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Dormitory 2.6A by Dirigible_Plums

Format: Novel
Chapters: 10
Word Count: 66,881
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Mild violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Humor, Young Adult
Characters: Neville, Albus, James (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing, Rose/Scorpius, OC/OC

First Published: 12/21/2015
Last Chapter: 10/23/2016
Last Updated: 08/17/2017

Summary:
amazing banner by seraphine.@tda! | 2016 QTR Diadem Award | Nargles 2017: Most Inclusive Story | Dobby 2017: Best Feel-Good Fic | HPFT FROGS: Best Next Gen ♡| currently replacing CIs



In which the six girls from Hufflepuff's Dormitory 2.6A stalk Albus Potter, swear like sailors, sneak off to the library and put stereotypes to shame.

"I don't like hugs. Or people. They sicken me."


Chapter 1: ONE: Melting Ice Queens
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CI made by the wonderful ailhsa@tda <3

ONE: MELTING ICE QUEENS


"I SWEAR TO GOD, IF YOU HUG ME ONE MORE TIME, ALICE, I WILL SHOVE YOUR FUCKING POTIONS ESSAY UP YOUR FUCKING ARSE."

Common knowledge declared that anyone 'unfortunate' enough to belong to the house of Hufflepuff had the short end of the stick. Dim, naive and, ironically enough, renowned for being eager little beavers, Hufflepuffs were at the bottom of the food chain - nothing more than poor souls to pity. Of course, common knowledge tended to wither away when it encountered the girls in the Hufflepuff Dormitory 2.6A.

"I'm just being nice," the hugger in question, one Alice Longbottom, pouted and lowered her arms. "Why won't you let me love you?"

"I don't care about how nice you want to be. Go and love a fucking cactus," the girl sitting next to her spat. "I hope it fucking hurts."

"It's just a hug."

"I don't like hugs. Or people. They sicken me."

From where she languished on the floor, another girl laughed. Tucking a strand of dark hair behind her ear as she glanced up from her Transfiguration textbook, Nova said fondly, "Always a charmer, aren't you, Dahlia? But don't worry, I feel the same. People are irrelevant."

It was a motto the Hufflepuff had lived by since the start of her second year and had since proved to be worth its while. While most of Hogwarts sometimes scorned those who sported yellow trimmings on their robes, few dared to do the same with Nova Hale, whose deadly looks and natural bitch face warned of possible injuries if they overstepped their boundaries. Consequently, she was mostly left alone to mingle with the few people in the castle that she bothered with, usually away from the drama that dominated the gossip.

Alice was almost her opposite. "People can't be irrelevant, Nova," she chided. "I'm pretty sure it's prejudiced to say so."

"No one gives a fucking shit about prejudice," Dahlia said helpfully. "This is the Golden Age of the wizarding world. Prejudice doesn't exist." There was a note of sarcasm in her voice as she dropped back onto her bed with the ease of someone who did so often.

"I'm not prejudiced," Nova said.

"She's just a bitch," added Dahlia.

Returning to her book, the bitch in question made a noise of appreciation and flippantly raised a hand to express her agreement. The gesture made Alice roll her eyes.

"You're not a bitch. You're just. . . a little antisocial. If you were a bitch, I probably wouldn't be friends with you."

"Always a sweetheart, Alice. That's why you're my favourite."

"Thank you."

Such interactions were common with the six girls of Dormitory 2.6A. They were the sort of people who should've clashed heads all the time, but their strong personalities had managed to find a state of harmony where the different personas could coexist comfortably. Brutal honesty was key to their friendship, a staple piece that meant that they rarely found themselves in a serious argument. Why sugarcoat words when they were supposed to be secure enough in their friendship to not take offence at harmless banter? It eradicated the bad habit of beating around the bush; it made life a lot easier.

Of course, the idea didn't sit well with everyone. First years in particular were always shocked when they first heard Dahlia screech something along the lines of "I DON'T GIVE A FUCKING SHIT ABOUT THAT, YOU FUCKING WANKER" to a perfectly harmless statement and her friends took it with nothing more than laughter and a response that would have their parents washing their mouths out with soap. But after a while, it was simply accepted; the girls of Dormitory 2.6A had established a strange but secure friendship. It was the same reason why no one had batted an eyelid when Nova had dragged her bed from Dormitory 2.2B to Dormitory 2.2A back in second year when she finally decided she "wasn't going to suffer in the presence of the rest of the brainless bitches in our year." It was now something of an annual ritual for her to be seen, wand in hand, directing a bed across the corridor on the first night back.

Nova looked up to see Alice give up on trying to hug Dahlia for the time being and content herself with fixing her bed instead. She was something of a neat freak and took great pleasure in a pristine environment. As she fluffed up her last pillow, she sighed happily.

"You have no idea how good that makes me feel," she said. "I cannot stand dirt, it makes me sick."

"Don't lie, Alice, you fancy the pants off Damien Nott." Nova smirked to annoy her for the hell of it.

"You're a tramp," she hissed in response, face scrunching up at the thought of the fourth year Slytherin. Though she made a point of not judging others, it was almost impossible not to do so with Nott - the lad was known throughout Hogwarts for his tendency to shower once a week and his determination to ignore the pleas of his friends to at least wear some cologne.

"Now, now, Longbottom," Dahlia chimed in. "It sounds to me like you're the one that's now discriminating. Just because Nott is the primitive type doesn't mean he doesn't have a heart."

"I hate you."

"Thanks, love," she drawled. "Made me day, that did."

The next fifteen minutes wore on in a similar fashion interspersed with moments of amiable silence. Alice used the time to loudly write a letter home to her mum while Dahlia stared at the canopy of her bed, waxing poetic about the food she intended to eat later on; Nova told them both to shut the fuck up since she was trying to memorise the principles of human transfiguration. She had a test on it later that day and she wasn't the type that accepted anything under 90%.

Eventually, lunch called their names and they abandoned their activities for the food that Dahlia had so lovingly described in excruciating detail. Sliding their robes back over their heads, they left the common room, muttering to each other about whether the others would be at the Great Hall yet, and soon found themselves entering the room itself. As it turned out, the other half of their group were already sat at their usual spot, their bags beside them on the benches to reserve the spaces.

"Is there any shepherd's pie?" Nova asked, pushing a bag off her seat. "Because Dahlia was going on and on about it in the dorm."

Her best friend, Reagan, playfully scowled and bent down to right her bag. She was about to nod in confirmation, but Dahlia had already caught sight of the desired dish and leapt forward with a triumphant cry.

"Shepherd's fucking pie," she crowed. Helping herself to a generous slice, she smugly dug into her lunch with the grace of an animal.

Nova scrunched her nose up in disdain. "You are so classy."

In response, Dahlia stretched her mouth into a sickeningly wide smile around the food in it. "I am, aren't I?"

She retched in disgust.

The group soon dissolved into their usual inane chatter, talking about anything and everything as they ate their food. Their conversation melted into the cacaphony that usually filled the Great Hall, one which settled into the background as a warm buzz, something to occupy their ears in the rare moments they were silent. Such instances were always few and far between since all six of them had something to say more often than not - whether it was a simple opinion they had (one that extended beyond Dahlia's delightful "Oh, if only I could find a fuck to give") or a recount of something that had occurred in one of their lessons.

Other than the brash Dahlia and the sweet Alice, their sextet also consisted of Reagan Davies, Nala Soyinka and Cassidy Greengrass. The latter was the black sheep in a family brimming with Slytherins; where they were prepared to step on throats to get their way, Cass took pride in achieving her goals by actually working for them. Reagan Davies seemed to be an unremarkable girl at first glance whose most defining feature was her short stature - she was rumoured to have an ancestor who was part elf - but she was fiercely loyal and had an impressive arsenal of sarcastic comments. Meanwhile, Nala was probably closest to Alice in her personality: loyal, somewhat naive and too dreamy for her own good.

Then, there was, of course, Nova. Her notoriously expressionless face actually broke out into a smile multiple times when with her friends despite the reputation that preceded her. Few knew that she was actually one of the more soft-hearted ones of the group, a bit of a closet romantic, even if she was the last person you'd expect to lose herself in an idle daydream about a boy in one of those snatches of serene silence they were now submerged in. . .

A boy like Albus Potter, for example.

Unaware that she was accidentally staring at him, she drifted through thoughts of his messy dark hair and blazing jade eyes and that delicious half-smile he reserved for whatever amused him. Albus Potter was just one of those boys that people fancied, even if they were Hufflepuff's Ice Queen. James Potter's messy manbun and sexy stubble may have had girls swooning left, right and centre, but Albus had a certain sharpness to him that had Nova's heart racing in the unmistakeable sign of a crush.

Yes.

She had a fucking crush on Albus Potter.

So there she was: idly staring at no spot in particular as she recalled the way the veins in his arms had been so prominent earlier that day in History of Magic when she was suddenly snapped out of her day dream. She quickly twisted in her seat, but the damage was done: Albus Potter had just caught her looking at him. And he'd smiled.

Albus Potter had smiled at her.

Shit.

She had been staring at him.

"Why the fuck are you blushing?" Dahlia cut into her thoughts with the sort of disgusted fascination people usually reserved for the likes of flesh-eating slugs or blast-ended skrewts when she spotted the blood creeping into Nova's cheeks.

"Blushing?" Nala exclaimed excitedly, throwing down her fork as she twisted around to scrutinise her. She began to wiggle her eyebrows suggestively. "Why are you blushing, Nova? Huh? Huhhh?"

Willing the furious heat in her cheeks to go away, she raised an eyebrow and calmly said, "I'm not blushing."

Apparently, her friends begged to differ.

"Er, yeah, you are," Nala scoffed.

"We all have eyes, Nova-"

"That looks like a blush to me!"

"Aw, how cute-"

"YOU'RE BLUSHING."

"She's embarrassed and shy-"

"Fucking tell us-"

"BLUSHING."

"NOVA FUCKING HALE IS-"

"A BLUSHER. BLUSH! BLUSH BLUSH BLUUUUUUSH."

"Shut the fuck up," she hissed as one of them hit a falsetto. Far from being daunted by her response, they only burst into laughter, causing her eyes to fall into slits. "You're all insufferable bastards, you know that, right?"

"We're only joking." Cassidy grinned.

"We're not joking," Dahlia immediately refuted.

When Nova did nothing but glare at them furiously, Alice and Reagan seemed to take pity on her. Clearing her throat loudly, Alice cut across the giggles of the three 'traitors' (as Nova now mentally dubbed them).

"Guys, let's leave her alone now. So, her cheeks were red. There's plenty of reasons for that."

"Yeah, I mean, it is pretty hot inside," Reagan agreed. Gesturing to Cass' rosy cheeks, she added, "Look at her. Her cheeks are so fucking red, you'd think she has sunburn."

"Well, that's not offensive."

"It's not my fault you look like someone's smacked you half the time." She shrugged with a wicked glint in her eyes.

Nova took the opportunity to divert the attention away from herself. "That's because she has been smacked most of the time - by angry ex-girlfriends avenging their dead relationships. You're such a homewrecker, Greengrass. Honestly."

By their sixth year, Cassidy had heard such teases a million times so she did nothing more than roll her eyes and pointedly shovel a forkful of food into her mouth.

"Always slagging it up, aren't you?" came Dahlia's drawl.

Reagan jumped in. "Oh, how I love our group. It's funny how we legit have the opposite ends of the spectrum here: Hufflepuff's slag-" She ever so kindly gestured Cassidy. "-and Hufflepuff's sweetheart." Here, she indicated Alice whose kind face broke out into a smile at the term.

Nala was not nearly as happy. "Why can't I be Hufflepuff's sweetheart? I'm nice to everyone!"

"Because you're Hufflepuff's arsehole."

"Whatever. I make a fantastic arsehole."

"No, you fucking don't. You're a hairy arsehole."

"Why the fuck are we talking about hairy arseholes?" Nova cut in half-exasperatedly. "We're at lunch for God's sake."

"Oh, I'm sorry." Dahlia pressed her right hand against her chest. "I forgot that we were having tea with the bloody Queen."

"The Ice Queen." Cass grinned wickedly.

To Nova's relief, her tactics had worked and the conversation fully moved away from her blushing and the reason behind it. Determined not to be caught again, she was very careful not to look in the direction of the Slytherin table or think about the fact that a certain member of its house had smiled at her until she was in the safety of her next lesson, away from the observant eyes of her friends.

But when the time came to get up, Reagan subtly elbowed her and gave her a look. A look that read don't think you've gotten away with this and she knew that, even if Dahlia wouldn't get a whiff of her crush on Albus Potter, her best friend would weasel it out of her by the end of the day.

Fuck.








When one thought about it, it really wasn't that hard to understand why, after five years of passing him in the castle with nothing more than her usual disinterest and occasional "sorry", Nova began to fancy Albus Potter a few weeks into her sixth year.

Even though there had been a post-war baby boom at the turn of the century, ­when classes were reduced to only those capable of studying the subjects at N.E.W.T standard, they still became rather small (with the usual exceptions of Charms, Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts). As such, both students and teachers took advantage of the situation to approach classwork on a more personal level and extra attention was given to the different needs of individuals. Lessons took on a more intimate nature; consequently, students acquainted themselves with each other far more than they usually would.

Luckily for Nova, she was now in four of the same classes as the youngest Potter boy: Charms, Transfiguration, Ancient Runes and History of Magic. At first, she had regarded him as she usually did, feeling nothing but the slightest twinge of shallow interest because he happened to be good looking. But then she began to notice the small things. Like the way he tugged on a strand of his hair whenever he was unsure about his answer to a question or the amused smile that played on his lips when his cousin answered a question in a particularly obnoxious manner or the way his laughter seemed to burst out of him, truly erupt out of his chest as if it came from the deepest crevices of it.

There was also the fact that he wore rather attractive glasses.

So that was how she began to fancy him. Somewhere between his I'm-trying-hard-to-look-bored attitude in Unit One of History of Magic (The Rise and Fall of You-Know-Who) and the snort of laughter that had escaped him that one day in Ancient Runes - much to Scorpius Malfoy's delight - Nova's heart had apparently decided it was high time that she developed a new crush since it had been so long since the disaster of her last one.

And now she was surreptitiously glancing at him through the corner of her eyes as she neared the end of the question sheet on the principles of human transfiguration.

Ugh.

She was acting like a helpless fangirl. Worse, she was acting like a 2.6B girl. Shuddering at the thought, she quickly skimmed over her answers, corrected some of her spelling mistakes - she recoiled in horror when she saw the incorrect "their/there/they're" in a sentence - and then headed to the teacher's desk when she was done.

"All okay?" Professor Reed whispered, accepting the parchment. When she nodded, he said, "Congratulations. You've just earned yourself an early end to the day. You too, Mr Potter." He directed this over her shoulder.

Nova tried not to whip her head around too quickly when she turned to look at him. The Slytherin stood a respectable distance behind her, a neutral expression on his face that seemed to soften slightly at her curious glance - or was she imagining that? As he brushed past her to hand his essay in, she dragged her eyes away and left the classroom immediately. No way in hell would she risk Reagan glancing up to find her best friend visibly drooling over Albus Potter and figuring out just why the hell she had blushed earlier on in less than a second. No, she'd have to plan her response in the dormitory while she had the free time. Perfect her speech so that she would sound casual and not be at risk of a huge vomit-inducing "AWWW".

Quickly, she walked to the common room, distractedly tapped out the password on the correct barrel and made a beeline for Dormitory 2.6A. Once there, she promptly took off her clothes and walked into the shower cubicle she and Reagan had claimed as theirs. Within seconds, a waterfall of warmth drenched her; she welcomed it, tipping her head forward, back vulnerable to the onslaught, allowed it to relax her muscles and wipe away her worries about the impending conversation. A turn of a knob resulted in an explosion of bubbles, the fresh scent of citrus.

After quite some time, she reluctantly exited, skin as shriveled as a prune and reached for one of the fresh towels that lined the big cabinet fitted into one of the walls. The sound of Alice's singing in the cubicle at the end alerted her to the fact that lessons were officially over. And that Reagan was waiting.

She didn't know what she was quite expecting when she hesitantly entered the dormitory - a grim-faced Reagan Davies sat cross-legged on her bed, idly twirling her wand as she stared Nova down, perhaps? But no, it was the usual scene: Dahlia collapsed on her bed, Cassidy casually flicking through her Arithmancy notes, Nala stroking Fat Ginger and Reagan in a state of undress.

Well, she wasn't always in a state of undress, but she wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary, either.

"Already revising your Arithmancy notes, Cass?" Nova asked as she approached her wardrobe, hoping to seem casual. Maybe if she ignored the elephant in the room, it would go away. If all else failed, she could Obliviate her. Or would that be breaking the Girl Code?

"Work now, play later," came the reply.

"Ooh, who are you going to play with?" Nala asked suggestively, her right eyebrow arched high.

Cass gave her the finger.

"Bet that's not even her Arithmancy notes," Reagan teased as she tilted her head and examined her bra in the mirror. "I bet it's a list of all the boys she's interested in. . . Does red look good on me?" She directed the abrupt question to Nova in particular, indicating the lace article.

Somewhat startled - she had been worrying about admitting her feelings some more - Nova looked up in bewilderment as she slid on her own bra set. "Sorry? Er - yeah, of course, it does."

"Are you sure?" she said skeptically. "Am I too pale for it?"

"You're fine." She rolled her eyes. "Red looks great on pale skin."

"Agreed," Nala piped up, lifting a hand from Fat Ginger's fur to gesture so. He purred impatiently at the lack of petting. "Red always looks better on white girls." Though her voice was still cheery, it still had Nova and Reagan exchange a significant look.

From where she was sprawled on the bed, Dahlia seemed to sense this because she said without hesitation, "Don't be so daft, Nala. You look great in red. If I liked people, I'd tap that."

As tasteful as always.

Nala smiled gratefully. Examining the supple stretch of dark skin on her raised arm, she said, "I never said I didn't look good in red. I just meant that I wouldn't suit that bra as well as Reagan does."

"I don't see why you wouldn't," the girl in question said. "I mean, you'd probably look better since I have a significant lack of boobs. I'm cursed to be a 32B my entire life." She splayed her fingers across her forehead dramatically.

"Mate, I'm so flat-chested that I don't wear a bra half the time."

And so began a conversation about the woes of being a female.

Even if it did encompass the better part of the hour, it didn't last too long. Cass and Alice joined in after the first caught a snatch of their self-pitying speeches and the second came out of the bathroom, fresh and clean and loving it. Halfway through it, Dahlia fell asleep since she claimed to need a nap before she became "Filch's fucking slave" in the detention she'd landed herself with when she swore about him while incorrectly assuming he was out of earshot. Reagan and Nova sat on one of the beds for the entirety of the chat until they realised that they were both half-undressed - Reagan hadn't yet pulled on her jumper and Nova still had her towel wrapped around her - at which point it was decided that it was high time to stop complaining.

Alice and Cassidy headed toward the common room, dragging along a sleepy and irritable Dahlia (there was almost no apparent change from the state she was usually in, except that she was slightly more volatile than normal) with them. Nala left soon afterwards, murmuring something about the library and then there was just the two best friends, alone at last.

"So," Nova ventured, "how did you find the Transfig assessment?"

"It was okay." Reagan shrugged. "I mean, considering I revised for it just last night, I think I did well."

Nova blinked. "You only revised for it last night? Seriously, Reagan? These are NEWTs, we can't just - wing it."

"It was only for this test," she said defensively. "I would've revised for it earlier, but then I remembered that I had Potions homework that I needed to do so I had to do that first and then Transfig after. And besides, it's okay. It's only the start of the year, after all. I've got until Christmas to get my act together."

A part of Nova wanted to remind her of how she'd said the same last year, had then delayed "getting her act together" until May and then had been disappointed with that A in Arithmancy. But she didn't. She wouldn't until it was getting serious again.

"Anyways, let's forget about that," Reagan said dismissively. "You know what I want to talk about."

"How it's predicted to rain tomorrow?"

"It's always predicted to rain in Scotland, idiot, and don't try to avoid this. I don't want to put you on the spot or anything, but. . . well, why were you blushing?"

"It was just a blush," Nova argued. "That doesn't mean anything."

"I know. But your guilty face does." When Nova gave her an incredulous look, she smirked. "I've been your best friend for over five years, babe. I know what you look like when you're guilty, even when you're trying to look emotionless."

"Expressionless," she corrected.

Reagan said nothing and stared at her expectantly.

Nova stared back at her.

For two minutes, it went on like that. Nova wondered what Reagan would do if she just got up and walked out. Probably let her do it and then swear at her later before somehow weaseling the information out of her. So really, she would only delay the inevitable. Buy herself a bit of time to - to do what, exactly? If Reagan was going to know, then Reagan was going to know. There was no use in trying to hide.

She ignored the fact that a part of her also wanted to just gush about her crush to someone.

"Fine," she sighed after the heavy silence. The one word caused Reagan to grin; Nova had cracked and she knew it. "Fine. I. . . I may have been blushing because - because, well, I might. . .have-"

"Spit it out!" she cried, dropping the air of patience now that it was apparent she had won. "Don't make me wait for this."

She blurted it out. "I fancy Albus Potter."

Reagan back-tracked. "Wait, sorry?" In the next second, however, it seemed to hit her. Mouth open, she practically squealed, "You have a crush on Albus Potter?! OH MY GOD."

Immediately, Nova flushed again. "Yeah. Just a small one."

"Fucking hell."

"I know."

"Albus Potter. Albus Potter. I thought you found James better looking."

At her curious look, Nova shrugged. "He's good looking, yeah, but I don't necessarily think he's better looking. I'm not into the lumberjack look anymore, you know?"

Jade green eyes and razor sharp cheekbones and a wiry figure was what now set her on fire. A studious look, a sudden half-laugh, a natural curiosity. Not broad, sloping shoulders and long hair, a heavier build and dark eyes. Not Gryffindors with barrels of confidence and loud personalities.

Reagan grinned at her. "I can't believe you finally fancy someone again."

"Me neither," she admitted, "which was why I didn't really want to tell you. I mean, it's only a small crush. I'm not interested in dating him or anything, but - it's still something, right?"

Of course, Reagan was nothing less than supportive. After assuring Nova repeatedly that even if she wasn't looking for a relationship, Albus Potter would be mad not to want one with her and that yes, he was good looking and Reagan wholeheartedly approved and that if they did get married, their children would be gorgeous and would have the coolest aunt in the whole world ("and no, I don't mean any of your sisters, Nova, I mean me"), they decided to go join the others in the common room.

As per usual, Alice and Cassidy had attached themselves to a lively bunch of people - the antithesis of Nova and Reagan, who both became withdrawn in large crowds, basically - but the two still sat down at the edge of the large group with polite smiles (or a nod in Nova's case). Someone else arrived a few minutes later, a seventh year with the name of Yves Lewis and a couple of Indian-style pizzas from the kitchens that nearly everyone dug into with relish (Alice offered a large slice to Cassidy who looked vaguely terrified at the prospect of devouring that much and declined) and then the evening dissolved into a series of long games of Exploding Snaps and Bullshit.

Following Dahlia's arrival and her first round, a couple of fifth years made a flimsy excuse to leave. There was a simple reason for this: her detention with Filch had been less than pleasant and she was happily taking her anger out in the game.

"BULLSHIT!" she roared, banging a fist on the table. She pointed an accusing finger at Alice. "I see right through you, Longbottom! Don't you try to pull the fucking wool over my eyes."

Alice merely smiled and flipped her card over. It was a Queen, just like she'd said it was. "What wool?"

Dahlia's face was murderous. "Fucking bitch."

Laughter spread throughout the group as she grudgingly snatched up the stack of cards and added it to her pile. The move now placed her well behind everyone else with little hope of losing all of her cards before someone else beat her to the chase.

"You really should be more trusting," Cass teased. "All this negativity doesn't get you anywhere."

"Oh, go and catch an STD, why don't you?"

"Dahlia!" Alice reprimanded in shock.

But all Cass and Dahlia did was shrug, seemingly the very picture of unfazed, and before long, it was forgotten in the excitement of everything else. Nova, however, had seen the hurt flash across Cass' soft features, as quick and as striking as lightning and just as uncommon. So uncommon that it played upon her mind when she went to bed that night, as did the rest of the events of the day.

All in all, it had been a bit of a strange day: she had confessed about her feelings for Albus, Cass had gotten offended by a simple throwaway comment from Dahlia and, though Nala did tend to slide in a comment or two about her appearance on the odd occasion, it wasn't often that she expressed her uncertainty on the topic in a transparent attempt to be casual. Was today just an 'off' day for all of them? Or were things slowly reaching some sort of breaking point that she couldn't quite sense? She couldn't help but wonder whether things weren't completely as they seemed, whether people were holding something back. . . just like she was about Albus. The thought of that unnerved her so much that she put it out of her head as quickly as it had entered it.

Everything was fine.

She was overthinking things, just like she always did. Just like she'd done with the confession of her feelings. She was worrying when it wasn't necessary, dramatising everything the way adults said teenagers did. And just like most teenagers with a crush tended to do, she stopped doing that in the most pleasant way possible: by rolling over onto her side and daydreaming about that crush instead until her fantasies drifted away and Albus Potter bled into her dreams.

For what was the point of reading into things that weren't there?









DISCLAIMER: Um. I don't think I made a reference to anything other than the card game Bullshit which I did not make. Oh yeah, and JKR made HP, but you already knew that. . . didn't you?

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am doing what I swore I wouldn't do and starting a WIP when I already have Kiss My Lips. Fear not, that's still on, but I've reached a bit of a wall in CH15 (going to tackle that next) and this was written instead. It's largely inspired by my friends.

Basically, my friends and I recently had several long conversations about, well, us and the stuff that has happened to us and how it's made us become the people we are and I guess it really hit me how much has happened within one group of friends and I guess I wanted to show that some of it can happen through this fanfiction. Worry not, this will still be funny! (I hope). I want to do this accurately and life isn't all doom and gloom so there will be plenty of good moments.

Oh and if you're wondering about all of this 'Dormitory 2.6A' business, in this universe, the Hufflepuff dormitories are named to reflect the gender/area the occupants are (in), their year and which of the dormitories for that year. So 2 means it's on the right and is for the girls, 6 means that they're in sixth year and A means that it's the first dormitory for the sixth year girls.

Let me know what you think of this in the review box below <3

xo

edit 14.01.16: formatting.

edit 24.02.16: ci added


Chapter 2: TWO: I Dare You
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credit to ailhsa@tda for the pretty ci <3

TWO: I DARE YOU

Hogwarts was in the midst of witnessing its school day sluggishly draw to an end. By this point, its students were already defeated, slumped on their desks with unfocused eyes and tired brains. No one wanted to work or wanted to be there, not even the teachers.

For Nova, it was arguably worse: she was in History of Magic. Technically, it wasn't that bad anymore since the school rewarded anyone that was brave enough to pursue it further with a break from Binns now and again. Because they were on Unit One, they'd had a war veteran come in a few times a week since the beginning of the year to teach them about what had actually gone on. Whenever they had Binns, they were usually doing independent study whether that meant writing essays or researching or completing odd projects here and there.

Today, however, Binns seemed determined to bore them to death before the final bell rang.

"And so . . . with the rise of the Dark wizard widely proclaimed as You-Know-Who or, better yet, Lord Voldemort, emerged the vigilante group, the Order of the Phoenix . . . named so after the symbol of its founder and leader from 1975 - 97, Albus Dumbledore . . ."

Kill me now.

Nova rolled her eyes, propped her arm on her desk and leaned heavily against her palm, wishing the day would be over. She would rather stab her eyes out than endure another twenty minutes of this. But naturally, while she had them, they drifted over to a certain Potter boy a couple of rows in front of her to alleviate her boredom instead. Raven black hair stuck up in all directions as he rested his head in his arms, collapsed on his desk. He was evidently asleep, if the light snores she could just about hear suggested anything.

How . . . charming.

Actually, it was pretty cute, if she was being honest with herself.

She didn't know how he could do it, though, even if they were in History. But then again, boys were like that; they could make themselves comfortable anywhere as long they were there long enough without batting an eye. Nala had talked about her older brothers doing the same multiple times over the years. It was something to envy, really, being able to have a power nap during a boring lesson, wake up and still look sane. If Nova tried that, she'd walk around for the rest of the day looking like a demon out for the blood of helpless little children.

So like Dahlia, basically.

". . . I trust that you'll be able to do it amongst yourselves." She tuned back into Binns' spiel just in time to hear his concluding statement.

Frowning since she had completely missed the end of his lecture, she looked around at the rest of the class - a grand total of eleven other students - to see if they knew, but they were all out of it. As they registered that there was no drone lulling them to sleep, they seemed to shake themselves into the present, looking just as lost as her.

Finally, Rose Weasley seemed to decide it was high time to do what no other person had ever done before: ask Binns to repeat himself.

"Er, professor?" she began tentatively.

The ghost seemed startled by the sudden voice, as if he hadn't realised that there was a class in front of him. "Yes, Miss Warren?"

From where she sat, Nova had the perfect view of the irritation that flashed across the Gryffindor's face before it was replaced by a painfully fake smile. "Could you repeat the task for us, please? We didn't quite catch it."

Binns seemed to think that this was a ridiculous question because he heaved a deep sigh, one of those woe-is-me ones that wracked his ghostly form, and blinked blearily. "I don't see why you weren't listening in the first place, Miss Wheedle, but I suppose I can if I must . . . The task is to arrange yourselves in groups of four and assemble a presentation on a notable member of the Order of the Phoenix . . . a presentation you will have to, of course, present in class next Wednesday . . ." His almost incoherent murmur trailed off into silence.

For the next minute or so, he then stared blankly at his students who mimicked his dumb expression and stared back. Then, they slowly started to arrange themselves into groups.

For fuck's sake.

Who the hell was she going to be with? Nova was completely on her own in this class since none of her friends had been kind enough to join her (as Dahlia had firmly stated: "I would rather pull out every fucking hair in my body one by one every day for the rest of my fucking life before I even fucking consider taking History of Magic as a N.E.W.T.") and did not get along with anyone else enough to be considered as a partner.

Sure, there were a couple of Hufflepuffs in her class, but one of them was Josh Finch-Fletchley, the boy she'd fancied back in first year - and the boy who unfortunately knew she had fancied him back in first year - so that was a path she was not willing to embark on. Ever.

She would rather pull out every fucking hair in her body one by one every day for the rest of her fucking life than consider it.

So she stayed in her corner, nonchalantly flicking through her textbook to make it seem as if she didn't have a care in the world, and waited for a group to realise that they were one short and reluctantly call her over. It happened faster than she expected.

"Hale," called a familiar voice. When she looked up, Rose Weasley was beckoning her over. "You can be with us."

Holy shit.

She was going to be in Albus Potter's group.

Bless you, Cuthbert Binns. She would never say a bad word against him ever again. He was not a ghost, he was a bloody angel. Because of him, Nova was now gathering her things and dropping into the seat Rose Weasley had dragged next to her, right in front of the cutest boy to have entered Hogwarts.

Who was still asleep, by the way.

Noticing the look on Nova's face, Rose rolled her eyes and let out a little laugh. "I swear, he can just about fall asleep anywhere. Once, he fell asleep on a bloody broom when he was supposed to be looking for the Snitch. Remember that, Scorpius?" She nudged the blonde next to her.

Scorpius Malfoy nodded slowly, a smirk on his face. "Daft idiot nearly broke his arm because of that stunt." After a pause, he added as a greeting, "Alright, Hale?"

She nodded. "Alright?"

Nova and Scorpius could be said to be on friendly terms in the loosest way possible. They occasionally nodded at each other when they passed one another in the corridor simply because they had one thing in common: Cassidy. Cass was Scorpius' first cousin on his mum's side and arguably his favourite one. They had another one, a seventh year Slytherin born to their Aunt Daphne that was known for being a bit of a heartbreaker, but because Scorpius and Cassidy were born in the same year, they were just that little bit closer.

Rose looked at the snoring Albus and sighed. Drawing her wand, she stabbed him in the shoulder. "Oi. Wake up."

"Hmm? Fuck off," he mumbled, swatting at her.

"We have to work, Sleeping Beauty, so get up before I get Scorpius to snog you awake," she said and poked him again.

He made an irritated sound in the back of his throat and swatted her away more forcefully. "Too hot for him."

Scorpius raised an eyebrow. "Don't break my heart now, darling."

The only answer he received was a snore.

Rose seemed to take this as a challenge. Nova watched on with growing amusement as she ceaselessly poked and prodded Albus with her wand, snapping at him to wake up and he continued to curl in on himself and refused to open his eyes. In the end, when she grabbed her textbook, smacked the back of his head with it and he finally shot up and barked, "FOR FUCK'S SAKE, ROSIE, I SAID TO PISS OFF!", Nova let out the laughter she'd desperately tried to contain so far.

Almost immediately, Albus' eyes snapped over to her, but she barely noticed it through the giggles spilling out of her mouth. She clapped a hand over it. "Sorry."

"Don't be," Rose said. "At least now the idiot realises he's been embarrassing himself in front of everyone by snoring."

"I don't snore," he objected, absently wiping his glasses clean with the sleeve of his robe.

"Yes, you do, mate," Scorpius said with a small grin. "I should know, I sleep in the bed right next to yours."

For that comment, he earned a glower off Albus. The Potter turned to Nova. "I don't snore, do I?" Before she could reply, he added, "Humour me."

She shrugged. No way in hell was she going to tell her crush that he snored. She wasn't an expert on the rules of fancying someone or anything, but she knew not to do that, at least. In the end, it turned out to be the right thing to do because Albus smiled triumphantly and turned to send his best friends a smug look.

And that smile made it fucking worth it.

When Albus smiled at her, the same feeling she had whenever she sipped some Butterbeer on a cold day spread through her, warm and comforting like someone had wrapped her up in a tight hug. It fueled the spark in his jade eyes, made him light up within and it set her heart on fire.

She was smitten.

"Alright, so what are we doing?" he asked, opening the textbook Rose had hit him with.

"A presentation on a member of the Order of the Phoenix," his cousin replied.

He grimaced. The three of them exchanged a look, seemed to agree on something and then turned to face her. He said, "Do you wanna do it?"

"Excuse me?" she asked defensively, eyes narrowing into thin slits.

She might have had a crush on Albus Potter, but there was no way in hell that she was going to take over the reigns just because she was a Hufflepuff with bloody good work ethic. Rules of fancying someone be damned, she had some respect for herself. It must have shown on her face because he hurried to explain himself as Scorpius stifled a snicker.

"Do you wanna choose who we're going to study?" he elaborated. "I mean, this is a bit of a personal topic for us, you know, because of who we are and the fact that we're related to a good chunk of the Order, so do you - do you wanna choose who we're going to study?" He angled the book toward her, free hand creeping up to tug on a lock of his hair.

Still regarding him warily, she leaned over and examined the names. Black, Sirus. Bones, Edgar. Dearborn, Caradoc. Diggle, Dedalus. Doge, Elphias. Dumbledore, Aberforth. Dumbledore, Albus . . . The list wore on. She studied the names and the small, two-lined descriptions that came alongside them for a few minutes. Vanished, presumed to be murdered . . . tortured to insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange, Rodolphus Lestrange, Rabastan Lestrange and Barty Crouch Jr  . . . killed by You-Know-Who personally . . .

Finally, she narrowed down on a couple she liked and looked up to share her thoughts when she realised two things: one, things were about to get awkward because Scorpius Malfoy and Rose Weasley were about a minute away from furiously snogging each other if their heated bickering suggested anything and two, she had underestimated how green Albus Potter's eyes were.

She jerked back, caught off-guard by his close proximity. Flushing pink in answer to his small, almost knowing smile, she assumed her customary straight expression to save face. With a loud, deliberate cough, she said, "So, I was thinking that we either do Remus Lupin or Mad Eye Moody. Probably the second one. I mean, Lupin is a really famous figure because he was the first werewolf to be awarded the Order of Merlin so he's more likely to be chosen by someone else."

"Yeah, that works," he said. He leaned closer. "What pages does it cross-reference for Moody?"

"Um, pages 3-"

"For the love of God, you're so insufferable sometimes, you know that right?" Rose was saying loudly. "I don't understand why I put up with you."

"Because you're attracted to me."

"I'd rather fuck a cactus."

"That's not what you were saying last night in the Charms classro-"

Nova broke off to watch them interestedly. She was no stranger to banter on this level - her entire friendship group was full scathing insults and suggestive teases - but they also all happened to be (mostly) straight girls that weren't into each other. None of them were in relationships, either: while Alice and Nala had been in a couple of extremely short ones, Dahlia terrified people, Cass simply hooked up with them and Reagan and Nova were just never the ones people fancied. Consequently, she'd never really witnessed a couple interact, especially one as incongruous as Scorpius Malfoy and Rose Weasley.

Albus caught her eyes and smirked. "They're always like this. Quite sickening, really."

"It must be hard to be their best friend," she commented.

He shrugged. "It requires a lot of strength of will, I'll give you that." When she smiled, he mirrored her. "I bet you don't have to have that with your friends."

"Oh, I don't know. Alice and Dahlia are a lot like those two."

He laughed.

Contrary to her thoughts fifteen minutes ago, Nova would now be content if the final bell never rang. She wouldn't mind sitting there next to Albus for hours, Scorpius and Rose flirting in the background, at perfect liberty to admire his sleepy eyes, rough voice and the ruffled texture of his dark hair. Just sit there as a normal teenage girl, not as the Hufflepuff with the notorious poker face, talking to the boy she fancied.

Unfortunately, time rarely stopped for the whims of sixth years.

Sooner than later, the sharp trill of the final bell pierced her ears and she reluctantly gathered her things, haphazardly shoving them into her bag as she rose from her seat. She nodded as if to say goodbye to Albus and then politely excused herself, feeling on top of Cloud Nine with every step she took.

"Why are you smiling?" Dahlia demanded as soon as Nova stepped into the dormitory. The sudden question, coupled with her wild hair and perpetually narrowed eyes, lent her an air of craziness that only made Nova grin more. "You just came back from History of Magic. Don't tell me Binns is suddenly interesting."

"I've always found him very interesting."

"Of course," Nala agreed as she picked up Fat Ginger to press a loud kiss on his face. "Don't you think it's really sexy how his classes make you want to join him in death?"

"You two are fucking disgusting. I'm gonna have a shower."

"A cold shower since we've made you have such steamy thoughts about Binns?" Nala asked with a waggle of her eyebrows.

In response, Dahlia flipped her two fingers and shoved her to the ground as she stalked past. When the bathroom door shut behind her, Nala and Nova looked at each other and burst out laughing. Teasing Dahlia was always great fun.

"I'm so glad that lessons are over," Nala said as Nova moved towards her wardrobe to find a fresh set of clothes. After a moment's consideration, she chose a pair of skinny jeans and a dark knitted jumper. "I've been bored for an hour with no one but Fat Ginger to keep me company."

"Fat Ginger's always keeping you company."

"Yes, because I'm a better owner than Alice," she said importantly. "I know what the true meaning of love is."

". . . It's a cat."

"Cats deserved to be loved too."

Nova gave her a strange look. "I hope you have a happy life together, but I'm going to have to leave you for a bit." She glanced at her watch as Nala wailed in protest. "It's Thursday and I haven't given my sister the brownies that Mum sent on Tuesday."

"Why would she need to have them? Give them to me. No! Don't abandon me, Nova, give them to meeee-" The door slammed on her pleas.

You see, Nova Hale was one of the many students of Hogwarts that had escaped a separation from her siblings (or one of them, at least - Lucia wasn't eleven yet) and had cheered for Aria when the Hat announced that she was a Hufflepuff back when Nova was in third year. They saw each other a fair bit in the common room, but they still made the effort to go out of their way and talk to each other at least once a week.

For this reason, Nova found herself knocking on the door to Dormitory 2.3B. There was a loud outburst of laughter and the patter of feet before the door was thrown open and a girl even smaller than Reagan - which was quite the feat, it must be said - turned to greet her. Though her smile didn't disappear, it faltered for a second at the sight of the sixth year. Once again, Nova's reputation preceded her.

The girl twisted her head to the right, calling, "Aria! Your sister's here for you."

"Let her in, Belle," came the reply.

Obediently, Belle held the door open further and allowed Nova to come in. She entered with a strong sense of trepidation; for over four years, she had lived in a dormitory that was nearly spotless since it also housed the neatest freak she knew of, the one and only Alice Longbottom, but none of the girls of Dormitory 2.3B cared much for cleaning.

As was evident by the pile of t-shirt bras and dirty socks on the floor.

How cute. They had hearts on them.

Nova crossed the carnage to Aria's bed and practically jumped on it since it was one of the few things in the room that was actually clean. Her sister grinned knowingly.

"Alright there, Supernova?" she asked, leaning back leisurely.

"This place smells like the Gryffindor changing rooms," she said disdainfully, exaggeratedly brushing invisible dirt off her jeans. "You'd think you were a bunch of boys."

Aria rolled her eyes. "We're just embracing our animal roots. You should join us."

"Ew."

"Shut up. So what brings you to the man cave, then?"

Nova extracted the slightly crushed package that their mother had sent two days ago from the back pocket of her jeans and tossed it onto the bed. "Mum sent brownies the other day. Don't know if it'd be hygenic to eat it here, but I figured you should have some."

"You hid this from me for a few days?" she squawked, scrambling forward in her haste to open up the packet.

"You're not worthy."

"Once again: shut up."

"Can't handle the truth?" she teased, arching a single dark eyebrow.

"Can't handle bullshit," Aria corrected around a mouthful of brownies, forcing her older sister to fight the urge to retch. Though the two looked similar in many ways - they both had the same dark waves of hair, shrewd eyes and a tendency to look fierce in the serenest of moments - they clearly differed in just about any other aspect. "The reaction I get is awful. I sneeze constantly, hack up half of my lungs and break out in hives. Hives."









There were common myths that men believed about sleepovers or Girls' Nights. Pillow fights while dressed in lingerie, huge talks about relationships and boys where everyone collapsed into gentle giggles as well as extensive makeovers that completely transformed faces. The girls of Dormitory 2.6A weren't the only ones who could dispel this delusion. Of course they didn't have pillow fights in sexy lingerie. This wasn't a 90's chick flick.

They did talk about boys, though.

And messed around with makeup.

"You know, it surprises me that I'm so attracted to James Potter since I basically saw the guy grow up," Alice was saying as she rested her head in Cass' lap and had her eyebrows plucked into shape. "I was there when he ate too many Chocolate Frogs at Rose's fifth birthday party and ended up vomiting all over his food."

Reagan groaned, scrunching up her nose. Hands stilling in the process of braiding Nova's hair, she cried, "Oh, that's fucking disgusting! Thanks a lot, Alice. Usually, when I hear the name 'James Potter', I think of a sexy man bun, but now I'm gonna picture a kid blowing chunks over a birthday cake."

There was a chorus of groans in response as everyone pictured the vivid image.

"The two of you are tramps," Nova said. Pretending to retch, she added, "I don't think I can look at him without remembering those words anymore. You've just destroyed a perfectly good crush."

And that was when it happened.

It had been two weeks since Nova had admitted that she fancied Albus Potter and not just in a oh-you're-hot kinda way, but in a you-make-my-heart-race kinda way. The two of them had remained silent on the topic, though Reagan did elbow her suggestively a few times in Transfiguration, Charms and whenever they passed the Slytherin. It was a truth only acknowledged by them.

Until Dahlia shrugged and said, "Well, you fancy his brother so it's okay."

"Tr- wait, what?" Nova shot up straight and gave Dahlia a strange look, trying to look casual and completely failing. "Er. What - what are you on about?"

Eyebrows raised, she said, "I said that you fancy Albus Potter."

Panic was rising in the back of her throat. She cleared it, pulling on her trademark blank mask in order to hide the completely horror at her secret being revealed - but how had it been? It wasn't like she was obvious about it or that Reagan had spilled the beans.

Was it?

There was a disbelieving scoff when she asked, feigning amusement, "And who did you hear this from? Someone from 2.6B?"

Shamefaced silence filled the dormitory for a few seconds. Nova watched her friends exchange glances, their eyes darting from one another as if trying to reach a decision. Lips were bitten, tongues were in cheeks and guilty eyes widened before there was a huge intake of breath.

"Nova, honey," Alice said softly, as if realising she was treading a slightly sensitive subject. "We all know about it."

"About some rumour?"

As always, Dahlia was impatient when it came to bullshit. "Oh, for the love of God, Nova, we all know that there's no rumour. We know you fancy Albus Potter because we can just tell. You know you look at him a lot during lunch and breakfast, right? And you've mentioned him more than usual whenever you talk about classes too."

"Dahlia, I was trying to be sensitive!"

"About what? She fancies some guy. It's not the story of the fucking century."

"Yes, but after last time-"

Realising that she was backed in a corner, Nova heaved a defeated sigh. She stared hard at a mark on the ground and reluctantly admitted, "Alright, fine! I might have a small crush on - Albus Potter. Just a small one, mind you, so don't freak out or anything."

There was a pause.

"Holy Mother of Merlin."

"I KNEW IT!"

"YES. YES. I HAVE WAITED FOR THIS DAY TO COME FOR YEARS!"

"ALBUS POTTER! ALBUS POTTER!"

"NOVA BLOODY HALE HAS A CRUSH-"

"ALBUS POTTER! ALBUS POTTER!"

"I AM SO PROUD."

By the time that they were done with this show, Cass was sprawled on her lap, feigning sobs of relief, Alice's manic face was too close for comfort and Nala had thrown herself onto Reagan in her effort to reach Nova. In short, it was like a game of Sandwich and Nova was squished under the weight of four girls. Only Dahlia remained calm and unimpressed.

"Can't - breathe-"

"THAT'S NOT IMPORTANT, NOVA! You have a crush!"

"I'm aware of that. I also have a ribcage that's about to be crushed if you don't get off me."

"Alright, fine. Fine. We'll move. Alice, get the fuck off. Your knee is literally on my boob."

"Well, it's a comfortable surface."

After some difficulty, bruises and loud curses, they managed to untangle their limbs and sit cross-legged around Nova, faces eager and in various stages of being done (Alice still had one rather bushy eyebrow). With a sigh, Dahlia dragged herself over and flopped down in between two of them, allowing Alice to drape her legs over her lap in order to fit better.

Nova groaned. "Do we really have to do this?"

"Of course, we do!" Nala exclaimed. Tossing her dark curls over her shoulder, she continued, "This is important, Nova. It's, like, getting a new king or queen."

Everyone looked at her like she was insane.

"Um," Reagan said with a laugh, "I don't think they're on the same level, really. But it'll be nice to get some answers and finally be able to talk about it."

Traitor, Nova thought with a scowl.

"Did no one hear me when I said not to lose the plot?"

Dahlia raised an arm. "I'm on your side, mate. I don't understand why everyone's making a big deal out of it. I mean, all you're doing is fancying a boy."

There were some murmurs in response to this, both disagreeing and concurring with the statement. Nala was in the first group.

"Fancying someone isn't something that you can put 'just' in front of. It's important. Like, that person might be who you end up with for the rest of your life. And just fancying them makes you feel good, you know? Like you look forward to seeing them, talking to them and just about anything they do can make you feel happy. And then there's a chance that they might return your feelings and when you think that's possible, it makes you feel better about yourself. Liking someone makes you feel like - like you're worth something, you know? Don't you ever want to just fancy a boy, even if it's just for the sake of it, so you can feel that way?"

"Ew. No. I know I'm worth a bloody million as it is and boys are freaking disgusting. I think I'll pass."

"You have no romantic bone in your body!" she cried, flicking her wand so that her pillow zoomed off her bed and hit Dahlia in the face. "I don't understand why you don't like guys."

"Because girls are superior."

"Once again," Alice sighed with an amused roll of her eyes, "I have to remind you that you can't say stuff like that. It's sexist."

"It's fact. Besides, fancying a guy doesn't make you feel good about yourself, it makes you feel shit. You worry about whether you look pretty and attractive and whether he'll want to kiss you or shag you and half of the time, people are crying because of relationships and none of it is fucking necessary." She spat the words with derision.

"That's why I don't crush on people," Cassidy interjected in a matter of fact voice. "It's so much more simpler to snog or hook up without any strings attached. You're satisfied and sane."

"But there's no romance," Reagan said. "I know I haven't ever really gotten with a guy - other than a couple of snogs at parties when I was drunk - but I know that I'd prefer some stability and romance over casual sex."

"Romance is overrated."

Knowing she might regret this, Nova said, "I don't think it is. I don't want a relationship that's really cringy and full of PDA, but I think the small things are what you're really after, aren't you? Not just the sex."

Instantly, the girls were on her like vultures. Cassidy leant forward with a mischevious gleam in her eyes.

"But if Albus Potter walked into this dormitory right now - naked - and said that he was ready to shag you all night long, would you not do it?"

Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. The thought of the Slytherin casually strolling in with no clothes on and that half-smile of his made her feel flustered. On the outside, however, she tried to maintain normal.

"Probably not, no. I'd rather not have casual sex with him and then continue to fancy him, knowing that he doesn't feel the same way," she said truthfully.

"You're so deceptively human, Hale."

"And you're a homewrecker, Greengrass," she retorted.

Cass' lips curved into a slow, saccharine smile. "And loving it."

"Putting homewrecking aside," Reagan said dismissively, "why don't you tell us about how you got a crush on Albus Potter? Oh, and why? Oh, and when? Oh, and anything that's happened between you? Oh, and -"

"Shouldn't you already know this?" Dahlia snorted. "You're her best friend."

"Nova's been keeping a tight lid on this information, you see."

And rightly so. When she'd had a crush on Josh Finch-Fletchley back in first year, she'd still been friends with the other girls in her year, having shared a dormitory with them. But somewhere down the line, they'd decided that she wasn't pretty enough or skinny enough or cool enough without informing her so when she'd confessed her feelings for the nerdy, lovable 'Puff, they had made sure he found out about it and had publicly humiliated her, simply because they'd been petty and spiteful twelve year olds. She had never really forgiven them for that.

The feelings she had for Albus Potter echoed those that she'd once had for Josh Finch-Fletchely, except they were stronger and naturally more, well, mature. But the essentials were there: she still had butterflies and thought about him a lot and felt warm inside whenever he did something that made her fall for him even more.

And even though she had complete faith in her closest, truest friends, there was still a little bit of her that was afraid of opening up about her feelings.

"I just - I don't want to make a big deal out of it," she said. "I probably won't date him. It's just a . . . phase."

"Oh, don't be like that!"

"If you like him, try to be with him," Nala advised, looking scandalised at Nova's statement. "I mean, what's the point otherwise?"

"There is no point." She scowled. "I didn't choose to fancy him. If I had a choice, I probably wouldn't have done it at all. But for some reason, I'm attracted to him, okay? It doesn't mean I'm going to go over to him and ask him out." She'd rather fantasise about doing that.

"But why not?" she whined. She even stomped her legs like a little girl. "Let us live through you. If one of us is going to date someone famous, why can't it be you?"

"Because I don't give a shit about dating someone famous."

Dahlia cheered.

"Then why fancy him?" She pouted. There was a mewl as Fat Ginger padded over, detecting that she was upset and settled into her lap to allow her to stroke him. She sank her fingers into his back and continued, "Why let yourself go through the pain and effort of liking him and not do anything about it? I don't understand."

"I do. Boys are pathetic."

"Shut the fuck up, Dahlia! We're trying to get Nova a husband!"

Nova sighed. Leaning back, she pressed herself against Reagan and tipped her head to look at the ceiling. "I fancy him because . . . I don't know why. It's more than his looks, I know that - but I don't know what it is exactly. He just interests me."

"I understand you, babe," Reagan said reassuringly, patting her on the arm.

"Me too." Alice beamed at her.

"I don't," Dahlia scoffed. "I told you: girls are better. If you're going to date someone, date a woman. You can have intelligent conversation and have a partner that actually understands you."

"Are you interested in girls?" Reagan asked curiously.

"Nah. I don't think I've ever been interested in someone. I've never felt the need to be with someone or just hook up with them as a one-off thing. It's not something that's ever appealed to me. But if I did want to hop on the broomstick, I'd find a girl to settle down with so I don't feel a deep urge to die after spending too long with her."

"I knew you always fancied me," Alice said abruptly. "You've been playing hard to get all these years, but now I know the truth."

"You sicken me."

"You love me."

"You look like a hippogriff."

"Oi," Cass reprimanded, smacking her on the back of her head. "Don't insult our Alice like that."

Alice only grinned. "Don't worry, Cass. It's another one of her games. I'm onto you, you sly minx." She winked rougishly at Dahlia who pretended to vomit. After they'd finished laughing, Alice then turned to Nova. "Oh, and Nova, I know that you said you're not planning on dating him, but if you ever change your mind, I can sort of nudge him in your direction. You know, since I've known him since the day I was born."

Nala's face lit up at this possibility. "Yay! Do it!"

"No," Nova said at the same time. "If anything's going to happen, I'll do it myself."

Really, she should've known better. Though Dahlia gave literally no fucks about dating, the others were quite the opposite, even if they hadn't been in many significant relationships. And when someone made a statement like that in the same room as Cassidy Greengrass, the girl who grew up surrounded by Slytherins, they were asking for it, really.

"So do it," the girl in question said challengingly. She leant forward again. "Flirt with him. I dare you."

With many people, this statement might've seemed unimpressive. Weak. But midway through fifth year, when Alice went through a period of feeling inadequate because she wasn't a Gryffindor like her dad, they'd called the Girl Code into effect and promised to go through with whatever dares they doled out in order to make her feel better (if they were given a majority vote, of course).

And you couldn't just break the Girl Code.

"I'd rather not," Nova still said.

"But I think you're going to have to," smirked Cass. She cocked her head at the others. "What do you think?"

And so Nova Hale was betrayed by her closest friends when everyone but Reagan voted for her to carry out the dare for the next twenty four hours. Yes, even Dahlia 'No Fucks' Darzi had voted for it.

"I fucking hate you," the victim was saying five minutes later after she finished swearing at the top of her lungs. She ran a hand through her hair in distress. "I can't believe you're making me do this."

"It's the Girl Code."

Damn the Girl Code. How was she supposed to flirt with Albus Potter? She'd never flirted with anyone in her life! She wasn't Cass, she couldn't just walk up to someone and be able to persuade them to snog her in under ten minutes. She wasn't Alice who was literally Hogwarts' sweetheart since she was a Longbottom and genuinely nice. She wasn't even Nala who was freaking gorgeous. Boys did not pay attention to her and she didn't (usually) pay attention to them so there was never any need to flirt.

She was going to look like a bloody idiot.

"Well, if I'm going to humiliate myself, so are you lot," she snapped, drawing herself up. "All of you. Even you, Reagan."

"But I voted against it!"

"Yes, but you're my best friend. It's your duty to join me in my pain."

". . . I fucking hate having a best friend."










AUTHOR'S NOTE: So this was only supposed to be the first half of CH2, but somehow ended up being 5K words and I don't really want to cut any of it down so we'll make the second half CH3.

So. . . what do you think? Do you like the thought of Albus and Nova together? Do they have a ship name (that doesn't sound awful)? Thoughts on Dahlia's view on men? ;) Lemme know in the review box below!

Also I'm upping the 'scenes of a mild sexual nature' to 'scenes of a sexual nature' purely because they mention sex a fair bit in this chapter and I just wanted to be safer than sorry.

xo

edit 28/02/16: ci added


Chapter 3: THREE: Matters of the Heart
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



great ci by milominderbinder @tda!


THREE: MATTERS OF THE HEART


"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CAN YOU WATCH WHERE YOU'RE FU - er, I mean - I'm terribly sorry for walking into you. I don't know where on earth my mind has been today."

The second year Ravenclaw gave Dahlia a vaguely terrified look in response to the horrible grimace she tried to pass off as a genial smile. Mumbling something under his breath in response, he quickly darted off toward his table, allowing her to tranfigure her face into something that was less of an eyesore as she whipped around to glare at Nova.

"I swear to God, Hale," she began venomously.

Before she could go any further, however, Nova interrupted her with a gloating smirk. "Now, now, Dahlia. Remember the dare? No swearing or being rude to anyone for the next twenty four hours."

Dahlia gave her a look that clearly screamed all of the insults she was yelling in her mind. The horrid grimace returned. "Of course. But can I just say that once this day is over, I'll be glad to let you get to know my grandmother? She's currently having a great time. In heaven."

"Sounds lovely."

"Unlike that quite horrendous face of yours," Reagan threw out with a satisfied smirk, revelling in the fact that Dahlia couldn't respond properly. Of course, the effect was somewhat ruined by the fact that she had to sing the retort in a raspy croak that sounded like a frog was trapped in her throat.

The girls of Dormitory 2.6A were evil and well aware of it.

Grumbling under her breath, Dahlia led them to the nearest corner of the Hufflepuff table and began to load her plate with breakfast furiously. The others watched in mild amusement as she shoved half a slice of toast into her mouth in order to occupy it with something else; she really did spend too much of her time swearing.

Nova wasn't going to lie about it: seeing Dahlia in pain from having to be nice felt good. Ever since they'd agreed to back her into a corner and make her. . . flirt with Albus Potter, she had been feeling on edge. Having her friends suffer through their dares took her mind off such things.

Like now, for example. Jeremy Williams had just walked over and was now complimenting Cassidy on the "casual" look she was favouring this morning (part of her dare was to put no effort into her appearance all day; to simply roll out of bed, brush her teeth and change clothes and not even shower - something Cass detested since she had been brought up with the knowledge that appearances were everything. Needless to say, she had forgone the morning jog she had been planning to take.) and Cass could do nothing but ignore him, even though she had the firm opinion that Jeremy Williams had the nicest pair of lips in this castle.

And the nicest arse.

"Cassidy?" Williams was now saying rather weakly as she continued to stare down at her plate in grim determination. "C-Cassidy? Are you - are you seriously just going to ignore me? Oh my God, you actually are. You're actually ignoring me. I'm right next to you, you know!" When she said nothing, he spat a venomous "Fine," and stormed off.

As soon as he was out of earshot, Cass threw down her goblet and gave Nala the filthiest glare in her arsenal. "If you hadn't come up with that ridiculous dare, I would have been attached to a fine pair of lips by the end of this day!"

Unfortunately, Nala couldn't reply.

"How is it that he still finds you pretty when you haven't even got moisturiser on?" Reagan sang, her rasp still managing to convey her shock.

"It's part of my charm," she shot back, tossing her bed hair back. "The point is that I am now deprived of Jeremy Williams for a long time now. God knows how long the boy will take to nurse his ego."

"Hey, don't blame me!" Reagan cried, gesturing to Nova. "Blame her. She was the one who wanted everyone to do dares."

"Yeah, because you lot gave me one!" Nova said defensively, cheeks flushing pink in dread at the prospect of flirting with Albus Potter. For fuck's sake, she was going to be humiliated. "I wasn't going to be embarrassed on my own."

"So technically," Alice said with a mischievous smile, "it's all your fault that you're not going to be snogging Williams today, Cass."

Everyone but Cass broke out in laughter; even Dahlia managed a few snorts around the toast lodged in her throat. The Greengrass in question was unamused, however.

"Oh, yeah, laugh it up. But don't forget that you have your own dares to do. Dahlia, you have to be nice to everyone. Yes, everyone. And Reagan, you have to sing every single word in that horrid croak. Nala, you have to shut the fuck up for once-"

Nala gave her a friendly glare.

"And Alice, you have the honour of flirting with the one and only Damien Nott on this fine day."

Alice groaned, looking like she would much rather roll around in dirt for the rest of her life instead. She lowered her head miserably. "Don't remind me. Thanks to this dare, I might end up with an unwanted admirer."

"Don't lie, Alice." Nova laughed. "You want him more than anything you've ever thought of. The need for him burns in your soul."

"You mean, just like your love for Al?" she fired back. Lifting her head up from the table, her eyes swivelled around to the doors to the Great Hall where they settled upon someone and lit up in triumph. Irate since she was now condemned to flirting with Nott, she said in a sing-song tone, "Would you look at that? It seems that he's at the door."

Instantly, five heads whipped around to confirm this statement. At the sight of the Slytherin, Nova's heart sped up, beating so fast that she was half convinced it would eventually rip out of her chest and into his hands, wishing that he would fill the empty space it would leave with his own heart. She couldn't fathom how just a glance at his wiry figure as he leaned against the frame of the door could make her feel this way.

"What was the saying again? Speak of the devil and he shall appear." Cassidy smirked, patting the table impatiently. "Go on. Up you get. Go and flirt your way into his bed."

"Cass!" Alice admonished.

"Or his arms," she amended with a wolfish smile. "The deed can be done anywhere."

Nova nodded, her throat suddenly dry. Her hands braced against the surface of the table, ready to push her up, but for some reason, she remained in her seat. She was frozen in her anxiety, unable to face the dangerous task of flirting.

"What are you doing?" Dahlia's ever so dulcet tones reached her ears.

"Yes, um, I have a question. Um. Do I really need to do it at this mo-"

"Fuck off, Nova!" came their chorus.

Knowing that there was literally no way around this, she reluctantly pushed herself off the bench and stepped over it, smoothing down the front of her robes in order to give her hands something to do. As she walked, her thoughts ran at a hundred miles an hour, trying to remember everything that Cass did whenever she was coming onto someone.

For fuck's sake, how was she supposed to do this? She had never flirted with someone, she didn't know the first thing about it! She should've practiced this in the mirror or gotten some tips off the girls or have been more discreet about her goddamn crush on him or else she wouldn't be walking up to him at this very moment, panicking about the fact that she was walking up to him and -

"Hey." His voice, warm and pleasant, cut through her internal monologue.

She blinked, suddenly realising that she was there in front of Albus Potter and about to flirt with him. Abruptly, her mouth felt as if it was full of sawdust, as if it had been deprived of water for decades. Her tongue slid out to lick her lips moister.

"Er. Hey," was all she could think of saying.

His mouth spread into an amused smile. Over her shoulder, he nodded at his companion - a Slytherin she was sure went by the name of Elijah Burke - to leave which he did with nothing more than a knowing smirk that frayed her nerves even more, if that was at all possible. Albus turned back to her.

"So. Are you here about the History of Magic project?" he asked curiously, peering down at her.

She could almost kiss him.

Without knowing it, he had given her a lifeline, an excuse to cling onto to explain away why she was here, speaking to him. As soon as she realised it, Nova couldn't help the broad smile that lit up her face in her relief, one that caused him to blink, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing.

"Yes," she said, trying not to speak too quickly. "Yes, I am."

"We never did get to cross reference those pages, did we?"

"No, no, we didn't."

She felt like groaning inside. This wasn't flirting. This was discussing an academic subject, one that was known to be the most boring of them all. She was being pathetic, but she couldn't think of anything else to talk about.

And then it hit her like a lightning bolt. A lot of the time when Cass flirted in front of them, the conversation she had with the boy she was after usually stemmed from something completely mundane. But he realised that she was interested in something else entirely from her body language. What did she do again? Oh yes, she stood quite close, tilted her head to one side to expose her neck and spoke in a throatier voice.

How did one speak in a throatier voice, exactly?

Willing herself to put her self-doubt to one side, Nova took a step forward and rested her hand on one of Albus' arms. He glanced down at it and back up again at her face, betraying no sign of what he felt about it.

"Would you like-" Scratch that. Her throaty voice made her sound like a dying man. Coughing delicately to cover up the heat that flushed into her cheeks, she tried again, this time in her usual tone, just a little softer than usual. Her heart beat furiously in her chest, as if it knew its captor was close. "I'm free later. Since we still have a lot of work to do, we could meet up in the library?"

He considered her words, blinking furiously. "Er, yeah, I can do that. Er, I have Quidditch practice at five, but we can meet up after dinner? I think Rosie and Scorpius have Prefect rounds then, though."

"It'll be fine," Nova said quickly. "They were the ones who distracted us in the first place anyway." She ended with a small, nervous laugh and he followed suit.

"I should get breakfast," he said after a moment, gesturing toward the Slytherin table.

She nodded understandingly with a small smile. Stepping back and removing her hand from his arm somehow both eased and disappointed her, but she continued to walk backwards. "I'll see you later then."

"Yeah."

As she turned away from him, her chest relaxed and she took in a deep breath, walking towards her friends with all the nonchalance in the world. She passed her former roommates with nothing more than a cursory glance in their direction and sat down at her seat, trying not to smile triumphantly.

"I'm proud of you," came Reagan's enthusiastic warble.

Giving up completely, Nova grinned at her. "I did it."

Despite the fact that the six were cattier than usual today, all of them began congratulating her - even Dahlia's comment wasn't dripping with sarcasm and it wasn't because of her dare. After Nala had happily patted her on the back, Cass leaned forward with a determined glint in her dark eyes.

"So, are you meeting up with him later?"

"Yeah. After dinner, we're meeting in the library."

"Ah. Going to get kinky in the Restricted Section, are you?"

"Cassidy!"








If someone ever asked her whether she loved her friends, Nova would confirm that she did without hesitation. They had been there for her through thick and thin, brightening up her day, helping her brush off any snide comments and just making her feel at home for years now. She was grateful for that and would probably do anything in the world for them.

The same sentiment did not extend to letting them accompany her to the library.

"No. Absolutely not," she said flatly.

"Oh, come on!" Alice exclaimed, falling at her feet with her hands clasped together. "It's the least you can do for me after I had to flirt with Damien Nott. I can still feel the grease in my fingers from when I stroked his hair."

Dahlia snorted in laughter.

"You deserve that pain," Nova said. When Alice looked at her, scandalised, she amended, "Okay, maybe you don't. But it doesn't change anything - you're not dropping me off to the library."

"Why not?" came Cass' lazy question. She looked up from her Defence notes, her perfectly plucked right eyebrow raised high. "I mean, we can keep an eye on things, see whether they're going right from his body language and give you tips if they're not."

"I've been doing fine so far!"

Fair enough, she hadn't had much chance to flirt with him as of yet. History of Magic wasn't on their schedules today and they sat apart in most of their lessons, but they'd had an interactive lesson in Transfiguration in which she'd snatched a few minutes with him and had even (somewhat) playfully turned his hair a bizarre shade of pink. In their other lessons, their eyes had clashed a few times and she had made sure to smile at him, something that had been surprisingly easy considering she usually found it hard to smile at people unless she was genuinely amused.

But then again, he was Albus Potter.

He made her smile all the time

"But now you're going to be with him for longer than a couple of minutes," Cass reasoned. "You're out of your element."

"I've had conversations with him before."

"Honey," she said with a little laugh, "if you're going to complete this dare, it won't just be a conversation."

Reagan thought it best to interrupt with a falsetto. "A kiss?" she screeched in surprise, shattering their eardrums.

"Please follow Nala's lead and be quiet," Dahlia said in a sugary tone. "It'll help both us and you."

Reagan flipped her the finger.

Meanwhile, Nova was fixed on more important things. Kissing? Kissing? She couldn't kiss him! The only person she'd ever kissed was Reagan and that was because they'd both been incredibly drunk and had thought it'd be best that her first kiss was done by someone she could stand. Reagan still liked to joke about it to annoy Nova.

"I can't kiss him," she cried in panic. "I've never - I've never kissed anyone."

"Au contraire-"

"Reagan, you don't count! The point is that there will be no kissing going on. Strictly flirting. Over a History of Magic textbook."

"How scandalous," Alice commented dryly.

It was scandalous enough for her. The dare had simply said to flirt with Albus Potter, not to kiss Albus Potter. Therefore, a conversation was all that was going to take place between her and the Slytherin or else her heart might actually combust. Smoothing down the front of her robes, she convinced herself that it was okay to just leave it at that, that being a prude didn't really matter in this case since there was little to no chance that he liked her back anyway. She wasn't Cass, she could be satisfied with just this little bit.

"What I meant was that it won't just be a normal conversation. You have to leave him wanting you. Wanting the kiss."

Nova was getting sick and tired of this. She was just glad Nala wasn't here to help Cass out on this and had gone off to the Owlery instead, something that wasn't an uncommon occurence recently since she'd been making an effort to write home more. With or without a voice, Nala Soyinka knew how to get something if she was determined enough.

"Thanks for the advice." Nova rolled her eyes. She slung her school bag onto her shoulder and headed toward the dormitory door, calling, "You're still not coming with me."

The door shut on Alice's cry of "DAMN IT!", making Nova breathe a sigh of relief as she smiled in amusement. Though it was nice to have her friends' support, she didn't want to be pushed into doing something she didn't want to do. She knew her place and it wasn't by Albus Potter's side. It was somewhere where she could admire him from a distance.

It was surprising how quickly she seemed to arrive at the library. She double-checked her watch to make sure that was indeed the time and then pushed open the door, feeling her heart speed up in her chest at the prospect of spending a good chunk of her time with him. A quick scan of the room told her he wasn't here yet, however. Feeling her spirits sink in disappointment, she turned to return a book to Pince while she waited. And then promptly walked into him.

"Shit!" she exclaimed as the top of her head smashed into his chin, hard. She felt her face turn beet red in embarrassment. What an absolutely lovely way to make a good impression with him. Clapping a hand to her mouth, she said, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry - I didn't - I didn't realise you were behind me!"

Albus was rubbing his chin, his brilliant eyes flashing in amusement. His mouth curled in that delicious half-smile of his. "It was an honest mistake to make. You want to grab a table before one of us is knocked out?"

"Sure."

Grasping on the opportunity to recover her cool, she turned away from him first and headed towards an empty table toward the back, far away from the librarian currently glaring a hole into her back for her outcry. By the time they were sitting down with her book out in front of them, she was mostly back to normal.

She cleared her throat. "So, um. . . Mad Eye Moody, huh?"

"Interesting bloke," he commented with a wry grin. He shifted in his seat to move closer to her and leaned forward, peering at the book. "My dad said he had a glass eye that would move independent of his real eye and could see through things."

Nova was trying really hard not to get distracted by how nice he smelt. "That sounds - terrifying."

"Well, we know how he got his nickname at least."

They poured over the textbook, making small talk about their presentation. While it was nice, Nova couldn't help the panic that was rising in her throat. All she could think about was how Cassidy said she had to leave him wanting for a kiss and that all this would do was ensure that he would never want speak to her again for the rest of his life.

Eventually, he seemed to realise that her mind wasn't quite with them. "You seem a little distracted," he said suddenly. "Are you okay? If you're not, we could always do this another time. If you want."

Fuck, he was bored. "No, I'm fine," she said, trying not to throw her words out too quickly. "I'm sorry for day dreaming; I promise I'll focus from now on. Nothing will sway my attention."

"Not even your friends?"

"My what?"

She snapped her eyes to Albus in alarm, knowing that she hadn't misheard him. At the sight of this, an almost wolfish smile curled the corners of his mouth, one she hadn't ever seen before, one that was going to be the death of her if he continued to sport it. He leaned closer to her, so close she could see that he had a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose and his cheeks. Tilting his head, he moved to murmur in her ear.

"Don't make a scene, but I'm pretty sure that two of them are behind that bookshelf and two of them are underneath the table next to the potted plant."

Nova wasn't sure whether she wanted to turn bright red or kiss him. She settled for a groan of embarrassment instead. "You're lying, right?"

He pulled back a little to hit her with that smirk again. "No."

"I'm really sorry about that. I didn't know that they were going to do that - I mean, a table? Really? I'll go and tell them to stop being creepy."

"There's no point. I gave them what they wanted."

Something about the way he said it, casual as it was, told her that he wasn't completely comfortable with that. Without even thinking about it, she put a hand on his arm placatingly, drawing his attention back to her face.

"They didn't do it because you're a Potter. They did it because I don't really interact with anyone outside of our dormitory and apparently it's groundbreaking for me to. Enough to hide under a bloody table for in any case." She grimaced.

He laughed a deep breathless laugh that made every nerve in her body tingle in anticipation. "Well, I'm honoured then."

Her chest was easing up now. Now that they were out of the danger zone and he wasn't sitting so close that a small turn of her head would've placed her lips on his, she found that she could relax. An odd calmness was settling in her.

She offered him a smile and playfully tossed back her dark hair. "As you should be. I don't speak to just anyone, you know. I have very high standards."

"And I meet all of them, huh? Proudest moment of my life."

"I don't blame you for thinking that. Having my stamp of approval is worth more than an Order of Merlin, I heard."

"Ah, my life is complete. I'll die happily, knowing I have the Nova Hale stamp of approval. There's nothing more I could ever want."

At the beginning, Nova had been more nervous that she had been for a while. Doing stuff like this was completely out of her comfort range and the thought of spending more than those twenty minutes in History of Magic with Albus Potter and flirting with him had been enough to make her knees weak and not necessarily in a good way. She wasn't great at social situations and preferred the back wings where she could sip her Butterbeers in comfortable anonymity.

But this wasn't so bad. She was able to carry a conversation with him that didn't centre around schoolwork and, though she was far from an expert in it, she didn't want to run and hide from what flirting she did do. She was comfortable and even having fun.

"Are Rose and Scorpius really that bad?" she asked a while later with a small laugh. "I mean, from what I've seen they do flirt a bit -"

"A bit? A bit? That's more than an understatement, love! I swear to God, they flirt so much, it's like I'm not even in the room. Just imagine how bad they get. I have half a mind to think that they do it just to make me uncomfortable."

"Mission accomplished, then?"

His response was a shudder. After a moment, he added, "I don't hate them, though. It's bloody disgusting to watch, but - I don't know. They love each other, I guess. They're probably going to get married on a beach somewhere one day and finally get a room of their own and have a million children or something."

"Really?" Nova said in surprise. "I knew they were serious about each other, but I didn't know it was like that. I thought guys didn't think about marriage."

When he smiled, it had the same effect on her as always. She didn't think there would a single time that it wouldn't make her feel all warm inside; there was something about it that made her feel like it was especially for her, almost like a little secret.

"I'll be honest, most don't, but purebloods are always raised to think about it. It's natural for him."

"And you?"

Albus simply shrugged. "Maybe if I met the right girl."







It was nearing curfew when Nova finally pushed open the door to Dormitory 2.6A. She had spent a surprisingly long time in the library with Albus, talking in a way she would never have dreamt of a couple of weeks ago. Something about it had been so natural, so easy that they'd forgotten to do what they'd agreed to meet up for in the first place. Not surprisingly, she didn't mind one bit.

A small smile slipped onto her face as she walked in, but it was quickly replaced by a high shriek when four girls launched across the room to accost her. There was a blur of noise as Reagan, Cass and Alice fought to dominate the conversation and Nala stuck to shaking her in frantic joy.

"You did it, you did it, you did it!" Alice's squeal was the first thing that she registered. She drew Nova into a hug. "Oh, I'm so proud of you. At least one good thing came out of today."

The next five minutes was a flurry of noise and movement, everyone jostling to congratulate her and Dahlia watching it all with a sort of disgusted fascination. Before long, however, they were all sitting cross-legged in a circle on the ground, eager to discuss what had gone on.

"It was nothing too big," Nova was saying, playing with the frayed bottom of her nightie top. Her eyes remained transfixed to the mustard thread, trying to will herself to stop fucking blushing. "I mean, we just talked."

"About?" Reagan pressed.

"About anything, really. Family. Class. Quidditch. It wasn't - I don't know, we just went with the flow of conversation. It was - it was really nice."

Alice cooed, clasping her hands together. "Aw, you're blushing. That's so cute."

In response, Nova flashed her the finger.

"So," Cassidy said.

She no longer seemed like a challenger, someone that was ready to strike like a snake when she saw the opportunity. There was pride lighting up her eyes, a smile lifting her rounded cheeks in genuine happiness for her friend. An unspoken understanding passed between them that this had all been for Nova's benefit, just another thing the girls did as good and loyal friends, even if it had been in the strangest way possible and had cost Cass a snog with the hottest pair of lips in the school.

"So," Nova repeated.

Cass grinned. "So, now comes the next step in the plan. You, my dear Nova Hale, are going to steal Albus Potter's heart."







AUTHOR'S NOTE: Aaah, I can't put a long note here because my laptop is about to die and I NEED TO PUT THIS IN THE QUEUE so I'm just going to say thank you for all the lovely reviews, please do keep them coming to let me know what you're thinking and do enjoy this.

This chapter is dedicated to TearsIMustConceal/Vicki and oldershouldknowbetter/Andrew for nominating/seconding Dormitory 2.6A for the Quoth the Raven diadem! How insane is that! Make sure to check out their fics, guys

xo

07.04.16: ci added.


Chapter 4: FOUR: Fire and Ice
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



another great ci by milominderbinder @tda

FOUR: FIRE AND ICE
 

It was nearing seven o'clock on a Friday morning, a time when few of Hogwarts' inhabitants had roused from their sleep; it was far too early to function unless you were a Slytherin or Gryffindor Quidditch player, aching to crush the other into the ground at the match the following day. Seeing as how Nova was neither, she was rather annoyed that Cassidy saw it fit to drag her into the grounds, the weak sun glaring into their eyes.

"It's freezing," she snapped, trying to snatch back her trapped hand. She dug her heels into the grass, but all it did was drench her shoes in mud and nearly make her fall back onto her arse. "I don't see why I have to be up at this hour or outside."

Cass rolled her eyes. "Because Slytherin have booked the pitch to practice."

Maybe if it had been later in the day, Nova would've entertained the idea of going to the Quidditch Pitch to watch Albus fly in the sky, showcasing his notorious skills. Something about going with Cass made it seem less creepy, as if just the presence of the curvy Hufflepuff made even murder seem excusable. However, it was still before seven o'clock in the morning and at this point, Nova could not give a fuck about fancying Albus Potter.

She told Cass this.

Before the other girl could reply, a new voice cut in, bright and whimsical, even at this hour. "Oh, don't be so grumpy, Nova. When we get to the stands and you see your man, you'll be thanking us."

"Piss off, Nala."

Not taking it to heart, all she did was beam and grab Nova's free hand, pulling her along. Earlier this morning, Nala had been kindly woken up by Fat Ginger as he planted his butt on her face and had seen Cass pull a protesting Nova out of bed by the ankles; upon finding out that she was taking Nova to the pitch to observe Albus ("we need to know the secrets of his soul, Hale, his soul,"), she had sprung up, eager to join them. Neither Cass nor Nova had asked her why - Nala had a tendency to oscillate between guys, pining after them in her daydreams until she grew sick of them, so it was no surprise that she fancied one of the Quidditch players.

"Won't they think it's weird that we're there?" Nova was asking now, trying to find reasons to get out of doing this. It wasn't that she didn't want to see him. It was that he made her brain stop working and stole her breath away, two things she was not prepared to deal with properly if she was barely awake. "I mean, we're Hufflepuffs."

Cass shrugged. "There's no rules about going to see them train."

"Plus," Nala chimed in, skipping over a puddle, "we have Cass with us. Her cousin's the Captain."

Personally, she didn't see how that would help in the slightest. It wasn't like Cass frequently lurked around the Quidditch Pitch when Slytherin practised, happily supporting Xanthe Greengrass with banners that screamed LOVE YOU, BABE. If anything, they would probably guess the truth and assume either Nala or Nova fancied one of the players and had dragged along Cass to take advantage of the very reason Nala had suggested.

It was no use, however. Before she knew it, Nova was being pushed into a seat at the top of one of the stands and was watching the Slytherin Quidditch team soar through the air. Though she knew little about Quidditch, barring the basics that ensured she knew how to support her team, she took a few minutes to compare the different approach Slytherin had. They had their own distinctive style: all sharp turns and speed and staggering heights. It differed greatly from the fun, laidback quality that Hufflepuff brought to their games - her house's team sought to have fun while trying to win, Slytherin's aimed to intimidate.

She was too busy soaking in the bigger picture that she almost forgot there was a certain person there. Eyes straining to focus in on the blurs above, she tried to seek out Albus, not even knowing how she would know who he was. As soon as she'd thought that, however, her eyes were drawn to a figure weaving in and out of the other players. At first, she had thought it was one of the Chasers perfecting a play before she realised there was a certain spirited feel to the person that suggested he was independent of the others.

That was Albus Potter.

She watched him exceed the heights of his teammates and playfully dart around the place, suddenly dropping into a steep dive, spiralling like a corkscrew. Something about him on a broom seemed so natural, like it was his true calling. He was at home in the sky, a bird swathed in silver and green, free to spread his wings and fly.

Still, Nova didn't really know what secrets he was supposed to be revealing. All she was surmising was that he was talented on a broom and loved being so, both facts that she had more or less already been aware of. There was something so captivating about him that made her hold her tongue, however, instead of voicing this to her friends.

It didn't take them long to be noticed. Nova and Nala were watching them curiously, undisguised delight on the latter's face, while Cassidy inspected her hair, lazily flicking her wand to remove the split ends as she found them. They were still like that when Xanthe Greengrass landed his broom on the row of seats in front of them, dark eyes regarding them. Just like his cousins, he was unfairly attractive with a golden crown of curls and a face that could entice a unicorn to the dark side.

"What brings you girls here?" he finally asked, his smooth voice articulating the words with a natural huskiness that Nova was well aware had girls all over Hogwarts salivating. Fortunately for her, she wasn't as fazed.

Cass shrugged. "Can I not watch my cousin practise Quidditch?"

Xanthe smirked. "Not when it's so close to the game. I know all about your dealings with Potter, Cass."

"I'll have you know that Potter has always been loyal to your team, Xanthe," she said. It had always confused Nova how Cass spelt her nickname for him the same way as his name, but pronounced it as Zanth instead of Zanthee. "So don't worry about it."

"The other Potter," he clarified with a roll of his eyes. "James."

"Oh." Cass smirked. "That one."

"'Dealings'?" Nova couldn't help breaking in with despite having rarely talked to the seventeen year old. "You make her sound like a hooker."

Xanthe's eyes flickered to her and then he nodded, seemingly amused. "My apologies, Hale. I only meant that Cass here has a history with James Potter, however casual it's been, and I wouldn't put it past him to send you along to spy on us. It's what I would do."

"Aren't Gryffindors supposed have honour, though? Cheating like that seems beneath them."

"Hey, we both want to win." Here, he shrugged. A grin flickered onto his face. "Of course, Gryffindors are no match for us whether they send spies or not."

Spies?

Really, it was beyond her how boys managed to make Quidditch sound so serious and so childish at the same time. It was almost laughable how they regarded it with the utmost seriousness, as if they were Healers tending a patient that was undergoing the trickiest of treatments.

And then quite quickly, all internal musings of how ridiculous guys could be were chased out of her mind when Adonis himself landed beside them.

"Potter, aren't you supposed to be looking for the snitch?"

In response, Albus held out the golden ball trapped in his fist. "That makes it four times now."

"Four times?" Nova echoed, eyebrows shooting up.

He took that as permission to sprawl into the seat next to her, head tipped back to peer at the sky, his broomstick resting on both of their laps. "I've had plenty of time - we've been here from about five in the morning," he groaned.

"You're joking, right?"

"I wish I was."

Xanthe rolled his eyes again. Crossing his arms, he said pointedly, "Do you want to beat your brother or not, Potter? Gryffindor might have a bunch of dunces on the team-"

"You do know that half of them are related to me, right?"

"- but we still need to put in the time to make sure we annihilate them."

"They'll be annihilated," Albus said, a note of amusement creeping into his voice. "I don't know if you've noticed, but we're on top form. It won't hurt if I rest for a few minutes either."

Xanthe looked like he considered arguing, but then accepted defeat. "Ten minutes. When you're back on the pitch, I expect you to catch the snitch in less than that."

Albus mock-saluted him.

Finally, Nala's high voice joined in on the conversation. Fiddling with one of her bouncy curls, she said, "Less than ten minutes? You don't think that's a little, well, impossible?"

He smirked. When he smirked like that, Nova could see how he managed to convince anyone and everyone he set his eyes on that he was someone worth pursuing despite his record as a heartbreaker. There was something extraordinary about it - something that suggested he would like nothing more than to take you to a corner and press kisses all over your body before he helped elderly women cross the street. The combination made for something truly powerful.

Coupled with the smoldering once-over he gave Nala, there was no doubt that they were glimpsing at the infamous player he was.

"Well, I happen to have a little faith in him. You see, Nala Soyinka, I only take on the best," he said slowly and then - so quickly that Nova wasn't even sure he had done it - he sent her a deliberate wink before he took off.

Nala blushed furiously under the suspicious scrutiny of her friends. She squirmed uncomfortably and then her eyes dropped onto Albus inspecting the twigs of his broom.

"So!" she exclaimed, making him jump out of his thoughts. "Albus! Why don't you tell Nova all about the secret to being a good Seeker?"

He raised an eyebrow. Turning to the Hufflepuff in question, he said with a faint smile, "If I did that, I don't think it'd be much of a secret."

"Worried that I'll use it to get onto the Hufflepuff team and beat you to the Cup?" she teased.

"Well, I can't be too careful. You are full of surprises. For all I know, you could be the next Captain of the Harpies."

She smiled at him, feeling her heart thud in that familiar drumbeat again, occasionally skipping whenever one of his small quirks made an appearance. "If only. Unfortunately, I'm nowhere near as talented as you. Broomsticks and I have never agreed."

"You know, if anyone in my family heard you right now, they'd all have heart attacks. Not agreeing with a broomstick? They'd see it as a crime against humanity! To tell you the truth, I'm seeing it that way myself."

"I can't help it if I'm airsick," she protested.

"Nothing can excuse this, Hale. Not flying a broom is the stuff out of nightmares."

"Think it's the opposite way around for me."

He looked at her, ears pricked in interest. Green eyes piercing into her, he asked curiously, "Wait, you have a genuine fear of flying? Oh, I didn't know that."

She blushed. He probably thought she was an idiot. Rushing to rectify the mistake, she said, "Oh, no. No, of course not! I just don't put the fate of my life in a scrap of wood."

"I have a Nimbus 2222."

"Fascinating."

He laughed. The sound was so rich and deep and it just made her feel so fucking great. There was no more resentment at being dragged out here before seven o'clock in the morning to read the secrets of Albus' soul, no more concerns about freezing her bits off, nothing but a deep pride that welled up in her. Nova had made him laugh. Now she might not have been an expert in crushing on someone, but she was pretty damn sure that it was a good thing.

"What I mean is my broom's good. You'd be able to trust it with the 'fate of your life'."

She blinked at him, slowly saying, "But I'm never going to use it."

"Well, if I'm going to teach you to ride a broomstick, what else will you be using? A Shooting Star?"

"I don't remember agreeing to these lessons you speak of."

"Really? I do." He gave her a little smirk.

Fucking hell, he was hot. Him and his bloody hipster glasses and a face that was carved in God's bloody image. How could she stand her ground when he was looking at her like that? She was so fucked.

"Alright, I'll bite," she said, subconsciously leaning forward. "You win this match against Gryffindor and I'll ride your bloody broomstick."

It was only after she finished her sentence that she caught the innuendo. Judging from the way his eyes flashed in amusement and he let out another small laugh, she was guessing that he had too.

"Now, that's what I call motivation."










Because Transfiguration was such a popular subject, there were usually a couple of classes on at the same time. Fortunately for the girls of Dormitory 2.6A, they all had it at the same time. Unfortunately for them, they were separated: Reagan and Nova in Professor Reed's class - along with Albus Potter - and Cass, Dahlia, Nala and Alice in Professor Coles'. Sometimes, however, the classes would merge if the teachers wanted to give a lecture or were conducting a mock exam or were doing assessed practicals.

Today, they were doing none of those things, but their classes had been merged and consequently, there was a loud buzz of chatter in the room as everyone rearranged to be with their closest mates.

"Seriously, Nala," Cass was saying, "Xanthe is bad news. Stay away from him."

"Two things," Nala replied, ticking them off on her fingers. "One, what makes him so bad? And two, what makes you think he's even interested in me?"

They were arranged so that Cass and Nala were paired up at one table, with Reagan and Nova next to them, and Dahlia and Alice in front. At Nala's questions, Dahlia turned around and fixed her with an unimpressed look.

"Oh, I know! One, he's Xanthe Greengrass and two, he's Xanthe fucking Greengrass. Everyone knows he likes to sleep with anything that breathes."

"Thanks," Nala deadpanned.

"No offence, Nala. You're better than that pile of hippogriff shit."

"Thanks," Cass said flatly. When all she received was a sweet smile, she continued, "But she's right. Look, I love Xanthe, I do, but when it's comes to girls, he - he's a prick, okay? I know that I get around so I can't fault him for that, but he likes to actually string girls along. You're my best friend, Nala. I don't want you to fall for his act and trust me, he will try to make you fall for it."

"Be a strong independent woman!" Alice cried.

"Castrate him," Dahlia said at the same time.

"You see, as your teacher, I am legally obligated to advise you against that," Professor Reed said as he slammed a bloody mass onto the table.

Immediately, the girls recoiled. Slapping a hand over her nose, Alice exclaimed, "Professor, what is that?"

"That is a lamb's heart. We're going to be dissecting it."

"We're going to be what?"

"Since when did we become Muggles?" Dahlia demanded, scrunching up her nose. "We know nothing about the heart to dissect the damn thing."

"I suggest you pay attention to the lesson, then. I thought it'd be a good idea to do this experiment since we transfigure animate objects into other animated objects - i.e., animals into other animals - which changes the biology of the object. Of course, if you had done your homework, you would know that. . ." Here, he suddenly pointed to Reagan who looked bewildered.

"I - I. . ."

"Didn't do the homework?"

"Forgot," she said lamely.

He looked at her sternly. "Remember our talk at the end of last year, Miss Davies. You promised that you were going to step up. It might be early days yet, but I expect to see a change. If not, you'll be dissecting more hearts before your dinner, purely because I'm a sadist and would like to put you off your food."

"Understood," she muttered, the points of her ears flushing a bright pink.

"Now, Miss Hale, what would you know if you did the homework?"

"Er. . . that the inherent spirit of the animate object wouldn't change? So if you transfigure a spider into a rat, its spirit will still be that of a spider."

"Correct. Ten points to Hufflepuff."

Dissecting hearts was disgusting business.

First of all, Professors Reed and Coles covered the structure of the heart on the board, quickly mentioning that no one needed to know any of this for the exams, but that they thought it would be an interesting lesson to have. Words like vena cava and pulmonary artery went in one ear and out the other and there was an emphasis on the extra muscle on the wall of the left ventricle for Merlin knew what reason.

Then, they actually performed the deed itself. A number of witches and a fair few wizards were visible recoiling as they cut theirs open, some of them crying out in horror when they learned they had to put their fingers up the blood vessels. On the flip side, some of the guys had taken to the task with a savage delight, enthusiastically digging their gloved fingers into the raw mess.

"I think I'm going to throw up," Cassidy said faintly, staggering away from her desk.

"Throw up what? You had a bunch of grapes for breakfast."

Nevertheless, her friends had similar looks of revulsion. Nova was briefly distracted from the horrible ordeal when Albus came over to discuss their flying lessons and confirm that she would be supporting him; she joked that she planned to wear red and gold the following day and he pretended to grab his heart in a rather sarcastic manner before he actually had to grab the heart Scorpius Malfoy launched at him from the other side of the room.

"Funny little thing, isn't it?" he said, grinning when she flinched at his offering. "I guess I'll see you later then."

By the end of the hour, three people had fainted and two more had vomited out of the window. A heart lay in the middle of the classroom, looking like it had been used in a sacrificial ritual and then had been torn into by savages, resembling minced meat more than it did a vital organ. An amused group of boys happily played catch with a couple more, sending most of the classroom diving under their desks.

After that disaster of a lesson, it was safe to conclude that neither Professor Reed nor Coles were in a hurry to try it again.









The wind was whipping up something fierce, howling through the stands and threatening to tear lovingly crafted banners from their owners' hands. It tore along the Quidditch Pitch, toying with the players in a rough, careless manner, seeming to whisper danger and promise breathless lungs.

Nova shivered underneath her cloak, pulling the black article around her tightly. Cassidy had fished out the numerous Slytherin scarves she had been gifted by family members over the years - some of them meant as a joke, others a clear statement of their refusals to accept her true house - so five of them had them knotted at the base of their throats. Coupled with the leather gloves and thermal clothing they wore, they should've been relatively warm, but alas, that was not the case.

"Can't they win the damn thing already?" Dahlia grumbled. "I don't even know why I came to the fucking thing, it's not like we're even fucking playing-"

She was cut off by Alice's scream of, "FOUL. HE'S A BLATCHER, HE'S A BLOODY BLATCHER! YOU DIRTY SNAKE!"

"That snake happens to be my cousin."

Alice looked at Cass grimly. She stood out from the sextet since she had a scarf coloured red and gold looped around her neck, not to mention a lion painted on her cheek and a small Gryffindor flag in her right hand, though she fit in with the rest of Hufflepuff well enough.

"Your cousin is a blatcher."

"Everyone's a blatcher in Gryffindor vs Slytherin match," Reagan pointed out.

She gestured to Hugo Weasley as he rammed into the Slytherin with the Quaffle; they watched it fall out of his grasp and drop into the hands of Xanthe. The Captain promptly shot forward, darted past the two Gryffindors that moved to block him, dodged the Bludger fired his way and then let the Quaffle soar without hesitation. It rose and descended in an arc, slipping through the left hoop at the last second.

"DAMN IT." Alice stomped her foot as her friends broke into loud cheers. "They're in the bloody lead."

And didn't Slytherin know it. They were already back in formation, but there was a certain smug note to their flying and their Seeker was taking a celebatory lap around the pitch for it. Nova watched him with a faint smile - he looked so happy there, so at bliss and a part of her wished she could share it with him. But no, this was his territory. She respected that.

Much to Alice's dismay - her loyalty to her father's house really manifested when it came to Quidditch - Slytherin retained the edge over their rivals and won the match 330 - 170 when Albus caught the Snitch. There was just enough time to see him land and hold his fist in the air triumphantly before his teammates jumped on top of him and his housemates spilled out of the stands to smother him. Nova followed her friends back to the castle, intending to spend the rest of the afternoon lounging around until Slytherin's common room opened its doors for the official after party.

"If Slytherin keep it up, they might win the Cup," Alice sadly commented as they drifted into Dormitory 2.6A.

"Would that be such a bad thing?" Cass asked.

"It's not like we ever fucking win the thing, anyway."

"Actually, Hufflepuff won the Cup the year before we started! We're just. . . going through a dry spell."

"On the contrary, I think we're drowning out there," Nova put in as she unlocked the top drawer of her bedside table. "Maybe we'll win next year."

As far as she was aware, all Hufflepuffs had this one locked drawer with a key that the house elves carefully placed on their pillows that first night of the year. Consequently, all personal, prized and private possessions remained there - letters from lovers, secret diaries, birth control etc., etc. One of the items in Nova's was a book she'd had ever since first year.

The scrapbook wasn't a secret, not really, but it was precious so it remained out of harm's way. Reagan had given it as a present on Christmas back in first year, noticing that Nova liked to collect things and snap the occasional picture. The pages were endless yet it seemed to be no thicker than an average novel and contained everything from photographs, both old and new, to notes Dahlia had chucked at her head to scraps of fabric from her favourite dresses she'd grown out of. Past memories weren't the only things preserved in those pages either; Nova had countless sections dedicated to the future - cities she wanted to visit, careers she was considering and her dream house were only a few of those things.

Currently, she was on a page with nothing more a scrap of ribbon she had found under a chair in the common room the other day, coloured a dizzying, brilliant green. She had stuck it to the page at a jaunty angle and had written 'THE COLOUR OF ALBUS POTTER'S EYES' under it. Briefly, she wondered whether it was creepy that she had done that before she decided that she didn't really care as she began to write a small paragraph about her crush on him. This scrapbook was supposed to contain her most significant memories and milestones: finally fancying someone again fell under that.

At least it wasn't a sneaky picture.

For the next few hours, Nova remained in her dormitory with her friends. Having lived with each other for years, they were comfortable doing their own things, though occasionally, they all found themselves laughing themselves hoarse over something in her scrapbook and submerged themselves in the act of swapping stories, feeling nostalgia creep over them. To think they had ever been so small, so young and naive. Nova would bet her wand that if their younger selves could see them now, they would be stiff with shock and she voiced this.

"I wouldn't be," Dahlia immediately refuted. Tossing her dark hair back, she smirked smugly. "I always knew I'd be a badass bitch."

"Maybe just the second part."

Eventually, the hour of the party dawned and they headed down to the dungeons, looking less like lazy girls who didn't give a fuck and more like girls out to make an impression - barring Dahlia, of course. She, Nova and Reagan had opted to stick to their dark jeans, but had on rather stylish - or extremely comfortable in Dahlia's case - tops and the second had painted her lips red, mindful of the fact that Albus would be there. Alice, Nala and Cassidy were donning pretty dresses, the latter showing more skin than one would usually dare to when in such a cold environment.

"I see the Slytherins are proud of their victory," she noted in amusement.

As soon as one passed through the entrance, they were greeted by a huge banner one of the snakes must've stolen from an unsuspecting Gryffindor and added a sketch of a huge python to, one that repeatedly devoured the lion and then flickered its tongue as if to say fuck yeah, I'm awesome.

Alice sniffed. "I'm going to need a drink."

Keeping in line with all victory parties, the Slytherin common room was already brimming with people and walking into the crowd was like hitting a wall of heat and sweat and sex. No, there wasn't any nasty business going on here - there was a clear rule that that sort of thing was to happen only in a dormitory when parties were being held - but it was overwhelmingly obvious what a lot of people were after.

Meanwhile, Nova had never even been kissed.

For the first time in a long time, she resented that. She recalled her determination to be popular back in first year, her elation when she realised that her roommates were exactly the type of girls that ended up being so and that she could too. She could almost imagine her eleven year old self that had dreamt of being the Queen Bee of this school, cool enough to flirt with someone like Albus Potter and confident enough to snog him, having already snogged countless boys before.

But dreams could shatter easily and morph into something else. She was no longer that Nova Hale, the one that believed a good life was synonymous with popularity. She understood that there were things that were more important: friendship, even if it was with a strange group of friends, and grades and being happy. She understood that sometimes you fell for people you would never be with, but that was okay because you didn't need a boy to define you or to like you back, no matter how nice it would be to be the girl that someone fancied for once.

"You alright?" Reagan drew her out of her thoughts, lightly tapping her on the arm with a concerned look.

Nova smiled. "Yeah, I'm fine. I think I need a drink, though."

Her best friend linked arms with her and they proceeded to fight through the mass of bodies together. "You and me both, Nova. Though we're going to have to get it for ourselves - Alice has dragged Dahlia off to the Gryffindors in the Weeping Corner, Cass has gone to hunt down some poor unsuspecting lad and only Circe knows where Nala is."

Parties could be fun things.

She was never the type to get pissed and forget the night before, but being tipsy gave a buzz that instantly just made life better. She stuck close to Reagan, the two of them happy to bend the rules together. They shared a bottle of Firewhiskey, jokingly judged the people they hated ("Okay, seriously, I don't know why she thinks she'll be okay wearing five inch heels after she broke her ankle last year," Reagan said, narrowing her eyes at a Dormitory 2.6B girl) and even smoked a rare fag.

As the hours wore on, things started to get a little crazier with the rest of the students. Gryffindors were still bawling in the Weeping Corner, someone was arguing vehemently with one of the portraits ("fuck off, you old bat, or my piss will literally be on your face,") and several things were lying in pieces on the floor ("WHY THE FUCK WAS HERPO THE FOUL'S NOSE SO SHARP, THE LITTLE SHIT-"). A fair few people were getting. . .well acquainted too.

The Quidditch team remained a focus of the celebration, people crowding them to congratulate them and get their version of the play-by-play. She glimpsed a shock of wild, dark hair, but didn't approach the knot of students since it really wasn't her kind of crowd. Several of the faces were familiar, even Nala's at one point, and they were giving the stars of the match all the adoration in the world. Of course, the team were more than happy to lap it up, Xanthe Greengrass in particular until he disappeared, no doubt off with a girl.

So there Nova and Reagan were, sitting against one of the walls with their legs crossed, laughing harder than they should over a crappy joke one of them had cracked when Alice ran up to them, looking decidedly less happy.

"Nova - Reagan," she said in breathless desperation. "You need to get up."

"But we're comfortable," Reagan complained.

"Yeah," agreed Nova. She crooked a finger at the other girl, beckoning her. "Join us, Alice. Join us."

Alice scowled in a rather un-Alice-like manner. Planting her hands firmly on her hips, she said, "This is no time to be tipsy. Cass has been snogging someone-"

"- nothing new there - "

"- and that someone happened to have a girlfriend that just found them. Sophie Addams."

"Psycho Sophie?"

"Psycho Sophie," she repeated grimly.

After that, Nova and Reagan weren't really tipsy anymore. As quickly as they could, they rushed through the crowd, out of the common room and into one of the dungeons down the corridor. If there was any doubt that this was the destination, the loud shouts eminating from the room promptly chased them away. When the door was thrown open, the trio were greeted with the sight of Cassidy and Psycho Sophie squaring up to each other and the cheating boy in question flattening himself against the wall, guarded by a lethal-looking Dahlia Darzi.

"CAN THE TWO OF YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?!" Dahlia roared over the arguing girls.

There was silence.

"Now," Nova demanded softly, entering the room, "what happened here?"

Psycho Sophie scoffed, turning to face them. A vicious twist distorted her mouth which, when coupled with her wild hair and menacing eyes, truly made Nova understand the nickname.

"Great. Fan-fucking-tastic. It's the rest of the freaks. Why don't you drag Soyinka along, make it a fun party?"

"Why don't you shut that gobby little mouth?" Reagan suggested.

Dahlia nodded. "Such filthy language, Addams. And you call yourself a fucking Hufflepuff. Have you no fucking shame?"

"I don't think this is the time," Alice sighed to her, rolling her eyes as if asking Helga herself what she had done to be cursed with such an infuriating best friend.

Psycho Sophie huffed. "You're right, this isn't the time. This is the time to ask that stupid tart why the fuck she was kissing my boyfriend."

"In case you didn't notice, he was kissing me back. Weren't you, Callum?"

Cheating Callum responded with a string of incomprehensible murmurs.

"Yeah, because you pounced on him."

Cass raised an eyebrow. Where before she had been yelling just as much, she now seemed unfazed. "Oh no, honey, I don't pounce. Greengrasses don't pounce. We're the ones people chase after. That doesn't exclude your boyfriend over there - whom, might I add, informed me that he was now single."

"And I'm supposed to believe that?"

"Is it really so hard to believe?" Nova broke in. "She's Cassidy Greengrass."

"I DON'T CARE IF SHE'S THE BLOODY QUEEN OF SHEBA."

"Temper, temper," Dahlia tutted.

"You, shut up," Psycho Sophie barked, whirling around to stare her down furiously. "The only reason I'm losing my shit right now is because I found your absolute slag of a friend snogging my boyfriend-"

"- who wasn't complaining - "

"- and who still thinks that she's in the right. How the fuck does that even work?"

"Look, Cass thought he was single," Alice said placatingly. "Clearly, that means that Callum was lying to her just to possibly get into her pants. He's to blame, not her."

"Oh, don't lie to me, Alice. Everyone knows about the Greengrass reputation and how the family breeds whores. Though I don't know why anyone would want to sleep with her. I mean, look at the size of her - she'd crush both the guy and the bed."

Finally, Cheating Callum spoke up, interjecting with a, "Now, Soph, I think that's a bit harsh," but it was too late.

You see, you should never ever call a girl fat in front of her friends. Especially if those friends happened to include a witch fathered by a war hero, Hufflepuff's Ice Queen, someone who had to deal with being ridiculed for her short stature for years and Dahlia fucking Darzi. Mostly because they would lose their shit and lose it well.

It was all a blur.

Cass and Dahlia launched themselves, out for blood and Alice let out an unintelligible scream, something about "NOT ALL AT ONCE, NOT ALL AT ONCE!" as she rushed forward to stop them from doing too much harm. Cheating Callum tried make a break for it, but Nova and Reagan weren't going to have any of that. Before he could take three steps forward, Reagan tripped him over with a well-placed foot and Nova slammed him against the wall, wand at his throat.

"Don't you dare," she hissed.

"Alright, alright, I won't run, I'm staying!"

"Damn right you are, you cheating little bas-"

And then Nova was promptly cut off, for Professor Reed had just burst into the room, just in time to see Cassidy straddle Psycho Sophie and punch her in the face.

They were fucked.









AUTHOR'S NOTE: Aaand Chapter Four is up! Can you tell I've been reminiscing my old Science classes from the little dissection scene? Because I have. I'm not even joking, 95% of what was mentioned in that part of the chapter - the fainting/playing catch - was witnessed by these very eyes.

I'm a little bit iffy on the ending so I would love to know your suggestions for that part. In fact, I would love to know anything you think about this, really - your favourite lines, things you'd love to see more of, what you think is going to happen, what you want ship names to be etc. etc. ;) Hit me with them.

This is dedicated to Ineke/ANightingaleInAGoldenCage for the three very wonderful reviews I woke up to and Ysh/princesslily_36 for being one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure to know. It's also dedicated to everyone who reviewed the last chapter :*

(Also if I have written the pronunciation of Xanthe wrong, please do let me know because I have looked it up, but I am still no expert :D Thank you!)

xo

07.04.16: ci added :)

20.04.16: minor edit made


Chapter 5: FIVE: Hold Your Breath
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another gorgeous ci by callisto@tda! :)

FIVE: HOLD YOUR BREATH


"Do you ever get that feeling where you want to watch the light fade from someone's eyes as you strangle them to death? Because that's exactly what I want to do to Psycho Sophie right now."

The statement, predictably, came from an irate Dahlia Darzi, one that swept a mop across the floor with a vicious swipe. There was a very simple reason as to why she was currently mopping the floor of the Great Hall and it was this: she was in detention. In fact, all of the girls of Dormitory 2.6A were in detention, barring Nala since she hadn't been present when Professor Reed had burst into the dungeon during Cass's fight with Psycho Sophie. It was because of this that the chorus of replies included:

"Yes."

"I'll help you."

"I'll bring the shovel."

"You know, I'm not usually a violent person, but I'd like to be the person holding her arms behind her back while you do it."

"Fucking whore."

"I want to take this broom and jam it right up her -"

They were cut off by a pointed cough. All five of them froze before Alice risked a glance back and then exhaled a long sigh of relief. Sagging against the table she was wiping down, she released the cloth and turned around to properly look at her father.

"Dad! Have you come to let us off?" she asked hopefully.

Professor Longbottom let the doors of the Great Hall shut behind him as he moved further into the room, an apologetic smile on his face as he shook his head. "No can do, sweetheart. Professor Reed's booked you in for another half hour and Filch is standing guard outside."

There was a collective groan.

"What is the point of having the Head of Gryffindor as your dad if he won't get you out of detention?" Dahlia asked, throwing her hands into the air. Her mop clattered to the ground, but all she did was glare down and kick it away from her.

"Unfortunately, that's not in the job criteria."

Despite his words, he didn't complain when the girls began to let go of their cleaning equipment and came over to sit down at the Hufflepuff table; instead, he watched them all with a fond smile. Nova found herself sitting closest to him and returned it with one of her own.

"It's not fair that we have to do this," Cassidy informed him with a firm cross of her arms and a challenging quirk of her right eyebrow. "We didn't even do anything."

"From what I hear, Miss Addams had to go to the Hospital Wing to fix her broken nose. Sounds like you did something to me."

"Yeah, because Psycho Sophie called her fat!" Alice exclaimed angrily, banging the table with a fist. "She was fully entitled to it!"

"First of all, her first name is Sophie, not Psycho," her dad replied, holding up two fingers. "Secondly, violence isn't the answer to everything."

Reagan chose to pipe up. "But we tried to reason with her. She just wasn't listening and kept insulting everyone but her boyfriend, even though he was the one in the wrong."

"Besides, even if I do deserve to be in detention for this, the others don't. I was the one that punched her, not Alice or Nova or Reagan or even Dahlia. Why are they here too?"

"Don't be stupid, Cass," Nova murmured as she reached across the table to pat her hand. "You don't deserve to be in detention for this at all."

She was rewarded with a small smile for that comment. There was something about it that unsettled her slightly, a glint in the other girl's eyes that was at odds with Cass' constant calm confidence. It was almost self-doubt, though that didn't seem to be the right word for it. Whatever it was, it had been brought about by the events of the party and for that, a severe dislike for Psycho Sophie now settled in Nova's chest. Fucking bitch.

Therefore, she was more than pleased to hear that said psycho and a few other delinquents had been assigned the Owlery to clean.

"Bird shit," Dahlia crowed triumphantly. "She's finally with her own!"

Longbottom sighed in exasperation. "Dahlia, you're not supposed to swear in front of staff."

"Shit, I forgot about that."

He fixed her with an unamused look.

In the end, it still didn't matter whether or not Psycho Sophie was cleaning the Owlery because the girls were forced to continue to tackle the Great Hall. Reluctantly, Nova took to sweeping her corner of the dining area again, muttering murderously under her breath about her fellow students - didn't they fucking know that food went into their mouths and not on the goddamn floor? For Merlin's sake, now she was working herself up and the reason behind this was not merely Psycho Sophie.

Abruptly, she remembered a saying they once used to taunt Dahlia with back in second year when she had to attend anger management lessons: inhale and feel great; exhale and release the hate. When the councelor had first said this to the volatile girl, they had been sure she was about to deck her.

"Alright, someone needs to check this one into St. Mungo's," Reagan commented when she exploded into laughter at the memory. "Laughing to yourself has to be the first sign of madness. The second sign is growing hair on your palms." When all Nova did was dissolve into further giggles, she said, "Okay, seriously, what brought this on?"

She choked out, "In-inhale and feel great -  exhale and - release the hate!"

There was a brief moment of silence. And then:

"I swear to God, Hale, I will fucking murder you!"

An explosion of laughter erupted through the Great Hall as the girls simultaneously recalled Dahlia's hated nemesis of second year. Any ill feelings that had been lingering were chased away and they continued their detention with the sort of giddiness brought on by bringing up embarrassing memories and poking fun at each other.

"Remember when Alice cried - actually cried - during our first Herbology assessment because we had to repot those plants?"

"They're called Squirming Squashes and they were a nightmare to deal with! All that dirt went everywhere and it was enough to make someone faint!"

"Remember when Nova dropped her bed on her foot the first time she moved it to our dormitory?"

"Oi, I was forced to stay in the Hospital Wing overnight for that! So many broken bones, so much pain."

"How long did it take you to get your first detention again, Dahlia? A day?"

"A week," she replied with a sort of smug pride. "I wasn't allowed to swear at home, you see, so I might have gone a bit overboard."

"I don't think you ever stopped, love."

By the time Filch opened the doors to let them out, the Great Hall was spotless and their faces ached from grinning so much. He eyed them suspiciously, as if eager to find a reason to lock them in there until their hands had worn away from cleaning so much, but was forced to give back their wands and send them on their way. Unfortunately for him, being cheerful was no crime against humanity.

It was a few minutes past nine o'clock when they entered their dormitory, still bringing up their earliest memories together - most of the ones right at the beginning didn't include Nova, but she had heard them so often that it was almost like she'd been there to witness the events unfold - and found Nala sitting anxiously on her bed, waiting for them. Fat Ginger was draped over her shoulders and food surrounded her, a welcome sight after such an exhausting detention.

"I brought some snacks," she said, gesturing to the feast around her.

"Not hungry," Cass replied not unkindly as she headed toward the showers.

The next fifteen minutes were a blur to Nova as everyone scrambled to do this, that, or the other. Alice ran after Cassidy to bag one of the cubicles, the sweet little girl everyone knew a mere myth as she rushed to wash away the sweat and food crumbs off her. Meanwhile, Reagan and Dahlia wrestled it out to have the other one. It really wasn't a surprise when Dahlia won, having been brought up as the eldest child of five kids, especially since three of them were boys.

Finally, all six girls founds themselves on the floor of the dormitory once again with the food Nala had grabbed from the kitchens - one large pizza, a big box of chocolate truffles, chips and chicken wings as well as a colossal jug of pumpkin juice - laid out in the middle of the circle. Alice had also finally managed to steal her cat back off Nala after a brutal struggle.

"He's mine!"

"Fat Ginger is basically mine so give - him - back!"

Furiously, Alice stared her down. "Why do you all insist on calling him Fat Ginger? His name is St Barnable Lawrence."

"You can't just create a saint!"

"TRY ME."

Nova thought that perhaps they would've argued for longer if Dahlia hadn't cut them off with a high and loud, "FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!" as she tore a strip of chicken off one of the wings. When they stared at her in shock, she grinned, showing them the lovely contents of her mouth.

"Once again," Nova said flatly, "you astound me with your classiness."

"The Queen has nothing on me."

Rolling her eyes, Nova chose not to say anything; instead, she reached over for the biggest slice of pizza on her side and began to munch on it, the sweet taste of jalapenos erupting on her tongue. Pizza was a gift from the heavens, she knew that, yet there was something even sweeter about it when one ate it after being put through detention. She would bet a million galleons that Psycho Sophie wasn't having pizza right now. Ha.

After five minutes of silently devouring their food, it dawned on them that it wasn't going to run away anytime soon so they slowed down and began to talk.

"I feel really bad that I wasn't there," Nala confessed, looking down at her goblet of pumpkin juice sadly. "I feel like such a traitor."

"Don't be stupid," Cass said dismissively. "We were at a party so you couldn't have known. Reagan and Nova only came because Alice managed to find them and wanted them to control the situation."

"We did an excellent job there," Reagan remarked, making Nova snort into her goblet.

"Still," Nala insisted, "I'm your best friend. I should've been there."

In response, Cass simply smiled at her.

Trying to shake off the subject of detention and Psycho Sophie, mostly because they made her think about the vile words the younger Hufflepuff had spat and the look in Cass' eyes during the detention, Nova said, "I heard that we have a test in Charms tomorrow."

A groan swept through the dormitory.

"I haven't even revised," Reagan moaned, dropping her head into her hands.

The others exchanged a glance and then looked meaningfully at her best friend. She sighed and said, "Reagan, you're doing it again."

"Doing what again?"

"What you did last year. Putting off studying or revising for no reason and then winging it and getting a grade you're not happy with. That's not going to work for NEWTs. You carry on like that and Reed will have your head."

Lifting her head, her friend scowled. It was a well-known fact that Reagan Davies was plain, though she seemed anything but that to her friends. Aside from her height, there was nothing too remarkable about her - she had a normal, rather sweet-looking face, dark eyes that were skilled at observing and faded brown hair. Still, when she scowled, there was something off about it, something that made her less forgettable and more feral.

"Reed can piss off," she snapped. "I can't help it if I can't revise. I just can't do it. I'm not like Cass who can whip out her flashcards anywhere and know everything off by heart. I'm not like you, I can't make notes from the top of my head and compare it to the textbook. I just can't do it."

"You just need to figure out what's best for you," Nova said, undaunted by the less than pleasant expression on the other girl's face. They had had this conversation a fair few times so by then, she was used to how defensive Reagan was on this subject. "It might be mind maps, it might be notes-"

"It's not."

"I heard there was this one girl who recorded herself on one of those things, those mini radio things, and she just listened to the sound of her voice repeating all the facts she needed to know for weeks and then she got an O. Maybe you work best with stuff like that. You'll never know unless you try."

"Okay, okay. I'll try," she sighed, admitting defeat. For that, she was rewarded by a nice friendly pat on the shoulder since both she and Nova weren't the most affectionate of people and were awkward when it came to expressing such things.

From there on, it was smooth sailing. Matters concerning the unpleasant things in life - detentions, tests or the beard Professor Emeraude Sanchez was sporting - weren't brought up again and they talked their way well into the twenty second hour of the day until exhaustion hit them like a pile of bricks. Yawning, they retreated into their beds, mumbling goodnight to each other.

"Do you want me to save the last piece of pizza for you, Cass?" Nova faintly heard Nala ask from beyond the foot of her bed. "You didn't eat anything."

"No, I'm not hungry. Save it for Dahlia or something."

How strange, she thought as sleep wrapped its arms around her and stole her away into a dreamless land. I thought veggie pizza was her favourite.






When Nova woke up that Monday morning, she was surprised to see that her bedside clock informed her that it was half five. She was the type to sleep in, not rousing from bed until it was at least seven thirty since she didn't really have anyone to impress. Except maybe a certain Slytherin, but even he didn't win out over twenty extra minutes of glorious laziness.

Quietly, she lay there and groggily contemplated life as she was prone to do whenever she happened to wake up at this hour. It amazed her how silent the world was, how there seemed to be nothing in existence beyond the quiet breaths of her roommates and Dormitory 2.6A itself. It was completely different from the atmosphere she was used to: one of bustling students and rowdy boys and the high shrieks of laughter that rung out in endless corridors and classrooms. So far away from Dahlia's hearty curses and Reagan's sarcastic remarks and Cass' dramatic recounts of her encounters with this boy or that one. Nothing stirred.

Until the door to the bathroom slowly creaked open, sending her heart into a skittering panic. She turned on her side and peered in that direction, wondering wildly about what she'd have to do if there happened to be a serial killer on the loose. That was until she realised that there was no a bloodthirsty manic weilding a knife. There was simply Cassidy.

"What are you doing up so early?" Nova asked, sitting up.

Her friend screamed, jumping three feet into the air. Clutching her chest, she burst out with, "What the fuck, Nova? Why the fuck are you awake?"

"I asked you first."

"Yes, and you gave me a bloody heart attack while you were at it." Exhaling a long, controlled breath, Cass sat down on the edge of her bed and began tightening the laces of her trainers. "I'm going for a jog."

Nova looked at her clock as if to confirm the time once more. Yes, there was no doubt about it: it was only ten to six. "This early?"

She shrugged. "I always jog in the morning."

"I thought you went at half six," she said. "Is it even safe to go out at this time?"

A small, amused laugh tumbled from Cass' lips. As she jumped up from her bed, she winked, heading toward the door decisively. "I don't know if you noticed, Nova, but we happen to be at Hogwarts. Besides," she added, withdrawing a long, curved stick of acacia from her pocket, "I'm well-armed."

Knowing that there was nothing she could do about it, Nova shrugged and lay back down in bed. In the quiet of the dormitory, the sound of the door closing seemed deafening, a statement with a meaning she wasn't yet sure of. Rolling over on her side, she blocked out that ridiculous thought by burrowing under her covers and trying to lose herself to sleep once more.

When the sun shone through the high windows at seven o'clock, a set of alarms began to blare, the harmless wail of Alice's mandrake clock piercing through the sound of the regular drumbeat of Nala's, a discordant note that immediately dragged Nova out of the drousy daze she was in. Since the girls were taking their sweet time to turn them off, she decided to roll out of bed and slipped into the bathroom to brush her teeth much earlier than she would've done.

As she slowly worked the bad taste out of her mouth, Nova took the time to peer at her reflection. Maybe it was because she had been humouring reflective thoughts for a couple of hours now or maybe it was because she finally had a crush on someone, but for once, she didn't just glance at herself in the mirror and conclude that yes, she had awful bed hair and she looked like she had been hit by the Whomping Willow - she actually began to analyse herself.

Her gaze swept critically over her dark hair, knotted and messy as it was, inspecting her figure before it lingered on her face. Her eyes were dark and shrewd, her nose compact, her mouth small and set at a natural slant that suggested she was a judgemental bitch. She had been graced with an olive tint to her skin from her father, but there seemed to be a mini mountain range along her hairline and an oilrig across the bridge of her nose that dragged the quality of it down. Toothbrush forgotten in her mouth, Nova couldn't help but ask a single question: was she pretty?

She hadn't thought about that sort of thing for ages, ever since she had accepted that she wasn't going to be Josh Finch-Fletchley's girlfriend and that her former friends didn't think she was good enough to be anything, really. Once she had decided to cut herself off from socialising, from caring about the opinions of people she didn't even fucking speak to, that worry had eventually faded away.

And now it was back. All because of what? Because she fancied some guy, wonderful as he was? Dahlia's words seemed to resonate in her mind: fancying a guy doesn't make you feel good about yourself, it makes you feel shit. Nova didn't want to feel like shit. She wasn't after insecurities, she was after the little butterflies that fluttered in her stomach when she spoke to Albus. That was all.

Spitting out the toothpaste in her mouth and scrubbing her mouth, she pointed sternly at her reflection with the bright pink toothbrush in her hand. "You're not going to care about that sort of bullshit, Hale. Yeah, Albus seems to be humouring you for some reason, but that is no reason to fret about how you look. You're fine. Maybe you're not Victoire Weasley, but you're not a heinous troll so. . . pull yourself together, woman!"

And pull herself together she did. Quickly finishing off the rest of her routine - cleaning her face with a homemade facial wash and slapping some moisturiser onto her skin - she hurried out of the bathroom with a sense of determination, accidentally sending Nala knocking to the ground.

"I'm okay!" she cried, throwing a dark hand into the air and giving Nova a thumbs up. "Bruised but okay."

Since she had plenty of time to go, she took her time when changing into her school clothes. To support her 'feel good' resolve, she even hunted out her favourite matching bra and knickers just so she could walk around the castle, feeling like she had her life together. When she was finished, she flopped back onto her bed and began to flick through her Charms textbook, wanting to cram in some last minute revision while she could.

"Oi, you boring shit," Reagan said a while later, playfully tossing her dirty clothes at her. "We're going to breakfast. Are you coming or not?"

In response, Nova hit Reagan in the face with the clothes, swinging out of bed as she did so. She glanced around the room at her waiting friends.

"Isn't Cass back yet?"

Alice shook her head. "She must still be on her jog."

"But it's gone past eight," she frowned.

"Oh, she'll turn up at breakfast, I'm sure. Let's just go to the Great Hall. I'm starving, even after all that food last night."

For once in her life, Alice was wrong. Cass never turned up for breakfast and it wasn't until they went on their separate paths, each heading towards a different lesson, that Nova spotted her coming out of the corridor that led to their common room. When they caught each other's eyes, the latter looked a little thrown off guard before she quickened her pace to catch up to Nova.

"I had breakfast at the kitchens," she explained before Nova could even open her mouth. "I spent too long on my run and I was pushed for time, you see."

Despite the worry niggling in the back of her mind, she smirked and teased, "What, did you meet someone and have a quickie near the Whomping Willow?"

"Of course. I'm not one to resist Jeremy Williams. He has the finest pair of lips in this school, you know."

"So I've heard."

"Trust me." There was a wicked little smirk on the Greengrass' lips as she patted her friend reassuringly. An eyelid lined in black dropped into a cheeky wink. "You have it on good authority." Releasing a loud, carefree laugh at Nova's responding grimace, she asked, "So, where are you off to?"

"History of Magic."

Now, it was her turn to wince. "Sounds fucking awful. But then again, your man is in it, isn't he?"

Blood burned Nova's cheeks as it flooded into it. Letting her hair fall forward to cover them, she whispered furiously, "He's not my man. We haven't done anything and he doesn't even think of me that way."

"Which is why he's letting you ride his broomstick, of course."

"Not in that way!"

She swatted at her with a lethal glare, one with no real feeling. Though she was aware that Cass was only teasing, there was something about such thoughts, something so unattainable yet so enticing, that she immediately wanted to squash the feeling. Besides, they were in public! She didn't want anyone catching wind of anything juicy regarding her, especially if it concerned a Potter too.

"Yet."







A layer of frost caressed the grass of the Quidditch Pitch, encasing each blade in a frosty embrace. Accompanying it was an icy wind that rattled Nova's bones, even through her thick winter cloak. It was a gorgeous item from her mother, as dark as obsidian and as soft as silk, lined with thick fur meant to imitate that of a red Arctic fox.

It was also fucking useless, apparently.

"We can't possibly do anything in this weather," she pleaded, turning to the boy next to her.

Albus Potter looked, quite simply, like something out of a novel. Dressed in plain black clothes, he had a thick inky cloak thrown over his shoulders, a silver fastening at his throat. Leather gloves made from dragonhide and coloured like coal protected his hands and his glasses were nowhere to be seen, leaving him with a brilliantly green gaze that was trained on her. He reminded her of the fairytale heroes her mum would read stories about, a brave knight with a wand instead of a sword.

"It's not even that bad," he promised, smirking at her attempts to flee from the broom. "I've flown in worse conditions before."

"Yes. Because you can fly. Whereas I can't and will probably snap my neck, inevitably sending you on your way to Azkaban. You don't want to be in Azkaban, do you? No. So for your own sake, I think we should forget about this."

His only response was laughter. "That's cute."

Red spotted her cheeks and she scowled despite the voice in her head that sang he said I was cute, he said I was cute, he said I was cute. Folding her arms, she informed him, "You can't make me do anything."

Albus nodded and shrugged. "You're right. I can't. You can go if you want." He gestured toward the castle.

Nova eyed him suspiciously. After convincing her to trek all the way out here, after confirming dates and times all week, after weakening her resolve to say no every single time with that bloody smile. . . he was willing to let her go. There was something dodgy about that.

"I don't trust you."

"Now, what have I ever done to make you feel like that?"

So there they were. Staring each other down, a few metres apart, him with his broomstick and she with her calculating expression, trying to figure out where he was leading with this. She really did have half a mind to accept his suspiciously gracious offer and back out, but there was a bigger part of her that knew that walking away now would be stupid. Even if there was no conceivable way he liked her back, she could entertain the fantasy that he did by playing along. Many girls couldn't honestly say they had done that with their crushes.

"The second I feel like I'm in danger, I'm out," she told him, stepping forward.

Yet another smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Fair enough." Somehow, the smug git had known she was going to give in.

Once Nova was right next to him, he wasn't teasing anymore and was all business, however. There were commands he delivered effortlessly, almost as if he was an instructor himself or even the captain of his team -  but after the first time Nova screamed in panic as she gently rose into the air, he was back to laughing and making her emotions go wild.

"This isn't a laughing matter," she cried, feeling the urge to stamp her foot for emphasis.

He tried to smother his amusement with his hand, but his chuckles slipped through anyway. Coughing, he lowered it to reveal that half-smile of his again; he dug his teeth into his lower lip to suppress his laughter. "Sorry about that. It's just - you were only five feet in the air."

"That's taller than my best friend! Excuse me if I think that's high enough."

If anything, her defence only set him off again.

And the sound of that laughter, that genuine one that erupted out of his chest and was thrown into the air surrounding them, broke her steely resolve. There was something so fucking contagious about the damn thing and soon enough, she was seeing the amusement in the situation too. At last, they managed to get themselves under control and he moved over to her.

"The thing is," he told her as he adjusted her grip on the wood, "is that you went too fast and too steep for your liking. You need to push off the ground with less force."

"Last time I did that, I stayed on the bloody ground," she muttered, trying not to focus on the warmth of his hands as they encased her own.

A breathless laugh fell off his tongue and he glanced up at her. He was closer than she had anticipated, almost as close as he had been that day in the library - except this time, it was arguably worse because there wasn't an attractive pair of glasses framing his eyes, shielding them behind glass, so they were now free to gaze at her and pierce her soul. It was as if he'd forgotten what he was about to say, had glimpsed at her at just the right angle and light to mistake her for something else, something more than the average Hufflepuff, something that almost took his breath away. If she had been a braver sort of girl, she might've kissed him right there and then because of that expression.

His voice was soft when he said, "You - you've got something on your cheek."

"What?" Nova murmured, pulling one of her hands free to brush at the curve of her right cheek.

Albus shook his head. "No, no, that's the wrong. . ." He trailed off and then lifted his own hand, a finger carefully tracing a soft line along the top of her right cheek. He brought it back to him. "I think it was an eyelash or something."

"Right."

Suddenly, it felt too hot for her. The air outside was frigid, cold enough to capture the breath she exhaled as a frozen cloud, yet she felt like she was almost burning under the intensity of the look on his face. For a second, it didn't even feel like she was living in a fantasy where he fancied her back. It felt real.

Hastily clearing her throat, she jerked back and looked down. "So, you said I need to push off with less force?"

"Yeah - er, yeah." He took a step back and ran a hand through his hair, making it even messier. "Also, don't lean back as much on the broom. That's why you're practically shooting up in a vertical line. You want to be at an incline so stay close to the broom."

"Got it."

They spent at least another hour out at the pitch. Albus was a good teacher, slowly pulling her out of her comfort zone with little goals that seemed so attainable. Just go that little bit faster, he'd say, or see if you can reach the first row of the stands. When she was ready to call it a day, she felt confident that she had actually accomplished something, though she was more than happy to sit back and watch him show her what it really meant to fly.

It really was as if he was at one with the broomstick, as if it was a mere extension of him, the way that his wand was. He was born to be in the sky, to dive and twist in the air, to make sharp turns and let out loud whoops when he pulled off a particularly daring move. When he landed in front of her, Nova could see that he was aware of he was too.

There was a breathless smile on his face as his hair fell into his eyes (oh God, how she wanted to run her fucking fingers through it) and he said, "Maybe you'll be able to do that one day."

She rolled her eyes and laughed lightly. "I doubt it. You need to be a natural to be that good."

His cheeks flushed pink at the compliment and he nudged her. "Why, thanks. It seems that I've gotten yet another stamp of approval from Nova Hale."

"We should alert the Daily Prophet," she joked as they began to walk back to the castle. "You must be the only person to have more than one."

To Nova, it felt like the walk back was over much too quickly. One second, they were on the pitch, joking about how hard she was to win over; the next, they were encased in the warmth of the Entrance Hall, talking about Christmas and how they spent it with their families. He walked her down to the lower levels - probably since her common room happened to lay in his path, she told herself - broomstick slung over his shoulder as he waxed poetic about his Nana Molly's cooking.

"Her treacle tart is actually divine," he promised. "I'm telling you now, Nova, you haven't lived until you've had it."

"It's a sad existence," she agreed with a nod.

He glanced sideways at her in amusement. "It really is. You should just pop around to her house one day and she'd be happy to feed you. Honestly, if she could, she'd be glad to end world hunger singlehandedly."

Even though he had been joking about the offer to go around, her heart rose, imagining a world where she could do just that.

"She probably lives a million miles away from me so I can't, unfortunately. It pains me to say it, but it's true."

"Why, where do you live?" he asked as they reached the mouth of the hallway that led to her destination. They stopped at the point it branched off from the main one and he looked down at her curiously. "I know it's not Godric's Hollow because that's where I'm from. It's not outside of Ottery St. Catchpole, is it?"

"Oh, no, that's in Devon, isn't it? I live in the official wizarding district in Yorkshire."

He whistled. "Definitely not close to Nana Molly, then. Funny, I never would've placed you in Yorkshire. Your accent isn't as harsh."

"Everyone says that! Dad used to say it proves I'm not his daughter and that he's ashamed of me because of it. But I don't know how he ever expected me to buy that since I'm the spitting image of him. And he's the reason behind my name."

"Your name?"

"Nova," she said, testing the two syllables on her tongue. "It means new. He likes to write stories so he decided to be poetic and insisted on naming me that because I was the start of a new chapter in my parents' lives."

Albus raised his eyebrows. "That is poetic. Mum insisted on my first name. Unfortunately. Albus sounds like the name of a wanker."

She laughed. "No, it doesn't!"

"Don't lie to me, Nova."

His face was completely serious save for the amused glint in his eyes and it just made her let out another. . . well, giggle was the only word for it as ghastly as it sounded. "It's an alright name. And I've never heard you complain about it before so clearly, you're fine with it."

The Slytherin made a face, pushing himself off the wall he was leaning on. "Not really. Seriously, just call me Al to make our lives easier. But anyways, I should be heading off. I have to help out Elijah with something."

Disappointment sank her heart like a stone in water, even though she had known the moment was coming. Nevertheless, she smiled at him, not noticing how he seemed completely floored by it for half a second, and began to move towards her common room.

"You know, as awful as some of it was," she told him over her shoulder, "the lesson wasn't all too bad."

Really, it hadn't been. Being around Al and panicking about whether she was going to fall to her death (seven feet was a crazy height, no one could even fucking deny it) had taken her mind off the little things that had been worrying away at her for the past week. Like the fact that Cass had always arrived late to breakfast and skipped out on a few meals in favour of studying or snogging. Or the disappointment on Reagan's face when her Charms test had been handed back with a red A emblazoned in the corner. Or even that Nala seemed to always be off doing something or the other and they often didn't know where the fuck she was.

When she had been with Al, all of that had just melted away.

"So you're still up for next time?" he asked.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world."





DISCLAIMER: The line "food, glorious food!" is from Oliver! the musical which I do not own in any shape or form.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm a bit hesitant on this chapter since a good chunk of it was written during my writers block (aka man's worst enemy) and the rest of it during my breakthrough after said writers block. But here we are with the chapter anyway. Let me know any of your thoughts - for example, are Al's feelings obvious now or are they obvious? ;)

xo

edit 05.06.16: ci added


Chapter 6: SIX: Disintegrate
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lovely ci by easterlies@tda!

SIX: DISINTEGRATE


Night had well and truly crept upon Hogwarts. Outside the castle, the world was pitch black, an artist's brilliant masterpiece: a castle loomed out of the darkness, faint smudges of candlelight in some of its windows, the Forbidden Forest an eerie presence in the background that threatened to engulf it, and the moon a gleaming sphere above. Few things moved inside and when the clocks struck half one, Nova Hale became one of them.

One second, she was sound asleep and the next, she was awake. For a few sluggish minutes, there was nothing but the sound of her loud breaths, the quiet snores of her friends and the sheets that stuck to her body like a second skin. Muttering murderously under her breath, she kicked out her legs from under them, relishing in the cool air. She was wide awake and it was half one.

Fuck.

"I'm going to sleep," she whispered firmly and flopped onto her left to do so. Her eyes screwed shut and she conjured thoughts of Albus Potter, purely to entice her into a lovely dream, but it was no use. Even thoughts of the most good looking guy in Hogwarts couldn't keep her frustration away.

Feeling more irritable than ever, she rolled onto her back once more and stared dejectedly at the ceiling of Dormitory 2.6A. Though it was hidden by the darkness, she knew the little patterns that decorated the domed surface above, indistinguishable swirls that soon transformed into little leaves and flowers once one looked hard enough. As soon as she began to picture them in her head, however, she was suddenly struck by an idea that, while it involved breaking a couple of school rules, was far more preferable than simply lying here, feeling all hot and bothered.

Chamomile tea worked a treat for situations like this, she'd heard, and it was very convenient that she happened to be two minutes away from the kitchens, a place where she was sure the house elves had their hands on just about every edible thing in Britain.

Mind made up, she swung her legs out of bed, entertaining the idea of waking Reagan up to have a cuppa before she decided that she didn't particularly fancy being brutally murdered over chamomile tea. Perhaps an English Breakfast would be worth it, but chamomile?

Sighing heavily, Nova groped in the dark for a pair of comfortable socks - her fingers finally curled around two knee high ones made of soft wool, probably mismatched, but she highly doubted that house elves gave a damn about whether she was the pinnacle of fashion - and stumbled towards the door when she stopped short.

How strange, she thought dimly, Nala's not in her bed.

The bed in question was in a similar state to Nova's with tangled sheets and a pillow almost off the bed, as if Nala had simply gotten fed up in the middle of the night and had rolled out of it. Nova considered that she'd simply popped to the bathroom, but a simple strain of her ears informed her that it was well and truly empty. Frowning in puzzlement, she wondered where the bloody hell the girl could be at this time before it occurred to her that Nala was probably at the kitchens too. After all, she had been the one to first introduce chamomile tea to the group.

At least they'd both have some company now. After all, drinking tea really was a social sport - even Nova Hale, Ice Queen and antisocial extraordinaire, knew that.

When she tapped open the door that led out of the Hufflepuff common room with her wand, she expected to be greeted by an empty hallway cloaked in shadows, silence its only occupant. Perhaps the flicker of a torch a little further down the corridor, the shadows it would cast dancing on the walls. Maybe even the silver figure of the Fat Friar soundlessly gliding along.

What she didn’t expect was a shadow to instantly spin around before it rushed into the passageway, forced the door shut again and promptly pressed one hand over her mouth in the matter of a few seconds.

Panic flooded her system, waking her up instantly, but before she could react – bite their fucking hand, Hale, bite the goddamn hand – there was a muttered “Shh…” and she suddenly realised that she recognised that hand, recognised that fresh scent, recognised the shadowy planes of the figure’s face. At the same time that this dawned on her, it seemed to register to him too because he lowered his hand, though he didn’t take a step back.

“Nova,” Albus Potter murmured, sounding relieved. “Thank Merlin, it’s you.”

She stared at him. “What on earth are you doing?”

Immediately, he hissed out a shush again, a finger lifting to his mouth to assist his point. Eyes wide, he pointed to the door and whispered frantically, “Filch, it’s Filch.”

Perhaps it was because he was so agitated, but Nova actually found herself holding her breath. They didn’t dare to move, straining their ears for the sound of the dreaded caretaker – she could’ve sworn she could hear him sneer about how he knew someone was down here, but she couldn’t be sure – until after five long minutes, the boy before her seemed to sag in relief and flashed her a quick smile.

“Sorry about that."

Finally, she felt like she could breathe again. Still, she kept her voice low as she asked, “Wh-what are you even doing down here? It’s two in the morning.”

Raising an eyebrow, Albus said, “I could ask you the same thing, Nova. Where were you off to at two in the morning? The castle can be a dangerous place at night.” There was a teasing lilt to his voice yet he looked at her with utmost seriousness, leaning closer in his efforts to catch an answer.

All of a sudden, the feeling was back. She forgot how to breathe, caught off-guard by the rich smell that clung to his collar, the searing warmth of his body, the little rush of air that ghosted over her hair when he spoke. She flushed scarlet and dropped her eyes, not able to meet his gaze, not when she was this close to him. Thank fucking Merlin they were in the dark.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she responded, her tone more cutting than she had intended in her effort to seem in control. “I tried for ages, but nothing was working so I was going to have one of the house elves make me some chamomile tea and – shit!” She cut herself off with a gasp.

“Why, what is it?” he asked worriedly, glancing over his shoulder as if he half-expected Filch to have suddenly sprung up behind them.

“Nala wasn’t in her bed tonight – it’s why I decided to get up and get some tea because I figured she’d be in the kitchen so she could keep me company - but I completely forgot about that when you came in. Oh, Filch knows how to get into the kitchens, doesn’t he? Oh fuck, I’ve messed up!” she cried hurriedly before letting loose a stream of curses that would’ve made Dahlia as proud as a mother.

When she was done, Albus looked like he was a second away from bursting into laughter. “Well, that was colourful,” he commented. Cocking his head to the side, he added, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you speak like that before.”

She flushed, fidgeting under his curious gaze. “Well, I do have Dahlia Darzi as a close friend.”

He simply hummed in response, peering at her in interest. She met his eyes again, painfully aware of the fact that he still hadn’t moved and that she was getting an intense urge to loop her arms around his neck and kiss him, just so she could do something about all of her nerves.

“If it’s any consolation,” he said as she silently reminded herself that abstinence was the key to success, “Soyinka’s not in the kitchens.”

His words jolted her out of her thoughts. Staring at him in bafflement, she said, “Well, where else would she be, then? Swimming in the Black Lake?”

“Maybe. If she’s doing it with a guy,” he replied, undaunted by her sarcastic response. He cracked a smile at her dumbfounded expression. “She must be with someone if she’s not in her bed at this time or in the kitchens. I don’t know about you, but Soyinka doesn’t particularly strike me as the type to take midnight strolls by herself.”

“Well, yeah, but Nala never meets guys in the middle of the night.”

“Plenty of people do it at some point. Case in point: Scorpius is off with Rose at the moment – which I really didn't need to know when he told me – and I’m pretty sure Holden McCullough is losing his virginity to Valerie Smith tonight. Xanthe mentioned that he was off with some girl, Maria DeMarco was planning to meet up with –”

“I get it,” she cut him off, not wanting to know any more personal details about people she barely gave a shit about. “I’m not even going to ask you how you know all that.”

He smirked. “It helps to have your ear to the ground. You never know what sort of information might turn up. But my point is that Soyinka is definitely meeting someone – if you’re not at the kitchens at this time of night and you’re out of bed, it's 100% likely you’re getting it on.”

Before she could consider otherwise, she blurted, “But we’re not.”

For a moment, he seemed to be thrown off-guard by this statement before a glint appeared in his eyes. It was an unfamiliar gleam, though it was still somewhat playful, and it stole her breath away yet again, gave her the sense that something about this encounter was different. Cocking his head to the side once more, he threw Nova an intense glance, seemingly emboldened by the late hour.

“Are you suggesting we should do something, Nova Hale?" he asked in a low murmur. "After all, neither of us is at the kitchens or in our dormitories.”

To her utter humiliation, she squeaked. Actually fucking squeaked. “I practically am.”

“Practically,” he agreed, slowly leaning in towards her, “but not literally.”

He was all she could see, all she was aware of. Every cell of her body was conscious of the mere inches that separated them, was humming with anticipation, tensed for his next move. She really didn’t know what the fuck to do about his sudden switch in behavior – part of her was begging her to bite the bullet and to kiss him, the other part panicked about whether she was even able to kiss someone properly.

When he was almost nose-to-nose with her, he stopped.

And then snickered.

Pulling back, he struggled to stifle his chuckles, biting hard into his lower lip. “I’m sorry, I just had to tease you. The look on your face –” He dissolved into further laughter. “Are you really that put off by it? You looked like I had hit you with a Beater’s bat or something. I just - Oh, Merlin.”

Disappointment tasted bitter on her tongue. Shrugging it off, she said with only the slightest hint of a bite: “Well, I’m glad I amuse you, then.”

Still grinning, he assured her, “Don’t worry, Nova. I’d never kiss someone without their permission. You’re safe from these hands.” He paused. “Unless you ever decide you don’t want to stop at the kitchens, of course.”

In response, she pushed him away from her.

Now that he was a few steps away, her mind was clearing and her heart was slowing down to its usual pace. She turned on her heel, moving deeper into Hufflepuff’s sanctuary, and heard Albus follow suit almost instantly. He fell into step beside her, looking inexplicably forlorn.

“Are you going to bed?”

She shrugged. “I really do need to go to sleep.”

“But are you even tired?” When she didn’t answer, he nudged her gently and suggested, “Why don’t you sit in the common room with me? We can just talk until you’re ready to knock out. This way, you don’t have to drink tea that tastes like piss to go to sleep.”

She laughed. “How would you know what piss tastes like?”

“James.”

Nova stopped beside the common room’s most beloved sofa – a lemon-coloured monstrosity which had been worn away over the years and was covered in the signatures of countless Hufflepuffs, a sofa so large that one simply sank into it like a cloud – and threw him a weird look.

“I don’t think I want to know the story behind that answer.”

“Wise choice.”

She couldn't help but laugh at that; just like how she couldn't help but accept his offer and settle down in the common room to while the night away with a companion until her eyelids grew tired and heavy. As she pulled a thick blanket over her bare legs, he dropped down into the seat next to her, looking oddly satisfied when he seemed to be engulfed by the sofa.

"I like this," he declared, shifting around to make himself comfortable. "It reminds me of the Burrow."

"That's because Hufflepuff is brilliant," she informed him confidently.

"If you insist."

"What, you don't think we're brilliant? Just because we don't have the greatest reputation doesn't mean that we're not as good as the other houses, you know."

"I think Hufflepuff's a great house," he replied. "I just happen to prefer Slytherin."

She eyed him shrewdly. "If you insist."

Albus grinned.

They spent the next hour or so immersed in conversation. Nova didn't know how she managed to keep it up - she wasn't known for being aloof for no reason, after all - but something about Albus comforted her, even as she felt butterflies erupt into existence in her stomach, and she could bounce off his comments with her own easily. Their interactions weren't stilted anymore with long, awkward pauses in which she fretted about how boring she seemed; she could talk to him about almost everything.

They spoke about home, about Hogwarts, about NEWTs and future plans. She told him about her scrapbook and how she really wanted to travel for a while - wander through time in colossal ruins, experience new cultures, try new foods, have the world as her oyster. He confessed that his ultimate goal was to play for England in the Quidditch World Cup "because then I know I've made it" and then mentioned an early memory of his parents teaching him to ride a broomstick.

Conversation didn't simply consist of deep, philosophical thoughts, either - on the contrary, most of the hour was stock full of ridiculous anecdotes and passionate debates about pointless matters. Things actually were pretty intense when the Jaffa Cake debate cropped up and they had to leave the matter on an "agree to disagree" note to avoid a lethal jinx being thrown.

And Nova fucking loved that.

Honest to God, she truly appreciated that she could speak to Albus for hours about pointless shit. She loved the warmth that blazed in her when he smiled or tugged on a strand of his hair in mild frustration if he couldn't word something properly - because it really wasn't a bad sensation, this feeling. Aside from that little incident back at the common room door, he didn't make her question everything she knew or cause her to panic about her worth. And after hearing some of the things her friends had confessed sadly when they had liked someone, Nala in particular, she understood that this was a pretty rare thing too. Just for that, she fell for him even more.

"So your dad's a writer, then?" he asked, looking at her out of the corner of his eyes. She could barely see the colour in the dim lighting, but could picture the vivid jade green in her mind, curious and intense and gorgeous. "Has he published anything?"

She shook her head with a small laugh. "No, it's just a hobby for him. Something for him to channel his ideas and emotions into, I guess."

"Oh, right. He's like Roxanne, then. Except Rox likes to write shit poetry and leave them in weird as fuck places to apparently inspire people."

He sounded so bloody fit when he swore.

(A voice that sounded distinctly like Reagan's murmured, "My ovaries have exploded," in the back of Nova's mind.)

"Are you implying that my dad's shit at creative writing, Potter? Because that gives me permission to attack you, you know."

Somewhere down the line, they had shifted positions and were now leaning in towards each other, the blanket covering their legs, though both kept their limbs to themselves. The sofa cradled their heads, surrounded them in a tacky yellow halo as they faced each other, close enough to touch.

"Only a Hufflepuff would warn someone that they're about to attack them," he commented in wry amusement.

She sniffed. "We Hufflepuffs believe in a fair game."

"We Slytherins believe in winning the game."

Nova opened her mouth to respond with a witty retort, but her brain seemed to think better of it and she yawned into his face instead. Classy as she was, of course. Feeling more than a little embarrassed, she pulled back and struggled to rise from the sofa. Her bed was calling again.

"I should really be going to sleep. I'm absolutely knackered," she told him, finally managing to push herself up. The blanket fell away from her, exposing her legs to the icy air. Goosebumps erupted along them, a landscape of little olive mountain ranges, weathering the cold climate of Scotland. When there wasn't a fire in the hearth, shorts really weren't the best choice to wear to bed.

Albus' eyes swept over her, lingering on them for half a beat. "Hm? Oh, right. . . It's - er, it's past three, isn't it?"

Nodding, she stretched her arms up high above her head, working out the kinks in her body. "Thanks for staying up with me, Al. It was really good of you to do that since you weren't obligated to keep me company or anything."

Flashing her his characteristic easy smile, he slid off the sofa and stood beside her, more than a few inches taller. "Who said chivalry was dead, eh? I'd even drop you off to your dormitory too, but I don't fancy triggering whatever repulsion system you have and injuring my body. They say a Seeker needs to stay alive to win the matches."

"You're in luck, then. We don't have one."

He blinked. "You what? You don't - you don't have a repulsion system? Guys can just - walk into the girls' dormitories?"

"Well, yeah," she said, adding, "We're kinda big on trust in Hufflepuff. Besides, I think Helga Hufflepuff was smart enough to realise that if guys wanted to get it on with girls, we could just easily slip into their dormitories for it. So guys are allowed to go into the girls' area. We do have a system for any unwanted visitors, though so nothing bad happens."

He was still staring at her in shock. "Damn it," he muttered under his breath. "Should've been a fucking Hufflepuff."

She laughed.

With that revelation still playing in his mind, Albus walked with her to Dormitory 2.6A. Each step down the corridor caused the calm from their conversation to melt away and a little worry to trickle into her thoughts. She couldn't help but replay the incident from earlier on - how he had leant in so close to her, how she had wanted it more than anything in the world and had feared wanting it that badly - and remembered that it was pretty common for people their age to casually do so much more than that.

Did Albus want more?

Unbidden, the memory of Cass' suggestive "but if Albus Potter walked into this dormitory right now - naked - and said that he was ready to shag you all night long, would you not do it?" and an image that was far from appropriate flashed into her mind.

Oh for the love of Merlin, what the fuck was wrong with her? She couldn't just picture someone naked, especially when they were right next to her!

"This is my stop," she said, dragging herself out of her thoughts when a familiar round door emerged out of the shadows.

Albus glanced at the parchment pinned to the wood, one that announced this door lead to DORMITORY 2.6A, its occupants DAHLIA DARZI, REAGAN DAVIES, CASSIDY GREENGRASS, ALICE LONGBOTTOM and NALA SOYINKA. Underneath the list was her own name printed in Alice's neat handwriting.

"Why is yours in-"

"Because I'm technically not part of this dormitory," she explained with a sheepish shrug. She pointed to a door a little further down the corridor. "Technically, I'm supposed to be in there. But ever since second year, I've moved in with my friends."

"But - how?"

"I move my bed and furniture on the first night."

For a long second, he looked at her uncertainly, as if unsure whether she was playing him for a fool. Then, he released a laugh, shaking his head. "You just - you just move your bed every year? That's just - God, Nova Hale, you really are so much more than you seem."

Her cheeks flooded with blood. The way he spoke that last sentence had been so - so intimate. And since she was Nova Hale, she really didn't know how to deal with that, so she responded the only way she knew how to: by squeaking goodbye and getting the fuck out of there.






"Listen to me, you little wanker, you'd better get your own fucking toast platter or I swear to every god in this universe that I'll bash your head in with this one!"

Once again, Dahlia's dulcet tone and delicate turn of phrase rang loud and clear in the Great Hall. Her voice prompted Nova to look up from her own breakfast. . . to see the girl in a vicious argument with a second year from Gryffindor. How the fuck she landed herself in these situations was beyond anyone.

"Gryffindor's ran out of it and-"

"Well, Gryffindors need to learn to slow down and eat less, don't they?" she snapped.

"You're the one trying to eat five slices!"

"EXCUSE ME, I AM A GROWING WOMAN. I AM FULLY ENTITLED TO HAVE FIFTY PIECES OF BLOODY TOAST IF I FUCKING WANT TO."

Alice shook her head mournfully. "Why. What did I do to deserve a best friend that argues with second years over toast? The poor boy hasn't even hit puberty yet."

"I JUST WANT ONE SLICE OF TOAST," the brave soul in question screamed.

Never let it be said that Gryffindors weren't valiant.

Dahlia nearly throttled him right there and then. Slamming her beloved platter of toast down onto the table, she hissed, "Alright, you little shit, I have had it up to here with you-"

"Why can't you give me one slice of toast?"

"BECAUSE I AM CURRENTLY BLEEDING THE LINING OF MY FUCKING UTERUS OUT BETWEEN MY FUCKING LEGS AND I WANT TO EAT THE ENTIRETY OF THE FUCKING GREAT HALL TO BE HONEST, SO IF YOU DON'T FUCKING SHUT UP, I'LL FUCKING EAT YOU ALONG WITH IT."

Needless to say, he scarpered after that.

Satisfied, she turned back to face the rest of the group and angrily tore off a strip of toast with her teeth, tossing back a goblet full of water to chase it down. She slammed it down onto the table. As always, she was the poster child for classiness and grace.

Noticing Nova's disgust, she pointed at her warningly. "Don't you dare."

She smiled sweetly. "You look lovely today, Dahlia."

"Fuck off."

"Dahlia!" came Alice's reproach.

"Alice!" she mimicked with a roll of her eyes.

"Nova!"

The last cry came from neither of them but belonged to Aria Hale who plopped down opposite her sister with an incredulous gasp. She looked particularly bedraggled today, dark hair unbrushed and eyes rimmed in heavy, smudged kohl as per the fashion for the lower years. Her haughty features were bright with delight.

"Guess what I just heard about you and a certain Potter?" her sister exclaimed.

Instantly, Nova's mind jumped to the other night when she had spent over an hour alone with Al Potter in the common room. Though all of it had been completely innocent, if it ever became common knowledge, Nova knew she would find she was apparently no longer a virgin and had had a hot romp on the signed sofa by the time it came back to her.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said automatically.

"Really?" Her eyebrows waggled mischeviously. "So you don't know about all these flying lessons that you're apparently getting off Albus Potter? Apparently, you're riding his broomstick."

"Aria, you're thirteen! You should not be making innuendos like that!"

"What innuendo?" she smirked, a glint in her shrewd eyes. "I just said you're riding his broomstick."

"I will genuinely murder you. I mean it."

"Sure, whatever." She waved a dismissive hand and then leant forward. A gleeful expression lit up her features; coupled with her unkempt appearance, she resembled a little child on the Naughty List, out to catch Father Christmas in action and demand a reward. "The point is that you're with Albus Potter -"

"- I'm really not - "

"- which means that you can ask him for favours -"

"- I really can't -"

"- which means that you can convince him to get James Potter to give me flying lessons," she concluded triumphantly.

Nova stared at her. "James Potter is in seventh year," she said flatly.

"I'm aware of that."

"You're in third. That's four years."

"Age is but a number," she declared passionately.

"You're thirteen. He's nearly eighteen. He's not going near you with a fifty foot pole or else I'm going to jam that pole up his arse and through his bun."

Dahlia snorted in approval.

Expressionless, Aria stared down at her, arms crossed to convey her displeasure. Braver men and women would've backed down at such a look, but there was a reason that Nova Hale was known as the Ice Queen. As usual, she simply was not fazed in the face of such blatant rage and raised a mere eyebrow instead. It had to be said that she looked far more impressive than her younger sister.

"You're no fun," she said glumly, retreating in defeat.

"I'm your sister. I'm not supposed to be."

"Wanker."

"Aria!"

Breakfast continued on smoothly with no further disturbances. Keeping in mind that Dahlia was suffering through cramps, the girls left her alone for the most part, engaging in light and lazy chatter about what their day held in store for them. For the first time in weeks, everything was the way it had been a year ago - Reagan was making sarcastic remarks that had them cracking up and Alice's rebuttals deserved quite the admiration, Cassidy happily munched on a bowl of cereal and Nala spearheaded the teases about Alice's love for Damien Nott. It was as if the past few weeks hadn't happened at all, a thought that lifted Nova's heart to immeasurable heights.

If only such perfectly mundane moments could last forever.







When Psycho Sophie had called Cass fat, the backlash had been violently explosive. Barely a heartbeat had passed before the girls of Dormitory 2.6A had kicked into action - Dahlia and Cassidy springing forward to attack, Alice out to draw blood but not to kill, while Nova and Reagan handled the situation with Cheating Callum. Of course, Cass had struck many a nerve over the past couple of years and was not new to the consequences of this - it was something that simply happened. Not only was she available, she was gorgeous which most guys appreciated and the girls that fancied them didn't; she was a threat and many treated her that way.

Fat had been something new, though. No, Cass couldn't pass for a size four even if her life depended on it, but she usually owned it, controlled it, turned what would be an insult into something to envy. Unfortunately, demons could come forth from even the most unexpected of places and affect even the most unbreakable girls. Unbeknownst to Nova, sixth year was the period in Cassidy Greengrass' life where hers arrived to haunt her, a time when she needed her friends more than anything else in the world. Somewhere in the back of Nova's mind, she had picked up on this to some extent and had adjusted to accommodate it, but it simply was not enough.

She didn't realise that until they found Nala.

The afternoon was bleeding into the evening, dusk creeping into the castle along with a chill, and Nova exited Dormitory 2.6A with an Ancient Runes textbook in hand, Cassidy hot on her heels.

"So you're flirting with him in both History of Magic and Ancient Runes now?" she mused, bumping her hip playfully into Nova's. "I see how it is now."

Rolling her eyes, she answered, "Oh yes, we have such steamy conversation over Elder Futhark. Of course, I don't flirt with him in class! I don't flirt with him at all, to be honest."

She simply hummed in response, somehow managing to lace the noise with all of the disbelief in the world.

Nova nodded in conviction. From the bottom of her heart, she knew that her conversations were nothing more than what they seemed, as lovely as they were. She may have loved to replay some of them in her head, to create fantasies of Albus dramatically declaring his love for her, but they were still conversations. She was still Nova Hale, someone who was shockingly bad at flirting, and he was still untouchable. They were incongruous, impossible, illogical.

"We're just friends," she said, even as the label fit awkwardly into her mouth.

Cass raised her eyebrows. "You weren't in the dormitory the other night, you know. Neither was Nala."

At the suggestion in her words, Nova's nonchalant manner instantly dissipated into nothing. Pink from head to toe, she coughed awkwardly, trying extremely hard not to picture just what was being implied and searching desperately for a neutral expression to wear. In the end, she settled for an incredibly flimsy attempt at feigning obliviousness.

"Um, wh-when was this?"

"Oh, you know when this was. And I might've thought that you were simply at the kitchens and not off with a certain someone - if it hadn't been for your reaction just then. Honestly, for the supposed Ice Queen, you really are too cute whenever Albus is mentioned."

Nova dropped the stupid expression, her face giving way to another wave of embarrassment. Muttering, she said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

Cass merely laughed and linked arms with her, pulling her close. "I'm sure you don't. Anyways, about the other night - I saw you muttering to Reagan the day after you snuck out too, you know. Highly suspicious behaviour if you ask me."

Fuck.

"Funnily enough, I didn't ask you."

They were nearing the Slytherin common room now, passing through the corridors with the ease of people who had been here often. Up until recently, Nova hadn't had much reason to walk past these dungeons unless it was to attend a party hosted by those who dwelled here; Cass, on the other hand, visited quite regularly whether it was to see her cousins or any other people who had somehow caught her interest. Their footsteps were quiet and their voices quieter still which was probably why their ears managed to catch the faint sound of a familiar giggle.

The teasing glint in Cass' eyes turned downright wicked. Clutching Nova's arm tightly, she whispered in the utmost excitement, "Is that Nala's laugh?"

She held her breath, her head slowly moving down into a nod of confirmation. An odd feeling came over her then, as if the two of them were little girls about to enter a highly restricted area and see something they were expressly forbidden to lay eyes on. Smiling in glee, they exchanged a significant look and began to creep along to the mouth of a passageway branching off from theirs.

There was nothing malicious about their actions - the two weren't exactly going to barge in on Nala and whoever she was with or gather information to blackmail her. They were simply intrigued in who exactly was her latest crush. . . Although, Nova had to admit that it wouldn't hurt to have some material to tease Nala with in the inevitable event that her crush on Albus was being taken the piss out of as a joke.

They leant around the corner, eyes straining to make sense of the shadows. She spotted two figures pressed against the wall in a tight embrace, the taller one bending down to press his mouth against the girl's. Nova had enough time to process the blonde curls that tumbled from his head when Cass let out a loud gasp.

"Fuck."

Instantly, Nala and Xanthe Greengrass sprang apart, head snapping to the end of the corridor that Nova and Cassidy stood at, frozen in their shock.

She repeated it again. "Fuck! You - you guys - oh, fuck. What the - what the hell is going on here?"

Horror graced Nala's dark features. Almost as if she was in a dream, she stepped forwards towards them, hands out in the universal sign of surrender. Her eyes shone placatingly, but there was no denying the guilt that lurked deep in their midst.

"I - I can explain," she said, reaching for Cass' arm.

She wrenched it away with a humourless laugh. "Oh really? You can - explain? Don't bother, I already know the story. I told you that Xanthe was bad news, I told you that he was only out for one thing, and you - you ignored me. Not only that but you've been lying to me - to all of us for weeks!"

"No, Cass, you don't understand-"

"You know what, you're right! I don't understand. I don't understand how anyone can be so. . . so stupid and selfish! Merlin, what the hell is going on in your brain?"

At the sight of the anger that flashed over Nala's face, Nova pressed a hand against Cass' back, as if to warn her to keep her tongue in check. Now was not the time or place for this - the discussion would have to continue in their dormitory where they were warm and at ease, away from the cold dungeons, away from Xanthe Greengrass' curious gaze as he slipped back into the shadows, somewhere where they could do this properly.

"Let's go back to the dormitory," she began, but the girls were having none of it.

"Stupid? Selfish?" Nala echoed, mouth flattening into a line. "How am I stupid and selfish? I'm not the one banning my best friend from dating someone! If anything, it's selfish that you're doing that."

"I'm trying to look out for you."

"I don't need looking out for!" she cried. "You have this twisted idea about Xanthe in your head - I mean, yeah, he has messed around with girls in the past, but people can change if they meet the right person. And me - I am the right person for him, I -"

"God, do you even hear yourself? Life isn't a fairytale and it doesn't work like that! You're living in this stupid fantasy-"

"Guys," Nova broke in desperately, "can you just stop shouting at each other and calm down, please? Is this really worth it?"

The two best friends stared at each other harshly. Then, Cass shook her head, looking less enraged and more betrayed. Eyes burning a hole in the floor by sheer force of will, she said,"You know what, if it had been any other guy in the world, I would have been fine with it. I would've been happy for you, but. . . Xanthe? I can't accept that."

"It's not for you to accept. None of this is your decision," Nala said, her voice shaking. "Damn it, Cassidy, why can't you just be happy for me? Not everyone can easily get a guy like you can and for once, I have managed to find someone that genuinely likes me, might even love me, and you're ruining it all. Can't you see how wrong that is?"

It seemed like Cass hadn't even heard her. She spoke quietly but firmly. "You know, these past few weeks have been awful for me. I've been going out of my mind every day, convincing myself that everything is okay, that I'm not - that I'm okay. I've been trying to fix everything that's wrong with me so I can finally be -" She cut off and began again, her voice stronger and completely unforgiving. "I have never needed you as much as I have needed you recently and you didn't even - you didn't even notice. Because of Xanthe. You were too busy hooking up with my cousin - who's probably also shagging half of Slytherin, by the way - to notice that your best friend is going out of her bloody mind! If it had been anyone but Xanthe, I wouldn't have cared about that, but that's obviously not the case. Clearly, you have no respect for me or yourself. Clearly, you don't give a damn about how I'm coping after Psycho Sophie said - after she called me. . .

"Just don't - don't speak to me, Nala. I don't want to look at you, don't want to talk to you, don't want anything to do with you. If Xanthe is so fucking great that you didn't notice anything was wrong, you can have him for company instead. Oh, and when he breaks your heart, don't say I didn't tell you so."

Nova could only stand there and watch her toss Nala a final disgusted look before she promptly stormed off, roughly brushing away the tears from her eyes. The other girl remained arrested in her shock, and then fled back down the corridor, a small sob tumbling out of her mouth. In the end, it was simply Nova who remained, watching the strength of Dormitory 2.6A crumble before her and damning the day she decided to take on Ancient Runes.






DEDICATION: To Paula, Ineke and Ysh for waiting so long for this chapter. You guys genuinely keep me going with all your gifs and just everything really.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: How long has it been? A month? A year? A DECADE? Sorry for the huge delay in this chapter, it happened for a couple of reasons: one) exams are the bane of my muse's existence and thoroughly killed any inclination to write, and two) writers block is a bitch, making me sit there like "wut r wurdz." I feel like I've been away from my fics for so long that I've actually forgotten how to write them.

So lots of stuff happened in this chapter. We had a Scene with some pretty heavy Novus in it and we had some drama with the girls. If anyone is wondering why there seems to be a heavier element coming in, the answer is simple: read my author's note in CH1. Even though Novus is a significant part of this fic, what's happening with the girls is actually the main point of everything, even if it might not seem like it (and if it doesn't, there's a reason for that!).

Anyways, some things to think about: do you think Cass is wrong about Xanthe? What do you think is going to happen in the next chapter between them? When will Nova and Al get it on? Are you so sure that Nova and Al are going to end up getting it on? Finally, what are your favourite lines and where do you think I need some improvement/ Let me know your thoughts in the review box below.

xo

30.05.16: ci added


Chapter 7: SEVEN: Secrets and Sins
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this beauty of a ci was made by page thirteen.@tda <3

SEVEN: Secrets and Sin


"You need to talk to Cass."

Life in Dormitory 2.6A had taken a turn for the worse. Once held together by their brutal honesty, undying loyalty and willingness to accept their friends as they were, flaws and all, the girls were now in a state foreign to them, lost and divided, cast into confusion. None of them knew quite how to approach the situation having never actually been in it before - sure, they had argued and sometimes those arguments had been explosive and bitter. But in the end, they were six girls united by their love for five people who didn't fit the mould made for them, strands of acceptance linking them throughout their days.

An elephant had taken up residence in their dormitory, right between the beds belonging to Cassidy and Nala respectively. When one was in the room, the other made it a point to leave despite the pleas of Nova, Alice and Reagan. Even Dahlia had been thrown off-kilter by their behaviour and had awkwardly requested that they sort it out where she once would've loudly demanded so. But the two former best friends refused to so they were subjected to tense silences instead.

Nova herself had tried to make them see reason. She had first attempted to convince Nala to do so, knowing that if the other girl approached Cass first, the Greengrass would take to it well. But that had proved to be a fruitless endeavour.

"No, Nova," Nala had said firmly as they had sat on a stony bench in the courtyard. "I know you're just looking out for us, but I did nothing wrong."

"You lied to - her," she had reminded, cutting off the us that had been on her tongue. There was no need to make the situation worse than it already was by pitting the entire dormitory against her. "And about her cousin too."

"I lied because I was scared that this would happen. That she wouldn't understand. I mean, as you said, he's her cousin for crying out loud, so how can she not know that he's not all bad?"

"Yeah, but he also has a reputation for playing with people's feelings-"

Nala had turned away in disgust. "None of you get it. I care about Xanthe and he cares about me. You're too blinded by all of the rumours to see that - which really is ridiculous considering the amount of bullshit that flies around about Cassidy."

"What's that supposed to mean?" she had asked, a steely note of warning in her voice.

"It means that some people are convinced that Cass is some sort of - sort of harlot or whatever, but we still know better. Because in the end of the day, all they are is rumours. Have any of you ever considered that it's the same for Xanthe?" When Nova hadn't said anything, Nala had continued, "I'm not going to lie, I miss her. She's my best friend. But I'm still not going to apologise for falling in love with someone and being attacked for it. It's up to her to fix this."

With those words playing in her mind, Nova had retreated into the castle, heading towards the library where she knew Cass dwelled. Honest to God, she could put herself in Nala's shoes and understand where she was coming from - at the end of the day, all she really had done was fall in love with someone.

But that someone happened to Xanthe Greengrass, notorious for the many notches on his bedposts and the trail of broken hearts he collected. And if Cassidy, his own cousin, could admit there was such a side to him, surely they had a duty as Nala's friends to make her see the truth?

Nevertheless, she had passed on Nala's message to Cass although she had softened it with her own words to appeal to her yet that proved just as useless.

"She's been sneaking around with Xanthe for weeks, maybe even months, because she knows that their so-called relationship is nothing more than a facade," she had replied harshly, her dark eyes volatile over her Arithmancy notes. "And maybe I would've been okay with that if she hadn't forgotten about the rest of us for that prick of a Slytherin.

"And him! He knows that my friends aren't players in his little games yet he chooses now of all times to ignore the rules and she is more than happy to accommodate. I'm not apologising for shit, Nova."

It seemed that the elephant in the room refused to budge and threatened to suffocate them all instead. All of the badgers who dwelled in the Hufflepuff basement had eventually noticed the strange behaviour of the girls. Where once they sat in the common room, happily shuffling a deck of Exploding Snaps, letting loose a hearty stream of swear words, attaching themselves to large gaggles of their peers - Cassidy, Alice and Nala would initiate the conversations, Dahlia demanded respect, Reagan and Nova lingered on the edges as they watched on in quiet amusement - they were all seen together less frequently now.

Nowadays, Cass made a nest in her bed and one at the library, flocking between the two throughout the day, while Nala often spent time in the arms of Xanthe. The remaining four oscillated between the two, differing on opinions of what to do and when to do it and how to do it.

One matter had been unanimously agreed upon, however: Xanthe Greengrass was a fucking prick.

Though the personal reasons of the others remained largely unknown to her, Nova couldn't help but harbour a deep mistrust against the seventh year. He had been the one to unravel one of the strongest bonds currently in the house of Hufflepuff, had been the one to slip away from Cass' wrath and abandon Nala to the worst of it, had lured the soft-hearted girl to him yet still managed to convince her that it was best to keep their relationship under wraps. If he was so in love with her, why was he afraid to declare it to the rest of the world?

Yes, the girls of Dormitory 2.6A were stranded in unfamiliar terrain with no map to guide them down the right path. They were doing the best they could to reconcile Nala and Cass despite their obstinance, and their efforts had caught the attention of the entirety of Hogwarts. For once, it wasn't simply Cassidy's name being whispered in other classrooms, but there was also Nova and Nala and Reagan and Alice and Dahlia. People had noticed when the last one's mood had turned even blacker than usual, when Nala and Cassidy hadn't been seen in each other's company for over a week, when Nova Hale's only escape from the problems filling up her mind seemed to be the company of Albus Potter.

Consequently, the day Scorpius Malfoy offered to be her partner in the Transfiguration practical, Nova wasn't all too surprised at his statement that soon had followed.

She turned to look at him in vague interest, a transparent attempt to delay her reply.
Scorpius was a rare specimen in Hogwarts' pool of boys; while he shared the natural good looks of his cousins, he chose to take after his father and a family renowned for their iconic feaures. Where Cass was all soft edges and curves, Scorpius was sharp with high cheekbones and a defined jaw, platinum blonde hair and sloping shoulders, a boy from the cover of Gladrag's Mag.

"I have talked to Cass," she finally said, fiddling with the wand in her hand. They were to change the colour of each other's hair this lesson, something Professor Reed promised was much harder than changing the shade of one's eyebrows. "She won't listen to me."

"You need to wear her down," Scorpius said. "She's a stubborn one, but she'll come around eventually."

"Don't you think I know that?" she snapped before she closed her eyes in frustration and let out a controlled sigh. There was no use in treating Scorpius so harshly, it wasn't his fault that her nerves were so frayed recently. "Look, how much do you know about what happened?"

Scorpius shrugged. "I'd say I know a fair amount."

Nova merely looked at him.

"I know about the argument," he said when she remained silent. "I know why it happened and who it involved. I know what was said."

Relief trickled into her veins, a feeling she had missed sorely over the past week. Had Scorpius claimed not to know what laid at the heart of the mess, she would've prevented the conversation from going any further on this topic, not interested in betraying the confidence of her friends. Hearing the implication in his words, however, was a sweeter sound than any silence, for she was fucking tired of discussing the same old things with the same old friends, of travelling in endless circles. Perhaps Scorpius would provide some fresh insight on the situation, show her the way out of this.

"What - what do you think about all this?" she asked in a low murmur, careful to keep the desperation out of her voice. "I mean, Nala did hurt Cass, but it was a bit of an overreaction on her part-"

"To be honest with you, you probably won't like what I have to hear," he cut across her not rudely.

Her face set in stone once again. "And what is that?"

Scorpius tilted his head to look at her, weighing up the options in his head. Even a fool could realise that he was calculating the risks of speaking his mind, considering whether or not he would end up in the Hospital Wing by the end of their conversation, before he shrugged once more and confessed, "I don't give a damn about Nala Soyinka. She means nothing to me and I've never interacted with her. What I do know is that she's creating a rift between my own family and she needs to bloody well stop."

Anger rose up in Nova. Hissing, she said, "She's not the one who created the rift. If you want someone to blame, look at Xanthe. This has his fingerprints all over it."

"You're right, it does. But Soyinka needs to realise that the way she's affecting Cass is not limited to a few hurt feelings. If that was the case, I'd leave your business to you since it's really not my place to intervene." The intensity in his eyes coloured them charcoal grey when he paused. "Cassidy's not eating."

It was strange how three words could cause the entire world to slow to a stop.

It was as if everything around them had ceased to exist, trapped in the seconds before Scorpius Malfoy had let loose those words from his tongue, and Nova's anger faded along with everything else. Fear overwhelmed her system, confirming the suspicions she had harboured for a little time now - and for a brief second, she hated him for doing that.

Because now there was no turning back, no more hiding under her covers and throwing herself into her fantasies about Albus Potter. None of that mattered because Cassidy's not eating and to think otherwise would be beyond selfish on her part and Cassidy's not eating and they needed to do something and Cassidy's not eating.

She said nothing.

Scorpius took this as a prompt to continue, his voice dropping as he leant in closer. "I've seen it happening from my table, Nova. In the beginning of fifth year, her appetite dropped, yes, but she was still healthy so I didn't think much of it - but this year, it's worse and I can't have that. Now, maybe your friends have also noticed but from what I've observed, you're the only one to have actually picked up on it, so you're the one who needs to help her in all the ways that I can't."

For the first time since her first year, her voice sounded thin when speaking to someone not in her immediate circle, nothing more a weak whisper. "I don't know how I'm supposed to do that."

"You do. Or you will," he said firmly. Leaning back, he added after a moment's pause, "You know, I never took much notice in you before this year, Nova, but from what I've seen, it's a shame I didn't. Al was right about you."

The sound of his best friend's name sent a pleasant spark through her yet it was dulled by the echoes of Scorpius murmuring Cassidy's not eating. Firmly shaking her head, she put all thoughts of the jade-eyed Slytherin out of her mind since now was not the time to wonder what on earth the boy before her meant by his words.

Instead, she picked up her wand and pointed at Cass's cousin. "Crinus muto," she murmured, but his hair remained as pale as snow.







"Can we not just bash their heads together and be fucking done with it?"

Dahlia's exasperated question placed her firmly on the receiving end of three unimpressed scowls courtesy of Nova, Reagan and Alice. The seventeenth hour of the day was dawning and they were on their way to grab some food for Cass after having discussed her loss of appetite at great length as well as her issues with Nala while the girl in question hid away in the library. Excuses about studying be damned, they couldn't just allow her to starve herself.

Nova eyed the handle emerging from the pear she had just tickled and wondered whether she could rip it off to smack Dahlia's head with it.

"What a brilliant idea, Dahlia," Reagan said pleasantly to her. "I don't know why on earth we didn't think of that."

In response, Dahlia shoved her, sending her tumbling into Nova. Unfortunately for the two, the door to the kitchens had just swung open so they crashed over the threshold in a painful tangle of limbs.

"I am actually going to murder you, Darzi," Nova growled, pulling herself out from underneath her best friend and crawling onto all fours. "God knows why the Hat thought you should be in Hufflepuff, you're clearly as fucking insufferable as some of the Gryffs."

Daintily, Alice stepped over their bodies and held her hand out to help them up. "As the daughter of the Head of Gryffindor, I resent that."

Once they were back on their feet, albeit bruised and their dignity a little worse for wear, Alice set to work on speaking to one of the many house elves who had swarmed around them, eager to help. Meanwhile, her best friend turned to the other two with the face of a woman on a mission, stretching her arms high above her head and working out the kinks in her neck.

"So, what are we going to take to her anyway? Veggie pizza?"

Nova shook her head, remembering the night of the detention when Cass had declined to eat her slice. "No, she won't like that. We need light food, something healthy."

"But veggie pizza's her favourite. Though I don't see why since the Asian-style pizza is clearly superior, even if it's not even spicy."

Reagan sent her a furtive look. "What're you on about? The Asian-style pizza always sets my throat on fire," she said and Nova nodded in agreement.

"You're weak," she smirked.

"It's not our fault," protested Nova, running a hand through her hair as she pondered what food Cass might like. "You're half-Indian, half-Arab."

"Actually, I'm 1/4 Arab and 3/4 Indian. And you're weak."

"Weakness aside," broke in Reagan, "we need to decide what we're sneaking into the library. And no, we can't get pizza. How do you even sneak a bloody pizza into the library?"

"Yves Lewis does it all the time," Dahlia argued.

"Yves Lewis isn't the one that's not eating. We can't get pizza because she won't eat it so forget about it. We need to get fruit."

Dahlia made a face to which Nova lightly smacked her on the arm before suggesting, "How about blueberries?"

"Ew, who the fuck wants blueberries?"

"Er, blueberries are fucking divine, actually."

"Blueberries look like shit."

"Yeah, well, so do you," Nova retorted. "We're getting blueberries and that's that since I love them and, more importantly, so does Cass. Remember we need to pretend that the snacks we're bringing are mostly for us and that we're just offering them to her, but really they have to be stuff she'd eat."

"Since when the fuck would I bring blueberries?"

If looks could kill, Nova would have been carted off to Azkaban.

In the end, after several bitter struggles - Nova had to wrestle the blueberries away from Dahlia before she squashed them due to her deep hatred for them, Alice accidentally broke several bowls and someone decided it was high time that the floor of the kitchen was covered in melted dark chocolate - they were ushered out of the room by house elves glad to see the back of them. Their bags were bulging and their tongues were sharp as they pinned the blame on one another, but they were in somewhat giddy moods until the topic of Nala Soyinka somehow emerged again.

"I don't understand why she'd be with Xanthe Greengrass," confessed Reagan as she tugged Nova toward the library. "I mean, he's Xanthe fucking Greengrass."

Nova shrugged. Personally, she had never seen the true allure to the Slytherin Quidditch Captain, either - sure, he was extremely attractive and a smooth talker, but he was also someone who happened to have a reputation which preceded him, one that was far from glowing. If one's personal mission was to have a little reckless fun for a night, then he was the perfect man to be with. . . but the sort of relationship Nala was after?

Not so much.

"It's Nala," was all she said. "Liking guys is sort of her thing."

Predictably, a snort sounded from the general direction of Dahlia Darzi. "I don't see why. Guys are too dumb to be worth the effort."

"You can't just write off half the world's population like that," said Alice in mild amusement, adjusting the strap of her bag self-consciously. She had managed to cram a huge container of frozen yoghurt in between her Charms textbook and the articles she'd picked up for extra reading in her Defence Against the Dark Arts class. "That's awfully misandrist of you."

"But is it misandry when I hate most of the world, male or female or otherwise?"

"Always a charmer, aren't you?" answered Nova. When Dahlia's answering smile was as venomous as a viper's, she continued, "But no, I don't blame her for liking people, it's only natural. Not all guys are dumb, either."

"Oh yeah, like who?"

"Like Al. He's had intelligent conversation with me before - and not only once but a fair few times."

"That's because Albus Potter wants to get you into his bed."

Nova's cheeks exploded with colour at the statement, said as matter-of-fact as most declarations from Dahlia. The thought warmed her from head to toe, casting shadowy suggestions into her mind which she somehow managed to shrug off, clearing her throat as she did so. Though it would be pretty damn great to entertain such notions - she recalled a figure leaning in towards her beside the common room door, bright jade eyes staring at her as if she was some sort of goddess as snow cascaded around them on the Quidditch pitch, a muttered damn it, should've been a fucking Hufflepuff - she was no optimist. Her heart only opened so much to fantasies, dealing out ample realism where necessary to prevent heartbreak.

Albus Potter did not want her in his bed.

"Al and I are just friends," she said and her voice was steady, as if to suggest that to suggest otherwise would be absurd.

"Oh, come on. He's Albus Potter."

"You don't fucking say."

"What I think she means is," Reagan explained, rolling her eyes at Dahlia's indignant expression, "that the Potters aren't exactly known for expanding their social circle to just any old person. Sure, they socialise - everyone knows that James Potter with his beautiful man bun is pretty fond of getting to know people, if you know what I mean - but the list of who they actually stay with on a regular basis isn't a long one. And this year, you've suddenly been added to it."

She opened her mouth to argue against that point before she paused to consider it. Not the matter of whether Albus Potter wanted to entice her into his bed - that was bloody ridiculous - but whether she could be considered to be a part of the Slytherin Seeker's social circle. Did a few conversations now and then really account to that much?

Maybe she was better at this flirting business than she believed she was.

"You're just proving my point," she told Reagan.

She simply raised an eyebrow, the action transforming her from someone who looked twelve years old to a girl pushing fourteen. "Au contraire, Hale. You don't think it's a little strange how Albus Potter, someone with no real reason to interact with Hufflepuff's most notorious introvert aka the girl who created the Resting Bitch Face, would suddenly want to become friends with you? Most of the times that he's taken this much interest in a girl has resulted in a girlfriend of some sort."

Of course, Nova was aware of that. She might not have been considered the leading expert on crushes, but she was well aware of the fact that one tended to research thoroughly about one's crush once it had been determined one did, in fact, have said crush. It had been almost too easy to discover the basics about Albus Potter. Mostly because she had already been aware of all the information on some level.

When it came to girls, Albus' experiences paled in comparison to his brother's; while James Potter was almost as notorious as Xanthe Greengrass (excepting the fact that the Slytherin liked to toy around with feelings while James preferred Cass' approach of honesty being the best policy), his younger brother had a grand total of two girlfriends in the past.

Devon Montague had been his first girlfriend back in forth year, a Slytherin two years older than them, and the other relationship had been a brief fling with Holly Cassoway, a Gryffindor who shared some of their classes. Both, Nova had been disappointed to notice, were pretty striking. Neither had been conventionally pretty - Devon had looked like she was made of rock, all rough edges and sharp lines with a pixie cut that stood out from the crowd whereas Holly had a soft, maternal look to her - but they were oddly breathtaking girls.

Meanwhile, Nova simply looked like an emotionless statue.

"But there were some times that it didn't end up like that - like with Maria DeMarco for example," she insisted as they reached the library. She pushed the door open, instantly lowering her voice as they entered. "And I genuinely believe that this is one of those times."
There was silence.

And then, Dahlia said, "For someone so smart, you really can be a fucking idiot."

But it didn't matter. The matter was dropped in favour of hunting down Cassidy and convincing her to eat a bite of something; Nova even caught Dahlia fervently promising herself under her breath to personally shove some down her throat if she had to (which probably would do more harm than good, if she thought about it). Much to Alice's chagrin, the Greengrass was in the Herbology section, right in the middle of two towering bookcases full of tomes with bits of dirt still trapped between their pages.

"Hello," Hufflepuff's sweetheart still said cheerily, dropping into the seat opposite her.

Cass looked up, pushing the strand of hair in her eyes back. In the past week, it seemed that she had stopped putting any effort into her appearance other than the basic requirements - her hair was swept back into a messy pile on her head, her skin a little pasty and her eyes were perpetually red with tiredness. Briefly, Nova felt a small spark of jealousy at how gorgeous she managed to look even without makeup.

"Hey," she said with a small smile. "What're you guys doing here?"

Nova extracted a sheaf of notes from History of Magic, saying, "We have another project to do." In truth, there was no new assignment, but she felt a little white lie would do no harm here.

"And I've decided to finally get a move on and revise," said Reagan.

"I'm bored as fuck, but I thought that my day couldn't get any fucking worse so I came along."

"Because studying with me in the library is the perfect remedy for that," Cass joked. When she smiled, the curve of her mouth was a little tremulous but genuine. "Ah well, I have plenty of room here for you so long as you don't turn the table into a pigsty."

Near to an hour passed as the friends revised in the library, though not much studying actually occurred. Nova noticed that Reagan honestly did try to make an effort with her Potions revision, flicking through half a sizeable stack of flashcards about the different ingredients in various concoctions, until she gave into the almost relaxed atmosphere. Underneath the veneer of their easy laughs, however, there was a current of tension as everyone tried to convince Cassidy to eat.

Nova had been the first, something that had been decided on without discussion since she had been the one to bring the issue to light. About five minutes into their so-called revision, she had extracted the packet of blueberries from her bag and had begun to nibble on them, feigning nonchalance all the way. Out of the corner of her eyes, she'd noticed Cassidy stir, glance at the blueberries and then away before she'd repeated the routine thrice more.

"You like blueberries, don't you, Cass?" she had said after a while.

"Hmm? Oh, they're alright, I suppose."

Dahlia had scrunched up her nose. "Ew. Healthy food."

Nova's foot had jammed into her leg with a sharp movement. Above the table, however, she had been all smiles. "Do you want some? As per usual, the house elves thought I needed enough blueberries to survive the winter so there's more than enough to go around."

Her head had been shaking from side to side before three words were even out. "No, no, I'm alright. I just ate."

And honest to God, Nova's heart had skipped a sudden beat at those words, spasming in her chest.

What had unsettled her so badly was not that Cassidy had been lying through her teeth - it was that she had sounded completely normal with every syllable that left her mouth. If it hadn't been for the lack of effort in her appearance, she would've seemed exactly as she did every other day. . . which begged the question of how long this had been going on for. What if both Nova and Scorpius had only noticed something after several long months? What if they were now too late to make a difference? What if, what if, what if?

For half a second, Nova's smile had dropped, leaving behind a blank mask before she'd forced it back on again. "Oh, come on, Cass. You can't just leave me to eat my own weight in them by myself. Besides, blueberries are great for your health, so it's not like we'll actually be pigging out or anything."

"I don't know, Nova, I don't think I'm hungry."

Even Cass hadn't sound convinced by her own words that time. By the time the minute was over, she'd reached out and had taken a handful to munch on. Nova had noticed that she'd ate slowly, making each blueberry last as she'd flipped through her notes. Savouring the taste of her failure, though the girls had counted it as their first victory.

By the time the hour passed, however, only Reagan had managed to cajole her into eating another filling snack: pitta bread and hummous. Every now and again, the two had made a feast out of it in the dormitory - Alice disliked the taste of hummous, Nova had long since written it off as an option that simply did not have her name on it, and Dahlia dismissed it as "too fucking bland" - so Cass had quickly caved again.

When it came to Dahlia's dark chocolate and Alice's frozen yoghurt, however, she remained obstinate. Even the mere mention of their treats had her swallowing in distaste, Nova noticed, and her fingernails digging deep into her palms. When it became apparent that their lack of success was causing Alice to nearly be reduced to tears, Nova knew she herself needed to take a minute to breathe away from it all. She couldn't handle the rising tensions, not this time, not for this long.

Murmuring an excuse of finding a book for her project, she escaped to another set of bookshelves, slipping in between the dusty historians of the past. Their names were of little interest to her yet she pretended to study them all the same, her fingers tracing Peverell, Wrainbright, Emerus. Releasing a controlled breath of air, she pulled out the book she intended to take back to the table - when she realised she could see Psycho Sophie through the gap it left behind.

The younger Hufflepuff was with that fucking tosser, Cheating Callum, at a table for two, studying diligently for one of her classes. One arm was wrapped around his waist while the other flicked through her textbook and he mimicked the position, occasionally turning his head to murmur into her ear. Briefly, Nova wondered how the fuck they could be bothered to hold onto each other so tightly and for so long. It was so fucking unnecessary, as if they feared the other would run away if they didn't grab at each other at all costs.

Then again, Cheating Callum had clearly earned his name.

Maybe it wasn't so unnecessary, after all.

Gazing at the two of them through the little gap in the bookcase filled Nova with an anger that could quell even the bravest of men. Perhaps it was irrational to think so but in her eyes, Cassidy's current state was all thanks to Psycho Sophie for failing to recognise that it took two to tango and that her boyfriend had been more than willing to cheat on her. It had been Psycho Sophie who had implied Cassidy was fat, Psycho Sophie's words that had been taken to heart. All of it was her fucking fault.

Not the first time in her life, Nova genuinely felt the urge to hex someone.

For the first time in her life, she was actually considering going through with it.

"Hey, Nova," a voice suddenly said and she jerked back from the gap in the bookcase, guilt imprinted on her face as if she had already cast the jinx, to face Albus Potter. Surprisingly, her body didn't tingle with anticipation at the mere sight of him as it usually did; only anger continued to hum in her nerves.

"Al," she said with a soft, strained smile. "Er, what are you doing here?"

Oddly enough, the question caused him to turn a little red. Coughing hastily, he indicated the mouth of the aisle they were in, saying, "Er, I was just - walking past to - to get to my mates. Yeah, to get to my mates. . . You know, like Scorpius, Elijah, Maria and Adam the P - and Adam."

"Oh, okay."

A silence fell between them that seemed to stretch for an eternity. Neither of them appeared to know how to break it or appeared to be inclined to walk away. They didn't even meet each other's eyes, Nova staring hard at his shoulder while he kept his trained on his shoes, hands pushed into his pockets like a bashful school boy.

"What were you looking at?" he finally said curiously, tilting his head to peer through the gap before she could protest. She abruptly realised how creepy she must've looked to him, spying on a couple on the other side of a bookcase. ". . . Psycho Sophie?"

Heat worked its way up the back of her neck. Clutching the book in her hands to her chest, she blurted, "I'm not a creep, I promise."

He raised an amused eyebrow. "Just casually interested in Psycho Sophie and Callum Gardener?"

Huffing, Nova wondered how the hell she could explain her predicament (that she wanted to hex them for single-handedly shattering the confidence of the most self-assured girl she knew and one of her best friends at that) without betraying the trust of the one party involved whom she cared about.

"I'm not a creep," she repeated.

His eyes were glittering in amusement, a thousand flashes of green that still managed to take her breath away after all this time. "So you've said."

"I just - I wanted to hex them. For what they did."

Surprisingly, he didn't question her for an elaboration, instead opting to nod thoughtfully, as if tossing her words over in his head. When he spoke, the question he proposed was not one she anticipated: "How?"

Her mind was blank.

"Well, I can see how that would hurt them."

Laughing despite herself, she lightly smacked his arm. It was bare, the sleeves of his robes pushed up in the fashion of all of the guys in the upper years. In the back of her mind, she noted the feel of it under her arm - the smooth hair which grew so lightly, the riverland of his veins, the strength coiled up in each cell.

"It was more of a spur of the moment thing," she told him, a smile in her voice. "I don't usually plan these things."

He cocked his head to the side, sighing in mock disappointment. His hand absently brushed back a wayward strand of her hair from her shoulder. "Oh, Nova. Don't you know that planning such things is the key to getting away with them? You can't expect to pull this off without a great plan."

"I didn't even know I wanted to do it until two minutes ago."

"Well, how badly do you want to do it?" he asked, sounding eerily like they were on the Quidditch pitch with his Nimbus 2222. Like he was her commander, pushing her to edges she wasn't even aware existed, but also like he genuinely cared about the way she felt about doing that. "On a scale of one to ten, I mean. One would be the lowest and ten is the highest, all that bullshit."

An answer was supplied without hesitation. "Ten."

"Well, if you feel so strongly about it and you don't know how you're going to do it. . . I'd say you should leave this one to the Slytherins. Luckily for you, you happen to know one of them," he said with a wink that sent waves of heating crashing through her bones.

Turning away from her to return to his friends, he sent a smirk over his shoulder: a wicked, wolfish half-smile that nearly unravelled her, a smile specially reserved for boys out to stray others from paths neatly carved out with the best of their intentions. It was a smile that was sinfully Slytherin.

Until the end of her days, Nova would come to remember exactly what she was doing when all hell would break loose at the Hufflepuff table the coming morning - she would remember the taste of butter as she slid her teeth into her toast, the dazzling light reflected off the surface of her goblet, and she would remember Cass' empty seat on the bench. When the next day would arrive, she would notice all of this the moment that Psycho Sophie would stop by the girls of Dormitory 2.6A and would deliberately snog her boyfriend, Cheating Callum, in a rather revolting display of ownership in the Great Hall.

And Nova would remember the speed at which Cheating Callum would tear away from her and would spit out the tiny jumping frog in his mouth with a high shriek. She would remember the look of horror on Psycho Sophie's face as more and more of them tumbled out of her mouth, turning into stone within moments of entering the air - and how they would be more than real when they were in the back of her throat.

But at the current moment in time, Nova had no idea what treat was in store for her the next day, so she simply committed the memory of Albus' smile to her mind and then returned to help save her friend.




DEDICATION: beka_wotter who has reviewed most, if not all, of the chapters of Dormitory 2.6A. Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your days to let me know what you think and thank you for reading so far!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here's another chapter for ya. I actually finished it a couple of days after I uploaded CH6, but I wanted to wait for a bit to see if I didn't like any bits when I returned/to space it out and ended up caught up in life.

As always, let me know what you think in the box below. You may be interested to know that there's about three chapters left of this fic after this. There was initially only supposed to be six. That's right. Six.

Plums xo

(edit 09.10.16: ci added)


Chapter 8: EIGHT: Damsels of Dormitory 2.6A
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another great ci by ailhsa@tda!

IMPORTANT: Hello, my loves. So, CH8 is finally here and I just wanted to give you a heads-up about some stuff ahead just in case: there is an explicit discussion about negative self-image, racism and eating disorders ahead. If this triggers you in any way or form, please do not risk it.

Thank you.









EIGHT: Damsels of Dormitory 2.6A


"When one pauses to consider it, it is clear that there is one question that resonates throughout our entire universe and that love is the sole answer to it. This is why my dearest wish is to find the dashing young lad who holds the other half of my heart in his strong and capable hands, so that I may finally find peace.

"Love is the sweetest song there is, a gentle lullaby that rocks one to sleep on a stormy night. It is the kiss of a summer's day, the caress of the warm wind, the sun's embrace. To love is to hold the answer to the world in one's hand, to finally have a purpose. O, to finally have a purpose! If only my one true love would wander my way, a firm grip on his wand and - fucking hell, that's suggestive as fuck."

Sunday was usually a calm day.

Nova and the girls usually liked to take the opportunity to sleep in, not rousing from their beds until it was close to midday - even if breakfast was over by then, they lived near the kitchens so they were perfectly fine in that respect. Always, they spent the day in their laziest pieces of clothing. She more or less fell between the two extremes that were Dahlia Darzi and Cassidy Greengrass in this respect, favouring hugely oversized jumpers and no trousers unless she was stepping out of the dormitory (Cassidy's idea of lazy was usually some knitwear and jeans, all designer of course, while Dahlia wore band t-shirts and shorts with a stain or ten in very visible places). Sunday was a day for lounging and then doing homework or revision to keep her grades up.

This Sunday, however, was going to be much different.

Because this Sunday, they had a Plan. A Plan to solve the pretty little situation on their hands.

Naturally, the four girls aware of this Plan were somewhat nervous as they waited for it to unfold. To remedy this, Dahlia had snatched up the book on Nala's bedside table and was reading it out loud in a variety of stupid voices.

"This book is so dumb," she declared, flipping it over to peer at the cover. "Ugh. FiFi LaFolle. No wonder."

"It's a romance novel," Alice said with a roll of her eyes. She was still in her teddy bear onesie. "Why would you, out of all people, pick up a romance novel that Nala's reading?"

"Yeah, any mention of romance makes you breaks out in hives," Reagan agreed.

Dahlia promptly screeched like a vampire exposed to the sun, as if that was what breaking out in hives looked like. Then, assuming a normal expression, she said, "Yeah, because teenage notions of romance are fucking dumb. Like this book. I've seen love, okay? My parents are in love and just by watching them, I know that love is not 'the caress of the warm wind.' What a load of bullshit."

"It's called being poetic," Nova informed her distractedly, staring hard at the door over her scrapbook.

"It's called sounding like a wanker. This entire passage is fucking ridiculous. Like how is love the sole answer to everything? Does that mean I would've gotten Os in all of my OWLs if I had written 'love' as an answer to everything? And why the fuck would finding some guy finally give you purpose? You see, this is what I hate about dating. Everyone makes out like having a boyfriend or girlfriend is this life or death situation, like it defines you. But it really doesn't. There's this dumb as fuck mentality that your partner gives you a purpose when what should really be the case is that you have a purpose and your partner just - enhances it or just makes you even happier. It's so damn unhealthy otherwise."

Nova looked at her in pleasant surprise. Though the statement had been delivered as sweetly as everything that Dahlia spouted, she had actually made sense for once. Her views on love and romance were unconventional to say the least, but her words did hold some truth to them.

And the sort of behaviour she had pinned as unhealthy? Well, it summarised Nala perfectly.

"Well, well," Reagan murmured, impressed. "Who knew you felt so strongly about this, Dahlia? Have you been a secret romantic this entire time?"

In response, she flipped her the finger.

"I just can't handle bullshit like this book."

"You should be the one to write books then," Alice laughed. She rolled onto her back, sweeping her hands through the air as she spoke. "I can just about see it now: Dahlia Darzi takes the world by storm with her revolutionary romance novels. She has a soft soul and a sharp tongue."

"And a wand she used to murder her best friend."

A smile spread across her face, one that could melt even the iciest of hearts and convince angels to casually rip off their wings. "You love me."

"Love to murder you."

"What's all this talk about murder?" Cassidy asked breezily as she swept into the room.

It was a testament to how much she had let herself go recently that she was actually close to Nova on the scale of laziness on this day. Her unbrushed hair was secured into a messy bun by her wand and there was not even a hint of makeup on her lovely face. Her body swam in the hoodie and joggers she had dug out from the darkest crevices of her wardrobe while sweat glistened along her hairline, betraying that she had been out for yet another jog.

"Dahlia wants to murder Alice," Reagan explained.

Cass nodded understandingly. Pulling her hair out of the bun, she smiled. "Say no more. I don't know why I didn't guess it sooner. Right, I'm going to have a much needed shower before I knock out anyone else with the smell of my sweat. I swear down on Helga's honour, I rendered that one first year by the common room door unconscious."

Laughing at the joke, Nova kept her eyes trained on the other girl until she disappeared into the bathroom. She waited for the sound of the steady stream of shower water before she shot up, snatched Cassidy's wand from where she had tossed it onto the bed and dropped it into the top drawer of her bedside table. With a quick turn of her wrist, the wand was off limits to anyone who didn't have the key.

Which Nova promptly shoved into her bra.

Yes, she had worn one on Sunday just for the Plan.

"Phase One done," she said, a little unnecessarily since the others had seen it happen in front of their eyes. "Alright, now we just need to somehow get Nala to the dormitory before Cassidy finishes with her shower."

Dahlia, Reagan and Alice nodded to show they understood and all abandoned their activities in favour of moving towards Nova. Now was not the time to waste away the minutes by criticising Fifi LaFolle's perspective on romance, it was the time for action. The problem was that they had no clue where the fuck Nala was.

"This is a joke," Reagan sighed as they realised this, flopping back onto the bed. "I just wish there was, like, some map of Hogwarts that magically told us where everyone was whenever we wanted it to. Our lives would be 96% easier."

Dahlia snorted. "This coming from one of the most antisocial girls in our year."

"Pot calling the cauldron black."

Before they could launch into an argument, Nova quelled them with a look.

They then turned their efforts to a discussion on how to get Nala into the dormitory without raising her suspicions. Much to her chagrin, they had somehow managed to create a plan under the assumption that she would already be in the dormitory, thinking that she would've taken her sweet time to get ready since Cass would be out on a run. But here, they had erred.

Tired of running around in circles, Nova finally sighed, "Alice, can you just - please just check the common room for her? Bring her in saying that you need help with some homework or something."

Alice nodded thoughtfully and rose to shuffle out of the door. Still clad in her teddy bear onesie, she took the title of Hufflepuff's sweetheart to another level. Raising her hand in a salute, she left them with a half-joking, "Mission accepted, sir!"

And then it was just a matter of waiting.

Reagan said, "You know they're going to kill us, right?" into the anxious silence three minutes later.

"Yep."

"I haven't even written a will."

"Shame."

Dahlia shrugged. "It's not like you have anything to your name."

"Actually, I happen to have a little self-respect which is more than I can say for you."

"But did you ever really have the damn thing?"

Reagan merely responded with a dignified silence. After a heartbeat, Nova replied on her behalf with: "Oh, Dahlia. Do remember your lessons. Inhale and feel great, exhale and release the hate."

"Oh, damn the both of you to hell, you wankers."

With a laugh, Reagan held a hand to her heart, a crude attempt at innocence. "Us? Why, we're just two poor souls trying to make it big in this world. All we want is to find a dashing young lad so that we can finally find some peace in this tortured existence-" An impromptu pillow to the face cut her off.

Smiling despite the undercurrent of worry travelling through her nerves, Nova took the pillow and placed it in her lap, holding it against her stomach comfortingly. Then, catching the hungry look Dahlia cast at the other pillow on her bed, she slotted that one behind her back.

"We really should've thought this part through," she commented when the door showed no sign of opening.

Cassidy's shower would be over soon. It would take her an additional five minutes to complete her after-wash routine and then they would need to kickstart the rest of the plan whether or not Nala was here.

"I guess taking over the world is no longer in the books then," said Reagan.

"Taking over the world's overrated anyway," she said absently, still staring hard at the doorway, as if she meant to magic Alice and Nala into being through sheer force of will. "You have to interact with so many people and people tend to be irrelevant."

"Ah, the life of an introvert," said Dahlia in a tone which suggested she had uttered some philosophical world-changing words.

In the corner of her eye, Nova noticed Reagan suck in a breath as if she was about to add a comment and turned to catch it - but then the door was flung open and she was startled into a jump. Alice appeared in the gap it exposed, breathless. She smiled for the purpose of the dark-skinned Hufflepuff behind her, attempting to be the poster child of normal, but she must not have been very convincing because Nala suddenly eyed them all suspiciously.

"Is... something going on here?"

They exchanged a glance. And then...

"Expelliarmus!"


"Locomotor mortis!"

An instant later, Nala's wand flew out of her pocket and her legs snapped together. She screamed, arms flailing back as she came crashing down.

"FUCKING HELL!"

Nova turned to Reagan, crying, "What the - Reagan, you were supposed to cushion her fall!"

"I'm sorry, I panicked and forgot!"

"You forgot? How can you forget that?!"

Meanwhile, Nala was rolling around on the floor like a fish out of water. "Oh my days, what the hell is WRONG with you guys? Since when do you go around jinxing your friends?"

Alice wasted no time in kicking the door shut while the rest of them rushed forward, both trying to help their fallen comrade and apprehend her.

"Sorry about this, Nala, but we wouldn't be doing this unless it was completely necessary."

"You told me you needed help on your Divination homework! I even left my chocolate fondue for you! I was being a kind, loving and thoughtful friend and you floored me!"

Alice paused in the middle of attempting to straddle her in order to keep her still. "Technically, Dahlia floored you. I'm just an accomplice. An accessory."

Dahlia popped her head into Nala's view with a little wave. "Guilty as charged. But I have no regrets about it seeing as you need to fucking get over yourself and start making up with Cassidy."

Nala furiously wriggled out of her grasp. "Never! I refuse!"

"Good lord, she's dramatic," Reagan muttered.

Groaning in frustration, Nova unceremoniously pushed them all away and pulled Nala to her feet. Before the other girl could attempt to hop her way to the safety of the common room, however, Nova grabbed her wrist, hooked a handcuff around it and then slung the other end around the nearest bedpost in so quick a succession of movements that she threw herself off-guard.

Nala gaped at her. "How on... What even - are you guys taking drugs or something? Holy mother of Merlin, I am feeling so attacked right now. No, I feel violated-"

"Oh my God, Nala, shut up."

"First, you kidnap me-"

"- Actually, I just lied to get you here so you'd have your guard down-"

"Then, you practically knock me out-"

"- It was the Leg-Locking Jinx, what-"

"And now I'm being tied up. I am a hostage, this is a hostage situation and-"

"What the fuck is going on here?"

Everyone froze, their words dying in their throats. And then in unison, the five girls slowly turned to face Cassidy Greengrass, who stood stark naked but for the towel wrapped tightly around her body, and stared at them in complete shock.

There was no time to think.

"...Get her!" Nova exclaimed and, with a battle cry worthy of Leonidas I, Reagan obeyed her best friend's command, launching into a rugby tackle.

Cassidy screamed as she came crashing down. "Alright, what the fuck is wrong with you, you wild animal - I haven't even got my damn clothes on!"

"Sorry about this," she panted, clumsily pinning Cassidy's struggling wrist into a handcuff and then attaching the other half to the nearest bedpost. "Oops, you accidentally flashed me, let me just pull that back up and..."

"Oh, for the love of Merlin, get off me," she snapped, batting her away. Huffing in frustration, she glared at the rest of them. "Do any of you care to tell me why the fuck I'm in bloody handcuffs?"

Reagan slumped onto the ground next to her with an exhausted smirk. "It's not our fault you're so kinky."

Her eyes narrowed into slits. "These aren't the handcuffs I own, you idiot."

"But you admit you do have handcuffs?"

"I'll strangle you with them tonight if you don't answer me."

At this point, Nova knew it was her turn to assume control of the chaos that had erupted in their dormitory in the past few frenzied minutes. After all, she had been the one to construct this plan, knowing that they were well overdue a heart to heart with everyone. She was the one who had borrowed the Weasley Wizard Wheezes handcuff prototypes off Al during their last flying lesson (she had chosen not to ask him why he happened to own some) and had been the one to convince the others to go along with the idea.

Of course, she had pictured this to have gone considerably smoother.

Settling in the gap between the beds that Cassidy and Nala were attached to, she raised her chin and unapologetically said, "I told everyone to do this. Both you and Nala were refusing to stay in the same room unless it was time to sleep, even though you desperately need to talk about what happened - and properly too - so I realised that we had to make you. So here we are."

Cassidy and Nala stared at her.

And then the first scoffed. "I'm not talking to anyone."

Something in Nala seemed to resolve at those words. Turning away from their direction, she said in a shaky but determined voice, "Neither am I. For once, I'm going to put myself first."

Her words snapped Cassidy's already thin self-control. "What the hell does that mean? When has our friendship ever been a case of you constantly putting me first and me never doing the same for you?"

"I thought you weren't speaking to me," Nala hissed in an uncharacteristically vicious voice.

"I'm not!"

"Oh really? Because it sounds like you're speaking to me!"

"For the fucking love of God," Dahlia cried, interrupting them. Pressing her hands frustratedly to her face, she continued, "Are you two fucking five? You're nearly seventeen years old and you're using that fucking argument?"

Well, this was going swimmingly.

Nova sighed, casting an inspecting eye over the carnage of their game plan. So often they had sat cross-legged in a circle, usually surrounding a veritable feast of food, and had exchanged their darkest thoughts, their deepest desires, their greatest fears and insecurities. So many times had they bonded over their late night conversations, further strengthening their remarkably strong friendship in this way.

The scene before her eyes was a cheap mockery of that. Yes, they were loosely assembled in a circle, but right now, there was nothing but Nova's duvet on the floor where there once would've been food (it had fallen once the girls had violently jumped up to tackle Nala), and nothing holding two of them there but handcuffs that could only open on her own command. Nala and Cass were best friends and they were refusing to look at each other.

Now she knew exactly how Alice had felt the other day in the library.

To have two of her closest friends ripped apart by a fucking boy of all things terrified her. She had always assumed they were all above that because at the end of the day, they were the girls of Dormitory 2.6A and their friendship was invincible.

An irrational hatred for all things male erupted in her chest, then.

It felt like all boys did was ruin things without thinking. Josh Finch-Fletchley had done it back in first year when he had recoiled from the very loud and public reading of Nova's diary entries, a courtesy lovingly extended by her former friends and roommates. Sam Walker, a boy in their year and house, had also done the same when he had responded with a puzzled "Who?" upon Cassidy casually asking him what he thought about Reagan three years ago.

And Xanthe fucking Greengrass was doing it now.

"Don't you see what you're doing?" she cut into Nala and Cassidy's squabble. "Why can't you guys understand that your friendship is worth more than this? You're best friends and you're reducing that to nothing all over some stupid guy."

"He's my boyfriend," Nala said defensively, "and we love each other."

"Xanthe doesn't love anyone but himself," Cass sneered.

"He's your cousin, Cassidy. You know he's not what all of the rumours say about him."

She groaned in exasperation. Her free hand rose to pull at her hair in agitation. "Exactly. Xanthe is my cousin. I know him inside out and I know that he likes - no, no, he loves to play with people's feelings. I might love him because he's a brother to me, but I'm not foolish enough to think he's a good person. It's why I forbade him from going after any of my friends all the way back in second year."

"Well, that wasn't your decision to make."

"Yes, it was! And you - you're just - falling into his trap. I bet he's all the way in the Slytherin common room, laughing it up because he's pulled one over on you - and on me."

At last, Nala twisted back around to look at Cassidy properly, even though she was determinedly looking away, only this time her eyes glistened with tears and she seemed to be pleading. "How can you not understand this, Cass? How can any of you not understand this? I'm not like you guys! Some of you might aim to be members of the Wizengamot or want to travel the world or - or become the next Queen, I don't know - but I just want to find someone and settle down. I'd be more than happy to leave a job early to start a family with someone I love. And I genuinely believe that there's a chance, even if it's tiny, that Xanthe is that for me."

"We know you want that, Nala - it's okay to want a domestic life," Alice said, "but Xanthe isn't the person for this. Any guy that you have to abandon your best friend for is not worth having."

"But he didn't have me 'abandon' her. That was all Cassidy's decision! Look, my point is that I've always wanted to fall in love with someone and I know that it's not something some of you agree with-"

"If you're talking about me," Dahlia cut in, "you should know that my views are just my views. Obviously, I don't expect the rest of you to not see a point in relationships. Just because I don't feel that enthusiastic about it doesn't mean I'm forcing the rest of you to agree with me. Anything I do say about it is just a joke."

"I know that. I do, I really do. But it still stands that you guys think I'm stupid for believing in something like this so strongly. And the thing is - when you want it the way I do, it bloody well hurts to be the best friend of Cassidy Greengrass."

Most of the anger had seeped away from the girl in question. Turning to get a better look at Nala, she asked, "But why - how does that have anything to do with me? Or with Xanthe?"

"Because you're Cassidy Greengrass!" Nala cried, throwing her unbound hand into the air to emphasise her point. She curled it into a fist. "Every boy in this bloody castle knows your name. They know you and they want you and they'll do anything to get you. And you never want all of them properly, you just want to have a good time.

"Whereas I - I would be so good to anyone if I was given the chance. I have so much to give... But no one notices me. And most of the time, I can live with that because I don't want to be a bad friend - but it's still hard knowing that they won't ever care. Because at the end of the day, I'm not Cass Greengrass. I'm just another girl, unimportant and unnoticeable and - unworthy."

Immediately, there were outbursts of disagreement, but Nala only had ears for Cass'.

Sighing, she said with the utmost sincerity, "You're not - you're not any of those things, Nala. Look, the only reason - and I mean that this is the only reason - that any of those boys are interested in me is because they see me as easy. And yes, I suppose I can be classed as easy. My interactions with boys are completely selfish on both ends. Neither of us are ever interested in an actual relationship. We just want a snog or some sex. And the boys that come to me know that; they also know that you want much more. And that's the only reason they don't pay attention to you, Nala. It's not a slight on you, nothing to do with how you look or your personality - it's just because I'm easy."

A pregnant pause succeeded her speech. No one, including Nova, knew quite what to say. The word 'easy' seemed like a degrading insult, one that they should disagree with, but Cass owned it in the same way she had once owned any slight about her weight.

Nala had obviously followed the same train of thought because when she spoke, all she said was: "So you see why I'm with Xanthe, then. Because despite what you all think, he does want more than just sex. Maybe he's not in it for the long run, maybe he's not after marriage and that's okay because most guys aren't-" Abruptly, Nova recalled her first proper conversation with Al, months ago in History of Magic when he had mentioned that Scorpius Malfoy intended to eventually marry Rose Weasley. "-but he knows that he loves me and that he wants a relationship."

This time around, Cass' rebuttal was much softer. "I know that you genuinely believe that, but Xanthe isn't interested in relationships and never has been. It's why he's convinced you to keep whatever you have together a secret, love."

"Actually, I was the one who suggested that we should keep quiet about it so that no one could gossip about all of us. I know how much some of you hate being talked about, so I didn't want you to be associated with any relationship drama. Especially since everyone knows who Xanthe is."

It was amazing, Nova thought, how everything seemed to work out in Xanthe's favour, but was 'suggested' by Nala. In the lovestruck girl's eyes, it was for her benefit, but it also conveniently left him able to meet up with other girls if he so wished.

But even that thought seemed too dangerous, too accusatory to entertain. They couldn't just pin something on him without a hint of proof. And though they could suspect all they liked, they didn't have any tangible evidence that Xanthe was continuing his former pursuits whilst he was with Nala.

"Nala," Nova said hesitantly, "are you sure you're not... blinded by how much you like him to see the truth?"

She shook her head earnestly. "I'm not, I'm really not. You should see the way he's with me, guys. He's a good person, he honestly is. And he makes me feel so happy and so beautiful all of the time."

Looking at her face, seeing the genuine joy radiating from it, sank her heart like a stone.

Because she seemed so joyful just talking about being with him, so utterly at peace - it was as if the Nala they had always known had been a little incomplete all along until now, now that she was with someone she appeared to truly love. She had been in relationships before, quick and brief affairs, and though she had been happy, none of that compared to the light in her eyes in this moment.

It began to dawn on Nova that maybe, just maybe, the girls were wrong about Xanthe. A glance around the circle revealed that the rest of them were also slowly coming to this conclusion too, if their uncomfortable expressions suggested anything.

Nala continued speaking, encouraged by their lack of an argument. "He's actually really sweet. He gives me flowers out of the blue and writes to me if he hasn't been able to properly speak to me that day. And he compliments me all of the time. The first time I kissed him, I actually felt comfortable in my own skin. You know how I'm kinda self-conscious about it. But he chased all of those doubts away. When we kissed, he told me - he told me that I was pretty for a black girl and I knew then that I am noticeable. I am worthy." She beamed at them.

Nova's blossoming respect for Xanthe instantly erupted into nothing.

"I'm going to kill him," Cassidy finally whispered after a tense silence.

The smile dropped. "Wh-what?"

"I'm going to fucking kill him. Nova, let me out of these bloody handcuffs. Right now. I need to see my cousin."

Nala scrambled forward, alarmed. "Did you not just hear anything that I said? He - he's not a bad person. He's good to me, he-"

"Not bad? Not ba-"

They were all struggling to maintain control. As Cass broke off into angry, incoherent mutters, Dahlia lifted her clasped hands to her lips and crushed her fingers against each other.

"Listen, Nala... I know that you have self esteem issues about your skin, okay, and that - well, it's not a good thing, but it's understandable. And it's something we need to work on, but this isn't the way - this isn't... Look, when someone say that you're pretty for a black girl, you don't get into a relationship with them. You fucking punch them in the face."

"But - it was a compliment - he said I was pretty?"

"Nala, it was not a compliment," Nova said and the others voiced their agreement.

Dahlia leaned forward to stare her dead in the eyes. "Nala, listen to me. You and me? We both have colour in our skin - you're black and I'm Asian - but that should not be a limitation on our appearance. You can't be 'pretty for a black girl', you can only be pretty. There is no 'for a black girl' business. That shit is racist as fuck and it's fucking ignorant. Xanthe does not deserve so much as a fucking look for that comment. He deserves to buried in the goddamn ground."

She was frozen in her confusion. Lips parted, she breathed, "But I thought he was just making me feel good."

"That shit shouldn't make you feel good. Your skin colour should not factor into how good you look! It doesn't influence it at all. Xanthe wasn't complimenting you!"

Alice put a calming hand on her back, restraining the worst of her anger. Then, she said softly, "Nala, you deserve to be with a guy who looks at you like he's never seen anything more beautiful. Someone who treats you like he never thought he'd be lucky enough to have you fall in love with him. You deserve to be with someone who doesn't define beauty by skin colour or think that it has any effect on beauty.

"On Helga's honour, I promise you that you're genuinely one of the most beautiful people I've seen. I know you don't believe it and I know you're self-conscious about how dark you are, but if anything, all it does is make you even more beautiful. And the right guy will see that. The fact that you're black wouldn't even be worth a comment because it just makes you who you are.

"What Xanthe said shows that he's not someone you want to be in a relationship with, sweetheart, whether or not he honestly wants it. Because someone who respects you would never, never have complimented you like that. They would've told you that you're beautiful... not that you're 'pretty for a black girl'."

Nala's eyes swivelled around the group, drinking in their grim faces, and the reality of the situation finally hit her. Her entire face crumpled in one heartwrenching second, the euphoria of being in love crashing and burning in the dust. Stifling a cry, she lifted her palms to her eyes, as if to press the tears spilling over the edges back into her body.
Wordlessly, Nova twisted around to tap open their handcuffs, murmuring the password Al had shared with her ("James Sirius' manbun looks like a bloody bin bag") and then moved back to allow Cass to envelop their friend in a hug.

Nala pressed her face into Cass' shoulder. "I'm so stupid," she sobbed. "I can't believe I - ugh, I must be such a joke to him!"

"It's not your fault." She stroked her dark corkscrew curls. "None of it's your fault at all."

"Yes, it is. You told me to stay away from him and I didn't listen. I thought I knew him better and I just made an absolute fool of myself." She lifted her face up to wipe away her tears. "It's just that - he seemed so sincere about it. The way he'd treat me whenever no one was around was so... gentlemanly."

"He's a good liar. But that doesn't mean he's going to get away with this. My dear cousin has messed with the wrong group of friends."

"Yeah," Reagan chimed in with a small smile. "Haven't you seen what happens to our enemies? Sooner or later, they get their comeuppance. Like Psycho Sophie and the beautiful frogs she practically vomited into Cheating Callum's mouth."

Nala grimaced before she attempted a weak smile. She said to Cass, "I've been meaning to congratulate you on that. What spell did you use for it? I've never seen something like that before."

Cass looked at her strangely. "What do you mean? I wasn't there when it happened."

"Oh. I thought it was you seeing as how Psycho Sophie landed you all in detention after Slytherin's victory party."

Nova made no attempt to chip in, her cheeks growing warm. For reasons quite unknown to her, she had never confessed it was on her request that Psycho Sophie was the talk of the school, that the true masterminds behind it all had been Al and his friends. Perhaps it was because there was something oddly personal to his willingness to go out of his way to do such a thing or perhaps it was because a small part of her recalled how badly the shame of being humiliated in front of everyone could eat one up inside.

Or perhaps it was also because a much larger part of her hadn't given a damn about how embarrassed Psycho Sophie must've been. She had only felt a deep satisfaction.

So no, Nova had no inclination to admit to her crimes. Instead, she prepared herself to enter a much more serious discussion, the one she had truly been dreading all along.

"Speaking of the Slytherin victory party," she began in a much louder tone than she had intended in her anxiety. When her friends jerked in shock, she lowered her voice to a normal level and continued, "Xanthe isn't the only reason we tied the two of you up today. The other reason is about what Psycho Sophie said that day and the effect it's had on you, Cass."

As soon as she finished speaking, Nova noticed the colour drain out of the Greengrass' face - and then saw her paste on a perfectly neutral expression.

Suddenly, it struck her how perfect Cass was at acting and how natural she managed to be. Though it was Nova who had earned notoriety for her shockingly straight resting bitch face, she was not even in the same league as the other girl when it came to facades.

That said something.

"I'm sorry, I don't know what effect you're talking about, if I'm honest."

The resultant silence in the room was heavy with expectation. A sombre atmosphere permeated the air as everyone looked at her, taking care not to take on any interrogating demeanours - all except for Nala, of course, who simply seemed lost. No one wanted to take the plunge into the icy waters of the unknown, to be the one to topple the sextet over the edge of the cliff they currently tottered on.

Until Nova did.

"You're not eating, Cassidy," she said softly.

To her credit, she clung onto her act faithfully. With nothing more than a raised eyebrow, she asked, "What do you mean? I know I've missed a couple of meals here and there, but that's only because I'm revising."

"It's not a couple of meals here and there. We both know it's much more than that."

As the silent seconds dragged on, panic seemed to settle on Cassidy. Her voice slowly rising in pitch, she drew in on herself, demanding, "Look, I don't know what you think you're getting at here. All that's been going on is that I've realised I need to put more time into studying for our NEWTs. I mean, you can't get all Os from wishful thinking - you have to work for it and so sometimes I decide to postpone a meal. That doesn't mean I don't eat. I always eat at the kitchens afterwards."

Alice slid into the conversation and shook her head gently. "Sweetheart, I've spoken to the house elves. You haven't been to the kitchens anywhere nearly as regularly as that."

It was as if Nova was watching a repeat of Nala's realisation. She could see the emotions flit across Cassidy's face as she sprinted through them: anger, then fear, then defeat. When the last one engulfed her, her mask cracked into millions of shards and she hid her true face away in her hands.

"None of you understand," she whispered through her fingers at last. "It's not... I can't control it. It's not something I can help."

"So speak to us about it," Nova murmured, hand outstretched to touch her forearm. "Let us be the ones to help."

Tears arose, colouring her chocolate irises a dark mocha, and she trapped them with her eyelids. Her head moved in a small shake of her head. "You can't. You can't take away the voices of everyone in this stupid castle or the voices in my head, the ones that tell me I'm too fat. You can't drown them out. Believe me, I've tried."

In an uncharacteristically loving gesture, Nova grabbed her hand and squeezed it. "It's going to take some time. We know that. But we're your best friends, Cass, and we're willing to put in every damn second we need to. Until you realise that you're worth so much more than this, we're not going to rest, okay?"

"Of course, we won't," Reagan said.

"We're here for you, Cass."

"And if anyone ever tries to fucking insult you ever again, I will shove their wands up their arses so hard that their ancestors will feel it in their fucking graves."

A weak laugh tumbled out of her lips. "Can it be classed as an insult if it's true?"

"It's not true, Cassidy," Nova said sharply. "You're not fat. And even if you were, why on earth would that matter? You're Cass Greengrass. You're the most beautiful and most sought after girl in this entire school. Anyone that hides behind spiteful little insults like that is just fucking jealous."

"It's like what all of you said about my skin colour. None of these things are limitations on our appearances, they're just another part of us. The people who love us don't care about it."

"I care about it!" she cried, her spine snapping straight in her frustration. She snatched her hand away. "At first, I didn't because I felt the same way that you did - if guys still wanted to snog me, then clearly it wasn't a problem. How could it be a problem? But too many people have pointed it out for it to not hurt - Psycho Sophie, Nike Baddock, even my own fucking mother for Merlin's sake! And I can't ignore it anymore! I've tried so hard to move past it, to see myself as above all the comments, but it's not working. So I began to exercise more and I started to skip meals - but even that, I can't properly do. I'll go ages without eating and then I'll attack the kitchens like a goddamn pig and then thro-"

She faltered.

Nova reached for her hand again. "We're going to help you, Cass. Alright? One step at a time."

"How? How can you do it if I can't even help myself? Logically, I know that I'm overreacting, but when it comes down to it, I can't - logic doesn't matter in the end. I just-" Her voice thinned in exhaustion. Gazing frustratedly at her friend through blurred eyes, she concluded distressfully, "I just want to be skinny enough. Can't I - have that? That's all I'm asking for, Nova."

"I know that," she said, "but this isn't the way to do it."

"So what am I supposed to do? I just don't know anymore."

Dahlia cleared her throat. Much more serious than usual, she suggested, "Talk to Reed about it. He's the Head of Hufflepuff and he might defer you to a student counsellor or some shi- or something like that."

"And what the hell can a student counsellor tell me that you guys can't?"

"Actual medical advice?"

Judging from Cassidy's expression, it was clear to see that she highly doubted that. Rather than argue against the point, however, she settled for a reluctant nod. "I'll consider it."

Before anyone could object to the not-quite promise, Nova quickly threw out, "That's all we're asking for, Cass. We'll take this one step at a time at a pace you're comfortable in, yeah?"

She smiled tremulously. "With that attitude, you might as well be my counsellor. I don't - I really don't see how it will help. It's not like I'm crazy or anything. I just..."

"Need help," concluded Reagan softly when she trailed off. "That's all a student counsellor does, Cass: help. Talking to one doesn't mean you're crazy."

"That's not going to stop other people from treating me like I am."

"Fuck other people," she said firmly.

"I've tried that! It... you guys live in this castle too. You know how hard it can be when everyone's watching your every move, like they're just waiting for you to slip up. When people hear that I'm - like this - they'll eat it up. They'll love it."

"So we won't let it get out," Nala said with a small shrug, as if it was as simple as that. They all knew that it really wasn't, not in a place like Hogwarts where even the walls had eyes and ears. Hearing it put in such terms painted such a tantalisingly manageable picture, however, that they were all swayed by it. "The counsellor will have to keep it a secret because of confidentiality and none of us are planning to run our mouths anytime soon. Who else knows about it?"

"Scorpius Malfoy," answered Nova promptly. "Seeing as how you're his favourite cousin, I doubt he's going to spill either."

"So there you go. I hereby call the Girl Code into effect and declare that no one will tell people outside of this dormitory about what's happening without Cass' permission. If anyone does, the rest of us will rip off their head."

And then Nala banged the floor with a fist to mimic a judge passing a sentence.

Cassidy surveyed the group with a face full of raw emotion: disbelief, relief and a tiny bit of fear, but all of that was eclipsed by the sheer overwhelming love on her features. She bit her lip to stop the tears that still threatened to spill and laughed a broken laugh. All of the sadness and joy in the world was in that laugh and it hurt Nova's heart to hear it.

"I am so sorry for everything I did," she told Nala, voice shaking with emotion. "I shouldn't have overreacted like that at all. I knew why I did it - I did it because of all this. I was going through hell and I wanted you to leave me alone as well as notice that something was wrong. But you were never there and when I saw why. . ."

"You snapped."

"Yeah, I snapped. I just felt so betrayed that the reason you didn't notice what I was going through was because you were so wrapped up in - Xanthe. And you were lying about it too, sneaking off to meet him when you told us you were writing a letter to your family or going to the library. But regardless of all that, I still shouldn't have spoken to you the way that I did. I acted like a complete bitch and I'm sorry."

Nala shrugged and slung an arm around her waist. "Me too. I shouldn't have lied to you and I should've been here for you-"

"You couldn't have known."

"I would've accepted that excuse - if it wasn't for the fact that Nova realised what was going on. She's been spending so much time with Al yet she still noticed. But I lied to you, broke my promises about... about him and completely ignored my role as a best friend. So if anything, it's me who should be apologising."

Neither of the girls tried to argue their points after that, instead settling for small smiles.

In truth, both of them had hurt each other in horrible ways, completely unnecessary ways, but there was no use dwelling on that anymore. Now that they had the whole picture rather than the fragments of brush strokes they had blindly fixated on, there was nothing left but to acknowledge their part, accept the blame and to focus on moving on. In a matter of hours, they had gone from refusing to look at each other to planning a recovery together.

"Have I ever told you how much I love you guys?" Cassidy finally said, directing her words to all of them. "Because I never thought it was possible for one person to even be capable of what I feel for you guys."

Reagan smiled and repeated, "Fuck everyone else."

The rest of them echoed it, a firm confirmation that rose into a chant of loyalty - and then they were all throwing themselves forward, piling on top of each other in a tangle of limbs and hugs, some of them crying a little while others laughed. No one cared that they were probably going to end up with bruises, or that half of them weren't fond of contact, or that Cassidy still didn't have clothes on.

All that mattered was them.

Fuck everyone else.









AUTHOR'S NOTE: Whoa. So a lot happened in this chapter as you can see. This was the climax of the entire fic, what I was working towards the entire time. I've tried my best to portray the issues mentioned in this chapter both realistically and... responsibly (is that the word for it?) What I mean is that I don't want to demean anything here - e.g. the negative self-image both Nala and Cass have, the first with her skin colour and the second with her weight, and Cass' eating disorder - but I also wanted to keep the nitty grittiness of how teenagers would approach it, teenagers who aren't used to confronting these sort of problems.

If you have any problems/suggestions for improvements, I would be more than glad to hear them in a review.

(There are two more chapters after this one, the last one being sort of epilogue-y?)

xo


Chapter 9: NINE: Honeymoon Express
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ci by the lovely fawkes.@tda

NINE: HONEYMOON EXPRESS


Winter was well and truly underway in Scotland. White skies were constantly split open and showering the world below in snow; flakes would drift down peacefully or roar through mountains and valleys as wild flurries. It was a land without colour as far as the eye could see.

Except for Hogsmeade, of course.

As the six girls of Dormitory 2.6A stumbled their way through its winding streets - teeth chattering, fingers and toes numb despite their many layers, grumbling a thousand swear words under their breaths - they were surrounded by bursts of colour. Green and red had exploded throughout the tiny village and covered almost all visible surfaces. Jinglebells attached to doors regularly chimed every few seconds as students entered and exited; tiny fairies, who had been sweet-talked into looking pretty, flew around the air with silvery songs; and people could hardly walk a few feet without stepping under some hovering mistletoe.

Centre of pride was the colossal Christmas tree in the very heart of the village. Everyone was taking the usual pictures beside it, capturing its beauty onto film. It was a brilliance of literal fairy-lights (the local fairies adored Christmas), ornaments shaped like stars which gleamed, tinsel tastefully wrapped around each branch, and lots and lots of baubles. One of Nova's favourite Christmas traditions was to decorate one of the plain glass baubles in the box at the foot of the tree and to hang it up. Every year, all students in third year and up would add their own, each more inventive than the last.

This year, Nova had chosen to simply write the names of people who truly mattered to her: To Reagan, Cassidy, Nala, Alice, Dahlia, Aria, Lucia, Mum and Dad. Merry Christmas.

But at the current moment in time, she was cold and she was hungry and she just wanted to get out of the bloody snow.

"Is this café of yours located in Lebanon or something?" grumbled Dahlia as a snowflake fell in her left eye. "When are we going to get to the damn place?"

Usually, they would've made a quick escape to the Three Broomsticks for some Butterbeer, but Cass had heard that there was a new vegan/vegetarian café in one of the backstreets. So in their efforts to help her fight the bulimia she had recently been diagonosed with, they had agreed to check it out.

Nova focused on that when she nearly slipped onto her butt.

At long last, they entered their destination as nothing less than the epitome of grace - as soon as the café's sign was visible, all six girls were fighting for themselves and consequently tried to squeeze through the door at the same time. Reagan collapsed onto the rug first, barely scrambling out of the way before Nala dropped down in the exact same spot.

Breathing heavily, she unknotted the scarf at her throat. "I meant to do that."

"I'm sure you did," Nova said.

They all piled into a booth towards the back, spilling laughter and life into the mostly-empty café, leaving wet footprints in their wake (until Alice noticed it and promptly vanished them away. The perks of being of age.) There was a brief minute of struggle as they all fought to shed their many layers, somewhat resenting that the booths were technically only for four people. Or at least Nova did when Reagan accidentally elbowed her in the boob.

"Oops, sorry." Reagan flashed an apologetic grin. She turned back to shake her left arm free of her coat when Nala shouldered her face. "Fucking bitch."

"It was an accident!"

"Yeah, sure. A likely story."

"Both of you shut the fuck up or I'll accidentally throw a menu at your fucking face," Dahlia snapped, reaching forward to snatch one up. She made a show of opening it, declaring, "I'm fucking starving."

"Me too," agreed Nova.

Some of the menu sounded safe and standard - pasta, cous cous, soup promised to be out of this world - but the names of the other ones were completely unfamiliar. She inspected them all, deciding to branch out and try something new.

"I want chicken," Dahlia declared.

Cassidy sent her a strange look. "It's a vegetarian and vegan café?"

"Every place that serves food should have chicken. It's a crime against nature not to! Besides, I'm just thinking about my health here," shrugged Dahlia in a manner that suggested she really was not. "I'm all about that protein."

"Actually," Cass said brightly, "animal meat isn't the only source of protein. You see..." She proceeded to launch into a tirade about healthier alternatives, clearly warming up to the idea of a vegeterian diet.

As she poured over the menu, Nova kept an ear open to be polite, marvelling inside at Cass' enthusiasm. She had only had a handful of sessions with her personal student counsellor, a soft-spoken witch who was not affiliated with the school but who Reed had managed to get in anyway, but the effects could already be seen. Yes, it was undeniable that she had a long way to go, but she was determined to work to that far-away destination.

At the end of the day, that was all they could really hope for.

"So, it's really all a farce, I guess," concluded Cass, nodding knowingly. "We live in a world where all that matters is magic and money. And people will do anything to get their money."

Dahlia said, "Yeah but I want chicken."

Alice promptly kicked her in the shin.

"Just pick a goddamn item on the menu, you beast," Cass snapped, no true venom behind her words. She used her own menu to swat at the beast in question, her hair flying back as another weapon that hit Dahlia's eye. "Oops."

"This place could do with bigger booths," Nova frowned. On her left, her thigh pressed into Reagan's which really wasn't the most brilliant sensation in slightly damp clothing. "Is it illegal to charm them a little bigger if this is a public space?"

"Think so," Reagan said, shifting her leg against her.

Her frown deepened. Then: "Do you think they'll notice if we do it only a little? Just enough to breathe."

"Nova! It's illegal!"

"My, my," Cass said, resting her chin on a fist to send her an approving look, "Nova Hale wants to break the law? Listen, Nova, you might be the Ice Queen-"

"Don't call me that."

"-but the magical world recognises no such monarch. Don't turn rebellious on us now."

Noticing Nova's glower, Nala reached over to pat her on the shoulder, almost suffocating Reagan with her armpit. "There, there, Nova," she said over Reagan's indignant shriek. "It's not your fault you've been hanging out with Slytherins so much lately."

Nova rolled her eyes.

How was it that they managed to link so much of what she did to Al? If she mentioned the upcoming match between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, a coy suggestion about her flying lessons with Al somehow cropped up. During lunch hour, she was supposedly sending him "sultry come hither" glances (yes, those were Alice's exact words.) If she went to the girls' bathroom during class, she was supposedly meeting him for a quickie - despite the fact that he still remained in his seat!

"Who says it's related to Slytherins? I've been hanging out with Dahlia for five years and I still haven't turned into a demon."

"Debatable."

She sent Reagan a glance so sharp, it could cut throats. "Listen, you little-"

"CAN WE ORDER THE FUCKING FOOD, I AM STARVING HERE," Dahlia exploded, cutting across them. "I WANT TO EAT, DAMNIT."

"Well, have you chosen something other than chicken?" Cass demanded.

"Yes."

Clearly not expecting that answer, she blinked. "Oh."

Seeing as how the rest of their stomachs were growling too, they dropped all conversation about Slytherins, illegal activities and lack of space in favour of noting down their orders and drinks. As the daughter of a Maths teacher, Dahlia was the best with numbers and was relegated the task of working out the total cost and splitting it evenly between the six of them while they all scrabbled for their money.

"Nova, go order," barked Dahlia, shoving the parchment with their chosen meals on it.

Oh, shit. She had forgotten why she hated sitting at the end. Those who sat at the end became the personal slaves of the entire group and after their gruelling journey through the snow, she really wasn't in the mood to constantly fetch everything under the sun. Nevertheless, she heaved a sigh, grabbed the lot, and headed toward the counter.

The wizard behind it - a freckled, gangly young man with hair a fiery Scottish red - preferred not to look her in the eye while he took her order which suited her just fine. Needless to say, Nova was not the most social of people, so when he quietly informed her that it'd be best if she stayed there for the drinks and that the staff would bring the hot food over themselves, she merely nodded and continued to tap her fingers idly against the counter.

Tap, tap, tap.

She thought of the coming holidays and all it had in store for her. The first week would be dedicated to relaxation, lounging around in her nightie and pigging out on food. She would finally see her parents and little sister again. A deep yearn tugged on her heartstrings at the thought. Last she'd heard, Luce had grown even more, taking after her father while her older sisters were modelled after Mrs Hale in stature. She wondered how long it would take for the ten year old to surpass her.

She almost hear her smugly exclaim, "Nova! Nova! Why are you so short, Nova? How old are you again? Oh, Novaaa..."

With a sudden start, she realised someone was actually calling her name. Jerking in shock, she twisted around to the sight of a familiar pair of green eyes.

"Sorry," she said, cheeks spotting with embarrassment. "I was kinda off in a daydream so I didn't hear you."

Albus Potter lifted his right shoulder in a shrug. "No problem. Happens to the best of us."

He smiled and it stole her breath away, even after all this time. Returning it in kind, she took a brief moment to drink him in, committing the sight to memory. After all, he really did look gorgeous. Once again, he was dressed in all black - the colour suited him so fucking well, she thanked Merlin each day instead for his taste for it - and it brought even more attention to his eyes, a shade of green which burned with intensity and vibrance. His mouth was plump and pink, and his unruly hair sat underneath a beanie.

A split-second too late, she realised she was staring.

She dragged her eyes away with another blush.

"Er... I didn't know you were vegetarian," she spluttered, searching for something to say to distract him from her blindingly obvious red cheeks.

To his credit, he pretended not to notice her nerves. "Oh, I'm not. But Adam heard that this place does a mean milkshake."

Indicating behind him, he pivoted slightly to bring attention to the boys several feet away. A few of Al's friends lingered beside the door, namely the Adam in question, Elijah Burke and Scorpius Malfoy. When she looked over, they also pretended not to notice the red to her face and merely nodded in greeting. She returned the gesture.

"Oh, I ordered a milkshake too," she told Al, turning back to him. "The, er..."

"The what?" he prompted when she trailed off.

"The Daddy 'Dukes," she mumbled, mortified. What had seemed like a right laugh with her friends was quickly becoming her worst enemy. She just had to order the damn Honeydukes chocolate special, hadn't she?

His mouth twitched.

"It's a real milkshake!" she cried, smacking his arm.

"Oh, I'm sure." He laughed. Then, nodding to the newly returned cashier, he told him, "I'll have three Vanilla Villas and one Daddy 'Dukes, mate."

Nova wasn't sure whether she was blushing harder because Al Potter was talking to her or whether the worker was. Mildly amused, she watched as he clumsily placed down two of her drinks beside her to accept the gold Al passed him, avoiding his gaze even more fervently than he had avoided hers.

"Listen, Nova," Al said suddenly when the wizard set to work on all of the milkshakes. He turned to face her, looking her determinedly in the eyes. Not for the first time, she was acutely aware of how green they were. "I've been meaning to ask you something."

"Ask away," she said. Her heart began to pound against her ribcage frantically, the sound roaring in her ears as a thunderous drumbeat, so loud she was sure he could hear it. It was as if it could sense the approach of the one thing she refused to actually hope for.

"Well, you see there's this play that's going to be performed near Diagon Alley over the holiday," he said, his hand creeping up to tug on his hair nervously. Then, he blinked and recovered himself, flashing her his customary easy half-smile and leaned in towards her with such confidence, she was half-convinced he hadn't faltered in the first place. "It's meant to be great and - I was thinking that we could watch it together. You've always wanted to see one, haven't you?"

Her mind exploded.

For months now, she had watched Albus Potter from afar - and, later, from the comfortable distance of friendship - through the rose-tinted sunglasses of a hefty crush. In all that time, he had never failed to fill her with blazing warmth, to entice a laugh or ten out of her, to send blood rushing up to her face at the slightest hint of his smile. She had entertained whimsical daydreams of Al suddenly noticing her and deciding that his heart was hers in a wonderful, spontaneous moment, much like she had if she was being honest.

She wanted him so badly.

"I can't," she whispered.

He blinked and his smile faded. "Oh. Okay."

Panic rose within her as she hurried to explain herself. She scrambled for a hold on him, her hands curling around his wrist to keep him there beside her.

"No, listen, it's nothing to do with you! Look, I know that sounds so unbelievably cliché, but it's honestly not. It's not even that I don't like you because I do - and I think you know that I do." She smiled at him to show that she wasn't mad, that she knew he wouldn't have asked her out without being completely certain she felt the same and that she was okay with that. "Honestly, if you'd asked me just a few weeks ago or - or in a few months, I would've said yes, but I can't date you at this moment. I - my friends are going through such a bad time recently."

A burst of laughter filled the café; Al smirked a little, though not unkindly.

"Okay, maybe it doesn't sound like it, but they are," she said hastily. "So much has happened and they need me to be there. I'm the only - well, I'm not the only one who can be there, but-"

"Shh, it's okay," he interrupted, his finger lifting to press gently against her mouth.

Nova froze, eyes wide. Though it could not be denied that they had certainly gotten closer over the past school term - close enough for Al to ask her out, anyway - he had never done this. In a matter of seconds, he could cup her face with his hand and kiss her. And she wasn't too sure she would protest if he did.

(Somewhere in the back of her mind, she registered that all ten drinks were now ready for the taking.)

"I," she breathed.

He brought it back to him slowly, offering a shadowy smile. "You don't need to explain yourself, Nova."

"No, I-"

"You know what's one of the reasons I like you? Your loyalty to your friends is... It's something you don't see often. It sort of reminds me of my dad and Rose's parents, you know? Something that strong doesn't really need any explanations, so... so it's okay that you're putting them first."

She knew that it was. That was the problem. Even if she had the chance to go back a million times to thirty seconds ago, she knew that she would still make the same decision because her friends had just been through too much shit lately for her to throw that away for a boyfriend. As upsetting as it was, she just didn't need distractions at the moment.

"I just need to be there for them," she said quietly. "I can't tell you what's happened, but I can't get into anything too distracting or complicated..."

He nodded in understanding. No explanation was necessary: though the attention he received wasn't too bad, it still stood to fact that a friendship with a Potter was nothing in comparison to a relationship with him. Complicated, indeed.

"Trust me, it's alright," he assured her and somehow that made it all the worse. "Don't beat yourself up over it. I won't force you into anything." He paused and then the half-smile was back. "Doesn't mean I'm going to give up, though."

She blinked. "Wh-what..."

His smile deepened. "I'm not going to badger you for a date, Nova, I told you before that I'm not the type of bloke who pressures girls into things - but that doesn't mean I can't be patient when I want to be. I'll get that date eventually." He winked. "Have a nice Christmas."

And with that, he grabbed the milkshakes and left the café, the sound of his warm laughter drifting back through the open door. Nova could only stare after his retreating figure, speechless, before a happy smile played upon her lips.

So this was how it felt to be fancied.









Few people could live in Hogwarts and not fall in love with it. Something about living in a castle that had weathered through the best of times, through the worst of times and everything that fell inbetween; something about spending some of the best years of one's life in these walls meant that a piece of all of its students would be left there. Nova was no exception. Despite this, she could not deny that she was in much need of a respite from it.

Gazing at the carnage of their dormitory gave her the impression that this respite would never come.

"You couldn't fucking pack earlier?" she asked Dahlia dryly.

Dahlia scowled from amidst the pile of clothes on the floor. Why she felt the need to take the entire contents of her wardrobe home for two weeks was beyond them all. Under Nova's critical eye, she huffed and pointedly folded a salwar kameez.

"Don't judge me, you bitch," was all she said.

"Dahlia!" came Alice's reprimand. Perhaps it was a testament to how good a friend she was that she was collecting all of Dahlia's favourite knickers to tuck them away. "Don't call her a bitch."

"Why not? Everyone else does."

Alice raised a challenging eyebrow, but all Nova did was laugh. "You're funny, Darzi," she said, voice swelling with fondness.

"Don't I fucking know it."

"Funny or not, we need to get this mess packed in-" Alice anxiously checked the watch on her left wrist. "- seven minutes or else we won't have enough time to get to the carriages and go down to Hogsmeade Station."

It was at that precise moment that Nala, who had been fixing her makeup in the bathroom mirror this entire time, breezed into the dormitory, the door falling shut behind her. She had been keeping it open with a scrunched-up DADA essay that used to be one and a half feet in length which she now threw into the bin as she said:

"Why don't you use the packing spell?"

Alice halted in the act of grabbing Dahlia's pads. "You what."

Nala smiled brightly. "You know, the packing spell? Mum uses it all the time at home, you just wave your wand and pack!" She jerked her wand in a funny motion and about half of Dahlia's mess piled into the open trunk. A frown. "I'm not really good at it. Nonverbal, you know?"

Both Dahlia and Alice were not concerned with Nala's skills at the packing spell - they were more fixated on the fact that it existed in the first place.

"The packing spell," the latter whispered, voice soft with danger. It was not a tone familiar to her yet Nala seemed unconcerned. "Ah, the packing spell. Why didn't I think of that? Better yet, why didn't you suggest it earlier?"

"I didn't know you needed it."

Dahlia exploded. "THE BATHROOM DOOR WAS OPEN, YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT."

Looking most affronted, Nala held a hand to her chest. "There's no need to shout at me, Dahlia. It was an honest mistake."

"YOUR DEATH WILL BE AN HONEST MISTAKE."

"Calm down, Grindelwald," Nova said wearily.

"Don't you start," she hissed with an extraordinary amount of venom, pointing the moisturiser in her hand at her like a weapon.

It was at that point that both Nala and Nova decided that they were probably safer in the common room with the others. Struggling to hold in their giggles at Dahlia's furiously twitching eye, they grabbed their own trunks and scarpered, Nala quickly yelling out the incantation. Less than a minute later, Alice and Dahlia appeared, dragging their own luggage.

And then they were off, speeding through the corridors as fast as humanly possible.

They were about halfway to the Entrance Hall when Nala finally suggested that they use some well-placed hovering charms on their trunks to make their journey easier.

"Nala," came a sweet suggestion from Dahlia's general direction. "I would like to take a minute to ask you to take a look around at the castle and breathe it all in."

Confused, the girl obeyed her, asking, "But why should I-"

"BECAUSE THIS IS THE LAST TIME THAT YOU'RE EVER GOING TO SEE IT," she roared, launching forward to shove her. Fortunately for Nala, Cass moved her wand ever so slightly to block Dahlia's way with her trunk, albeit accidentally hitting her in the face with it. "Packing spells? Hovering charms? DO YOU HAVE ANY MORE BRILLIANT SUGGESTIONS FOR US?"

Far from being deterred, Nala only smiled. "Oh, just the one: run. We have four minutes to get to the carriages."

The rest of the girls shared a panicked look.

And then, they were really running.

Now, it had to be said that none of the girls of Dormitory 2.6A were particularly in shape, excluding Cassidy who regularly jogged around the grounds. Therefore, just the run up the next flight of steps was excruciating for most of them, leaving them with lungs gasping wildly for air within seconds. Yet somehow, they managed to call on their dwindling strength to push on, sprinting through the corridors, the harsh slaps of their footsteps echoing around them.

When they burst out into the sunshine, they did not stop. Nothing mattered except that bloody carriage and catching the Hogwarts Express.

As Nova's throat burned for water and her wand arm began to shake from keeping her trunk in the air, she honestly thought she was going to die. She could not fathom how Nala had the energy in her to let loose a loud burst of laughter and spin around like a little girl in the rain as they ran down the path.

Of course, her act caused her to fall on her arse.

"You have got to be kidding me," Reagan said as they skidded to a stop.

Nova took one look at Cassidy a little way away as she secured the last carriage and then another at Nala, flat on her arse, eyes round with shock - and proceeded to completely lose it.

"Your - face!" she gasped through an sudden stream of giggles.

Her hand fell slack and her trunk came crashing down, barely cushioned by the protective spell it came with, and she slid to the ground to sit beside Nala.

"You two are honestly off your rocker," Reagan informed them.

But it seemed they were too, because all of their tension abruptly disappeared and they also collapsed into a fit of laughter. They were still like that a moment later when Cass poked her head out of the carriage door.

"Um, hello? This carriage is about to set off in a minute and it feels pretty empty to me," she called down the path, shaking her head at them. Years of being friends had taught her not to question why they were freezing their butts off on the path, their sides about to split. "Get those gorgeous arses moving and come over here."

"I always knew you had a thing for me," Alice yelled back, struggling to stand up.

It was with much lighter shoulders that the girls grabbed hold of their trunks and clambered onto the carriage, the last of them settling just as it set off. The floor of it swayed underneath their feet as they passed over rocky ground, but the feeling was comforting to Nova - welcomed, even. This was just one of the many sensations that led up to seeing her family again.

She really did miss them.

"I've not had that much fun in ages," Nala was saying happily, sinking into her seat with a blissful smile. "And I mean, honest fun where you have no thoughts or worries in your head."

When her smile took on a sorrowful curve, Cass squeezed her hand comfortingly. Though no one dared to mention it, they all knew that Xanthe was on the girl's mind. She was nursing a broken heart, after all.

"I'm okay," she murmured, her head resting on Cass' shoulder.

She wasn't, but that was okay. A time would come when she was.

It seemed like they reached Hogsmeade Station in almost no time at all. One second, they were resting in quiet silence; the next, the carriage rolled to a stop and they were clambering out, dragging their respective belongings along with them by hand. Once outside, it was apparent that the castle was practically empty at this point because the station teemed with Hogwarts students from all years, everyone eager to rest with no work ahead of them.

That was, until they remembered the mocks waiting on the other side of the holidays.
Nova memorised the sight of it - the puffs of smoke from the steamtrain, its shining scarlet paint, the bustling platform - and let a little wave of nostalgia wash over her.

Before this moment, it had never occurred to her how long ago it was that she was going through this for the first time. Back then, she had lived in a different dormitory and stayed with a different group of friends, people she didn't even spare a thought for nowadays. She had been eleven years old and less than 5 ft tall and missing home so terribly.

"We're only going to be in this position one more time," she heard herself say.

Reagan, who had been in the process of trying to yank the handle of her suitcase up, paused to smile at the sea of students. "Yeah, I never thought about that before."

"It's weird, isn't it?" she said, turning to face her. "Six years have gone by. It feels like it's been no time at all."

"Yet first year feels like it was a hundred years ago."

They began to move their way through the crowd, searching for an opening and then a free compartment. The others were behind them, immersed in their own conversations.

"We weren't friends until the end of October," Reagan recalled fondly. "Not until we were partnered in Herbology."

"You were so small. Still are, in fact."

"Watch it."

Nova sent her a small smile and a wink, climbing onto the train, her trunk clumsily clanging on after her, and then hunted down an empty compartment. One of her many skills included the uncanny ability to find one within seconds, one she fully called into play when she found their haven for the next several hours on her third attempt.

"May the Founders bless you, O saviour of mine," Alice said in relief as they all ambled in after her.

Surprisingly enough, the next hour or so was a quiet affair. None of them were particularly in the mood for loud conversation - yes, even Dahlia Darzi was taking the moment to relax - and spent it in their comfort of their respective activities. Nala idly repainted her nails with the latest in Flora Rosé's colour-changing nail varnish line and Cassidy retreated to a corner with a broadsheet she was subscribed to. At some point , Reagan had whipped out an Everlasting Bubble Wand and happily filled the compartment with spheres of every colour, Alice delighting in popping them. Dahlia had propped her legs up in the seat her best friend had abandoned and napped.

Nova was flicking through her scrapbook, encouraged by the nostalgia which had crept up on her, when Nala dragged her back to the present. She hadn't burst out with a grand declaration or done anything dramatic; on the contrary, Nova had merely looked up in faint interest at Nala's faint "oh." It was what had registered half a second later that truly got her attention.

Xanthe Greengrass had just passed the compartment.

Looking decidedly less composed, Nala bent down to pick up the nail varnish bottle she had accidentally tipped over. She stared down at it in frustration, whispering harshly, "I hate how he can make me so weak. I hate it."

"You're not weak, Nala," she began.

"No, no, I am." Tears sprang to her eyes and she wiped them away in annoyance, still staring hard at that nail varnish. She began to pick at a dried curl of it. "I am because I know he didn't see me properly and I know that I'm - that I need to be better than him - but I still miss him. A lot, actually."

"You thought you were in love with him," she said gently.

"No. I was in love with him. I was an idiot."

By this point, the rest of the compartment had caught up to what was happening. Reagan had stopped blowing bubbles and Alice sat crosslegged on the ground with a concerned frown. Cass lifted her head from her broadsheet to shake it firmly.

"No, you weren't. Xanthe likes-"

"Playing with people's emotions, I know," she said. "Doesn't make me feel any less stupid."

She reached over to squeeze her hand reassuringly once again. "Look, I'm not going to lie and say that I know how you feel because that's useless. But do you know what I do know? I know that you're going to get through this. One day, he'll be so far behind you, you won't even spare him a thought."

Nala scoffed, though it wasn't a mean sound. "I feel like 'one day' is never going to come, to be honest." Then, shaking her head as if to rid herself of the negative thoughts: "Alright, enough about him. There's no way I'm going to move on and learn to put myself first if I keep thinking about him. I can't have a breakdown every single time I see him."

And then she smiled the most radiantly heartbreaking smile Nova had ever seen.

It truly was the perfect metaphor for her: a veneer of happiness over a private sorrow. At the surface, Nala was completely fine - spinning around in delirious joy, a bright lilt to her voice, lightheartedly teasing them all - but underneath, she still struggled to come to terms with the knowledge that someone she honestly fell for didn't truly respect her.
Harder still to adjust to was the harsh lesson that the only true defence against future pitfalls of a similar nature would to be respect herself. Perhaps that was the hardest lesson in the universe: to love yourself.

"You know what we need?" The words were thrown into the air suddenly and gave everyone a shock. It seemed that Dahlia wasn't as asleep as she appeared. Sitting up, she fixed them all with a challenging look. "Revenge."

There was immediate interest from everyone but Nala.

"No," she protested. "He's not worth it. I don't want anyone to get into trouble or give him the satisfaction."

"Oh, come on!" Dahlia pleaded. "We're not even at Hogwarts anymore, the teachers can't do anything to us. We have our inside woman in the one, the only Cassidy Greengrass-" She gestured the girl in question who inclined her head in amusement. "-and we have some of the most brilliant minds in the whole fucking history of Hogwarts."

"I don't know, Dahlia..."

"Trust me," she insisted, pushing wild tresses of hair back from her face. "Revenge tastes sweet and you know it. I mean, how satisfying was it when Psycho Sophie snogged frogs into Cheating Callum's mouth? My oh my, magical STDs really are out of this world."

Though she tried hard not to, Nala succumbed to her laugh. "I still don't know who did that, you know!"

Nova took this to be her cue to behave as unassuming as possible. Idly turning the page over in her scrapbook (she was now on a page they'd all repeatedly signed back in second year with their crushes' surnames attached onto their first ones, Dahlia taking the piss as usual by signing hers as Dahlia McGonagall). She pretended to be only keeping half an ear out, so that she could be the epitome of innocence.

If anyone else but Reagan had glanced at her at that very moment, she would've probably gotten away with it too. As it was, she wasn't so lucky.

"It was you, wasn't it?" she suddenly exclaimed, leaning over to slam a hand onto the page Nova was pretending to read.

"Sorry?"

"You're the one who pranked Psycho Sophie!" she cried excitedly. "Don't even try to deny it, I can see right through you. I'm not your best friend for nothing, Nova Hale."

She looked up, unfazed. "I didn't prank her," she said truthfully. "I don't know magic that advanced and my wand was in my bag at lunch like usual."

Reagan stared at her critically for a long second, dark eyes narrowed. She cocked her head to the side slowly. "You still know something. You might think that you're emotionless-"

"Expressionless."

"-but you're not pulling the wool over this girl's eyes. Tell us what you know."

"You can't prove that I know anything," she retorted, rolling her eyes. But it was no use, the other girls were swayed by Reagan's adamance and the next minute was full of demands to spill her guts, threats courtesy of one particularly homocidal Hufflepuff, as well as indignant shrieks that she was keeping something from them. "Alright, alright! I'll spill the beans if you all shut up."

They fell silent immediately.

Then, Dahlia said, "Don't use that sort of foul language, missy. Who the fuck do you think you are?"

Alice promptly whacked her on the leg with the Everlasting Bubble Wand.

Heaving a sigh, Nova prepared herself to admit who was behind the attack. She still didn't know why she had held onto the truth with such an unrelenting grip, only that she felt as if it would open a can of worms she wasn't quite ready for. Especially in light of recent events.

There really was no denying why Al had pranked Psycho Sophie, no questions asked, now.

Which was why Nova quickly threw the answer out. "It was Al!"

For a moment, it didn't seem to register with anyone whose name she had confessed. And then their eyes widened and their minds raced to question why on earth Albus Potter had an interest in pranking Psycho Sophie and finally, they arrived at the conclusion she had been dreading.

"He likes you!" Reagan screeched in triumph at the same time Cass said, "But why would he bother?"

Nova suppressed the heat threatening to creep into her cheeks at her best friend's words - it made her recall soft green eyes falling into a wink, plays near Diagon Alley and the sound of warm laughter drifting through winter winds. Instead, she answered Cass. "He may have possibly seen me glaring at her from behind a bookshelf."

There was a beat. "That makes no sense."

She thought back to that winter evening, remembering the mess of emotions she had felt, and began to explain what had happened. How they had slyly tried to feed Cass, how the fact that Alice nearly reaching breaking point had resulted in Nova fleeing for a few seconds to regather herself and how she had caught sight of Psycho Sophie just then. She explained the overwhelming wave of hatred, her urge to hex her into the next century and how Al had appeared. Her subsequent explanation for her creeping and then the offer he had proposed without hesitation.

For obvious reasons, she had left out his wink and his seemingly nervous demeanour, but it was no use.

"He so fancies you."

"I mean, what boy would offer to prank someone he barely knows if he didn't want to impress you? Oh, that's right, none."

"Not that I'm fucking complaining. It was fucking gold. Get him to prank Xanthe!"

"That's actually the sweetest thing I've heard!"

"He doesn't fancy me," Nova cut across them exasperatedly. She was such a liar. "He was just being... nice."

They all stared at her in disbelief before Nala burst out with, "You have to date him!"

"No, I don't. We're just friends, guys. Nothing more."

Disappointment was clear on her companions' faces. Clearly the spokesman for the group, Nala protested, "But you're meant to be! Look, Nova, I might've chosen the wrong sort of Slytherin, but Al is perfect. Tall, dark-haired, willing to break the law for his girl-"

"I'm not his girl."

"-and if you date him, you'll have the most perfect green eyes to sink into every night."

"Holly Cassoway said he's brilliant at sex," Cass chipped in with an approving nod, as if this piece of information would help her see the light. "Affectionate, but playful. And he likes to-"

"Stop right there," Nova interjected, cheeks flaming. She tried her hardest to not linger on her words or imagine just how playful Al could be or - fuck. "We're not going to date, okay?"

"But he's perfect!"

"No one's perfect, Nala."

"Albus Potter is! Especially for you! Name one bad thing about him."

Predictably, her mind decided to empty of everything. Ignoring how Nala's expression was smugger by the second, she struggled to think of something - anything to prove that Al Potter wasn't an angel, if only to refute them all. The problem was that when one decided to fancy someone, one tended to overlook their flaws or even came to adore them.

Unfortunately for her, the only flaw she could think of was that Al was willing to embarrass someone in a humiliating prank without needing any details - and everyone was more than fine with that.

"He does drugs," she blurted.

"... Since when the fuck was Albus Potter a druggie?" asked Dahlia.

She backtracked. "I meant, at parties. He does drugs at parties."

"Everyone does drugs at parties," Cass said flatly.

"I don't!"

"Because you respect your health and that's what I like about you," she said in a very matter-of-fact tone. "But that doesn't change the fact that doing the occasional drug at a party isn't a bad thing and that half of us have done it. Besides, he's not one of the people who do every week - hell, he doesn't even do it at every party."

Nova mumbled incoherently in response.

"Besides, I'm pretty sure he mostly does it because he gets along with Rigel Barkwith in our year - you know, the one who actually controls most of it? I'm pretty sure Scorpius mentioned that Barkwith doesn't charge the Quidditch team at parties or his friends. Al ticks both categories, but even then, he doesn't do it outside of the odd party because he cares about his health too - you know, since he wants to be a professional player?"

"I know that."

"Then, why would you try to sell that bullshit? Is it because you're scared of asking him-"

"Al asked me out!" she heard herself cry and then shrieked, slapping her hands over her mouth. She stared at them, wide-eyed in almost as much shock as them. Lowering her hands, she repeated, "Al asked me out. I said no."

If they were shocked before, they were about to fall into dead faints now.

The first to snap out of it was Reagan - who promptly smacked her knee with a harsh whack. "Why the fuck would you do that?! In case you've forgotten, you fancy the shit out of him!" She hit her again.

Nova scowled at her, leaning down to flick her forehead in a smooth deliberate movement. She said defensively, "I did it for you guys."

"I am currently living vicariously through you," Nala said. "How is this for me?"

"Because! Because you're - we're going through a lot right now, okay? We've never had to deal with any existential crises like this and now we've got the whole situation with Xanthe and Cass has an eating disorder and - I just don't want any distractions now, okay? I've never even had a boyfriend before, it would take up too much of my time when I should be there for you instead and - and I don't need that just yet!"

Cass and Nala looked as if they were torn between hugging her gratefully and hitting her on the head with the Everlasting Bubble Wand.

The first settled for a broken laugh instead. "Nova Hale, you are the most stupid and most selfless idiot I don't regret befriending."

"I - what?"

"You can't give this up for me!" she exclaimed. "Or for Nala. It's not fair on you."

"Yes, it is. I don't mind being friends with Al and neither does he."

"Really."

"Really." She nodded in conviction.

It was at that moment that history was actually made. For what happened then had never been conceived by even the most optimistic of souls, had never been anticipated and would genuinely go down in the books that Nova studied in History of Magic.

This was the moment that Dahlia Darzi told Nova to get a fucking date.

She could only listen in shock as the girl stood up and promptly told her to snap out of it. Nova may have had her friends' best interests in mind, might have been doing it for the good of them, but there were times when doing what was good was not necessarily what was right. Sometimes, rather than dedicating their entire time to helping the healing process, friends had to make themselves a priority too. Nothing that lay ahead would demand Nova all of her free time and happiness; what support she could and would offer did not necessarily conflict with her own interests.

Besides, any guy who would readily prank Psycho Sophie had to have something going for him.

It was with those words that she was practically kicked out of the compartment to hunt down one Albus Severus Potter.

When she did find him, he was with the boys from the other day. Sprawled on the floor underneath the window, she watched as he threw back his head to laugh at a joke someone must've cracked, an old copy of Quidditch Weekly falling from his fingers. As if seeming to feel eyes on him, he tossed a glance towards the door and froze when he caught sight of her.

Somewhat shyly, she smiled.

Within moments, he struggled to his feet, muttering something to the others. They glanced sideways at her in what she assumed they thought were subtle ways, but were so painfully obvious, they might as well have flung themselves at the doors.

"Hey," he said softly, closing the door behind him. After throwing a look at his friends, all of them so obviously paying attention to them, he put a hand on her elbow and guided her a little way down the corridor. "Is there something you need?"

She was fucked.

You see, the thing was that Nova really didn't know anything about this. After months of nursing a crush on the bloke, she still wasn't aware of what constituted as normal and what was plain weird (aside from the obvious, of course). She still blushed furiously around him and stumbled over her words. She still snuck glances, still stared when she thought he wasn't looking. And though she had daydreamed about casually asking him out countless times before, she still didn't know how the fuck to go about it.

"I heard there's a play on near Diagon Alley," was what left her tongue.

Al raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

She resisted the urge to crawl in a hole to die. Summoning all of the courage in her, she looked him dead in the eyes and said, "Yes, there is. And I'd like to take you to it."

For a moment, he didn't respond. And then there it was. That amused half-smile of his, shadowy and fucking sexy, taking her breath away as per usual. It comforted her, told her that she was going about this the right way despite being an inexperienced fuck.

"Technically, wouldn't I be taking you to it? I do have the tickets, after all."

She returned the smile. "Well, then, I'd like you to take me." Noticing the sudden wicked twist to his smile, she hurriedly added, "To the play, I mean. Not - not in the other way. That part comes after the show, of course - I mean -"

He laughed. "Well, I do like a woman who knows what she wants."

"Shut it," she said, the red of her cheeks rendering the steely note to the order useless. She batted his arm. "You know what I meant."

"Of course, I do. I mean, I was thinking dinner and a show, but if sex's what you really want-"

"AL."

"Kidding." He laughed, but there was a glint in his eyes which suggested he was down to do anything Nova wanted. Anything. "Dinner and a show it is. I'll write to you over the holiday to confirm details if you want?"

"I'll be waiting."

The conversation seeming to end nicely at that point, so she turned to leave... and then promptly stopped in her tracks. Twisting back around, she pressed forward before she could talk herself out of it, placed her hand on Al's shoulder and kissed him just shy of his mouth. His cheek was already warm, but his skin suddenly seared against her lips; as she pulled back, she noticed he was flushed. Flustered.

It felt nice to be on the other end for once.

Biting down the smile spreading across her face, Nova returned to her compartment with a soft goodbye, a spring in her steps. Already, her heart felt lighter and the bliss of the honeymoon period was already colouring her days. Today marked the start of something new.

She reached the mouth of the compartment and looked in, still grinning.

Reagan smiled back at her. "I'm guessing it went well?"

All she could do was nod. Her mouth opened to say something, even though she was at a complete loss at how to describe how she felt in that moment, when her shoulder was knocked forward slightly and her mood turned sour once more.

Xanthe fucking Greengrass.

Again.

Dahlia turned, sending a desperate look toward Nala. "Please."

She sighed, seemingly defeated. "Whatever."

Curious, Nova watched as the girl lit up like the Hogsmeade Christmas tree. Letting out a roar of excitement, she jumped up and ran out of the apartment, knocking her aside without an apology - not that she cared much - and then hurtled down the corridor of the Hogwarts Express.

Xanthe Greengrass never even saw her coming.

As Dahlia proceeded to shriek like a banshee, her knees pressing into his back, her hands scrambling for a hold on his infamous blonde locks, Nova couldn't help the laugh that rose out of her.

Today truly was the start of something new, indeed.



DISCLAIMERS: Tiny tidbit about the packing spell = based off Tonks in OOTP by JKR which I obviously don't own. (Or do I?) Nah, I don't.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: So, this was a bit of a monster chapter. Hope it didn't disappoint! Sadly, the next one will be the last one :( It's not (planned to be) as long as this one because it's mostly about the Novus date and is a half-bonus chapter that wraps things up a bit. Keep your eyes out just in case I do return with more fics in this universe. Also, I will probably release some extra info to do with my decisions about this fic on my tumblr (url in my bio) after this is finished which will be found under the 'extras' tag on FIC STUFF.


Chapter 10: TEN: Consistency in Change
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amazing ci by the beautiful callisto@tda!

TEN: CONSISTENCY IN CHANGE


Developing feelings for another person was a little like chipping away at a dam. At first, the cracks were barely noticeable, little grooves that would have no effect at all on holding the water back - a smile here, a sighting there - but hammering away at the same spot would. Soon enough, the cracks would slice deep and water would begin to trickle out of them, slowly seeping out. (Those would be the light conversations, the flying lessons in the snow, the private looks shared when Binns droned on and on for what felt like forever.) And then this section of the dam would break away and the little trickle from before would pour with abandon, forging inexorably to some faraway destination.

That was the moment Albus Potter asked Nova Hale out on a date.

Of course, the process wasn't complete just yet - the rest of the dam was still intact, after all - but now that one part of her defences had crumbled away, her heart was swelling against the rest of them, threatening to disintegrate them into nothing.

"This is never going to work. I can't - I have to - there's nothing else for it! I'm going to have to send a letter to Al and cancel."

Or perhaps not.

Less than an hour before she was scheduled to meet up with Al, Nova knelt in the midst of the entire contents of her wardrobe, pressing her face helplessly into the scratchy fabric of a sequined monstrosity her grandmother had once bought her. Soft sniffles lost themselves in the dress as a nervousness she had never known before threatened to drown her.

"You can't cancel," Reagan said firmly, reaching over to pull the dress away with a gentle tug of her hands. She dropped it into the pile of rejects and gripped Nova's shoulders comfortingly. "Everything's okay, Nova, you're just stressed out."

"Why can't I cancel?" she snapped, voice cracking in exhaustion.

"Because you deserve it? And also because your letter would never reach him in time so it'll just seem like you stood him up. You'll be a bitch, Nova, a bitch."

Glumly, Nova stared down at the mess in front of her.

The day had started out so promising. She had woken up with butterflies in her stomach and a smile so bright it was as if the sun had moved itself into the Hale residence - the change had been so noticeable that her father had even eyed her suspiciously as if suspecting she had been smoking something questionable. Even when he'd choked on his sausage upon finding out that she was going on a date, Nova's good mood hadn't faltered (in fact, it had only gotten better once she revealed that it was Albus Potter she was meeting as it had caused both Aria and her mother to nearly faint. Lucia had remained confused as to what the hype was about.)

It all began to go downhill when Nala's letter came, sobbing about the fact that she wasn't allowed to come over as she'd planned. Written in the girl's frenzy had been the angry words 'MUM SAYS I PRIORITISE FRIENDS OVER FAMILY, BRB, CRYING MY EYES OUT'. While it hadn't been ideal, she could've dealt with it.

(Dahlia, meanwhile, had been more than happy to skip out on the preparations in favour of bonding with her siblings, but Nova hadn't really minded that; as a Muggleborn, Dahlia didn't get to see them anywhere near as frequently as she'd like.)

And then Nova's shampoo had ran out, her razors had gone missing and Alice had accidentally burnt the top she had set aside to wear.

Some of the problems had been easily solved - she had borrowed her Mum's strictly off-limits shampoo and had endured the torture that was waxing - but now that it was time to find something else to wear, it seemed like all of her clothes were the shittest excuses for outfits in the world. Most of Nova's clothes at home were suited for long hours spent in the sunshine - seeing as how it was the middle of December and England was currently buried in snow, it really wasn't working out.

Fucking winter and its fucking weather.

"It's okay, Nova," Alice chimed in, rolling over from where she was inspecting all of the shoes. She thudded against their thighs to smile up at her. "Al really likes you so I doubt he'll care about what you're wearing. You're just overthinking it."

She looked down at her dubiously. After all, it was generally an established fact that guys usually cared about what a girl looked like, that it was often on the top of their little checklists. As her grandmother liked to say, men were visual creatures - so why would Al be any different in that respect? People didn't necessarily have to be pricks to be attracted to someone who put effort into their appearance.

But then again, she reasoned, she had certainly done well enough to pull Al without looking like a model off the front page of Witch Weekly, hadn't she? So maybe there really wasn't a need to dress to impress, especially if they were only watching a play...

"You're right," she heard herself say. "I'll just wear these jeans with my red shirt-"

"ARE YOU INSANE?" Alice shrieked, shooting up. Her head smacked into Nova's chin but she didn't seem to notice or care because she promptly moved to shake the girl frantically. "You can't wear that!"

"Yeah, it's not exactly your best," Cassidy began.

"What - but you just said that he wouldn't care-"

"THIS IS A DATE, NOVA."

"You don't fucking say."

"A DATE."

In response, Nova shoved Alice off her lap. Already, the shaky resolution that she was unnecessarily freaking out was dissipating into nothing, much to her annoyance. What had happened to the collected attitude she was known for? Why did going on a date with someone who had the luck to be extremely good looking make her dissolve into a mess of nerves and ugly clothes?

Clearly noticing this internal conundrum, Reagan turned to Alice - who was passionately delivering a speech about perfect first dates and young love - and bluntly told her to shut the fuck up. "You're making things worse, you idiot."

"I am?... Oops?"

Rolling her eyes, she faced Nova once again and said, "Look, babe, I think what Alice was trying to say is that, while you don't need to breakdown over what you're wearing, that top doesn't really scream date. It screams bingo with Grandma."

"Probably because my grandma bought it," she muttered.

She laughed. "Well, it's not really the look we're going for, is it? I mean, this is your first date, Nova. In, like, the history of your existence."

"...Is that an insult?" she asked after a pregnant pause. And then her mouth curled upwards of its own accord and her shoulders shook with laughter - and just like that, the anxiety was gone, at least for now. "Thanks anyway. I guess I'm just really nervous about this date. I kinda might... I like him. A lot. So I want this to be perfect."

And then there they were again, the little butterflies fluttering around in her stomach. They buzzed with an excitement which infiltrated her system and made what had seemed like an impossible task almost easy to bear. Her eyes catching sight of a certain flash of colour, she picked out some articles from the mountain in front of her.

"I'm wearing these," she said firmly, "and that's that."

Before she could even look at them, Alice cried, "But you can't!" At their sharp looks, she blushed. "Sorry. I did it again, didn't I?"

"Just a little," Cass grinned.

With an amused roll of her eyes, Nova stood up, slipping out of the loose joggers and slouchy top she was wearing and began to change. On went her favourite pair of black skinny jeans and then the deep green turtleneck she had spotted seconds earlier, one that brought a healthy glow to her skin. An oversized denim jacket, which had belonged to her father back in his teenage years, followed, spreading waves of heat through her spine. As she adjusted the collar, her friends stared, open-mouthed.

"Wow," Cass finally said. "You actually look really good, Nova."

She smirked. "Always the tone of surprise."

A shrug. "Yes, because you knock me sick most of the time." As soon as the last cheeky word left her mouth, Cass was promptly whacked in the face by a balcony bra. Pursing her lips in displeasure, she picked up the burgundy article between her thumb and index finger and then flung it away from her. "Well, that was a smart move. Didn't anyone tell you not to piss off your makeup artist?"

Her eyes widened. "You wouldn't."

"Wouldn't I?" Her right eyebrow arched in a challenge. Smirking at the look of pure terror on Nova's face, she patted the space beside her on the bed. "Speaking of makeup, get your pretty little arse over here so that I can do yours."

She picked her way through the carnage of her room, saying, "Don't you dare make me look awful, Cass. I swear down on Merlin's grave, I will never forgive you if you do."

"I make no promises."

"No, seriously, I will honestly kill you. You will be dead by the time morning comes. I'll be sending Malfoy a letter saying that Cassidy Greengrass sleeps with the fishes."

She frowned, firmly grasping her by the chin to inspect her features. "The plural of fishes is fish, you illiterate fuck. Now, pipe down and let me make you look like a goddess."






Despite all of the taunting, it turned out that Nova's mild concerns about turning up to her date looking like a Weird Sisters' groupie were all unfounded. As she absently gazed at her reflection in the bathroom of the Leaky Cauldron, she took a moment to appreciate the magic in Cass' fingertips and how she had managed to make Nova look more beautiful without necessarily sacrificing what it was that made her who she was. The face she currently wore aimed for a mostly minimalist look, the only dash of colour being the deep red lipstick painted onto her lips.

She had arrived at their agreed meeting point earlier than she had planned and, far too awkward to suffer through the endless minutes until Al arrived under the prying eyes of a busy pub, had promptly escaped to the bathroom. It was here that she remained five minutes later, washing her hands repeatedly so as to seem normal to the women who quietly passed in and out.

Her eyes scanned the mirror image of her almost curiously - not critically, not condemningly, she refused to be that way - and wondered what were the details her date would notice.

Would he express some sort of silent appreciation for the sharp slice of the contour cutting her cheekbones, the thick curls of her eyelashes when they lightly brushed her face? Would he be drawn to the exaggerated pout of her lips, basking in its bloody red hue? Perhaps it would be the other things. Perhaps he would note how her turtleneck hugged her breasts underneath the loose hug of her denim jacket, or the way her jeans fit snugly around the wide expanse of her thighs. Maybe he'd be more concerned with her hair and the way it rippled down her back in a splash of black waves.

"You're a little conceited, aren't you, dear?" a sudden voice tittered.

She shrieked, jumping three feet into the air. Hand pressed against her hammering heart, she scanned the bathroom to find that it was empty save her. And then it dawned on her that mirrors had a tendency to talk in the wizarding world.
It seemed that this one in particular was a little rude too.

"Excuse me?" she asked stiffly (which really was rather ridiculous considering she was talking to a mirror).

"You've been staring at me for five minutes now," it responded. "How excessive."

Not quite knowing what to say, Nova merely stared at it. Narrowing her eyes, she huffed and grabbed some paper towels to wipe her hands. "How fucking rude, you mean." And with that, she left the bathroom.

The Leaky Cauldron was teeming with customers at this hour - witches, wizards, their children, the odd vampire or two - yet a quick scan of the bustling room confirmed that none of them were Albus Severus Potter. Stifling the disappointment, she decided to grab a seat by the counter so that she could simultaneously stare at the door from a comfortable position and avoid seeming lost.

Mrs Longbottom was engaged with a customer when Nova slipped onto one of the bar stools, but she glanced her way as if to ask whether she needed any help. She shook her head in response, not wanting to engage in conversation. After all, how was she supposed to admit to the fact that she was about to go on a date with a boy the Longbottoms had seen grow up?

Oh, hello, Mrs Longbottom! What am I doing here all alone? Oh yes, I'm just waiting to go on my date with Albus Potter. Yeah, the one you saw crawl around in nappies and have known since the moment he was born. Ta ta for now! Don't wait up.

She stifled a snicker, picturing the pub owner's response.

And it was at that moment that it hit her - truly dawned on her in the entirety of its brilliance - that she actually was going on a date with Albus Potter. That she had asked him out and that he had accepted and that she had the guts to kiss him on the cheek and that she had left him in the midst of a fluster. That, for some wild reason, he honestly fancied her.

No one else.

Her.

To think that she had been worrying so much earlier!

Now that she thought about it, the ridiculousness of it all was blindingly clear to her. What had been the point in fretting so much, in nearly breaking down in tears over some bloody clothes, when she had known his feelings throughout that entire process? Somewhere in her mind, she had acknowledged his feelings for her, had remembered the fact that he had even promised to wait for her to be ready - teenage boys never waited for girls they wanted - and had known that, out of the impressive range Hogwarts had to offer, he had chosen her to fall for. Not Cassidy, not Alice. No, he had chosen the one friend who was always ignored, always forgotten, always fading into the background.

And she had ignored it in her nerves.

She was such an idiot sometimes.

Perhaps Fate was smiling down upon these two unlikely lovebirds at this moment because it was precisely as the euphoria of this realisation was lifting Nova up that the stool beside her was pulled back and the Slytherin in question slid onto it.

"Alright, Nova?" he was saying casually when she twisted around to face him - and then stopped dead to stare at her.

For when she had turned to greet him, it had been with one of the loveliest smiles in her repertoire. One which lifted the curve of her cheeks to crinkle her eyes in delight, dazzlingly wide and damningly breathtaking. Oh, how he was breathtaken.

In that moment, she was anything but ignored.

"Hey," she said softly.

The scarf loosely wrapped around his neck left his Adam's apple exposed; it stood stark against his skin as he swallowed deeply, struggling for words. "Er - yeah, hi... You look - beautiful." He nodded, as if confirming that this was indeed what he was getting at. "Yeah, you look beautiful."

The euphoria swept across her cheeks and the faint trace of pink it left behind was not the product of Cass Greengrass' artistic skills. She bit her lip to stop herself from cracking her face in half. "Thank you. You don't look too bad yourself."

They sat there for half a minute, merely smiling at each other with stupid smiles on their faces, more than content to bask in the glory of this start to their date.

And then Al slipped off his stool, saying, "We should get going or else we'll miss the show," and held out his right hand for Nova to take.

She eyed it, recalling the numerous fantasies she had entertained herself with in which he had done this very thing (which may or may not have led on to... other things), of how she had dreamt up the various details and sensations of grabbing onto it, of never letting go. How would reality compare?

Her fingers reached out and intertwined with his, pulling her off her seat. Their clasped hands swung in the space between them and she took a moment to marvel at the sight of them - his large and calloused, hers much smaller, their fingers alternating porcelain and the lightest honey - and what they meant. A spark of electricity passed between them where they met and it breathed life into her pulse, making it thrum like a small bird beating its wings frantically.

"Your hands are really warm," she heard herself murmur and then looked up at him in horror as she registered her words.

He laughed. "Yours are really small," he informed her.

She scrunched up her nose. "Ugh. Don't remind me. Small and chubby like a kid's."

Now that the spell she seemed to have had cast on him was wearing away, Al seemed much more confident. His mouth curled in amusement as he lifted up their hands to press his smile against her knuckles. Another spark of electricity.

"I like it."

I like you.

An amused smile flitted across her face. She raised an eyebrow. "You're really pulling out the charm today, aren't you?" A note of approval crept into her voice. "I like it."

Still holding hands, they proceeded to walk out of the pub to the alley at the back. No one paid them any mind, as if this sort of thing happened everyday and she supposed it did. To everyone else, they were just another teenage couple.

Al and Nova wound along the twisting pathway of Diagon Alley, immersed in easy conversation. It was almost like any other encounter of theirs - fun, playful, embroiled with plenty of good-natured teasing - only with a new charge in the air. Their laughter joined it as they divulged details about their holidays thus far and then discussed the play ahead.

"I'm actually really excited about it," Nova confessed as they shuffled along with the crowd. Between the heat emanating from the mass of bodies, the warming charms filtering out of the shop doors and the pleasant hum of electricity forging a path around her body, she could barely feel the bite of the December wind. "I mean, it's directed by Shahid Ali. Shahid Ali!"

"His plays are always amazing," Al promised. They had moved away from the bulk of Diagon Alley and down one of the side streets; usually fairly empty, it was now brimming with excited show-goers buzzing with anticipation. "I saw White Wings when it came out - you know, the one about the blind Squib? - and it was pretty good. Bloke has a real knack for using magic to enhance the surreal. It's all really creative."

"This is actually going to be great!"

That was an understatement if anything.

Shahid Ali's latest project was a heartbreaking piece of art. Simply titled Charlotte, it revolved around a young Muggleborn attending Hogwarts during the years the International Statute of Secrecy was being proposed and it was captivating. Nova was on the edge of her seat the entire time, popcorn being shoved into her mouth in mere mechanical actions as she watched Charlotte's life tear apart in a perpetual cycle of torment.

Watching a play was simply...magical.

There was no other way to describe it. The entire theatre was transported back centuries - no one was merely an idle spectator, each audience member a tiny shard of the title character herself. When Charlotte was first called a Mudblood, Nova felt it like a sharp slap to the face. When Charlotte sank into Thomas' embrace, Nova could feel his breath ghosting over the graceful curve of her neck. When Charlotte clutched his bloodied body half an hour later, Nova was also wracked with agony.

It wasn't just the phenomenal performances of the actors that gripped her till the very last second; it was Shahid Ali's classic style that filled the room. For this play, he had gone to great lengths to immerse the audience into the setting - fierce winds howled through the seats, starlight burst from the ceiling, extras wound their way through the rows as if they were part of the scenery. Swirls of rainbow obscured Nova's vision each time Charlotte apparated and these steadily grew darker as the young girl fell into a deeper despair.

By the time they were stumbling out of the theatre, swept away in a river pulsing with chattering fans, Nova was gushing at great lengths about the experience.

"It was - it was so good!" she exclaimed for the tenth time, allowing him to lead the way to the restaurant, venturing further away from Diagon Alley. "I'm honestly - I can't put it into words how brilliant that was."

"I thought you might like it," Al said, not without a little self-satisfaction.

Nova didn't mind. After that treat, he could be as smug as he liked. She beamed joyfully and bumped shoulders with him. "I loved it! This date's going great."

She couldn't have chosen words that would've made him happier. He paused just as they passed underneath the iron-wrough archway which marked the entrance into a botanical garden they were to go through on their way. Tugging on her hands, he pulled her to face him.

"You mean that?" he asked softly - involuntarily - before he turned pink. "I - er, I mean, of course it is-"

"Yeah, because you knew I've always wanted to see a play," she said, "and then you took me to see a Shahid Ali masterpiece. You knew it would work out well."

Rolling his eyes, he smirked and then lightly tapped her nose. "All part of my grand plan. I know just how to get you to leave this date begging for more." An exaggerated wink on his part.

A feigned gasp on hers. Struggling to keep the smile off her face, she cried, "You - you fucking Slytherin! How dare you manipulate me." Her dark hair was tossed back dramatically, whipping about in the breeze. "And to think I thought you were different!"

"Being a Slytherin isn't a bad thing," he informed her, biting his lip in amusement. The sight of it pierced her in the bottom of her stomach, the sensation of yearning for him travelling up her spine. "It just means we know what we want and we know how to get it."

She raised an eyebrow. "And what is it that you want?"

"You."

Nova's lips parted in a soft gasp, eyes shooting wide open. She was suddenly aware of everything, her senses tingling as her brain worked itself furiously into overdrive. Blood rushed through her ears, singing along to the hammering of her heart - thud thud thud - and felt it heat up under the intensity of his gaze, burning her away to a crisp. An itch began to creep along her fingers, urging her to react in some way - any way.

"I..."

Now it had to be said that Nova was not like some of her friends - insert a cough that suspiciously sounded like the name Nala Soyinka - when it came to romance. Though she was well aware that cute boys were fully capable of reducing people into puddles of uselessness (her severe cases of blushing around Al were more than proof of this), she wasn't too sure that someone could literally taste the magnetism in their mouth like bursts of fireworks.

But now?

Now she understood why attraction was described as such. There was something so heated, so dangerous about the silence between them that she was unravelling into nothing before him.

Al laughed, an awkward note to the raw noise. "Er... That happened a lot smoother in my head."

Oh.

She kept forgetting that he fancied her too, that he was probably anticipating her every move just as she was with him. And every second that she lost herself in her head was a second he began to doubt himself. It was a strange realisation to think that Al Potter was someone who could be unsure of himself in this way when he was, well, him and she was simply Nova Hale.

"No," she blurted, moving to grab his hand again. "Don't - That was smooth. Really smooth actually. I just... I'm still learning what to do with all this."

The little crinkle between his eyebrows smoothed out and he adjusted his hand so his fingers interlocked with hers. "Just be yourself. There's no rush."

And in the end was that not all that mattered?

Her heart began to ease into a relaxed beat. Nova smiled ruefully, "That's quite sweet, you know. Who knew you could be so charming, Potter?"

Al winked. "I told you. I'm a Slytherin - we know what we want and we know how to get it. This is all part of my plan."

"Should I be scared?"

"What's there to be scared of? It's not like I happen to prey on innocent girls. Especially Hufflepuffs - that's just wrong."

She knew she was supposed to laugh and truthfully, she could feel the beginnings of one in the back of her throat then. But when she opened her mouth, it was words that fell from her tongue rather than the soft giggle she had intended.

"Why did you prank Psycho Sophie?"

Nova paused, as startled by the statement as he clearly was. How was it that in the midst of the high from Charlotte, the curious intimacy from seconds earlier, the brilliance of their date itself - how was it that Psycho Sophie had been buried in the back of her mind all this time?

Al raised an eyebrow. "Because you wanted me to...?"

When her face sizzled red, it was due to a different sort of embarrassment, one that made her want to fade away. And yet she could not stop speaking. "I know that. I really do. But... you don't know why I was angry with her. You didn't know anything about the situation, about whether I was justified or being a plain bitch and you still went out of your way to do it. For all you know, she could've been innocent but..."

"But I was willing to do it anyway?" he finished slowly.

After a long second, she nodded minutely. "I'm not implying you're a bad person-"

"I know," he said with a soft shrug. For once, he wasn't looking at her. Green eyes stared hard at something in the distance, committing each detail to memory as he tossed his words over in his head. Nova waited patiently until he broke his silence. "I never really noticed you before."

Sudden as the statement was, it caused her to jump in her own skin. Her mind jarred at the abrupt change in topic - bewilderment, then confusion and a tiny seed of hurt, even though she had already known so, even though she could say the same about him - and she opened her mouth to remind him that this had nothing to do with what they were talking about. Yet he was already speaking rapidly, as if he had to get all of his words out before they were lost in the winter winds.

"You were always so quiet. In the corner, just minding your own business. And you were a Hufflepuff and I never really had a need to interact with Hufflepuffs, you know? Gryffindors, sure, half my family were there. Ravenclaws, occasionally. Slytherins and Ravenclaws get along. But Hufflepuff? There was nothing really to bind our two houses together."

"Didn't you already know Alice-"

"Well, yeah. There's that. But that didn't necessarily mean I had to socialise with you. I knew who you were, of course - I knew who all of you were - but there was no reason for you to be bothered about me or me to do the same. I technically knew you were Nova Hale and knew you were Alice's friend, Cass Greengrass' friend, that you were a smart girl. I knew you as someone who had a notorious pokerface - I mean, Darzi might be able to terrify the living daylights out of half the population but I have to say that you can intimidate a bloke with just one look."

Despite herself, Nova smiled. "Why, thank you. But I don't see what any of this has to do with Psycho Sophie."

And then his eyes swivelled back to her and the intensity in them was amazing. She was never quite sure whether it was the look he sported whenever he spoke to her or just the sheer brightness of them which lent them such - ferocity, almost. Either way, it was enough to convince her that yes, this boy well and truly had her whether she liked it or not.

"What I'm saying is that, before this year anyway, I thought of you the way most people do. You were Nova Hale: the Hufflepuff who stayed to her own and liked it that way. Only concerned about who she cared about - which isn't a bad thing because I'm the same; as far as I care, it's the smart thing to do - and you were someone who unashamedly made it clear that it was that way.

"But being like that doesn't make you a bad person. You're still one of the kindest people I know, Nova. You're not someone who wants to do bad things simply because you're - you're - some type of prick or something. You don't even care about other people enough to be like that. So I guess when I saw that you wanted to do something to Psycho Sophie, I knew the reason was legit. No need to question it. Besides," he added with a wry grin, "when I mentioned it to Scorpius, he was a little too enthusiastic to go ahead with it which meant that it was definitely deserved."

How strange it was to have someone new understand you so completely. It was even stranger to hear it put into words with such simple acceptance.

You see, although she would defend her house until her last breath and never took a moment to lament her Sorting, there was a clash between the generally accepted core values of Hufflepuff and the principles of Nova Hale. Hufflepuff was not a mere amalmagation of leftovers - it was a community, a home, a family. And families cared about each other, down to the last person. To care about a select group of people and simply not bother with the rest like Nova did was almost a violation of the house code. And though the other Hufflepuffs did not comment on that fact, did not astrocise her for doing so, it had always been a faint reminder in the background of most interactions she had with them.

If Nova had thought Al had won her over before, she had been wrong. At long last, the dam around her heart was nothing more than a memory, tumbling away into dust. She was well and truly a goner.

All at once, a huge smile lit up her face. For once, she actually noticed how he blinked furiously at this and then returned it with an involuntary tug of his lips, as if he could not control his reactions and really couldn't care less about it.

"You," she said, poking him in the chest, "are doing really well on this date."

"I am?"

"You are."

"Well, that's always great to hear." There was a sudden wolfish twist to his smile and he smirked. "Of course, I was hoping as much considering I've been making you blush this entire time."

Her mouth fell open indignantly. "Um, excuse me! I - I - that's just - I do not blush!"

Al laughed softly, his right eyebrow sliding upwards in a sharp flick. "Sure you do."

"I don't," she sniffed, tilting her chin up in pride even as a flush began to work its way up her neck. She cursed her body for betraying her but refused to back down, even as she sank further into a magenta mess. Honestly, the nerve of it all! "You're just seeing things."

"Nova, you literally blush half the time we speak."

"Clearly, you need better glasses."

"First of all, rude. Second of all, don't be embarrassed about it. It's cute. And it's even cuter that you're denying it."

"I am not cute," she cried, crossing her arms. He bit his lip to swallow his amusement which only caused her to further narrow her eyes. "Two seconds ago, you said that I could kill someone with just a look."

He shrugged. "Not when you're blushing."

At her murderous expression, he burst into laughter. It turned out that Al quite liked waxing poetry about the ways in which Nova blushed because he then launched into a spiel about it, the glint in his eyes whispering that he was purely doing this to annoy her. She could feel the heat rising in her chest, the humiliation at being caught in her crush from day one overwhelming her - she knew he had noticed the blushing! - and cursing the fact that Al had apparently forgotten they had a restaurant to go to.

When he showed no sign of stopping, she did it.

She hadn't intended to do it. It hadn't been in the plans she had set out with her friends when discussing her date with Al because at the time it simply hadn't felt like her. But he was delighting in the fact that she was often flustered around him and she just couldn't do it anymore -

So Nova leaned over and kissed him.

It wasn't perfect.

In fact, it was far from so. Her hands rested too lightly on his shoulders, her mouth was at an awkward slant against his and his eyes were open in complete and utter shock. But then they drifted shut and he tilted his head and he kissed her back.

And that was glorious.

It still wasn't perfect... but it was tentative and it was gentle, one of his hands rising to cup her face, the other tangling in her hair. She sank into his embrace, her hands slinking around his neck to clasp together. Their lips were unsure, unfamiliar to each other, but they promised that this would not be the case for much longer, that one day they would melt into each other like they were made for one another.

When she pulled back, her mind felt like it belonged in the stars, like it was spinning up among the constellations above them. She couldn't form any coherent thought. All she knew was that he had kindled a fire in her she had never known and that she wanted more of it.

Now.

"That was really - that was really..." Al's murmur trailed off into nothing. Sleepy eyes gazed at her wonderously, a thumb ghosting over her lips.

"Yeah," she agreed.

A note of humour crept into his whisper. "You're still blushing."

"So are you."

He grinned. "Yeah, I am." And then he moved forward to kiss her again.
 







It was hours later that the fireplace in the living room of 57 Pendragon Way spat out a teenage girl. Dark hair swishing in front of a face which threatened to permanently split into two from the wide smile currently stretched across it, Nova Hale stumbled out onto the floor with the grace of a baby elephant, knees skidding into the threadbare rug, hands shooting out to ease her fall. Pain shot along her wrists but she paid it no mind.

Her mind was occupied with far more important things.

"How fucking.... elegant," drawled a familiar voice.

A voice that should not have been there.

Nova's head shot up to meet the unimpressed brown gaze of Dahlia Darzi. The girl was sprawled Cleopatra-style on the sofa directly opposite her, feet clad in fuzzy socks resting in Alice's lap, looking more than at home. A bowl of popcorn nestled in her lap, kernels strewn across her stomach and all over her churidar.

When Nova turned her head to the right, she saw that the last member of their gang was here too. Upon noticing Nova had spotted her, Nala began to let loose a high-pitched squeal, rising from the depths of her throat to shatter their eardrums, and started to bounce excitedly in her seat. Her hair, much more voluminous than usual as it was styled in an afro, nearly blinded Cass and Reagan in the process, though she didn't seem to care whatsoever.

"What are you guys doing here?" Nova asked at the same moment Nala shrieked, "YOU'RE BACK, TELL US EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW."

Reagan winced, pressing her index finger against the tragus of her left ear. "Fucking hell, Nala. Speak louder, why don't you, I'm sure someone in China didn't hear that."

She smacked her on the arm. "Shut up. There are more important things than your ability to hear!"

"True," Dahlia chimed in with a sinister nod. "Like whether I'm going to let Nala live after that little performance or not."

"Okay, seriously, why do you always talk about murder?" Alice asked in amusement, applying a second coat of red nail varnish to her thumb.

"Because most people knock me sick and death is a fascinating topic. Wednesday Addams has nothing on me."

"Wednesday Addams?" she repeated in confusion. "The only Addams we know is Psycho Sophie. Besides, who names their kid Wednesday?"

"Who names their kid Alice?" Dahlia retorted.

"Plenty of people?"

"That's because plenty of people are-"

Nova rolled her eyes and sighed. Honestly, she would come home from a date to her friends arguing about death and names. Speaking loudly to cut across them all, she said, "Once again: why are you in my house?"

"Don't be so fucking rude, you bitch."

"Dahlia, you can't call someone a bitch in their own house!" reprimanded Alice.

"I'm actually so done with you guys," Nova muttered to herself. Then, raising her voice and directly this toward Nala, "I thought you couldn't make it?"

The girl seemed positively delighted that she had. Launching herself off the sofa, she placed herself as close to Nova as was humanly possible without merging into her via osmosis, her big round eyes piercing her in earnest. Her teeth were blindingly white in her beam.

"Mum let me leave the house once her cousin came around to beg for more money," she explained. "You know, the one who borrowed nearly 400 galleons from us, blew it all on a holiday to Ibiza and hasn't paid us back?"

"Mike?"

"No, Abadom. Mike is my brother Ezekiel's best mate - you know, the freelance artist?"

"Mike," Dahlia said. "What a lad."

Cass blinked. "What - what does that even mean?"

"Obviously it means he's a lad-"

"ANYWAY," Nova interrupted, "why are you here, Darzi? What happened to wanting to spend time with your family?"

"My Auntie Supriya happened." With a sudden twist, her casual smirk transformed into a vicious scowl. Furiously closing a fist around a handful of toffee popcorn, she seethed, "I swear to every bloody god there is, I hate that woman. Ugh. How the fuck is dad related to that dumb bitch?"

"Er. Wow. What ha-"

"Basically, she's been staying over for the past couple of days along with my dad's parents and now that I'm seventeen, she keeps bringing up the fucking topic of getting married to someone. Like just because she got herself hitched off when she was my age doesn't mean I'm dying to fucking chain myself to some guy I've never fucking known."

Nova stared at her, mouth open in shock. Horror and panic rose stirred inside her. "You can't - marriage?"

Noticing the fear on her face, Dahlia reassured, "Don't worry, nothing's going to fucking happen. You see, today my dear Auntie Supriya kept mentioning the son of one of her friend's, some kid who's apparently two years older than us and studying fucking Medicine at uni, as if it'll convince me to tear my fucking clothes off and beg him to marry me. And then it just fucking pissed me off so I told her to go shag Amir herself if he's so fucking goodlooking for a nineteen year old."

"You didn't."

"I did," she said with a grim satisfaction.

"What did she do?"

"Well, she started to shout at me, of course. But then Mum finally got pissed off too and started to fucking rip into her for being on my case about being married. Said that it didn't matter if they all married young because that had been their decision to make and that if I fucking wanted to get married when I'm in my fucking thirties, I was fully entitled to it. It was actually getting pretty brutal so Dad told me to escape for a bit."

"So now you're here," she concluded. "All of you. In my house. Without me."

"We were hanging out with your sisters," Reagan replied with a small shrug as if that explained why they had spent the entire day here without her company.

"Until your dad reminded them that they promised to visit your grandma," added Cass, sliding onto the floor to sit beside Nala. Noticing this, the rest of them began to slowly migrate as well, even if Dahlia moaned all the while despite no one ordering her to do so. Always one for dramatics, that girl.

"What, so is no one else home?" Nova asked, startled.

"Your mum's upstairs."

"Ohhhh. That makes sense."

"Do you know what doesn't?" Nala suddenly burst out with. She grasped her hand fiercely, crying, "The fact that YOU HAVEN'T TOLD US ABOUT YOUR DATE YET. Forget who's in the bloody house, Hale. SPILL."

Immediately, a smile spread across her face as memories of the day rushed back to her. Snatches of moments which made her feel as if she was floating circled around in Nova's head: Charlotte's eyes piercing hers as she delivered a powerful monologue, Al laughing as she unfolded the menu at Bellissimo's in an exaggerated snobbish manner, the sudden lurch of her stomach when he purposefully bit into one of the strawberries from their dessert, peering at her from under thick lashes with a look that should've been made illegal. She could feel the ghost of his mouth against hers, the plump cushion of his lips pressing into her, his breaths sharp and crisp.

"It was alright," she said nonchalantly.

There were instant shrieks in response. Nala screamed like a banshee yet again, begging for elaboration while Reagan heartily promised to wax every inch of her body until she confessed all of the details. Cass demanded for information, raising an unimpressed eyebrow while Alice threw herself onto Nova's lap in a dramatic plea for more.

Dahlia ate some more popcorn.

"Alright, alright," Nova laughed. "It was more than alright. It was - it was... brilliant. Everything about it went so well, guys. The play was phenomenal - fucking hell, the play was so good, Shahid Ali is like a god - and the meal was great."

"But Al," Nala said frantically. "How was Al? Was he a gentlemen? Was he sweet? Was he any different? Did he KISS YOU?"

"Did he fuck you?" Cass joined in wolfishly.

She burned at the suggestion. Struggling for words, she spluttered, "What - fuck - no! Of course not! It was just our first date, Cass."

Though she hadn't intended it to do so, the statement incurred another bout of shrieks.

"FIRST DATE. FIRST DATE."

"THAT MEANS THERE'S GOING TO BE MORE. LOTS MORE."

"OH MY MERLIN, YOU'RE GOING TO BE TOGETHER FOREVER."

"So no shag then?" Cass asked, relishing in the uncomfortable shift Nova delivered as a response. She laughed. "What a shame. No shag, no kiss. Ah, well. You still have time."

Nova paused, biting her lip in hesitation. She had no idea how to go about confessing that she'd finally had her first kiss (Reagan still didn't count). Casting her mind back, she tried to remember how the others had admitted to theirs, only to draw a blank. It seemed as if Cass, Nala and Alice had always been popular with boys and had therefore always seemed to have been so experienced that every experience was old news.

"Actually," she said across the jumble of their voices, "I kissed him."

Where before there had been huge outbursts of noise at every little revelation, there was only silence now. Five girls gaped at her, Dahlia even abandoning the handful of popcorn to ogle her like she had just shot someone. There was nothing at first, not even a gasp.

"He kept talking about me blushing," she continued weakly, trying not to seem too moonstruck as she recalled those moments in the botanical garden. Oh, how they had felt good. "And I wanted to shut him up so I..."

"Kissed him?" concluded Reagan when she trailed off. At the nod, she finally broke out into a beam. "Oh my Godric, Nova! You finally - you finally did it. You kissed him! Oh, I'm so fucking happy for you!"

She leaned over to wrap her up in a hug. Perhaps it was because she had evidently been comfortable enough to be significantly closer to Al but Nova accepted the gesture with an ease that wasn't usual of her. Though she and Reagan were close in a million and one ways, they weren't the kind of best friends who were big on physical contact, not like Alice and Dahlia. Today, however, she would be more than happy to hug a thousand people.

"I have to say," Alice admitted, "I didn't expect you to make the first move. Two seconds ago, you were denying that he even liked you."

"But I always had faith in your abilities to pull," Nala declared passionately. "And I was right. So ha, Dahlia! HA."

The other girl shrugged and rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm sorry for thinking that Nova had a brain like I do." At the unimpressed looks she earned for that comment, she groaned. "Ugh. Fine. Maybe Potter's not that bad. He did prank Psycho Sophie for us."

"For Nova," Cass said.

"It wasn't just for me. I heard Malfoy helped quite a bit."

A small smile graced her face. "Yes. That sounds just like Scorpius."

"How are things at home?" Nala murmured tentatively.

Her shoulder lifted and fell in a small shrug, collarbones shining like pale moonlight beside the navy blue velvet of her dress. Sadness crept into the upwards slant of her mouth. "The same as usual, I suppose. I spend most of my time with Scorpius or reading in my bedroom. Mum has put us all on a diet because we're 'in desperate need of it'. But it's okay."

They exchanged worried glances. A diet was the last thing Cass needed at this moment.

"I'm fine," she insisted at their uneasy expressions. "Scorpius spends most days arguing with her about it. He always wins."

For the first time she could recall, Nova felt an overwhelming rush of gratitude for Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy. Even though he had always been close to his cousin, she had never felt the need to carry conversations with him on a regular basis, much more content with leading a life in an entirely different circle. Now that she knew he was fighting for Cass every second that the girls couldn't, she resolved to change that.

God bless Scorpius Malfoy.

"I'm beginning to like this boy," Reagan said approvingly.

"Hands off. Weasley will have your head if she heard that."

"That's not what I meant and you know it!"

Nala spoke over the bickering with a sincere: "It's good to know he's helping you, Cass. I wish we could do the same, but..."

"You have families to be with," she said understandingly. "I get it. Seriously, guys, I'm okay. I told you I spend most of my time with Scorpius anyway." A laugh began to escape her throat. "We've been pranking Xanthe a lot in our spare time. It's actually hilarious."

"Tell us the details!" came their instant pleas.

She waited for a moment, teasing them with anticipation before she proudly divulged the details. "Well, the first night back we put bubotuber puss in his pillow cases so he stank for the next two days. On another night we tied him to the Christmas tree using tinsel so he woke up in the dining hall with needles up his arse. Oh, and we also told all of the laundry servants that he has syphilis so they won't sleep with him."

As intended, her words resulted in an eruption of laughter.

Grinning, she added, "My favourite has to be what we did the other evening though. My grandparents are visiting us from France so Dad had the house elves make escargot for the formal dinner. We may or may not have re-animated Xanthe's as he was eating them."

Their roars of amusement dissolved into huge groans of disgust.

Dahlia only laughed harder.

Pleased by their reactions, Cass grabbed her best friend's hand and squeezed. "Now he'll think twice about coming near you ever again," she promised.

Spurred on by the thought of Xanthe fucking Greengrass biting into a snail, the moods of the girls of Dormitory 2.6A reached a giddy high. They fell back into their habit of lounging around, teasing each other with insults and dissolving into giggles about the littlest things while devouring food (some spagh bol Mrs Hale had made), though they were careful not to swear too much within hearing distance of the matriarch. Alice switched on the Magi-Vision to watch the Arrows vs Wasps match in between the multiple conversations flying back and forth.

As the Chasers threw a Quaffle back and forth on the pitch while Dahlia and Nala argued about whether Fifi LaFolle was a piece of shit or not ("If you love her words of wisdom so much, you might as well love a fucking cactus because it would sure hurt less than listening to her make my ears bleed!"), Nova leaned back and watched the chaos in amusement, sipping on some Butterbeer. Poetry of the most epic form would not have been able to express how much she loved these girls. They were a part of her, as crazy and mismatched as they were.

Looking back, she realised that the girls she had first befriended at the start of Hogwarts, those four girls who slept in the other dormitory, were all the same. Bryony, Alayna, Meena and Fionnuala were just about similar enough in personality and ambition to feel somewhat threatened by the others in their circle - they all placed high importance on dating, all liked to be at the centre of the social life at Hogwarts and all wanted to be remembered as someone to envy. At the beginning, Nova had been like that too. Despite this, there had always been something holding her back, a deep fear that she wouldn't be accepted.

In the end, it had been the fear of not being wanted that had led her to not be wanted. So she had taken solace in a small girl who had taken a chance with Nova, someone who liked to stay quietly in the corner but had a wry sense of humour that had complemented her own well. And when the next year had commenced, she had taken up her offer of moving to the other dormitory.

And the rest, as they say, was history.

Something Nova had come to learn over the years was that having something in common with your friends was good, yes, but it didn't hurt to stand out from the crowd a little either.

Because even if one girl was loud and boisterous and often seemed far too Gryffindor to be donning black and yellow, she was perfectly fine being best friends with someone who sought to find the best in people, a sweetheart who lit up like sunshine itself. And even if one girl felt that love wasn't for her, that all she really wanted was to appreciate the sensuality of being physically wanted, it was possible for her to be the other half of a girl who solely dreamt of a happily ever after.

It didn't matter that Cass had grown up in a chateau in France and that Dahlia had walked the grittier streets of Oldham the entirety of her life. That Nala's life was incredibly family-centric and that Reagan only saw her father when he came back from Ilvermorny in the holidays. That Alice was already infamous and Nova wanted to keep to the shadows.

In the end, these six girls of Dormitory 2.6A had found another family in each other, the sort of bond that couldn't be broken - not by the vile whispers of girls like Psycho Sophie or the careless games of boys like Xanthe Greengrass, not even by the secret dark seeds of envy the girls may have nursed inside them. Yes, things had certainly changed because of these things - Cass was learning to love her body, Nala was learning to discover her worth and Nova was learning to reach out to someone new - but all the balance had done was simply shifted. It hadn't broken, merely fractured and now it had healed completely.

Strengthened.

"I SWEAR TO GOD, NALA, I WILL SMASH THIS BOWL ON YOUR HEAD IF YOU DON'T START READING PROPER BOOKS."

"TRY ME, DARZI. THIS AFRO IS LIKE A GOODLOOKING SHIELD CHARM."

And nothing would ever change that.





And fin.

DISCLAIMERS:

"Cassidy Greengrass sleeps with the fishes" = "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" from The Godfather which I do not own and never will. How does Nova Hale, a girl who grew up in the wizarding district of York know this? Two words: Dahlia Darzi. Speaking of Dahlia, her mention of Wednesday Addams is a reference to the character from the Addams Family which I do not own either.

[Fun fact: according to Buzzfeed, I am like 97% similar to Wednesday Addams! Watch out people. I'm a-coming.]

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

So. We're here. We've reached the end of the line. Dormitory 2.6A can officially be marked completed and I don't know what to do with my life anymore. This chapter would've been up a lot sooner but I lost my copy of this chapter MINUTES AFTER I COMPLETED IT so I had to rewrite it. Thoughts on the chappie?

I would just like to say that this fic has transformed from something on the side to my actual baby. From the very first sentence ("I SWEAR TO GOD, IF YOU HUG ME ONE MORE TIME, ALICE, I WILL SHOVE YOUR FUCKING POTIONS ESSAY UP YOUR FUCKING ARSE."), it was a deeply personal project as it dealt with issues that I have directly/indirectly experienced, issues that I wanted to bring to light in any way possible. When I first began to write this in Dec 2015, I would never have imagined to come this far with it. None of this would've been possible without you dear readers and I honestly mean that.

There are way too many people I need to dedicate this to: beka_wotter, Paula, Ineke, Ysh, ginnyweasly22, Nena, Moony Padfoot and Prongs - literally everyone who dealt with my panicked tweets about this. Everyone who favourited/followed/reviewed this crazy fic. I LOVE YOU GUYS SO MUCH.

Plums xo

[also, there will probably be some stuff going up on tumblr where i talk about why i made some of the decisions i did regarding this fic.]



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