Chapter 21

Revenge and Hot Blood

A brown owl flapped a wing against one of the windows in the Hufflepuff dorm, clearly vying for attention. It was night time, well past curfew, and the owl did not want to be delivering a letter now. It was time to hunt, not to deliver. The blond boy had been insistent, though, so the owl now carried this little note, ready to give it to the girl, Vivi.

The girl in question was lying in her bed, duvet pulled up around her as she wrote in a small notebook. She scrawled carelessly, almost illegibly, and was so involved in the entry that she did not hear the bangs on the window at first. Moments later she noticed, and look up with a startled expression.

Vivi opened the door and received the letter. She sighed when she read it.

Vivi-

Meet me in the library.

-Donal

“This had better be good.” Vivi muttered, grabbing her wand. She was in her pajamas, with her tousled hair pulled into a pony tail, and irritated at the thought of wasting her time on a midnight excursion.

Hurrying from the common room, she arrived by the library quickly, taking care to dodge Professors. Deciding to stake it out first, she hid in the shadows and watched.

Jeremy Matthews, a new first year that already had a vendetta against Agatha, walked slyly into the library, making sure no human soul saw him come in. He was going to do this unnoticed, and not get caught by either Agatha or Megan. After walking towards the back of the Library, Jeremy took a seat down in a dark corner, and waited.

“You’re late…” a voice said from the corner. Avery emerged from the shadows and looked down at the boy. “At least you came and had sense enough to come to the back.”

Avery shrugged and looked at his watch. “Now where the heck is Talmorra?” he asked, pacing a little. “While we wait,” he said, once again looking down at the first year, “…any ideas?”

Jeremy would have jumped if he had been surprised. But he was not surprised when the boy came out of the shadows. He was actually expecting it. He looked around and leaned in to whisper. “It doesn’t matter to me, I just want to get them good!” He leaned back, folding his arms carelessly.

Donal hurried down to the library. Matthews and Avery should be there by now. He grinned a little to himself in the darkness. If he could get those two and Vivi, to all work together, then this could prove a most interesting time.

He quietly entered the library and headed for the back, listening carefully for any sounds. Avery was good at hiding in dark places, but he saw the outline of another figure, Jeremy Matthews, a firstie. Donal headed over to him, nodding in greeting.

A short figure slid into the library, looking around. Eyes used to spotting details noticed three bodies in the shadows, one of them exceptionally tall.

I could hex Donal…if he’s gone and done what I think he’s done…no one else in the school is that tall… Argh. Vivi sighed again. It never hurt to be cautious. Then she stepped around a book shelf, into the open, and glowered at the three.

“Donal Talmorra,” she hissed, not happy in the least, though she was careful to keep her voice down. Darkmoor liked to patrol the library at night. “Care to explain yourself?”

Donal did his best to hide the smirk that was on his face as he turned to Vivienne. “Welcome Vivi, to our little gathering to discuss a common opponent. As our own plan to get her back derailed rather spectacularly, I thought we’d better make another. But this time, we seem to have a couple of rather keen helpers. It would be a shame not to use all of our collective resources on something that we have so much in common, wouldn’t it?”

Donal allowed the grin to spread across his face a little further. “But we need to plan a little, hence this meeting. I hope that past hostilities can be put to one side for the purpose of this new venture.” He glanced significantly from Vivi to Avery and back again. “Can’t they?” he asked them both.

“Let me get this straight.” Vivi said slowly, a dangerous edge to her voice, showing the side of her that was not just a goody-goody Hufflepuff, the side that had plotted to dose both Agatha and Avery with a potion to make them see their worst fears. She looked up at Avery, back at Donal, and to the little kid in the corner, whoever he was.

“You want me ta help ya’ll get back at Aggie?” she raised an eyebrow. “And what’s more, you want me ta help Berke get back at Aggie?” she refused to use The Jerk’s first name, which would be acknowledging that his existence concerned her.

“I’ve got a slight problem with this, Donal. You see, my fight isn’t with Aggie. It’s with Berke.”

How badly Avery wanted to reach for his wand and hex Vivi into many little Huthleputh pieces! But that would make her even angrier. Then there would not be a chance of her helping, not that the chance was all that great anyway.

Avery did not dare address Vivi, either. Knowing his temper, he would probably say something to offend her, and at that moment, it seemed that it would not take much to set her off.

“So, Donal, got anything planned?” Avery asked, crossing his arms and staring at the outline of the boy. He wanted desperately to look sideways at Vivi, to see her reaction, but he didn’t. She was probably glaring murderously at him. He was not exactly in the mood to see a little midget glare at him… He might actually hex her into oblivion then.

Vivi just shook her head. Was Donal dim? Nothing mattered to him but plotting, and she highly doubted than anything short of a miracle would work against Agatha. It would, of course, be very gratifying if they could pull it off. Aggie would not take revenge well, making her the prime target for it. A little voice in Vivi’s head was arguing for listening, hearing out what the boys had to say, it would be fun, great fun…

Donal frowned. This was not going to be as easy as he had hoped. “Well, I have some ideas forming, but I would be interested…” he broke off as Vivi interrupted.

“Honestly, Donal.” Vivi said, shaking her head. “You dragged me out of bed for this?” Her gaze rested on the silent Berke for a moment. It seemed the inevitable had happened, and Aggie had broken up with him. Oh well. Vivi wouldn’t cry tears over that. In fact, she felt rather smug at the thought.

“Forget it.” She spat. “No plots this time, Donal. They won’t work, not against just Aggie. Good night.”

Turning, she walked towards the exit. Let the wanna-be-Slytherins and their new friend do this alone…she would enjoy watching it not work.

Sonoris concordo…” Avery muttered, pointing his wand at his throat. He had to talk to Vivi, however much he was dreading it…He would have rather had Donal speak with Vivi, but the brat would just get more mad if Avery didn’t talk to her civilly.

Being civil was not one of Avery’s talents, but he had to try. After all, Vivi and he were at one time really good friends. Then again, why be civil to someone who tried to poison you?

“Plots won’t work ’cause they’re not against me, ‘eh?” he asked Vivi quietly, smirking at the thought of her wondering how on earth Avery got in her head. If only he could see her reaction. He would probably look for that one too, had he not been dead set on staying put.

Vivi froze on the spot, five steps from the door.

He was in her head? In her head?

She turned slowly, meeting Berke’s gaze with one of her own. It was a spell, but only a one way one, she knew that. She would have to be closer to talk to him again. She crossed the floor quickly, bubbling with suppressed things she wanted to yell at him. Yet surprisingly, her face was calm. Perhaps the Prince events had taught her how to manage her anger a little better, and as she was still in one piece, maybe Avery had learned something over the past year too.

Maybe, but doubtfully.

“What Avery?” she asked softly, craning her neck to look up at him. Really, she needed a chair, or her broom.

“Decided to talk to me? Ah well then, that changes everything.” The sarcasm in her voice was clear, even the Bird Brain would understand it. Ignoring the jib about her trying to enact revenge against him (and suddenly regretting that she never had) Vivi instead explained her earlier comment.

“No. The plots won’t work because Agatha is not stupid. Without bait, she won’t be caught. Something will happen. Someone will tell her. And even if they don’t, what can you do to Aggie that she can’t buy her way out of? Any ideas, Berke?”

Finite Incantatum.” Avery muttered, ending the spell. He shoved his wand in his pocked, slid down to the floor, and looked up at Vivi, wearing neither his usual malicious glare nor anything that could be taken as a happy expression. “Why do you think I got Donal here?” he asked. “He’s always plotting. I don’t have any ideas.”

Once he stopped talking, Avery looked away from her and blinked a couple times, quite shocked by his behavior. He actually spoke to Vivi civilly. He spoke in a tone that would neither annoy her further nor cause him to hex her after a few more comments had been tossed around.

But he could not think about that at the moment. They had to figure something out really quickly. If they didn’t, there might be an accident.

Vivi sighed. Avery was speaking to her civilly. She was intrigued. Could Berke really be sorry? No, she doubted that. Most likely he just needed her help, but once they had been friends. Temperamental friends, as both tended to be on the argumentative side, but friends. Why was it they hated each other again?

Oh yeah.

Because when Agatha sunk her claws into Avery, he decided he didn’t need friends anymore. He had the devil herself, after all. Vivi glanced from Donal and back, sighed again, and sat down in a chair. It was uncomfortable looking down at Avery.

I can’t believe I’m getting wrangled into this, she thought as the library clock chimed, causing them all to freeze up a moment. Vivi glanced at the first year, raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t dare ask why you’re here,” she told him. Probably some petty offense of Agatha’s against him. Really the girl had an army of enemies.

“Donal’s a good plotter.” She acknowledged, glancing back at him. “But surely ya know Agatha well enough to know she won’t fall for whatever ya plan? Plans need the target to be unsuspecting. Agatha isn’t.”

Vivi stopped, wondering if she should go on. It was not her fight, but Avery’s attitude was weird. Vivi had always been curious, and this was no exception. Had he known she was coming? Did he want her help, or had Donal just arranged everything like usual?

“You’d have ta insult her. Play with her. Do ta her what she does ta everyone else.”

Changing tactics, Vivi asked, “She broke up with you, didn’t she? So what would Agatha Swales, proud Slytherin, hate the most?”

“Absolutely clueless…” Avery said, shrugging. “But you clearly have something cooking… So spill…”

“Ah, Berke, you are an idiot.” Vivi said, daring to insult him as he seemed interested. Besides, it was not as though the news was new to him. Perhaps it took a girl to figure out what Agatha would hate the most. Even Donal had not seen it.

“Unless I’m off target, she dumped you for being a mudblood, being unworthy, ect. ect.” Vivi led, wondering if he’d understand. Obviously he was not going to.

“But she’s still not dating anyone. So. Find yourself a girl ta pretend ta date you…mind you, don’t trick anyone, that’d be awful and I’ll hunt ya down if ya do. Anyways, have kid there find a way to tell her that he saw you and so and so snogging in the library, and there you are,” she smiled sweetly, which was scary in its own way.

“Instant revenge.”

Though Avery hated to admit it, it was brilliant. Agatha would be murderous if Avery hooked up with someone before she did. “Vivi, it’s brilliant. Agatha will be so P.O.ed,” he smiled, picturing Agatha’s beet red face. “But who’d be up for that?”

That was the one problem. What girl hated Agatha enough to pretend to date Avery? Lys might work, but Avery was not exactly fond of Lys. Besides, she was a Prefect and probably could not do it, though she would love to get under Agatha’s skin.

“I can only think of Lys, but she’s a Prefect. And besides, I don’t like her.” He shrugged. “Any ideas?”

Vivi laughed, and then realized he was seriously asking her. “How would I know?” She asked, suddenly aware this was the first conversation they had had in a long time. Probably the last for another long while too. Now that he had his plan, doubtlessly that the hate feast would continue.

Oh well, she thought with only a little twinge of regret.

“Well, the only person I can think of is Aiko. She had a bet with Brian about kissing ya ta make Agatha mad, but they were joking. Really though, Avery, how am I supposed to find a girl friend for ya? Ick.” She shivered, thinking about having him snogging another blonde headed lil…

And then she stopped thinking. It did not do her any good anyway. “Figure out your love life for yourself. Just make sure ya announce it in the Great Hall, so I can see the look on Swale’s face.”

Avery looked away. The situation was more than uncomfortable. He had a plan, but what after that? Would he and Vivi still hate each other? And how would the plan work anyway? Maybe Agatha was already with someone else. Who, he didn’t know, but there was a small possibility. She had fallen for him after all.

“Not a chance…” he muttered, still looking away from Vivi. “Anyone but Aiko.”

Vivi raised one shoulder and lowered it in an uninterested gesture. “Whatever. I’ll let ya’ll work it out—I’m heading off.”

With that she stood and exited, successfully ending the late night rendezvous. The plans were interesting, but they no longer concerned her. Avery Berke was not her friend…but maybe he was not her enemy either. It was something to think on, after she had some rest. Soon, one by one, Donal, Avery, and Jeremy all also left, leaving discussions to another time.

Vivi strode out onto the Pitch, looking unusual for the setting. Normally when on the Pitch she would be wearing faded and torn cloths, with a broom over one shoulder and a crate of Quidditch balls floating along behind her. Now, instead, she wore the black Hogwarts robes over a pink tank and jeans, without any hint of a broom. Curiously she glanced around, wondering why on earth Avery would want to meet her here.

It had actually been against her better judgment to come, considering who had invited her. Outside, away from everyone, would be the perfect place for Avery to hex her. Yet Vivi’s curiosity won out over her misgivings, and here she was.

I don’t suppose he could be thinking about learning to fly again? she thought with some amusement, glancing around and spotting him on the edge, near the stands. He didn’t seem to see her, so when she was hearing distance she called, “Hi’ya, Avery.”

Walking the last few paces towards him, and unconsciously checking for signs of his wand, Vivienne raised one eyebrow. “Ya need me?”

“Didn’t think ya’d show,” he admitted when she’d reached him. “Thought ya might think I’d hex ya. Not that you still don’t think that.” He shrugged, sat down, and peered up at Vivi.

“Donal and I got to talking about our plan. Ya know, who I should pretend to go out with. Well…” He paused and shifted awkwardly. After a moment, he spoke. “Three guesses who…” he raised an eyebrow at her, assuming she wouldn’t be too thick…

Taking a seat next to him, Vivi blinked. “‘Course I thought you’d probably hex me. Still came.” She shrugged. Surely Avery knew her well enough, or could at least remember her well enough, to know that she rarely let anything go. More curious than a cat, that was Vivienne, and it got her into plenty of trouble.

As for the plan, well, Vivi had done her best to ignore the three conspirers since she met them in the library that night. Upon reflection she had decided that not being involved would be best, and safest, considering what Agatha was likely to do once she found out.

“I dun have three guesses, Avery, why don’t ya just tell me? And how does it involve me?” she eyed him warily. This was altogether too suspicious for words.

“You are thick, Vivi…” he said, lying down and covering his face. ”Think carefully- why would I have you come here to talk about a plan you couldn’t care less about unless you have a key part in it?” He glanced over at her. “Wanna try guessin’?”

“Afraid I don’t have a clue, Avery,” Vivi laughed. She watched him, wondering why he was covering his face. Surely that was not normal behavior? He was acting most peculiar, almost embarrassed, as though, well as though…

Vivi suddenly stopped laughing as what he was suggesting dawned on her. “You can’t mean…” she squeaked, appalled. “I mean, surely you don’t…”

She stopped and waited. There was no reason to believe it, he couldn’t mean that. Even if he did, she wouldn’t trust her guess until he spelled it out.

Avery noticed how her expression changed. From the horrid way her face was scrunched up, he had a feeling she understood.

“I see you’ve figured it out.” he said lamely. “Donal mentioned it and thought I should ask you.” He sighed and shook his head. Clearly Vivi found the idea just as horrible as he did. Even if Vivi complied (which was very unlikely), how could they even make it look believable?

“So.” he said awkwardly, sitting up to face her. “Wha’d’ya think?”

“Ya want me to pretend to be your girlfriend?” She scoffed. Her first idea was to say no, absolutely not, that was the worst idea that she had ever heard. It was too incredible, having hated each other for over a year, who would believe them even if they tried? Laughing mirthlessly, she lay back on the grass, contemplating.

“It would have ta be an Academy Award performance to fool anyone,” she stated, playing for time on the decision. She wasn’t sure even why she was still considering it. The fact was, she didn’t want to say yes…but then she didn’t want to say no either. The look on Agatha’s face would be priceless, but was it worth it?

“Especially to fool Agatha. But she thinks I’m your stalker anyway, so then maybe it wouldn’t be that hard.” Biting her lip, Vivi sat back up again, weighing up Avery’s sincerity. Could this just be a ploy to get her back for trying to enact revenge against him?

No, it wouldn’t be. Avery had said it himself, he wasn’t a plotter. That was Donal’s job, and somehow she didn’t think Donal would bother plotting against her, not when she knew something about him that Avery would be very interested to know. The entire poison scheme was not so very far in the past, after all…

“All right Avery Berke. I’ll do it.” Vivi said with a little grin. “But it’ll cost you.”

Avery’s mouth dropped open. For one, she had actually agreed to the plan. But then there was the “cost”… Either way, Vivi agreeing was something of an accomplishment.

“It will cost me?” he asked, looking at her oddly. “What are you talking about?”

Knowing the sniveler, she would probably ask him to do something horrible to further embarrass him (going out with Vivi would be quite bad enough). But he wasn’t really in a position to argue. Beggers can’t be choosers, after all.

Exactly what she was agreeing to do had not quite sunk in yet, and Vivi would probably have cause later to wonder what she was thinking. However, at the moment her thoughts were occupied with what she wanted from Avery Berke. An apology, to begin with. He had never properly given her one, though on reflection she realized that if he apologized, she would then owe him one. An explanation of certain events would be nice too, but she wouldn’t be wasting her request on it.

For a fleeting moment she imagined asking him to do something he would hate, like touching a snake or flying a broomstick. No, though, despite the fact that imagining him doing both with a distinct look of terror on his face had given her satisfaction every time she saw Aggie snogging him last year, Vivi didn’t really want that anymore.

Well, then, what did she want? What could he possibly do? Well, there was one thing…

“What I mean Avery, is that for me to do this ya are going ta have to do something. A couple of things, actually. I want an apology. Not for me,” she said, noting the look on his face, “But for Aiko. I’m not even pretending ta go out with someone who snarls every time he sees my best friend.”

She waited a moment, checking for his acceptance, then continued, “Also, no hexing anyone, ‘cept maybe Aggie. You can try an’ knock the habit.”

It wasn’t much to ask, considering. Sticking out her hand for him to shake, she asked, “Deal?”

I knew she’d pick something that would make me hate her even more.

He just stared at her, seriously considering hexing her into oblivion. Like heck he’d knock the habit… But if he did, he’d want Aiko to…aid in his plight.

“Not a chance I’m apologizin’. I won’t glare—”

As much…

“—every time I see her. But not a chance I’m apologizing. And I guess I won’t hex anyone.”

…unless they give me a reason to…

He, very reluctantly, grabbed Vivi’s hand and shook it slowly.

“Close enough,” Vivi shrugged, feeling her face heat up. Why was he so infernally stubborn? Boys. Were they all like this?

“Done then. Now…uh, details.” Vivi said. She blushed, but her voice was calm, as though talking about the weather. “How exactly are we gonna start this? I mean, it’d be weird ta just start, like snogging in the hall or something…” she shivered from just mentioning it, “And we kinda have ta stop hating each other, ya know.”

“You’re right,” Avery muttered, only responding to her point about snogging. He wasn’t about to agree about the “hating each other” point. “I dunno. Guess we gotta publicly stop hatin’ each other, ya know? I think everyone knows we hate each other’s guts.” Avery sighed. “But how’re we gonna do that? The only idea I got would be horribly humiliating.”

“Yeah, that’s a problem.” Vivi agreed. The little speech of hers in the hall last year about Avery needing to find some new friends had been a bit of a tip off that they disliked each other. Events since had hardly reversed that feeling.

“I’m not sure I even wanna know the humiliating bit,” she added, looking apprehensive. “Think we’ll just use that kid. He wants ta get Aggie, so give him the honor of letting her know that he saw…uh…us, snogging somewhere. He can pretend to tease us about it, loudly, and in public. Then all we have ta do is go walking arm and arm through the Hall, and there ya go.”

“Good…” he said, nodding, a hint of a smile forming on his lips. “So the brat will be useful for something.”

He stood and extended his hand for Vivi to take. “I think that’s all then, isn’t it?” he asked, looking away for a moment as if thinking.

Vivi took his hand and rose from the ground, deciding that from now on she would be wearing platform shoes. It seemed as though everything had fallen into place, the only bit left was to begin it. Neither had wasted words on why they had hated each other, and that was how Vivi liked it. If she thought about that too much, she would begin to hate him all over again. For now, it was better that nothing be said.

“All right. Guess we get to begin now,” she said, linking her arm through his and smiling brilliantly. “So, Avery, wanna go find the kid?”

Avery smiled back down at her (however painful it was) and nodded. “Yup. Let’s just hope he’s not in the common room.” He sighed and began walking, trying carefully to take very small steps so Vivi could keep up with him.

So,” he began, stretching out the ‘o’ and looking around for something of interest to discuss. “I guess we had better start talking about…something…”

“Something that won’t annoy one of us,” Vivi suggested, glancing up at Avery. She appreciated the fact that he was being careful to not make her trot with his long stride, but decided not to say anything to that extent.

“Which means Quidditch is out. Well, in order ta further interests, what annoys Agatha the most? I mean, what do I need ta do to annoy her the most?”

Realizing what she just said, Vivi coughed and said, “Never mind, I think just existing would do it. So, erm, anything interesting happen in the past, uh, year or so?”

Avery laughed loudly and nodded. “Same for me. Muggle-borns are the bane of her existence…which is good for us, ‘eh?” The downside of that was that she tended to ignore muggle-borns, and might choose to do that, proving the revenge plan useless.

“Yep, good for us.” Vivi replied with a grin. “And ya can’t get anymore muggle than me. Farmer parents in southern Mississippi, with the entire family living close by. My cousins are practically my brothers.”

“But nope. Nothing. Dated Aggie, and that’s about it… I guess I don’t got a life without…you…Donal…—” and, in an undertone, he added “—Aiko…” He coughed and looked away, suddenly finding the giant squid very fascinating, despite the nearly motionless state it was in.

Vivi tensed at the sound of Aiko’s name, glancing down. The longer the school term went on, the less chance there was of her suddenly arriving in the dorm. “She hasn’t come back.” Vivi finally said flatly, wondering if Avery knew that. “Not since last year. She didn’t mean ta, ya know, Avery.”

“Nope,” he said coolly, eyes still fixed on the octopus. “I hadn’t noticed. Haven’t been in the Great Hall much myself.” He shook his head slowly and ignored the “she-didn’t-mean-it-comment”. He was in no mood to discuss Aiko (not that he was ever in a mood to discuss Aiko…).

“Different subject, Vivs…” he added softly, looking for a moment at the ground.

“O’ course,” Vivi said, looking down again as though very interested in the grass, then off to the side. Oh yes. They made a very convincing couple, when they could barely stand each other’s company. It was obvious how smitten with each other they were.

Vivi nearly snorted at the thought. It pushed Aiko out of her brain, anyway.

Pulling a topic out of thin air, she asked, “Where’d ya go for the summer?” It was random, she was defiantly grasping at straws, but no where in her memory did she recall Avery telling her about his family.

“No where, really.” Avery said. “Dad and I went to London for a week to visit his brother, but other than that, I was at home. All. Summer.” He brought a hand up to his forehead and once more shook his head.

“Absolutely bored…even at my Uncle’s I was bored. I had to baby-sit my kid cousin while my dad and my aunt and uncle went out for dinner. That kid’s a terror…luckily I caught him before he got a proper hold on my wand.” He shivered at the thought, and then turned to look at Vivi. “Wha’d you do? I trust it was more…interesting?”

Vivi leaned her head against Avery’s arm as someone on a broomstick looked their way, earning herself a startled glance from the person. Hopefully it was a gossipy first year that would now go and tell the whole school. With the sun in her eyes it was impossible to tell.

“My summer was long and hot, actually, though not boring ‘cause of my cousins. Muggles, all of ’em, and interested in my wand. Kept having ta explain to them that I couldn’t do magic, and that they couldn’t do magic just cause they held a wand.” She paused.

“I hated being oughta touch with the wizarding world, after Prince and all, so I got a subscription to the Dailey Prophet. Rubbish, all of it. Not a thing about Hogwarts, must of hushed ’em up. Only interesting if you wanna hear about an enchanted Emu that escaped.” She smiled, remembering the story. “They only caught it after it flew away carrying a muggle in its beak.”

“An emu, ‘eh?” he asked half-heartedly, hoping Vivi wouldn’t notice his lack of interest. “Muggle in its beak, uh-huh.”

He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed, then cracked him neck and knuckles. “Hm. Fascinating…”

“I suppose we should head for the hall,” she suggested, as they seemed to be winding in about every direction but.

Changing course almost forcibly, and barely avoiding stepping on his toe, Vivi remained silent. No conversation seemed to be best. It kept them from wishing to jump down the other’s throat. Instead she looked longingly at the sky, wishing she had her broomstick with her right now.

I give it a week before we kill each other, she thought absently, strangely unperturbed by the thought of her impending death, And that’s the maximum.

Silently, Vivi and Avery proceeded to the Great Hall. Hopefully there would be a great hoard of students there, so that the revenge plot could take firm root. Gossip was everything. Neither expected the surprise waiting there, in the form of a small, oriental girl, newly arrived back at her home, Hogwarts.

It had taken nerve for the former Prince servant to return for her third year at Hogwarts, and nerve was a quality she was not famous for. Her years at Hogwarts had begun to take on a startling trend: arrive, become forced to submit, and eventually cause the death of numerous people. It was enough to make her father, Japanese ambassador to the British Ministry, reconsider sending her back.

It had taken her mother’s interference to force the wizard to send their daughter to school, as late as she was. Despite her “failures” (as her father called the massacres) she had developed a sense of confidence during her second term. Of course, after the end of year events that confidence had dissipated, leaving her more of a skittish wreck than ever before. But there was hope.

So, after standing outside the doors to the Great Hall for the better part of the hour, deciding whether or not she really wanted to enter, Aiko did. She had missed Vivi, her best friend, dearly, and it was only because of her usual absences in the common room that Aiko had opted for the Great Hall. It was hardly a grand entrance, as the small black haired teenager slipped quietly into the hall without drawing a hint of attention to herself.

Her face twisted in the unmistakable expression of absolute terror, she crossed the Great Hall. She was aware of her slightly disturbing appearance; the black robes hung loosely to her small stature, her long black hair masked her face, and the skin that showed was a stark white from months on end of staying confined to the indoors. Small, trembling steps led her to the Hufflepuff table, where she slipped onto the bench.

Aiko Watanabe was back.

Two moments after walking into the Great Hall, arm in arm with Avery Berke, Vivi gasped as though she had seen a ghost. Hesitating, she blinked to make sure she wasn’t imagining the figure that took small, frightened steps as it hurried across to the Hufflepuff table. Yet after a moment, Vivi was sure; the raven haired, terrified, girl that had just sat down was not a figment of her imagination. It was Aiko Watanabe, back from the unknown.

Untangling herself from Avery and muttering a hasty apology, Vivi dashed over to the Hufflepuff table, nearly colliding with a Professor. She stopped just short of an empty seat, suddenly unsure. Why had Aiko not come back? Why hadn’t she at least owled her? What had happened in the several months since last term?

“So…so you’re back then?” Vivi asked. It was a less than graceful reunion, yet she was at a loss for what to say. The very sight of Aiko brought back memories of the last time she saw her, sobbing before Prince, forced to give him the object that would contribute to his return to power.

“I mean, for good?” Vivi finished somewhat lamely, sliding into the seat beside Aiko and waiting for recognition, an explanation, something…anything.

A small shiver ran down Aiko’s spine as she was drawn out of her silent meditation by the recognizable voice of Vivi. It had been so long since she had seen her, but now that she was here…Aiko half wished she would just go away. It was guilt that brought on that last thought as she remembered how she had separated herself from the entire wizarding world over the summer, which was undeniably rude, after all.

Aiko gave an uncharacteristic shrug, her gaze firmly set on the goblet in front of her. “I suppose.” It was strange how formal the two friends were behaving.

From beneath her bangs she forced herself to look at Vivi. It was this look that broke her firm control. Aiko dissolved into tears, throwing her head into her hands as unrestrained sobs shook her small body.

Avery sighed and followed Vivi over to the Hufflepuff table, mentally kicking himself for willingly going into Aiko’s presence. Vivi was probably baiting him—once he got close enough to Aiko, she would toss him out of a window and laugh hysterically when he broke his neck.

Avery plunged his hand into his pocket and gripped his wand, somehow very afraid that Aiko would hex him with some nasty irreversible curse.

He looked over at Vivi, trying to ignore Aiko’s presence, but once Vivi’s hurt look registered, he looked over at Aiko, eyes growing wide. “Aiko…” he said quietly, unsure of what else to say. “What’s…what’s wrong?”

It was quite obvious, actually, but Avery failed to remember that Prince had come the year before and burned the school down…and that Aiko was one of his minions.

For a moment, Avery’s usual “stop whining” attitude disappeared, and he became almost human. He forgot for that moment that Aiko had tossed him out of the window and was genuinely concerned about the crying girl.

He also forgot, however, that Aiko would probably flip out and begin crying even harder.

Her own thoughts drowned out by her wails, it was a miracle that Aiko even heard the boy. That she recognized his voice, however, was not. At the start of the first term she had looked to him as a sort of protector, her first friend. Since then, however, his presence meant one thing only: danger.

Her head flew up from its fortress of her arms, and spun to look, wide-eyed at Berke. Her eyes flew to his pocket, where the faint outline of a wand was seen, accompanied by a seemingly clenched fist. It took no genius to understand the next step; he was going to hurt her.

Instinct overtook her and she attempted an escape. She sprung to her feet, which were already leading her toward the exit. Unfortunately, she had quite forgotten where she was, she only thought on escaping the pain he was surely going to inflict on her. The forgotten bench slammed against her shins as she tried to stand, and her feet tangled in her too large robes. Her legs buckled beneath her and she found herself sprawled underneath the bench. Immediately she scampered to her knees and she retreated to the underneath of the table.

“Don’t touch me!” she half-screamed, half-begged, her wild eyes gazing at Berke through the gap between the table and bench. Tears streamed down her face as she wrapped her arms around herself and cradled her body protectively.

Avery, still in a state of shock, blinked a few times. “I’m not gonna touch you. Why would I?” he asked, looking as if he’d forgotten his hex-happiness. “I just wanna know what’s wrong!”

Avery sat down on the floor and peered at Aiko through the space between the table and bench. “So, why’re you so upset…?” he asked concernedly.

Slowly her panic receded as she noticed that his wand had stayed in his pocket, though his hand did as well. The soft notes in his voice were noticed with more than a little surprise and suspicion. She hadn’t seen him in a little under a year, having avoided him for the most part of the last, but it seemed quite improbable that he had changed in that time.

Her brown eyes widened as he crouched to look at her, her hiding place seeming less and less secure by the moment.

She shook her head, black hair whipping against her face and the front of her robes. He said he wasn’t going to touch her, yet he inched closer every moment. Her watery gaze returned to his pocket and she brought her knees closer to her chest.

“You’re not going to hex me, are you?” she asked, the hairs on the back of her neck rising at the thought.

At the thought of his wand, Avery noticed that he had, unconsciously, been fingering it the entire time. Had Aiko noticed, she would probably have started convulsing…the thought made him shiver. Aiko was truly terrified. He had not realized it, as he had forgotten his horrid habit of hexing people…but she had brought it to light and it made him realize how he had influenced her. Between Prince and Avery (a friend who had been anything by supportive), Aiko had good reason to be scared out of her wits.

“No,” he said, slowly, ashamed that Aiko thought that he would hex her for being dumb. He wasn’t entirely callous. He was nearly there, but there was some decency left in him. Eyes downcast, he shook his head and pulled his wand from his pocket. He noticed Aiko flip out at the sight of his wand–she, clearly, assumed he was about to hex her, despite his saying he wouldn’t.

“Vivs—take this…” he said, pointing the wand at the other girl. “Use it if ya need to…break it even.”

He looked away from both the girls and buried his head in his knees. Yet again he realized how much of a monster he was… He just hoped that Vivi and Aiko would accept his unspoken apology.

Aiko was confused.

Not just the “I don’t understand this” confused. Truly, deeply confused. Berke was acting so…un-Berkeish. He had given Vivi his wand! Much less, she had not broken it when he had given her permission! There had to be something more to this. Either that or over the course of the summer she had gone irreversibly insane and no one bothered to tell her.

The Hufflepuff threw a startled look in Vivi’s direction before returning to studying the fourth year. Without his wand Berke (or was it Avery now?) was still dangerous. She had seen what he had been able to do to Donal with his fists, after some sort of scuffle between the two of them. But somehow, she doubted he was going to strike her. Not right then.

It was amazing what sort of comfort that could bring, uncertain as she was at its truth. She brushed her tear stained cheeks with the back of her pale hand, and then brushed the salty water onto her robes. Slowly the muscles in her body loosened their tense grip, and her knees drew away from her chest.

She didn’t know how long she sat under the table, her legs moved to a swastika-like position, staring at the boy before her. Was it possible that this was the same one who had cursed her before sending her crashing through the window? It hardly seemed so, but it had to be. How could it not?

She was barely aware that she had started moving, but with surreal detachment she found herself crawling forward in Ber—Avery’s direction. She halted before him, the bench providing a barrier between the two of them.

Aiko’s gaze softened as she watched him, his head buried in his knees. A small, trembling hand stretched over the bench, before bringing itself to softly lie on his head. Moments before contact, however, she drew it back, as if bitten. Despite his honest appearance, it was hard to set aside her almost habitual fear of him. She gulped back her uncertainties and began again, hesitantly bringing her arm back over the bench.

And Aiko laid a gentle, forgiving hand on the side of his face.

Avery gasped when Aiko’s shaking hand came to rest on the side of his face. He had been expecting her , for one reason or another, to retreat farther under the table, or to explode into a thousand tiny little minion pieces. He never expected her to actually touch him. She thought he was toxic, didn’t she?

Slowly he turned to face her, a tear falling down his cheek. He quickly brushed it away and smiled nervously. “Erm, sorry, Aiko…” he said softly. “And Vivi…”

Aiko withdrew her hand from his face, though she let it rest on the smooth surface between them. “I suppose I’m sorry as well,” she whispered, watching him uncertainly.

She had no idea what brought on the change in him, nor was she sure she wanted to. What if it turned out he had just been pretending? It seemed like something the old Berke would do: toy with her until she trusted him, then hurt her.

The thought made her blood run cold, and her hand retreated to her lap. Sincere or not, it would take some time before she could trust the boy fully.

Vivi, shadowed over by the interactions between the two, and waiting to see what course this reunion would take, smiled broadly, really and truly happy. In recent months only Quidditch had made her this elated, and that lacked the warmth of friendship. Still at a loss for words, yet for a different reason, Vivi just threw her arms around Avery, then Aiko, and then around both.

“While we’re at the apologies,” she sniffed, eyes gleaming a little, though she blinked away the impulse to cry, “I am too. Sorry I mean. Just for…just for anything and everything.”

This was aimed more at Avery (she met his eyes as she said it), as Aiko and herself were still on fairly good terms as far as she knew. Yet there was no reason to waste breath on technicalities. All of her friends were speaking again, and it was the best feeling in the world.

“Now,” Avery said, turning to Vivi. “As I clearly aren’t about to hex Aiko, could I have my wand?”

“Here.” Vivi said, handing it back to him hastily. She had no reason to hold on to it, after his promise to her. By now surely Aiko knew he wasn’t planning on using it, or at least he’d better not be.

While apologies flew fast and thick in the Great Hall, a very different scenario was playing out in the Slytherin common room. Jeremy Matthews ran full speed into the Slytherin commons. His mouth was wide open, and his face beat red. Once he got into the common room, he bumped into a girl that was trying to leave.

Abbigale had just begun to be in a good mood when the first year, Jeremy Matthews she thought, ran straight into her. This was not amusing in the slightest to Abbigale and she withdrew her wand, meaning to practice the spell she had seen Alex reading over just a moment to go.

“Oh, Abbigale.” he said, his heart racing from the run he had just taken. “I need to tell you something!” he said, a quick grin formed on his face.

Abbigale rolled her eyes and flicked a blonde curl behind her shoulder and looked at the boy. “That is Miss Abbigale to you, Matthews. Now what is it? I have rather a lot to do.”

Jeremy laughed at Abbigale, or more like Miss Abbigale. This was one thing he knew she would want to hear.

“Now, it’s got something to do with that Avery Berke character.” he stopped, watching as Miss Abbigale leaned in closer to hear.

“I’ve just seen the two, Avery and Vivi, snogging out by the lake. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!” he laughed, then walked into the common room taking a seat in one of the chairs. “I just thought it was something you would want to know about!”

Abbigale’s eyes widened. Sometimes first year snobs came in quite useful.

“Avery Berke, Bird Brain? Well.” She turned round, ignoring the first year and practically kicking him out of the way. This was big news that Agatha must know about, but. She suddenly had a thought and whirled round to face Jeremy once more. She walked forward towards him until he stepped back and fell into a chair. “I don’t believe you,” she said, quietly. “Berke was smitten with Agatha from what I heard, what is he playing at?”

Jeremy did not look like he wanted to answer and Abbigale was in no mood to listen. She ignored him once more and headed over to Agatha who had just appeared. She went up to hear and whispered.

“That Berke boy is up to something dear. He and that Vivi girl are down in the grounds—kissing!”

Agatha smiled vaguely at Abbigale as she saw her approach. This year, so far, lacked a certain something, which she dare not even voice to herself. Naturally she was excelling at her school work, putting the Mudbloods to shame and to all intents things were improving. The school was largely rebuilt and her parents had sent her even more gifts than usual to compensate for having to live in quarters which were, at least initially, scarcely more than a hovel.

But as she heard the words which issued forth from Abbigale, her beautiful, yet cold and calculating, white blonde head swung round and the _expression on her face was incredibly hard to read as a rush of emotions buzzed through her mind and her heart beat quickened.

Anger, bitterness, fear, hatred, hurt, and then anger again.

She swallowed a couple of times and put out one hand and steadied herself on the back of a carved wooden chair.

So…

She had always suspected that that was the game which the sniveling Veruca was playing. She had after all been patently jealous of herself and Avery all last year. Pitifully stalking them—her pathetic worm face showing up in every conceivable location, so that sometimes Agatha had been tempted to hex her just for being alive.

But that Avery Berke should stoop so low (literally and figuratively) was… she stopped herself. He was no better than she. Mudblood himself, Agatha reprimanded herself as she stood silently in front of Abbigale and realized the younger girl was looking at her peculiarly.

“How do you know…no I tell you what forget how you know, come Abbigale,” Agatha commanded. “Let us go and see this ridiculous event for ourselves, and have a… have a…. laugh at the stupid mudbloods,” she forced out and felt her face tinge with a pink blush. She cursed herself silently and strode to the exit with Abbigale in pursuit. Her high beige boots clicked on the floor and she dropped her Prada handbag down onto a chair on the way out. She might need both hands….

Abbigale had expected a reaction from Agatha, but not the one she saw. The reaction she saw was anger and to all intent purposes, it was confusing. She had expecting to see slyness, maybe even happiness. A chance to reveal the mudbloods was just to Agatha’s taste. However, Agatha was quite reluctant in her words to “laugh at the stupid mudbloods.”

Abbigale wondered vaguely whether Agatha was ill. She had put down her Prada handbag, something she was usually never seen without. Abbigale put an anti-stealing spell on it before she followed Agatha out, as the older girl seemed to have forgotten.

“Agatha, darling. Are you feeling alright?”

“I am feeling just fine,” Agatha said marching ahead, “Never better, fantastic.”

Her face was hard and tight and she felt a rising tide within her, a tide that threatened to rise up and engulf her. She musn’t, musn’t lose control, she would not be shamed. She would shame them instead. They would learn never ever to pick a fight with Agatha Swales.

She pulled her tiny wrap round top fretfully onto her shoulder and her ash blonde hair swung and shone as she tapped her way down the corridor at a most unladylike pace.

Agatha planned, well, what Agatha planned Avery and Vivi would not have liked. Yet the Slytherin found the Pitch empty; she had arrived too late. There would be other times for revenge, yes, but for the moment she had missed her chance. A pity for Agatha, but a blessing for Vivi, at least- the Hufflepuff stood to be hurt the most in a feud with Agatha.

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