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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."
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.
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."
"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."
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.
"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-"
"-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.
"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." 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-"
"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.
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.
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