says, "and some people do it better than others." I grimace, but she shakes her head. "You can also be what someone wants and not what they need," she adds, "or so I've been lead to believe." She seems as though she's been told that by someone. I sigh again, wrap my arms around her waist, and kiss her. She seems comically surprised, and I pull away. "What?" I ask. "Nothing," she says, but strangely, I feel as though I've crossed a line. She wiggles slightly in my lap in her discomfort and I remember I'm still inconveniently hard. "You can continue," I tell her. She looks relieved. "Okay," she agrees, and slides back down to her knees.

8:05 a.m.: She might be a total weirdo, but she bloody knows what the fuck she's doing. It's actually impossible to think about Anne once Bird really gets going. I'd always thought of getting head as a predictable range of foreplay, but she sucks me off with something a little too skillful to be purely enthusiasm. Keenness, maybe? She ought to be knighted. Canonized, even. She looks up at me with those big grey eyes and I come so hard it's almost painful, a loud groan leaving my lips uninvited. Forget sainthood; she should be queen.

8:15 a.m.: "Your turn," she says. Oh, shit. It's only fair, I know, but I've never been great at this. "Um," I say, and she gestures to the bed. "Lie down," she suggests, and I do, slowly, though I wriggle out of my trousers first. They're for wrangling dragons, not bizarre blonde witches. "Okay," I exhale, once I've settled myself on her mattress. She slips out of her clothes, eyeing me a little hungrily. She certainly has an appetite. "Okay," she agrees, and gently—much to my instant confusion—sets her knees on either side of my head, bracing herself against the headboard of this goddamn contraption of sin.

8:20 a.m.: She looks down at me, and from this angle I can see her tits bounce as she shifts around, which I'm not opposed to. "Need help?" she asks. Bloody hell. "No," I mutter, and gather my nerve, tilting my chin up to lick the slit of her pussy. I feel her exhale; she's wet, and my tongue slides easily across her. I dig my fingers into her hips, angling them to slide my tongue inside her, mostly out of curiosity. She inhales sharply, and I think I'm doing it right, even if I'm not doing it particularly well. Maybe I can manage this.

8:26 a.m.: "Don't forget my clitoris," she pants, and damn, I had forgotten. I was distracted by the way she tastes, which isn't really what I remember; it's better, actually. Sort of salty-sweet. I shift her hips again. "Better," she half-moans.

8:28 a.m.: "Are you spelling the alphabet on my clitoris?" she asks once I've gotten to the letter 'H'. She looks down at me, amused, and I recall that Anne hadn't been overly impressed with that trick, either. "I didn't think you'd notice," I admit. She laughs. "Try sucking on it," she suggests, "and use the broad side of your tongue." I oblige, and her legs shake slightly. "Mhmm," she manages. I feel better. I slide my hands up, too, exploring the shape of her torso. She has a narrow waist, and the spot where her hips flare out is particularly beguiling.

8:35 a.m.: The Empress (who I'd forgotten was here) coughs, lighting a small fire in the kitchen, but I can't stop now. Bird is shaking like mad above me, and I certainly didn't work this hard not to see it through. I let her grind on my mouth, her fingers tightening in my hair, and move with her. The fire must be worse than I thought; I realize that it smells like smoke the moment Bird comes, though at first I think it's my imagination. I do feel particularly ignited.

8:37 a.m.: Bird gets up quickly, leaving me behind as she puts out the fire the Empress has started. It takes her a while and I sit up, watching her disappear from sight and then return, eyeing me on the bed.

8:45 a.m.: "We could do more," she says. I take a long look at her; it's tempting.

8:46 a.m.: Still, some things are more pressing. "You need to put her back in the nursery," I say, gesturing to the Empress. "She doesn't belong inside a tent," I add, "and she doesn't know how to control her impulses yet. She should be with the rest of her kind." "And what if they don't want her?" Bird shoots back. I blink, registering the uncharacteristic quiver of insecurity in her tone. "She's not you," I point out.

8:49 a.m.: Bird looks stung. "You should go," she says flatly.

8:52 a.m.: She doesn't say anything else while I put my clothes on, but she doesn't cover herself, either. She simply watches me with her too-big grey eyes, and I turn to her before I leave, but I don't really know what else to say. I don't think I'm welcome here anymore.

8:53 a.m.: "I didn't mean to upset you," I awkwardly attempt. "I know," she says, "but I think I should leave, and I can't pack up the tent if you're in it." "Oh," I say.

8:54 a.m.: "Bye, then," I say. She nods, and I disapparate. I guess that's that.

8:56 a.m: John's door is closed, and I remember he's in there with Joan. I make my way to my bedroom, falling into bed. I suddenly remember that I'm desperately tired, and sink gradually into sleep.

1:04 p.m.: I wake up from fitful episodes of dozing to a knock at my door. "Come in," I call, and Joan materializes in my door frame; she's much more beautiful than Bird, I know, but I find her silvery hair to be not the ideal shade of blonde at the moment. "May I ask you something?" Joan says, and I nod. "Will you teach me how to care for the dragons?" she asks slowly.

1:06 p.m.: I hesitate. "Are you not going back?" I ask her, and she glances at her feet. "I don't know," she says. I find I'm more than a little irritated at this answer. "Are you just punishing my brother?" I demand, and I'm not even sure I know which brother I'm talking about. She blanches. "No," she says, and then her lovely siren's mouth tightens. "Not intentionally," she amends, but I'm too angry to feel sorry for her. "You need to decide who the fuck is important to you," I hurl at her, and she nods. She closes the door. I'd feel bad, but she needs to hear it. Someone should have said it to me when I let Anne go.

7:10 p.m.: I don't do much for the rest of the day. I stop by the reservation to check on the dragons (they don't exactly have days off, after all) and I notice Bird's tent is gone. The Empress is back in the nursery, being fed by one of our dragonhands. I give her a small wave, but she doesn't look interested in me. Melusina, too, gives me a disdainful snort, so I've officially disappointed all the women I know.

8:35 p.m.: John looks up when I come home; I get the feeling he's been waiting for me. I look around, but Joan isn't anywhere in sight. "She's in the shower," John explains. I nod, and he rises to his feet. "Can we talk?" he asks quietly. I grimace. "Fine," I say, and gesture to my bedroom.

8:45 p.m.: "Her wanting to know more about dragons has nothing to do with me or Francis," John explains, and informs me that Joan is looking for meaning in her life. "Do you want her to stay?" I ask him, and he looks away. That's a yes. "It isn't about me," he repeats. "But do you want her to stay?" I press. His face looks pained. I've been pushing a little too hard today, I think, but I think Bird is wrong; lying certainly is necessary at times, but I think in this case, telling the truth is evidence of caring. "If you want her to stay, then tell her," I inform him bluntly, "or she'll leave."

8:50 p.m.: I tell John about Anne. I tell him I should have been honest with myself about the whole thing; that for all those times she told me she knew I was leaving, I never once thought to invite her along. I tell him, too, that I made a terrible error when I didn't realize—even after she came to find me—that she was just looking for someone to ask her to stay. She never did love people who could love her properly, but that was our fault, not hers. "Does Joan love you?" I ask brusquely. John looks uncomfortable. "I think so," he says. "Then tell her to stay," I plead with him, like he's some sort of past version of myself, "or you might lose her." He smiles wanly at me. "This is different," he tells me gently. "If she wants to stay," John says, with the blissful idiocy of ignorance, "then she'll stay. She wasn't mine to have to begin with," he adds, "so if I lose her, then I will have already had more than I deserved."

9:05 p.m.: Fuck, my brother's an idiot. I argue a bit more, but he shakes his head. "I'm not you," he informs me, and I realize why that same line had hurt Bird so much when I said it earlier. Maybe telling the truth is a uniquely cruel thing to do after all, even if it's necessary.

9:30 p.m.: Eventually he leaves. I slept all day, but I go to bed early anyway. I'm tired; Bird said so, and she seems to see everything about me, whether I want it to be seen or not.

10:45 p.m.: Fuck. I should have asked her to stay.


DAY FIVE

6:45 a.m.: I didn't sleep well, so I start the day banging on John's door. "Get dressed," I bark, and John yanks open the door, looking consummately ruffled. "It's Sunday," he says. "I'm not talking to you," I inform him, and aim a gruff command over his shoulder. "Get dressed," I say again, "we're going to the reservation." Joan's eyes widen, and I catch a small smile of approval flit across John's face. "Should I come?" he asks neutrally. I shake my head. "You're useless," I inform him, having witnessed it myself several times over. "Too true," he agrees, looking subtly pleased as Joan stumbles past us, sleepily making her way to the bathroom.

6:55 a.m.: Joan is surprisingly low-maintenance. She brushes her teeth, ties her long blonde hair into a ponytail, and joins us in the kitchen, accepting the thermos of coffee John hands her. "You're going to need warmer clothes if you're planning to stay here," I comment, and John shoots me a piercing look of warning. Joan, however, gives me nothing. "True," she permits without elaboration.

7:02 a.m.: I look away while Joan reaches up, cupping her hand around the curve of John's cheek. I think she'd kiss him if I weren't watching; she looks like she wants to, but the little bit of contact between them seems to be enough. "See you later," she says. He gives her a fleeting half-smile, and fuck, these two are having the quietest, weirdest affair of all time, but it's impossible to miss how much they care about each other. "Let's go," I grunt unhelpfully, and Joan places a hand on my arm, letting me apparate us out.

9:45 a.m.: I'm glad I decided to do this on what is technically my day off, because I don't have to be interrupted by paperwork. There are a couple of other people around, but for the most part I'm able to lead her around unhurried. I show her the sorts of things we look for; social behaviors, patterns of communication, any bonding between the creatures themselves or with their handlers. "The more we understand them, the better we can protect them," I explain, and she nods. She doesn't say much, but I can see the gears turning; she's not stupid. She's pretty smart, actually, and though her connection with the dragons seems to be largely empathetic, she catches on quickly, managing our usual charms perfectly on the first try.

11:16 a.m.: Much as I remain torn on her presence here, I find I enjoy teaching Joan. Watching her figure things out is wildly rewarding. I rarely handle training anymore, and I'm reminded how much I enjoy it. As important as grant requests and research are to the functions of this reservation, there's nothing quite like watching someone fall in love with creatures for the first time.

2:35 p.m.: "This is the Empress," I say, feeling a pang at the sight of her. The little dragonet looks at me distrustfully, snorting her disapproval. "Looks like you've upset her," Joan notes drily. I grumble something unconvincing, but she doesn't say anything else; she steps forward, offering the Empress her hand, and then murmurs something to me over her shoulder. "Don't worry," Joan she says, tickling the Empress under her chin, and then lets her gaze slide to mine. "She knows you mean well," Joan concludes. "Thanks," I manage gruffly. She smiles.

6:37 p.m.: By the time I suggest that we head home, the other dragonologists are desperately insisting that Joan come back tomorrow. "I suppose they're not around women very often," Joan remarks to me as I gather some of our things from my office, and I turn, frowning at her. "This isn't about your looks," I say, and inform her that more than one of our dragonhands nearly lost an eye to Melusina before she got here. "One of them lost a finger just last week," I add, and she blinks. "Oh," she says, and her brow furrows, as if she's contemplating this slowly. "You've got a gift," I tell her, "and that's why they want you to come back." This seems to resonate so powerfully that I can't help feeling sad for her again. I think again about what Bird said; that a person must be pretty fucking lucky to find where they belong.

6:55 p.m.: Joan barely waits a second after setting foot in our house before calling out for John, her cheeks flaming with excitement. I can tell he's having trouble parsing out the details, especially once her accent flares up in earnest, but he's listening with rapt attention, nodding at all the obvious important bits and asking her questions. Her hand darts out for his, and when he takes it, I suffer the same sensation that I'm interrupting something private. Meanwhile, I slip into my bedroom. Clearly there's something I have to do.

7:15 p.m.: "Hey," Francis says, looking surprised when he answers my Floo call. "What's up?" he asks, and he's shirtless, and behind him I can see women's lingerie on the unmade bed. I can feel myself grimacing; this may be a private matter between husband and wife, but still, I have the happiness of two brothers at stake. I can't not say something.

7:20 p.m.: "This thing with Joan and John," I say, "it's not nothing." Francis laughs, but I can hear the tremor of something apprehensive behind it. "I'm serious," I press, uncertain why I sound so sulky. "I can see that," Francis remarks blithely, "but she's my wife. She'll come home eventually." "Even so," I persist, "if she does, you won't have all of her. She'll have given part of herself away, and you'll regret it if you don't take this seriously."

7:23 p.m.: I hear a woman's voice call my brother's name, and for a moment he looks torn and childlike, as if he can't quite decide what to do. He stares into nothing for a moment, looking into the flames, and when his blue eyes meet mine, I feel stupid for not having seen through him earlier. "I think I already lost part of her," he admits. I swallow hard, wanting to say something helpful, but absolutely nothing comes to mind. "Joan doesn't need me anymore," he adds. There's something vaguely spoiled to the way he says it, as if the woman calling his name needs him, and therefore that feeling is preferable. I wonder if maybe his and Joan's love was made for a different version of her; the kind that might have been like our mother, devoted and faithful and unerring, instead of the woman I saw today—the one with both immense power at her fingertips and a fragile sense of needing to be put to use.

7:27 p.m.: You can be what someone wants and not what they need, I hear Bird chirp in my mind, and it occurs to me that perhaps Francis wants to be needed, while Joan simply wants to be wanted. I think about the way John looks at her—the way he pushes his own agenda aside for her—and against my will, I can feel my allegiances shift. "Tell your wife how you feel," I tell Francis, "or you'll lose her." But just like my other brother, I can see that he won't be taking my advice. "Thanks for letting me know," Francis says, and ends the call.

9:15 p.m.: I can't help thinking about Bird as I settle back on my bed, picking up a book and then discarding it. She's right; I have a wrackspurt problem. It's draining all my energy.

10:11 p.m.: I can't sleep, so I head outside, looking up at the stars. I don't think I really looked very carefully before the last two nights with Bird; as that occurs to me, though, I can't help laughing. It was only two nights. Amazing what quality head does to my perception of time. Maybe I just need more sex.

10:37 p.m.: No, that's not it. Actually, I don't think that's it at all.

10:52 p.m.: When I come back inside, John is in the living room alone. I ask him what he's doing, and he says he's just ended a call with our younger brother, the twin. "Listen, about Joan," I begin, but John interrupts. "You'll take her with you tomorrow, won't you?" he asks, and begins a long, uninterrupted babble about how he needs to work, and he knows she's going to want to see Melusina. I stop him, holding up a hand. "I'll take her," I assure him.

10:57 p.m.: John looks down at his fingers. "I want her to be happy," he says, and I sort of hear the unspoken implication; the resounding but I don't know if I can that echoes in the fire-lit room. I rest my hand on his shoulder, and all of a sudden I realize why I never asked Anne to come with me, and why she never asked me to stay. I think it was fear. I think, in the end, we were never not afraid.

11:01 p.m.: "I hope Joan does the brave thing," I say, "and chooses you." He looks grateful. "Goodnight," he says, and rises to his feet, headed into his bedroom. "Goodnight," I agree, and head into my own.

11:15 p.m.: I wish that I had done the brave thing.


DAY SIX

6:30 a.m.: It's Monday, so I rise early. Joan is in the kitchen already, her hair pulled back and ready to go, and she gives me a nod as I enter. Aside from her presence, I can tell it's going to be the usual morning.

1:03 p.m.: I wasn't particularly attentive last week, so work occupies me well into the morning. I glance down at my watch and decide to ask if Joan wants to stop for lunch.

1:15 p.m.: Unsurprisingly, I find her with Melusina. "She's eating better," Joan remarks, looking pleased, and I nod my agreement. "She has a horde now," I remind Joan, gesturing to her, and she turns, surprised. "Is one person really a horde?" she asks, and I shrug. "Can be," I say, having seen it before. For a second, Joan looks dazed. Then she blinks, her dark blue eyes fixing intently on mine. "Are you hiring?" she asks abruptly.

1:20 p.m.: "What?" I ask. "I'd like to work here," she clarifies, shielding her eyes from the sun that shines through a set of winter clouds. "If you have room for me," she adds.

1:21 p.m.: I blink. "We only have a budget for so many dragonologists," I say, and Joan nods, as if she thought that might have been the case. "I suppose I could study a bit more first," she says thoughtfully, "and maybe there will be an opening later." I blink again. "You mean you'd… come back?" I ask, disbelieving, and she and Melusina both give me vaguely condescending looks of amusement. "Perhaps this will be difficult to understand, but I can't go back to my old life," Joan tells me. "I'd prefer the convenience of working here so that I can stay with John," she adds thoughtfully, "but seeing as there's not an opening—"

1:23 p.m.: I gape at her. "What?" she asks. "I know you're close to Francis," she sighs, wilting slightly, "but I hope you can see why I might—" "You can work here," I blurt out, and her silvery-blonde brow furrows. "But I thought you said—" "You're doing the brave thing," I tell her firmly, and she looks both touched and relieved. "And if you can be brave," I say thunderously, "then so can I."

1:25 p.m.: "Where are you going?" Joan calls after me, but I don't have time to answer her. I sprint for one of the other head dragonologists, bumping into him in the corridor. "Hey," I say, "you can handle all my research, can't you?" He looks bewildered. "Yes," he concedes, and I nod firmly. "Good," I say, "because I quit."

1:29 p.m.: I point to Joan, who's following behind me, and instruct him to hire her. I hear her calling my name, too, but I'm in a hurry. I don't have an international permit from the Ministry, so I'll have to travel the muggle way. "Tell John thank you," I bellow to her, and then I summon some things in a small leather pouch and take off. I'd say goodbye to the dragons—and John—but I know they're in good hands. The Empress watches me go, crowing her approval.

7:35 p.m.: By the time I manage to get to London, I'm exhausted and half-shaking, wondering the entire way if I've done something reckless (I definitely have) or something stupid (always a possibility), or worse, something unrequited (my stomach bottoms out, but this is the brave thing, isn't it? So there has to be some fear involved). My sister Amelia pulls the door to her flat open, looking surprised. "What are you doing here?" she asks bluntly, and I glance over her shoulder. "Is Bird here?" I ask, and then I catch a glimpse of dirty blonde hair as my sister nods dumbly, letting Bird take her place in the door frame. "Hello," Bird says, in her slightly dizzying way.

7:36 p.m.: "So, here's the thing," I tell her quickly, wishing my sister weren't looking on with a mix of amusement and disbelief, but determining I'm going to have to continue. "Sometimes telling the truth is caring, too," I explain, "even when it doesn't sound like it is. I'm sorry about what I said—I'm sorry that it hurt you—but the truth is that you don't belong just anywhere. You aren't like other people, and you don't belong with the rest of the world, but take it from someone who's looked: the rest of the world is nothing," I pronounce vigorously. "I've seen it, and you can spend your whole life looking—you can explore every fucking corner of this world for the rest of your life—or you can give me the chance to tell you a few more things that are just as true. For example, here's some more true things: you shouldn't own a dragon. You're too lenient. They need rules." She blinks. "Also," I exhale, "I can't prove it, I haven't seen it, and I can't say for sure, but—" I break off, forcing the words out. "I think you might belong with me," I confess. Bird blinks again. "It's just a theory," I mumble, wondering now if I've done something horrifyingly stupid.

7:38 p.m.: "Christ," my sister remarks unhelpfully.

7:39 p.m.: "Oh," says Bird. She reaches up, brushing her thumb across my temple. "Your wrackspurts are gone," she muses. I exhale shakily. "So," I attempt, "what do you think?" Bird tilts her head, but before she can speak a woman walks out of one of the bedrooms, dressed only in a t-shirt and her underwear. "Oh, oops," she says, exchanging a sheepish glance with my sister, and I frown, glancing at Amelia. "I thought you only had one roommate," I say, noting the particular state of undress of her guest. My sister's cheeks flame bright red. "Yeah, well, you fucked my best friend," she retorts.

7:43 p.m.: I don't bother to correct her, and in the midst of Amelia silently threatening me not to tell our mother, Bird pulls me past the half-scorched living room to her bedroom, shutting the door behind me. There's a lamp flickering in the corner, and I can just make out the painting of the night sky overhead. I can smell fresh paint; in the corner I see what looks like the newest edition: the constellation Draco, the dragon. I turn, glancing down at Bird, and she looks up at me. "I haven't been sleeping well since I left," she admits, and I lean down, bringing her lips to mine.

7:46 p.m.: She kisses me tentatively, and I wonder if she isn't more used to fleeing. I wonder, too, if she ran so that I wouldn't. I wonder what her secret neuroses are, what her little fractures will be, and determine that if this ends badly, then so be it. At least I won't have wasted any time. Bird pulls away, looking up at me, and fuck, those grey eyes might have haunted me for a lifetime if I'd let them. "I think we should test out your theory," she whispers. I kiss her again, and her hand drops to my zipper. I yank her shirt over her head, which is surprisingly only the third most impulsive thing I've done today.

7:52 p.m.: I stumble back onto her bed and she hurriedly climbs on top of me, shoving my trousers down. I'm not even undressed all the way, but she doesn't seem like she can wait, and neither can I. I may not last very long, but I can make up for it later. I plan to make up for it all night if I have to.

7:57 p.m.: The moment I slide inside her, everything around me fades away. I remember the way she said she liked my hands, and so I use them unrepentantly; I rest my fingers in the crevices of her ribs, I slide my palms against her waist, I brush my thumbs across her nipples. I curl my hands into the long strands of her hair, holding her with them, and she leans forward, giving me another tentative kiss. I cup her jaw, sliding my tongue against hers, and she shivers; I tell her with every way I know how that I'm not leaving this bed until she wants me to. I tell her, as firmly as I can manage, that I am here to stay.

8:05 p.m.: Sex is needy and frantic; it's entirely without restraint, all an arrhythmic series of onomatopoeic sensations: smack, pound, creak, moan, gasp. It's like the buzz of something between us; that same sense of fire I'm so uniquely accustomed to, of something lit ablaze. She whispers in my ear where to touch her and I do, I do, I do, everywhere and all at once, and the sound she makes when she comes is enough to satisfy me until it isn't, until it never will be, until I can't imagine not hearing the sound of her breath in my ear. Whatever this is, I hope it haunts me, I hope it hurts me, I hope it scars me, so that I remember what it took to bring me here. I hope it burns me like a dragon flame. I hope I live my life this way, ignited, and I hope that this—her and me and us, the way she fits around me, the way I wrap around her—is only just the start.

10:35 p.m.: We fuck with breaks; this is the sort of sex that requires a few intermissions, if only so we can breathe, and between the tasting of her on my lips and the grip of her fingers in my hair, I stop to look at her. "Why did you want to write about me?" I finally ask her, and she gives me one of her strangely alluring stares. "You may know creatures," she permits simply, "but I know stories. I know a good story when I see one."

10:45 p.m.: When I slide between her legs again, hitching them up around my hips, I tell her to write her story with mine, which is obviously corny and stupid, but she seems to appreciate the thought. I think to myself that corny and stupid will go a long way with her, and then, before long, I stop thinking altogether. This is sex in its purest form, and I don't intend to waste a moment.


DAY SEVEN:

6:40 a.m.: It's early when Bird turns to me in bed, settling her gaze on mine. "So," she says, "why'd you choose to come here?"

6:41 a.m.: I hold her closer. "I woke up, determined that this was the place in the world I most wanted to be, and deliberately carried on with that decision," I say. Funny how that seemed a strange way to live my life only a matter of days ago, but she nods as if it's reasonable. "I don't really know what to do now, to be honest," I tell her, as there are certainly no dragons to be studied here. Bird considers it. "Well, what did you like best about your job?" she asks me. Joan pops into my head; she and John will be heading to work around now, and I find the thought oddly comforting. I consider that Joan is going to start the day using the spells I taught her; she'll be caring for the creatures that I showed her how to live beside.

6:44 a.m.: "Teaching," I admit.

6:45 a.m.: "Well, they're looking for teachers at Hogwarts," Bird says. I'd never thought of teaching as an option, but the moment she says it, the idea settles comfortably in my brain; almost as if it had just been sitting there languidly, waiting to be brought out and presented to me for consideration. "That's an idea," I murmur, letting it take root.

7:34 a.m.: Later, I know, I'm going to have to do things like go see my brother Francis, call my brother John, owl my former professor. I'm going to have to find a place to live. I'm going to have to sort out the messy details of my life. I'm going to have to settle somewhere, and despite what I've so long thought of myself and the people around me, the prospect of that seems more singularly exciting than any place I've ever explored. For now, though, I watch Bird hitch her heels up, sliding her hand down her torso. "What are you doing?" I ask her, and she glances over at me. "Masturbating," she says, without any sort of hesitation. "Do you mind if I think about you?" she asks hopefully.

7:36 a.m.: "You realize we could just have sex," I remind her, a little insulted, and she looks bemused. "You seemed a bit physically exhausted," she says, as if she's genuinely concerned about my health, "and I didn't want to inconvenience you." Fuck, she's weird. She's so fucking weird, and I don't think anyone else will ever compare. I can't wait to fall in love with her, however long it takes; days, weeks, months. Hours, even, because I really don't think it will take long—but still, I hope I savor it. I think I'll have my greatest adventures while falling in love with her, and I hope to god it lasts.

7:41 a.m.: Instead of arguing, I simply reach a hand over, sliding it between her legs. In response, she lets out a blissful sigh, closing her eyes.

7:42 a.m.: I'm going to spend the rest of the morning exploring her, I decide. The rest of the world will have to wait.

Chapter Text

Episode XI: The Insincere Beauty Who's Never Been Good at Decisions

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a young heiress with too many love affairs is forced to confront her truths: 21, female, straight, married (and then some).


DAY ONE

7:30 a.m.: I'm staring. I know I'm staring. And it's odd, really, because I'm normally the sort of person other people stare at. Maybe it's not very humble to admit as much, but I don't see the point in pretending. The truth is, very simply, that I'm accustomed to feeling eyes on me. It's been this way since I was a pretty child, and then an attractive girl, and now a beautiful woman. I know my own beauty the same way I know I have one sister, and a Sacred Twenty-Eight fortune split between us both; it's a fact, as concrete as knowing that I detest small talk and bite my nails when no one's looking. I know that I'm beautiful. I know that people look at me and see something rare and valuable and lovely, so I have always let them look. They take nothing from me by looking. But now I am looking at his face, and I wonder now if this is how people feel when they look at me. I wonder if their chests tighten like this, or if the recognition of what I am floods them the same way my adoration of his face floods me; if they feel their hearts stop for having seen me, like I feel when I look at him. Foolishly, I feel like my blood could very well burst from my veins, or that the world could simply collapse to a halt, and I would keep on looking at his face.

7:31 a.m.: "Good morning," he says quietly, and today, everything about him is quiet; the lines of his face are elegant and smooth, and he's older than I am—over a decade, in fact—but the maturity in his expression is quiet, too. His hands quietly trace my cheek, my lips, my jaw. They slide down my neck and I catch his fingers just as they fall still between my breasts, settling over my pounding heart. I swallow, and I know he feels it. If he's noticed me staring, though, he doesn't say anything about it. He probably knows he is handsome just as unequivocally as I know that I'm beautiful. We're a strikingly attractive couple, and I would have known this even if he hadn't fucked me in front of the mirror last night (though yes, fine, I know it better now). I look at him and he looks at me, and I can feel that shiver of excitement that means he's going to touch me again; he's going to love me the way that he does, like a goddamn fever. Like a fucking curse—and I welcome it, opening my arms to him as he rolls my onto my back and kisses my neck.

7:35 a.m.: I love the way he holds me; close. Safe. A little possessively, like he might fight someone else who dared to try. We should be tired (so tired, actually, after hours and hours of this—of him, of me, of heat and sweat and out-of-breath, out-of-our-minds euphoria) but I want nothing more than to have him again. For a while it's just friction; it's his hips against mine, his stubble against my cheek just—just there, just near my lips, just just just tantalizingly out of reach when I tip my chin up for his kiss—with our hands traveling over each other like don't let go don't let go don't let go. It's the way my teeth scrape against his neck, or how he leaves red marks on my hips where his fingers have been. There's a place just in-between sharing space and having sex, and I want to make a home in it. I want to live here, in the place between affection and want. It feels dangerous here, like a precipice, and I love the threat of falling.

7:43 a.m.: Inevitably it turns to sex, once I'm begging for him and I know he's gritting his teeth, grinding his desperation down to a tiny hiss of satisfaction at the feel of me. Really, this feels like the least of it. Sex is the easiest thing in the world, isn't it? I remember my mother telling me to guard my virtue far more often than she ever warned me to guard my heart, and honestly, I think the opposite should have been true. If I ever have a pretty daughter, I'll tell her that her heart is the one thing that's just for her. She shouldn't give it away like I do, letting it slip between my lips in promises I can't afford to make. I hope she looks at me and sees me for the fool I am, though she probably won't. I am excellent at pretend.

7:50 a.m.: Sex, at least, is authentic. I am authentically driven to incoherence, letting him flip me onto my stomach and coax my hips up so that he can fuck me from behind, one hand firmly on my clit. I turn and watch his face while he does this and I know my gaze is serene, mentally tracing the scars on his cheeks; the little burdened crevices that I swear I can still feel under my fingers sometimes when I fall asleep at night. He is imperfect and beautiful. He's like those sunsets that are the wrong colors—the ones that are too red, or too purple, just that strange, hazy corruption of sky—that you can't help but look at, that you nudge the person next to you and say look at the sky, look at it! and then you both turn and stare. He's a technicolor sun. When I come, still looking at his face, it's nearly blinding.

8:17 a.m.: "I have to go home," I whisper to him when we're back in each other's arms, my fingers curled indolently into the spot where his pulse skips against mine. "I know," he says, and kisses my knuckles. "My brother needs to see me today," he adds, and I note that he seems somewhat anxious about it. I'd frown, but nobody wants to see me frowning. That's another thing my mother always told me: a smile is a valuable commodity. That, and a facade is always more desirable than the truth. "Will you miss me?" I whisper to him, running my hands along his torso so he'll remember this moment with the accent of my touch, and his blue eyes meet mine. "Ferociously," he says, flashing me a wolfish grin before he brings my lips to his.

8:37 a.m.: I make him coffee and eggs before I leave. This is habit, mostly. I have this reflex, this itch to please; also, I'm a very good cook, and I take quite a lot of validation from knowing I've done something right (as I assume most people do), so I always choose that over inaction. "Delicious," he declares, kissing me soundly, and then I turn to the Floo, taking a deep breath before I step through it.

8:41 a.m.: The man I just left is not my husband. I'll call him Paris, and he is married to a woman who is not me. My actual husband looks up as I enter, sparing me a thoughtful glance. "Good morning," he says, and he doesn't look upset; actually, he looks pleased to see me, and as strange as the circumstances may be, I'm rather pleased to see him. "I didn't expect you to stay the night with him," my husband says, and I sigh. "I didn't mean to," I admit, "but I was tired, and—" He casually holds up a hand. "You don't owe me an explanation," he says, though I don't know if I agree.

8:43 a.m.: I wander over, settling myself in my husband's lap, and he wraps his arms around my waist. He's reading the newspaper—an article about the Quidditch World Cup, which is apparently a thing that's happening again—but he easily shifts his attention to me, which is one of the reasons I might love him. It's easy for me to get his attention, which is nice. "Did you enjoy yourself?" he asks me. I'll call him Odysseus. "I did," I say, "but I can stop, if you want me to." He shakes his head. "Clearly we're never going to have something conventional," he tells me, "but if you're happy, I'm happy." I'd wonder if that's true, but I doubt he'd tell me either way. The truth doesn't exactly come naturally to him, which I find to be a perfectly reasonable weakness. Instead of pressing the issue, I take a sip of his coffee. "What do you think," Odysseus suggests slowly, "about having Ajax over again tomorrow night?"

8:50 a.m.: Ajax is… well, he's difficult to explain. I'll save it for a better time. "Yes," I say firmly, "I'd like that." Odysseus looks pleased. "Good," he says, and tilts his chin up. I kiss him. It feels comfortable, and I'm sitting in his lap, so we kiss for a bit. There's a little bit of tongue involved, a little extra motion from our hips, but we both know this isn't going anywhere. He swallows, pulling away slightly, and clears his throat. "Hungry?" I ask. The corners of his mouth tilt upwards. "Starving," he says.

10:15 a.m.: I take considerably more time with this one; largely because this is a meal for my husband, and also because I do feel a bit like I owe him. He says he's fine with me waltzing in this morning without warning, but I can't say that I would react the same way, personally. Actually, I know I would react terribly, so the meal I end up crafting is very much an apology. The truth is that I've been with Paris several times over the past week while his wife has been visiting her sister in Bordeaux (don't worry, she knows about me—I'm not a monster). I haven't stayed the night before, though, and admittedly, this comes at a very inopportune time, considering that Odysseus and I are still in a fairly early stage of making our tentative marital arrangements work. In sum, I do feel bad. Considerably bad. Bad enough, in fact, that I make a brunch spread fit for a king. "Fuck," announces Odysseus, impressed. He kisses my cheek, enthusiastically reaching for the Eggs Florentine with baby spinach and goat cheese, and I immediately feel better.

12:15 p.m.: I set a few expert cleaning spells to work in the kitchen and sit down, realizing now how tired I am. I reach up reflexively, checking for any evidence of swelling under my eyes; I must look terrible. Ajax is coming tomorrow. I should really apply some beauty charms before he gets here, or at least try to sleep.

1:20 p.m.: I doze off for a bit. I don't have much going on, as you might have guessed. I'm a wealthy pureblood heiress married to a wealthy pureblood heir, so we have plenty of money and no need to work. Paris, unlike us, works at Gringotts, doing something or other. I'm never quite sure. I think he's a curse breaker? Needless to say, he doesn't discuss his occupation much (unsurprising, given that we met as the result of being matched by Wandr at a swingers' party my best friend talked me into). Given my station, I've never really been with men who've had to work. Odysseus is part of a recreational quidditch league. Ajax is… I don't actually know what Ajax does, which probably means it's nothing. My first love doesn't do anything either. Well, I shouldn't say that. We were together at Hogwarts and then I was engaged to Odysseus, so I don't really know what he does now. We agreed not to speak after we were forced to break up; too painful. My chest hurts thinking of him and I shove it aside.

1:35 p.m.: I'll call my ex Achilles. But that's all I'm saying about him.

2:15 p.m.: Achilles is a pureblood also. His father was a war criminal, though, so he's the bad kind of pureblood, as my mother told me repeatedly when she warned me I couldn't have him. Ouch; that memory, like many of my memories of him, burns a little. I should think about what to make for dinner.

3:35 p.m.: Achilles loved me before I could cook. Before I could do much of anything. Before I was very good at sex, actually. Before—fuck. Fuck. Fuck,ouch. Lamb? No, Odysseus doesn't care much for lamb. Maybe a stew. No, if I make a stew, then it'll just—stew. I need to make something that requires constant vigilance. No, don't, that's something Achilles would joke about. Constant vigilance. Stop. Fuck, ouch. Béchamel? Yes, something with béchamel. Stirring. Frequent stirring. That's something I can do.

4:05 p.m.: I'm spiraling, clearly, so I toss some emerald powder in the Floo and call my best friend, whom I'll call Cassandra. "Hi," she says, seeing directly through my smile and leaping gracefully to concern. "Everything okay?"

4:10 p.m.: "Spiraling," I say. "Ah," she agrees, "been there myself lately." "What, the depraved spiral?" I ask. "No, the lonely one," she says. "Loneliness isn't exactly my problem at the moment," I exhale at a grumble, before admitting that I spent the night with Paris. Cassandra's lips purse slightly; disapproval comes naturally to her. She doesn't know who Paris is, only that he's a married man and I'm sleeping with him. Personally, I think it's better that she doesn't know the details, especially since she's quietly in love with Paris' youngest brother and still refusing to admit it. "So, why the spiral?" Cassandra asks, thoughtfully chewing on a macaron, and I shrug. "I miss him," I say, and she knows I mean Achilles. "Maybe you don't actually miss him," she suggests, kindly not reminding me that I was the one who chose my parents' wishes over him, "and you just miss what you had with him." I think about it. "Does that actually help?" I ask, and she shrugs. "It's shitty," she says, and I know what she means: nothing will help, but she's trying. "I love you," I sigh, and she nods. "I love you," she replies. We both end the call, agreeing to see each other later this week.

6:30 p.m.: "Wow," Odysseus exhales, looking at the dinner plate I've levitated over to him. "You outdid yourself," he says, and looks up at me. He's not unattractive; actually, I think if he weren't mostly interested in men we'd have a fully healthy sex life. He's dark-haired and tall and there's always been a shadow of something sort of coiled and ruthless to him pitched just under his cheekbones, but I like it. It gives me something interesting to look at, which is nice. I press a kiss to his angry jaw, which always softens for me. "It was nothing," I say, with the added flourish of a practiced smile.

8:30 p.m.: Would I prefer to be ending the night with Paris? Hard to say. Space and time feel very different with him. When he's with me, he's all I think about—but now, lying in bed next to Odysseus, I'm not unhappy. I suppose it helps knowing that I can never have Paris. It can never be real, so why should I lend any thoughts to it? Instead I curl up in Odysseus' arms, meditating on the sound of his breathing. He seems sad lately, though I don't really know how to put a finger on why.

9:05 p.m.: He kisses the top of my head and flicks his wand, turning off the lights. "I love you," he says quietly, and I think it's mostly something he wants to make a habit; sort of like he's going to keep saying it until he believes it. Still, I don't mind. It's a much kinder offering than it sounds, and I think I know what it costs him. "I love you too," I say.

9:35 p.m.: I don't fall asleep right away. Something's bothering Paris, something's bothering Odysseus, and I think something's bothering me. Maybe Cassandra's right about me missing what I had with Achilles more than the man himself. He and I used to talk until we dozed off, usually about nothing. I had no secrets from Achilles, and I technically have no secrets now, either, but it doesn't feel as open as it was with him. It still feels like I'm trying to make something work instead of it just …working.


DAY TWO

6:04 a.m.: Odysseus wakes me briefly when he slips out of bed, searching in the dark for his trainers. "Sorry," he whispers to me, brushing his lips against my forehead. "Just going for—" "A run, I know," I tell him sleepily, absently patting his back. He's been at this for weeks now, though I'm not sure what got into him to begin with. "Go," I yawn, immediately falling back asleep.

6:45 a.m.: I'm not a total waste of space, okay? When I wake up again, I tidy up our bedroom and head downstairs to have breakfast ready for Odysseus when he returns. I prefer cooking to baking, but the croissants aren't bad. I sample one and leave the rest for him.

7:15 a.m.: Odysseus left the Daily Prophet out on the quidditch page, which doesn't interest me. I glance listlessly over it and then decide to entertain myself by owling Paris, who's probably getting ready for work around now. 'Good morning,' I say.

7:35 a.m.: 'Good morning, beautiful,' he replies, asking me if I have plans for the day. I don't really want to tell him about Ajax, so I skirt the question and reply with an innocent claim to nothing. 'And you?' I write.

7:42 a.m.: 'I have some things to take care of with my brother—the dragonologist in Romania,' he says—which is a highly necessary clarification, seeing as he has more brothers than anyone I've ever met—'so I'll be busy for a couple of days.' I'm disappointed to hear it, but he must have known I would be, seeing how he reassures me quickly. 'As soon as this is over I want to see you,' he promises, and asks, 'Friday?' I send him back a note agreeing without hesitation just as Odysseus comes in the door.

7:50 a.m.: "Oh, for fuck's sake," he says with what I think is affection, picking up a croissant and tearing it in two. "Jesus Christ," he declares approvingly, and kisses me brusquely on the mouth before putting one half in his mouth. He smells like sweat and grass and manly things, and I think I'd fuck him right now if I didn't know perfectly well it wouldn't work. He'd rather have my croissant in his mouth than my pussy, and that's fine. It's fine. Everything's fine here—or at least it will be, once Ajax gets here.

12:34 p.m.: Is it strange to spend all day cleaning the house in advance of a threesome? Granted, I was brought up to revel in my own theatricalities—nothing is perfect, my mother always said, but any witch worth her wand can create the illusion of perfection with ease—but even to me, this feels foolish. A bit like I'm trying to distract myself, and maybe I am. Before Paris was in my life, I was focused on Odysseus. I hadn't known his sexual preferences then, and the entire fixation of my day-to-day life was how to land my own husband in bed, which was not something I'd ever struggled with before. Now, of course, I still have Odysseus to think about, but not so much to worry over. I'm a worrier by nature, though. I like to worry. I think all pretty girls are worriers in some way or another, actually. We know better than to trust something that only looks unblemished. So now, of course, I worry about Paris; I worry about what happens if the things I feel for him are feelings. You know, above the waist feelings. In my heart, or something. That, and I worry about whether Ajax will like the sheets I picked out for him.

2:45 p.m.: The house is clean and the food is marinating, so I stop by Odysseus' amateur league game. I think he likes it when I'm here, whether he admits it or not. I can see Ajax playing keeper, though we don't make eye contact. I think we like it better that way; the thrill of having the secret.

3:15 p.m.: Odysseus scores handily and across the pitch, Ajax whoops. I clap politely, catching the look of inextricable focus on my husband's face. I can tell that this is where he's most at home, which I suppose explains why he's always up-to-date on the World Cup. Odysseus is fierce and determined, and he shouts something at Ajax, telling him to pay attention. It's amazing that either of them is involved in any way with the other, seeing as Odysseus has his serious face on while Ajax is carelessly showboating in front of the rings. It's a bit like watching Hades admonish Zeus.

3:20 p.m.: Ajax wipes some sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his shirt, briefly flashing the toned expanse of his torso. Similarly, Odysseus launches the quaffle across the field, showcasing the muscle in his arm. They both look at me, and I bite back a smile. I have no idea who's winning this game, but I suspect it might be me.

5:29 p.m.: By the time I get home to finish getting dinner on the table, I've managed to shove Paris into one of the vacant corners of my mind. Yes, I miss him, I know that much is true; and yes, sometimes I wonder if I would choose to spend the night with him if I could, but it doesn't seem worth thinking about. I can't, obviously—he's busy, I'm busy, and anyway, it's impossible—and what does it matter? Tonight is for Ajax and Odysseus, so I nudge any spare thoughts of Paris aside.

6:27 p.m.: "Ready?" Odysseus asks me when he comes down the stairs, freshly showered. He's tense in his particularly focused way, the same way he looks before a quidditch game. He smells like cedar and laundry, fresh and clean. "Of course," I reply, letting him kiss my cheek as we both glance expectantly at the Floo.

6:29 p.m.: As the subject of our entertainment walks in through the fireplace, I think once again that there's something very princely about Ajax. I'd say kingly, but it's much too smug for that—too youthful, even if he's only a year older than me. Ajax is a spoiled, golden prince with a bold little smirk of a smile, and though I would hardly have chosen him for myself, I'm upsettingly weak-kneed at the sight of him. Even Odysseus is having trouble pretending not to care, which is something he normally excels at doing when it comes to other people.

6:30 p.m.: "Hi," Ajax says, and catches me around the waist, bending to brush his lips against mine before sending me staggering backwards into Odysseus' chest. "Hi," I reply, and Odysseus' fingers close around my shoulders. "Dinner?" Odysseus asks neutrally, and Ajax gives us both his royal smirk. "No," he replies, his hands dropping to the buttons of his shirt, stripping it from his broad shoulders and then letting it fall to the ground. "Shall we?" Ajax asks, holding his hand out for mine. What a fucking tyrant. "Get on your knees," I say, and I can tell without looking that Odysseus is pleased. I'm not normally that type of girl, but my proclivity for pretend is endless. "Perfect answer," Odysseus whispers in my ear, and Ajax gives me another satisfied smirk, lowering himself in front of me.

6:35 p.m.: Ajax is Odysseus' boyfriend. Well, he's our boyfriend, which continues to be an insane thing to say. It sounds better when Cassandra says it, mostly because she has no shame and a lot of curiosity. I'm curious too, but I'm far more fussed about appearances. From his knees, Ajax trails my skirt up, drawing his hand up the back of my calf and then up to my thigh, where he turns his head to slide his lips against the curve of it. He leans back, looking up at me. "Take her dress off," Ajax says to Odysseus. "Fuck off," Odysseus says lazily, but I feel the zipper come loose behind me. In the same motion that my dress falls to the floor, Ajax is on his feet, his lips on mine. If I could speak, I'd tell him I didn't say he could stand, but he's an outrageously talented kisser. He slides his tongue against mine just as I register my knickers being slid down my legs by my husband. "Miss me?" Ajax breathes into my mouth. I inhale sharply, feeling Odysseus' tongue on my cunt from behind. "Yes," I admit, swallowing hard.

6:41 p.m.: While Ajax kisses me, urgent and frantic, Odysseus widens my legs, fucking me with his tongue. My legs start to shake sooner than I would like, especially when Ajax slides his hands under my bra and drags his thumb over my nipples, prompting me to shudder. Odysseus seems to feel it; between the three of us, our rhythm is getting better. Odysseus gets up from his knees, wrapping his hand loosely around my throat, and turns my head towards his, taking Ajax's place and growling a little between my lips. I realize that the growl is because Ajax has reached over, sliding his hand into Odysseus' trousers. Odysseus groans his approval into my mouth, and this is positively sinful. I delight internally in my den of vice.

6:48 p.m.: I take a step back, removing my bra and leaving my stiletto heels, and in my absence Ajax tears Odysseus' shirt off as Odysseus tugs gracelessly at Ajax's trousers. When Odysseus kisses Ajax, I can see how much they've wanted it; it must have been torture, I realize, being on the pitch together and knowing this had to wait until tonight. For a moment, I'm so dazed I just stop, watching each of their hands travelling the paths of the other's muscle.

6:52 p.m.: It's beautiful to watch them together; I'm entranced. I see something real when Odysseus touches Ajax, and when Ajax leans in for his touch. Do they see anything when one or the other is touching me? After all, I've been in love before, and in my experience, love looks like two people. Two people, in fact, who touch each other like this. For a moment my chest tightens—I think of Achilles first, and then of Paris—but Ajax and Odysseus turn expectantly towards me, holding their hands out. I take both proffered hands, and Odysseus apparates us into our bedroom.

6:55 p.m.: It's different now, faster, and the whole rhythm of everything changes. I push Odysseus back onto the bed, climbing up after him, and gladly kiss my way down his torso, dragging my nails across his chest. His cock is hard, obviously, which I register with a momentary flinch is something I can't accomplish on my own, but I shove the thought aside to take him in my mouth, satisfied by his full-bodied shudder. Behind me, Ajax lines his hips up with mine, his fingers sliding forward to cup my cunt with one hand. I grind against him a little, still careful to focus on the shape of Odysseus' cock against my tongue, and then Ajax slides into me with a groan. He feels incredible, like he always does. I groan then, too, and Odysseus hisses a little from the vibration from my throat. I look up at him. He looks down at me, and then up at Ajax, who has his teeth on my neck. Odysseus shudders. I lean back, knowing he'll come soon if I don't stop, and Ajax takes hold of my leg, sitting me back further on his lap. Odysseus adjusts to lean down, sliding his tongue against my clit, and fuck, this is bliss. At this point, it's positively astounding to me that sex with one man ever feels worth doing.

7:15 p.m.: I come, hard, and Ajax releases me, laying me back almost gently against the bed. He permits Odysseus to take hold of his jaw, dragging him forward for a kiss, and again, I stop to watch them. They're attractive, youthful. They're both older than me, true, but they're athletic and lined with bruises and scars, and it's strangely erotic just to look at them. I can see the pebbled gooseflesh on Ajax's arms while Odysseus kisses him. I wonder whether the sex is better for them with me here. I worry, because of course I do. I'm a worrier, and this is just one of many helpless worries, though I'm relieved when Ajax turns to me. God, he's handsome. He's so handsome and smug and I ache for him, and for the way Odysseus' fingers dig into his hips. It's all indistinguishable wanting at this point, and I hear the desperation in my own voice when Ajax slides into me again, spreading my legs wide.

7:34 p.m.: Odysseus mumbles a spell and then I watch Ajax's eyes fall shut and his mouth drop open as Odysseus slides into him. The rhythm shifts again; it's slower now, but each motion is perfect. The sweat under my palms as it drips down Ajax's sculpted chest is perfect. The tightness in Ajax's jaw, the way Odysseus' tongue slides up the side of Ajax's neck, the pounding of my heart as I watch my husband convulse with pleasure—perfect. I come just as Ajax does, the sound of his choked-out sputter slipping between gritted teeth, and the last sound before we collapse together is a quiet sigh that leaves my lips: yes, I say, and I think all three of us feel it.

8:03 p.m.: For several minutes, none of us move. I buck my hips against my husband's, waking him from a half-sleeping trance. "Dinner," I remind him firmly, and Ajax, spoiled prince that he is, leaps to his feet. "I'm STARVING," he announces, not bothering to cover himself as he bounds down the stairs.

8:05 p.m.: Instead of getting up right away, though, Odysseus strokes my arm, clearly thinking about something. "What is it?" I ask, tilting my chin up to look at him, and he kisses me softly. "I like this," he says. I notice he doesn't say I love this or I need this, but still, it seems like something of fairly considerable magnitude. Like he just wants me to know that he's happy. "Me too," I say, because I am. He nods, kisses me again, and then looks around the room. "Where the buggering fuck are my boxers?" he demands, and I giggle.

8:15 p.m.: Ajax is standing in the kitchen, eating my bucatini all'Amatriciana right out of the serving dish. I sigh and he turns, catching my eye. "Wine?" he asks. I point to the bottle behind him. "I fucking adore you," he says firmly, reaching forward to smack a kiss against my cheek.

9:24 p.m.: Conversation is easy enough. Odysseus is actually pretty funny, especially when he's with Ajax, who seems to inflame all of his sensibilities. For a man who's just had a threesome, Odysseus is hilariously conservative, and Ajax delights in pushing his buttons. I laugh into my pasta, but pretty soon we're each three glasses in and Ajax's lips are on mine again. Odysseus tugs at my robe, which pools at my feet. By the time Ajax is licking my pussy on the kitchen floor, I'm full and half-drunk and too delirious to move.

9:31 p.m.: "I want to watch you two," I say, propping myself upright after I've come with a strangled yelp from Ajax's fingers diving expertly into me. Odysseus frowns, hesitating, but Ajax shrugs. "Okay," he says, and drags Odysseus down to the floor.

9:38 p.m.: It's so manly when they kiss. It's all stubble and cheekbones and chiseled jaws, and it's rough and firm and inescapable. Odysseus rolls Ajax onto his back, apparently not taking much care to prevent Ajax from bruising his shoulder, and then he curls his fingers around Ajax's shaft, looking up at me. I lock eyes with him, curious, and reach up for the wine bottle on the counter; this is a show, and I plan to enjoy it. I take a sip straight from the bottle, waiting, and Odysseus' smile quirks ever so slightly as Ajax lets out a groan.

9:47 p.m.: I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. I don't know, maybe I was waiting for something truly pornographic, but it isn't. Not really. It's Odysseus' hands tightening in Ajax's hair as they rut against each other, and maybe it doesn't sound appealing in those words, but it's fascinating. They're desperate for each other. They're touching in every place that they can, drawing friction from every inch of skin that touches, and I'm sitting here in total awe, quietly sipping my wine until I find the bottle empty. Odysseus locks eyes with me and I know he's going to come soon; similarly, I'm so wet it's disconcerting. I squirm a little, not sure what to do about it, and then decide to settle my own hand between my legs. I'm not generally a fan of masturbating, but at this point, I don't really see how I'm going to get around it. I come in the same moment Odysseus does, and Ajax shortly after.

10:27 p.m.: By the time we fall into bed together, we're exhausted and the house is a mess. I don't have to talk Ajax into staying over; I think he likes sleeping with us as much as he likes fucking us. "We need a bigger bed," Odysseus grumbles, glaring at Ajax, who has definitely stolen most of the space. He's sprawled out with me in his arms, one leg slipped carelessly between mine, and he uses it to kick Odysseus. "Come closer," Ajax mutters, and Odysseus sighs, kissing my shoulder and curling himself around me to let his arm drape across us both.

10:45 p.m.: "You two are a handful," Odysseus says fondly, as he often does, and I think again about what he said earlier: I like this. It's hard to believe that two nights ago I was with Paris. It's hard to believe that this is where I am now. I feel like I'm being torn in two by things I want: by the kind of love I could have with Paris—the fairytale kind that I thought was true before—and… I don't know. Whatever this is.

10:54 p.m.: If Paris is a technicolor sunset, then Odysseus and Ajax are ocean waves. Steady and unerring, and if I close my eyes, I can almost make it to the horizon before the promise of it recedes.


DAY THREE

6:30 a.m.: I shiver as the blankets shift, registering Odysseus getting out of bed behind me. He brushes his lips against my cheek. "I'll make breakfast," he says quietly, "so stay in bed." I open my mouth to protest, but Odysseus shushes me softly. "Careful," he warns with a muted laugh, gesturing to where Ajax is stirring. "What's going on?" Ajax asks sleepily. "We're sleeping," I say. "Oh, good," he replies, and I let him gather me in his arms again as Odysseus slips out behind us.

8:45 a.m.: Astonishingly, by the time I wake up again, I can smell food from downstairs. I perform my usual morning stretch, turning my head to find Ajax watching me. "You're beautiful," he says, as if he's commenting on the weather. I'm fairly used to it, so I accept the compliment with a shrug. "Are you always this beautiful?" Ajax presses. "Sometimes even more so," I joke, and then he permits a laugh, smacking a kiss against my shoulder before bounding out of bed.

9:04 a.m.: Odysseus isn't a great cook, but he made us eggs and toast. I have at least introduced him to the bountiful offerings of scallions and feta cheese, so it's not totally without some flourish. "Breakfast?" Odysseus offers hopefully. I kiss his cheek. "Looks perfect," I say. Ajax merely piles some eggs on toast without preamble and takes an extraordinarily large bite, sitting down at the table without a plate and making a sound that I think indicates satisfaction.

9:35 a.m.: "Well, I have to go," Ajax says, searching around for his shirt and then triumphantly swooping it up from behind the sofa. "But we'll do this again soon, right?" he asks, kissing my cheek and looking questioningly at Odysseus. "Why are you asking me?" Odysseus demands gruffly. "Because you're the boss of us," I tell him, privately delighting in his exhausted sigh.

9:37 a.m.: "Monday?" Odysseus suggests. "That's—" Ajax frowns, clearly counting in his head, "four days from now." "Yes, very good, excellent observation," Odysseus congratulates him stiffly. I frown too, sensing something like evasion in his voice, but Ajax isn't one to dwell on it for long. "Well, fine," he says, glancing down at the Daily Prophet that's been left out on the table. "Oh, hey," Ajax muses thoughtfully, "that guy from the Gryffindor team who's playing for Scotland—wasn't he at one of our games a few weeks ago? Weird. Okay, anyway," he says, waving to me before picking up a handful of Floo powder. "All hail Monday," Ajax declares, and then he disappears, leaving me to catch a look of dismay on Odysseus' face.

9:45 a.m.: "What?" I ask him, but he shakes it off. "Nothing," he assures me. "Still planning to see Cassandra today?" he asks, obviously changing the subject, but I nod, letting it go. We usually have lunch in Diagon about once a week, and today I promised her I'd discuss an article she's writing for the magazine she's starting called The Human Interest. "This afternoon," I say. "Oh good," Odysseus says absently, wandering back into the kitchen.

12:30 p.m.: I spend the rest of the morning cleaning up the house and getting ready before meeting Cassandra outside of Twilfitt and Tattings. She looks a little anxious, which is unusual. She's a decently anxious person, but she normally does a better job of hiding it. I've always envied the excellence of her cool facade, which looks to have some cracks in it now. "Want to go shopping?" I ask, as that usually works, but Cassandra shakes her head. "I think I'm going to have to be more careful about money," she says, but before I can ask more questions, she drags me to the Leaky.

12:45 p.m.: "I want you to write something for The Interest," Cassandra says, and I stare at her, picking at my salad. "You have a great voice!" she urges me, referencing this little joke of a column I had in a short-lived Hogwarts newsletter (it never saw the light of day outside of our dorm, given that it was run by a certain unloved house of serpents and contained perhaps more gossip than truth), but I shake my head. "Isn't this magazine supposed to be for serious things?" I ask, and add that I clearly have nothing serious to say. "Well, not everything can be serious," she tells me, "and anyway, don't you think you have something worth saying?"

12:52 p.m.: I change the subject, asking about Paris' brother, but Cassandra instantly shuts down, becoming her most closed-off self. "He's dating someone else," she says in a low voice, not looking at me. "Well, does he know how you feel?" I press, but I know the difference between something that's funny and something that's terrible, and I can see this is well into the realm of awful. "I like her," Cassandra says, and I realize it must be someone at this magazine she's working on. "Oh, no," I say, reaching out for her, but she shrugs out of my reach. "It's fine," she says, her voice clipped and disinterested. "What about the money, then?" I ask. Cassandra's being audited for the crimes of her parents—which doesn't seem fair, really, since her father has some kind of degenerative brain disease that magic can't fix and her mother's long since disappeared. "I don't want to talk about it," she says, unsurprisingly.

1:21 p.m.: I wish, at times like these, that it was possible to physically lift someone else's burden from their shoulders. The sadness drapes over her, prompting a bend to her spine that isn't usually there, and I want so badly to help, but I know I can't. I know she won't let me in any further than I've already gone today. I sigh, shifting to sit next to her in the booth, and she permits me to wrap my arms around her for approximately five seconds before shoving me away.

2:03 p.m.: "Think about it," Cassandra says, after we talk about old friends and boyfriends (hers is apparently quietly dating one of our former enemies, though Cassandra seemed oddly guilty about bringing him up). She doesn't say much about Achilles; I know she sees him from time to time, but I'm grateful she doesn't tell me anything. I don't think I'm ready to consider a world where he's real and existing and probably fine without me. "Think about what?" I ask, and she rolls her eyes. "The article," she says, "or editorial. Or column. Whatever you want." "I have nothing worth saying," I remind her. "Oh, shove it," she says, "just get it to me by Sunday, if you do."

2:40 p.m.: "Let me know how it goes with Paris tomorrow," she tells me when she hugs me, though she doesn't look at all optimistic. "Be careful," she warns me, and I sigh. "Nothing can come of it," I remind her, "so there's nothing to worry about." She clearly disagrees. "Just be careful," she says again, and it seems so strange that she's taking care of me when she's the one whose life is mildly crumbling. Well, I shouldn't say that; it's not strange, actually. It's just very Cassandra. She's one of those people who loves so fully that once she lets you into her carefully guarded heart, you know you're taken care of.

2:42 p.m.: "I'm proud of you," I tell her, because I think that's what she needs to hear, and also because I am. She could have let a man save her, or distract her—this is, after all, probably the only time I can remember that she's been truly, genuinely single—but she didn't. She'll get through this. "Get me that article," she says primly, and we part ways.

9:30 p.m.: The rest of the day is uneventful. I make dinner, Odysseus and I eat, we end up curled on the sofa. It's kind of nice that it's the two of us, though it's quiet without Ajax.


DAY FOUR

7:15 a.m.: I get an owl from Paris while Odysseus is still out running. 'I have to see you today,' he says, and I feel a little thrill up my spine. 'When?' I ask.

7:31 a.m.: 'As soon as you can,' he says, which is odd, and only becomes more odd the more I think about it. He tells me he took the day off, which is unusual. He sounds distressed, so when Odysseus returns home, I incoherently blurt out my plans as I hand him a plate of crepes. "What?" he asks, frowning, and I clear my throat, trying again. "I need to see Paris today," I say, and I tell him something's wrong. "Oh," is all Odysseus says. I check for signs of anger, but he doesn't look upset. He looks sort of—thoughtful, actually. Like he's turning it over in his mind. "Okay," he says, and I excuse myself, heading up to our bedroom to get ready.

7:59 a.m.: Just before I leave, Odysseus looks like he wants to say something, but then he shakes his head. "See you tonight?" he asks, and suddenly I feel as if we're roommates, and not at all as if he and I made a vow to love each other until we both died. "Yes," I say firmly, and step through the Floo to find Paris waiting for me on his sofa.

8:00 a.m.: Paris is dressed but his clothes are wrinkled, as if he's been wearing them since the night before. I open my mouth to say something coy but stop short, catching his weary gaze and knowing with certainty something is wrong. "What is it?" I say, but he says nothing. He rises to his feet and takes my face in his hands, stroking my cheekbones reverently with his thumbs. "I missed you," he says hoarsely, and I don't know why, but the impact of it resonates in my chest. It's that time and space thing; I fall into his arms and immediately dive out of reality. "I missed you too," I say, and he kisses me, pulling me into the bedroom.

8:05 a.m.: Yes, fine, it occurs to me that I should ask questions (he'd said his brother was here, so it's not like I don't have a guess that something relevant to his family could be bothering him) but he is thoroughly distracting. Even with exhaustion and a little hint of misery he is so, so handsome, his features made even finer by distress, and I let him kiss me into silence as he tears at the fabric of my dress. He turns me sharply, yanking the zipper down, and kisses his way down my spine, ending with himself on his knees and his arms around my thighs as the dress falls to the floor.

8:10 a.m.: I step gently out of the circle of his arms, lowering myself slowly to face him, and he can't look at me. "What is it?" I say, as gently as I possibly can. Gentleness comes easily to me; I know when I'm expected to be soft. He looks up slowly, his blue eyes meeting mine, and he looks pained beyond belief. "What if," he says slowly, "I don't want you to go?"

8:12 a.m.: I don't understand, and I tell him so. "Stay with me," he says urgently, taking my hands in his. "This," he says, "whatever this is between us, it's real. Stay with me." I stare at him. "I'm married," I say, and then, upsettingly slowly, I add, "and you're married." He swallows hard, his eyes falling shut for a moment. "I can't be in my marriage anymore," he says, and shit. Shit. Shit.

8:15 a.m.: I don't know what to say, so I hold him close. I can't imagine what he's going through. I know he was very much in love with his wife at one point; his marriage wasn't ever like mine. I think that at one point I selfishly wanted to believe he loved me more—his wife is very, very beautiful, but she has a coldness to her that makes it look, in my opinion, as though she might be difficult to love—but now those thoughts feel like curses. Do I want him for myself? Yes. No. I don't know. I didn't want to be in this position; I only permitted it to get this far because I didn't think we ever would be. I thought what we were doing was safe, but now—

8:20 a.m.: "You're so beautiful," Paris whispers, tucking a loose curl behind my ear, and god, the way he looks at me. Achilles used to look at me like that; like he would never get tired of looking. I melt a little, and then Paris' lips are on mine again. It's one of those hungry, pressed-together kisses, where he's clinging to me and I'm clinging to him and yes, it's going to be sex, but before we get to that we have this. That place of sharing space and breaths and thoughts and feelings. It's me in his arms and him in mine, and isn't this what love is? Isn't this what love looks like—two people who can't bear to separate themselves, one from the other? Isn't this what soulmates are—two halves of a whole?

8:25 a.m.: He carries me to his bed and I fumble with the button of his trousers, pulling the band of them over the curve of his backside and then kicking them down to his ankles. He tears his shirt from his shoulders, parting from me only to let it fall to the floor, and then his lips are on my breasts, his tongue tracing the lace of my bra. I bought this bra months ago, when I was trying to get Odysseus to see me, to adore me, to want me. I tried every form of ornamentation, but I can see with Paris I don't need it. He is enraptured, and so am I.

8:36 a.m.: I reconcile my previous wonderings with the knowledge that sex like this is very much enough. The moment I feel Paris slide inside me, I can think of nothing else but him. He's different this morning; no surprise there. He holds me close while he fucks me, and it seems like he's taking something from me. Maybe I take something from him, too, but it's hard to care either way when he's sweeping my hair from my forehead and staring down at me, like he can't believe what he's holding in his hands. He slides one hand under me and lifts my hips, gifting me the perfect angle of friction, but I barely care whether I come or not. I'm going to, definitely, but there's something else here: intimacy, I think. It's just Paris and me together, and it's hard not to be a little moved by how significant that feels.

8:54 a.m.: "Stay with me," he whispers, holding me with his lips pressed to my ear. I shiver, suffering some nameless blow, and I don't know what's tormenting me more: the fact that most of me wants to do just that, or that a voice in my head is presently screaming my husband's name. "For how long?" I ask quietly. "I have to be home later this evening," I add, and Paris turns me around to face him. "I don't just mean today," he says, his gaze lingering on my face. I can feel it as though he's touched me. "Then what do you mean?" I ask, aware I'm holding my breath.

9:14 a.m.: He tells me it's over between him and his wife, and I suppose I should have known sooner that their marriage wasn't on solid footing. Odysseus told me that he suspected Paris' wife of infidelities—an interesting claim, really, considering the four of us are in open marriages, which presumably makes the 'adultery' line a little thin. It occurs to me that Paris looks more than sad; he looks a bit betrayed. A bit injured, actually, and there is a not-insignificant part of me that wants to soothe him as I run my fingers over the angles of his cheeks.

9:23 a.m.: I wonder, then, if I had been the one Paris had fallen in love with six years ago (I was too young then, of course, and fully in love with Achilles at the time, but for the sake of general musing) if he and I would have the sort of marriage I dreamed about as a girl. Not this open polyamorous mess I have now—a soulmate. Could Paris be my soulmate? And if he is, does that make this—everything we've done, wrong or right—somehow … okay? Did we need to go through this in order to find each other? Is that how fate works? It's hard to tell. It's impossible to tell, in fact, and I can't keep my thoughts from racing. I try to drag them to a halt but fail, only shuddering instead.

9:33 a.m.: "Don't you feel it?" Paris asks, his hand steady over my heart. "This," he says, and brushes my knuckles against his lips. "This means something," he says, and then, "this is no accident." I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Doesn't it mean something? Shouldn't it mean something? He wasn't an option before. I wasn't allowed to have feelings before. But now…

9:34 a.m.: "I want something real," Paris says. "No other people; just you and me," he promises, and isn't that just the most inconveniently perfect thing to say? Isn't that the terrible, horrible ideal?

9:57 a.m.: "I need to think about it," I say, because if Paris is available to me, then that inevitably changes things with Odysseus. Odysseus would still have Ajax, of course; he wouldn't be alone. Yes, it would be messy, and yes, our families would have problems with it, but aren't there more important things? I certainly didn't think so a year ago—after all, I chose my betrothal to Odysseus over my love for Achilles—but everything only seems to have gone wrong since then. Is this what was always supposed to happen?

9:58 a.m.: My mind wanders further, and I think about the way Odysseus says he loves me. I think that he does, in some unconventional way. In the same way I love him, at least. I recall, too, that Paris hasn't technically said so yet. The only person who ever said he loved me and meant it the way that I thought it should be meant was Achilles, but he's long gone from me now. It broke my heart to lose him. Am I ready to break my own heart again, or anyone else's?

9:59 a.m.: "Think about it," Paris assures me, and kisses me again. This kiss is less needy. This kiss, though, is definitely leading somewhere. He takes my hand, pulling me towards the bathroom. "Shower?" he asks, and I agree. "Take my mind off all of this," I ask softly, and his lips curl into his handsome, wolfish smile. "I can do that," he promises me.

10:15 a.m.: He sits me on the lip of the copper tub in his bathroom, kissing the arch of my foot before lowering it into the perfectly charmed water. He parts my legs and slides his tongue against my clit, looking up to watch my head fall back against the wall behind me. There are rose petals in the tub, and he's brought up two glasses of champagne, and this is romance, isn't it? Isn't this what romance looks like? My mind leaps briefly to the image of Odysseus and Ajax holding each other on the kitchen floor. That's romance too, isn't it? And this is romance. It's all the same, and yet it's so terribly, terribly different.

11:30 a.m.: Eventually we doze off together, and I can't help picturing a life with Paris. I've always imagined a family—a husband, a wife, and children—and I don't (can't) work out logistically how that would happen with Odysseus. I can barely explain Ajax to myself; how would I explain it to a child? To my friends? To the rest of my family? Suddenly, with as difficult as it would be to leave Odysseus, it seems so much easier to choose the life I'd have here, wrapped in Paris' willing arms.

3:45 p.m.: "Are you okay?" Odysseus asks when I return home. I don't speak right away (how can I? I haven't the slightest idea what I'd say) and he reaches out a hand for mine, squeezing the tips of my fingers once, delicately. Alarmingly, I find it even more impossible to speak. "What is it?" he asks, and I shake my momentary paralysis to settle fluently into a lovely, delicate lie. "I don't know what to make for dinner," I remark. He gives me a grim smile—as if he doesn't really believe me—but I know him well enough to know he won't push it. "Toast," he suggests.

6:35 p.m.: I don't make toast. I make a venison stew with dumplings I painstakingly craft into perfectly equal quantities, throwing out any with flaws. I pour my husband a glass of my family's whisky and settle across from him as if I didn't spend the last hour crying intermittently into my perfectly savory broth. What if I lose Paris? What if this is my only chance and I throw it away? Or what if I choose him, and thereby waste the effort I've made for the last year of my life? What if I should have been with Achilles all along, and now I don't deserve to be happy? Each terrible hypothetical buries itself in my bones and then breaks off in slivers, slicing perilously through my veins.

6:45 p.m.: "Everything okay?" Odysseus asks again, covering my fingers with his. A habit of his. "Of course," I assure him, lying the way that pretty girls lie. Beautifully, and through my perfect teeth—playing pretend in order to please, which is an incurable habit of mine.

9:30 p.m.: The evening is nothing out of the ordinary. "Are you going to write the article Cassandra asked for?" Odysseus asks, and I shrug. "I just don't think I have anything worth saying," I tell him. He tells me he disagrees, but I remind him that's a matter of opinion.


DAY FIVE

8:15 a.m.: I don't even wake up when Odysseus leaves for his morning workout, and when I glance at the clock, I realize I probably won't be out of bed in time to make anything. I feel groggy and bleary and vaguely swollen. I'm also starving. Is there such thing as a breakfast cake? If there isn't, I'm about to invent it.

9:30 a.m.: "Is that a cake?" Odysseus asks me. I shrug. He seems to notice I am out of sorts (the ganache might have clued him in; it's not particularly artful) and comes over to take me in his arms. I get the sense, as I often do, that he likes to solve things with touch; he has fairly physical tendencies, whether he's playing quidditch or trying to soothe his bewildering wife. I'm not sure I communicate back to him what he tries to say to me—maybe if I did, we wouldn't have the problem of needing a third party—but I try. For him, for us, I try.

9:35 a.m.: "I have to see my mother today," Odysseus tells me. Like all pureblood families, we check in with our parents for terrible visits that nobody really enjoys about twice a month or so. Both of us have younger siblings still at our respective homes—my sister and his brothers—so our obligations are slightly lower than the only children we know, but there is at least relief in this: that I understand he doesn't want to do it, but he has to, and he knows that I know this, and feels gratitude for the way I say nothing. If only mutual understanding about family brunches were enough to build a marriage on.

10:03 a.m.: After Odysseus leaves, I'm restless. I Floo Cassandra to chat, but she doesn't answer. It strikes me that it's a bad sign given how distressed she was, but I'll try again later. In the meantime, I'm in my closet and putting on one of my nicer dresses for reasons I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. I fix my hair until it sparkles. I fix my face until I glow. I put on my prettiest things until none of my ugly is showing and I walk through the Floo, not even sure where I'm going until I've gotten there.

10:35 a.m.: "Hello," Paris says, surprised. I haven't come to his office before, obviously, but it isn't that hard to find. Gringotts is sort of a large building, and he's one of the few wizards who works here. I stand in the doorway and hesitate until he beckons me inside, stepping around to the other side of his desk and then leaning against it. "What's wrong?" he asks me, and I adjust my smile, letting out any toxicity on a furtive breath. "Nothing," I say, "I just wanted to see you."

10:45 a.m.: I didn't stop to consider that he might have turned me away until I walked in, and I'm retroactively relieved to find he doesn't. I think maybe he likes that I've come to him; he seems to brighten when I tell him I was thinking about him. "Come here," Paris says, and I obey, stepping in close while he folds his arms around me, tucking me in against his chest. "What's happening?" I ask helplessly, which isn't in any way a useful question, but it seems to be the only one I have. He rests his chin on top of my head, sighing.

10:46 a.m.: "Sometimes," he says softly, "you can want something to work, and it doesn't." I feel a little ache in my chest at that. "But how do you know it isn't working?" I press indignantly, leaning back to look up at him. "And how do you know it won't work even if you keep trying?" I ask. I know I sound desperate, and perhaps he's the wrong person to come to, but I feel something like safety in his arms. "Maybe you don't know for sure," he says, and I sigh. "But then again," he murmurs, "is it such a stretch to believe you could have something better?"

10:48 a.m.: I tell him I can't believe he can choose. It's an impossible choice, really, between the life you thought you'd have, the one you have now, and the life you could have if you only stepped right instead of left and changed paths. I tell him that I wish I had his certainty. Paris opens his mouth to say something, a moment of difficulty manifesting on his face, but we're interrupted by a knock at his door frame.

10:55 a.m.: "Excuse me, sorry, I was looking for—" I turn, and alarmingly, it's Ajax. He gapes at me, and I promptly step out of Paris' arms, my cheeks turning red. He stares, blinking, and Paris clears his throat. "You were looking for something?" Paris says. Ajax doesn't take his eyes from mine. "Actually, I thought I had something," he says flatly, and then he turns, storming away.

10:56 a.m.: "Who was that?" Paris asks, but I don't answer. I hurry after Ajax, who's even more unbearably princely in his refusal to turn when I call for him. I finally reach him, nearly stumbling as my heels lose traction against Gringotts' marble floors, and slide my fingers around his wrist, pulling him towards me. "Hey," I snap, and Ajax glares at me. "What are you doing?" "What are you doing?" Ajax demands, shrugging out of my reach. I reach for him again, exasperated. "Odysseus knows about him," I say defensively, and Ajax's eyes widen abruptly before they immediately narrow. This time, when he pulls out of my reach, it's with an element of reproach. "Maybe he does," Ajax mutters bitterly, "but I didn't."

11:01 a.m.: People are starting to stare, but I can't bring myself to comprehend what's happening. "What?" I demand, but by now Ajax has noticed we have an audience (largely goblins and some nosy witches, but still) and he grumpily gestures to the door. We make our way into Diagon Alley, ducking into the first little side alcove that doesn't have someone trying to sell collapsible cauldrons in it.

11:06 a.m.: "What do you mean you didn't know?" I demand again, and he opens his mouth to retort, but I shake my head. "This whole thing is just sex, isn't it?" I press, grinding it down between my teeth. "You didn't need to know," I say, and he stiffens. He opens his mouth to argue, to fight me, but anger doesn't stay coiled in his jaw the way it does for Odysseus. "I thought it was more than that," Ajax says, a little bruised. And then, angry again, he flings this at me: "You let me believe it was more than that."

11:10 a.m.: I tell him I can't believe he's angry at me. "You knew Odysseus and I were in an open relationship," I say accusingly, "and you were sleeping with my husband long before I knew about you!" "Yeah, well, I'm not saying this is perfect!" Ajax barks in return, and we're having a very strange argument that is both childish and wildly inappropriate for children, but we've both lost hold of our restraint now. "I know it's not perfect," I growl at him. How could I forget? After all, I married a man who isn't attracted to me, and in a way I can't fix on my own. A man who has feelings for Ajax, in fact, meaning that I may be the one Odysseus feels he owes, but I'm not the one he wants. "But what about us?" Ajax snarls, and I can hardly keep from laughing, or crying. "I dreamt of a marriage, not a fucking arrangement," I say.

11:15 a.m.: We've gotten loud again, and now people are pausing on the street. I step closer to Ajax, dropping my volume. "You don't need me," I say. "You have Odysseus, and the two of you—what the two of you have—" "I don't have him," Ajax hisses, and I freeze. "He didn't want me," he adds bitterly, and I can hear pain in his voice that stops me cold, leaves me breathless. I can hear it on his lips. "He didn't want me until you wanted me," Ajax says again, and I don't know what to say. I just don't know what to say.

11:21 a.m.: "Do you really think that this is just a game? Just sex?" he asks me, still with that pain in his voice, and I grasp for words and find nothing. "I'm happy when I'm with the two of you," he says, "and I thought you were happy when you were with me—" "I am," I tell him, "but still, this isn't exactly what marriage looks like!" "You're so obsessed with perfection," Ajax tells me snottily—as if he knows anything, honestly—and then he adds, "Why does your love story have to look like everyone else's?" I glare at him. "You only want me because of the way I look," I remind him accusingly. "So why should I not want something that looks the way I want it to?"

11:23 a.m.: "Do you really think I—" He breaks off. He stares at me, and for a very long time he says nothing. His chest rises and falls, his breath ragged and forced, and he's either in terrible pain or terribly angry. Similarly, I'm not sure what's gotten me out of breath, my fingers curled into fists. I think I'm furious. Also, I think I'm overcome with guilt. I think I'm gnashing all of it together somewhere between my molars and my jaw is starting to hurt. I open my mouth to speak, to fling something else at him, but before I can, his lips are on mine. His tongue darts into my mouth and he presses me back against the wall. It's all a jagged rush of sensations then: the cold stone against my back, the hiss of displeasure I release against Ajax's lips, the way his hands tighten on my waist. We break apart and I glare at him, his heart pounding ruthlessly beneath the bones of my hand as his pulse ricochets through my veins.

11:24 a.m.: "Fuck," he growls, and apparates us away.

11:25 a.m.: I don't really register my surroundings as he shoves me against the wall, but I assume this is his flat. It's smaller than I thought, though I'm not sure what I was expecting. Maybe I assumed he was wealthy because Odysseus and I are; it seems like wealthy purebloods are the only people who have the time for gratuitous affairs. I don't think for long, though, because he's fumbling with my dress with his lips on my neck, and shit, shit, shit, I feel a rush of something that I don't want to stop. I drag my hand through his golden curls and bury my fingers in them, digging my nails into the back of his neck. He tears my knickers, I think; I hear a definite tear, and I don't care. I bought them to fix my marriage, but my marriage is obviously a mess. I can't be surprised if the lace is flimsy.

11:29 a.m.: Ajax looks at me. I look back at him. Neither of us says anything. We've got our eyes locked as he shifts me, blindly finding the slickness at my cunt, and strokes his thumb against me. Once. Twice. I shudder, my eyes falling shut. When they open again, he's still looking at me. He's waiting for me to say something, just like every other man in my life, but this is easier. "More," I whisper, and he yanks me up, wrapping my legs around his hips. My eyes are even with his when he slides inside me, and I watch both of us go through the same torment: the sharp intake of breath, the teeth that slice against our lips, the sensation of dizziness that makes me drag him closer and that makes him slam a hand against the wall beside my head, steadying both of us.

11:34 a.m.: God, his cock feels good. He feels so good and he knows he does, I know he knows, but I tell him anyway. He tells me similar things, of course; how good I feel, how sweet I taste, how much he wants me, how badly and for how long. He doesn't tell me I'm beautiful, and I'm glad. I don't think I'm very beautiful now, my back scraping the wall and my hair in disarray and my makeup almost certainly smeared across my face, and this isn't about beauty, anyway. It's harder, more aggressive than I'm used to, but it feels like the right thing for right now. It feels like the pressure and the friction I've been living under the last few days is finally set to burn, and at the moment, I'm happy to let it.

11:38 a.m.: There are no frills to this sex. He fucks me, truly, and I come as he's pounding into me without much softness, without much gentleness at all, and he lets out a yell as I bury my teeth his shoulder, biting down hard. He comes shortly after—I love the way he comes, the way his face goes so blank and he doesn't fight it, he doesn't restrict it the way that I do; he throws his head back and comes, letting me see the marks I've left all over the spare inches of his neck and throat and jaw that I could find—and we slide slowly to the floor, somehow twisting around to lie on our backs and stare at his ceiling.

11:43 a.m.: A long time passes before I have any idea what to say. "Why were you at Gringotts?" I attempt hoarsely, and he turns his head to look at me. I do the same. "I needed to finalize the conditions of my business loan," he says, and adds, "I'm trying to get them to lower the interest rate. It's absurd." I blink. "What business loan?" I demand, sitting up slightly.

11:44 a.m.: He lies still on the ground as I shift to look at him, and then he reaches up, drawing his index finger slowly along the line of my clavicle. "I design racing brooms," he says. I make a sound of disbelief. A scoff, one might say. "Didn't you know that?" he asks. Of course I didn't. "I thought you were independently wealthy," I say. "I am," he says, and then clears his throat. "Well, my parents are wealthy," he amends, "but I want to do this on my own. I designed that," he adds, pointing over his head to a broom that's sitting out on a table. "Now I just need the money to mass produce it," he adds with a shrug, "because I can't make the orders on my own anymore."

11:46 a.m.: I am positively flabbergasted. "I was thinking of calling this model the Nymph," he adds, which is a sly reference to me, and now I'm so speechless the lack of words actually hurts. It seems to rattle forcefully in my chest. "Oh," I say quietly, and his hand slides up my neck to cup around the edge of my jaw, curling around my cheek.

11:49 p.m.: "He wants me to be with him," I tell Ajax, referring to Paris. "He's leaving his wife for me," I add, and Ajax sighs. "I realize I'm new to this whole thing and I don't get a vote," he tells me, "but I vote you don't destroy this thing yet."

11:50 a.m.: "Just because it doesn't look the way you thought it would doesn't mean it isn't real," Ajax says. "Give me a chance to fall in love with you," he asks me with a grave, regal solemnity, "and give yourself a chance to fall in love with me."

12:01 p.m.: I lie down beside him again, glad of the discomfort of being on the floor. It seems the least that I deserve. After all, I'm pretty sure I just cheated on someone, but I'm genuinely not sure who. I don't understand what I'm doing. I'm losing control of my own life.

12:07 p.m.: "Hungry?" I ask after a while, and Ajax laughs. "Starving," he says, "but I can't. I have to actually discuss that loan at the bank," he reminds me, "and I have meetings with my investors for the rest of the day." He leans over, kissing my forehead, and adjusts his tie. I can't believe it never occurred to me that he had a job. He clearly dresses for one. "I want to see you more," he admits quietly, "but Odysseus is—" He falters. "He's hard to get close to," Ajax says, and I feel impossibly sad for him.

12:09 p.m.: I sit up and adjust Ajax's tie for him, removing my wand to fix the smudge of lipstick on his cheek. "Good luck with the bank and the investors," I say. He gives me his princely grin and I immediately regret having said anything, only it's in a way that makes me feel very fond. "Don't need luck," he says, shrugging with his inconceivable arrogance, and then he leads me to the Floo.

3:45 p.m.: I want very badly to tell Odysseus everything when he gets home, but he looks exhausted. Being part of a pureblood family can be a very challenging thing; we have generations of expectations to live up to and cultural parameters to abide by, but genuine closeness is a very rare thing. I remember my mother's many lessons more than I really remember her touch, and in general, pureblood families are conditional. Follow the rules, and you'll be accepted; break the rules, and they'll break you. I find I have a hard time saying anything to Odysseus now, and for that matter—even if I did feel selfish enough to unload my problems—I'd have no idea where to start.

8:15 p.m.: The rest of the evening passes as it usually does. I cook, we eat together, we read. He's reading the Daily Prophet again, which seems to be reporting non-stop about the looming World Cup tournament. I let Odysseus have his silence, since it seems like he needs it. I try to contact Cassandra, but she sends me an owl that merely says 'Some shit's going down. Will call soon. Get me that article, bitch!' she adds at the bottom. Helpful, Cassandra. Very helpful.

8:45 p.m.: For a minute I consider trying to write something, but seeing as I barely even know what to say to my own husband, I don't know what I could possibly say in an article. It seems pointless, and I transition almost immediately from the blank page to my bed. If Odysseus finds it odd, he says nothing. He kisses my forehead, and eventually I fall asleep in silence.


DAY SIX

6:35 a.m.: This time I'm awake before Odysseus wakes up, having been staring at the ceiling for at least an hour. He glances over and I see a crease of concern in his brow. "Go back to sleep," he says, "I'm going for a r-" "I know," I snap, and both of us are immediately startled. We're not familiar with this sort of temperament, as we were both raised in pristine environments of passive-aggression and carefully withheld rage. He blinks, opens his mouth, and then closes it. "Do you not want me to go?" he asks—a little bluntly, as if he thinks I might argue and he's preparing himself for a fight—but if something is bubbling over, it hasn't exploded quite yet. I snap my mouth around a retort and shake my head. "Go," I say gruffly, though I get out of bed when he does, wandering downstairs.

7:04 a.m.: I stand in my kitchen and decide that I want something to eat, but I don't want to make it. I turn around with a sigh, heading back upstairs. I change into a pair of trousers and a silk shirt I should probably give back to Cassandra and I toss my hair into a ponytail, heading through the Floo.

7:13 a.m.: Diagon is a sleepy place this early on a Sunday (Sunday being the day that Cassandra wanted her article, I remember, growling to myself) and I make my way to the Leaky Cauldron, considering that a greasy breakfast sandwich would be ideal right about now. I pull open the door, stifling a yawn, and immediately see something that stops me in my tracks.

7:15 a.m.: It's Achilles. He's talking to someone that I can't see from where I'm standing; I see the occasional hand motion of someone else, but I don't know who it is. I haven't seen Achilles in over a year, and I'm startled by two things: firstly, by how much he hasn't changed, and then, ironically, by how starkly different he looks. He's dressed the same as I remember, his hair its usual swept-off self, but there's a different look on his face. It's so different, actually, that I don't recognize until I see him laugh that the look on his face is happiness.

7:16 a.m.: He's telling a story. I don't know what story it is, but you could always tell with Achilles. He's very expressive, and he's always in motion, all his limbs flailing when he's crafting one of his impeccable narratives. He was never conventionally handsome—too weedy for that, really—but I always liked him best when he was sharing a little wild piece of his brain with me. The person he's with seems to like it, too; I hear a laugh—a man's laugh? confusing, but okay—and then someone's hands slide around Achilles' face, pulling him close.

7:17 a.m.: I think I'm breathing too loudly, or I've been standing here too long. Whatever it is, Achilles glances up when he breaks the kiss, and his eyes find mine. Hi, he mouths, his brow furrowing with something that's more confusion-surprise than anything, and I try to wave, but only manage a smile. He smiles back, sort of, and gives me a nod. Naturally, I immediately turn and run.

8:35 a.m.: "What's wrong?" Odysseus asks tentatively, his footsteps quiet as he stands behind me. I turn from where I'm sitting in the living room and look up at him, at his sweaty t-shirt and the way his dark hair's been slicked back from his face, and try something I haven't been very good at up to this point. "Why did you start running in the mornings?" I ask him, and he nods slowly, gesturing for me to sit. I think I always knew there was something bigger about it, and I think, strangely, that we're both relieved that I finally asked.

8:40 a.m.: "I didn't exactly tell you the truth a few weeks ago," he says uncomfortably, his voice clipped and defensive. I say nothing, but I gesture for him to continue. He nods, sitting down next to me, and continues. "I was sleeping with Ajax," he says carefully, "but he wasn't the one I was with that night I stayed at the Leaky Cauldron."

8:45 a.m.: Odysseus tells me about a past love—an actual love, not an affair, which shocks me—who plays for the Scottish national team now, and I recall the way the quidditch sections of the Daily Prophet are always out somewhere on his desk or on the table, folded over and carefully creased, as if he might come back to them later. He has a mix of sadness and fury to his voice as he talks about his ex; not that he's angry with me. By the sound of it, he seems angry with the world, or with himself. "I chose you," he says brusquely in explanation, and clears his throat. "I chose us," he says again, an offering this time, "but if I'm being honest, it hasn't been an easy choice."

8:49 a.m.: The running is about being better, Odysseus explains. This other person, this man that he's loved but that I've never known, used to make him better, and Odysseus says now he wants to be better for me. At that—the audacity of his hesitant goodness—I can no longer hold it in; I spill out in a hasty stream of panic that Paris has asked me to be with him, and oh, yeah, I slept with Ajax. "I don't know if that's breaking the rules," I add hastily. "I didn't mean to, I just—" I stammer to a halt, and Odysseus sighs, pressing his hand to his temple. "Stop," he says, rising to his feet. "Just stop for a minute," he suggests, "because whatever I say next is probably hugely fucking important, and I need to think before I do."

8:56 a.m.: It takes a few minutes of Odysseus pacing, scraping a hand through his hair, before he turns to face me, nodding as if he's arrived at something. "I love you," he says, and I open my mouth, but he holds up a hand to stop me. "I chose you," he says, "and I will keep choosing you if given the opportunity, but there are parallel versions of our lives here." He pauses, swallowing, and nods again, to himself this time.

8:58 a.m.: He says that if I want to choose Paris, then he'll go back to his ex. He loves him that much, he says, even though he doesn't think love itself will fix anything. "Sometimes, I don't think love is ever as much as we build it up to be," Odysseus says gruffly, and I think I know what he means. We aren't people raised to believe we could ever follow our hearts. "But if you choose me," he says slowly, "then we can make this work. I love you, I will love you the way you deserve, I will make a family with you, even if it isn't a conventional one. I will love you," he promises again, with all the fierceness of his coiled anger, and I feel my eyes well up. "Can you love me?" he asks, dropping to look me in the eye, and it is not lost on me that he's on his knees when he says it. "If you can love me," he says, "then we can still make this work, and it won't have been for nothing."

9:04 a.m.: "Are you mad about Ajax?" I ask, and he tilts his head, considering it. "I've slept with him many times before without you," he says neutrally, with his very particular gift for saying things flatly, and I nod blankly. "And if we move forward," he says, "then we'll just have to decide on the rules that work for us, because there aren't any good ones right now."

9:35 a.m.: I tell him I don't know, that I need time, and he agrees that I should think about it, and about everything he's said. He seems to mean it, even though I wouldn't if I were him. I think I'd be furious with myself for not having an answer, and coincidentally, I am. But this house is big enough that we don't have to see each other if we don't want to, so we don't. I wander out to the garden and he stays inside.

10:24 a.m.: It occurs to me after almost an hour of staring into space that I'm starving, so I go back into the house. Odysseus is gone, but there's a tray sitting on the kitchen counter that has some toast, some sliced fruit, and some parchment and a quill. I frown, wondering what I'm meant to do with it, but I levitate the tray outside anyway, settling myself in the grass.

10:56 a.m.: There's too much butter on the toast—it's fairly greasy, and the jam is sort of falling off the sides—but it tastes pretty good anyway. Maybe because Odysseus made it for me. I start thinking about what Ajax said about how I focus so much on how things should look. I lick the jam from my fingers and pick up the quill, still thinking.

11:15 a.m.: I don't really know what I'm writing until I've already started. Beauty serves even less purpose than art, because it's only meant to be looked at,I write. Beauty provides no value to the bearer on its own. The Venus doesn't care how many lives she affects when she is seen; only that someone sees her. Beauty does not equal goodness, and I would know, being both beautiful and not very good.

11:25 a.m.: Why are the stories we tell our daughters only the ones boasting triumphs of prettiness? The ones with the maidens who are good and pure and virtuous are also fair of face, and they are the ones who find their handsome princes, who ride off into the sunsets. Meanwhile, I have never known a beautiful woman who wasn't also a little bit selfish, or at least a little bit vain. And it's not only us we're hurting with the misconception, are we? Because men start to think that beauty means goodness, too. The Trojan War happened because Aphrodite offered Paris the love of the most beautiful woman on earth. What were his other choices, you might ask? Well, Hera offered Paris the conquests of the earth: riches and power. Athena offered him skill in warfare, that he would never lose any battle he fought. So, given that, what arsing lunatic would choose the love of a beautiful woman? Sure, love is meaningful. Love is the most divine thing we can offer one another. But why not the love of the cleverest woman, or the kindest? Why not the most daring woman, or the best in bed? Why not the love of the woman who can most successfully perform a blow job to completion, and who never says she's too tired for sex?

12:13 p.m.: Beauty is not goodness; beauty is simply beauty, and to choose it above all else is to choose a life that's always fractured beneath the surface. We are flawed creatures, and when we don't wear our flaws like a second skin, you can bet they are hiding elsewhere. A beautiful girl is a creature all her own, and a series of terrible risks. She's a liar by trade, a flimsy piece of jewelry, a carefully constructed mask, and if you cannot see the ugliness of her pain or the disturbances of her soul, then you shouldn't trust her. Chances are, she doesn't know what it is to decide to let you see what's underneath. I've spent most of my life hiding most of myself, in fact, and shortly I will be forced to reveal something sinister. How sinister, you ask? Oh, only my innermost thoughts. Distressingly, they're not as lovely as my lipstick.

12:48 p.m.: I pause for a moment, thinking about Achilles. I'd been wondering if I made the wrong choice by marrying Odysseus when my parents wanted me to, but I think I'm starting to understand that there is no wrong choice. There is no dead end. There's no single right path, but there's life that goes on, and resiliency. Achilles found happiness again, didn't he? He looked happier today than he even did with me. So maybe he and I might have been a good choice in a parallel universe, and maybe we might have been happy, but maybe this is a good choice, too. Maybe the path he's on will bring him something better, and I'll find my happiness too.

12:56 p.m.: If life is a function of choices—which I've come to learn that it is—then don't choose beauty unless you merely want something to look at. Don't assume that the facets of beauty that you see are all that exist underneath. I thought once that my life had to be beautiful in a conventional sort of way, without realizing how beautiful it already was. I have been lucky enough to know friendship and love, and in the moments they are the most pure, I have been at my ugliest. I have been at my least certain, and least secure, and least apt at playing pretend. In the moments my life is its most perfect version, it also looks the least like perfection, because beauty is not goodness, and perfection is a lie. And by the way, Paris should have chosen Athena, because if Helen was ever going to love him, then he definitely needed the ability to win a war. But then, nobody asked me, did they?

1:45 p.m.: I fold the parchment up and send it to Cassandra, and then I start cleaning up the messy plate of now-eaten toast, piling everything back onto the tray and carrying it inside.

1:55 p.m.: My owl returns with a reply from Cassandra. 'You fucking talented bitch,' it says, which means she's pleased. I scribble a note to Odysseus. 'Come home,' I say. In truth, it doesn't feel much like home when he's not here.

2:24 p.m.: Odysseus walks through the Floo with my note in his hand, but the way he pauses indicates that he plans to let me speak first. Unfortunately, I have no idea where to begin. "Did you know Ajax has a company?" I ask him, and Odysseus frowns. "What?" he asks. "Ajax designs racing brooms," I tell him, and he looks positively gobsmacked. "Fuck," he says, "I had no idea he even had any marketable skills."

2:36 p.m.: We ease into conversation. Firstly, I ask Odysseus something I forgot to ask this morning, which is why he's put so much space between Ajax's visits. He grimaces. "Because I wasn't sure this was what you really wanted," he said slowly, "and I wasn't ready to get invested again if there was still a possibility you might want something else."

2:40 p.m.: I think both of us understand that this only really works as a three person deal, which we seem to have equal hesitation about. "Do you have feelings for Ajax?" I ask him, and Odysseus' grimace deepens. "I wish I didn't," he says under his breath, and strangely, I'm relieved. There's a spark there—I know I feel it, even if I seem to be feeling entirely too much these days—and I think that if Odysseus can feel it, then there's definitely something fruitful here. "I think we should give ourselves the opportunity to fall in love with him," I say, parroting Ajax back to Odysseus, "and give him an opportunity to fall in love with us."

3:01 p.m.: Odysseus tucks one of my loose tendrils of hair behind my ear. "Does this mean no more Paris?" he asks. I bite my lip, struggling a bit. I would miss Paris badly; I do have feelings for him, even if those feelings, like all my other feelings, are impossible to name. I know there is a version of my life where I'm happy with Paris, but I don't know if it's this one. I don't seem to know very much at all. "I—" I start to say, but Odysseus cuts me off, bringing my lips to his. It's a bit more forceful than usual, his fingers tight in my hair, but I understand that it's an offering.

3:05 p.m.: "Call Ajax," I say when we part, and he nods breathlessly, turning to the Floo as I stand with my fingers pressed to my lips. "Odysseus," I call after him, and when he turns, the words come easily. "I love you," I say. His mouth twitches slightly. "I know," he says, and tosses some emerald powder onto the flames.

3:45 p.m.: "What the—" Ajax says when Odysseus yanks him inside, kissing him hard. "Finally," Odysseus growls impatiently. "My goodness," Ajax purrs, "you two are awfully—" He breaks off again when I take his face next, kissing his lips while Odysseus' tongue traces a line down the side of his neck. "Fuck, I forgot what I was saying," Ajax announces when we break apart, promptly stripping off his shirt.

10:45 p.m.: The three of us end the night in bed together, the sheets twisted around us, and maybe this isn't the love story I dreamed of as a child, but I don't think children have the requisite imagination for this. It's hard not to feel like I have everything I need when I have Ajax and Odysseus in my arms.

11:04 p.m.: I slip out when Odysseus and Ajax fall asleep. 'I need to talk to you tomorrow,' I say to Paris, but I don't wait for a response. I pull on a soft cashmere jumper that Cassandra is never getting back and I crawl back into my bed, curling myself around a sprawled-out Ajax and immediately falling asleep.


DAY SEVEN

6:45 a.m.: "You can take days off, you know," I mutter to Odysseus, but it's Ajax who's woken me up. "There's an owl at the window," he complains, and hands me two things: a copy of The Interest, which must have gone to press this morning, and a note from Cassandra: 'Come over as soon as you can. It's urgent.'

7:01 a.m.: I hurry to look reasonably presentable—and also manage to read the return note from Paris suggesting I come to his office again—and then slip through the Floo, completely forgetting to brush my teeth. Cassandra isn't a very needy friend; she doesn't ask for much. Since she asked for me today, I have to assume it's something relatively apocalyptic.

7:05 a.m.: At first glance: it is. Her house is in utter disarray, and she has a series of packing charms putting things into boxes. "You're moving?" I ask when I find her in her bedroom, and the look she gives me is thoroughly unreadable. She's not wearing any makeup or beauty charms and aside from her father's signet ring that she usually wears around her neck, she doesn't have any jewelry on. "I just did something terrible," she says.

7:25 a.m.: I make us some tea and Cassandra tells me the whole story. She has a friend, the person assigned to audit her (one of Paris' many brothers) that she's kept in contact with. "The audit is about to conclude," Cassandra says, "and there's a possibility I could go to Azkaban for financial crimes." I open my mouth to protest that there's no way in hell I'd allow it, but she holds up a hand to stop me. "He already told me that if I make a deal to disclose what I know about the money that's being hidden from multiple pureblood accounts, I can avoid prison time. I'll lose everything," she adds, gesturing wryly to her house, "but at least I won't, you know. Get my soul sucked."

7:35 a.m.: I gape at her. "Who's been hiding the money?" I ask, and one look from her tells me. "No," I gasp, because it means that if she turns him in, then one of our friends is going to be just as ruined as she is, and her earlier guilt makes vast amounts of sense to me. "You can't tell him," she warns me, and I wouldn't, but still. It's alarming. "What else did the Gringotts auditor say?" I press, and she shrugs. "He's a curse-breaker now, so he isn't handling my audit anymore," she tells me, and adds, anecdotally, that his brother's French wife has asked for a divorce from her husband so she can be a dragonologist in Romania. Apparently the two of them have been in love for some time. "Can you believe it?" Cassandra asks me, chuckling a little, and suddenly my heart drops into my stomach.

9:01 a.m.: Paris looks up when I walk into his office. "Good morn-" "Your wife is leaving you," I say flatly, and he opens his mouth to reply, but seems to find himself immediately empty-handed. "Your wife is leaving you and you didn't tell me," I snap, and I don't exactly know why I'm so angry, but gratifyingly, he recognizes my seething rage. "Listen," Paris offers, "does it matter who is doing the leaving? It's over with her," he tells me, stepping out from behind his desk to try to take me in his arms. "Now we can be together," he says, and that's when I realize what's made me so upset.

9:03 a.m.: I thought Paris had chosen me, but now I see he's chosen nothing, just as I had for so long. We're two beautiful people for whom life has been so easy we've never had to fight for what we want, and if I have been in torment over this, I have clearly been alone in that. Maybe I do deserve him, then, and he certainly deserves me, but for once in my life I'm realizing that that is not a good thing. I wish I could have been a little less beautiful if it meant I could be a little more strong.

9:05 a.m.: "You didn't choose me," I say hoarsely, as it occurs to me, finally, that I'm actually a very stupid idiot. But at least I figure it out with enough time to spare, so that I can save us both. "Maybe your marriage can't be saved," I remind him, "but mine can, and I don't want to settle for being your consolation prize."

9:15 a.m.: Paris holds me tighter, trying to pull me close and persisting that it's me he wants, but I shake my head. "I hope you find someone you would do something terrible for," I whisper to him. "I hope you find someone who makes you want to throw everything away for love of them," I say, "and I hope you feel nothing less than terror when you do." "Is that supposed to be some sort of curse?" he asks me drily, and I shake my head. "No," I tell him honestly, "but I think love is supposed to be ugly, or at least a little messy, because if it looks too perfect, then maybe there's something missing underneath."

9:34 a.m.: I wipe the tears from my eyes knowing my face is swollen, and that I am not a particularly lovely crier. Still, I think I look a little braver than I did before, and if I don't look it, then at least I feel it. I steady myself, taking a breath, and point myself home.

9:45 a.m.: "This is hysterical," Ajax is saying to Odysseus when I walk in. "I mean, it's poignant and shit, but whoever wrote this is definitely funny," he adds, taking a sip of his coffee. Odysseus looks up, noticing me in the frame and sparing me a small smile. "What are you reading?" he asks Ajax innocently, and I notice it's a copy of The Interest that's in his hand. "It's just this editorial," Ajax says, glancing over it, "but there's no author. It just says—" He breaks off, pausing, and a smile pulls at his lips before he glances up at me.

9:46 a.m.: "What?" I ask innocently, and Ajax gives me his cockiest grin. "The Nymph," he says, and gathers me in his arms, wrapping them around my ribs and lifting me up with a loud, growling yell. "You spectacular minx!" he shouts, and when he puts me down, I stumble back into Odysseus, who brushes his lips against my cheek. "I'm glad you wrote it," he tells me, and I turn to take his face in my hands.

9:51 a.m.: "I love you," I say to Odysseus, and then I reach around for Ajax, who's still ranting about how clever I've been. "And you," I tell him, pulling him close, "I choose you. Both of you." Odysseus gives me a questioning look, and I shake my head. "No one else," I promise, and he exhales, nodding with what I can now see has been hard-fought relief.

9:54 a.m.: "Lucky you have us for muses," Ajax tells me, his hands on my hips as I set my arms around Odysseus' neck. It's a moment that is both beautiful and good, and one that I want to revel in for as long as possible.

9:55 a.m.: Maybe there are other versions of my life that are prettier or more like a fairytale, but I find that this is the one I choose. "Lucky for me," I agree, and for once, every word of it is true.

Chapter Text

Episode XII: The Liar Who's Fighting to Keep Her Throne

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a pureblood wife burdened with duty finds herself fighting for her family's future once again: 42, female, straight, unhappily married.


DAY ONE

8:45 a.m.: I'm lying awake when my husband enters our bedroom, treading quietly through the door frame. He sees my eyes are already open and opens his mouth, closes it. I don't wait for him to decide what he wishes to say. "It's late," I point out, because our son might be awake, and he'd want to believe better of his father than this. So would I, really, but it's too late for that now. The best I can do is craft a lie that looks prettier, softer than the truth, and our son's father coming home (to his mother who is, quite frankly, not much better) after a night spent with someone else is hardly the image I've curated for him. "He's not home," my husband says. I close my eyes. Good.

8:49 a.m.: I'll call my husband Brutus; for as long as I've known him, he's been a man in some sort of philosophical crisis. He slides into the bed beside me, and I immediately go rigid. Lately, we've been attempting to "work on our marriage," but that effort has clearly seen better days. This falls somewhere low on the spectrum. "Are you okay?" he asks me, reaching out to caress my face, and I shrink back from his hand. "Don't touch me with that," I snap, "I don't know where it's been." His expression hardens. "Fine," he says, and then he leaves, heading into our bathroom for a shower.

9:30 a.m.: My marriage to Brutus was arranged, as most pureblood unions are. It was a disaster from the start; he was involved with someone else, expecting to be given my elder sister as a prize, and then he was instructed to marry me, the third daughter of an ancient, crumbling house. I was younger than he was, only just eighteen, and foolish enough to believe love was something as easily accomplished as merely speaking marriage vows aloud. It took a couple of years for Brutus to warm to me, and by then, I was in love with someone else; a man I'll call Caesar, though I'm not sure I'm ready to think about him. As a girl, I thought love was a steady, constant thing, but as a woman I know it comes in fits and starts. Brutus and I are relatively cursed by timing; only once did we manage to love each other at the same time, and it was during our son's youth. That seems a very long time ago now, after my husband's traumatic stint in Azkaban and a war that tore both our country and our family apart. Now we're ghosts to each other, and each of us is still the same liar we always were, only carrying around the shells of what we used to be.

10:47 a.m.: My son walks in through the Floo while I'm flipping through a magazine, contemplating a change of tapestry to obscure the unpleasantness of my personal life (as is my way). He's tall and poised, well-groomed and well-dressed and well-mannered; he possesses the best of me, the best of Brutus, and I feel a swell of pride the moment I look at him. I'll call him Caesarion. "Good morning, Mother," he says, and he looks tired in much the same way his father looked 'tired' this morning, but I can hardly hold that against him. I only hope that whoever she is, she's even remotely good enough for him. I hope she's far better than me, at the very least.

10:48 a.m.: "Hello, sweetheart," I say warmly, as Caesarion permits me to kiss his cheek. He's so much taller than I am, and though I know perfectly well he's a grown man, it still never seems to make sense. It seems impossible to calculate, actually, that my baby son is somehow grown, and that I'm old enough to have watched it happen. "Lunch?" he asks me, and regrettably, I shake my head. I'm having lunch with my sister and her grandson today, and I extend the invitation to Caesarion, but he declines. "I think I'm just going to read for a bit," he says, and slides a hand through his uncharacteristically ruffled hair. "Exhausted," he explains, not even attempting a hint of sheepishness, and I shake my head, feigning disapproval. He smirks his father's handsome smirk at me and shrugs. "Enjoy your lunch," he tells me, yawning, and then I watch him go, smiling a little to myself. He is the best thing I have ever done; perhaps the only good thing I've ever done.

10:57 a.m.: I fall into a bit of a melancholy state thinking about Caesar again, which is inevitable on the days in which I consider the many, many lies of my life. It's difficult to resolve my feelings about Caesar, considering what he became in his later life; his reincarnation of sorts, when he came back a stranger. Any capacity for boundless greatness makes for such a tenuous state of being, really. I fell in love with it, the vastness of everything Caesar was, even while I watched it destroy him, turning him into a monster, a murderer, a psychopath. Maybe he was all of those things while I loved him, but it wasn't until he returned from the dead that he turned all of it on me, on my husband, my son. Still, on days like this, I miss what it felt to be loved by him, to wake in his arms, to feel the reverence of his touch. Then I shudder, blinking the nightmare I lived through with him (for him) away.

12:30 p.m.: My older sister, whom I'll call Arsinoe, is looking positively glowing, which is likely something to do with the man she's been seeing for the last few months. It seems to be going well, if the flush in her cheeks is any indication. She and I have been estranged for more than half my life, but now we're foolish girls again, giggling about romance like teenagers. "He's just so insatiable," she whispers devilishly, describing what they'd been up to in the stockroom of his store the day before. Ah, I miss love. And I miss sex. I miss having both at once. Arsinoe seems to see that and coughs, abruptly guilty. I roll my eyes as her young grandson—whose mother and father both died in the war—scrambles into the room, having apparently tired of playing in the garden.

12:31 p.m.: Arsinoe's grandson (effectively her son, whom I'll call Helios) is an utterly irresistible child, and it doesn't help that he's a metamorphmagus, which means that he obligingly turns his hair pale blond at my entry, reminding me of my son. I know that a lot of that sensation is purely nostalgia, but they do look a bit alike, I think. "Hello!" I exclaim, opening my arms to him, and Helios bounds over, climbing shamelessly into my lap and babbling about quidditch. "Oh, hush," Arsinoe says to him, assuring him I don't want to hear about it, but I give her a wry, silencing glance. She often forgets I'm more than the image I crafted of a wealthy pureblood wife; I'm also the mother of a devoted quidditch fan, and more importantly, I'm the one who taught my son Caesarion how to fly. Brutus would never deign to ruin his hair, I suspect, for a recreation that doesn't end in orgasm. "Show me what you've been practicing," I tell Helios, and he trills with excitement, tugging me into the garden.

1:05 p.m.: Eventually Arsinoe drags us out of the garden (Helios' godfather has been teaching him some things, he tells me, but personally, I think the boy's technique could stand to be refined) and we make our way to Diagon Alley. Arsinoe takes Helios to the novelties shop her young lover owns; politely, I wait outside, catching a surreptitious kiss he brushes across her knuckles and the blush that paints her cheeks long after they part. It's a secret still, and he's not from a family ours would approve of, but neither was her last love interest, and I'm certainly not going to lose her over something so trivial again.

1:06 p.m.: "Sorry," Arsinoe says breathlessly, "but he agreed to look after Helios for an hour, so—" "Nothing to be sorry for," I tell her, and I mean it. I'm happy for her, even if it stings a little to watch. I had a lover of my own until recently, and I miss him terribly. That's what stings, I clarify internally, not the knowledge of my sister's happiness. That, I congratulate myself, is very much a genuine thing I enjoy.

1:16 p.m.: The weather is unseasonably pleasant, so we get a table on the charmed patio outside, enjoying the meal and chatting about nothing. Inevitably, Arsinoe asks me about Brutus, though I think she's actually asking me about someone else: the young man I'll call Antony. "I've been behaving myself recently," I say, which is true. I have been. She kindly drops her eyes to her forkful of spinach salad instead of me when she asks if Brutus has done the same. "No," I say tightly, suddenly losing my appetite.

2:11 p.m.: Eventually, conversation eases back into other things; nostalgia, mostly. I'm grateful that for all the war took from me, it brought me back my sister. Perhaps this kind of love is all I'm deserving of, and perhaps one day that will be enough. Eventually, she reminds me that she has to pick up Helios, and I nod, signaling for the check.

2:20 p.m.: "I've got it," I assure Arsinoe, and though she protests, soon enough we're chatting again while the waiter accepts the wave of my wand, enacting my Gringotts credit charm. "Miss," he tells me (flatteringly, which I accept, knowing perfectly well I look far younger than I am), "there's a hold on your enchantment." He shows me the Gringotts seal indicating the rejection, and I blink, realizing I don't have enough galleons on me. "Hold on," I say, but Arsinoe stops me, gesturing to her purse. "I have a job now, remember?" she tells me, as the waiter nods and vanishes her payment away, leaving along with it. "I know," I grumble, "but—" "It's nice to start over," Arsinoe says contentedly, looking immensely pleased, and for all that I'm frustrated with my own situation, I'm happy for her again. It brought her pleasure to buy me lunch; so be it. I thank her, genuinely, and then we head back to the store.

2:45 p.m.: I remind myself to purchase some things for Helios when I get the Gringotts situation sorted. I remember doing all this for Caesarion when he was first learning to play quidditch, and part of me is really quite excited to do it again. "Don't spoil him," Arsinoe pleads with me, but we both know I will almost certainly ignore her. What is the point of being wealthy if not to spoil the people I love, and the family I so long neglected? "Don't worry," I tell her, "I'll also teach him to dance when the time comes." "Fair enough," she says approvingly, and then we part ways, both smiling.

3:15 p.m.: I come home to my son Caesarion asleep on the sofa, a book called Pride and Prejudice fallen forward on his chest. An apt title, I think, given everything; I pick it up, conjuring a ribbon to mark his place, and set the book on the table, gently covering him with a blanket.

3:35 p.m.: I wish I had done better by Caesarion than inadvisably becoming involved with his best friend. Out of all the men I have loved, Antony was perhaps the worst, though also the best; before him, I'd exclusively loved men who were older, more worldly, more experienced, and yet Antony was more a man than all of them combined. Yes, it's over now, but still, I should never have started. No matter how Antony looked at me (or how he touched me, like he would never wish to set his hands on anything else again) it was never acceptable for me to keep that secret from my son. I wish I were less of a liar. I wish, more than anything, that I didn't ache for Antony even now. I wronged them both, and yes, Brutus, too—though, if I list my sins now, I may not make it through the day without collapsing beneath the weight of them.

6:30 p.m.: The elves prepare dinner and I eat alone, as Caesarion has gone out again. Brutus is here somewhere, I think, but I'd rather not face him at the moment. Our marriage was plagued by infidelity from the start, so it's not as if what passed between us this morning was unusual, but somehow I still manage to be newly betrayed. Sometimes I hate that I feel I owe him; I hate that by loving Caesar and Antony rather than the nobodies Brutus generally turns to, my betrayals have always been worse, and I always feel the need to do more to balance the scales. I agreed to a threesome with some pretty slip of a thing Brutus was seeing some months ago in an effort to combat my guilt, which was a terrible mistake. I couldn't look at him for weeks, and since then, things have only gotten worse.

9:17 p.m.: I don't notice Brutus walking into our bedroom until he clears his throat, leaning against the doorframe. "You had dinner without me," he notes, and I tell him I thought he'd be gone. I've dispelled my beauty charms by now; my cheeks are pale and colorless, the lines around my eyes starting to show. Brutus walks in further and places his hands on my shoulders, kissing the back of my neck, and I stiffen. "No one else to go to tonight?" I ask gruffly, and he shakes his head. "No one else I want," he tells me.

9:20 p.m.: I've wanted to leave him so many times. First I wanted to leave him for Caesar; after all, Brutus nearly worshipped him, and so did I, albeit in a very different way. After Caesar was gone, then, Brutus and I made our peace with what we were, raising our son together and finally warming to each other, but when Caesar reappeared as a mangled, ruined version of himself, I felt Brutus slip away from me again. The reminder of my disloyalty struck us both, along with the wrath Caesar visited on all of us, especially Caesarion; and I wanted to leave again when Brutus was put in Azkaban, too. I knew it would be better for Caesarion, better for me, but I couldn't—and then when Brutus came back, I felt even more trapped. He'd been skeletal and haunted, and I had loved him once, hadn't I? I thought I had, anyway, until I wanted to leave for Antony. Brutus' gaze slid past me by then, and only Antony seemed to see me, seemed to want me—but that was impossible. It seemed it was always going to be Brutus, and perhaps that's because even now, I can't really bring myself to turn him away. It's twisted, the way we're bound to each other; that however much both of us may want to run, we never manage to get very far.

9:30 p.m.: Brutus' lips shift from my neck to my back, tracing down my spine. I want to push him away, but honestly, I miss sex. Truth be told, I never go very long without it. By the time Brutus has undone the lacings on my nightgown, I've already resigned myself to the inevitable. I'm going to fuck my husband tonight.

9:34 p.m.: I let the silk of my nightgown pool shapelessly on the floor before turning to him, tugging at his trousers. I don't want this to be sweet, I don't want it to be romantic. I've fucked too many men with love in their eyes to settle for whatever consolation prize this will inevitably be. I draw out his cock, stroking it, and when he groans, I turn over my shoulder, making my way to the bed. I climb on all fours and glance over my shoulder, beckoning him without a word. Mutely, he follows, vanishing his shirt and trousers and placing his hands on my hips.

9:41 p.m.: I watch the hairs rise on my arms, my skin pebbled with gooseflesh as his lips graze over my back again. He slides his hand to my cunt and slowly, slowly strokes me, his kisses traveling over my backside. I feel his tongue slide inside me, register a shift as he sucks at my clit, but I don't look over my shoulder. By the time he strokes his cock against me, sliding it between the lips of my cunt, I'm shivering, waiting desperately for him to fuck me, but far too proud to beg.

9:49 p.m.: Brutus aims the tip of his cock at my slit and I ease my hips back, taking him inside me. He inhales sharply; I can hear the way his teeth are ground together, the way his jaw is wired shut. I round my back, releasing him slightly, and then arch it, taking him in again; my motions are smooth and sensual, my hips rolling rhythmically, and I wish that the extent to which I know how to give a man what he wants were not so wasted on a moment like this, totally devoid of much of anything. His fingers tighten on my hips as his hand drops to my clit; he knows I like it rough, almost senseless, and he grinds the palm of his hand against me until I tighten around him, choking out the bitterness of pleasure.

9:55 p.m.: Sex is such a carnal thing, but sometimes I appreciate that. If this were Caesar, he'd have taken me against the wall, not waiting to remove my clothes; he'd have had me with his hand across my mouth, catching my muted groans of pleasure and swearing breathlessly in his ear that he would love me eternally, would worship me for all of time. If it were Antony, he'd have lain on the bed to look at me with wonder in his eyes, drawing me up to straddle his lips as he licked me, never taking his eyes away; he'd have called me a goddess, kissed me while he fucked me, tangled his fingers in my hair to draw it back from my face while he looked me in the eyes. With Brutus, though, it's almost always out of necessity, out of instinct. We don't need to tell each other stupid lies or make inadequate promises. The only thing I want from him is his cock filling the ache inside me, and whatever it is he wants from me, I don't care.

10:03 p.m.: He makes me come again, burying himself deep inside me, and then, shortly after, he comes, sputtering. I release my elbows and we both shift forward as he lies on top of me, his cock still inside me while he brushes his lips against my neck. I can feel him watching me, but I don't look at him. The physical contact is reassuring—I will readily admit that I miss having the weight of another body on mine from time to time—but I don't want any more than this.

10:08 p.m.: Eventually Brutus gets up and I summon my nightgown, putting it back on. I turn out the light and go to sleep before he comes back, and then he slides into bed beside me, not saying a word. I miss sleeping with Antony; he had such a vulnerability to his touch, and the way he curled around me made me feel safe. Brutus' hand slides up, resting between the blades of my shoulders.

10:10 p.m.: "There's something wrong with the Gringotts account," I say, and add, "I'll go in tomorrow." He toys with my hair for a moment. "You always take care of us," he notes, and it sounds like little more than an observation. "You're my queen," he adds, this time with a touch of gratitude, and I shrug. Better that he believes that; better that everyone believes that, as it has cost me most of my sanity trying to live up to that lie. "Thank you," he murmurs.

10:15 p.m.: "You're welcome," I say, because I'm the best liar I've ever known. I'm a beautiful woman and, for all intents and purposes, a dutiful wife, and if there's one thing to know about me, it's that I tell the prettiest lies.


DAY TWO

9:17 a.m.: When I wake up in the morning, Brutus is gone from the bed. I'd wonder when I'll see him again, but I don't like to waste my time.

10:18 a.m.: By the time I'm ready to leave for Gringotts, Caesarion is back on the couch, reading again. "What's the book about?" I ask, settling myself at his feet, and he tucks one hand behind his head, considering it. "A very strange, poor woman with no sense of propriety," he says, "and her highly relatable male adversary." "Is it good?" I ask skeptically, and he shrugs. "I've read worse," he says, and I resist the urge to smother him with an unseemly, horribly maternal embrace. "Where are you going?" he asks me, and I tell him. "It's nothing to worry about," I add, though he looks uncertain. "Is this about the war reparations?" he asks, sitting up, and I'm a bit startled that he knows about them. He is a man, I suppose, with a man's ability to read the newspaper, but still. "Nothing to worry about," I assure him, briskly patting his feet. "Are you sure?" Caesarion asks, arching a pale brow with a quizzical expression I'm certain belongs to me. "I'll take care of it," I promise, and he seems to believe me. Why shouldn't he, after all? I've fixed everything in the past, and I'm not about to stop now.

10:41 a.m.: Truth be told, I loathe Gringotts. I never go to our vault unless it's strictly necessary. "There's been a hold placed on my account," I tell the goblin. All goblins make me uneasy, and this one is no exception. "Yes," the goblin agrees, "but it's the Ministry's doing, not ours."

10:45 a.m.: Horrifyingly, the room has fallen silent as he's said that, and I see a handful of faces that swivel in my direction. One of them, I note, is a tall redheaded man who seems to work there; he's wearing a Gringotts pin on his lapel, though my gaze lingers more attentively on the scars across his (somehow) still exquisitely handsome face. He brings a hand up, curiously curling it around his mouth, and I blink, abruptly processing what the goblin has said. "What do you mean the Ministry placed a hold on my account?" I demand, and the goblin shrugs. "Nothing in or out of your vault until it's lifted," he says, and then adds, "Have you paid your war reparations?"

10:47 a.m.: The redheaded wizard's curiosity seems only to heighten as I lean forward, dropping my voice. "Yes, of course we have," I hiss at the goblin. The reparations, essentially a hefty tax levied on the families who sympathized with Death Eaters during the war, account for a percentage of the wealth in our vault that was paid to the Ministry. "Can't you see that for yourself?" I snap, gesturing to his records. The goblin spares me little more than a wary stare, and I turn, outraged, as the redheaded wizard's gaze follows me through the doors.

11:36 a.m.: Thankfully, Brutus is home when I arrive, so I don't have to go prying him out of some willowy girl's bed. "Is there a problem with the reparations?" I ask him without preamble, and he pauses, his cup halfway to his lips. "What do you mean?" he asks carefully, and if it wouldn't be unseemly to slap him, I would. "This is me you're talking to," I remind him, because I've seen us both through trouble with the law before. I make certain the look on my face discourages him from lying, and he sighs. "We paid the reparations based on what's in our vault," he explains, "but I'd already hid some of our wealth before then."

11:40 a.m.: I pinch the bridge of my nose, furious, and Brutus has the audacity to shake his head. "Didn't you wonder why we were still wealthy?" he prompts drily, gesturing around our extravagant manor house. "Those reparations were intended to cripple us," he reminds me, "and I made sure they did not." I am incensed by this. "You could go back to Azkaban for this," I tell him, but his expression hardens. "I'm never going back there," Brutus tells me, and I know he isn't. I know he can't. I may spend most of my time hating my husband, but even I wouldn't wish it on him again.

11:48 a.m.: "I'll fix this," I snap, and then I turn, leaving him without another word. He's right, after all, about how I should have noticed. The problem is that the money is part of the lie; the money is necessary for cosmetically enhancing the reality of what we are. I didn't question it because I didn't want to do without it. Frankly, I've been unwilling to live the version of my life that's stricken by both poverty and unhappiness. I'd hoped to limit it to one.

12:37 p.m.: The more I think about it, the worse it gets. For example, I realize that if we owe money, it's too late to call it an error now. The crime has already been committed. I recall Brutus' clandestine meetings with other purebloods and wonder how many of them are involved in this before registering that it may be far worse than I know. If Caesar were here, he would… No, I remind myself firmly; Caesar is what got us into this mess. I pace in front of my vanity, wondering who to turn to. I wonder who I have left.

1:06 p.m.: 'I need you,' I scribble in an owl. 'I'm sorry, but I need to talk to you. Can I see you?'

1:18 p.m.: The response is one word: 'Yes.'

1:24 p.m.: I walk through my Floo to find Antony waiting for me, sitting with his elbows braced against his knees. "Are you okay?" he asks without looking at me, and I can see very well that my note worried him. I can also see that he knows it was a mistake to let me into his home again, but he and I both know he would never have refused me. "No," I tell him, and ask if he knows anything about the reparations; specifically, about how the other purebloods have suffered from them (or not suffered, as the case may be).

1:31 p.m.: He seems relieved that I've come to discuss business. "I paid mine," he says, shrugging, and explains that that's why he was forced to get rid of most of his father's things. He admits, though, that some of his friends don't appear to have struggled much. "I can find out what's going on, if you want," he offers. "How?" I ask, because Antony's never really been very politically connected; he's sort of aimless and solitary, really, down to his very being. He looks up, arching a brow, and I realize what he means. "Ah," I say uncomfortably, looking at my hands.

1:34 p.m.: Antony is seeing someone else now. A man, actually, and a contemporary of my son; my son's Hogwarts rival, in fact, which I imagine is one of many secrets Antony is accustomed to keeping. I'll call his new love interest Octavius. "Do you think Octavius can help?" I ask, and Antony shrugs. "He can give me answers," Antony replies, and I can see once again how he's so easily made my problems his. He has a way of doing that, and it makes me hate myself, only it also reminds me how much I miss him; how much better a man he is than Brutus; how much better a human being he is than me. "Thank you," I say, and when he looks up at me, I want terribly to cry. I want to throw my arms around him, to feel his lips on mine, to be held in his arms. I notice, too, that perhaps he still wants the same; his fingers twitch at his sides, restless.

1:38 p.m.: I don't want to hurt him, but I want him. I need him to be done with me, I need my marriage to stand between us, but I also badly need his help. I take his hand, pulling him to his feet, and settle his hands on my hips, tilting my chin up to speak in his ear. "Thank you," I say again, curling my fingers around the back of his neck, and I feel him shudder. His head shifts and I brush his cheek with my lips, slowly. He freezes, so I move for him. I take his hands and draw them over the bodice of my dress, up the front of my gown and over my breasts, sliding his fingers across the swells of them as I slide my lips against his jaw, his neck, his throat. He swallows and I feel it beneath the pressure of a kiss I give him, softer than a breath. I want him terribly. I want him so badly it aches.

1:42 p.m.: Antony remembers himself and steps back, jerking his hands free. "Go," he says, rubbing his forehead, "please." I hate that he turns me away, but only because it makes me love him more. If he'd said yes, if he'd taken me in his arms as I so badly want him to, I'd know he was just as terrible as I was. Somehow, I'm both pleased and shattered to know, as I've always known, that Antony is a vastly better being than me. "I'll help you," he promises me, gritting his teeth, "but you have to go. Please."

1:45 p.m.: "Antony," I say softly, and his entire body shudders. "Please don't do this to me," he begs me, and I nod, because I care for him at least that much. I care enough to break, don't I? So I turn and walk through the Floo without another word.

6:45 p.m.: As I eat dinner alone I contemplate telling my sister, only I'm not sure I want to disrupt her happiness. She certainly can't help me financially, so I don't want her to worry. I consider that Caesarion should know what's happening, but I can't bear to tell him yet. Not after everything else we've put him through.

8:47 p.m.: Seeing Antony again makes me voraciously long to be touched, but Brutus doesn't come home. Better that way, I remind myself, and lift the silk of my nightgown, tracing the curves of my thighs. I can't think of Antony at the moment—he was in too much pain, and I can't bear to draw his expression to mind again—so I think of Caesar, the way he used to be. He was the most handsome man I've ever known, even now; even after I saw what he became, all slitted eyes and unnatural claws and terrible, unfathomable betrayal. I hear his voice in my ear—I long for you, all day, all hours, I see you I want you I have to have you, I must have you you're mine, you'll always be mine—and feel the possession in his fingers, the way they used to make a home in the circumference of my waist. He'd amused himself with my sister until all he wanted was me; unlike Brutus, who hoped for my sister and settled for me. I slide my fingers in and out of my cunt, wet with memory, and come with Caesar's name on my lips; his real name, not the title he gave himself, burdened by illusions of grandeur. I knew more about him than anyone else ever did, which is probably why my betrayal was the worst of all.

8:55 p.m.: He should have known I was a liar. They all should have known—all the men who've been foolish enough to love me. I wonder which lie will save me this time, and smooth over my mask of regency, preparing to fight for my family once again.


DAY THREE

8:15 a.m.: When I wake up, Brutus is in bed beside me. "You were asleep when I got home," he tells me, and I turn away. "What was her name?" I prompt, which is probably a childish thing to say, but I don't particularly care anymore whether I sound like a child or not. He sighs. "It was about the accounts," he protests defensively, but I don't care. I'll be the one to fix this. I don't need his help.

8:25 a.m.: "Please," he says, his hand snaking around me to hold my back against his chest, "please don't be angry with me. We need each other now." He holds me close, burying his nose in my hair and inhaling the smell of it, continuing to murmur in my ear. "Remember when we were in love?" he asks me, and I stiffen. "Remember before the war?" he muses, and I do. He was a successful Ministry figure, a Hogwarts school governor, our son a rising star; I was a faithful, dutiful wife, and my husband slept in my bed every night, making love to only me. How could I forget the one time in my life I was anything close to happy? How could I forget the time in my life I try most fervently to replicate, only to find that nothing is as it was?

8:35 a.m.: I don't remind Brutus that he betrayed me first; that ultimately, I chose to stand by his side while his reputation and mine were torn to shreds, even though I didn't have to. I don't tell him that his collection of errors brought Caesar's wrath down on our son, on our family, on me. I don't remind him that I would never have turned to Antony if not for the way Brutus turned away from me. Blaming each other for our marital failings would take a lifetime, so instead I get up from the bed, saying nothing and leaving Brutus' impossible effort at nostalgia behind.

10:29 a.m.: I'm combing through my files, looking for something (or someone) I might be able to appeal to for help and waiting to hear from Antony when an owl taps at the window, interrupting me. It isn't Antony's, nor does it belong to anyone else I know, but my name is on the letter.

10:30 a.m.: 'Come to my office at noon. We have something to discuss.' It's marked with a Ministry seal and signed by Octavius, Antony's boyfriend. I'm wary, naturally, but I have no choice. If my accounts are already frozen, the Ministry must already have evidence of something; the situation may be further gone than I even realize. I hope Octavius can be trusted. I put on my most persuasive dress, just in case he can't.

11:59 a.m.: I dislike coming to the Ministry even more than I dislike Gringotts. Unlike Brutus, I've never worked in the Ministry, so the only times I've been here have been for unpleasant things, like the countless Wizengamot trials wherein I saw my family condemned, or my husband, or myself. I wander the halls uneasily, half waiting for an Auror to stop me and drag me down to one of the chambers, finally handing me over to a dementor and putting me where I belong.

12:00 p.m.: Octavius is sitting at his desk when I enter his office. He has a full takeaway lunch set out beside a mass of papers, but he hasn't opened any of it. He's sitting in his chair, arms folded, staring into nothing when I enter, and then he looks up at me. "Close the door," he says, and I do. For someone my son's age, he does have an air of authority about him.

12:03 p.m.: "Do not ask Antony to lie for you," Octavius says. "You no longer have that right," he tells me, and I blink, uncertain if I'm being admonished or warned away. I wouldn't have thought Octavius a possessive person, but it seems for Antony, he is. "He wants to help you," Octavius says, "and for him, I will. But if you ask him to lie for you again, you and I will have a problem."

12:05 p.m.: "Is that a threat?" I ask coolly, though I can see that it is. Octavius shrugs. He seems angry, fidgety, coiled; I assume he and Antony fought about it. "I don't forget that your lie saved my life," he tells me, which is meant to be an offering, "and I don't want any harm to fall on Caesarion." Ah, so he's noble. A quality that only heroes can afford to cling to, I think. "But if you think you can manipulate Antony into doing your bidding, I'm going to be much less inclined," Octavius concludes. I'd laugh at the absurdity of this boy accusing me of being some sort of siren, only part of me admires it. He clearly cares enough about Antony to fight for him. Good for him. Good for them both. "Understood," I say, as disinterestedly as I can. "Any help you can offer me is appreciated."

12:10 p.m.: He tells me he knows for a fact that the Ministry has collected information about my husband. "It's bad," he says flatly, and I bury my apprehension in the tightening of my interlaced fingers, somewhere below his line of sight. "What are they accusing my husband of?" I ask, and Octavius grimaces. "Alleged crimes include collusion, criminal conspiracy, obstruction—" "Conspiracy?" I cut in, startled, and Octavius nods grimly. "Many pureblood families have skirted their reparations by hiding some of their wealth in unregistered offshore accounts. They lead back to Brutus," Octavius explains, and then amends, tentatively, "There's a witness who can tie it all back to him."

12:19 p.m.: My mind whirs with panic, but I paint serenity on my face as best I can. "Does Caesarion know?" I ask, and Octavius shakes his head. "Antony didn't know either until he came to me yesterday," Octavius warns, and adds that Caesarion will likely know soon, informing me that a muggleborn girl they went to school with (who works in the Ministry's legal department) will almost certainly warn him. "Why?" I ask, and Octavius blinks. "That's just her way," he says, but from one liar to another, I see right through it. Unfortunately, I can't think about that right now. "Who is the witness?" I ask, but I can tell already it's yet another person Octavius is protecting. "I can't tell you," he says. "Can't?" I echo skeptically, and his green eyes cut gravely to mine. "Won't," he corrects himself, and I can see that conversation is over.

12:25 p.m.: "I'm going to try to help you," Octavius says again, slowly. "Not because I feel sympathetic to your cause, but because Antony wants me to; because I don't want to see harm come to Caesarion. And because you saved me once," he clarifies, "and now I can return the favor. But don't make the mistake of thinking I'm soft." I don't tell him that I know he isn't. I don't ask him if he knows what he's doing is illegal. I don't point out that this could destroy his career. "Thank you," I say, rising to my feet, but he doesn't get up. He stares out his window, contemplating his final remarks.

12:30 p.m.: "You don't get to lie to Antony anymore," Octavius says, as if I ever wanted to; as if he could possibly know that Antony is one of the only people I never lied to at all. Then, with a sharp-edged blow, Octavius adds: "If you ever really cared about Antony, you'll leave him alone now." I spare us both the indignity of a response. He doesn't need to know what Antony was to me. I nod, and then I leave, letting the door fall shut behind me.

12:31 p.m.: On the other side of the door, I fight something that might have been a sob if I were a weaker woman. I'm not, though, so I shove Antony out of my head, out of the spare corners of my heart; he's better off, I remind myself, and force myself to keep walking.

12:45 p.m.: I'm making my way through the corridors thinking about what I'll do next when I nearly collide with someone who takes the corner without pause; it's the redheaded wizard who was watching me at Gringotts the day before. "Sorry," he says, and I look up, blinking slightly as his face registers. I can now see a vacant piercing where an earring once was; his hair is swept back from his face in a smooth, gold-lit wave; up close, the scars are more obvious, but his eyes are bluer, his mouth more thoughtful, the angle of his brow slightly softer. I exhale these observations, realizing now who he must be. He's closer to my age than I would have guessed, though I suppose I've never spared him any thoughts before. "Be careful," I admonish him briskly, but I think perhaps he's noticed the pause I took to study him. He seems to be studying me very closely himself.

12:47 p.m.: "You were at Gringotts yesterday," he notes, and I grimace, recalling that he's seen me at one of my more shameful lows and determining briskly that I now have to leave. "Yes," I say, and angle myself to exit, only he shifts slightly in the same direction, which pauses me. "What are you doing here?" I demand, perhaps too brusquely, and he shrugs. "Had to drop something off with my father," he says. "And you?" he asks me. "Event permits," I say, listing the first thing that comes to mind. He nods (why wouldn't he?) and then slides his tongue carefully over his bottom lip, contemplating something. "Would you like to have lunch?" he asks, which even he must know is a stupid question. He must know how stupid he sounds. Then again, I think, sparing myself some flattery, I do have quite an enticing dress on.

12:49 p.m.: I shouldn't, I know. It would be irresponsible, meaningless and selfish, but I have only ever been selfish with my lovers, so why stop now? "How about a drink," I suggest instead, "somewhere private?"

12:50 p.m.: His eyes widen, caught off guard, and he glances reflexively over his shoulder. I can see his better judgment playing with his tongue, but he manages nothing. I give it a few moments of silence before promptly turning to leave (I don't want someone who is going to play coy, after all; I hardly have the time or energy for it) but he steps hastily after me, his fingers catching the inside of my sleeve. "Wait," he says, and I turn to glance at him over my shoulder, aware that if we pause any longer than this, people will notice. People will realize immediately that he and I should have no reason to speak to each other, and truthfully, we don't. I wouldn't wish myself on him, either. On anyone. But still—"You have three seconds to decide," I tell him. "One, two, thr-"

12:52 p.m.: "My office," he says quickly, running a hand through his hair as he releases me. I nod. "Ten minutes," I say, and then disappear into the crowd.

1:15 p.m.: "You're late," he says when I enter. "I took a leisurely pace," I tell him, and his gaze travels over me openly now, skating across the bodice of my dress in a way that suggests he wouldn't be particularly gentle. I find I welcome it, and he gestures to the chair opposite his desk, charming a bottle of whisky into pouring us both a drink. "You're married," he notes, and I take the glass closest to me, toying with a sip. "So are you," I say, because I can see the outline of a wedding ring on his finger. He shakes his head. "Not anymore," he says.

1:20 p.m.: "My wife is leaving me for my brother," he informs me, with a wry tone of humorlessness. I decide I'm going to call him Cassius, because by now, he clearly needs a name. "Interesting," I say, taking another sip. The whisky burns down my throat. "What's your story?" he asks me. "My husband is a criminal," I reply. "Everyone knows that," Cassius replies. "Then why am I here?" I ask him, and he carefully toys with an answer.

1:25 p.m.: "For a second yesterday," Cassius says slowly, "you looked on the outside how I feel on the inside." For some strange reason, I know precisely what he means.

1:26 p.m.: "Lock the door," I determine, abruptly making up my mind about what's going to happen here today. "It's already locked," he replies. "Confident, are you?" I ask drily, and his lips twitch up at the corners. Oh, he's a liar too, as much as I am; I can feel it. He knows perfectly well what it is to wear a mask. "I already cast a silencing spell, too," he informs me with a clever half-smile, draining his glass, and by now, I am more than intrigued. I toss aside my problems with Brutus, with Antony, with Octavius; none of those things can be resolved this afternoon. My curiosity about Cassius, though, is almost certainly an achievable endeavor.

1:30 p.m.: When my glass is empty I rise to my feet, and he does too, mirroring me. He steps towards me, leaning back against his desk, and makes a single motion with his chin; a beckoning gesture of sorts. I step towards him and he reaches out, curling the backs of his fingers against my cheek and then drawing them down, the knuckle of his index finger following the line of my throat. "You are the worst possible person I could get involved with," he tells me, tilting my chin up and openly admiring the parting of my lips. "I wish I could say the same," I reply, "but I have a history of catastrophic choices. With how innocuous an option you are, I doubt I'll even remember you." His mouth twitches slightly. "I'll take that bet," he says, and lowers his head, brushing his lips against mine.

1:35 p.m.: The smoky taste of the whisky burns as Cassius slides his tongue into my mouth. He tastes me, exploring, while one hand rises to slide around the back of my neck, deepening the pressure along the vertebrae. It's been months since I've been with anyone—really been with anyone, not counting Brutus—and my body responds to his immediately, my hips meeting his with less hesitation than I would like. His free hand gladly lands on my waist, tight at first, and then slides up my bodice; he reaches behind me—his chest pressed flush against mine, prompting me to gasp into his mouth—and picks up something that only registers as a flash of silver until I realize he's slicing open the stitching at the front of my dress. "What are you doing?" I protest, leaning back as the letter opener flashes against my skin, but he holds me still, unfazed. "I'll fix it when I'm done," he informs me, and kisses me again, tossing the letter opener back onto his desk and tearing the stitching open with his hands, his fingers spreading over the curves of my breasts.

1:45 p.m.: He shifts me, sitting me on his desk and hastily drawing the silk of my gown up to my thighs before placing himself between them. Then he pauses, maddeningly, and begins to methodically roll up the sleeves of his dress shirt, folding the cuffs with a careful, agonizing patience. "Let your hair down," he tells me, not even looking up from the curation of his sleeves, and I tug the pins out of my usual polished twist. I set each pin down on his desk, one by one, until my pale blonde hair falls in waves down my shoulders, cascading over the delicate lace of my bra. Part of me knows, recalling whispers of admiration from lovers past, that this is when I'm most beautiful, and Cassius is not without some requisite affliction at the sight of me. He pauses, looking at me, and wraps his fingers loosely around the bared skin of my thighs. Then he strokes two fingers down from my clavicle, drawing them between my breasts as I inhale sharply, waiting. His mouth quirks with approval, and I reach forward, carefully undoing the buckle of his belt.

1:52 p.m.: I don't yank at the clasp of his trousers. I don't fumble with his zipper. He stands still, waiting, and when I've slid his cock free, he watches me eyeing his shaft in my hand, my thumb slipping over his tip. I can see the carved shape of the muscle that slopes from his torso, cutting down from his hips, and I admit, he is intriguing. I lean back against his desk, waiting. "Impress me," I beckon, as regally as I can. His mouth twitches again. "You're already impressed," he says, not unwarrantedly, and leans forward, kissing me again.

1:55 p.m.: He slides inside me effortlessly; there is nothing quite like the thrill of a liaison like this, and I know I'm wet before he touches me. I hardly require much foreplay beyond the way he leans back to look at me, watching the way I react to having him inside me. I can feel myself tense around him, unable to prevent an inadvertent shudder, and he draws my hips forward, taking slow, rhythmic motions to slide himself in and out of me. His thumb darts over my clit, and I shiver again; he knows what he's doing. So do I. I lean back onto my elbows, hitching my heels up on the desk and raising the angle of my hips, permitting him a better view of his cock as he fucks me. At that, his jaw tightens; a breath slides out sharply, and I lower my hand to my clit.

2:01 p.m.: I let my head fall back, my hair slipping from my shoulders, and his blue eyes fall hungrily on my breasts before he leans forward, sliding his tongue over my nipple as his belt buckle digs into my thigh. I hiss in opposition, anticipating a bruise, and he frowns with frustration, his brow furrowing as he registers the inadequacy of the angle. Before I can adjust, though, he picks me up, both hands under my thighs as I instinctively snake my arms around his neck, and he carries me over to the bookshelf, propping me up at a more pleasing height. His belt continues to dig into my skin, but by then, I no longer care; I have my fingers buried in his hair while he kisses my neck, and he's poised so perfectly at my clit I forget my discomfort. My dress is pushed up around my waist, the lace of my bra pulled below my breasts, and part of me wishes I were naked, wishes we were bare against each other, wishes I knew more things than I know now; like what his fingers feel like, his tongue, what his voice sounds like when he says my name—which we both know he isn't going to say. This is all we're getting. This is where this will end.

2:10 p.m.: I register that he's going to leave marks on my neck, but I can't bring myself care. By then, the rhythm he's built up is exploding inside me and I claw my nails into the back of his neck while I come, while he comes, while we finally permit ourselves to fall still, wrung out and probably injured in one way or another. He eases back, tensing the wrist that was holding us both up, and I rub my thumb across the tendon. Some simple spells I can do without a wand, which is something Caesar always liked about me. Cassius nods, impressed, and rolls out his healed wrist. "Well," he says, glancing over me. I disentangle myself from him, gesturing to my bodice. "Fix it," I say without expression, and he reaches back for his wand, obliging. "Reparo," he says in a murmur, in a way that makes me imagine how the words yes and fuck and pussy might sound on his lips.

2:20 p.m.: Cassius has a Floo in his office, thankfully. I hardly want to venture into Diagon Alley like this, which he seems to grasp. He seems to be searching around for something to say, so I spare him. "You're aware this was a mistake," I tell him, and he nods. "You'll be discreet?" I prompt, and he looks mildly amused. "I suspect I have more to lose by mentioning it than you do," he tells me, which might be true, or perhaps not. What does it really matter what the truth is?

2:25 p.m.: "Goodbye," I say, and before Cassius can say anything, I pass through the Floo into the one in my bedroom, my hair still loose around my shoulders. There's a sound in the corner, and I jump; Brutus stares expectantly at me, his arms folded over his chest. At least it wasn't Caesarion. "What?" I ask brusquely, daring him to question me about where I've been. He opens his mouth and closes it, biting down on the obvious; that there are red marks on my neck and the tops of my breasts, that my dress is wrinkled, my hair is loose and the lipstick he saw me leave with is gone. "Nothing," he manages eventually, and I head into the bathroom, half-wishing he'd said anything at all.

6:30 p.m.: I try to avoid Brutus for the rest of the day, but find him sitting in our dining room when I come down for dinner. He's waiting for me, a bottle of wine set out with our meal, and I register with discomfort that this appears to be some sort of attempt at romance. "Sit," he tells me, and I do, lacking many other options.

6:35 p.m.: "Are you trying to get back at me?" he asks in an egregiously patronizing tone, and I struggle not to groan. We're on neutral ground; outside of our bedroom, everything we do takes place within the realm of pretend, just in case our son wanders in. "If you're trying to punish me," Brutus begins quietly, and I glare sharply enough to stop him in his tracks. "Not everything I do is about you," I inform him, as that's apparently a novel concept. He hesitates. "The other day," he begins, and I cut him off which a shake of my head. "I don't care," I tell him, and though I wonder for a second if he'll persist, he doesn't. I don't know if I hate him more or less for that.

6:57 p.m.: The rest of the meal is virtually silent. Eventually, though, I can't take it. "We're in trouble," I tell him, "and in a way I don't know if I can fix." He doesn't look up, and I bite down on the inside of my cheek. "Please tell me it was only money," I say quietly, and he glances up, fixing his grey eyes on mine. "Please tell me there was nothing criminal," I plead again, and he hesitates much, much too long. I force my eyes shut; open them, hoping the world has changed, though it hasn't.

7:05 p.m.: "Why?" I demand harshly. Brutus stares at me. "You would have left me if I'd lost the money," he replies simply, but I refuse to take that as an answer. "What about our son?" I demand. "What about his future? What will happen if you're forced to—"

7:06 p.m.: "Forced to what?" Caesarion interrupts, revealing himself in the doorway. I break off, glancing down at my plate, and Brutus gives our son something of an uneasy smile. "Nothing," he says, and I want to take my steak knife and stab it into his heart. I can't be the one to tell Caesarion what's happened; not again. "Just a small problem," Brutus says, "but your mother and I are taking care of it."

7:10 p.m.: Caesarion doesn't believe him. Good. "Mother?" he asks me. I dab my napkin against my lips as Brutus gives me a warning glance, clearly hoping I'll say nothing. I glance down at my knife again, considering the damage I could cause. "I'm tired," I say, and rise to my feet, leaving my half-eaten dinner behind as I kiss Caesarion's cheek. "I'll take care of it for us," I murmur in my son's ear, and he nods uncertainly. I'm positive he remains unconvinced, but I don't want to worry him yet. Not before I hear from Octavius.

7:35 p.m.: If I leave Brutus now, I'll be able to speak against him at his trial. I'll be able to insist that Caesarion and I knew nothing about the missing funds. We don't have to go down with him—but the moment I think of sending Brutus to Azkaban, I suffer a wave of guilt. He barely survived it the last time; if he goes back now, he won't come out alive. I may loathe him, but I loved him once. We raised our son together. I've spent more than half my life being his wife, and pureblood marriage vows are not an easy thing to break.

8:15 p.m.: If I stay and two of the three in our family are presumed guilty, it will be difficult to prove Caesarion wasn't. Easier if I force Brutus to stand on his own. Would I do it to protect my son? Yes. Yes, I know I would. But do I really wish my husband dead?

9:45 p.m.: I'm still awake, staring at the ceiling, when an owl taps at my window.

9:48 p.m.: It isn't signed, but there's only one person who could have sent it. 'I have to see you again,' from Cassius.

9:56 p.m.: I toy with it for a few minutes, knowing it's a mistake, but I'm too angry at my husband to make good decisions. I'm too hurt by Octavius' accusations. I'm too lonely, too heartbroken, too sad. 'Tomorrow night,' I write back, sending it with his owl just as Brutus comes into the bedroom.

10:15 p.m.: "I'll fix it," Brutus whispers to me when I slip into bed beside him. I don't turn around. "You can't fix it," I tell him bluntly, because he and I both know he's never been able to fix anything without my help. Rather than wait for an answer, though, I merely close my eyes, hoping I'll manage to sleep.


DAY FOUR

9:04 a.m.: When I wake up in the morning, Brutus is gone. There's no evidence of him downstairs, either, though Caesarion is awake, staring into space. "Sweetheart," I say, and he turns, dragging his mind from a thousand faraway places. "Mother, what's happening with you and Father?" he asks me.

9:15 a.m.: "Marriage is sometimes very difficult," I tell him. He nods. "Is it any easier, do you think, when the marriage isn't arranged?" he asks me, and I consider it. Of the men I have loved of my own volition, I doubt a relationship would have been any easier. Marriage to Caesar or Antony would have come with problems of their own, and in truth, I don't quite know how to imagine a life where I wasn't married to Brutus. "I think that people change very easily," I tell Caesarion, who nods, "and any relationship may, at times, take on very different forms. Love is very powerful," I add, "but it isn't everything. Sometimes duty and responsibility do most of the work, while love waits for happier times."

9:20 a.m.: "I'm seeing someone," my son tells me, "and I don't think you or Father will approve." I don't tell him that he would hardly approve of my liaisons either; that seems an unhelpful remark. Instead, I try to comfort him, placing my hand on his shoulder. "If she makes you happy," I tell him, "then that's enough for me. Within reason," I add quickly, because if it's anyone Brutus has slept with (among which would be Caesarion's first girlfriend, unfortunately), I doubt I can bring myself to look at her. Caesarion smiles warily. "I'm not ready to tell you who it is yet," he tells me, and I nod. He's my son, after all, and I know the value of a secret. Some things are too delicate not to keep safe until the time is right.

9:34 a.m.: Reflecting on my son reminds me of Helios, and the quidditch things I wanted to send him. "Do you mind if I send some of your old toys to Helios?" I ask Caesarion, who shrugs. "Sure," he says, but reminds me that some of his brooms are valuable vintage models. I know this, having been the one who bought them. Still, it seems wise to strike them from our possessions, if only so as not to watch them being taken away by the Ministry. "Thank you, sweetheart," I tell him, and he smiles at me. He doesn't smile often; like his father, his natural expression leans towards wry disdain. I always like catching glimpses of myself in him, and I like to imagine his happiness belongs to me. "You're welcome, Mother," he says, and excuses himself, heading into his bedroom.

3:37 p.m.: That afternoon, my sister Arsinoe sends me a photograph of Helios wearing Caesarion's first keeper helmet. It's a little big for him (Caesarion had an immensely large head as a child) but it's adorable, and I Floo her to thank her for sending it. "I should be thanking you," she tells me with a sigh, and suddenly disappears. "Sorry," she says when she returns, breathless. "He's just been off—HELIOS, SLOW DOWN—" "Go," I tell her, laughing, and she waves frantically at me before ending the call.

4:45 p.m.: It occurs to me that I still haven't seen Brutus. I wonder whether he's committing further conspiracy, or if it's merely adultery again. I can't believe that my marriage has become the sort of hellscape where the latter is a far more promising sign.

6:04 p.m.: An owl finds me in my sitting room. There's very little in the letter; only the location of his house, and then one word: 'Now?'

6:10 p.m.: I walk in to find Cassius waiting for me just across the fireplace. He lives in a small cottage near the ocean, from what I can see through the window, and on the roof, I can hear the pattern of rain starting to fall outside. Next to the fireplace is a small pile of things; suitcases and boxes, by the look of it. "My wife's things," he explains when I look over at it, his expression hardening slightly. "Is she coming to pick them up?" I ask, and he shrugs. "Next week," he says, "but I started packing for her." He pauses, swallowing, and then quietly, he adds, "I was losing my mind."

6:15 p.m.: I step closer to him. Outside, the rain is starting to fall more aggressively, like a scattered, racing pulse. "I'm not going to fuck you in the house you shared with your wife," I inform him, and he manages a humorless chuckle. "There's an inn nearby," he tells me, and I nod. "We're going there," I say.

6:20 p.m.: "We shouldn't be doing this," he murmurs to me while the innkeeper hunts for a key, babbling over her shoulder about the room upstairs and what a remarkably lovely couple Cassius and I are. "No," I agree, and ask if he wants to stop now. His blue gaze cuts to mine, raking over me. "I couldn't stop thinking about you yesterday," he says, and I swallow. "I left work early," he adds, "because I was going mad in that office, and—" "Ah, here's the key!" the innkeeper interrupts, brandishing it in Cassius' face. He quickly turns towards her, the flush along the outside of his cheeks the only remaining evidence of what he'd been saying to me.

6:27 p.m.: The room is small but quaint, and from the large window we can still see the rain pouring outside. I move to close the curtains but Cassius stops me, pausing me where I stand. "The way the light hits your hair," he explains, and I loosen it from its pins again, letting it fall down the length of my spine.

6:28 p.m.: I unbutton my blouse, one by one, and his gaze follows my fingers.

6:29 p.m.: I unzip my skirt, letting it fall to the floor.

6:30 p.m.: I reach behind me, loosening the clasp of my bra, and then let it slip from my hand.

6:31 p.m.: I slide my knickers down, stepping out of them and keeping my eyes on his, waiting.

6:32 p.m.: Cassius removes a hand from his pocket, dragging it slowly around his mouth, and then takes a few long strides towards me. He comes to a halt directly in front of me, pausing for a moment, and then gently sits me down on the Victorian chair by the window, lowering himself to his knees. He doesn't say a word; he merely settles himself between my thighs and looks up at me for a long, discerning moment before he lowers his mouth to my cunt, sliding his tongue over me and then pulling back. "I'd hoped you'd taste like this," he says softly, and I try not to shudder as he eases my legs further apart, draping them over his shoulders.

6:43 p.m.: I curve my hand around Cassius' jaw as he licks at me, sliding his tongue inside me and then replacing it with his fingers, thrusting them into me while he busies his mouth on my clit. I've had excellent cunnilingus before—Brutus is no slouch, certainly—and this is no exception. Cassius makes me come with relative ease, and when I tighten my fingers in his hair, he looks up at me, staring for a long moment. "You're a queen," he tells me, matter-of-factly, and I press the arch of my foot to his chest, nudging him back. "Would you like to be a king?" I ask him, rising to my feet.

6:51 p.m.: I strip Cassius of his shirt, his belt, his trousers, sliding my hands along the muscle of his chest and torso before pressing them into the lines of his hips. I stroke his cock through his underwear for a few moments, waiting until his breath quickens, and then I slide those off too, letting them pool on the ground before gesturing for him to sit in the chair, upright. He watches—partly bemused, partly wanting—as I turn my back towards him, making him my throne while I slowly rotate my hips. He pulls me closer, hastily reaching for my clit; I swat his hands away, reaching behind me to take hold of his shaft and then sliding him into me, guiding his hands to my breasts. I lean my back against his chest, still rocking slowly above him, and I'm rewarded with the hiss between his teeth, the impact of it brushing my ear. He says my name, and it's no less charged than what I imagined; I shift my legs to roll my hips encouragingly, and he groans masculine, meaningless things (fuck, god you're so—fuck, yes, fuck it's so good, you feel so—you're so—fuck, fuck, fuck) and presses his lips into the curve of my neck.

7:04 p.m.: Cassius hikes one of my legs up to rest my foot on his thigh, dropping his fingers to my clit, and soon we're both panting, both starting to sweat. I struggle to keep my rhythm controlled, wanting suddenly for everything to be harder, faster, more violent, and eventually he picks me up, sliding out of me and throwing me back on the bed. I pull him close without hesitation, savoring the way his hands rise to covet my breasts, and I come just before he does, both of us letting out incoherent gasps of something that's equally satisfaction and idle, stupefying torment.

7:18 p.m.: I could leave, I know, but I don't want to. Cassius takes a lock of my hair, loosely wrapping it around his finger, and I don't think he wants me to go either. After a moment, I trace the scars on his cheeks, drawing the pads of my fingers gently over his brow. "What happened to your face?" I ask him quietly, and he sighs, his eyes floating shut. "Your side did this to me," he says, and I blink. For all that I've been with the wrong people before, I've never actually been with someone who was on the oppose side. "How?" I ask, and he merely replies with the name of a werewolf Brutus used to consort with.

7:26 p.m.: "Do you blame me for what happened to you?" I ask. "Yes," Cassius says without hesitation. I blink, surprised. "Not just you," he clarifies, "but certainly everyone who believed what you believed." "Then why are you here now?" I demand, and for whatever reason, he laughs. He laughs. "I don't know," he says, and reminds me that I was a terrible idea from the start. I knew as much, obviously, but not for the same reasons. I touch his cheek again, wondering what to say. "I'm sorry," I tell him, and he turns his head, brushing his lips against my palm. "Thank you for saying that," he says, affording me the kindness of acceptance, which strikes me as far more than I deserve.

7:28 p.m.: It's never actually occurred to me to be sorry before. I'd so long thought of my family's crimes as belonging to Brutus alone, but clearly they're mine, too, even if I never technically raised a wand in defense of my prejudices. I worried about the implications of our choices, of course, but never like this. I'd never wondered what centuries of my family's rhetoric might have cost a handsome young man who'd done no wrong. I find it doesn't sit well with me at all, even as Cassius slides an arm around my waist, drawing lightly with his nails against my skin.

7:43 p.m.: "I've only ever been with girls before—does that make sense?" he asks me, mindlessly twining his fingers with mine. "I'm used to being needed," he clarifies, "but I'm pretty sure you don't need me at all." I don't tell him that I actually need a great many things, but he's right, at least, that he is definitely not one of them. "I'm certainly not a young girl anymore," I say instead, intending to be wry and graceful about my age, but he shakes his head. "You're a woman," he tells me, a satisfied smile pulling at his lips. "A queen," he amends, brushing his lips against my knuckles. "And you're at least closer to my age than the last married woman I was with," he adds guiltily as I arch a brow, facetiously disapproving. "Well," I say, "good to know I'm not the only dearth of morals in the room."

7:56 p.m.: He doesn't hold me, exactly. We're not clinging to each other, per se, but it's comfortable to be by his side, facing each other while we remain naked on the bed. Antony always wanted to hold me; I think it was his way of feeling close to me, of feeling like he had more of me than merely whatever I permitted to come and go. I suffer another wave of guilt and Cassius draws a hand over my arm, misinterpreting my unease. "Does this bother you?" he asks. I shake my head. He can't know the truth of it, of course, but for all that Cassius is unwise and ill-advised and a poor show of judgment, he is still objectively a better sin than Caesar and Antony both. Actually, if I'd met him under other circumstances, perhaps I'd feel no guilt at all. Perhaps he'd be rather good for me, if I were even remotely free to give any parts of myself away. "It doesn't bother me," I say firmly, and he nods, satisfied.

8:15 p.m.: Eventually Cassius leans forward, brushing his lips against my forehead; he kisses each part of my face with a slow, unhurried motion, from eyelid to eyelid and then down to my lips, tilting my chin up. There's something very syrupy about our kisses like this—something treacle sweet and rich and full, the two of us still lying on our sides—and eventually he snakes an arm around my ribs as I roll on top of him, settling him on his back and shifting to straddle his hips. "Do you need to get back soon?" he asks me, his fingers still tracing patterns on my arms, and I shake my head. "He doesn't care," I say honestly, as Cassius reaches up, drawing my face down to his. "He's an idiot," Cassius says, and kisses me. "A stupid—" (another kiss) "—dumb—" (kiss) "—did I say stupid?—" (a longer kiss, my tongue darting against the roof of his mouth before a muffled "yes") "—stupid idiot," he finishes, and then groans as I slide his cock inside me, easing back to sit upright.

8:42 p.m.: By the time he's rolled over me, one of his arms hooked firmly under one of my legs, he and I both know I'm not going anywhere. The rain outside continues to pour, beating down on the roof of the inn, and I know without a trace of doubt that whenever it rains next, I'm going to think of the way it felt to have Cassius' eyes on mine.


DAY FIVE

7:13 a.m.: When I wake in the morning, I find that one of my legs is tucked under Cassius', my shoulder pinned beneath his. I normally sleep with the intent to keep my distance from Brutus, so it's an interesting sensation to discover human contact when I open my eyes. I shift slightly, sliding out from under him, and he stirs, turning to look at me. For some reason, I worry he might say something—what he would possibly say, though, I have no idea—so I kiss him, my hands steadily framing his face and capturing his startled half-gasp between my lips. He responds quickly, almost greedily, his hands spreading over me without hesitation or restraint.

7:24 a.m.: Oh, he's very good. He's very, very good. I recall my thoughts on sex with Brutus and compare them to Cassius, because while this is still carnal—this is desperate and shameless and entirely about touch, about the tactility of skin and the necessity of closeness—there is intimacy here, too. I haven't said aloud that I am lonely, exhausted, scared; he hasn't said aloud that he is aching, hollow, breaking, but somehow I know we still feel it. I know he can feel it in the way I reach for him, not allowing an inch of him to ever be away from some spare inch of me, and I can feel it in the way he bends his forehead to my shoulder, dragging in a breath from wherever he is drowning. We are filling each other's empty spaces. We are carrying each other's pain. What sort of sex is that? I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. But I know I want him now, and that's enough.

7:49 a.m.: I'm in the bathroom renewing some beauty charms when I hear Cassius open and close the door; we still haven't spoken yet, aside from a relatively tender kiss against my temple that struck me, somehow, as good morning. "Who was that?" I ask, and he holds up the Daily Prophet, gesturing to a cup of coffee on a small tray. "For you," he explains, sipping his own, and then glances down, skimming the paper. "Huh," he remarks, as I take hold of the cup, wrapping my fingers around it and enjoying the way the warm ceramic feels in my hand. "What?" I ask, taking a sip, and he glances up. "A Death Eater died," he says, and for a second, my heart stops.

7:56 a.m.: He explains quickly that it isn't my husband (I figured as much, as I doubt even he would have said it to me so carelessly) but it's someone I've known for a long time; the father of Caesarion's first girlfriend, in fact. His mind was going—had been since the war ended, actually—and he'd been in St Mungo's under the watch of a dementor. He was a friend of Brutus', I think, at one time, and I believe his daughter was very close to him—though I hardly want to consider her feelings at the moment. "They think it might be foul play," Cassius remarks, and I blink. "Aren't there surveillance charms? And a dementor in his room?" I ask, and Cassius nods. "That's the thing," he says, pointing to the article as I sit beside him, "the death didn't seem unnatural, but all the charms around his room were disabled." It strikes me as problematic, but I tuck it aside.

8:01 a.m.: After a few more minutes quietly sipping coffee, Cassius sets the paper down, leaning over. He slides his hand up the inside of my thigh, resting it there, and turns my chin towards him, kissing me. "What if I want to see you again?" he asks, and I listen for any signs of trouble; any problematic neediness I might need to be wary of. I don't hear anything. In fact, I merely think a second time that he and I are the same; we're people who wear masks, who made our lives into lies, and we simply can't summon the strength to wear them all the time.

8:05 a.m.: We kiss again, for a bit, until it looks as though it might lead to something more; neither of us have the time for another irresponsible dalliance, so I nudge his hand out from under my skirt and adjust the buttons of his shirt, straightening his collar. He, in turn, fixes a loose curl of my hair, tucking it thoughtfully behind my ear. I'm used to being a wife, and he's used to having one; I don't think either of us realizes what we're doing until it's already been done, and then we're both sheepish. "Maybe we shouldn't," I begin to say, and he nods. "I understand," he tells me, and we stand, ready to part ways.

8:10 a.m.: I opt to apparate into my bedroom, where the bed is still made. I wonder if Brutus ever came home yesterday. I wonder if it's even worth thinking about, and then abruptly conclude that it isn't.

9:15 a.m.: After I've fixed myself for the day I come downstairs to find Caesarion reading the Daily Prophet, a bit of worry furrowed into his pale brow. "What is it?" I ask, preparing myself to express a renewed bout of dismay, but Caesarion doesn't say what I thought he would. "Father was gone all day yesterday," he remarks, and then looks up, catching my eye. "Do you know why?" he asks me, and I feel a cold chill of apprehension.

9:20 a.m.: "I don't," I say, and Caesarion's mouth tightens. "I think something is very wrong," he tells me, rising to his feet to stand beside me. "I think you and Father don't want to tell me that something's wrong, but I'm a grown man, Mother," he says, and I wish I could deny my son anything. I wish I could tell him anything other than the truth. "Your father and I aren't very happy," I tell him, and he nods. "And there's a chance that—" I hesitate, not wanting to say it, but Caesarion nods again. Someone's obviously said something to him. "Did you know about it?" he asks me, and I start to shake my head, but then I stop. "I should have known," I said, "but I didn't want to."

9:45 a.m.: Caesarion and I sit down to breakfast; I note that he takes a moment to thank our elf for the food, which is not typically his practice. "Sweetheart," I say tentatively, "may I ask you something?" He looks up warily, and I give him what I can feel is a tired half-smile. "We've never really talked about the war," I say, and I can tell this isn't what he expected. "Or the fact that we live in a very different world now," I attempt, not sure how to express my thoughts less ambiguously, and he tilts his head, thinking.

9:52 a.m.: "I feel guilty," Caesarion says eventually. "I feel foolish," he adds, "and blinded." "Do you blame me for that?" I ask hesitantly, and he grimaces again. "Not blame, exactly," he says, which is an admission in itself, "though I do think you were wrong." I nod. "I think I was wrong, too," I tell him, and he looks up, his grey eyes filled with something like relief.

10:11 a.m.: Eventually, he slides the Daily Prophet article over to me. "It's her father," he explains, referring to his first girlfriend again. "They were very close—do you think I should talk to her?" he asks me, and I can see he's truly asking, because he doesn't know. I don't know, either. I doubt she'd be stupid enough to bring up the fact that she slept with Brutus for months, but still, part of me wants to protect him from the possibility. I remember, though, that Caesarion is a man, and he should be a man made to face consequences; unlike his parents, who cause wreckage wherever they turn. "If you think you should, then perhaps you should," I tell him eventually.

10:15 a.m.: Caesarion is silent for a long moment, thinking about something. Then, tentatively, he asks, "Father couldn't have done this, right?" I blink, realizing what's been bothering me. The man who is now dead had a degenerative brain illness; what if Brutus was trying to silence him before he gave them both away? The word conspiracy darts in front of my eyes again, and I blink it away. "Surely not," I tell our son firmly, clearing my throat and forcing a smile.

11:20 a.m.: The moment Caesarion is gone, I scribble a note to Octavius. 'Any news?' I ask, signing my initials. I glance over the script of them, recalling again how long I've been Brutus' wife; how long I've carried Brutus' name. I don't remember what it was like to be anything else, but I consider again that perhaps I should. Any further, and I may not be able to persist innocence. The time I have to keep myself and my son clean seems to be shrinking with each passing hour, and I am loath to consider the consequences should it come to be too late.

6:45 p.m.: Brutus comes home when I am waiting for him at the dinner table. He stops abruptly, looking at me, and I can see the darkness in the crevices around his eyes. "It's not a woman," he tells me, and when I lift a brow, he adds, "I'm doing this for us. I'm doing this because we'll lose everything if I don't."

6:51 p.m.: "What do we have left to lose that matters?" I ask him, and he glances around warily, looking for Caesarion. "He's not here. Sit," I command testily, and Brutus sits, staring wordlessly at me. "Our marriage is in shambles," I tell him. This is not news. "If you've resorted to crime, Brutus, I don't know what we have left." "We have a family," he insists, reaching across the table for my hand. "We have our family, and I'm fighting for it—" "Are you?" I interrupt, and he pauses, startled. "I didn't want this life," I inform him, slamming my palms against the table and pushing back from my chair, pacing our dining room. "I never asked you for wealth. I never asked you for this house, these heirlooms, these meaningless things," I fling at him, gesturing around, and he looks as though I've slapped him. He looks as though he can't possibly understand what I mean.

6:57 p.m.: "Why couldn't it have been simple?" I beg him. "Why couldn't you just love me?" I demand, and he opens his mouth to argue, but I'm not finished. "I was young and stupid enough to believe you would love me simply because I was your wife, but—" I dissolve into something that isn't quite sobs; my breathing becomes strenuous and I clutch at my chest, inelegantly panting. "I only ever wanted you to love me," I say, and Brutus, I note, seems to be equally in pain.

7:01 p.m.: "I did love you," he tells me, "I do—" "How can this be love?" I beg, plead, accuse. "How can it be love when it hurts me more than it helps me? When it makes me feel as if I'm alone?" I demand, and he rises to his feet, his hands reaching out for me until I shrink back, wishing I possessed the constitution to cast a spell that would keep him away. Wishing, in fact, that I wouldn't miss him if he were gone. "We're not young anymore," he tells me, lamenting it, as if that somehow explains anything. As if knowing I've spent my life growing older and less desirable beside him is enough to make me forgive the things he's done. "I have only ever loved you, everything else has only been—" He sputters. "Nothing else but you has ever mattered to me," he insists, and while I know it's isn't a lie, it isn't a particularly helpful truth. "You still hurt me," I fling at him. "You hurt me, and now I can't forgive you!" I shout, and he comes closer, and I don't move. "You broke my heart when I was eighteen years old," I whisper as he takes me in his arms, "and you break it now, every day."

7:10 p.m.: He holds me in silence, his hand cupped around my hair, and a younger version of myself recalls how much I longed for this, how much I wished he'd seen me as something other than the girl whose father had forced his father's hand. Brutus wanted Arsinoe, I know, if not for her better nature, then for her better value; he got the money, of course, but only after my family's reputation had been tainted. I wasn't enough for him then, and I'm not enough for him now. He whispers in my ear over and over that he loves me, but suddenly, on perhaps the tenth refrain of the words that have lost all meaning, I realize that perhaps he isn't enough for me, either. Perhaps we've never been enough for each other, and we've foolishly spent our lives wanting to believe we could ever really be more.

7:21 p.m.: "Did you kill him?" I murmur, when my tears have dried and all I feel is a hollow, empty ache. I feel Brutus swallow tightly. "I had to," he says, "for us. His mind was going, and if I wanted to save us, if I wanted to make all of this go away—"

7:22 p.m.: I pull away, stunned and disbelieving, and Brutus calls after me, begs me to wait, but I don't. I can't. I can't wait, and I don't even know where I'm going until I get there. I walk through the Floo and Cassius looks up, startled, and to my relief, he doesn't ask. He doesn't say anything. He holds out a hand and I take it, letting out a breath, as he pulls me into the kitchen, sitting me down at a small table and pouring me a gratuitously large glass of whisky. "Drink," he suggests, sliding it over to me, and I nod, raising it to my lips as he pours himself a glass and sits beside me. Minutes pass in silence, and when I feel like I might cry again, I tip my head back, draining the glass. I look at Cassius, and he looks back at me. "The sofa might be more comfortable," he suggests, pointing to it, and I stand. "I'll pour you another glass," he tells me, and I nod mutely, heading into the living room as he turns back into the kitchen.

7:38 p.m.: I'm sitting on the sofa when Cassius returns, another full glass in his hands. He looks at me, considering something, and then he sets both glasses down on the coffee table, getting to his knees and slowly drawing my dress up my legs. I hesitate, my breath hitching, and he looks up at me as he places his mouth delicately against the slit of my cunt, his hands massaging into my thighs. I say nothing. He says nothing. He sucks my clit through the silk of my knickers and I lean my head back, light sparkling behind my eyelids as my head begins to spin.

7:42 p.m.: Cassius pulls away, reaching for the whisky, and hands me the glass as he slides my knickers down my legs, pushing my knees aside. I let him yank my hips forward, the whisky sloshing onto my hand as I slurp it artlessly from the curve of my thumb, and then he puts his mouth in me in earnest, my legs beginning to shake as I bring the glass to my lips. With my free hand, I tighten it in his hair—in his red hair, a sure sign that he belongs to a family I hate, have always hated, and yet now care nothing at all about—and angle my hips up, permitting him to go deeper, to have more of me. The whisky burns at my throat and withheld sobs burn at my eyes and I am aching, I want more fully than I have ever known I could want, and I'm grateful this is not a man who claims to love me. He's not Caesar, whose love drove both of us to madness; he's not Antony, whose love made us both into fools; best of all, he's not Brutus, whose love drove me here. Drove me to this. Thank god Cassius doesn't love me. Thank god he can make me come like this.

8:05 p.m.: My second glass is empty and I no longer care that Cassius' wife's things are in the corner of the room. I pull him onto the sofa, pulling his trousers down only low enough that the zipper doesn't pound into the bruise from two days prior, and I straddle him as he draws his mouth to my breasts, curling his tongue around my nipples. I feel sick and feverish, I feel worn and wrung out and ruined, and I bite down hard on the muscles of his neck as he makes me come again, buried deep in the hollowness I feel. He hurriedly shifts above me, twisting around, and my vision of his face starts to swim as he comes, choking out something that I swear is missed you today—thought about you all day—what the fuck have you done to me? I don't know, I want to tell him, I don't know; but then he staggers against me and I hold him, precisely as I know I shouldn't.

8:29 p.m.: Strangely, we do things in reverse. After he fucks me he delicately undresses me, kissing my thighs, my hips, my stomach as he slides my dress up over my head. For a moment, the fabric parts us, but when he's risen to eye level again I tighten my fingers into the slats of his ribs, pausing him. "What happened?" I ask, which is a dangerous question, because the more I know about him, the worse it will get. He pauses for a moment, toying with my hair, and then he slowly removes the pins, letting it fall down around my shoulders.

8:45 p.m.: "I could feel her unhappiness," he says, "but didn't know how to fix it. We wanted the same things, or so I'd thought, but then she wanted more, and I didn't know how to be more. I've never had to be more. I'm the oldest, I always had to do everything right, but I—" He exhales, and I wait, stroking his hair. "I didn't realize there was such a vast distinction between looking perfect and being good enough for someone," he says wryly, in a way that reeks of misery, and I shift to look at him. "I know exactly what you mean," I say, and he nods, as if he'd already guessed as much.

8:57 p.m.: I drop my fingers to the buttons of his shirt, undoing them one by one as he continues talking, the low growl of his voice resonating beneath my hands. "We tried an open marriage," he says, "and I think that's where the trouble started. I think they can work, don't get me wrong," he adds, as I nod, carefully removing each of his shoes and brushing my thumb against the arches of his feet, "but I think it only works when you do it for the right reasons. Our reason was that we were unhappy on our own, which isn't exactly a good place to start. Other people can't fix a marriage that's broken from the inside." I pause, kissing the inside of his knee, and glance up. "Are you going to be okay?" I ask him. He arches a brow. "Are you?" he asks in return.

9:02 p.m.: I clear my throat. "Should I leave my husband?" I ask him, and Cassius shrugs. "Do you love him?" he prompts. Yes, in some terrible way, in a way that's mostly habit; in the sense that when I look at our son, whom I love most in the world, I see his father's face, and love him for it. I love Brutus in a way that means I don't know if I can betray him; not after I spent so long fighting for him. "Doesn't your wife love you?" I ask instead, and Cassius flinches. "Ouch," he says, but I shrug. "Love isn't always enough," I say, "is it?" He nods. "I love her, and I believe she loves me," he agrees, "but I think the time for our love has passed."

9:12 p.m.: We're naked now, and I'm in his lap. Sex would be the obvious thing, but not yet. "When did you know it was over?" I whisper to him, and he shakes his head. "When I could see my life without her," he says. "For a long time," he explains, "I could only ever see her. But now…" He trails off, and in the silence that remains, I try to see my life. I'm fairly drunk, really, so seeing much of anything is difficult, but it's difficult to see myself without Brutus. I see myself, Brutus, and Caesarion, and it's all I've ever seen. Even with Caesar, even with Antony; I saw the three of us, and perhaps I see it now, even as I start to grind on Cassius' lap. His breath hitches, his fingers tightening on my hips, and I lower my lips to his.

1:13 a.m.: "You came back," says Brutus, who is sitting at the edge of our bed when I return. "I said I would protect you," I tell him, "and I will." In truth, it's the only reason I came home. Well, that, and because even in my drunken haze, I didn't want to sleep in Cassius' room, taking up his wife's side of the bed.

1:15 p.m.: I fall into our bed, knowing perfectly well I smell like another man's cologne and wondering if that will ever be enough to make my husband give me a reason not to stray.


DAY SIX

11:17 a.m.: There's hangover potion beside me on the nightstand when I wake up, along with an owl. I jump, noticing the seal, but Brutus doesn't appear to have read it. I shakily rip it open, read the message, and down the potion, hurriedly getting dressed.

12:01 p.m.: "Well?" I ask breathlessly, scarcely waiting until I've walked into Octavius' office before I speak. He looks up at me, the scar on his forehead particularly distinct as he rubs his temple, and then he beckons for me to sit. "It's not good," he says, and I hold my breath.

12:04 p.m.: "Can you account for where your husband was two days ago?" Octavius asks, and I swallow hard. "Yes," I say, and Octavius arches a brow, clearly dubious. "You're still an Auror building a case against him," I remind him, and Octavius shrugs. "Fair enough," he agrees, but adds that murder is now a possible offense. "You could be considered complicit," he adds, and I struggle not to scream, forcing myself to stay calm. "So what can I do?" I ask him, holding my breath.

12:10 p.m.: He tells me Brutus' only option is to run. He says that the better option is, of course, if I simply turn Brutus in. Octavius says he'll protect me if I want to be the one to tell the Aurors what I know. "If you do it, you won't be investigated," he assures me, "and neither will Caesarion." I blink. "Why?" I ask, and he starts to give some sort of legal explanation, but I hold up a hand. "I meant why do you want to help me?" I amend, and he hesitates, looking uncomfortable. "Maybe because you told a lie once that saved my life," he reminds me, "or maybe because the man I love loved you once, and that means something to me."

12:20 p.m.: I stare at him. "You love Antony?" I echo, and Octavius shrugs, though in the same motion, he looks as though he might fight me if I question how he feels; like he might fight anyone over it, and I realize that I recognize the feeling. Octavius loves Antony in much the same way I love my family. In a way that means I can't possibly turn my husband in, because I'd rather harm myself than see harm come to him. "If Brutus runs," I say slowly, "then what?"

12:27 p.m.: Octavius looks disappointed, but not surprised. "I've arranged for a portkey that will take him out of the country," he says, handing me a fine-toothed comb that is missing a few bristles. "Aurors will be at your house tomorrow morning, and this will be active for exactly five minutes. It will take Brutus out of our jurisdiction, but he's on his own from there. They'll want someone to blame," Octavius adds, "so he'll have to keep running. He'll have to run for the rest of his life." I stare at the comb. "An unregistered portkey is illegal," I note, and his expression doesn't change. "This is obstruction. You could lose your job. You could be arrested—" "Then don't make me regret it," Octavius interrupts me, and I can see he knows precisely what he's done. I know, too, that he did it for Antony. Whatever Octavius may claim that he owes to me personally, and however much he may want to keep Caesarion from harm, I know that it's because of Antony that he would risk this much.

12:45 p.m.: "Thank you," I say quietly, tucking the comb into my pocket, and Octavius nods stiffly. There doesn't seem to be much left to say, so I leave without elaboration or farewell.

1:30 p.m.: The first place I go from the Ministry is Diagon, directly into the shop that I only now realize belongs to Cassius' brother. It's too late now, naturally, to feel overly burdened by the obvious piecing of these things together, so I head for my sister Arsinoe, who's sorting through the store's budget. I call her name, breathless, and she looks up, surprised and pleased; "What is it?" she asks, but the truth freezes on my tongue. "I just wanted to see you," I force out, managing what I hope is a smile.

3:34 p.m.: I spend the rest of the afternoon playing with Helios and chatting with Arsinoe, who gratifyingly doesn't ask me too many questions. She says Helios loves the new brooms I sent over, though she's finding it much more difficult to make him focus on anything else, and I laugh. He is very much like Caesarion, only with a much better mother. I run my hand over his smooth, bright blue hair, and press a kiss to his forehead, expressing something to him that he won't understand for many more years, or perhaps ever.

3:38 p.m.: "I'm happy to have you here," Arsinoe tells me, and I reach a hand out, squeezing her fingers. "I love you," I tell my sister, "and I wish we were never apart." "That's the past," she reminds me, and I force a nod, a smile. "Yes, of course," I agree.

4:15 p.m.: When I come home, I find Antony waiting for me on my sofa. "Is Caesarion here?" I ask, glancing around, and Antony shakes his head. "I was waiting for you," he tells me, and I can't help it; I rush towards him, colliding with his chest, and he sets his arms around me carefully, brushing his lips against the top of my head.

4:20 p.m.: I think I can feel in his touch that there are some lingering feelings between us; maybe it's something I simply want to believe, but I am such a liar, even to myself, that there's really no telling what's true. I can feel myself want him, and I can feel a tiny sliver of him that still wants me, and I pull away, glancing up at him. "I loved you because you were everything I wasn't," I say, forcing the past tense as I brush my thumb over his cheek, "so don't go backwards now. Take what you have and fight for it." He nods, at once burdened and grateful, and I finally feel that I've done right by him. Far too late, obviously, but at least it can still be managed.

4:32 p.m.: "It's not too late for you, you know," Antony tells me in his dry voice, fixing his eyes on mine in a way I really wish he wouldn't. As the words register, though, I recall my sister's words from earlier this week; it's nice to start over, she says in my mind, and I consider that perhaps it would be. Perhaps Antony's right.

4:35 p.m.: "Thank you," I tell Antony, because as much as this was Octavius' doing, Brutus would be facing prison tomorrow if not for Antony. And what a strange thing, too, considering how much Antony hates Brutus. I don't want to think about what it means that Antony's done this for me; I'll miss him too much if I do. Antony's a far better man than Brutus, a vastly better man than Caesar; I wish the circumstances of our lives had been different, but they're not. Octavius, at least, is a man worthy of Antony. "Go," I tell Antony, not wanting him to say anything that might ruin us both, and he nods. Really, what we would do for the people we love is an astounding, discomfiting thing. He lowers his head, brushing his lips across my palm, and then he leaves without looking back.

6:57 p.m.: I skip dinner this evening, and Brutus comes to find me in our bedroom. "What is it?" he asks, and I hold up the comb. "You have to leave," I say, and I can feel him hold his breath from across the room. And then, inevitably, he says it: "Come with me. You and Caesarion both, please. Come with me."

7:15 p.m.: I knew he would ask. I've been thinking all day what my answer will be, and I still don't know. He's had to ask me to stay before, and I've done it—why? I don't know. I don't think I'll ever know. I try to picture my life without my husband and I can't do it. I doubt he can picture his life without me, without our son, and I understand why he's asked it. But for once, I want this to be about the two of us; about him, and about me.

7:17 p.m.: "Is it too late for you to love me?" I ask him, and he closes his eyes beneath it, as if I've stabbed him in the heart. "I've always loved you," he tells me. "I've loved you for so long," he says pleadingly, "that I don't know how to feel anything but love for you." He takes my hand and tells me we've hurt each other badly, that we've been punished enough; "Let's take it back to the start," he whispers to me, making promises we haven't made for years, and when he kisses me, I let him. I taste my husband and let him settle between my lips, familiar and strange, as if what I've always wanted is finally on the tip of my tongue.

7:20 p.m.: "Only you," he tells me as he tears my dress from my shoulders, fumbling with the zipper and dropping the material to the floor. "I only want you," he mutters into my bare skin, and then he deposits me roughly on our bed, repeating the same words over and over like a psalm, like a prayer. I hold him close, permitting myself to cling to whatever we could be; because this is it for me, isn't it? I've built too much of my life around this man, and I cannot let him go. He slides into me, both of us aching, and he doesn't look away. "Will you go with me?" he whispers, and I look into his familiar grey eyes. "I'll go with you," I promise, and he lets out a breath I suspect he's been holding for a very long time, kissing my neck and cradling my face while he makes love to me.

8:15 p.m.: Brutus falls asleep afterwards and I slip out, walking to my closet and running my hands over the fine silks of my dresses; the lace, the cashmere, the materials I may not wear again for a very, very long time. I'm sure I'll miss the money, but it was only ever an illusion. It was never really what I needed. I pull on a grey wool sweater and a pair of black trousers, leaving my hair loose, and then I head through the Floo, looking for Cassius.

8:45 p.m.: "I hoped I'd see you," Cassius says, and I force a smile. "I don't think you'll see me again for some time," I tell him, "so try not to believe whatever you read about me in the papers tomorrow." "Why do you care what I think?" Cassius asks, gesturing around his living room. He's done more packing, I see. "I'm a mess," he reminds me, and I shake my head. "You aren't," I promise him, and he bends his head, kissing me. I kiss him back, as sweetly as I can. "You're going to be okay," I tell him. "How do you know?" he prompts, grinning slightly as he slides his arms around my waist. "I'll cast a benediction for you every night," I say, and his grin broadens. "I'd like to know you're thinking about me," he concedes, and I will be. I'm positive I will be.

9:15 p.m.: "You could stay," he whispers temptingly in my ear, and it's alarming that he says those words, considering what I've recently decided, only I know what he's really asking. "I can't promise anything actually worth staying for," he acknowledges with a grim chuckle, "but if you wanted to be wildly irresponsible with me, I think we could do that." "Oh, we'd do it so well," I assure him, as he kisses me again. "I'm willing to take that bet if you are," he tells me. "You should know, I'm even worse than you think I am," I inform him, and he laughs. "I'll take that bet too, then," he says, "but no rush, obviously."

9:21 p.m.: The words "no rush" remind me that for me, there is a fairly considerable rush. "Quickly," I say in a hushed voice as he hastily unbuttons my trousers, "I don't have a lot of time." He slams my back against the wall, helping me kick the pants aside as he wrangles my legs around his hips. "Oh, it won't take long," he says, and I gasp, pleased. This, I tell myself, is as satisfying a goodbye as any.

9:48 p.m.: When I return home, Caesarion appears to have come home to collect some things. He and I pause in the corridor, and I take a deep breath. "You got my owl?" I ask, and he nods. "Sit down, darling," I say, and he sits, expectant.

10:15 p.m.: "No," he says, and I blink. "What?" I ask, and he shakes his head. "You can't go," he says brusquely, "and I'm certainly not coming with you if you do." "Caesarion," I say slowly, "your father, sweetheart—these charges are—" "If I leave, I can never come back," Caesarion cuts in angrily. "You can never come back, Mother, not ever—" "But if you come with us," I plead, and he shakes his head. "I'm not leaving her, Mother," he says, and my entire body goes numb with panic. "I won't leave her," Caesarion tells me again, and then he rises to his feet.

10:20 p.m.: "I'm glad that if you and Father want to be together, you will be," Caesarion says, "but I won't run. If I'm not guilty—if you're not guilty—" "I still should have known what was happening," I protest, "and that's the argument the Ministry will make. That this is just as much my fault as his, and they'll take us without hesitation!" "Maybe," Caesarion permits with a haughty shrug, "but if you and Father are running, I want no part in it. I won't leave her," he says again, and my heart breaks, shattering into particles of nothing.

10:23 p.m.: My son turns to leave, heading to whatever woman it is he loves this fiercely, and I scramble to my feet, reaching for him. "At least say goodbye," I beg him, feeling tears at the corners of my eyes. "Please, Caesarion, please—I can't go like this, not if this is the last time we see each other—" "This is your choice to make, Mother," he tells me, and he softens as he looks at me, but only for a moment. "Don't you remember, Mother? This war, it was about our choices," he tells me, and it aches, it strikes me with violence, to know that my son has managed to become such a worthy man. "I'm not going to celebrate this choice for you, Mother," he says, gently disentangling himself from me, "but if you feel this is the one you need to make, then so be it."

10:28 p.m.: He leaves, and I crumble where he's left me.

10:39 p.m.: "What happened?" I hear Brutus ask behind me, but I can't answer. I feel as if my lips will never move again. "Come on," he murmurs in my ear, gathering me in his arms and carrying me to our bedroom. "Come on, love," Brutus whispers to me, "let's get some sleep."


DAY SEVEN

6:30 a.m.: I'm already awake when I get the owl from Octavius. '9:00,' it says, and I write an owl to Caesarion. Then I dry my tears, heading downstairs.

8:15 a.m.: I gather some food, some clothes; anything we might need, though nothing that makes it look as though this was premeditated. I don't want Octavius or Antony to be questioned, so I take very little. Mostly, I busy myself around the house, cleaning things I've never touched before until the elves all glance at each other with confusion. Brutus wanders the house like a ghost; I think he's saying goodbye to it. It was his parents' house, his grandparents'; there's history in these walls, and Brutus paces mournfully, parting with all of it.

8:35 a.m.: "The Ministry will take all of this," Brutus says hoarsely. One thing settles on my tongue, but I do my best not to say the words, even as they beat themselves against the inside of my chest. Was it worth it?

8:47 a.m.: "He isn't coming," I say dully. "He might still come," Brutus assures me, holding me close, and I shake my head. "It's better that he doesn't," I say. I want our son to move on. I want him to be free from our mistakes. I want him to be happy, to be safe. At the very least, I want him to be with a better woman than I am, whatever else she might be.

8:55 a.m.: The Floo roars to life, and I glance up to see Caesarion in the fireplace. "I'm not coming any closer," he warns, and Brutus stiffens, but I nod. "I understand," I tell him, "and I love you, Caesarion. I love you." "I love you, Mother," he says, "and you, Father. Even if I don't understand any of this. I'm angry," he adds, and I nod again, "but I've recently been advised that I will regret it if I don't say those words to you."

8:58 a.m.: I stare down at the portkey on the table, and then up at Brutus. "I love you," he tells me, and I nod. "I love you, too," I reply, and glance over at Caesarion, who, true to his word, has not come any closer. I want to throw my arms around him; I want to run my fingers along the shape of his mouth and remind him that for all the features that belong to his father, his happiness is mine. I gave him his smile.

8:59 a.m.: The portkey glows, and Brutus wraps his arm around my waist. "Ready?" he asks me, and I nod. He exhales sharply. "Okay—"

9:00 a.m.: The moment that Brutus reaches for the portkey, I tear myself from his reach. His eyes widen, his fingers closing around the comb in the same moment that I see the betrayal on his face, and then he disappears, flickering out of sight. For a second, it settles in my chest like a weight; it stings me, stabs at me, and then I turn, haunted, as Caesarion rushes into my arms. "Mother," he says in my ear, his voice husky and wrought with fear. "Mother, what did you do?"

9:01 a.m.: The Aurors arrive within seconds, Octavius among them. "We have a warrant for the arrest of your husband," he says, looking somewhat surprised to see me, and in the moment that things come to a head, I almost miss someone else rushing through the fireplace; I only catch a flash of unruly hair, but don't have time to process it.

9:03 a.m.: "It wasn't Brutus," I say to the Aurors, including a stunned Octavius. He warned me, though, that they would hunt Brutus so long as there was no one else to blame, and I love my husband at least enough to grant him some peace from my betrayal. "It was me," I announce, my voice firm and clear. "I'm the one you want; all of it was my doing. Not my husband, not my son. I'm guilty of—" "STOP," a young voice interrupts me, and I blink, realizing that I know the person the voice belongs to; that, and then secondly, that she has her hand protectively on my son's arm. It's the muggleborn girl he went to school with, her brown eyes positively wild as she looks briefly at him before stepping between us. "I'm a lawyer," she whispers to me. "Don't say a word. I'll be right there, okay? Don't say anything." I frown at her, utterly bemused. "Why would you want to defend me?" I ask, and she hesitates to answer, but the moment the words leave my lips, I already know why. I know why, and I look up at Caesarion, giving him a single, careful nod: my approval.

9:11 a.m.: I have always been a liar. I tell the prettiest, softest lies—until today, and for once, I have managed to do something unselfish, after so many crimes against my conscience. I have loved a man who became a monster, after all; I've loved a man whose loyalty should have only ever belonged to my son. I think about Cassius, too, about the scars on his face and the extent to which I caused them, and I realize that finally, I will get what I have so long deserved.

9:15 a.m.: The Aurors put me in restraints and lead me through the Floo. On the other side, the cameras flash; my image is ruined. Still, I smile.

9:20 a.m.: I smile, and I stand alone, and it all goes back to the start.

Chapter Text

Episode XIII: The Underdog Who Wasn't Expecting That Left Hook

Witch Weekly's 'Modern Romance' series asks anonymous witches and wizards to record a week in their sex lives—with comic, tragic, provocative, and patently revealing results. This week, a former war hero deals with a past love, a family meltdown, and a highly uncertain future: 22, male, straight, in a casual relationship.


DAY ONE

8:17 a.m.: I wake up groggy and exhausted. Yesterday wasn't a great day for me; I'm an Auror, and the whole department's been especially busy with a boring but time-consuming case that mostly has to do with financial crimes. I've also been seeing a girl for a few months now, but we don't generally spend the night together. I was at her place until two last night, and now I'm paying for my late hours. Bloody hell, I look shit. Good morning, world.

8:35 a.m.: "You look shit," says my best friend, who I live with. I'll call him Ferris. He grew up with muggles, which has afforded me the very odd and surprisingly enjoyable experience of an entirely different world, and specifically a class of films from the 1980s that seems to generally feature miscreants getting into trouble. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, for example, is about a charismatic, much-beloved young man who wrecks shit entirely for most of the adults involved, and is therefore, not surprisingly, one of Ferris' favorites. I like the muggle films Ferris shows me from that particular time period; they're perfectly straightforward. The good guys always win. People who are twats get aptly punished for their twattery. People who belong together end up together, just like that. Everything pieces itself together so cleanly in the films, but in my experience, life isn't really like that. My life's certainly messier than I'd like it to be, personally, and I often suspect I peaked some time around sixth year at Hogwarts. "Oh, and happy birthday," Ferris adds, grinning at me over his coffee.

8:45 a.m.: I groan into my mug as Ferris informs me that my mother has invited him to a family dinner she claims to be hosting in my honor Saturday night, though I doubt that's true. More likely she's celebrating my older brother officially moving back from Romania, which is fine. Or it would be fine, that is, except I definitely don't want to go, and I still haven't asked my maybe-girlfriend (?) if she wants to meet not only my highly embarrassing parents, but all of my siblings and their respective dates as well. Bloody fuck, at least I have someone, even though my mum's probably inviting my ex to come along. Awkward. "Are you bringing someone?" I ask Ferris, and he shrugs. "Nah," he says, "I don't need to subject your mum to that. I know she's still hoping I get back with Sloane"—(my younger sister, and the one-time Sloane to his Ferris)—"so it doesn't seem right, really." I shrug. Sloane's got a girlfriend now, actually, but I'm not sure Ferris knows that, so I don't bring it up. "Cool," is all I say, taking another loud sip of coffee.

9:01 a.m.: Eventually I pull myself together and Ferris and I head to work, where we're both Aurors. He's heading up this financial crimes case—his first big case on his own—and the minute we get into the office, he disappears under a pile of paperwork. I, however, head to my desk in the Auror bullpen, chatting with some of the others before sitting down to my work. For the record, I don't envy Ferris for being promoted faster than I was, even though I've certainly envied him a lot of other things in the past. He works harder than I do (at this, anyway) which I assume is partly because he wants it more. I sometimes suspect it was a mistake for me to pick his same occupation; after all, I've been his sidekick most of my life. But then again, by that logic, why stop now? It's worked well enough for me in the past.

11:20 a.m.: Eventually I get to work. I like my job, but it's a lot more paperwork than I was expecting. I guess not everything can be a horcrux hunt—not that I was particularly good at that, either. With all the departmental memos and to-be-filed casework, I almost miss an owl from my maybe-girlfriend. I'll call her Samantha, like the girl in Sixteen Candles, who is basically an intelligent, no-nonsense person I'm extremely lucky to be with. She and I went to the Yule Ball together (to catastrophic failure on my part, I might add—but what else is new, honestly) and we reconnected a couple of months ago after I got a little too drunk at a club with my sister. Maybe the problem is that I find it hard to call someone my girlfriend when the relationship began with me vomiting in their shoes? Unknown. 'Happy birthday,' Samantha wrote, reminding me of our dinner plans this evening. I know I just saw her last night, but still. I'm looking forward to it.

12:05 p.m.: Three of my siblings live or work close to Diagon, and today they meet me for lunch. First is the oldest, the brother I'll call Jake (the perfect male specimen from Sixteen Candles, which I guess would make his gorgeous French wife Caroline, though she didn't join us today); then my brother Kevin (from Home Alone, which is about a child who terrorizes two foolish burglars and is therefore not unlike my prankster of a brother, who owns a joke shop); and lastly, my sister Sloane, who smacks me on the rear and congratulates me on my birth. "Happy day of expulsion from Mum's vagina," she says, which is revolting. I make a face, and my brother Kevin claps me on the back. "Yikes," he pronounces gravely, which is a highly correct sentiment.

12:45 p.m.: It's nice to be around my siblings, even if they're noisy and very much the worst. "So," Sloane announces, "should we decide which of us gets to scandalize Mum at your birthday party?" We all groan; we know she's dating a woman (Samantha's twin, in fact), but far be it from us to want our mother to sort that out. "What's your scandal?" I ask Kevin, who shrugs. "Older woman," he says matter-of-factly, though he hardly looks ashamed. "Luckily Jake's got nothing to worry about," Sloane adds, gesturing to our married oldest brother, who's been oddly silent. "Yes, well, I scandalized our mother a long time ago," Jake says distantly, and Kevin laughs, though I'm not totally sure it was a joke.

1:15 p.m.: Lunch goes a little long, but we part ways once Kevin decides he's going to responsibly return to work at his shop; apparently he's looking into an opportunity to buy out the Zonko's that's been at Hogsmeade forever. "Having to look over the books first, but it could be a great opportunity," he says, which is surprisingly un-Kevinlike talk. I guess having an older woman suits him. Sloane, meanwhile, adds that she has a World Cup publicity event (she's on the English National Team, and I'm mostly proud of her when I'm not wildly jealous) and I stand up, expecting Jake to make his excuses as well. Instead, he joins me on my walk back to the Ministry. "I have to talk to Ferris," he explains, which is odd. Very odd. "About what?" I ask him, and he hesitates. "I don't think I should say," Jake tells me, "but I know something about one of his cases." Uh, okay. Obviously this is highly questionable, but he doesn't go into detail, and I know better than to ask.

1:21 p.m.: Back to work. Just have to make it to five.

3:49 p.m.: It's really quite unfortunate that I can do magic, and yet my ability to control the pace of time remains completely out of reach.

4:09 p.m.: An owl drops a note and a package of my favorite sweets on my desk from my ex, who works upstairs. I'll call her Diane, after the brainy, cultured girl from Say Anything, which is another very relatable classic in which a low-achieving dope is just endearing enough to win the girl of his dreams. Her note is long and slightly rambling, but the gist is that the second half of her birthday gift to me is that she's going with Ferris to my mother's dinner rather than [insert pointy blond boyfriend's name here], which is brilliant news. Diane works with Samantha and my sister Sloane on a magazine they all started together, so she and I see each other relatively often. We bounced back from our relationship fairly well, which ended mostly because we had feelings for other people. We like to mutually pretend it was something more nuanced and complex than that, though. War trauma, maybe? Sure—that.

5:00 p.m.: Finally. I practically sprint out of the Ministry, stopping momentarily by Ferris' office to alert him I'll be out tonight. "Dinner with Samantha," I explain, and he nods, barely looking up. Poor bloke. Ferris and I had our own rough patch a bit ago when he and his ex broke up; I'll call her Claire, like the princess from The Breakfast Club. Claire told Ferris that she and I had slept together, which we hadn't (...yet), and which made for quite a resplendent mess. In fairness, though, I did kiss her. Actually, in total un-fairness, I often worry I may never forget that kiss as long as I live. I have my own history with her, obviously, but I'd rather not get into it. I try not to think about it, or her; it seems to set me back quite a bit every time I do. I don't know why I miss her. She really was a uniquely terrible human being.

6:04 p.m.: Samantha looks up as I come through the Floo, her brow creased as she stirs her paella. "Hi," she offers me distractedly, still staring at the stove. She has a tendency to want to get things right; I think it's cute. I kiss her cheek and she abruptly remembers the reason she was cooking to begin with. "Happy birthday!" she exclaims, and I laugh, wrapping my arms around her waist. She's sweet, kind, funny, smart. She seems to enjoy having sex with me, which was the missing piece with Diane, and she's not outrageously allergic to intimacy, which was the problem with Claire. I'm lucky to have Samantha. I'm really, really lucky she took me home from the bar that night.

6:15 p.m.: "Hey," I murmur, kissing the side of her neck while she stirs the paella. "Can dinner wait?" I ask, and I still can't believe my luck when she turns to smile at me, waving her wand to slow the dish's progress on the stove. "Absolutely," she says, and pulls me towards her sofa, the both of us falling back on top of it.

6:20 p.m.: Samantha shimmies out of her practical trousers and I tug her hips forward so that she's got both her legs around my waist. She has great legs, toned and smooth, and I kiss the inside of her knee as I slide my fingers under her knickers, stroking my thumb against her slit. She wriggles at my touch, one hand thrown casually over her head while her hair drapes across the sofa cushions. "It's your birthday," she reminds me, moving as if she'll sit up, and I shrug, holding her still. I don't care, honestly, and I lean forward, kissing her while I dive my fingers inside her and rub my palm against her clit. She lets out a whimper, and fuck, I love it. I spent a long time trying to ignite bare sparks of chemistry with someone who practically shrank from my touch, so yeah, this is kind of all I'm looking for. Samantha closes her eyes, and I watch her face as her hips shift to meet my hand. She's beautiful, and I love watching her breath quicken at my touch.

6:27 p.m.: "I'm supposed to be blowing you," she murmurs, and then moans again, and I laugh, kissing her swiftly. "This is all I want for my birthday," I tell her, and she's close now, I know. She's vocal and not particularly repressed, which I deeply appreciate. Her dark brow furrows and she snatches at the back of my neck as she comes, arching her hips up under my hand, and I'm… well, listen, I'm here for it. I'm here for all of it; the way I can see her nipples through the thin lace of her bra, and the way her neck elongates when she lets her head fall back, the way her lips part and her mouth falls open. I'd planned to focus on her a little longer, but I don't think I can wait. She yanks at my hips and I rise to my feet, kicking off my trousers.

6:31 p.m.: Samantha's more experienced than I am (though, that's really not saying much, considering I was with Diane for three years and only briefly with Claire before re-meeting Samantha) which is surprisingly great. I had some minor dalliances with people in the interim between girlfriend-adjacent beings, but I've learned, for the most part, that the partner can really make the difference. Diane wasn't very good about telling me what she wanted, but Samantha has no problem with it whatsoever. She puts my hands where she wants them, tells me where she wants to be kissed, maneuvers me around until we both figure out what feels good. By now, I have an idea of exactly what she wants, which is a relief. I never really knew what Diane liked (or if she liked anything), but I know exactly how to make Samantha come. She wants me to start slow and deep, so I do, rolling my hips against her. I've learned to never leave her clitoris unattended—a pity they didn't teach a charm for that at Hogwarts. I might have been a better student.

6:38 p.m.: Samantha comes quickly and shoves me away, repositioning me so that I'm sitting on the sofa. She clambers into my lap, sliding onto my shaft, and I shift her long hair to the side, kissing her neck. "You feel so good," I manage to say as she quickens her pace, bouncing on my cock, and she appealingly moans her approval, digging her nails into my chest. "Don't stop," she whispers as I meet her hips with mine, both of us starting to work up a sweat. To be honest, this is more physical activity than I generally get as a low-level Auror; I'm sort of lanky by design and frantic by nature, and part of me wonders if my continued insatiability has to do with me not really being in motion during the day. Whatever the case may be, I'm certainly not out of shape, and after Samantha comes a second time I pick her up and shift her around, setting her on her back. She pulls at my hair, puts her lips near my ear, and says something—my name, mostly, plus a few choice compliments on my dick—and I come with a sputter, trying not to collapse my entire weight on top of her.

6:57 p.m.: Samantha gives me a couple of minutes of naked spooning before nudging me away. "Dinner," she reminds me, and I admire the shape of her as she leaps up from the sofa, wiggling back into her clothes. Bloody hell, she's beautiful. She's beautiful, she's smart, I enjoy spending time with her—I don't know why I'm so hesitant to move forward. It's not that I'm not serious about her, seeing as I'm not seeing anyone else, and as far as I know, neither is she. I guess part of me isn't willing to experience the same failure I had with Diane; to be honest, that whole ordeal is still upsettingly fresh. "You coming?" Samantha calls, and I rise to my feet with a smile, wandering over to open the bottle of wine she's picked out for us.

7:58 p.m.: Dinner is delicious. I'm a little tipsy and a lot happy, so I finally give into my more optimistic instincts and ask Samantha if she'd like to come to my mum's dinner. "It's mostly a party for my brother," I explain, hedging a bit, but Samantha stops me, giving my hand a squeeze. "I'd love to," she assures me, and she does look pleased. I wonder for a second if she's going to ask me any more questions (if, by some chance, we have to have some sort of Talk) but she doesn't, and I find I'm grateful. I lean over and kiss her, and she smiles against my lips.

9:35 p.m.: We're both a couple of glasses in and stumbling into her bedroom. "Don't keep me up too late," she whispers, "I have a lot of contracts to review and I was a mess this morning." I mumble something like agreement, certain I can put my mouth to better use elsewhere, and we both fall back against her bed.

9:53 p.m.: We're full and a little drunk, so it's that sort of comfortable, lazy sex this evening, more slow and intimate than rough and needy. I go down on her until she comes with a little mewl of gratitude before I slide up to let her curl in my arms, parting her legs and throwing one thigh back over my hip as I enter her from behind. My view of her body from here is ideal; I roll her nipple between my fingers lightly, thumbing over it, and then slide my hand down, working at her clit while I slowly ease my cock in and out of her. We settle into each other's rhythms, her hips matching the pace of mine, and then my hands explore the planes of her stomach, running along the curves of her breasts as she reaches back, holding my head still to kiss me. She tastes like wine and strawberries and I come just after she does, holding my breath before sighing into her mouth.

10:35 p.m.: "You could stay the night," Samantha whispers to me, turning on her other side to face me as she places her hand on my waist. "If you want to," she amends, and I hesitate. I'm comfortable, sure, and it'd be a hell of a lot easier to just stay here, but the truth is that the thought of staying the night vaguely terrifies me. I don't want to tell Samantha that the last time I fell asleep with a woman in my arms, it broke my heart to open my eyes and let her go. "Better not if you have work tomorrow," I say, and I kiss her as meaningfully as I can manage.

10:41 p.m.: She's already falling asleep, so I brush my lips against her forehead and thank her for my birthday dinner before tiptoeing out of the room. I cast a few cleaning charms before I leave—my mum may prefer my brothers, but at least she trained me better than to leave dishes in the sink—and then I head through the Floo for home.

10:56 p.m.: Ferris is sitting in the kitchen and I pause before heading up to my bedroom. He looks troubled. "Just tired from the reparations case," he assures me in explanation, waving a hand, and I nod. I pause, about to leave the room, and then back up, pausing next to him. "Is she okay?" I ask quietly. I don't think I have the constitution for any more words, and certainly not for any higher volume. Ferris smiles weakly. "I wondered whether you were going to ask me," he says.

11:12 p.m.: The reparations case isn't purely a financial crime; it's a criminal conspiracy case that includes allegations of murder. The victim is a former Death Eater, and the beloved father of Claire, the girl I—well. I still don't know what to call her. I've been worried about her for a while now; her father had a degenerative mental condition and he died last week. Murder or not, she must be devastated. The moment I read about it, I wanted to drop everything and run to her, but I highly doubt I'm the person she wants to talk to. Besides, she's probably turned to someone else for comfort by now; she's never alone for long. "She's handling it as well as could be expected," Ferris tells me, and looks up. "By the way, her testimony is tomorrow," he adds innocently, "if you wanted to come."

11:15 p.m.: I ask him why on earth I would come and he merely shrugs. "It's going to be a hard day," is all he says. "She has you," I point out, and he shakes his head. "I'm the Auror in charge of stripping her fortune and investigating her father's death," he clarifies slowly, "so I'm not really what I could call a comforting presence." A valid point, albeit not helpful.

11:47 p.m.: Eventually I fall into bed and hope I'll manage enough sleep to not look like an Inferius again tomorrow, but it seems unlikely. I'm worrying about Claire again; I haven't heard from her in months. Not since we—well, not since it ended. Which is a laugh, honestly, because it was hardly anything. It was a few weeks of friendship, maybe? Of closeness, and then some terrible, undeniable wanting, and then… a few nights in her bed. Most people would call that nothing. Hard to think that needing to talk to her before I fell asleep or wanting to hold her while she fell apart was somehow 'nothing,' but I suppose it technically was.

12:01 a.m.: I think about sending Claire an owl, but I know I shouldn't. If she wanted me, she would have said something to me by now—and anyway, I'm with someone else. I'm with someone I care about, and I already know I wouldn't be able to explain to Samantha why I felt the need to talk to Claire in the middle of the night, so I shouldn't do it. I shouldn't.

12:45 a.m.: I shouldn't worry about Claire at all. She can take care of herself, I know. I have a history of being involved with women who are better and more capable than me in every possible way, and she is no exception.

1:31 a.m.: I knock on Ferris' door and he opens it slightly, squinting blearily at me. "What time is her testimony?" I ask, and he gives me something of a smug look. "Ten," he says, and then he shuts the door, and I finally make it back to bed.


DAY TWO

8:34 a.m.: When I come downstairs, I find half a pot of coffee waiting for me but no Ferris. I know Claire's the primary witness in his case, so this must be a big day for him. I put on a nicer set of robes than usual and head to work a little early as well.

8:45 a.m.: Good thing I left early. The Ministry is already swamped with journalists. Seeing as this case could take down a lot of high-standing purebloods, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

9:57 a.m.: I'm about to head into the usual Auror chambers when I get a scribbled owl from Ferris: 'Wizengamot courtroom.' Wizengamot? They must have let in quite an audience. I sprint for the lifts.

10:03 a.m.: I'm not the only one late, nor am I the only one who doesn't belong here. There's a full crowd of people waiting to hear Claire's testimony, and I can barely see her from where I'm standing at the back of the room. She's sitting upright, poised as always, in a plain, somewhat severe green dress; her hair is pulled back in some sort of low configuration and I can see the glint from her necklace. It's her father's signet ring, I know, and briefly remember the way it looked in the morning light, which isn't helpful. Luckily, I'm distracted from that observation almost immediately; for one thing, my oldest brother Jake is here, blending into the corner, but more alarmingly, so is my ex Diane. I recall at the last second that Diane is serving as the defense attorney for the accused murderer, which happens to be her new boyfriend's mother—even though the main witness for the case is Claire, Diane's business partner. No wonder this case is so sensational… forget the Daily Prophet. Witch Weekly must be eating this up.

10:25 a.m.: Right from the start, this is brutal. "I don't have anyone to protect anymore," Claire says when the prosecutor questions her about why she's coming forward now instead of a year ago. "My father is gone," she explains, her voice stiff and unwavering, "so what does the money matter? I should have come forward sooner, but I made him a promise." "You were coerced," the attorney begins to tut sympathetically, but Diane rises to her feet, instantly shouting an objection; something about 'leading the witness,' I think (though all I can think about is the way it's just like how she shot her hand in the air to answer questions in class). "This isn't a trial," the prosecutor reminds Diane impatiently, and she glares at him. "Just do your job," she says, her voice clipped and bothered.

10:55 a.m.: Claire's testimony points to one of the most notorious former Death Eaters as the instigator of a mass effort to hide money from the Ministry. Interestingly, it's his wifethat's on trial, not him, and for a moment it seems like there's nothing more to say until Diane stands up, a look on her face that's discomfitingly similar to the one she made right before she lit one of our teachers on fire.

11:06 a.m.: I'd almost lost interest entirely until Diane abruptly asks Claire if she was sleeping with the Death Eater she's now accusing of both murder and criminal conspiracy. Claire used to call him the King; I suppose I should, too (much as I'd rather call him something more accurate, like 'filthy pond scum'), which makes Diane's client the Queen. "Isn't it true that you were having an affair with the King?" Diane asks brusquely, and for a moment, Claire's face goes pale. I can see the journalists furiously scribbling, and somehow, in her hesitation, Claire's gaze finds mine. I know the answer is yes, I know it has nothing to do with the case, I know she physically can't lie—but still, I silently implore her not to say anything. "Yes," Claire says slowly, "that's true. I was in a sexual relationship with him for a time." The subsequent outburst of whispers in the courtroom is violent and sharp.

11:16 a.m.: I watch in disbelief as Diane continues to slam Claire with questions; "Isn't it a fact that you have a compelling reason to want your former lover and his wife to suffer?" seems to be the general crux of the issue, but I can't understand why Diane's doing it. Claire's hand repeatedly flies towards her necklace, a nervous tic of hers, and though her expression reveals little, I know her better than that. I know she's seeing the articles they'll write about her. She's watching her reputation circle the drain while she insists that no, it wasn't just sex; yes, she loved him, or thought she did; yes, she knew he was married; no, she wasn't thinking about his wife; no, she didn't make this deal to destroy him; yes, she knew it would save herself but no, of course she didn't know it would come to this, how could she possibly have known it would come to this?

11:47 a.m.: When Diane finally stops pelting Claire with questions, Ferris clears his throat and calls for a break. Claire looks up, her dark eyes finding mine for a second, and though I have a moment to say something to her—to mouth it, at least, over the tops of the crowd's heads—nothing comes to mind, and she tears her gaze away as Ferris leads her out of the chamber, removing her from the public eye. Without thinking, I shove through the crowd, heading for the lawyers.

11:50 a.m.: "What are you doing?" I hiss at Diane, who looks startled to find me at her elbow. "Why did you—" "Look, I didn't enjoy that either," Diane interrupts me stiffly, and then drops her voice, concealing the motion of her mouth. "Everyone knows this is the King's doing, but the Queen is insisting on taking the fall for him," she whispers harshly to me. "If the King is guilty, then the Queen is guilty by extension—so if I'm going to keep her out of Azkaban, then I have to make Claire look as unreliable as possible." "By doing what, calling her a whore?" I demand, and Diane flinches. "Stay out of it," she tells me impatiently, and adds, "It isn't personal, I'm just doing my job." "You're slandering her," I protest helplessly, and Diane's expression tightens to defiance. "I've been slandered plenty by the Daily Prophet," she reminds me coldly, "as have you and Ferris, and people always get over it." Not this, I want to say, because I know better; I have a gossipy mum, don't I? I know Claire can't come back from press like this—but Diane is clearly finished talking to me about it. "I warned Ferris," Diane says tightly, "but it's my only option to keep the Queen out of Azkaban."

11:51 a.m.: This is precisely the sort of thing that wouldn't happen in one of Ferris' films.

12:35 p.m.: I leave the courtroom sick to my stomach. I didn't think we were here to ruin lives; is this really what becomes of war heroes? Is this what adulthood is like? Doing what was necessary simply because it was bloody necessary always seemed like such an easy course of action before—but what happens when the sides aren't so clear? Ferris is a brilliant Auror, and Diane is a brilliant lawyer—and now, because they both did their jobs so brilliantly, at least one person's life is ruined beyond repair. I'm almost happy I'm such an underachiever compared to them.

1:45 p.m.: Eventually I join up with another Auror on a small criminal investigation; it's just some misfiled creature permits, so it's hardly a bust (it's no taking down Voldemort, obviously) but it's an excuse to get out of the office, so I take it. I don't think I can stand working at my desk right now.

5:35 p.m.: I arrive home smelling like thestral dung to find an owl from Samantha. 'Working late,' she says, 'but you can come over later tonight if you want.' I think about it, as it's a highly tempting offer, but I don't think I could possibly bring myself to go anywhere tonight. I write back that I'm tired from a day of creature-apprehending; hopefully it sounds more interesting than it was. 'Thanks for keeping our communities safe,' she replies in her wry sort of way, and I manage half a smile, though it feels more like a grimace.

8:44 p.m.: I wait up for Ferris, but he doesn't come home. He's either working late or with someone, or both. He's been seeing someone for a while, and while I know who it is, he's being characteristically private about it—which, ironically, reminds me of the first time I stumbled on Claire blithely eating toast in our kitchen, fairly early on in her relationship with Ferris. I suppose that really says a lot more about Claire than it does about Ferris.

9:05 p.m.: Eventually I decide to go to bed early. I'm itching to say something to Claire, but I don't know what. I'm angry at Diane, sort of, even though I can't actually blame her. I consider going to Samantha's, but I don't. Instead I just take a dose of dreamless sleep and close my eyes, willing myself to stop replaying the moment I caught Claire's gaze across the courthouse.


DAY THREE

5:37 a.m.: I'm awake and staring at the ceiling when I decide I'm stuck in something that feels like an old habit. Why does any of this matter to me? It shouldn't. I decide to get out of bed, wandering into the kitchen, where I find Ferris awake and staring blankly at the opposite wall. "Hello?" I ask, waving a hand in front of his face, and he blinks. He has the small rectangle he calls a 'cell phone' out, which is how he and Diane talk to each other when they're apart. It's one of their little muggle things. "So none of us can sleep, huh?" I prompt, gesturing to it, and Ferris gives me a weak, tired smile. "Used to be easier," he remarks.

5:55 a.m.: I remind him that there wasn't actually anything easy about running for our lives. "True," he concedes, "but it seems like I always knew what to do then, and now I don't." He throws a copy of the Daily Prophet across the table, and I can see that the primary picture is not of Claire and Diane, but of Diane and Ferris. 'War Heroes Face Off in Pureblood Financial Scandal,' says the headline, followed by a smaller picture of Claire below the fold, captioned 'Disgraced pureblood heiress confesses to financial crimes and unseemly liaison in shocking revelation.' "I don't know what to do," Ferris says, and I shake my head, no more certain than he is. "Is Diane just doing this for the Prince?" I ask, which is I guess the only thing I can think to call the haughty son of the King and Queen. "I don't know," Ferris replies.

6:15 a.m.: It occurs to me that there was a time when none of the three of us would've cared about any of these people. The reparations required by the Ministry were fair, we'd thought. We hadn't said much when they were passed, and why would we? What was money, right? We thought it was the least of what they owed to us, the ones who'd fought on the right side; the ones who died for their prejudice. But suddenly, this doesn't feel much like what we fought for.

6:20 a.m.: "I'm not coming into work today," I announce, and Ferris shrugs. "I wouldn't either if I could avoid it," he says, and then adds grimly, "but after yesterday, I'm being promoted." The cell phone makes an alarming buzz, and I jump, startled. "So is she, apparently," Ferris murmurs, looking even wearier as he gestures to a message from Diane.

7:34 a.m.: I intend to go back to sleep, but instead I send an owl to my brother Kevin, who owns the novelty shop in Diagon. For some reason, I just want to spend my day doing something straightforward; hanging out with my least complicated brother and keeping away from wizarding crime for a day. 'I'm working today,' he replies, 'but I'll be alone in the shop, if you want to help me.' Strangely (or maybe not so strangely), I do, and send him back a note confirming that I'll be there later this morning.

8:24 a.m.: When I come downstairs, Ferris is gone already. I head to Diagon through the Floo and immediately come upon a newspaper stand selling the latest copies of the Daily Prophet. I see the pictures of Diane, Ferris, and Claire and lose my mind a little bit, immediately turning to the witch at the stand. "I'll take all of them," I say, and she blinks. "What?" she asks. "Give me all these copies," I say, and search around in my pocket for as many galleons as I can find.

8:44 a.m.: I struggle into Kevin's workshop beneath a heavy pile of newspapers and he glances up, bemused. "What the—" "Nothing," I say brusquely, and deposit all the papers in his fire. He grins at me, which is unhelpful, but after a moment, I can't help laughing too. "You know there's a lot more newspapers than just that one stand," he informs me. I know, I know, I know. "I just had to do something," I insist gruffly, and he shakes his head. "Being a celebrated war hero's changed you, bro," he jokes, and I give him a shove. "Just give me something to do," I say, and he instructs me to restock the shelves in the shop. "I'll be out there in a bit," he adds, gesturing to some paperwork he's finishing, and I nod, heading out to load some pocket Sneakoscopes and a new display for Wandr (which is the dating contraption that I tried for a bit, but no longer use—obviously).

10:13 a.m.: By the time Kevin joins me in the shop, I've moved onto the shelves stocking the magazine The Human Interest, which is the one written and edited by Diane, Claire, Sloane, and Samantha, among others we know. "Flies off the shelves," Kevin tells me, and adds that the weekly column written by an anonymous woman called 'the Nymph' is especially popular. "That, and the sports updates," he adds, pointing to the articles our sister Sloane writes. "So," he adds casually as I flip through the pages, "what's brought you here?"

10:35 a.m.: I hesitate to answer; Kevin wasn't the easiest person to talk to when we were kids. Probably the result of him and his twin brother (who died during the war) once turning my teddy bear into a gigantic spider, which made emotional conversations somewhat… difficult. So I skirt the issue, complaining vaguely about how being an Auror isn't what I thought it would be. "Well, it's what we fought for, isn't it?" Kevin asks, grinning again. "We won ourselves the right to have boring lives," he muses, and it's strange to think of it that way, but I suppose he's right. I ask about his boring life and he mentions he has the money to buy the Zonko's in Hogsmeade, but he isn't sure he wants to. "I can't manage both stores," he says, "and I can't leave Diagon right now." "Why not?" I ask, and the corners of his mouth twitch. "I just can't," he says, and changes the subject, asking me about Samantha.

11:06 a.m.: Somehow, Kevin traps me into admitting that I'm not sure how serious things are with Samantha. "Maybe I just don't want to be serious with anyone after Diane," I suggest wildly, though even I think that sounds unlikely. I'm sort of a relationship person; I generally prefer to have someone than not. "Well, when it's the right person, I don't think you'll have any doubts," Kevin says sagely. I tell him it's unlike him to be so wise, and he shrugs. "Well, I also charmed your shoelaces to trip you," he says, just as I take a step and stumble clumsily to the ground.

12:14 p.m.: Kevin leaves to take his lunch and I wander into his office, which is extremely neat and orderly. It reminds me of how my desk used to look after Diane got to it, which probably means a woman usually works in here. I sit at the desk, contemplating lunch, and an owl taps at the window, jarring my thoughts away from sandwiches and revealing a note written to me. 'I'm sorry you had to see that yesterday,' the note says, in Claire's handwriting. My heart stops, but after a minute or so of panic, I ask her owl to wait.

12:23 p.m.: 'I'm sorry it had to happen. How are you?' I ask.

12:32 p.m.: 'Eh. I've been better,' she replies.

12:35 p.m.: 'I'm sorry about your father.' Underwhelming, but it's something.

12:38 p.m.: 'Why, did you kill him?' She's the worst.

12:41 p.m.: 'I just meant that I hope you're okay.'

12:43 p.m.: 'I know what you meant. It's just easier to be a dick.'

12:45 p.m.: 'True, you are good at that.'

12:49 p.m.: 'Well, you would know better than anyone, I suppose.'

12:51 p.m.: I write out the words I miss you and immediately throw the parchment away. 'I just want you to be happy,' I say.

12:57 p.m.: 'Well, I guess it's hardly a secret that I've pretty much lost everything. But that aside, I think I'm okay.' I know you are, I want to say, but all of this is so tenuous and difficult that I don't know what I can or can't say to her. When did I even start to care about her? Wasn't she just the girl I hated at Hogwarts, and then just the girl my best friend was dating after that? When did this happen? When she kissed me, I guess. No, before that. No, I sigh internally, it definitely happened before that. Somehow, she got under my stupid freckled skin.

1:08 p.m.: Kevin returns and I still have no answer for Claire, so I send the owl back empty-handed. I don't think I should say any of the things I'm thinking, so eventually I simply give up and get back to work.

6:15 p.m.: "You can go, you know," Kevin tells me, interrupting me while I'm fiddling with the charm on one of the flying toy birds he has on display. I didn't even realize how late it was, and he's grinning mercilessly at me again, which is a sure sign that he's done something to me while I wasn't looking. "What did you do?" I ask exasperatedly, and he shrugs. "I guess you'll see," he tells me, like the demon that he is. "See you at dinner tomorrow," he adds, giving me a fraternal shove towards the Floo.

6:29 p.m.: I head home and then pause, turning around. There's something else I have to do, or say, or simply just see for myself, so I take a handful of powder and call out Claire's name, heading back through the flames.

6:31 p.m.: Immediately, I collide with a charmed sign that says 'Property of Gringotts Bank.' Behind it, I can see the house is very nearly demolished; all the furniture is gone, the frames are hanging empty on the walls, and it looks as though the house has been thoroughly searched. I blink, startled, but clearly nobody lives here anymore. I don't know where to find her, and I am reminded (loudly) by my conscience that I shouldn't be looking for her anyway. She's not the one I should be running after anymore.

6:38 p.m.: "Hi," Samantha says when I walk into her Floo, looking pleased to see me. "I didn't think I'd see you today," she adds, and I tell her that I was with my brother today instead of going to work. She gives me a knowing sort of nod, walking towards me and spreading her fingers over the planes of my shoulders, easing the tension from them. "You haven't really been happy at work for a while now," she tells me, which for some reason startles me, even though it really shouldn't. I guess I've known that for a while myself, but I didn't think it was that obvious to other people. Maybe I misjudged her perception. That, or I'm much less subtle than I think, which is probably also true.

7:15 p.m.: I cook a meager bolognese for dinner while she tells me about her day. I make a point not to ask about Diane or Claire, but Samantha brings it up on her own. "They're being very cordial," she says carefully, reflecting on a meeting they all must have had yesterday, "but Sloane's not exactly being subtle about not liking it." Well, that's my sister. She's hardly ever subtle about anything. "Sloane thinks Diane shouldn't have brought up anything about Claire's personal life, but I don't know," Samantha says slowly. She's in magical law herself, so I figure she must know something I don't. A lot of things I don't, probably. "I think Diane did what she had to, and I think Claire knows that," Samantha concedes, "but really, the whole thing is ugly." I nod, and then I pour her a glass of wine, doing my best to change the subject.

8:36 p.m.: Eventually we're kissing on Samantha's sofa, her legs twined around me again. I know where this is going and she seems eager to get there, but when the moment arrives to escalate things, I pull away before I even realize what I'm doing. "What is it?" Samantha asks, brushing my hair back from my forehead, but even that motion pains me. Something, somewhere, is throbbing painfully through my limbs and my veins and my chest, and the last thing I want right now is sex. "Kind of nervous about tomorrow," I lie, but if she can see that I'm lying, Samantha generously plays along. "Worried I won't impress your parents?" she asks wryly, and I tell her no, I'm not worried about that in the slightest—they'll love her more than me, easily. "It's just a lot of vaguely unstable people in one room," I tell her, and she smiles. "Better get some rest, then," she suggests, and fuck, I'm lucky. I'm so bloody lucky, and I've never felt worse about it.

9:05 p.m.: I kiss her goodnight and head home. I think Ferris is here, but his door is shut. That's fine; I can't think what I would say. Out of nowhere, I suddenly recall one of the first conversations I had with Claire (a real one, other than "what are you doing in my kitchen" and "can you please not describe my best friend's dick like that? thanks," along with "of course I haven't seen it" and "because I just haven't" and also "PLEASE stop talking about it"). It was about how no matter what might happen to Ferris, Diane, and me in the future, I would always be the only one out of the three of us who ran when push came to shove. "It's amazing what you can't undo," I lamented to Claire, and she reminded me that it's not like I was actually trying to undo anything. "Are you just living some kind of echo of Ferris' life so you can continuously watch yourself fail to be him? There's no point punishing yourself," she'd said carelessly, in her sharp, flippant way.

9:27 p.m.: Well, she was always flippant until she wasn't. "Ferris and Diane didn't have wizarding families, wizarding names, not like we did—they were outsiders to this world. It was easy for them see everything that was wrong with it. But us? We were born to it. We had people to protect, bad blood to settle, vendettas to consider. We had centuries of precedent to determine how we acted towards each other—and honestly, how hard was it really for an orphan and a muggleborn to abandon their lives? Not very. Not very fucking hard at all. But you? Or me? We could never have turned our backs on what we were born into. Not easily. At least you did, eventually. Why would you punish yourself for that?"

9:56 p.m.: I never liked putting the cause before everything else. It never came easily to me the way it did to Ferris and Diane. Ferris and I were certainly never made up of the same hero material—so why am I here now, working his same job, living in his house, thinking about a woman that he loved first? No, I reason internally, scratch that last part. Whatever Claire's relationship with Ferris was like, I know that what she had with me was different. I know that much, at the very least, because she and I always saw ourselves as the cowards who were living in Ferris' shadow. She and I were the underdogs, and short of everything else, I'm positive we're both still trying not to be trampled by the weight of our own regrets.


DAY FOUR

11:15 a.m.: I sleep in this morning, planning a full day of doing absolutely nothing.

3:11 p.m.: Success! I've accomplished nothing. Eventually Ferris barges into my room, standing expectantly in the doorway. "Is this going to be a total disaster?" he asks me, and I stare at him, uncertain how to possibly answer. "I mean, I can only assume," I manage, and he nods, disappearing from view.

4:30 p.m.: Fast-forward (a thing you can do to muggle items and yet not magically in real life, which seems backwards) and I've managed to put on a decently respectable outfit, I think, before Samantha comes through the Floo. She's wearing a bright teal dress and looks stunning, but she also looks nervous. "Apparently your sister has convinced my sister to come," she grumbles. "Well, low pressure for you, then," I remark, and Samantha gives me a wry grimace. "Yes, I only have your ex-girlfriend to live up to," she mutters under her breath, and I frown, surprised, but Ferris walks in before I can say anything. "Shall we?" he asks, gesturing ahead.

4:55 p.m.: We arrive at my family home to find that a number of people are already there. Diane, for one, who is nodding uncomfortably as my mother presses her about something (no idea what, but it can't be anything good, and Diane nearly sprints to grab Ferris when we arrive) while my oldest brother Jake stands in the corner with his French wife, Caroline. They look sort of stiff with each other, but that's easy to forget as soon as I notice my second-oldest brother—who is really the reason we're all here, as he just accepted a job at Hogwarts after finally deciding he was done with training dragons in Romania. I'll call him Andrew, after the jock from The Breakfast Club (he is, after all, a quidditch star) and conveniently, the girl by his side can be Allison, the basket case. She's a blonde, waif-like friend of ours from Hogwarts who is probably best described as 'loony,' and she's also my sister Sloane's roommate. Alarmingly, she's holding my brother Andrew's hand, so I'm beginning to think we may have unknowingly entered a competition for who is going to be the most disruptive sibling here.

5:05 p.m.: I hear my brother Kevin's voice behind me and turn to find that he's talking to my third oldest brother (yes, I know, I have a lot of them) who I'll call Brian, after the nerd from The Breakfast Club. This isn't very remarkable until I realize that Brian also has someone on his arm, and then I see who it is. "Oh no," Ferris mumbles, and beside him, Diane goes slightly queasy-looking as she notices Claire standing at Brian's side. Immediately, my stomach ties itself in knots, and the room falls uncomfortably silent. "Oh," says my mother, faintly.

5:10 p.m.: "This is Claire," Brian supplies unnecessarily, as if we haven't seen the papers; well, in fairness, he's recently moved to Romania, so maybe he doesn't know the many reasons this is a terrible, unwakeable nightmare. "Well, the more the merrier," my father attempts brightly, and I'm positive my grip tightens on Samantha's waist, but I don't know what to say. I don't even know where to begin. My brother Jake clears his throat, gesturing to the kitchen. "We should get a bottle of something," he suggests, and my brother Andrew hastily nods his agreement. "We'll be back, Mum," they say, and leave us alone as we all try not to stare at Claire and Brian. The only person who seems to be successfully avoiding eye contact is Caroline, Jake's wife, though I suppose that makes sense. She was never very interested in any of us to begin with.

5:14 p.m.: "It's very tense in here," Allison chirps, her wide grey eyes slightly vacant. "Is it because—" "Oh my god, don't say anything," Sloane blurts out quickly, hastily tugging Allison into the corridor.

5:17 p.m.: "You didn't tell me Claire was dating my brother," I say to Samantha, who looks up with surprise. "As far as I know, she isn't," Samantha says with a hint of impatience, "though even if I had known that, I didn't realize you would care." "I don't," I say quickly. "I just—your whole magazine staff is here," I point out, waving a hand around the room, and to that, Samantha spares a wearied nod. "Yes, I suppose we could have discussed that matter beforehand," she agrees glumly.

5:37 p.m.: Eventually Jake and Andrew have distributed glasses of something—I barely care what, and nearly drain it in one gulp—around the room, and my mother is frantically trying to put us at ease. "Why don't we eat?" she suggests, but when she looks around for my father, we realize that Jake is speaking to him in a low voice. "What's going on?" asks my mother, who has a nose for gossip, and bizarrely, Jake and Caroline exchange a glance. "Nothing," Jake says quickly, but my father never could hide the guilty look on his face. "Tell me what's going on right now!" my mother insists shrilly, and Jake glances at Brian before gesturing to speak privately to my parents.

5:39 p.m.: Jake goes, then my mother and father, then Caroline—and then Brian? And then Andrew—"What's going on?" I demand loudly, stepping forward, but to my surprise, Ferris pulls me back. "Don't," he warns, his voice sounding oddly informed, and then he looks up, meeting Diane's gaze. She nods, and then gestures for us to go into the hallway. Needless to say, I am not pleased. "What the—" "Just come here," Ferris says, giving me a brisk tug forward.

5:48 p.m.: "Jake is a witness in the Queen's case," Ferris explains, and I frown. "Why?" I ask, and Ferris and Diane exchange another glance. "It's sort of, um—" "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU'RE SEPARATING?" comes my mother's shrill voice, and Ferris sighs. "Well, it's probably just going to come up, then," he growls under his breath, as from the kitchen, the voices continue.

5:51 p.m.: "Some things are going to come out about me during the trial," my brother Jake's even voice is saying, "some much worse things than this, and I just wanted to be sure you were prepared for it before it happened—" "WHAT COULD BE WORSE THAN DIVORCE?" my mother wails, and I look at Claire, whose eyes are wide. Something else is said at a mumble, and then an incoherent, garbled sound that's almost a mournful moan pierces the house as my mother continues, "WITH HER? AND WHAT WERE YOU DOING WHILE HE WAS SLEEPING WITH—WHAT DO YOU MEAN BRIAN?"

6:12 p.m.: There's so much shouting that I hardly notice that Claire has slid over next to me. "So, this is going well," she remarks, and I turn to glance at her, taking a good look at her for the first time in several months. She's less done up than usual, and she's wearing a dress I've seen before (a rare thing for her, though I suppose she is down a considerable fortune now) and she looks incredibly beautiful, her cheeks slightly flushed as her dark brow remains arched, amused. This, of course, kills me. She's amused, she's here with my brother, and these thoughts in juxtaposition make my heart ache, and ache, and ache. "My brother, really?" I mumble to her, unable to prevent it, and she looks up, frowning. "Aren't you listening?" she asks me, and I can't bear to tell her that of course I'm not listening; my heart's been breaking since she walked in the room, so what the bloody fuck would I be capable of listening to?

6:15 p.m.: "I'm not involved with him," Claire tells me matter-of-factly, "we're just friends. He just needed a friend here, because he knew he had to watch Jake and Caroline be together, so—" "Wait, what?" I demand, blinking, but her brow furrows. "I didn't think—I thought you'd know," she says, and I hold my breath, even as the shouting gets louder from the kitchen. "You told me not to go to anyone else for comfort," she remarks with a quiet laugh, "so I haven't."

6:21 p.m.: I'm staring at her, completely unsure what to say as her brow furrows, and I realize that my mother's yelling has not remotely eased. "A MARRIED WOMAN, JAKE? I KNEW THIS MARRIAGE BETWEEN YOU WAS A MISTAKE! YOU WERE SUCH A GOOD BOY, AND WHAT DID SHE DO TO YOU—" "Don't talk to Caroline like that," my brother Jake's voice cuts in, louder and sharper than I can ever recall having heard it. I glance at Ferris, who is pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose, and Diane, who is wearing her best frightened-deer expression. "I was worse than she was, much worse," Jake continues. "I barely waited before I started sleeping with a much younger married woman, actually, and there's a good chance that's all going to come out in any testimony I give too, Mum—" I turn to ask Claire what's going on, but I realize she's gone. Then, alarmingly, I realize she's heading into the kitchen, and before I even know why I've done it, I've chased after her, sprinting in her wake.

6:24 p.m.: "You're the one?" Claire demands from Jake angrily, and I worry for a second about what may have happened between them, but he merely frowns at her, bewildered. "You slept with my best friend!" Claire exclaims, and in typical fashion for me today, I fail to see it coming when Claire winds up, slamming her slender fist directly into the side of Jake's jaw. My mother gasps—everyone gasps, I gasp, I'm pretty sure dead Voldemort gasps—and then I lunge forward without another thought, taking hold of Claire with one arm around her waist to drag her backwards from my brother. "She loved you, you idiot!" Claire shouts at Jake, and in her struggle to continue admonishing him, she smacks her elbow into my eye, sending me doubled over with a groan before she whirls on me, instantly apologetic. "Sorry, oh my god, I'm so sorry—" "WHAT IS GOING ON HERE," my mother sobs, throwing herself into my father's arms.

6:29 p.m.: Claire yanks me from the room, having forgotten whatever she was angry about (my brother sleeping with her married best friend, I take it) and smoothing her hands on either side of my face, checking me for damage. "It was just an elbow," I tell her gruffly, and her eyes widen. "But—but your face—" She conjures a mirror and I look into it with a groan, shaking my head. "This is Kevin's doing," I assure her, noticing that both my eyes are a deep-set shade of violet that comes from one of his signature pressure-induced charms, designed almost exclusively to make me look stupid.

6:34 p.m.: "This wasn't you," I promise her with a laugh, and she lets out a breath, growling her disgruntled disbelief until we're both laughing, half-clinging to each other. At first it's breathless gulps of laughter, heaves of it, until she slowly starts to shake; then, suddenly, the gasps turn to tears, and she's crying in my arms. I pull her into me without hesitation, soothingly stroking her hair, and she collapses against my chest, her fingers tightening in the material of my shirt.

6:39 p.m.: "I'm sorry," she whispers, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry—" "For what?" I ask, shifting to look at her, and she is a bloody glorious mess, her hair charms fading and her makeup smeared as she tilts her chin up to look at me. "For punching your brother in the face," she mutters, and for a second, everything stops as I rail against pressing the need to kiss her so firmly it sends us both back in time.

6:40 p.m.: "Is that all you're sorry for?" I ask her, my mouth dry, and Claire shakes her head. "No," she says, and doesn't say more. But really, I don't need her to say more. I'd forgive her anything, I know I would. I have before. It seems to be a habit I can't quite shake.

6:41 p.m.: I hear the sound of a throat clearing and look up to find Samantha standing there. I blink, and Claire pulls herself from my arms, swiping delicately at her eyes. "Sorry," she says to Samantha, "I was just—I was just having a minor breakdown. I should go," she adds, more to herself than to either of us. "Sorry," she says again, and disappears without saying more, wandering back to the living room.

6:45 p.m.: I let a few moments pass in silence. "Nothing happened," I eventually say to Samantha, and she sighs, shaking her head. "You know, I always knew there was someone else," she tells me, sounding at once fond and saddened as she runs her thumb over the charmed bruising on my face. "I thought it was Diane," she adds, gesturing to where my ex is probably still standing with Ferris in the living room, "but I always knew there was someone. I was just waiting to see if you'd tell me." I feel horribly, horribly guilty. "It's not like that," I promise Samantha. "I didn't know I still felt this way, and I—I never did anything with her, I swear, I didn't even speak to her for months, not until two days ago—" "It's not your fault," Samantha tells me, "but I can't just sit here and pretend everything's normal."

6:57 p.m.: Samantha withdraws her wand and taps my face, brushing her fingers over my cheeks again. "Kevin, I take it?" she asks, gesturing to the faux-bruising, and I manage a weak chuckle, pressing my lips to her palm as she curves her hand around my cheek. "I'm so sorry," I tell her, as meaningfully as I can manage it, but she shakes her head. "Just don't lie to me," she says carefully, and then looks up. "Are you in love with Claire?" she asks, and I shut my eyes. "Yes," I confess miserably.

7:01 p.m.: There doesn't seem to be anything else to say. Samantha leans forward and kisses me lightly, a careful brush against my lips, and then pulls out of my reach. When I open my eyes again, she's already gone.

7:17 p.m.: When I come back, Sloane is perched alone on the arm of Kevin's chair; I assume Samantha's sister went home with Samantha. Ferris and Diane are shoved into an armchair together, Diane's cheek resting on Ferris' shoulder, and Jake is standing beside Andrew, staring contemplatively at the floor. "So, to recap," Jake announces slowly, "Caroline and I are splitting up. She and Brian are living together in Romania. And I—" he sucks a laugh through his teeth, "I can't really afford to have any other secrets right now." Andrew rests a hand on Jake's shoulder, but I don't know where to begin with any of this, so I simply sink to the floor until Sloane holds out a box of something. "Biscuit?" she offers me, and adds, "Mum sort of, um. Destroyed dinner? With her wand. And also her hands," she remarks, chuckling as she bites into a biscuit. "It was really impressive, honestly."

7:24 p.m.: "Hold on," Allison says dreamily as I jump, not having noticed she was standing beside me. "Does this mean there are no more secrets? So can we finally talk about Sloane's—" "NO," Sloane yelps, frantically swatting at her, and I shake my head. I've had enough family drama for one day, and I pass through the Floo back to my kitchen without speaking a word to anyone.

7:45 p.m.: Ferris and Diane come through the Floo to sit on either side of me, Ferris' grip loose on my shoulder as Diane tentatively reaches for my hand. "Are you okay?" Diane asks me, and glances at Ferris. "We saw Samantha leave," she explains regretfully, and I exhale.

7:48 p.m.: "I have to quit my job," I say, and Ferris blinks. "Okay," he says, glancing questioningly at Diane, who signals for him not to argue. "Anything else?" she asks me gently, and I pause. "I also need to move out," I add, and this time, Ferris' brow furrows, dismayed. "Not because of you," I add quickly, reassuring him, "I just feel really stuck here, you know? Stuck on everything I've ever done wrong."

7:59 p.m.: After a few minutes, Diane rises to her feet, kissing my cheek. "I have to go," she says, making some excuse, but I know she's just leaving me to talk alone with Ferris. We watch her go, and then Ferris sighs. "I thought you were happy with Samantha," he tells me. I was, and I tell him so. "But Claire?" he prompts knowingly, and I grimace. "Just, with everything, with you, and Diane—the timing with Claire was bad," I say slowly, "and it could never have happened."

8:05 p.m.: "Timing's always bad," Ferris points out, sounding like someone who would know, but I shake my head. "You weren't speaking to me at the time," I remind him, and then I frown, remembering something I never really sorted. "Why did you believe I'd slept with her?" I ask him, referring to the reason he and Claire had broken up in the first place, and he shrugged. "I was pretty sure you were at least partially in love with her," he says, "and I guess it just seemed like an easy thing to believe."

8:15 p.m.: "She's different now," Ferris tells me about Claire, but I already know as much. She would never have taken responsibility for anything before, but now? I shake my head. "I want to take care of her," I remark with a mournful laugh, "and I'll always want to, but that's not what she wants from me." "Maybe not," Ferris agrees, "but just because she doesn't need you to take care of her doesn't mean she doesn't still need you."

8:31 p.m.: Eventually Ferris rises to his feet, letting out a slow exhale. "By the way," he adds, "Kevin's upset he missed your black eye. Eyes," he amends, chuckling. "Such a stupid prank," I growl disapprovingly, and Ferris shrugs, grinning. "You used to love those stupid pranks," he reminds me, and then he slides his hands into his pockets and heads up the stairs, nodding to me as he goes.

10:12 p.m.: I want to say something to Claire, but I can't imagine what. I consider writing something, but no words formulate. What good would we even be together, especially now that I have no idea what I'm doing next?

1:17 a.m.: What the bloody fuck am I going to do next?

2:25 a.m.: "Hey," says a voice from the kitchen and I turn, suffering a not-insignificant heart murmur as I nearly drop my glass of water. "Don't move out," says someone I'm going to call Cameron, a lanky, foul-mouthed arsehole who, for some reason I can't begin to fathom, Ferris seems to like. I'd be surprised to see him, but there's only so long Ferris and I can keep secrets from each other while we occupy the same house, so this one came out a couple of months ago. "Whatever you're trying to prove, you don't need to prove it to him," Cameron says, and I can't help a very Claire-esque scoff. "What do you care?" I ask bluntly, and he shrugs, rising to his feet. "You're his best friend," Cameron says, inclining his head slightly, and then he disappears without another word, heading up the stairs again.


DAY FIVE

8:34 a.m.: When I wake up, I still have no idea what I want to do. I figure there's about one other person in the world who probably feels worse this morning than I do, so I set out to visit him.

9:01 a.m.: "Hi," I say, walking through the Floo to find my oldest brother Jake standing shirtless in the middle of his living room, staring into what looks like a vacant corner. The whole house seems slightly emptier, actually, though I can't really sort out why for a few seconds until I realize that Caroline must have taken some of her things. "You okay?" I ask him, and he looks up, a little startled by my presence. "Yeah, I'm—" He pauses, thinking about it. "I can't really decide how I am," he says slowly, and I nod. I know the feeling. "I'll make coffee," I offer, and he nods, falling back onto the sofa as I wander into the kitchen.

9:32 a.m.: He tells me the truth about what's been going on with Caroline, and I have to say, suddenly my life seems a lot less fucked up. I echo my disbelief at random intervals ("an open marriage?" "... with her?" "... with HER?") but it seems to be helping him to talk about it, especially when he reveals why he had to tell our parents. "I can prove that the Queen didn't kill that Death Eater," Jake tells me, explaining that he was with her during the time they say it happened, "and I can at least make sure she doesn't get life in Azkaban, or worse." "But why her?" I ask, aghast, because Caroline was one thing, but the Queen is certainly another. Jake merely shrugs. "Don't tell me you've never gotten involved with someone you shouldn't," he comments expectantly, and I grimace. "Claire's not what she seems like," I say, and Jake shrugs. "Nobody is," he assures me.

10:14 a.m.: I ask if he's worried about our mum's reaction, and he shakes his head. "She'll be fine eventually," he says, "she just has an exceptionally clear vision of the lives she wants for us, and we keep letting her down. All except Ferris," he amends with a laugh, and I shake my head, definitely not about to bring up Cameron. "And what about Brian?" I ask carefully, wondering if there's any sort of feud between the brothers over Caroline, and Jake shrugs. "I think they really have something," he says slowly, "and I'm certainly glad that they'll both be at a safe distance once my name inevitably gets dragged through the mud."

10:26 a.m.: This makes me think of Claire again, of course. Part of me is itching to see her, but most of me knows this shouldn't be like last time; it can't be like last time. I can't just run to her and hide in her bed while I have my own mess to sort out. Again, I wish things were as easy to sort out as they are in the films, or even simply as easy as they were at Hogwarts, where there always seemed to be such an easy right and wrong answer. "I don't know what I'm going to do now," I tell Jake, and he shrugs. "I think you've earned the right to be lost for a while," he tells me, which ends up settling in my gut like a massive relief.

11:01 a.m.: Jake seems a little better after a while, and suggests that we go see our brother Kevin. I agree, having no better way to distract myself for the time being.

11:21 a.m.: Kevin is once again hard at work, though he doesn't seem to mind our interruption. "I'd hoped the bruising charm would kick in while you were apprehending someone," he tells me, lamenting that it was much less funny this way. "Though it wasn't entirely unfunny the way it happened," he concedes, brightening, and I roll my eyes. "Was it a one time charm?" I ask, and he nods, grinning. "Just something I'm refining," he tells me, and adds that he gets less time to do any inventing while he's busy running the store.

11:24 a.m.: "Did you end up buying out Zonko's?" Jake asks innocently, and Kevin shakes his head. "Deal closes tonight," he says, "but I think I'm going to have to say no. I don't have anyone to run it, and I can't travel back and forth that much." Suddenly, I realize why Jake's brought me here.

11:28 a.m.: "I can run it for you," I offer, and Kevin turns to me, still wearing that unbearable grin. He and Jake must have already discussed this; they both look equally amused at my expense. "Can you, though?" Kevin asks, and adds, "it's a very dangerous job." I sigh. "I'm a bloody Auror," I remind them, and Kevin laughs. "Oh, right, I forgot, he's highly skilled," he tells Jake, who nods solemnly. "Practically a seasoned warrior," Jake remarks into his hand as he curls it solemnly around his mouth. Needless to say, I both love and loathe my older brothers.

12:35 p.m: We agree that it'll be a couple of weeks before I actually move—I need to give my notice, and I want to wrap up some of my open cases before tossing them back to Ferris—but by the time I leave Kevin's store, I'm feeling freer, more hopeful. When Ferris and Diane are good at their jobs, someone else suffers by necessity. But if I can be good at this, I'll be working with my family, bringing a little more lightness into the world—and isn't that ultimately all we ever wanted? I recall what my brother Kevin said about how we fought for the right to a normal, boring life, and now, facing down that possibility, I've never been more optimistic. Maybe I'm not a hero, but the world sure is simpler when you're making people laugh.

5:23 p.m.: By the time I get home, I feel like I've worked towards something a little clearer. It occurs to me again that I want to talk to Claire, but my brain reminds me that I don't even know where to find her. More pressingly, I don't know if I can stand to have my heart break over her again.

6:57 p.m.: I'm sorting through my things, aimlessly wandering my bedroom and waiting for Ferris to come home when I come across that little box marked with the letters WANDR. I suddenly recall a story that Claire once told me about a woman and her destiny; that the girl presented with her destiny chose to suffer in her youth, so as to one day have a happily ever after. It occurs to me that maybe that's what Claire chose, and maybe it's what I should choose, too—to suffer now, so that maybe I'll be reasonably well-adjusted later. After all, I'm leaving, aren't I? I can't exactly confess my feelings only to announce I'm moving to Hogsmeade. I decide to spare her the trauma of subjecting her to my life and wave my wand over Wandr, waiting for the letters to appear on the screen. I definitely don't want to ruin her life, but I also don't particularly want to be alone.

6:59 p.m.: 'Are you ready to find love?' Wandr asks, and I look down. Clean t-shirt, clean-ish trousers—sure, close enough. "Yes," I say, and wave my wand again, disapparating to wherever (and whoever) it is Wandr has chosen for me.

7:01 p.m.: I'm there first, so I sit down and let my gaze rove around the room. It's a nice restaurant, small but comfortable, and for half a second I'm content to sit quietly and wait until I suddenly catch a whiff of perfume that smells, unsettlingly, like Claire.

7:02 p.m.: Abruptly, my senses are brutally flooded with the way Claire felt in my arms, and the precise framing of her lashes around her widened eyes. It's funny, really, that when I first saw her again after the war, I could have described her so easily. Dark hair, dark eyes, one of those noses that isn't quite right because it should be narrower, longer, more pleasing. But half the world has dark hair—and how rare are the color of her eyes, really?—only no one on earth looks like her. No one carries their pain the way she does, or surveys the room with her sharp perception, or looks at me with her sincerity (sees me, not my name or my siblings or my famous best friends but me, me, me) and all of a sudden my throat closes up as I register the terrible, terrible mistake I'm making—not even in being here now, or in trying helplessly to date, but in imagining that I can live my life without her; without telling her. I can't breathe, and I can't speak, and in the midst of my panic I rise to my feet, ready to disapparate.

7:04 p.m.: I collide with someone on the other side of the table, just catching their shoulders with my outstretched hands. "Fuck," says my Wandr date, straightening to glare at me, and in the moment her eyes meet mine, my heart stops.

7:05 p.m.: "Claire," I manage to say, half-choking on her name, and her brow hastily furrows and then smooths over. "I was trying to forget you," she tells me irritably, as if she's annoyed that she hasn't been able to, and I blink. "Why?" I ask, and then she blinks. "Because you're with—" She hesitates. "I thought you were with—" "I'm not," I say, swallowing hard. "Not anymore," I clarify, and Claire and I stare at each other. "Why not?" she asks softly.

7:08 p.m.: I can barely find the words. "Don't tell me you don't know," I determine eventually, and she shivers slightly, casting her gaze down to my chest and back up again. "Tell me anyway," she beckons like the princess she is, and fuck it. Bloody fuck it. I pull her into me and press my forehead to hers, one shaky hand around her cheek as I tangle my fingers in her hair with the other, drawing her chin up towards mine. "Because I would love you if you'd let me," I tell her, and feel her inhale sharply. "And if I were to let you?" she prompts, but I hesitate. I stare at her, wanting to believe I won't get hurt again, or at least hoping that the fact that we're both here somehow means something—even though it would have meant absolutely nothing if it had been anyone else but her.

7:10 p.m.: My proximity to her is killing me, but I can't bring myself to speak. Gratifyingly, she talks for me. "I kept hearing your fucking voice," Claire remarks, her fingers wrapping around my wrist where I'm holding her close. "Every time I thought I didn't need you, I kept hearing you telling me you were coming back, and I was—I couldn't—" She inhales again, closing her eyes, and then meets my gaze without faltering.

7:11 p.m.: "I wasn't ready then," she admits, and trails off. I want to ask her—to beg her—for what that means, but I can't. I can't move, and after a beat of torment, her mouth quirks slightly. "I'm ready now," she promises me, rolling her eyes as if nothing's ever been more obvious, and in victory, in triumph, in utter fucking ascendancy I bend my head, preparing to euphorically brush my lips against hers—just as a waiter clears his throat. "Are you ready to order?" he asks bluntly, and Claire and I turn to look at him before glancing at each other. I'm still not sure any of this is real, but impetuously, my stomach has the nerve to growl, awkwardly punctuating the fact that we're still in a restaurant.

7:14 p.m.: "Well, we've waited this long," I say helplessly, and Claire shrugs. "I could eat," she agrees, and my god, I could kiss her just for that, but I don't. Not yet. More fitting that way, I think. We always were a slow burn.

7:15 p.m.: The reflex to be close to her hasn't gone away. She and I speak similar languages, and when it comes to expressing thoughts of any kind, we both find them easier to say with touch. She orders some sort of salad while I play with her fingers across the table, and then she strokes my knuckles with her thumb while I mindlessly ask for some sort of, I don't know—chicken, I guess. Claire orders a glass of wine, I order a pint. It's all distressingly normal, and I realize again that this is precisely what I fought for: the right to sit across from a girl who once stood on the opposite side from me, and know there are no monsters coming for us, and no politicians trying to destroy us (aside from the ones we already know about), and yes, I may be leaving—but for right now there's nothing keeping me from holding her hand, so I do.

7:24 p.m.: "Tell me the truth," I say quietly, and Claire looks up at me, waiting. "How are you really?" I ask, and she gives me a hardened grimace. "I have nothing," she says. "No reputation that hasn't been smeared, no money that hasn't been taken, no family that I can turn to, no friends I haven't betrayed, except for one. And I shouldn't even be here—I can't afford it," she adds with a laugh, "but I was tired of taking up her space. I need to move on," she murmurs, "from everything. From all of it. From you, too, I thought," she adds, and pauses. "I think if I hadn't run into you like this," she confesses, "I would have slipped out in the middle of the night and never come back." It occurs to me to be grateful for my brother's invention, but I don't know—maybe I want to believe I would have managed to find her somehow regardless, with or without it. Maybe I've seen a few too many muggle films, but I like to think the universe wanted me to be here.

7:46 p.m.: Dinner loosens our tongues a little bit and I confess I wasn't particularly abstinent in Claire's absence. I thought she didn't want me; I had been so certain of it, and I was trying to move on. To forget her, to give her what she wanted. Claire laughs a little at my distress. "Your problems were never my problems," she says, and assures me that while I'd needed to see what was out there, she'd needed to prove she could be okay on her own. I remind her that while we were apart, she'd built a business; she cut out the people who were bad for her; she befriended her enemies (and worse, my sister); she was brave enough to volunteer the intricacies of her personal life for public consumption. Claire listens to my recollections of her accomplishments and nods to them, acknowledging them neutrally. "Still, I had to know I could stand alone before I tried standing with someone else," she says, and then spares me a rare truth: "And I wanted to believe you when you told me what I deserved," she says, discreetly eyeing her plate.

8:13 p.m.: I have her in my arms before I even realize I've gotten to my feet, hastily discarding my more reasonable impulse to wait for the right time or the right place. Her eyes widen with surprise, but I kiss her without hesitation, without pause. She closes her eyes, one hand rising to curl around the back of my neck, and I can feel every single piece of her, every inch of her that's pulsing in tune with me, with my breath, with my heart. She tastes like the tartness of the wine, citrus-sweet, and I fumble with my pocket to pay the bill when she stops me, shaking her head.

8:15 p.m.: "Let me get this," Claire says. I hardly feel she needs reminding that she's been stripped of her wealth by the Ministry, but I open my mouth to do it anyway until she shakes her head, placing her fingers against my lips. "Consider it a 'happy late-as-fuck birthday' gift," she tells me, revealing, astoundingly, that she even knew my birthday to begin with. Funnily enough, I opt not to argue. I didn't grow up with money, so I know better than most that resolving to spend what little of it you have on someone you care about is a uniquely rewarding thing; a blessing in a strange, circuitous way. So I take the offering, letting her set the galleons on the table, and then take her hands in mine, pressing my lips to her knuckles. "Thank you," I say, as honestly as I can, and I know it was worth doing. Her sharp gaze softens, and she rises up on her toes to kiss me again. "Stay the night with me," she says, and I don't even have to think. "Yes," I say, "bloody hell, yes."

8:28 p.m.: I apparate us into my bedroom and kiss her swiftly, barely able to wait until my feet touch the ground before pulling her into me again. "We don't have to have sex," I assure her, sweeping her hair back from her face, and she glares at me. "Don't be an idiot. I haven't had sex in months," she informs me, shoving me back on my bed and straddling me in one alarming motion. "I thought sex was easy?" I prompt, attempting to be suave, but she rolls her eyes. "No one was you," she accuses gruffly, and despite wanting to capture the words and hold them hostage indefinitely, my awe at touching her briefly suspends in favor of a sudden, gripping terror that this could all end too soon… again.

8:37 p.m.: "If I'm going to open my eyes in the morning and know that it's over, stop me now," I plead with her, and Claire pauses to sit upright, looking down at me with her hands flat against my chest. She shifts, the heel of her right hand pressing down into my sternum. "This means something to me," she promises me, swearing it over my heart, and I close my eyes, ready to engrave those words on my fucking tombstone.

8:41 p.m.: She yanks hastily at my shirt, eager to move forward, but I don't want to rush this. Instead I slide forward, shifting my shoulders under her legs, and press my lips to the fabric of her knickers, sweeping the broad plane of my tongue against the lace. She keens and shivers, letting out a whisper of a sigh, and I keep going, pressing my lips against her and then my tongue, first with the thin fabric between us and then, once I've slid it to the side, sucking lightly. She groans, and I slide my hands under her dress, burying my fingers in the bare skin of her thighs as she parts her legs wider, permitting me a better angle. "What do you want?" I ask between kisses, between touches and licks, and I hear her breath start to come in pants. "Want—to make you come," she manages, which is all well and good (and hot as fuck, fine, what do you want from me?) but any impending orgasm I may have is not presently my concern. I wait until she sputters out a cry, her legs tightening around my head, and once her breathing returns to normal I set her on her back, one of my hands sliding under her dress.

9:03 p.m.: "I want to feel you inside me," Claire says in my ear, biting lightly on the lobe of it, and holy hell, she's so fucking hot, but I don't give in yet. Not yet. Sex comes easily to her, sure, but I have something to prove. I shift around, pinning her hips in place while I stroke the swollen slickness of her pussy, my eyes locked on hers. I can see the strain of her breath and I watch the shape of her mouth, the parting of her lips, and surprisingly, I manage not to be distracted by the feel of her breasts rising to press against my chest, or the motion of her hips shifting restlessly beneath my hand. I'm focused, content to watch her face until she comes, digging her nails into the back of my neck and dragging my lips down to hers.

9:15 p.m.: I shift lower, about to go down on her again (I said I had something to prove, didn't I?) but she kicks me away, rolling me onto my back and pinning my arms down. "Unless your penis has suffered a recent injury," she growls, her dark hair falling in a curtain around her face, "you're putting it inside me. Now." "Or else what?" I ask indignantly, and she shimmies around on top of me, not even bothering to drag my trousers any lower than my thighs. "Like I'd let you live to find out," she scoffs, and after a collective inhale, she slides easily onto my shaft, both of us choking on anticipation.

9:32 p.m.: I missed her, everything about her. I missed the way she feels, the way she tastes, the way she sounds, the way she comes, the way she shivers against me, the way she fits so perfectly in my arms. I wanted it to be complicated—I assumed it had to be, because everything else was—but it's always been simple, hasn't it? I loved her, I love her still, I may very well love her until the end of time, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. What could be more simple than that?

12:17 a.m.: "Sometimes I think I peaked at Hogwarts," I say, stroking her hair where her head rests against my chest. She doesn't bother to laugh. She simply gifts me another of her regal scoffs and looks up, shameless, as she says, "Impossible. You hadn't fucked me yet at Hogwarts."

12:20 a.m.: Bloody christ, I'm fucking ruined for this girl.


DAY SIX

8:14 a.m.: I stir to find her sliding her legs out of the duvet, preparing to leave, and I suffer a sinking weight in my chest. I stare at the shape of her spine as she reaches down for her clothes, but then she stops abruptly and turns, apparently catching the sound of my halted breath. Per usual, I can't speak, so she rolls her eyes, lying back down on her side to face me. "Monday," she says to me, and I blink, realizing that I should probably get up to get ready for work. "I'm starving," she adds, preparing to get out of bed a second time before pausing suddenly to frown at me. "Did you think I was leaving?" she asks brusquely, and I wish I could laugh, only I'm afraid it'll come out as some sort of very sad, very forceful wailing. "You dumb stupid idiot," she says, and kisses me.

8:21 a.m.: "If you can't believe I'm capable of change, then who else possibly will?" she jokes, about to get up again, but I take her arm and pull her close to me, holding her as tightly as skin and science will allow. Suddenly, I'm not sure I can take the job with Kevin anymore. What good is any job where I wake up without her? I'm sure I'm holding her far too tightly (in my head I imagine she has bones like a bird, hollow and fragile and highly breakable) but she merely permits me to crush her, relaxing into my grip after a while. "We should make plans," she says, and out of nowhere, my heart fills to bursting.

8:23 a.m.: I look down, and she looks up. "Plans," she repeats, "you know, for later today." Yes, I think, plans. "I want to have you the moment I leave the office," I say boldly, "until I inevitably die of exhaustion." "Right, okay," she permits, relatively unbothered (I assume she already had plans to outlive me; possibly by way of murder, but I'm still fine with that), "but I'll try to factor in food somewhere." She smiles. I think she's happy, though it's always hard to tell, and I hate to guess. "See you tonight," she tells me, brushing her lips against my forehead, and then she dresses quickly and tiptoes out, disappearing with only the smell of her perfume to prove she was ever here to begin with.

8:31 a.m.: Well, that, and my nosy best friend. "How was it?" Ferris asks neutrally, and I take the newspaper from him to give him a firm, affectionate smack on the nose with it. "Fine," he says, grumbling at me, "don't tell me, then." I tell him I don't want to get ahead of myself; I haven't told her I'm leaving yet. Oh, and as I say it, I realize I haven't told him, either. Pity, that. "Well, that's a much better reason to leave," Ferris says, considering it, and pauses. "Though I'll miss you," he remarks after a second, looking as though he means it. Still, I think he understands.

8:45 a.m.: "Wonder if your mum'll have another party for you," Ferris muses, and I smack him with the newspaper again. "What? I think the last one went well," he insists, apparently hoping to die face-down in his granola.

11:12 a.m.: I can't focus at all.

3:31 p.m.: Well, the afternoon seems like a decent time for an existential crisis, which is at least a fun distraction from paperwork (and the news spreading through the department with feverish urgency that Diane is apparently not able to convince the Queen to do the obvious thing and… retract her confession). I think again about my decision to leave, and more pressingly, about whether it's the right time to bring it up to Claire. Do I ask her to come with me? That seems mad. I mean yes, I want her to come with me, but if she wasn't ready for a normal relationship before, dragging her to Scotland seems like a vaguely undeniable misstep. I should say something, at least. Shouldn't I? Or maybe this won't work out. Maybe it won't even last the week. Or maybe if I say anything, then it definitely won't work out.

4:45 p.m.: Luckily my afternoon panic takes me almost to the end of the day. Marvelous.

5:12 p.m.: I sprint through my Floo to be greeted by the peculiarly inviting smell of food cooking—which is not something that happens often, given the sad bachelor-adjacent combination of Ferris and me. "You're here," I say, dazedly discovering a surprisingly casual Claire in the kitchen, and she glances at me from where she's just sipped directly from a bottle of wine. "You should drink some of this," she s