Seamus Finnegan sat before the remaining bonfire, which burned low between him and the surf. He sat on a woven blanket, his back against one of the massive, smooth logs that Serena had portkeyed from home.
The fire was still hot, but the breeze was getting cold. Seamus drained the bottle of ale in his hand and transfigured it into a canvas windbreaker.
The beach was quiet. The Cali crew were gone — most of them, anyway. Serena was around somewhere. Maybe. Maybe she’d already gone clubbing. Maybe she and Nicole and Stephanie and Nari were in the magical boulder, eating all the leftover s’mores. Seamus was alone with his anger.
Hadn’t his mam always said, be careful what you wish for? And hadn’t she been proven right tonight!
But it wasn’t such a mad wish, was it? For his Hogwarts friends to feel comfortable mixing with his Muggle friends?
In Seamus’ imagination, he, Dean, and Hermione would show the wizards how to hit a volleyball, toss a Frisbee, and build a sandcastle with plastic buckets and shovels. They’d eat some Irish food, dance to the Muggle radio, and have some friendly, well-supervised conversations with non-magical teens about safe topics like volleyball and frisbee and beaches.
But the reality turned out to be something quite different, because his friends were radical overachievers.
Parvati and Ginny turned into volleyball stars before Dean had even reached the court.
After one lesson from Seamus, Harry caught and threw a flying disc with such accuracy that he was invited to play this mad new game called “ultimate frisbee.”
The team of Neville and Hannah won the sandcastle contest, narrowly beating the team of Orla and Hermione.
And then the whole lot of them went all-in on a Twister tournament!
Seamus, Dean, and Orla were on constant damage patrol, making sure the wizards didn’t out themselves by asking what “Twister” was or forgetting what “football” meant.
But the Hogwarts gang weren’t the real problem. The real problem were the Serpentias. He’d invited one of them — ONE — Serena’s cousin Stephanie, but somehow he’d got the whole motley crew.
He wasn’t really bothered by Nicole and Daryl, but who’d invited Rhys and his group of hangers-on? And why in Merlin’s name was Jessica there?
And Belial! With his smarmy hands all over Parvati! Undoubtedly trying to seduce her with an empty offer of a modeling gig.
Seamus felt his anger burn anew, and willed himself to calm down. Parvati was safely home, probably furious at him for spoiling her good time. Parvati was smart; she surely knew Bel was feeding her a line, and likely didn’t care — she’d just wanted some good craic.
But she didn’t know what Seamus knew. She didn’t know where having a bit of fun with a Serpentia could lead, and Seamus couldn’t tell her — not if there were a still chance that Serena could return to Hogwarts.
Nevertheless, Seamus refused to watch a friend get dragged into their crazy demon world. He’d pulled Parvati out of it, while there was still time. As for him, it was probably too late.
Seamus and Belial were still Immobilized when Serena’d made Parvati leave. Then Serena cast a protego shield between them before reversing Parvati’s immobulus spell. That was smart, because otherwise Seamus, for one, would have thrown his fire.
Belial quelled all residual laughter with a furious glare at the group by the fire, and then sifted away to, Seamus assumed, wherever smarmy gits like him went to plot their revenge.
No, that was ridiculous. Bel couldn’t possibly care if a couple’a dossers like Rhys laughed at him. They certainly wouldn’t do it to his face. And Bel certainly wouldn’t care what Parvati thought.
Parvati. Why didn’t she just step away from Belial when Seamus told her to? All she had to do was to step away from that man…. just step away…. step away from….
Where had he heard that before? Someone had shouted that… Who?
With a sickening swoop of his stomach, Seamus remembered. His mother, in the stable, shouting at Asmo.
“Step away from my family! Step away!”
She was out of her mind, theyd all said. And now sure if he hadn’t just done the same thing — made a holy show of himself by attacking someone for no apparent reason. That’s how everyone must think of him now: mad as a packet of pixies.
But who was “everyone”? Nicole, Jessica, Belial, the club kids — he didn’t care what they thought.
Seamus stared into the flames and remembered that long, long day: the attack at the stables, the escape to the hospital, the horrifying nightclub meeting with Belial. Two months had gone by since the Asmo-blasting incident, and his mam still hadn’t given Seamus a satisfactory explanation. She said she’d seen Asmo sneaking around the duck pond, and thought he was up to no good. It was ridiculous on so many levels!
What if she had a different reason, one that she didn’t want to admit? What if she’d realized what Seamus was realizing now: that the demon world was the wrong world for her son.
As if on cue, the sand to his left glowed briefly red, and he knew someone had sifted in. It was Serena, he could tell. How he could tell, he didn’t know. All he knew was, if he left the demon world, he would also be leaving her, and he couldn’t imagine doing that.
“There you are! You missed the Binge.”
Serena walked up to the fire. She’d changed into a loose-fitting pink sweatsuit, which meant the s’mores were gone and she was going to stick around. He felt glad and resentful, all at the same time.
“Your party was stellar.”
“Deadly. Lethal. Class.”
Seamus stared at Serena in disbelief.
“Go ‘way outta that!”
“Well, I’m out of stupid Irish words for excellent. Why can’t you take a compliment?”
“Are ye forgettin’ the duel? Or do’ye think that’s a fun feature at every Muggle shindig?”
“Oh, please. You were frozen for sixty seconds, tops. It was funny!”
Seamus grumbled under his breath, “Maybe to you.”
Serena was uncharacteristically sympathetic. “You should’t be angry. It was Bel who looked ridiculous.”
“You said we both looked ridiculous.”
“I said you looked rather adorable.”
“You did not!”
“Well, I told Stephanie.”
Seamus was about to retort that he wasn’t bleedin’ Stephanie, but then Serena knelt on the rug next to him, tossing her curls over her shoulder. Seamus squelched a mad impulse to wind one around his finger. He wondered if she could possibly understand what was bothering him. He stared into the fire again, but his discomfort must have shown on his face.
“What?” demanded Serena.
“I don’t care about being frozen. Or laughed at.”
“Then what is it?”
Seamus gave Serena a sidelong glance. She actually looked interested. Maybe she would understand.
“It’s just that I….”
He tried again.
“I’m just afraid….” How could he put it into words?
He turned to Serena. “Do you think I’m mad as packet of pixies?”
She laughed, but not unkindly. “All the time.”
“So am I! You’ve been going on all summer about staying at Hogwarts and getting a N.E.W.T. in Care of Magical Creatures.”
Her tone became unusually cheery and cajoling. “But you could go to UMCLA and learn extremely powerful magic, and then join Ophidian and work with Asmo and Stephanie. You could afford to have a massive stable anywhere in the world. You could ride in the Muggle Olympics! You can’t do any of that if you stay in the wizarding world.”
Seamus was silent. How many times had he tried, and failed, to explain his wishes to Serena and her family?
He Accioed another ale. He popped the lid with a wave of his thumb, and then wondered how he’d done it.
Serena pressed on. “I wish you would just explain why don’t you want to come to UMCLA with me.”
Seamus took a swig, and offered her the bottle. She took it and drank.
Seamus said, “You might not have thought of this, but if you go to UMCLA, you’ll miss Parvati and Lavender and Tracy and Ginny — and the first-ever Charms team. You’ve tried for seven years to get a Charmsnastics team, and now you can have one. Why don’t you want to came back to Hogwarts for that?”
“Because it’s Hogwarts.” She said “Hogwarts” with exaggerated distaste. “But it doesn’t matter what I want. Dumbledore never wanted me there, and I don’t think McGonagall will let me back in.”
Was she actually admitting that she might want to return to Hogwarts? Seamus felt a tiny spark of hope ignite in his stomach.
“But if you could go back to Hogwarts, and I really wanted to, would you go with me?”
Serena looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. I’ve already followed you back there once, and it was the most awful year ever.”
She’d followed him back? This was news to Seamus.
“Do you mean this year?”
Serena sorted. “You don’t think I went back this year just because Snape asked me, do you?”
This was almost too much for Seamus to grasp at once.
“Snape asked you to come back? You weren’t planning to, and he asked you?”
“I think you’re missing the essential point.”
“That you came back… because of me?”
The spark of hope grew, and didn’t dim as she said,
“AND that it was horrid, even though I was Head Girl and had my own room. I won’t get that again.”
“So there’s a chance — you might go back — if you could?”
She took a swig of the ale and thrust it back at him.
“You’re missing the other essential point.”
She sounded annoyed and… a bit wistful?
“You don’t need me anymore.”
Seamus was completely taken aback. What could she mean by that? She answered his stare with,
“Hogwarts is safe, the wizarding world is safe, and you have your own powers now. And you don’t want to be my Preasul, even though you obviously are, so there really is no point to sticking together, is there?”
Be careful what you wish for. She was offering everything that Seamus had thought he’d wanted — to make a clean break with the demon world — and he’d never wanted it less.
“But that’s not… that’s not how this works!” he said desperately. “You need me.”
Her expression showed that Serena found this idea weird and mad.
“To look out for you!”
“Isn’t that what you’ve just spent the whole summer telling everyone and their dog you don’t want to do?”
“Not as a career. Just as… as….” He couldn’t think of a word to describe his relationship with Serena.
“Well, I did look out for you, not that you ever appreciated it.”
Seamus thought she was talking about the previous year.
“Of course I did! We all did! Haven’t every one of us said time and again….”
“Not at Hogwarts, dork! In the real world, when you’re with my family.
Seamus was flummoxed. “Why would I need protection from your family?”
Serena rolled her eyes. “You don’t know anything! Why don’t you know anything?”
“I would if you would tell me!”
“To keep you from getting incinerated, and also so you would fit in. But mostly the incineration part, because you can be extraordinarily clueless.”
This hit Seamus like a ton of bricks. Merlin, he’d been thick! He’d spent most of his life smoothing Serena’s way in the wizarding world, but it had never occurred to him that he was in danger in the demon world.
Now that he thought about it, he remembered many times when someone had found ignorant, impetuous, bumbling young Seamus irritating. Demons didn’t suffer fools gladly, and where a wizard would throw a jinx, demons would throw a curse or a flame. He looked at Serena, and felt guilty for all the times he’d called her self-centered. Apparently he’d been just as bad.
“You’re looking at me funny again.”
“I feel like a right moran. How could I not have known I was acting the maggot?”
“You never know what’s going on.”
Normally this would have made Seamus mad, but today he thought Serena had a fair point. Still….
“And yet your dad’s always inviting me to stay. Why does he, If I’m such a pain in the arse?”
Serena was matter-of-fact. “Well, since you obviously want demon powers, he’s checking you out to see if your magic is good enough to join Obsidian.”
They thought he wanted…?
“I’ve never wanted demon powers! I didn’t even know I could get them!”
Serena was genuinely confused. “Then why are you always doing things for me and my family?”
“Ummm… because I’m a nice person? Perhaps you’ve noticed that once or twice over the years?”
“No one’s that nice! You’re always bringing us food — demon food — all broken up the way we like it. And you run errands for my parents. And you lay all the fires; you insisted that we show you how.”
“I like fire. And I didn’t know those things were demon things — not at first.”
“Then how did you know to do them?”
“Mam told me. Remember the day we met? When your mother brought you to our house and you didn’t want to be there? Mam told me to offer you broken biscuits, and I told her you wouldn’t want them, but she said you would — and you did. I didn’t ask why.”
“Annnd so… you jussst….carried on doing it?”
“You make it sound mad! I was just being nice. Mam said I should make you feel welcome in the wizarding world.”
“That’s ridiculous! My mother’s a witch. I’ve spent half my life in the wizarding world.”
“But you hate the wizarding world, and you’re always trying to do demon and Muggle stuff in it. I figured you needed someone to have your back, especially when your mam made you go to Hogwarts.”
“You figured, or your mam figured?”
Serena was silent. She was thinking about something, and she looked unhappy.
Finally she asked, “So you never wanted demon powers?”
“I never did! I didn’t even know that was an option! Don’t get me wrong — it would be fine if the powers were all there is to it, but apparently they’re all or nothing. Once you have demon powers, you can’t live like a wizard anymore.”
Now she looked unhappy and disgusted.
“Who told you that?”
“Belial. He never shuts up about it.”
“That’s stupid. Daddy lives like a wizard.”
At Seamus’ incredulous look, she said, “He does! He eats anything he wants and gets as fat as he wants, and he sees wizard patients, and he even used to play Quaddo in an old-person league.”
“See, now, that’s all I want!”
Serena looked as if she’d just smelled something distasteful. “To get fat and play Quaddo?”
“Ye know it’s not! I want to live on a farm and train horses and take care of magical creatures!”
“As a wizard.” It was a statement.
“As a wizard,” Seamus said with some relief. It seemed he was finally making himself clear.
“Well.” Serena twisted her lips and said bitterly, “Joke’s on me, I guess.”
“I thought you wanted to be one of us. We all thought you wanted to be one of us.”
Seamus had known Serena to feel bitter and betrayed, but never by him. He felt horrified by her misunderstanding.
“Merlin, Serena! How can you…. I’ve just said… I’ve been saying it all summer!”
She gave him a disgusted look. “And yet you’re always still around! You’re with us all the time!”
“Serena, I hang around your family because you’re there!”
He grabbed her shoulders, then slid his hands down to hold hers.
“I go to Cali to be with you. Not them… you!”
The feelings he’d suppressed all summer overwhelmed him. He had shoved every remotely amorous thought from his mind. He’d arranged things so they’d never be alone. He’d lectured himself that if he ever wanted to be free to choose his own path, he couldn’t get in any deeper with Serena Serpentia. Now he regretted every one of those actions, every one of those thoughts.
He felt such a rush of emotion as he shouted these words that he was certain Serena would feel the same way. He was gobsmacked when she snatched her hands away and turned her back on him.
“Well,” she said flatly. “This is not how I thought tonight would go.”
“What…. what do you mean?” Seamus asked helplessly.
“It doesn’t matter. Like I said, you don’t need me anymore.”
“Why do I have to literally need you?”
But she was already standing.
“Isn’t it enough that we’re…. that we’re….?”
But what were they? Shouldn’t he know?
She ignored him and pulled a wand from her sweatsuit.
“Serena, we need to talk about this!”
She turned the wand on herself, and instantly her pink sweatsuit and runners were transformed into a very short, swingy pink dress and a pair of shiny sandals.
Seamus scrambled to his feet. “Where are you going?”
She turned the wand on her face, and makeup appeared.
“Someplace you don’t want to be.”
Seamus felt desperate. “Why does it have to be all or nothing? All demon, or all wizard? Why can’t we just… be as we wish?”
“I can. But apparently you can’t.”
She’d transfigured something into a mirror, and was checking herself in it.
“What does that even mean?”
“I don’t care.”
She turned the mirror into a satin bag.
“Have a nice life. Don’t follow me.”
She stabbed her wand at him for emphasis. Seamus stood in shock as she pointed her wand at the ground and started to dissolve in a flurry of red and black.
“Serena!” he roared, rushing at her, trying to catch her, but his hands closed on nothing but wind and some sparks.
Seamus stood rooted on the spot, staring at the ground where she’d disappeared, feeling empty and abandoned. He could guess where she’d gone, he could go after her, but he was certain it wouldn’t go well. There was something so very final in her last words.
The wind blew colder, and Seamus started to shiver. He returned to his blanket by the fire, leaned against the massive log, and felt the sting of tears as he wondered exactly how he’d blown up his life. He watched as the fire dwindled to embers, and the wind dried the tears on his face.
Then the sand to his right glowed red. He barely had time to look up before Serena was straddling his hips. He forgot everything besides the shock of her sitting on him, her full weight in his lap, thighs squeezing his hips, hands sliding up his chest, his shoulders, his neck.
She leaned forward, and her hair formed a curtain around their faces. In the firelight, her skin seemed to glow.
She kissed him, her lips somehow still sugary with marshmallow. She pulled back and looked into his eyes, and he had a wild thought that it really was all or nothing, and this was the moment of truth. Then she leaned forward again.
Hair curtain, sugary kiss. This time, he didn’t think about anything else.
Beach. Wave. Fire. It was a fantasy he’d never imagined. Her hips ground into his, and a wave of pleasure shot through his body. This was madness, surely, the very definition. But his shirt was already open, her hands sliding down his chest. He’d risked death to save Parvati from this fate, and here he was, rushing headlong into it. But her hands had found the buttons of his jeans. After this, there would be no return. He closed his eyes and let it happen.
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