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Chapter 10 : TEN: Consistency in Change
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amazing ci by the beautiful callisto@tda!
TEN: CONSISTENCY IN CHANGE
Developing feelings for another person was a little like chipping away at a dam. At first, the cracks were barely noticeable, little grooves that would have no effect at all on holding the water back - a smile here, a sighting there - but hammering away at the same spot would. Soon enough, the cracks would slice deep and water would begin to trickle out of them, slowly seeping out. (Those would be the light conversations, the flying lessons in the snow, the private looks shared when Binns droned on and on for what felt like forever.) And then this section of the dam would break away and the little trickle from before would pour with abandon, forging inexorably to some faraway destination.
That was the moment Albus Potter asked Nova Hale out on a date.
Of course, the process wasn't complete just yet - the rest of the dam was still intact, after all - but now that one part of her defences had crumbled away, her heart was swelling against the rest of them, threatening to disintegrate them into nothing.
"This is never going to work. I can't - I have to - there's nothing else for it! I'm going to have to send a letter to Al and cancel."
Or perhaps not.
Less than an hour before she was scheduled to meet up with Al, Nova knelt in the midst of the entire contents of her wardrobe, pressing her face helplessly into the scratchy fabric of a sequined monstrosity her grandmother had once bought her. Soft sniffles lost themselves in the dress as a nervousness she had never known before threatened to drown her.
"You can't cancel," Reagan said firmly, reaching over to pull the dress away with a gentle tug of her hands. She dropped it into the pile of rejects and gripped Nova's shoulders comfortingly. "Everything's okay, Nova, you're just stressed out."
"Why can't I cancel?" she snapped, voice cracking in exhaustion.
"Because you deserve it? And also because your letter would never reach him in time so it'll just seem like you stood him up. You'll be a bitch, Nova, a bitch."
Glumly, Nova stared down at the mess in front of her.
The day had started out so promising. She had woken up with butterflies in her stomach and a smile so bright it was as if the sun had moved itself into the Hale residence - the change had been so noticeable that her father had even eyed her suspiciously as if suspecting she had been smoking something questionable. Even when he'd choked on his sausage upon finding out that she was going on a date, Nova's good mood hadn't faltered (in fact, it had only gotten better once she revealed that it was Albus Potter she was meeting as it had caused both Aria and her mother to nearly faint. Lucia had remained confused as to what the hype was about.)
It all began to go downhill when Nala's letter came, sobbing about the fact that she wasn't allowed to come over as she'd planned. Written in the girl's frenzy had been the angry words 'MUM SAYS I PRIORITISE FRIENDS OVER FAMILY, BRB, CRYING MY EYES OUT'. While it hadn't been ideal, she could've dealt with it.
(Dahlia, meanwhile, had been more than happy to skip out on the preparations in favour of bonding with her siblings, but Nova hadn't really minded that; as a Muggleborn, Dahlia didn't get to see them anywhere near as frequently as she'd like.)
And then Nova's shampoo had ran out, her razors had gone missing and Alice had accidentally burnt the top she had set aside to wear.
Some of the problems had been easily solved - she had borrowed her Mum's strictly off-limits shampoo and had endured the torture that was waxing - but now that it was time to find something else to wear, it seemed like all of her clothes were the shittest excuses for outfits in the world. Most of Nova's clothes at home were suited for long hours spent in the sunshine - seeing as how it was the middle of December and England was currently buried in snow, it really wasn't working out.
Fucking winter and its fucking weather.
"It's okay, Nova," Alice chimed in, rolling over from where she was inspecting all of the shoes. She thudded against their thighs to smile up at her. "Al really likes you so I doubt he'll care about what you're wearing. You're just overthinking it."
She looked down at her dubiously. After all, it was generally an established fact that guys usually cared about what a girl looked like, that it was often on the top of their little checklists. As her grandmother liked to say, men were visual creatures - so why would Al be any different in that respect? People didn't necessarily have to be pricks to be attracted to someone who put effort into their appearance.
But then again, she reasoned, she had certainly done well enough to pull Al without looking like a model off the front page of Witch Weekly, hadn't she? So maybe there really wasn't a need to dress to impress, especially if they were only watching a play...
"You're right," she heard herself say. "I'll just wear these jeans with my red shirt-"
"ARE YOU INSANE?" Alice shrieked, shooting up. Her head smacked into Nova's chin but she didn't seem to notice or care because she promptly moved to shake the girl frantically. "You can't wear that!"
"Yeah, it's not exactly your best," Cassidy began.
"What - but you just said that he wouldn't care-"
"THIS IS A DATE, NOVA."
"You don't fucking say."
In response, Nova shoved Alice off her lap. Already, the shaky resolution that she was unnecessarily freaking out was dissipating into nothing, much to her annoyance. What had happened to the collected attitude she was known for? Why did going on a date with someone who had the luck to be extremely good looking make her dissolve into a mess of nerves and ugly clothes?
Clearly noticing this internal conundrum, Reagan turned to Alice - who was passionately delivering a speech about perfect first dates and young love - and bluntly told her to shut the fuck up. "You're making things worse, you idiot."
"I am?... Oops?"
Rolling her eyes, she faced Nova once again and said, "Look, babe, I think what Alice was trying to say is that, while you don't need to breakdown over what you're wearing, that top doesn't really scream date. It screams bingo with Grandma."
"Probably because my grandma bought it," she muttered.
She laughed. "Well, it's not really the look we're going for, is it? I mean, this is your first date, Nova. In, like, the history of your existence."
"...Is that an insult?" she asked after a pregnant pause. And then her mouth curled upwards of its own accord and her shoulders shook with laughter - and just like that, the anxiety was gone, at least for now. "Thanks anyway. I guess I'm just really nervous about this date. I kinda might... I like him. A lot. So I want this to be perfect."
And then there they were again, the little butterflies fluttering around in her stomach. They buzzed with an excitement which infiltrated her system and made what had seemed like an impossible task almost easy to bear. Her eyes catching sight of a certain flash of colour, she picked out some articles from the mountain in front of her.
"I'm wearing these," she said firmly, "and that's that."
Before she could even look at them, Alice cried, "But you can't!" At their sharp looks, she blushed. "Sorry. I did it again, didn't I?"
"Just a little," Cass grinned.
With an amused roll of her eyes, Nova stood up, slipping out of the loose joggers and slouchy top she was wearing and began to change. On went her favourite pair of black skinny jeans and then the deep green turtleneck she had spotted seconds earlier, one that brought a healthy glow to her skin. An oversized denim jacket, which had belonged to her father back in his teenage years, followed, spreading waves of heat through her spine. As she adjusted the collar, her friends stared, open-mouthed.
"Wow," Cass finally said. "You actually look really good, Nova."
She smirked. "Always the tone of surprise."
A shrug. "Yes, because you knock me sick most of the time." As soon as the last cheeky word left her mouth, Cass was promptly whacked in the face by a balcony bra. Pursing her lips in displeasure, she picked up the burgundy article between her thumb and index finger and then flung it away from her. "Well, that was a smart move. Didn't anyone tell you not to piss off your makeup artist?"
Her eyes widened. "You wouldn't."
"Wouldn't I?" Her right eyebrow arched in a challenge. Smirking at the look of pure terror on Nova's face, she patted the space beside her on the bed. "Speaking of makeup, get your pretty little arse over here so that I can do yours."
She picked her way through the carnage of her room, saying, "Don't you dare make me look awful, Cass. I swear down on Merlin's grave, I will never forgive you if you do."
"I make no promises."
"No, seriously, I will honestly kill you. You will be dead by the time morning comes. I'll be sending Malfoy a letter saying that Cassidy Greengrass sleeps with the fishes."
She frowned, firmly grasping her by the chin to inspect her features. "The plural of fishes is fish, you illiterate fuck. Now, pipe down and let me make you look like a goddess."
Despite all of the taunting, it turned out that Nova's mild concerns about turning up to her date looking like a Weird Sisters' groupie were all unfounded. As she absently gazed at her reflection in the bathroom of the Leaky Cauldron, she took a moment to appreciate the magic in Cass' fingertips and how she had managed to make Nova look more beautiful without necessarily sacrificing what it was that made her who she was. The face she currently wore aimed for a mostly minimalist look, the only dash of colour being the deep red lipstick painted onto her lips.
She had arrived at their agreed meeting point earlier than she had planned and, far too awkward to suffer through the endless minutes until Al arrived under the prying eyes of a busy pub, had promptly escaped to the bathroom. It was here that she remained five minutes later, washing her hands repeatedly so as to seem normal to the women who quietly passed in and out.
Her eyes scanned the mirror image of her almost curiously - not critically, not condemningly, she refused to be that way - and wondered what were the details her date would notice.
Would he express some sort of silent appreciation for the sharp slice of the contour cutting her cheekbones, the thick curls of her eyelashes when they lightly brushed her face? Would he be drawn to the exaggerated pout of her lips, basking in its bloody red hue? Perhaps it would be the other things. Perhaps he would note how her turtleneck hugged her breasts underneath the loose hug of her denim jacket, or the way her jeans fit snugly around the wide expanse of her thighs. Maybe he'd be more concerned with her hair and the way it rippled down her back in a splash of black waves.
"You're a little conceited, aren't you, dear?" a sudden voice tittered.
She shrieked, jumping three feet into the air. Hand pressed against her hammering heart, she scanned the bathroom to find that it was empty save her. And then it dawned on her that mirrors had a tendency to talk in the wizarding world.
It seemed that this one in particular was a little rude too.
"Excuse me?" she asked stiffly (which really was rather ridiculous considering she was talking to a mirror).
"You've been staring at me for five minutes now," it responded. "How excessive."
Not quite knowing what to say, Nova merely stared at it. Narrowing her eyes, she huffed and grabbed some paper towels to wipe her hands. "How fucking rude, you mean." And with that, she left the bathroom.
The Leaky Cauldron was teeming with customers at this hour - witches, wizards, their children, the odd vampire or two - yet a quick scan of the bustling room confirmed that none of them were Albus Severus Potter. Stifling the disappointment, she decided to grab a seat by the counter so that she could simultaneously stare at the door from a comfortable position and avoid seeming lost.
Mrs Longbottom was engaged with a customer when Nova slipped onto one of the bar stools, but she glanced her way as if to ask whether she needed any help. She shook her head in response, not wanting to engage in conversation. After all, how was she supposed to admit to the fact that she was about to go on a date with a boy the Longbottoms had seen grow up?
Oh, hello, Mrs Longbottom! What am I doing here all alone? Oh yes, I'm just waiting to go on my date with Albus Potter. Yeah, the one you saw crawl around in nappies and have known since the moment he was born. Ta ta for now! Don't wait up.
She stifled a snicker, picturing the pub owner's response.
And it was at that moment that it hit her - truly dawned on her in the entirety of its brilliance - that she actually was going on a date with Albus Potter. That she had asked him out and that he had accepted and that she had the guts to kiss him on the cheek and that she had left him in the midst of a fluster. That, for some wild reason, he honestly fancied her.
No one else.
To think that she had been worrying so much earlier!
Now that she thought about it, the ridiculousness of it all was blindingly clear to her. What had been the point in fretting so much, in nearly breaking down in tears over some bloody clothes, when she had known his feelings throughout that entire process? Somewhere in her mind, she had acknowledged his feelings for her, had remembered the fact that he had even promised to wait for her to be ready - teenage boys never waited for girls they wanted - and had known that, out of the impressive range Hogwarts had to offer, he had chosen her to fall for. Not Cassidy, not Alice. No, he had chosen the one friend who was always ignored, always forgotten, always fading into the background.
And she had ignored it in her nerves.
She was such an idiot sometimes.
Perhaps Fate was smiling down upon these two unlikely lovebirds at this moment because it was precisely as the euphoria of this realisation was lifting Nova up that the stool beside her was pulled back and the Slytherin in question slid onto it.
"Alright, Nova?" he was saying casually when she twisted around to face him - and then stopped dead to stare at her.
For when she had turned to greet him, it had been with one of the loveliest smiles in her repertoire. One which lifted the curve of her cheeks to crinkle her eyes in delight, dazzlingly wide and damningly breathtaking. Oh, how he was breathtaken.
In that moment, she was anything but ignored.
"Hey," she said softly.
The scarf loosely wrapped around his neck left his Adam's apple exposed; it stood stark against his skin as he swallowed deeply, struggling for words. "Er - yeah, hi... You look - beautiful." He nodded, as if confirming that this was indeed what he was getting at. "Yeah, you look beautiful."
The euphoria swept across her cheeks and the faint trace of pink it left behind was not the product of Cass Greengrass' artistic skills. She bit her lip to stop herself from cracking her face in half. "Thank you. You don't look too bad yourself."
They sat there for half a minute, merely smiling at each other with stupid smiles on their faces, more than content to bask in the glory of this start to their date.
And then Al slipped off his stool, saying, "We should get going or else we'll miss the show," and held out his right hand for Nova to take.
She eyed it, recalling the numerous fantasies she had entertained herself with in which he had done this very thing (which may or may not have led on to... other things), of how she had dreamt up the various details and sensations of grabbing onto it, of never letting go. How would reality compare?
Her fingers reached out and intertwined with his, pulling her off her seat. Their clasped hands swung in the space between them and she took a moment to marvel at the sight of them - his large and calloused, hers much smaller, their fingers alternating porcelain and the lightest honey - and what they meant. A spark of electricity passed between them where they met and it breathed life into her pulse, making it thrum like a small bird beating its wings frantically.
"Your hands are really warm," she heard herself murmur and then looked up at him in horror as she registered her words.
He laughed. "Yours are really small," he informed her.
She scrunched up her nose. "Ugh. Don't remind me. Small and chubby like a kid's."
Now that the spell she seemed to have had cast on him was wearing away, Al seemed much more confident. His mouth curled in amusement as he lifted up their hands to press his smile against her knuckles. Another spark of electricity.
"I like it."
I like you.
An amused smile flitted across her face. She raised an eyebrow. "You're really pulling out the charm today, aren't you?" A note of approval crept into her voice. "I like it."
Still holding hands, they proceeded to walk out of the pub to the alley at the back. No one paid them any mind, as if this sort of thing happened everyday and she supposed it did. To everyone else, they were just another teenage couple.
Al and Nova wound along the twisting pathway of Diagon Alley, immersed in easy conversation. It was almost like any other encounter of theirs - fun, playful, embroiled with plenty of good-natured teasing - only with a new charge in the air. Their laughter joined it as they divulged details about their holidays thus far and then discussed the play ahead.
"I'm actually really excited about it," Nova confessed as they shuffled along with the crowd. Between the heat emanating from the mass of bodies, the warming charms filtering out of the shop doors and the pleasant hum of electricity forging a path around her body, she could barely feel the bite of the December wind. "I mean, it's directed by Shahid Ali. Shahid Ali!"
"His plays are always amazing," Al promised. They had moved away from the bulk of Diagon Alley and down one of the side streets; usually fairly empty, it was now brimming with excited show-goers buzzing with anticipation. "I saw White Wings when it came out - you know, the one about the blind Squib? - and it was pretty good. Bloke has a real knack for using magic to enhance the surreal. It's all really creative."
"This is actually going to be great!"
That was an understatement if anything.
Shahid Ali's latest project was a heartbreaking piece of art. Simply titled Charlotte, it revolved around a young Muggleborn attending Hogwarts during the years the International Statute of Secrecy was being proposed and it was captivating. Nova was on the edge of her seat the entire time, popcorn being shoved into her mouth in mere mechanical actions as she watched Charlotte's life tear apart in a perpetual cycle of torment.
Watching a play was simply...magical.
There was no other way to describe it. The entire theatre was transported back centuries - no one was merely an idle spectator, each audience member a tiny shard of the title character herself. When Charlotte was first called a Mudblood, Nova felt it like a sharp slap to the face. When Charlotte sank into Thomas' embrace, Nova could feel his breath ghosting over the graceful curve of her neck. When Charlotte clutched his bloodied body half an hour later, Nova was also wracked with agony.
It wasn't just the phenomenal performances of the actors that gripped her till the very last second; it was Shahid Ali's classic style that filled the room. For this play, he had gone to great lengths to immerse the audience into the setting - fierce winds howled through the seats, starlight burst from the ceiling, extras wound their way through the rows as if they were part of the scenery. Swirls of rainbow obscured Nova's vision each time Charlotte apparated and these steadily grew darker as the young girl fell into a deeper despair.
By the time they were stumbling out of the theatre, swept away in a river pulsing with chattering fans, Nova was gushing at great lengths about the experience.
"It was - it was so good!" she exclaimed for the tenth time, allowing him to lead the way to the restaurant, venturing further away from Diagon Alley. "I'm honestly - I can't put it into words how brilliant that was."
"I thought you might like it," Al said, not without a little self-satisfaction.
Nova didn't mind. After that treat, he could be as smug as he liked. She beamed joyfully and bumped shoulders with him. "I loved it! This date's going great."
She couldn't have chosen words that would've made him happier. He paused just as they passed underneath the iron-wrough archway which marked the entrance into a botanical garden they were to go through on their way. Tugging on her hands, he pulled her to face him.
"You mean that?" he asked softly - involuntarily - before he turned pink. "I - er, I mean, of course it is-"
"Yeah, because you knew I've always wanted to see a play," she said, "and then you took me to see a Shahid Ali masterpiece. You knew it would work out well."
Rolling his eyes, he smirked and then lightly tapped her nose. "All part of my grand plan. I know just how to get you to leave this date begging for more." An exaggerated wink on his part.
A feigned gasp on hers. Struggling to keep the smile off her face, she cried, "You - you fucking Slytherin! How dare you manipulate me." Her dark hair was tossed back dramatically, whipping about in the breeze. "And to think I thought you were different!"
"Being a Slytherin isn't a bad thing," he informed her, biting his lip in amusement. The sight of it pierced her in the bottom of her stomach, the sensation of yearning for him travelling up her spine. "It just means we know what we want and we know how to get it."
She raised an eyebrow. "And what is it that you want?"
Nova's lips parted in a soft gasp, eyes shooting wide open. She was suddenly aware of everything, her senses tingling as her brain worked itself furiously into overdrive. Blood rushed through her ears, singing along to the hammering of her heart - thud thud thud - and felt it heat up under the intensity of his gaze, burning her away to a crisp. An itch began to creep along her fingers, urging her to react in some way - any way.
Now it had to be said that Nova was not like some of her friends - insert a cough that suspiciously sounded like the name Nala Soyinka - when it came to romance. Though she was well aware that cute boys were fully capable of reducing people into puddles of uselessness (her severe cases of blushing around Al were more than proof of this), she wasn't too sure that someone could literally taste the magnetism in their mouth like bursts of fireworks.
Now she understood why attraction was described as such. There was something so heated, so dangerous about the silence between them that she was unravelling into nothing before him.
Al laughed, an awkward note to the raw noise. "Er... That happened a lot smoother in my head."
She kept forgetting that he fancied her too, that he was probably anticipating her every move just as she was with him. And every second that she lost herself in her head was a second he began to doubt himself. It was a strange realisation to think that Al Potter was someone who could be unsure of himself in this way when he was, well, him and she was simply Nova Hale.
"No," she blurted, moving to grab his hand again. "Don't - That was smooth. Really smooth actually. I just... I'm still learning what to do with all this."
The little crinkle between his eyebrows smoothed out and he adjusted his hand so his fingers interlocked with hers. "Just be yourself. There's no rush."
And in the end was that not all that mattered?
Her heart began to ease into a relaxed beat. Nova smiled ruefully, "That's quite sweet, you know. Who knew you could be so charming, Potter?"
Al winked. "I told you. I'm a Slytherin - we know what we want and we know how to get it. This is all part of my plan."
"Should I be scared?"
"What's there to be scared of? It's not like I happen to prey on innocent girls. Especially Hufflepuffs - that's just wrong."
She knew she was supposed to laugh and truthfully, she could feel the beginnings of one in the back of her throat then. But when she opened her mouth, it was words that fell from her tongue rather than the soft giggle she had intended.
"Why did you prank Psycho Sophie?"
Nova paused, as startled by the statement as he clearly was. How was it that in the midst of the high from Charlotte, the curious intimacy from seconds earlier, the brilliance of their date itself - how was it that Psycho Sophie had been buried in the back of her mind all this time?
Al raised an eyebrow. "Because you wanted me to...?"
When her face sizzled red, it was due to a different sort of embarrassment, one that made her want to fade away. And yet she could not stop speaking. "I know that. I really do. But... you don't know why I was angry with her. You didn't know anything about the situation, about whether I was justified or being a plain bitch and you still went out of your way to do it. For all you know, she could've been innocent but..."
"But I was willing to do it anyway?" he finished slowly.
After a long second, she nodded minutely. "I'm not implying you're a bad person-"
"I know," he said with a soft shrug. For once, he wasn't looking at her. Green eyes stared hard at something in the distance, committing each detail to memory as he tossed his words over in his head. Nova waited patiently until he broke his silence. "I never really noticed you before."
Sudden as the statement was, it caused her to jump in her own skin. Her mind jarred at the abrupt change in topic - bewilderment, then confusion and a tiny seed of hurt, even though she had already known so, even though she could say the same about him - and she opened her mouth to remind him that this had nothing to do with what they were talking about. Yet he was already speaking rapidly, as if he had to get all of his words out before they were lost in the winter winds.
"You were always so quiet. In the corner, just minding your own business. And you were a Hufflepuff and I never really had a need to interact with Hufflepuffs, you know? Gryffindors, sure, half my family were there. Ravenclaws, occasionally. Slytherins and Ravenclaws get along. But Hufflepuff? There was nothing really to bind our two houses together."
"Didn't you already know Alice-"
"Well, yeah. There's that. But that didn't necessarily mean I had to socialise with you. I knew who you were, of course - I knew who all of you were - but there was no reason for you to be bothered about me or me to do the same. I technically knew you were Nova Hale and knew you were Alice's friend, Cass Greengrass' friend, that you were a smart girl. I knew you as someone who had a notorious pokerface - I mean, Darzi might be able to terrify the living daylights out of half the population but I have to say that you can intimidate a bloke with just one look."
Despite herself, Nova smiled. "Why, thank you. But I don't see what any of this has to do with Psycho Sophie."
And then his eyes swivelled back to her and the intensity in them was amazing. She was never quite sure whether it was the look he sported whenever he spoke to her or just the sheer brightness of them which lent them such - ferocity, almost. Either way, it was enough to convince her that yes, this boy well and truly had her whether she liked it or not.
"What I'm saying is that, before this year anyway, I thought of you the way most people do. You were Nova Hale: the Hufflepuff who stayed to her own and liked it that way. Only concerned about who she cared about - which isn't a bad thing because I'm the same; as far as I care, it's the smart thing to do - and you were someone who unashamedly made it clear that it was that way.
"But being like that doesn't make you a bad person. You're still one of the kindest people I know, Nova. You're not someone who wants to do bad things simply because you're - you're - some type of prick or something. You don't even care about other people enough to be like that. So I guess when I saw that you wanted to do something to Psycho Sophie, I knew the reason was legit. No need to question it. Besides," he added with a wry grin, "when I mentioned it to Scorpius, he was a little too enthusiastic to go ahead with it which meant that it was definitely deserved."
How strange it was to have someone new understand you so completely. It was even stranger to hear it put into words with such simple acceptance.
You see, although she would defend her house until her last breath and never took a moment to lament her Sorting, there was a clash between the generally accepted core values of Hufflepuff and the principles of Nova Hale. Hufflepuff was not a mere amalmagation of leftovers - it was a community, a home, a family. And families cared about each other, down to the last person. To care about a select group of people and simply not bother with the rest like Nova did was almost a violation of the house code. And though the other Hufflepuffs did not comment on that fact, did not astrocise her for doing so, it had always been a faint reminder in the background of most interactions she had with them.
If Nova had thought Al had won her over before, she had been wrong. At long last, the dam around her heart was nothing more than a memory, tumbling away into dust. She was well and truly a goner.
All at once, a huge smile lit up her face. For once, she actually noticed how he blinked furiously at this and then returned it with an involuntary tug of his lips, as if he could not control his reactions and really couldn't care less about it.
"You," she said, poking him in the chest, "are doing really well on this date."
"Well, that's always great to hear." There was a sudden wolfish twist to his smile and he smirked. "Of course, I was hoping as much considering I've been making you blush this entire time."
Her mouth fell open indignantly. "Um, excuse me! I - I - that's just - I do not blush!"
Al laughed softly, his right eyebrow sliding upwards in a sharp flick. "Sure you do."
"I don't," she sniffed, tilting her chin up in pride even as a flush began to work its way up her neck. She cursed her body for betraying her but refused to back down, even as she sank further into a magenta mess. Honestly, the nerve of it all! "You're just seeing things."
"Nova, you literally blush half the time we speak."
"Clearly, you need better glasses."
"First of all, rude. Second of all, don't be embarrassed about it. It's cute. And it's even cuter that you're denying it."
"I am not cute," she cried, crossing her arms. He bit his lip to swallow his amusement which only caused her to further narrow her eyes. "Two seconds ago, you said that I could kill someone with just a look."
He shrugged. "Not when you're blushing."
At her murderous expression, he burst into laughter. It turned out that Al quite liked waxing poetry about the ways in which Nova blushed because he then launched into a spiel about it, the glint in his eyes whispering that he was purely doing this to annoy her. She could feel the heat rising in her chest, the humiliation at being caught in her crush from day one overwhelming her - she knew he had noticed the blushing! - and cursing the fact that Al had apparently forgotten they had a restaurant to go to.
When he showed no sign of stopping, she did it.
She hadn't intended to do it. It hadn't been in the plans she had set out with her friends when discussing her date with Al because at the time it simply hadn't felt like her. But he was delighting in the fact that she was often flustered around him and she just couldn't do it anymore -
So Nova leaned over and kissed him.
It wasn't perfect.
In fact, it was far from so. Her hands rested too lightly on his shoulders, her mouth was at an awkward slant against his and his eyes were open in complete and utter shock. But then they drifted shut and he tilted his head and he kissed her back.
And that was glorious.
It still wasn't perfect... but it was tentative and it was gentle, one of his hands rising to cup her face, the other tangling in her hair. She sank into his embrace, her hands slinking around his neck to clasp together. Their lips were unsure, unfamiliar to each other, but they promised that this would not be the case for much longer, that one day they would melt into each other like they were made for one another.
When she pulled back, her mind felt like it belonged in the stars, like it was spinning up among the constellations above them. She couldn't form any coherent thought. All she knew was that he had kindled a fire in her she had never known and that she wanted more of it.
"That was really - that was really..." Al's murmur trailed off into nothing. Sleepy eyes gazed at her wonderously, a thumb ghosting over her lips.
"Yeah," she agreed.
A note of humour crept into his whisper. "You're still blushing."
"So are you."
He grinned. "Yeah, I am." And then he moved forward to kiss her again.
It was hours later that the fireplace in the living room of 57 Pendragon Way spat out a teenage girl. Dark hair swishing in front of a face which threatened to permanently split into two from the wide smile currently stretched across it, Nova Hale stumbled out onto the floor with the grace of a baby elephant, knees skidding into the threadbare rug, hands shooting out to ease her fall. Pain shot along her wrists but she paid it no mind.
Her mind was occupied with far more important things.
"How fucking.... elegant," drawled a familiar voice.
A voice that should not have been there.
Nova's head shot up to meet the unimpressed brown gaze of Dahlia Darzi. The girl was sprawled Cleopatra-style on the sofa directly opposite her, feet clad in fuzzy socks resting in Alice's lap, looking more than at home. A bowl of popcorn nestled in her lap, kernels strewn across her stomach and all over her churidar.
When Nova turned her head to the right, she saw that the last member of their gang was here too. Upon noticing Nova had spotted her, Nala began to let loose a high-pitched squeal, rising from the depths of her throat to shatter their eardrums, and started to bounce excitedly in her seat. Her hair, much more voluminous than usual as it was styled in an afro, nearly blinded Cass and Reagan in the process, though she didn't seem to care whatsoever.
"What are you guys doing here?" Nova asked at the same moment Nala shrieked, "YOU'RE BACK, TELL US EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW."
Reagan winced, pressing her index finger against the tragus of her left ear. "Fucking hell, Nala. Speak louder, why don't you, I'm sure someone in China didn't hear that."
She smacked her on the arm. "Shut up. There are more important things than your ability to hear!"
"True," Dahlia chimed in with a sinister nod. "Like whether I'm going to let Nala live after that little performance or not."
"Okay, seriously, why do you always talk about murder?" Alice asked in amusement, applying a second coat of red nail varnish to her thumb.
"Because most people knock me sick and death is a fascinating topic. Wednesday Addams has nothing on me."
"Wednesday Addams?" she repeated in confusion. "The only Addams we know is Psycho Sophie. Besides, who names their kid Wednesday?"
"Who names their kid Alice?" Dahlia retorted.
"Plenty of people?"
"That's because plenty of people are-"
Nova rolled her eyes and sighed. Honestly, she would come home from a date to her friends arguing about death and names. Speaking loudly to cut across them all, she said, "Once again: why are you in my house?"
"Don't be so fucking rude, you bitch."
"Dahlia, you can't call someone a bitch in their own house!" reprimanded Alice.
"I'm actually so done with you guys," Nova muttered to herself. Then, raising her voice and directly this toward Nala, "I thought you couldn't make it?"
The girl seemed positively delighted that she had. Launching herself off the sofa, she placed herself as close to Nova as was humanly possible without merging into her via osmosis, her big round eyes piercing her in earnest. Her teeth were blindingly white in her beam.
"Mum let me leave the house once her cousin came around to beg for more money," she explained. "You know, the one who borrowed nearly 400 galleons from us, blew it all on a holiday to Ibiza and hasn't paid us back?"
"No, Abadom. Mike is my brother Ezekiel's best mate - you know, the freelance artist?"
"Mike," Dahlia said. "What a lad."
Cass blinked. "What - what does that even mean?"
"Obviously it means he's a lad-"
"ANYWAY," Nova interrupted, "why are you here, Darzi? What happened to wanting to spend time with your family?"
"My Auntie Supriya happened." With a sudden twist, her casual smirk transformed into a vicious scowl. Furiously closing a fist around a handful of toffee popcorn, she seethed, "I swear to every bloody god there is, I hate that woman. Ugh. How the fuck is dad related to that dumb bitch?"
"Er. Wow. What ha-"
"Basically, she's been staying over for the past couple of days along with my dad's parents and now that I'm seventeen, she keeps bringing up the fucking topic of getting married to someone. Like just because she got herself hitched off when she was my age doesn't mean I'm dying to fucking chain myself to some guy I've never fucking known."
Nova stared at her, mouth open in shock. Horror and panic rose stirred inside her. "You can't - marriage?"
Noticing the fear on her face, Dahlia reassured, "Don't worry, nothing's going to fucking happen. You see, today my dear Auntie Supriya kept mentioning the son of one of her friend's, some kid who's apparently two years older than us and studying fucking Medicine at uni, as if it'll convince me to tear my fucking clothes off and beg him to marry me. And then it just fucking pissed me off so I told her to go shag Amir herself if he's so fucking goodlooking for a nineteen year old."
"I did," she said with a grim satisfaction.
"What did she do?"
"Well, she started to shout at me, of course. But then Mum finally got pissed off too and started to fucking rip into her for being on my case about being married. Said that it didn't matter if they all married young because that had been their decision to make and that if I fucking wanted to get married when I'm in my fucking thirties, I was fully entitled to it. It was actually getting pretty brutal so Dad told me to escape for a bit."
"So now you're here," she concluded. "All of you. In my house. Without me."
"We were hanging out with your sisters," Reagan replied with a small shrug as if that explained why they had spent the entire day here without her company.
"Until your dad reminded them that they promised to visit your grandma," added Cass, sliding onto the floor to sit beside Nala. Noticing this, the rest of them began to slowly migrate as well, even if Dahlia moaned all the while despite no one ordering her to do so. Always one for dramatics, that girl.
"What, so is no one else home?" Nova asked, startled.
"Your mum's upstairs."
"Ohhhh. That makes sense."
"Do you know what doesn't?" Nala suddenly burst out with. She grasped her hand fiercely, crying, "The fact that YOU HAVEN'T TOLD US ABOUT YOUR DATE YET. Forget who's in the bloody house, Hale. SPILL."
Immediately, a smile spread across her face as memories of the day rushed back to her. Snatches of moments which made her feel as if she was floating circled around in Nova's head: Charlotte's eyes piercing hers as she delivered a powerful monologue, Al laughing as she unfolded the menu at Bellissimo's in an exaggerated snobbish manner, the sudden lurch of her stomach when he purposefully bit into one of the strawberries from their dessert, peering at her from under thick lashes with a look that should've been made illegal. She could feel the ghost of his mouth against hers, the plump cushion of his lips pressing into her, his breaths sharp and crisp.
"It was alright," she said nonchalantly.
There were instant shrieks in response. Nala screamed like a banshee yet again, begging for elaboration while Reagan heartily promised to wax every inch of her body until she confessed all of the details. Cass demanded for information, raising an unimpressed eyebrow while Alice threw herself onto Nova's lap in a dramatic plea for more.
Dahlia ate some more popcorn.
"Alright, alright," Nova laughed. "It was more than alright. It was - it was... brilliant. Everything about it went so well, guys. The play was phenomenal - fucking hell, the play was so good, Shahid Ali is like a god - and the meal was great."
"But Al," Nala said frantically. "How was Al? Was he a gentlemen? Was he sweet? Was he any different? Did he KISS YOU?"
"Did he fuck you?" Cass joined in wolfishly.
She burned at the suggestion. Struggling for words, she spluttered, "What - fuck - no! Of course not! It was just our first date, Cass."
Though she hadn't intended it to do so, the statement incurred another bout of shrieks.
"FIRST DATE. FIRST DATE."
"THAT MEANS THERE'S GOING TO BE MORE. LOTS MORE."
"OH MY MERLIN, YOU'RE GOING TO BE TOGETHER FOREVER."
"So no shag then?" Cass asked, relishing in the uncomfortable shift Nova delivered as a response. She laughed. "What a shame. No shag, no kiss. Ah, well. You still have time."
Nova paused, biting her lip in hesitation. She had no idea how to go about confessing that she'd finally had her first kiss (Reagan still didn't count). Casting her mind back, she tried to remember how the others had admitted to theirs, only to draw a blank. It seemed as if Cass, Nala and Alice had always been popular with boys and had therefore always seemed to have been so experienced that every experience was old news.
"Actually," she said across the jumble of their voices, "I kissed him."
Where before there had been huge outbursts of noise at every little revelation, there was only silence now. Five girls gaped at her, Dahlia even abandoning the handful of popcorn to ogle her like she had just shot someone. There was nothing at first, not even a gasp.
"He kept talking about me blushing," she continued weakly, trying not to seem too moonstruck as she recalled those moments in the botanical garden. Oh, how they had felt good. "And I wanted to shut him up so I..."
"Kissed him?" concluded Reagan when she trailed off. At the nod, she finally broke out into a beam. "Oh my Godric, Nova! You finally - you finally did it. You kissed him! Oh, I'm so fucking happy for you!"
She leaned over to wrap her up in a hug. Perhaps it was because she had evidently been comfortable enough to be significantly closer to Al but Nova accepted the gesture with an ease that wasn't usual of her. Though she and Reagan were close in a million and one ways, they weren't the kind of best friends who were big on physical contact, not like Alice and Dahlia. Today, however, she would be more than happy to hug a thousand people.
"I have to say," Alice admitted, "I didn't expect you to make the first move. Two seconds ago, you were denying that he even liked you."
"But I always had faith in your abilities to pull," Nala declared passionately. "And I was right. So ha, Dahlia! HA."
The other girl shrugged and rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm sorry for thinking that Nova had a brain like I do." At the unimpressed looks she earned for that comment, she groaned. "Ugh. Fine. Maybe Potter's not that bad. He did prank Psycho Sophie for us."
"For Nova," Cass said.
"It wasn't just for me. I heard Malfoy helped quite a bit."
A small smile graced her face. "Yes. That sounds just like Scorpius."
"How are things at home?" Nala murmured tentatively.
Her shoulder lifted and fell in a small shrug, collarbones shining like pale moonlight beside the navy blue velvet of her dress. Sadness crept into the upwards slant of her mouth. "The same as usual, I suppose. I spend most of my time with Scorpius or reading in my bedroom. Mum has put us all on a diet because we're 'in desperate need of it'. But it's okay."
They exchanged worried glances. A diet was the last thing Cass needed at this moment.
"I'm fine," she insisted at their uneasy expressions. "Scorpius spends most days arguing with her about it. He always wins."
For the first time she could recall, Nova felt an overwhelming rush of gratitude for Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy. Even though he had always been close to his cousin, she had never felt the need to carry conversations with him on a regular basis, much more content with leading a life in an entirely different circle. Now that she knew he was fighting for Cass every second that the girls couldn't, she resolved to change that.
God bless Scorpius Malfoy.
"I'm beginning to like this boy," Reagan said approvingly.
"Hands off. Weasley will have your head if she heard that."
"That's not what I meant and you know it!"
Nala spoke over the bickering with a sincere: "It's good to know he's helping you, Cass. I wish we could do the same, but..."
"You have families to be with," she said understandingly. "I get it. Seriously, guys, I'm okay. I told you I spend most of my time with Scorpius anyway." A laugh began to escape her throat. "We've been pranking Xanthe a lot in our spare time. It's actually hilarious."
"Tell us the details!" came their instant pleas.
She waited for a moment, teasing them with anticipation before she proudly divulged the details. "Well, the first night back we put bubotuber puss in his pillow cases so he stank for the next two days. On another night we tied him to the Christmas tree using tinsel so he woke up in the dining hall with needles up his arse. Oh, and we also told all of the laundry servants that he has syphilis so they won't sleep with him."
As intended, her words resulted in an eruption of laughter.
Grinning, she added, "My favourite has to be what we did the other evening though. My grandparents are visiting us from France so Dad had the house elves make escargot for the formal dinner. We may or may not have re-animated Xanthe's as he was eating them."
Their roars of amusement dissolved into huge groans of disgust.
Dahlia only laughed harder.
Pleased by their reactions, Cass grabbed her best friend's hand and squeezed. "Now he'll think twice about coming near you ever again," she promised.
Spurred on by the thought of Xanthe fucking Greengrass biting into a snail, the moods of the girls of Dormitory 2.6A reached a giddy high. They fell back into their habit of lounging around, teasing each other with insults and dissolving into giggles about the littlest things while devouring food (some spagh bol Mrs Hale had made), though they were careful not to swear too much within hearing distance of the matriarch. Alice switched on the Magi-Vision to watch the Arrows vs Wasps match in between the multiple conversations flying back and forth.
As the Chasers threw a Quaffle back and forth on the pitch while Dahlia and Nala argued about whether Fifi LaFolle was a piece of shit or not ("If you love her words of wisdom so much, you might as well love a fucking cactus because it would sure hurt less than listening to her make my ears bleed!"), Nova leaned back and watched the chaos in amusement, sipping on some Butterbeer. Poetry of the most epic form would not have been able to express how much she loved these girls. They were a part of her, as crazy and mismatched as they were.
Looking back, she realised that the girls she had first befriended at the start of Hogwarts, those four girls who slept in the other dormitory, were all the same. Bryony, Alayna, Meena and Fionnuala were just about similar enough in personality and ambition to feel somewhat threatened by the others in their circle - they all placed high importance on dating, all liked to be at the centre of the social life at Hogwarts and all wanted to be remembered as someone to envy. At the beginning, Nova had been like that too. Despite this, there had always been something holding her back, a deep fear that she wouldn't be accepted.
In the end, it had been the fear of not being wanted that had led her to not be wanted. So she had taken solace in a small girl who had taken a chance with Nova, someone who liked to stay quietly in the corner but had a wry sense of humour that had complemented her own well. And when the next year had commenced, she had taken up her offer of moving to the other dormitory.
And the rest, as they say, was history.
Something Nova had come to learn over the years was that having something in common with your friends was good, yes, but it didn't hurt to stand out from the crowd a little either.
Because even if one girl was loud and boisterous and often seemed far too Gryffindor to be donning black and yellow, she was perfectly fine being best friends with someone who sought to find the best in people, a sweetheart who lit up like sunshine itself. And even if one girl felt that love wasn't for her, that all she really wanted was to appreciate the sensuality of being physically wanted, it was possible for her to be the other half of a girl who solely dreamt of a happily ever after.
It didn't matter that Cass had grown up in a chateau in France and that Dahlia had walked the grittier streets of Oldham the entirety of her life. That Nala's life was incredibly family-centric and that Reagan only saw her father when he came back from Ilvermorny in the holidays. That Alice was already infamous and Nova wanted to keep to the shadows.
In the end, these six girls of Dormitory 2.6A had found another family in each other, the sort of bond that couldn't be broken - not by the vile whispers of girls like Psycho Sophie or the careless games of boys like Xanthe Greengrass, not even by the secret dark seeds of envy the girls may have nursed inside them. Yes, things had certainly changed because of these things - Cass was learning to love her body, Nala was learning to discover her worth and Nova was learning to reach out to someone new - but all the balance had done was simply shifted. It hadn't broken, merely fractured and now it had healed completely.
"I SWEAR TO GOD, NALA, I WILL SMASH THIS BOWL ON YOUR HEAD IF YOU DON'T START READING PROPER BOOKS."
"TRY ME, DARZI. THIS AFRO IS LIKE A GOODLOOKING SHIELD CHARM."
And nothing would ever change that.
"Cassidy Greengrass sleeps with the fishes" = "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes" from The Godfather which I do not own and never will. How does Nova Hale, a girl who grew up in the wizarding district of York know this? Two words: Dahlia Darzi. Speaking of Dahlia, her mention of Wednesday Addams is a reference to the character from the Addams Family which I do not own either.
[Fun fact: according to Buzzfeed, I am like 97% similar to Wednesday Addams! Watch out people. I'm a-coming.]
So. We're here. We've reached the end of the line. Dormitory 2.6A can officially be marked completed and I don't know what to do with my life anymore. This chapter would've been up a lot sooner but I lost my copy of this chapter MINUTES AFTER I COMPLETED IT so I had to rewrite it. Thoughts on the chappie?
I would just like to say that this fic has transformed from something on the side to my actual baby. From the very first sentence ("I SWEAR TO GOD, IF YOU HUG ME ONE MORE TIME, ALICE, I WILL SHOVE YOUR FUCKING POTIONS ESSAY UP YOUR FUCKING ARSE."), it was a deeply personal project as it dealt with issues that I have directly/indirectly experienced, issues that I wanted to bring to light in any way possible. When I first began to write this in Dec 2015, I would never have imagined to come this far with it. None of this would've been possible without you dear readers and I honestly mean that.
There are way too many people I need to dedicate this to: beka_wotter, Paula, Ineke, Ysh, ginnyweasly22, Nena, Moony Padfoot and Prongs - literally everyone who dealt with my panicked tweets about this. Everyone who favourited/followed/reviewed this crazy fic. I LOVE YOU GUYS SO MUCH.
[also, there will probably be some stuff going up on tumblr where i talk about why i made some of the decisions i did regarding this fic.]
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