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Keeping Warm by Ashlumos1888
Chapter 1 : The Starting Point
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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 The Starting Point

"Absolutely disgraceful behaviour... Couldn't have even waited one night to cause trouble... Hadn't even come into the Godforsaken castle yet..."

It was an unfortunate start to the year. They all had to admit that. Stood in a solemn line in front of the frightening Professor Hockley's fireplace, the five Gryffindors hung their heads in shame (or just a half-hearted attempt at shame) and awaited their punishment.

A brawl outside the school carriages was never a good way to start the term.

"Miss Flynn," Hockley said at last, her lip curling at the word Flynn, "did you or did you not punch Grace Marshall in the face?"

"Me? No, Professor," Sarah Flynn said innocently, sliding her bruised fist into her pocket. Next to her the boy called Aaron snorted with laughter.

"And you, Mr Peters. Did you happen to notice the cause of the ruckus?"

"No."

"You didn't start the fight?"

"No."

"Or hex off Henry King's fingers?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"No."

Hockley tilted her head as she evaluated the smirking fifth year. Normally any cheek directed her way would result in an instant detention; however, Aaron Peters seemed to gather detentions with something akin to pride. She let it slide.

"Miss Morgan," she announced instead, turning to the pretty brunette standing unhappily at the end of the line, "you have been made prefect this year, I see. Congratulations."

Alex looked up and although her usually lovely hair was now a mess of tangles and there was a noticeable rip in her robes, she somehow managed to maintain an air of dignity which her four companions lacked.

"Thank you, Professor," she said unenthusiastically.

"So unfortunate," Hockley continued, "that your stretch as prefect should begin like this. It would be such a shame if the events of tonight were to… permanently mar your position. Tell me, Miss Morgan, are you positive that you cannot recall anything from tonight?"

Alex hesitated, and somewhere down the line a boy called James Potter coughed loudly, though it came out soundly oddly like snake.

"No, Professor Hockley," Alex said through gritted teeth. "I don't have anything to say about what happened."




(9 hours earlier)

It started with a lost cat, really. When it all boiled down to it that was the cause of all the upset, the arguments, and the fight. That's how it all began: with Violet Reynolds' lost cat.

September 1st of that year was as chaotic as ever; King's Cross Station was overrun with frantic students and even more frantic parents, lost owl cages and stray trunks, and a piercing cry of 'I won't be in Slytherin! I won't!'

Alex Morgan had travelled to King's Cross station alone that day. Her brother had just graduated from Hogwarts that summer, and she hadn't any other siblings so her parents had elected to stay at home.

Alex didn't mind though. She didn't really mind much about anything at all, mainly because she didn't have anything to mind about. She had a damn near perfect life that was matched by an equally perfect persona. Popular, and clever, and lovely; she'd be the kind of girl that'd be easy to hate if she wasn't so bloody friendly.

Arriving at Platform 9 ¾ at quarter past ten, she left her trunk with one of the platform workers, boarded the train, and sat in one of the empty compartments to patiently await her friends.

It was twenty-five to eleven before any of them showed up. The compartment door slid open and Grace Marshall entered.

"Alex!" she squealed, rushing to hug her best friend. "How are you? How was your summer?"

"Calm down, Grace," laughed Alex, returning the hug. "I saw you last week—you know how my summer's been!"

The two girls sat and chattered, and presently they were joined by their fellow Gryffindor and dorm-mate Martha Ackerly. Just as the clock was approaching eleven and the three girls were wondering where their other friends from Ravenclaw were, there was a knock on the compartment door and it slid open again, revealing two other Gryffindor girls in their year.

Hilary Ash stood there, with her best friend Felicity Parish standing sullenly behind her. Although they shared a dorm with the pair and they all got on reasonably well, Alex and Grace didn't tend to socialise with them much; their presence there was certainly a rarity.

"Hullo," said Hilary cheerfully. "Alright if we sit with you? Most of the compartments are full, and we didn't particularly fancy sitting with some firsties."

Grace pulled a face. "Well, that would be lovely," she began, sticking her nose in the air, "but I'm not sure if we've got the room…"

"Don't be silly, Grace," said Alex with a laugh. "Come in you two, there's plenty of room."

Grace hesitated. "Well, I suppose so…"

"Brilliant," said Hilary, flopping down next to Martha.

"Great," Fliss said grumpily as she perched next to Alex, whipping out the latest edition of The Daily Prophet and immediately sticking her nose in it; it was a well-known fact that Felicity Parish didn't do small talk.

The rest of them exchanged the usual pleasantries whilst waiting for the train to leave; how were their summers, what did they do, did they go away at all? Then Grace peered out the train window, evidently looking for someone on the platform.

"I wonder if Aaron's here yet," she wondered. "Of course he's usually late for things, but he could have come to the platform early with James or Fred…"

"He's here," Martha said. "I saw him when I arrived earlier. He was talking to Violet Reynolds."

"Oh." Grace sat back unhappily. A Gryffindor in their year, resident troublemaker, and best friend of James Potter and Fred Weasley, Grace had long had her eye on Aaron Peters.

"Reckon they'll give you trouble this year Alex?" Hilary asked. "Being prefect and all."

"Oh, I expect so," said Alex wearily. "I'm sure they'll be doing something stupid like setting off Dung-bombs in the train toilets or attacking Bobby Matthews with Stink Pellets already."

Martha said, "I heard that they're planning on turning the school carriages into pumpkins."

"Even more stupid then."

"Oh, I don't know," mused Hilary. "They can be sort of brilliant, can't they, when they don't take it too far."

"But how often does that happen?" said Alex.

"Aaron's wonderful," Grace said, glowing; Fliss mimed vomiting into her newspaper. Just then the train gave a lurch and started forward: they were off.

"Well, what about Fred Weasley then?" Martha asked Alex. "He's had his eye on you for ages."

Alex smiled wryly. "I think that Henry might have something to say about that." Henry King, a Ravenclaw in their year, was Alex's boyfriend of seven months.

"Ah, the great Weasley versus King debate," sighed Hilary. "I prefer Fred myself. A lot more interesting to talk to, I think. Henry's a bit of a bore. Oh, no offence though, Alex."

"None taken," said Alex with amusement.

"Well, I think Henry makes a better boyfriend," Grace announced. "Martha?"

"Oh definitely Henry," she agreed.

They all looked at Fliss.

"They're both stupid," she said without looking up. "But if I had to choice, I guess I'd pick Weasley."

"Ha!" cried Hilary.

"Looks like I've got the deciding vote," Alex noted, smiling. "And since Fred Weasley has been the bane of my existence since third year what with his hexing Henry and asking me out all the time…" ("It's funny," insisted Hilary,"), "I think I'm going to stick with Henry."

"Excellent choice," Grace said approvingly. Hilary opened her mouth to argue but Fliss elbowed her.

"The Flynn's are all roughed up again," Martha commented, gazing out the window. "Sarah's got bruises all over her face. And the younger one, Tom, his arm looks all funny. Odd, isn't it? They always turn up to school like that."

"Not really," sniffed Grace. "You know what kind of family they are, Martha. Nothing more than white trash. They've probably been getting into fights again."

"That's what you think it is?" Hilary asked, eyebrows raised. "Duelling?"

"Well, obviously. What else could it be?"

Fliss glanced up from her paper. "Are you being this stupid on purpose?" she asked bluntly. Graces stared at her, taken aback.

"Excuse me?"

"Never mind it, Grace," said Alex quickly. "Here, do you want a Pumpkin Pasty?"

Grace scowled. "Sarah Flynn's bad news," she insisted. "My father nearly wrote a letter to the school last year. He wants her out of the dormitory. Did you hear that she and that twin of hers got taken to Ministry again over the summer? Stealing, I heard. Father doesn't think that I'm safe living with the likes of the Flynns."

"You're being dramatic. She's really not that bad."

"She's punched me in the face, Alex," Grace pointed out. "Twice."

"Well, yes," Alex admitted. "Although to be fair, Grace, you know you had that last one coming…"

"I did not!"

"Oh, you did," Hilary said mildly. "You called her family a bunch of half-bred scum. Didn't she, Fliss?"

Fliss nodded her head without glancing up from the newspaper and Grace scowled.

"You should be more like Alex here, Grace," Martha said, amused. "Prefect, tutoring first years, and top of the class to boot. An example to us all."

"Oh, Alex isn't completely innocent," Hilary said cheekily. "I remember when she helped James, Aaron and Fred break into Professor Hockley's classroom in second year. Remember, we got all of fourth period off that day."

"I didn't know that!" Grace turned to her best friend with a scowl. "Why didn't I know that, Alex?"

"Um…"

"It's because you're a nark," said Fliss, turning the page of the Prophet. Everyone stopped and stared at her. "What?" she said, defensive. "You are."

"No I'm not!"

"Yes, you are," sang Hilary cheerfully, and it wasn't to be mean exactly (though seeing Grace's cheeks redden was undeniably satisfying) but just because Hilary Ash was simply honest by nature. "Like that time you told Professor Hockley that it was Sarah Flynn who set fire to Bobby Matthews' cloak…"

"Or when you told Professor Longbottom that she threw mooncalf dung at Zoey Zabini…"

"Or when she turned Aaron Peters' hair pink…"

"Yes, yes, alright, we get the picture," Grace interrupted, frowning.

Fliss delicately turned another page. "Gosh, I wonder why she's punched you twice," she said; Alex stifled a giggle.




 

Sarah Flynn was tall, and skinny, and might have been pretty had life dealt her a kinder hand. Her blonde hair was usually unkempt and tangled, and although she was tanned and had enviable cheekbones, she also had yellowed fingernails and a scrawny look about her, the product of a difficult upbringing.

She had a bruise on her face that morning (which she failed to hide with her brother's snapback) and a nasty cut running up her leg (which was successfully hidden by her tattered jeans). Had Sarah actually attended her lessons the past four years she might have been able to heal these injuries. As it was, the only achievements she had to her name was a number of successfully stolen magical goods sold at very reasonable prices and socking Grace Marshall twice.

That morning as she made her way down the Hogwarts Express in search of her friends she found herself bickering with her brother Chris. It was a bit unfortunate, really, as he was the only one of her four brothers that she actually got on with.

"You're too hard on him, Sar," Chris was saying. "He's thirteen, he's just a fuckin' kid…"

"He's a shit," Sarah retorted; a group of sixth years bustled past them and she pulled the cap lower over her face. "Did you see what he did to Nancy Atwater last term? The girl couldn't fucking write for a week."

"It was an accident," Chris replied patiently. "Tom knows he was a moron, I spoke to him about it…"

"Oh, bet that did a fat load of good…"

"…and he said he was sorry. And I believe him." They'd reached the carriage where their friends were residing and Chris looked at Sarah defiantly. "He's our brother, Sar."

That registered. Sarah and Chris came from a big family, but they loathed most of them with a vengeance. Just that summer their oldest brother Nick had been sent to Azkaban for the murder of a Muggle—a five year stay. They didn't exactly have brothers to spare.

"Tom's crazy," she said after a moment. "He's fuckin' crazy, Chris."

"Yeah, he is," Chris agreed. "He's fuckin' nuts. That's why we've got to look out for him, Sar. You and me, we've got each other. Who's he got? A couple of Slytherins halfwits who can't tell the right way up of a wand. If we don't look out for him he'll start looking to Mike or Nick, and then we'll probably end up with another Flynn in Azkaban. And you shouting at him like you were this morning ain't gonna help that."

He might have said more but it was hard to argue with Sarah just then. Her face looked like a sunset. He felt a stab of guilt every time he saw the bruises blossoming across her face—they'd have a hard time explaining that one to the teachers.

"Aw alright," she said. She could see that Davey, Charlotte, and Edmund had lit up their fags as the smoke was already hazing up the sliding door; for some reason the sight made her feel embarrassed. She turned away.

"C'mon," said Chris. "Let's see the others."

They entered the compartment. Sarah took a seat between Charlotte and Edmund, and Chris sat next to Davey who, upon seeing Sarah, went, "Jesus fucking Christ."

Sarah kicked her legs up onto the seat opposite. "Shut it, Davey."

"What the fuck happened? Your brother do something to you again? Did Mike hit ya—"

"Shut the fuck up, Davey!" Chris half-yelled, and he did (sullenly).

"Good summer, Chris?" Charlotte asked tentatively. He shrugged.

"Yeah, I s'pose. We did some work for Dung over the holidays. That was pretty fun. Followed Mike on a couple of jobs. Oi…" His eyes sparkled and he leaned forward, "Mike's mate, Joe, he gave me some fireworks last week. Not just your standard Weasley fireworks either, proper ones. He got 'em from the NF."

"The NF?" Edmund repeated, impressed. "Sick."

"Oi, Chris," said Davey eagerly, leaning forward, "is it true you and Sarah got taken in to the Ministry again this summer? Is it?"

Sarah and Chris's eyes met for just the briefest of moments before she looked away. Chris answered, "Yeah, we did. Some old bird ratted us out, caught us nicking some robes in Diagon Alley. S'alright though. One of the Aurors, Robards, we know him pretty well now. Gets a bit shirty with us sometimes, but he's alright. Let us off with a warning."

"Again," muttered Sarah.

"How'd you find out anyway?" Chris asked Davey.

"My dad told me," he said importantly. "Said you two were a couple of criminals, he did. I told him you were okay though."

That was all they ever got from Davey. Talk about his father. Michael Corner had been a member of Dumbledore's Army, fought in the Battle of Hogwarts, and now he had a moron for a son. Sarah didn't know much about the man, apart from that he strongly disapproved of his son's choice of friends. She and Chris only ever got glares when they saw him on platform 9 ¾ and they never met up at the Corner house during the summer holidays. Sarah suspected that Mr Corner might have done more to try and separate them, had his son not turned out to be such a disappointment.

It was a tricky situation for Davey: he idolised his father, but he worshipped Chris too.

"Did you hear?" Charlotte said, lobbing her finished cigarette out the train window. "Apparently James Potter and his lot are planning on turning the school carriages into pumpkins."

Everyone looked to Chris.

"Cool," he smiled, and everyone agreed at once.

Apart from Sarah. She just rolled her eyes.




 

"Apparently we're going to turn the school carriages into pumpkins."

Aaron Peters, a handsome Gryffindor fifth year with curly brown hair and a careless demeanour, entered the compartment (the very last on the train) and flopped onto the seat nearest the door. The other two occupants didn't even glance up as the door slid shut, immersed as they were in a game of Exploding Snap.

"Pumpkins?" The dark-haired wizard called James wrinkled his nose in disgust. "Surely people expect more from us than that."

"You would think," Aaron agreed. "Though I s'pose there's something ironic about it. Cinderella and all that."

"Cinderella? What's that?" asked the final wizard, Fred. He sat up and threw down his cards beside him, accepting that the game was all but over now that their best mate had arrived.

"Never mind." After four years Aaron had learnt that there was little point in trying to explain Muggle things to his Pure-blooded friends. "Oi, Violet Reynolds is looking fit today. Did you see her on the platform earlier?"

"You stay away from Violet Reynolds," Fred ordered. "She was my Potions partner all last year. She's a nice girl."

"Nice?" Aaron wrinkled his nose. "Never seemed particularly nice to me. Stuck up and haughty, I thought. Just my type."

"Absolutely not. I actually like Violet, Aaron, and it'd be nice if we still actually had some female friends left by the end of the year."

"Well, I've left the Gryffindor girls alone," shrugged Aaron. "Can't say more than that. And I'm not that bad."

Fred turned to his cousin. "James," he implored, "help me out here. Tell that useless sack of shit to leave old Reynolds alone."

James Potter was a remarkable sort of boy. He was handsome (not quite as handsome as Aaron, but handsome still) with messy black hair inherited from his father and laughing hazel eyes inherited from his grandfather. When he walked it was with a careless sort of grace and when he spoke everyone around him listened. James was clever, and funny, and confident, and, worst of all, he knew it.

Now, as he lounged by the train window with his feet kicked up on the seat opposite him, he went, "Sorry mate. As long as the girl doesn't become a permanent fixture, I couldn't give a rat's arse."

"Out-voted," Aaron said triumphantly. Fred rolled his eyes.

"So what, none of us are allowed girlfriends?" he inquired. "Bit harsh, that."

"Yeah, what if Morgan finally starts giving Fred the time of day?" Aaron asked.

James considered that. "Alright. Morgan's the exception. Mainly cause I don't think it's very bloody likely."

"She's still with King," Fred said gloomily. "Dickhead."

James and Aaron sympathised whole-heartedly with this.

"Tell you what, mate," said Aaron kindly, "if things don't work out with me and Reynolds, I'll give her to you."

"I don't where to begin with the things that are wrong with that statement."

Just then the compartment door slid open and Sophie Dippet (a Hufflepuff witch in their year) popped her head in.

"Oh… hullo," she squeaked, faltering as she recognised the occupants of the compartment; they looked at her expectantly. "I don't suppose… that is… my friend Violet—Violet Reynolds—she's lost her cat. Big, and fluffy, and, um… white. Have any of you seen it?"

"And that's my cue," said Aaron happily, jumping to his feet. "Sorry, Fred mate, but you can't fight fate." Then to Sophie: "Haven't seen it, Sally, but I'll give you a hand finding it. Lead the way."

Hesitantly: "Um—it's Sophie…"

He waved his hand dismissively. "Whatever."

They left the compartment, Sophie looking rather scared, and James turned to Fred.

"You know," he said thoughtfully, "turning the carriages into pumpkins might not be such a terrible idea…"




 

By the time the train reached Hogsmeade station the sun had long set and the only source of light to guide the students to the school carriages came from the dim glow of the streetlamps.

Alex walked arm in arm with Grace chattering away. Both were in good spirits, and Alex listened to her friend's gossip quite happily.

"…and I heard as well that James Potter's got his eye on your cousin, Alex, she's in the year below, isn't she? In Ravenclaw. Oh, and Hilary Ash as well—I didn't want to say in front of her, but apparently she slept with Kieran Ratcliffe over the summer!" She paused. "Let's not let those two sit with us again, Alex. I was hoping that Zoey and Clio would join us, but there was no room. Now we won't be able to talk to them until tomorrow."

Alex quite liked Hilary and Fliss but she was in a good mood and didn't want to spoil the Welcoming Feast with an argument, and so she nodded. "Alright, Grace. If you like." Just then she spotted someone in the crowd ahead and smiled. "Hang on, Grace, there's Henry—I should really go and say hello…"

"But Alex, the carriages are nearly here…" However, Alex had already scarpered off. Grace turned to Martha who walked behind, grumbling. "Always running after that damn boyfriend off hers. Of course, he is awfully good-looking, but a girl's got to put her friends first, don't you think?"

Martha replied, bracingly, "Don't worry about it, Grace. Look, maybe we'll even get in a carriage with Aaron—or James?"

Grace brightened considerably at this, but before she could respond Aaron Peters himself appeared, looking somewhat unnatural without Potter and Weasley by his side.

"Hullo, how are you, how was your summer, weather's absolutely fucking awful, right?" he rattled off, barely acknowledging Grace and Martha at all as he looked around the crowd of students. "Listen, neither of you have seen a cat, have you? White, fluffy… Pretty ugly if you ask me—buggar's been missing for a good four hours."

"No," said Grace; she looked quite put out at the lukewarm reception. "I didn't know you had a cat."

"It's Violet's," he replied vaguely. "Reynolds, you know? Usually I don't go for Slytherins, but she's just really—oh God, it's you."

He'd finally registered who it was he was talking to and, with a look of horror that was almost comical, scarpered away leaving behind an embarrassed Grace and Martha.

Sarah Flynn stood nearby and, having seen this exchange, laughed. She had lost Chris and their friends as they'd disembarked from the train and so waited for the carriages alone. Grace heard her and turned red.

"Oh, why don't you go back to your pit, Flynn?" she drawled. "I'm surprised they've even let you back into Hogwarts this year."

"Well, someone's gotta keep you in check, huh Marshall? Who's gonna give you a black eye when you act like a bitch if I'm not around?"

Grace's lip curled and there was a malicious glint in her eye. If Sarah had been a bit wiser, she might have left the pair then. "Don't mind Sarah here, Martha," she said to her companion loudly. "She's probably just in a bad mood. You heard about her brother, didn't you? Hauled off to Azkaban a few weeks ago for cursing a group of Muggles. He killed one, too. They were only seventeen, did you know that? And Nick Flynn's twenty-five. Isn't that right, Sarah?"

The mirth had left Sarah's face leaving it impassive; she gave no response to Grace's question.

"I wonder how long it'll be," she continued on, louder than ever, "before dear Chris joins him? A little low-life like that, I can't imagine it'll be more than a few months… And we all heard about how those two were carted off to the Ministry this summer for stealing…"

It were as though Sarah had no control over her body. Without even thinking she had crossed the ten feet between them, seized Grace's arm, and yanked it hard.

"Want to say that again, Marshall?"

Grace's eyes widened, and she shrank back. "What are you doing? Get your grubby little hands off me!" she cried, scandalised.

"Don't think so," Sarah hissed, only gripping onto her arm tighter, "because let me tell you one thing, I am fucking bored of you. You have a go at my brother one more time and I swear to God…"

However, Sarah never got to finish her threat due to a sudden bang and a streak of light colliding with her wrist. She yelped and jumped back, and Alex Morgan appeared by Grace's shoulder.

"That's enough, Sarah," she said sharply, slipping her wand back into her robes.

Rubbing her arm, Sarah glared furiously at Grace (who was cowering behind Alex). "Shame. I hadn't given Marshall another black eye yet."

She still would.

"I'll dock points," warned Alex. "No fighting or duelling, Sarah, you know that."

"Ah, of fuckin' course." Sarah rolled her eyes. "'Cause Princess Marshall couldn't possibly have said anything to warrant a good hit to the face, the poor little angel."

"We haven't even reached the castle yet, you two. Please, just for one night, can we let this one go?"

It might have ended there, had things worked out differently. Sarah was certainly prepared to 'let this one go' (after all, it certainly wasn't the first time she'd heard slights about her family) and Grace was much more at home with snide remarks and underhand comments than punches and hexes, which was where this exchange was inevitably leading. Thus, it was certainly feasible that both girls would part ways that evening and not meet again until later that night in the girls' dormitories once they had both calmed down.

However, Violet Reynolds had lost her cat that day and so the person probably best at escalating situations popped up once again.

"Hullo!" said Aaron cheerfully. The drizzle had settled in his curls and dampened his school robes; annoyingly it only made him more attractive. "Anyone seen a cat?"

"No!" Grace and Martha cried shrilly. Aaron raised his eyebrows.

"Alright," he went. "Bloody hell. Wasn't asking you two, anyway. Nice hair by the way, Marshall. Drowned rat looks good on you."

"Leave her alone, Aaron," said Alex, her tone harsh. "We haven't seen the cat."

Sarah laughed. "Fuck me, Morgan, don't you ever get bored of defending her?"

"You're hardly innocent, Sarah," snapped Alex, "it wouldn't exactly be the first fight you'd be involved in, after all. And I don't know what you're attacking me for. I haven't done anything!"

"Nah, you're right, Morgan," Aaron replied, rather amused. "I'm sure you were just standing around watching Marshall being a bitch, as per…"

This comment stung Grace quite clearly; her cheeks burnt bright red and tears sprung to her eyes.

"Leave it out, Peters." A new voice entered the fray and Henry King, Alex's Ravenclaw boyfriend, appeared looking decidedly pissed off. "Like you're one to talk, anyway. You and Potter spend half your lives hexing Hufflepuffs and what exactly does your little friend Weasley do about it? Pretend not to notice and let you carry on."

"He's a good lad, isn't he?" Aaron agreed with a sigh. "Don't worry though, he was the one that came up with the idea to put Permanent-Sticking potion on your dorm toilets. Heard you had to get Professor Flitwick to come and unstick your arse cheeks from the seat."

The Ravenclaw went red with embarrassment. "Well, what more can you expect from a bunch of Gryffindors?" he said, rather lamely. "I'm surprised you're even deigning to talk to me. I thought you made a point of not talking to us Ravenclaws."

"King, I doubt you count—Ravenclaws are supposed to be smart, you know."

"Really," said Alex as Sarah snorted with laughter. "Henry, stop getting so angry, you know he's just trying to rile you up."

Henry didn't heed his girlfriend's advice. He pulled out his wand and directed it at Aaron, who regarded it with little more than amusement.

"Really, King?" he asked (or goaded really). "You're going to hex me in front of everyone? Bad example for a prefect to send to all the little kiddos, don't you think? Though believe me, I'm flattered you think I'm worth the detention…"

"Don't tempt me, Peters," Henry snarled. "I reckon you've earned a good hexing. And, to be honest, there's nothing I'd love more than to curse off your…"

"What's this then? Has King finally grown some bollocks?"

"Oh Merlin." Alex heaved an enormous sigh as James Potter and Fred Weasley materialised out of nowhere. They didn't bother getting their wands out either, despite the presence of Henry's.

"Leave it out, Potter," said Henry. "This is between me and Peters."

Fred rolled his eyes. "Ri-ight," he drawled. "And though I'm sure you would do a fine job of cursing off my best mate's unmentionables, realistically I doubt you've got the nerve. So let's save us all five minutes of you standing there with your wand out and James and Aaron making fun of you, and get into a bloody—"

"Aaron, there you are! Did you find..." Violet stopped in surprise and looked around. "Oh. Is there a fight going on?"

"No," said Alex, Grace, and Henry at the same time that Sarah, James, and Aaron chorused, "Yes." Both sides glared at each other.

"Now, now, Morgan, don't be a killjoy," James said. "King, I don't know what you're playing at, you're the only here with your wand out…"

"For Merlin's sake, Henry, put it away," said Alex impatiently. The rain was getting heavier now, and the carriages still hadn't arrived. The crowd of onlookers had swelled considerably in just two minutes, and both Alex and Grace were very aware of the fact, sharing worried looks as the other five continued to bicker.

"Shall we go a get a carriage?" Grace murmured.

Alex nodded. "Good idea."

However, before either of them could slip away there were several loud bangs in the distance, followed by a chorus of screams: the carriages had finally arrived.

Except they weren't carriages.

Inching their way towards the mass of students, with leafy green vines for legs, were dozens of carriage-sized pumpkins. They were scuttling towards them like huge, orange spiders, using their tendrils to trip up unsuspecting students. It would have been an impressive display of magic had it not been so terrifying.

Thinking that she had finally worked out why Aaron had been alone when he'd first showed up, Alex squeezed her eyes shut in horror.

"For God's sake!" Henry swore and turned to the Gryffindor boys. "This was you, wasn't it?!"

"Now, now, King," Aaron tutted as around them younger students ran about in panic and the older students stood and laughed. "Does turning the school carriages into pumpkins sound like something we would do?"

"Yes."

"Oh. Yeah, alright then," shrugged James. "It was us."

Alex stamped her foot. "Oh, of all the stupid things…"

"Bloody idiots…"

"Aw, do one, King…"

"I thought it was funny…"

"Well, you fucking would, wouldn't you Flynn…"

"And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"Dickhead…"

"Arsehole!"

It was hard to tell exactly who started the whole thing—whether it was Sarah taking aim at Grace, or one of the boys throwing a spell at Henry—but what was clear was what happened next: one particularly rambunctious pumpkin stuck out it's tendril and tripped up a group of hysterical second years. There was a scream, a shout of fuck, and then—somehow—an all-out brawl.




 

(Professor Hockley's Office)

All five Gryffindors kept their eyes firmly on the fire as Professor Hockley's heeled boots clacked across the wooden floor. She came to a stop directly in front of Sarah and whirled around, hands on hips.

"So," she seethed, "none of you will confess what transpired tonight? No-one will answer my questions?!"

"It was confusing, Professor," tried Alex bravely. "There were so many people about, and Pot—someone had hexed the carriages so a lot of the second years were getting themselves all worked up. It was hard to tell exactly what…"

She trailed off as Hockley moved to tower over her. Standing at an impressive six foot four, there were rumours at Hogwarts that there was giantess blood in the Transfiguration professor. She delighted in them.

"Right," she said, a steely glint in her eye. "Punishment. You mark my words, it will be a very long time before any of you little delinquents see the light of—"

"Um—Priscilla?"

A gentle, wonderfully familiar voice came from the doorway, and every student's head snapped up at once. Professor Longbottom stood in the doorway,

Hockley folded her arms. "What do you want, Longbottom?"

"Well, as these students belong to my house," he said with a faint smile, stepping into the room, "I thought that I might take over from here. If you're lucky you might catch the end of the Sorting."

Hockley didn't look like she liked this idea very much but seemed to realise that she had little choice in the matter.

"I—very well. I wish you more success than I had trying to gain anything from these…" she looked at the five Gryffindors and shuddered, and with a final haughty look she withdrew from the room.

The stars themselves cheered.

Longbottom waited until her footsteps had disappeared down the corridor before addressing the group with a faint smile.

"Really boys?" he said. "Term hasn't even started yet. Are you actively trying to turn my hair grey prematurely?"

"In our defence, Neville," said James, "we didn't exactly plan this."

"The carriages were unplanned?"

They didn't have an answer for that and he chuckled. "Alright. I'll say a detention each and ten points apiece from Gryffindor. Quite a lenient punishment, I think." They had to agree. "Alright, get to the feast—and straight to the Hospital Wing afterwards so Hannah can sort you all out.

"Cheers, Nev," Aaron grinned as the five stood up and filtered towards the door.

They had all nearly made it when Longbottom called out: "Sarah? A word?"

She swore inwardly. Almost made it. Slowly she turned and faced her Head of House. He beckoned towards the armchair, that friendly damn smile still on his face.

She hated the way he called her Sarah, not Flynn. He was the only teacher to do that. Like he was her friend or something. The boys and Alex left the office with James and Aaron waving Longbottom a cheerful goodbye, and she sat down. Neville leant against Hockley's desk.

"Those marks on your face, Sarah," he began as the door shut behind Alex, "they weren't done two hours ago."

She gazed at the fire. It was dying down now. The office had grown dimmer. "I s'pose not."

"I'd say maybe a day or two old," he said, his voice faux light. "They must have been caused whilst you were at home." It was the closest he'd ever come to an outright accusation.

"I fell out of a tree," Sarah said automatically. "Yesterday. I was climbing the elm in our garden and I fell. Chris was there. You can ask him. He'll tell you."

"You fell out of a tree?"

"Yeah."

"And landed on your face?"

She said nothing. She was no rat, after all.

Longbottom stood up. He looked at her face, and for the first time that she had seen he looked angry. "Sarah, you have to understand, I can't help you unless you do something. Why let these bullies win? Why endure their torment? Do you think you'll benefit from it? Do you think you'll be the only one to suffer at their hands? I think you know the answer to that. "

But still she said nothing. She just went on sitting there with that God awful look on her face. He had come across thousands of students during his time teaching at Hogwarts. He had never come across any quite like the Flynns. Especially not like this particular Flynn.

"I can help you, Sarah. I know some people, I have friends who can help. At the Ministry…"

"The Ministry?" she laughed, though it was sad and bitter. "Yeah. I've been to the Ministry. Been taken there a few times actually. Reckon I've met some of your friends there." She paused and her voice cracked. "Don't think they liked me very much. Or Chris."

Longbottom softened. "Sarah, you have to understand… these people, they're just doing their jobs. You were taken there for theft, and naturally—"

"People don't spit at you when you walk down Diagon Alley, Sir, do they?" she asked bitterly. "I reckon they buy you drinks when they find out your name at the pub. And your parents were war heroes too, right? A family to be proud of there." She stood up; her bruises shone in the light. "Look, Professor, it's been a damn long day and I'm tired as hell. Can I go now?"

"Not yet," said Longbottom. "There's something else I need to talk to you about, I'm afraid. Your grades, Sarah. You barely passed the year. If I'm being honest with you, it's a miracle you weren't asked to resit fourth year. Professor McGonagall's sat down with your teachers and discussed the situation with them. Some of them barely knew who you were, you'd shown up to so little of their lessons. If you're grades don't improve, then the school will have to take action."

"I don't care about resitting a damn year of school—"

"You misunderstand. You won't be asked to resit the school year. You'll be asked to leave Hogwarts. Between your behaviour at school and your misadventures during the summer, it's been decided that the best course to take would be to expel you. You'd have to go back home."

"Oh." That got her for a second. The air of indifference was gone and she actually looked scared. But it was only for a second, and then the hard edge was back. "Right. Whatever. Is that it?"

Longbottom frowned. "Do you understand what I'm telling you? Because I'm not sure that you do. You're bright, Sarah. All of your teachers have said so. The ones you show up for, that is. You're capable of so much more than what you're setting yourself up for. I need to make sure—do you realise what you're doing?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I do. Is that it?"

He gazed at her for a moment, then nodded sadly. "Yes, I suppose it is. If you ever need any help, Sarah, anything at all… you know where to find me."

Sarah nodded and walked to the door.

"Good night, Sarah."

"Night, Sir."




 

Sophie Dippet was a nice girl. Nice was actually her defining characteristic. She wasn't particularly bright and her spellwork was ordinary. She had one friend, a Slytherin, but most of her classmates only knew a face and a name. Although she was by no means ugly, she was still rather plain, a reflection of a rather unmemorable personality. She was, however, nice.

She also happened to be Davey Stone's source of entertainment for that afternoon.

It had been nearly two weeks since the brawl by the school carriages and for the most part Hogwarts life had gone on as normal. James, Fred, and Aaron had gone on to receive two more detentions apiece for breaking into and decorating the Ravenclaw Tower with Gryffindor propaganda, Alex continued to reject Fred's ill-advised romantic advances, and Grace Marshall had only just stopped huffing every time she encountered a member of the Flynn family.

It seemed that only Sarah continued to dwell on the events of September 1st. She carried on as usual, of course: she attended just the minority of her lessons, bummed around with Chris and the other by the lake, went to bed as late as possible to avoid any unpleasant encounters with her dorm mates… But still, there was something there, a nagging at the back of her head, an annoying voice humming in her ear. Longbottom's voice.

She brushed it off.

It was a Friday afternoon, and Sarah relaxed around with her friends in the courtyard. Chris was reading a magazine quietly, Charlotte and Edmund played Exploding Snap, and Davey chattered away pretty much to himself, though he peeked at Chris every so often to see if he was listening (which he wasn't).

Sophie was sitting nearby on a bench in the middle of the courtyard. She had some books with her and was scribbling away on some parchment; Sarah figured she was doing an essay or something. Davey noticed her too. He stared at her intently, his hand twitching near his wand every ten seconds or so. Sarah should have realised something was up then.

Eventually, after about an hour, Sophie stood up. She was heading back to the castle. As she began gathering her things together to head back to the castle Davey said quietly, "Hey, watch this," and waved his wand. "Diffindo."

Sophie's bag split open and her books scattered everywhere. The Hufflepuff scrambled around in confusion for her things and Charlotte and Edmund laughed appreciatively. Chris managed a small smile before returning to his magazine.

Davey waited until she had picked up all her possessions before waving his wand again. Sophie's books flew out of her hands and landed in a nearby puddle. That's when Davey started laughing loudly, his unmistakeable piercing bray.

Sophie lifted her head and looked up, tears filling her eyes and her cheeks red with embarrassment as she realised what was happening. Davey continued to cackle; Sarah felt sick.

"Aw, lay off, Davey," she said. He laughed again.

"Yeah, yeah, alright, Sarah. Save the jokes for Herbology, yeah?"

Sophie began picking up her books once more, hands trembling, and Davey waved his wand again. They went flying.

Maybe it was the stress of OWLs, or maybe Longbottom's words had gotten through to her. Maybe Sarah was just generally a bit pissed off. But whatever the reason, she leaned forward, seized Davey's arm, and went, "Hey! I said lay off, you fucking moron!"

Davey stared at her, and in his surprise his wand actually did clatter to the floor. Sophie took her opportunity at once and fled, grabbing her books haphazardly as she went.

"What the hell's with you, ya freak?" he said incredulously.

"S'what I should be saying to you, I reckon," she retorted. "Sophie Dippet, Corner? Not even Potter or Peters would go that far and that's saying fucking something."

Davey sneered at that. "What, best mates with those two pricks now, are you? Joined their fan club or something?"

"Oh, real good one, Davey," Sarah said sarcastically. "Got me there, you fuckin' idiot."

"One of those fucking slags following them about now, aren't you?" he sang out, his eyes glinting with anger. "Dunno what you're doin' here slumming it with us. Whore, whore, whore…"

"Shut up!" Chris said with force, and Davey immediately recoiled. "You shut up, Corner, if you know what's good for you!"

"Chris, I wasn't—look, I didn't mean anything by it. It's just… I mean, come on, Chris, what the fuck's the matter with her?!"

"None of your God damn business, that's what, Davey. Buggar off over there, ya morons. Now."

And because it was Chris, they did. Charlotte, Edmund, and Davey all got up and scarpered over to where some Slytherin's in the year below sat smoking on the other side of the courtyard, and Chris turned to his sister with a frown.

"What's up?"

"Nothing," lied Sarah.

"Bullshit. You can't lie to me, Sar. What's going on?"

Sarah looked at her brother, saw his genuine bewilderment, and for the first time realised that Chris would have absolutely no idea what was going through her head. The confusion, Grace Marshall, Professor fucking Longbottom… No, he would have no idea why any of that actually mattered. And so it seemed that really, there was only one thing to do.

"I—nothing," she said, standing up. "Seriously, it's nothing. Nothing important, anyway. Look, Chris, I gotta go, I'll explain later. See you at dinner, yeah?"

And before Chris could reply she was running off back to the castle, leaving him staring after her completely bewildered.

Oh he was right, bloody Longbottom was fucking right, and as much as it killed her to admit, she needed to sort out this mess now.

A dishwasher in the Hogs Head, selling stolen goods with Mundungus Fletcher, the NF, Azkaban… That was her life, that was her God damn future.

Buggar that.

The Flynn's are low-lives, the Flynn's are thieves, the Flynn's are scum…

She skidded to a halt outside the library and hesitated for only a moment (she had only ever been in there once after all) before entering.

She didn't know how so many students spent so much there sitting there amongst the musty old books. The silence was eerie, almost intimidating, as were the towering bookshelves that threatened to topple over at any moment.

But she carried on sauntering through the stacks until she found the person she was seeking, sitting thankfully alone.

"Hey," Sarah said casually, sliding into the chair opposite the table's occupant, and Alex Morgan lifted her beautiful head. The astonishment was clear in her eyes when she saw whom the voice belonged to.

"Um… hello. Can I help you with something?"

It was really a tribute to the girl's character that there wasn't a hint of bitterness in her tone, Sarah mused. Anyone else would probably be holding a grudge for the incident on the first day of term, but Alex was as polite and friendly as ever.

That was certainly encouraging.

"So here's the thing," said Sarah, leaning forward. "I know I haven't really taken a… well, a serious approach to this whole school thing. Y'know, revising for exams, doing your homework… actually going to lessons. I've fucked up a bit and it's OWL year and—I've just realised that if I want to actually spend my life not working in some shitty little pub, or for Dung Fletcher then I need to do something. I know we're not close and I've punched your best mate a few times so… sorry about that, I guess. But if you've got the time then it'd be really fucking great if you could spend a few hours a week catching me up."

She waited and Alex looked at her blankly, her mouth slightly agape.

"You… want tutoring?" she managed after a moment.

"Right."

"From me? You want tutoring from me?"

"Ye-es. I know it's not ideal but… I mean, you're good at it and you're not a complete bitch which is a nice plus. I s'pose I could've asked Ash but she's not very bright, and I doubt Parish would have to patience for me. And my mates… well, they wouldn't understand. So I guess that leaves you."

"Lucky me," Alex said uncertainly, and Sarah smiled wryly. She didn't seem to be joking, which had been Alex's first thought. She been fairly well-behaved too since the start of term (as far as she could tell anyway) and she had never been particularly nasty to Alex—not unless she was arguing with Grace.

"Ok," she said at last. "I'll do it. I'd be happy to help you out."

"Oh. Great." Sarah blinked, thinking that surely it couldn't be that easy. "Well, I'm free anytime, really, I don't have much going on in the way of clubs or…" but Alex interrupted.

"I have conditions though."

There it was. She eyed her, apprehensive. "Conditions?"

"Yes. You know, if I help you, there's some things that you have to do…"

"Oh, I know what conditions are," Sarah said blithely, pushing herself from the table and tilting her chair onto its back legs. "I'm a thief, not a retard."

For a moment Sarah thought Alex would call the whole thing off. Of course, her careless mouth was always going to be an issue for someone like Alex Morgan, but she had thought she would have lasted a bit longer than thirty seconds. The thick eyebrows were pulled into a frown and her lips were pursed. She regarded Sarah with something akin to frustration and she was obviously thinking with great concentration.

But then something in her expression changed and her face cleared. "Well, you can't say that word anymore, for starters."

Sarah's brow furrowed. "What?"

"Retard," Alex clarified. "You can't say it. It's not nice."

"Oh. Right. Yeah, 'course. Sorry."

"You can't punch Grace anymore. Or hex her. Or… maybe just avoid contact with her if possible."

Sarah nearly laughed. "Yeah, I figured. Anything else?"

"You can't be late."

"'Course not."

"You have to do what I tell you."

"Well that's a bit far…"

"No more skipping lessons."

"Oh, come on, I have double History of Magic on a Friday afternoon…"

"And you definitely can't miss out on any of our meetings." Alex eyed the blonde shrewdly. "I don't think I've seen you in an Astronomy class since second year, and I know you're taking Ancient Runes which is one of the hardest subjects there is. We're going to have to meet at least three times a week to catch you up. You're going to have to be committed to this, Sarah. Do we have a deal?"

Sarah tilted her head as though analysing her and Alex stared back. Oh God, she was going to regret this. Now thiswas stupid, definitely the stupidest thing she had ever done, and Grace was absolutely not going to stop going on about her incessant need to be a martyr, and oh MerlinSarah was a bloody Flynn and so she'd probably have about five or six disgruntled family members jumping down her throat as well…

One day in the near future, Sarah Flynn and Alex Morgan would become best friends. Alex would leave her boyfriend and her friends and even her family for the sake of the snarky girl with wild blonde hair, and Sarah would do the same for her (and maybe for three other boys too). But for now, they were little more than strangers, and that friendship was based on one huge gamble.

"Okay," Sarah nodded, and there was a sunny smile on her face. "Deal."




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