Chapter 22

A Test of Friendship

Coach Serenity LeBelle glanced around. The two Quidditch teams were assembled – the canary yellow Hufflepuffs to her right and the bright blue Ravenclaws to her left. The first match of the season was always the most nerve-wracking in Serenity’s opinion, but this was even more so: Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw had the biggest rivalry in the school.

“All right teams. Captains shake hands.” She watched as the Captains did so. “I want a nice clean game—keep fouls to a minimum, please. And remember; no magic.”

She cast a glance at the assembled players. “Mount your brooms,” she ordered, doing so herself. With a flick of her wand, the box which held the Quidditch balls flew open, the two Bludgers and the elusive Golden Snitch zooming off. Taking the Quaffle into her own hands, she threw it straight up into the air, giving a sharp blow on her whistle.

The game had begun.

Francisco stood watching Ren give the orders to all the team mates. He had heard this speech from every Quidditch coach they have ever had here at Hogwarts. The same old thing over and over again. “I want a good clean match.” and “No magic.” Stuff Francisco would never think of breaking, for it would cost their team the whole game, and then he would have to live down the fact that Ravenclaw had lost to Hufflepuff. Not the best thing in the world.

When Ren had ushered for the two captains to shake hands, Francisco moved up towards Vivi. Francisco was going to make sure Ravenclaw won this game, for Brooke, Gem, Ren and all of his other fellow Ravenclaws.

The Quaffle was thrown into the air, and Francisco made a quick dive for it before the Hufflepuff Chaser could get it first. Once the Quaffle was safely in his grasp, he flew down towards the goal posts, dodging in between Hufflepuff players.

He looked around, seeing Jamie and Vivi searching frantically for the snitch, each one hoping to catch it before the other one. He came into close range of the keeper and the goals. Kelly, the Hufflepuff keeper, was eyeing him closely, but Francisco was too quick. A quick flick of his wrist and the Quaffle went flying through the Hufflepuff goal. The first score of the game had come. Ravenclaw 10-Hufflepuff 0.

Vivi soared above the ground, searching diligently for the snitch, hoping against hope that she would be able to catch it and win the game. Sharp eyes swooped over the ground, searching for a glimmer of gold, a hit of sunlight reflecting off of a polished surface.

Sudden movement caught her attention, and she turned on a dime as Jamie tore towards the ground. Automatically Vivi dove, tearing after her. Her one instinct was to catch the Snitch, and if Jamie had seen it, she couldn’t let her have it. Still, there was something wrong about Jamie’s dive, and Vivi’s brain knew it even if her gut didn’t. Jamie wasn’t looking down, she was looking up…up, where she would go as Vivi plowed into the turf after falling for an obvious feint.

Green streaked towards Vivi as she bolted down, her broom barely under control. She was going to crash, the ground was getting closer, she could see the texture of the blades…even as she imagined herself becoming a bloody spot on the ground, in mimicry of a suicide jumper, she glided up. Her knees dragged along the dirt, bruising them up badly, but she was very much alive, and very much still in the game. Temper flaring now, she shot up.

Maybe Ravenclaw would still win, Jamie was a good seeker, but Vivi wouldn’t let it be easy for her.

Jamie smiled as her attempt to fool Vivi worked almost perfectly. Jamie had not planned for Vivi to actually fall for it, and if she did, Jamie didn’t think Vivi was going to get hurt. But Vivi was fine and Jamie couldn’t help but be glad. She would never admit it, of course, but she’d like to win the fair way. That meant that Vivi would still be in the game. Jamie respected Vivi, off of the pitch. Vivi was a kind-hearted human being, one of Jamie’s boyfriend Cisco’s friends, and a competent seeker.

But never-the-less, Jamie wanted to win this game. For Ravenclaw. Then she saw it…the snitch! It was flittering around the left Hufflepuff goal post. On impulse Jamie surged for it. The snitch must have noticed, for it flew off.

“Damn you.” Jamie muttered under her breath and continued flying for the snitch. If Vivi was behind her she wouldn’t have known.

Jamie outstretched her arm and grabbed for the snitch, but missed and nearly fell off of her broom. The snitch sped in the other direction and Jamie flipped back around. Vivi was trailing Jamie, but she was not quick enough. In one grasp Jamie clutched the snitch and held it tightly.

Ravenclaw had won.

Trying to retain a professional composure, Serenity let out three loud pips on her ref’s whistle, waving an arm to the players who were remaining.

“Ravenclaw has the Snitch!” she announced. “Ravenclaw wins!”

Vivi landed, quite a bit harder than she intended too. Barely suppressing the urge to throw her broom at something, she forced a smile.

“Good game, Jamie,” she shouted over the roar of the Ravenclaw crowd, hoping that the other seeker would notice somehow. Even if Hufflepuff wasn’t victorious, Vivi would not and could not stand for it to ever be said that they weren’t sportsmanlike. Fair play was a quality Hufflepuff was known for and valued.

That necessity taken care of, she stomped towards the castle. After cooling off, perhaps by dumping some water over her head, she would speak to the team. The Captain seemed to have disappeared forever, meaning a new beater needed to be found. More importantly, it meant that Vivi was the permanent captain. This game was certainly not a good way to begin in her new position.

Jamie heard someone say “Good job,” .and it sounded awfully like Vivi…yes…yes, it was Vivi. But before Jamie knew it, Vivi was gone, probably off to the castle.

It was no time to think about it; the Ravenclaw house was exploding with cheers that never seemed to end. She walked over to the team, focusing mainly on Cisco. He looked strikingly handsome, his hair messy, in a handsome rugged way. She loved how he looked when he just got off his broom.

Jamie walked slowly up to him, finally making her way right in front of him. She was very close to him, her lips a little below his, almost touching his bottom one. The team was tightly together jumping and congratulating each other and going over the brilliant and not so brilliant plays of the game. But everything seemed to be going rather still for Jamie. She peered her blue eyes into Francisco’s and took her icy blue hair out of her ponytail and let it down to rest below her shoulders.

She bit her lip nervously, but eventually pulled Francisco into a light kiss. She kissed his lips lightly once or twice, who was counting anyway? Until she kissed him more deeply the next time, holding her lips to his and putting her arms casually around his neck.

It was a sweet, sweet victory for Ravenclaw.

Yet in the Hufflepuff dorms, Vivi turned on the shower and proceeded to try to drown herself.

Soft rays of morning sunlight lit the Great Hall as Aiko Watanabe entered, having risen early. She appeared calm for a change; however, her serene demeanor disipated quickly when she was hailed form behind.

“Hey!” A boy called, and when Aiko turned she identified him as Brian Limey. Behind Brian followed Avery, his hands once more shoved into his pockets.

“Listen,” Brian said as he approached, “It’s no big deal to me at all. But I guess now that everything is okay we should start to get to know each other, if I’m going to be seeing a lot more of you.” Brian collapsed on the nearest bench, motioning for Aiko and Avery to do the same, “Sit down if ya want.”

It took a few moments before what Brian said registered with Aiko. He actually wanted to talk to her? Why in Merlin’s name would he want to do that?

Despite herself, thoughts of the horrible curses he could throw at her once she trusted him flashed through her mind, and she paled. It would be like a bee attracted to honey, then stuck in the sticky liquid until it was burnt by the magnified rays of the sun.

Aiko shivered, but, not wanting to disobey and cause potentially more harm, she sat, drawing her knees to her chest in protection. Wrapping her arms around her raised knees, she stared wide-eyed at the two boys, both with which she regarded with frightened caution.

“Lighten up,” Avery told her at once, shaking his head disgustedly. “We’re not gonna hex you, unless you toss me out another window. Then we may have a problem.” There was a jesting tone in his voice, but he was really quite serious. Being tossed out of a window was not fun, especially when the one being tossed lands on a very thorny bush.

She remained panicked and Avery sighed. “D’ya want me to leave?” he asked, looking at her oddly.

Aiko shook her head quickly. She was in no mood to try to gather enough courage to send him away like on of her maids. It just wasn’t done with Berke.

One arm released her tight grip on her knees, just long enough to tuck a strand of ebony hair behind her ear. Slowly she raised her head to look at the two boys, studying them carefully. Berke had his hand in his pocket, twisting his wand between his fingers. Had she not seen him do the same on countless occasions- none of which resulted in hexing -this would have worried her. Brian had made no move for his wand. They were, for the moment, relatively safe.

Her body unfolded itself as she relaxed slightly. Her knees withdrew from her chest, and her hands settled to her lap.

“So…” Avery said, trying to break the awkward silence between the three of them. “Erm…Brian…” he began, twisting up his face and running his fingers through his hair.

He couldn’t think of anything. Not that it was his conversation anyway. He knew them, they knew him. He didn’t need to talk. “Have at it I guess,” he said, leaning back and peering over at the two.

Brian rolled his eyes. “I can’t just start a conversation, Avery!” Brian jabbed at his food. “I can’t just start talking, I have to have something on my mind and all that is on my mind is how I’m going to hurt Agatha, and when. So, uh…have you two and Donal made a plan yet?” Brian asked curiously.

Brian gave a perplexed look at Aiko and her very stone like poise. “You need a massage or something K.O. Hey, do you mind if I call you K.O.? That’s a really cool name.”

Aiko was surprised to feel the outsides of her lips tugging into a small smile. “Alright, then,” she agreed, stifling a giggle. She had never had a real nickname before. At home she was referred to as Miss Watanabe, or Miss Aiko. The closest she had come was Avery and Agatha’s “Acorn” and “Brat” names; those were more insults than anything.

“Of sorts,” Avery said, looking oddly at Aiko for a moment. She seemed to be suppressing a laugh and was, thus, vibrating slightly.

“Er, right.” he said, looking back at Brian. “Yeah, we got a plan, kinda, Aiko’s not in on it though. Vivi is, though she agreed reluctantly.”

“Well,” he began, lowering his voice a little. “We’re trying to make Agatha jealous.” He paused for a moment, thinking about what had happened in the library.

“And who the hell is this Jeffrey kid I see you talking to Berke? So much I don’t know about and it’s getting annoyed.”

“Anyway, Jeremy is in on it.” He shrugged. “We’re trying to devise more, but it’s goin’ slow.”

Brian’s jaw dropped. “That’s utterly awful.” He shook his head.

“It’s not going to work. How is this going to hurt Agatha? We need something more physically and emotionally harmful. Somehow we need to close down Gucci, and Versace, and all the places she shops at.” Brian seemed hopeful. It lasted for about two seconds. “That’s impossible. We need something else.”

Aiko’s eyes widened and she looked first at Brian, then Avery. Agatha and Avery had broken up, apparently, and now they were trying to physically harm Agatha?

“You can’t!” she burst out, before clasping a hand over her mouth. She didn’t like the Agatha girl, but she couldn’t just sit by while these boys planned something to hurt her. It just wasn’t right. Still, she would hate to make them angry at her

. “Can’t what exactly?” Avery asked, rolling his eyes. “Plot against Agatha? Return all the kindness she’s showed us? What, are we supposed ta send her a care package with lotsa fluffy bunnies?” He paused and smiled. “Exploding fluffy bunnies….Gotta pass that one by Talmorra.”

Aiko shook her head stubbornly. “You can’t hurt people, just because they’ve hurt you, Berke.” Despite her better judgment, she shot him an angry look. “Or haven’t you learned that yet?”

She was, of course, referring to the window incident and Berke’s rather dramatic response of turning her into a frightened wreck. Prince helped, certainly, but that wasn’t the point. No one saw her going after the two of them, demanding payment for trauma.

“What is it with you and revenge?” she asked, crossing her arms and staring at him pointedly. “She dumped you, fine. People get hurt, Berke, it’s just how things are. So excuse me for not thinking you’re justified in any of this.”

Avery blinked a few times. Aiko was telling him off for plotting against Agatha? Was the girl mad?

Probably.

“Ya know, I couldn’t care less what you think. You could try to stop me, but I would have to hex you into many little Hufflepuff pieces. You still seem to think that that’s a common practice of mine.” He laughed grimly.

“And,” he added, standing, “this isn’t about her dumping me. It’s for everything else.” He shrugged slowly and began walking away. “Brian, meet me in the Library later.”

He left the Hall and began climbing the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, glaring murderously at anyone who dared look at him. “So much for getting along…”

Aiko stared after him, anger welling up and threatening to spill over, before she left the Hall, headed for the Hufflepuff common room.

It was late Sunday morning, but Vivienne was still asleep in her dorm. Normally by now she would be up, dressed, and eating breakfast in the Great Hall after completing a rigid session of personal Quidditch practice. However, after the match yesterday Vivienne had disabled her magical alarm clock, stowed her broom in a locked trunk, and collapsed onto the bed, moving only to pull the yellow quilt over her head.

The loss, although embarrassing and devastating for a new Captain, was only part of what was bothering her. Losing to Ravenclaw was nothing new. Last year Brooke had perhaps the strongest team ever to come through Hogwarts, and Vivi had not doubted Cisco’s ability to live up to the Ravenclaw legacy. She had hoped that Hufflepuff would put up more of a show, but several players had been unable to attend the match. They had no subs, and she herself seemed to be getting sick. The Medic had tried to order her to stay in bed the Friday before, but Vivi would have none of that with a match coming up.

Quidditch meant the world to Vivi, but usually a loss would only make her more determined to be better, rather than inspiring her to hide in bed all morning. The Hufflepuff morale was down, she knew; last night the commonroom had been deserted. But with some hard work they could still be second best, she reckoned. Gryffindor might offer a good match, but Slytherin easily had the worst team in the school. Such thoughts had kept her awake late into the night, and she had resolved by now not to worry about broomsticks for three days. Then she would throw herself into the game with more vigor than before.

In the mean time, there were other problems to dissolve. Agatha seemed not to have heard or believed the encouraged rumors about Vivi and Avery. That was one plan that might be blown, it was hard to tell. If Agatha did believe them, Vivienne would have one angry Slytherin on her hands. It wasn’t a prospect she looked forward too, and once more she wondered what insane impulse had tempted her to strike a deal with Berke. Nice as it was to be on speaking terms with him again, and for him to have promised to no longer threaten Aiko, sometimes she had regrets…

Aiko. Vivi mentally kicked herself as she remembered that in the flurry of practicing the week before the match, she had never caught Aiko up to times after her return. She had to be completely confused, especially if she had been talking to Avery. Sighing, Vivi opened her eyes, quite sure she had heard the sounds of someone storming around the dorm.

“Morning,” she greeted groggily, sitting up and rubbing at her eyes. More than anything, Vivi wanted to go back to sleep and forget, but she needed to talk to Aiko and might not get another chance soon. Besides, she needed to change out of her muddy Quidditch robes. They didn’t exactly make savory pajamas. “Something wrong?”

It was beating around the bush, maybe, but Vivi couldn’t start off a sentence with “So what’ve you heard about me’n Avery?”

Years of training prevented the door to the third year girls dorms from slamming, though it was closed rather firmly. The peacefulness of the room occupied by the presumably sulking Quidditch captain was shattered as an angry teenager stormed, as quietly as she could manage, of course, over to her dresser and pulled out one of her kimonos.

It was a habit Aiko had formed over the summer. Whenever she was feeling particularly low, or angry, she would settle herself in her room and, for lack of a better term, make herself “pretty”.

Which was exactly what she was doing at the moment.

Aiko slammed down into the seat and, despite her small frame, the force of it made the chair legs seat. Her vanity mirror reflected the disgruntled Vivi, and Aiko met her eyes in the reflection.

“Avery Berke is the most pig-headed—” Aiko continued her profile of Berke the Jerk by adding a few more adjectives, none of them polite. Her hands, eager to strangle the older boy, pulled two hair-sticks from her collection.

“That display in the Great Hall?”—the thought of it made her shake with anger, resulting in her pulling her thick black hair a bit tighter than she had meant to—” It was all a sodding show to him! He didn’t mean a word of it!”

Aiko’s almond eyes narrowed further as she secured her hair in a high bun, leaving strands to frame her face (a look quite done by accident, from anger induced haste) and a long tail streaming to her waste from the center of the bun.

“He threatened me!” she ranted, applying a bit of mascara to her lashes. “Again!” A light layer of pink to her cheeks and a coating of lip gloss followed. “Said he’d ‘hex me to pieces’!”

Normally such a threat would send her into pieces in and of itself, but Aiko’s fury was beyond tears. “He was probably laughing at me the entire time!” She stood abruptly, knocking her chair over. Her inner kimono, a white silk, form-fitting robe with a pattern of light blue butterflies, was unfolded quickly. She shrugged out of her school robes, and into the kimono, securing it at the waist.

Bang

A bludger bat, which had been propped up against the chair Aiko threw herself in, crashed to the floor. Vivi jumped, for a moment believing that Aiko had exploded something with anger. This was not good. This was not good at all.

Sitting up, Vivi edged forward on the bed until she was sitting right behind Aiko, watching her with a quizzical expression in the mirror. Vivi hugged the quilt to her, for the dorm was cold, and tried to comprehend was her best friend was saying.

At first very little of it made sense, probably because Vivi refused to believe it. Avery had threatened to hex Aiko? After that little scene in the Great Hall where he’d acted humane? Considering that, such insults as “pig headed” hardly did him justice.

Yet just as Vivi began to think of suitable hexes to cast on him, she also remembered Avery’s personality. He had threatened to hex Vivi herself on numerous occasions, few of which resulted in actual curses being thrown. Perhaps Avery was just being, well, Averyish, and Aiko was over reacting? She closed her eyes for a second trying to sort it out. Whom to believe, her evil-minion best-friend or her curse-happy make-believe boy-friend?

When did life at Hogwarts ever get so complicated?

Vivi wanted to ask when, where, how, and why, but Aiko was already mad enough to burst. Giving her the impression of disbelief was not a good course of action, mostly because Vivi did believe her. She just wasn’t so sure that Avery’s intentions had been what Aiko thought they were, and she had a hard time imagining him laughing about the situation.

“Great…just great,” she finally said, slipping out of bed and into fuzzy slippers. Two seconds later she had written down an order for two cups of tea to be sent up via house elf, and then settled herself onto the chair beside her friend.

“I’m sorry, Aiko,”she started, still confused. “But could you explain again…slowly? And then I think I probably have some explaining ta do too.” Hopefully, she waited. Maybe there was something she had missed…maybe Avery was joking after all. Most likely Vivi would have to talk to him as well. Yet one thing seemed painfully clear: the two people she spent the most time with at Hogwarts hated each other with a passion, and neither seemed able to let their differences go.

Aiko ignored the house elf as he brought up two cups of tea. She had grown accustomed to the glares sent her way from all of the elves; they had held a collective grudge against her for over a year now. She hadn’t even killed the sodding thing, it had just been in her way.

And what was she supposed to tell Prince? “Sorry, I couldn’t give you the magical and powerful object because there was a house elf in my way and I couldn’t bear to hurt the poor dear”? Somehow she doubted the evil murderer would care very much about the well being of an ugly little elf.

Up-righting her chair with a rough shove, Aiko set the glass of peppermint tea on the velvet seat cover. Peppermint was a calming drink, and she was quite enjoying her rather justified anger. She didn’t get to throw tantrums nearly as often as would have been healthy.

“I was talking to Brian, and Berke and him start jabbering about how they want to hurt Agatha, actually hurt her, put her in the Hospital Wing, because some other plan wasn’t working very well.” Aiko paused for just a moment, reflecting on that. Just what was that other plan? She shook her head, letting strands of dark hair whip at her back. It wasn’t of any concern. Knowing the Jerk, it had been some half-brained plot that wouldn’t have worked save for a miracle.

“Anyway,” she continued haughtily, crossing the room to the large closet. “I told him it wasn’t right to declare revenge just because she didn’t return his feelings, and that he certainly shouldn’t punish her for something she couldn’t force.”

She had already moved past the irony of the situation; Aiko was no fan of the Slytherin snob either. But after the year before, and the explanations of Prince and Daiva, she had seen what revenge over a girl could do. How many people it could be hurt.

With a shock she realized her eyes were watering at the memory, and she blinked the tears away angrily. Her patience worn thin, she grabbed the outer kimono she had her hand on, a dark blue plain robe, and retreated from the closet.

“Then he just…yelled at me and stormed off,” she said, returning to her vanity. Perhaps a sip of tea would do her a bit of good.

“I can’t say that Agatha wouldn’t deserve it,” Vivi said, beginning to work out what had happened. Noting the look on Aiko’s face, she continued hastily, “But I wouldn’t wish it on her, even then, ya know that. I don’t want her put in the Hospital Wing!”

For the moment, Vivi was choosing to ignore the fact that Agatha most likely wanted to put her in the Hospital Wing for a reasonable amount of time. Such thoughts reminded Vivi of what she had to tell Aiko, right now, before the situation got any worse.

For a moment she hid behind her tea glass, trying to find a way of phrasing the next bit of news without having Aiko burst out in tears or blow up again. Then slowly, she sat down her glass, and moved it away, taking a breath.

“Aiko,” she ventured, “I’m sorta, like, well, fake going-out with…Avery.” Biting her lip, she waited for the ball to drop.

Just as the first sip of tea was about to work its way through Aiko’s somewhat pursed lips, her body stopped reacting to commands. The tea cup fell to the floor, bouncing off her lap and splashing her with hot tea. The china connected with the floor with a loud crash, sending shards flying. The rest of the tea seeped through the floor boards.

So much for calming tea, she thought numbly, staring somewhat mournfully at the shattered pieces. Not that it would help much, especially with Vivi dating Avery.

Her throat caught and her eyes widened as the announcement clicked. Vivi was dating Berke. Her best friend was willing to snog the boy who had terrorized her for three years.

Slowly her feelings returned, and her now-soaked and scorching lap was demanding attention. Letting go a long string of oaths, she yelped and jumped. In her rush to get the wet kimono off, she stepped on the broken pottery. Small shards took up residence in her feet, and she winced as she saw blood trickling around her heel.

This was, of course, all Berke’s fault.

It had to be. After all, Vivi was her best friend. She wouldn’t willingly go with the Jerk.

And then her heart fell, only to be brought rushing up to her throat with enraged flames. Moments from the first year flickered through her mind: Viv’s admitting her crush on Avery, Viv’s sticking up for the boy…after all, if Aiko’s own parents could desert her because of some sodding evil man, why not Vivi? She said it was fake-dating, but somehow, Aiko highly doubted that.

Her outer kimono discarded, Aiko ignored the stinging in her feet and crossed the room swiftly. Her fury, which had previously been directed at Berke, reveled in its new target.

“How could you do this to me?” she asked, and was surprised to find tears running down her face. She turned quickly to the window; she wouldn’t let that betrayer have the satisfaction of seeing the results of her acts. “How could you do this to me?!”

She was outright sobbing now, but she turned to face the other girl anyway. Pride washed away as she watched her so-called friend through a wet film.

The first ten years of her life had been spent with her crazy grandfather and her servants, learning manners and political distance. Then she came to school, befriended Berke, only to have him stab her in the back (not to mention throw her out the window). She thought that, for once, she had had a real friend in Vivi. Now…now the two were teaming up, leaving her, once more, alone and scared.

“You’re leaving me,” she choked out, bitterly, “for him?”

Aiko glared at Vivi in disbelief and horror. Unabashed tears rolled down her cheeks, wetting the pale skin that showed at her collar bone. A small wet spot showed the marks of the tea, and bloody footprints showed where she had stormed over. Her whole body seemed to convulse, on the brink of losing any self control and throwing herself to the floor to weep.

“No!” Vivi sputtered, almost at a loss for words. Anger, confusion, and even a little resentment she had expected. Yet what Aiko felt was worse than any of that…she felt betrayed, and for Vivi, a loyal, fair-play loving Hufflepuff, that was the worst reaction of all. Slowly her own words drifted back to her from a different fight, a different situation.

I agree with Aiko, Avery. Agatha’s loyalties change as often as her nail polish. And obviously, so do yours.

Slowly Vivi backed up, horrified. She was seeing everything as Aiko must be seeing it, and knew how it felt, to some degree. Prince John Paul, as he liked to call himself, had wrecked Aiko’s life. Hogwarts students mostly treated her like garbage and kept their distance. Whispers followed her, and insults were rarely far behind. Granted, none of the servants fared better, but for Aiko it was worse. She had no prefects badge to hide behind, no special knowledge of curses, and no understanding that she had tried to resist. After the incidents, even her family had forsaken her.

Now Aiko thought that Vivi, perhaps one of her only friends at Hogwarts, had “formed an alliance against her,” to quote bad muggle reality TV. It was a complete misunderstanding, but a costly one in terms of friendship.

Vivi, her own eyes dry, opened her mouth to speak, then closed it firmly again. Nothing she said would be heard through Aiko’s sobbing anyways. Instead she pulled out her wand, which was perhaps not the wisest course of action considering, and aimed it.

Biting her lip, Vivi ventured, “Aiko…just let me explain. It’s not what you’re thinking. And I’m not going anywhere.”

“Abluo,” she said, feeling like a horrible person, and worse, a horrible friend. The spilt tea and china slivers gathered up, depositing themselves in a waste basket forcefully.

It seemed Vivi had conveniently forgotten the slivers that had dug themselves in the soft of her foot. As they went tearing through her foot for the most direct path to the waste basket, Aiko let out a yelp and dove for her bed.

So much for storming out, she thought grumpily, nursing her injured feet. “Abandoning me not enough for you?” she asked bitterly. “Now you’re trying to cripple me?!”

“Oh no! I’m sorry!” Vivi cried, covering her mouth with one hand. It seemed everything that happened went awry. In a further attempt to help, she unlocked her truck and grabbed the Quidditch first aid kit, bringing it with her as she walked over to the bed. Mostly the kit contained wake-up potions for the knocked-out player, magical tweezers for easy splinter removal, and cold packs, but it might help some.

Awkwardly she handed it to Aiko, muttering, “Here.” Then she sat down on the opposite bed, folded her legs under her and bit her lip.

“I told you, I’m not abandoning you.” Vivi reiterated, then added, “I’m not even going out with Berke, not really. It’s pretend, no snogging involved.” As she added the last part she made a face like someone who has just swallowed a lemon.

“Aggie broke up with him, ya know, no surprises there,” she began hastily as Aiko glared. Vivi wanted to finish the explanation before another wave of tears or anger.

“I didn’t know about it though. Then Donal sends me an owl ta meet him in the library at night. Who else does he bring but Berke? I started ta leave, but then they began talking about revenge against Swales. Well, it wasn’t gonna work. They couldn’t get her without bait, and even if they did, I think it’d just make her mad. It wouldn’t hurt her. So I told Avery he needed ta find a girl that would pretend ta be his girlfriend, cause that’d mean he’d rebounded before Aggie had, and she’d be mad.” Vivi took a deep breath before rushing through the rest, “I left then, and later Avery found me on the Quidditch Pitch, and asked if I’d do it. He couldn’t find anyone else. Well, I did, but I made him agree ta some stuff, and that’s it. We’re talking again, is all, and some kid told Abbigale that he’d seen us, ya know, snoggin’ on the Pitch. That’s it. We don’t even talk that much, can’t without arguing ya know, and I sorta like not having ta leave the Great Hall every time he walks in. And I’m not trading you in just cause I’m talking to him again!”

Vivi finished breathlessly, out of things to say. She instead turned to watching Aiko with apprehension, not sure what her reaction would be. If worse came to worse, Vivi could just tell Avery that the deal was off…although that would mean that Aiko might be cursed. For the sake of Aiko-Avery relations, Vivi had conveniently forgotten to mention that not hexing Aiko had been one of the things Avery had to agree to, hoping that instead Aiko would believe it was a choice of his own.

Aiko glared at the kit in her lap, seething. What kind of plan was that? Dating someone else just to be dating them…it meant nothing. It was an insult to all romantics everywhere.

Of course, that was hardly the biggest reason for Aiko being steamed.

It was an over-played plot; Girl and boy hate each other, pretend to date, then fall in love. She had seen a muggle movie over the summer with the exact same plotline. Had Vivi proclaimed her undying love for Berke—songs and tears included—Aiko would have been less shocked. Well…perhaps she would have been surprised. Less insulted though.

Minutes of silence passed between the two girls. Aiko wasn’t one for revenge, or punishment, but the pained expression on Vivi’s face had a strangely satisfying feel to it. Besides, if she opened her mouth when she was as angry as she was, there was no accounting for what would come out.

So she worked on cleaning the cuts in her feet. She drenched the tip of her bed sheet in the supplied rubbing alcohol, and then pressed the smooth cloth gingerly on her wounds. It burnt, and she let out a small hiss. Her pain threshold was low enough that a teaspoon of torture would break her, but anger dulled her senses enough to allow her to clean her cuts.

“What you’re saying,” she said at last, taking out a roll of stripped gauze and unrolling it slowly. “Is that this is about revenge. And you’re enjoying it.”

Aiko pressed her lips together and secured the wrap on her left foot. She had never imagined that Vivi would stoop so low as to punish someone in a way that would someone else.

“You know that Avery and I can’t abide each other,” Aiko told her sadly, exhausted by her previous emotional display. “And I would hate to ruin your little game by getting in the way.”

Even the prim Aiko could not force the bitterness out of her voice, and she stood, resting weight on her injured feet with a bit of a wince. She slipped on her wooden sandals, careful to leave the wrappings untouched.

“Maybe you’re right.” Vivi said dryly, standing, a touch of anger in her own voice. Crossing to a wardrobe, she opened the door, rummaging through a few draws in an attempt to hide the hurt that was creeping through her veins.

Revenge…yes, maybe that was what this was about. Aiko had a point, Vivi could not deny it, as much as she wanted too. Somehow, she had thought seeing the wreckage that came from Prince’s revenge last year had changed her, but it hadn’t. Was she still out for blood over petty offenses from forever ago? Did Agatha matter that much?

Then again, it was a little rich to be lectured on revenge from the very girl who had helped plot it only a year before. Had Aiko changed so drastically that she had forgotten about the potion meant for Agatha and Avery that would make them see their very worst fears? Or was she just choosing to forget that tiny detail?

What hurt so deeply, however, was that Aiko thought Vivi had betrayed her. It was an insult. What, had three years of friendship formed Aiko’s opinion that Vivi was horribly fickle? After the first Prince massacre, Vivi had forgiven Aiko almost instantly. She had stuck up for her friend against Avery on numerous occasions, and had not said a word about Prince when she arrived back, late, this year. Yet one test of faith on Aiko’s part and the battle lines were drawn.

“Maybe I do enjoy hurting Agatha.” Vivi spat, pulling out a fresh pair of jeans and changing into them, nearly falling over when one of her legs got caught. She stumbled to lean against the wall, and then fished a shirt out.

“Maybe I liked talking ta Avery again. Maybe, Aiko, while you were at home, I didn’t exactly have that many people ta talk ta. Donal’s busy, Cisco is a lot older and has his own worries, and I see the Quidditch team too much anyway without finding them during off hours. The school was a charred mess. Half the people didn’t even come back.”

She changed shirts, throwing the dirty one towards a cloths hamper, where it missed and crumpled to the floor. “Maybe when I agreed ta help Avery, I agreed under the circumstance that he wouldn’t hex ya.”

Tying her hair into a pony tail, Vivi pulled black robes over her other cloths and sashed them tight. This ended the distractions she had, those she had been speaking behind. There wasn’t much left to do but turn to face Aiko, not a very good option. Vivi didn’t want to see what expression was on her friend’s, or her former friend’s, face.

“I thought you knew by now that I thought our friendship was more important than any…little game.” Vivi said, voice almost too quiet to be heard.

One glance at Aiko’s slippers signaled her intentions. Obviously she was planning on leaving, but Vivi didn’t care. Aiko could stay or leave…she herself had to get out, now, before she lost control. Spinning on her heel she shoved the door open roughly and ran down the steps. She kept running until she reached outside, heading for the lake. Maybe sanctuary could be found near its cool waters.

For the first time in three terms, Aiko Watanabe slammed the doors to the Great Hall. Not intentionally, of course, she might be overly emotional but she was hardly rude enough to disturb someone else’s meal time. Unless it was Berke’s and he didn’t have his wand on him.

Sadly, none of the surprised faces belonged to the Jerk. Even if he had been among the diners, she wouldn’t have noticed. The slamming of the doors was caused not by intent, but by sheer uncaring as she burst into the Great Hall, tears running down her face and choked sobs catching in her throat. All dignity was abandoned as she ran between the tables, bandaged feet showing small, red blood stains. She was clad only in her inner kimono, a form fitting white and blue patterned silk number, and wooden sandals.

This cultured indecency was forgotten as she approached the Slytherin table and her last chance for comfort. She had no real reason to trust him; he was as hex happy as Avery, but perhaps, just perhaps, he could understand.

So, without any sign of embarrassment, Aiko threw her arms around Alex Stone’s neck and sobbed.

Having enjoyed a small meal at the Slytherin table, Alex, as was usual, was studying. However, this time, he’d taken refuge, not behind a curse book, but a book of potions… not that that was any better.

Usually people left Alex to his own devices, which was probably why he had so few friends… though that was what he wanted. Even the higher years had a small amount of fear in them…after seeing what he’d done for the past two years for a certain Dark Wizard…

When Aiko Watanabe burst into the Great Hall, Alex took little notice of her. He did, however, receive a small shock when the girl locked her arms around his neck and started crying into his chest. At first, Alex stiffened and immediately reached for his wand. However, when he noticed it was a girl, he stopped his motion.

What exactly is this girl doing? he asked himself puzzled. They had very little contact and Alex hardly knew her. In fact, the only way Alex really knew her was because of her work with Prince.

After about half a minute of crying, Alex relaxed (seeing as Aiko obviously wasn’t trying to hurt him), and put his arms around Aiko, patting her back. It was the only thing he really thought to do.

“Erm, are you alright?” he asked her after a while. That’s a stupid question, he thought to himself, she’s crying her head off and I asked if she’s okay?

But still, he didn’t know what else to say. Well, except the next thing that came out of his mouth, “Er…What’s wrong?”

Aiko shook her head into his chest, accidentally rubbing her forehead against his neck. She was unaware that she was beginning to wet the collar of his robe, or that he seemed a bit uncomfortable. All she knew was that his hands were pressed on her back in a comforting manner, and she seized that comfort enthusiastically.

This innocent question brought the already swimming pain practically leaping out of her heart. Her tears would have increased, had that been possible. Fortunately for Alex, however, it wasn’t.

“Vivi…” she choked out, nestling her head closer to her source of comfort at the thought. “And…and Berke…”

To her great surprise, fewer tears were being produced than she thought was appropriate (though she was a bit biased in her opinion). It seemed her tears had run out, leaving her shaking slightly, but relatively dry.

“They’re….they’re…” she managed a few more tears at the thought, “They’re dating!”

With this she collapsed slightly, leaning against the Slytherin for support.

Alex’s confusion, instead of vanishing, only increased. Having no idea who Vivi was and only remembering Berke because it was his trophy knowing that on some level, the older boy was scared of him, Alex was more confused than ever.

Trying very hard to hide his confusion, he said, “Oh… I’m sorry,” stopping for a moment, biting his lip, he asked, “Were you and Berke dating before?” To Alex it was a simple question. He had no idea of the reaction that would come next.

Dating him

Her dating the Jerk? Aiko Watanabe, former Prince servant, and daughter to the Japanese Ambassador to the Wizarding World, dating Berke?

The idea was ridiculous on all levels. It wasn’t that she thought herself above him. No, he had just lowered himself considerably by existing. She couldn’t even fathom kissing a boy who kept trying to hex her. Of course, she mused, if he was kissing you, he probably would not want to hex you.

The very thought of receiving her first kiss from Berke, of all people, made the romantic hearted first year blush uncontrollably. In order to hide the rising color that would, no doubt, stand out against her pale skin and ebony hair, she buried her head in the robe of his collar and shook her head “no”.

Then she realized how intimate the position would look; her pressed up against his chest and her face tucked under his ear. This revelation furthered her blush, complicating the situation. She couldn’t very well pull back, he would see.

So she settled on loosening her grasp on his neck, though she let her arms rest on his shoulder. If she put them down, it would look like she was some sort of vampire about to strike. Besides, hugging him assured her that, though Vivs may have run off with Berke, she wasn’t alone.

But Alex still had no idea who Vivi was and he was no closer to finding out why the girl was so upset.

“Berke…” he said slowly, “That’s a fourth year right? I remember torturing him a few years back,” he murmured slowly, “And Vivi… erm… is she some sort of bully?”

Vivi? A bully?

Where did Alex get these ideas? Her dating Avery, then Vivi beating up someone? Vivi couldn’t hurt a fly! Aiko regarded this bit with dark humor. Okay, maybe she could. Provided that fly had dyed its hair a hideous bleached blonde and was wearing Gucci shoes. This brought on a reminder of what had occurred moments earlier.

“No, no, no…” Aiko managed, her voice choked with tearless sobs. “Vivi is my…my…best friend!”

It seemed she did have more tears left in her, as she promptly dissolved against his chest. “And…Berke keeps trying to…to…” Her arms tightened their grip on his neck. “He says he’s going to hurt me!”

Those few word cleared quite a few things up for Alex. He surprised himself with a scowl. “That idiot couldn’t hurt a five-year-old. I’d like to see him hurt you with his knees reversed,” he said, trying to stop her tears. Of course, while it probably seemed good to most to get revenge, it didn’t work in situations were the thing that was upsetting in the first place was, well, hurting someone.

The next words that came out of his mouth was so much of a surprise to himself that his eyes widened after what he said sunk in. “I’ll protect you,” he said sincerely. It wasn’t that he wasn’t able to do it, but Alex was someone to turn to if you wanted to be hexed, not if you needed protection. But there it was. Having known this girl for only a few minutes, he’d already decided he cared for her. Well, at lest he cared enough to consider using a newly learned curse on someone.

Aiko drew back, releasing her hold on his neck. For a moment she could do little more than stare at him, eyes wide with surprise and disbelief. Here she was, bawling into his chest, and his idea of making it better was to threaten to hex the Jerk?

Slowly his other words dawned on her, leaving her no less mystified.

I’ll protect you.

Her look of shock slowly softened, turning to one of surprised gratitude. No one had ever offered to protect her before—her paid bodyguards and servants aside–and that someone would willing take care of her…it was a brilliant feeling. Slowly, almost shyly, she stepped towards him again. A definite rosy tint, appearing on her cheeks, she laid a soft, brief kiss on his cheek.

“Thank you,” she whispered, before sliding her arms around his middle in a shy, thankful embrace.

Alex stiffened when Aiko moved towards him, as he was not sure what he was going to get. His emerald-green eyes widened slightly when she kissed him gently on the cheek. Relaxing, as she neither cried nor yelled, he returned the hug she gave him next.

As they sat there, in each others arms, one thought came to Alex’s mind; What have I gotten myself into?

Time suspended for a few minutes as Aiko, wrapped in the Slytherin’s arms, drew comfort. Her mind slowly cleared and one thought prevailed: she needed to talk to Vivi.

She needed to apologize.

It was doubtful that Vivs had returned to the dorms; she wasn’t one to stay indoors with her thoughts. The Quidditch pitch seemed the most likely place, but she hardly wanted to venture outside alone. Especially since the quickest route there led by the entrance to the Gryffindor common room.

“I’m gonna go get changed,” she said, remembering the tea stain on her kimono. “Meet me down on the pitch in a few minutes.”

That sounded like a good idea… Alex’s robes were quite damp and with winter approaching, it wouldn’t do. Merely nodding, Alex rose with her and they walked out of the hall. It was only when they reached the hall outside that they had to go separate ways.

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