Chapter 23

The frigid waters of the lake lapped against the shore, beating out a steady rhythm. Overhead storm clouds drew close, blotting out the earlier sunshine, but, the weather mattered little to Vivienne. Near the shore she sat, staring out across the slate grey waves, with her knees pulled up close to her and her robes wrapped tight. There was no denying the cold; winter seemed to have hit Hogwarts early this year, and a few snow flakes drifted down to add to the mud.

Picking up a stone, she hurled it out and watched it sink. How could Aiko think that? How had events gone so wrong in the space of twenty minutes? How would they ever make up…would they ever make up…and what about Avery?

Burying her head in her arms, Vivi wished that time would either back up or speed forward…anything to get away from today.

“Dangit…” Avery muttered under his breath, shoving the door to the pitch roughly open. He’d just finished his meeting with Brian and was less than pleased. The idiot insisted on knowing why Avery wanted revenge on Agatha, not caring in the least that it was a personal matter.

So, at the moment, Avery had two people that were mad at him…and all the problems seemed to boil down to Brian…had the not suggested physically hurting Agatha, Aiko wouldn’t have reprimanded him and he would not have stormed out.

Hands deep in his pockets, Avery swept his eyes over the frost-covered Pitch, vaguely noticing a small Hufflepuff sitting by the lake.

Least Vivs ain’t mad at me… he thought, eyes snapping suddenly back to Vivi.

“Shoot…” he muttered, slowing his already abnormally slow pace further. What if Aiko had run to Vivi, complaining about how Avery wanted to hurt Agatha? The girl seemed to always exaggerate things, so even if Avery had not said he wanted to physically harm the Slytherin, not shooting the idea out of the air immediately was just as bad.

“Dangit…” he repeated, shaking his head. If Aiko had run to Vivi, what’s to say Vivi did not believe her? She might think Avery was intending to club Agatha over the head with something extremely heavy. So Vivi might just be as P.O.ed at him as Brian and Aiko.

Sighing, Avery crossed the Pitch to where Vivi was, deciding it wasn’t best to avoid her for too long. They were supposedly dating after all.

“Hey, Vivs.” Avery said cautiously, attempting to hide the slight quiver in his voice. “How’re things?”

“Hi Avery.” Vivi greeted without turning around. Instead she pitched another pebble towards the lake. This one skipped twice before sinking into the bleak depths. Lying back so that she could look up at him without craning her neck, Vivi sighed and closed her eyes.

“Things are bad…really bad.” She pressed her hands over her eyes until she could see little colored dots, and then decided that ignoring his presence might not be a good thing.

“Before ya get me started on this…do ya really wanna know? ‘Cause it kinda involves ya.” she asked him sadly. She needed someone to share the fight with, who might offer comfort, even in a vague sense. If that person was the one whom the whole fight was based on, well, then so be at. At least he was talking to her, and had yet to blow up in her face about Aiko.

Avery laughed grimly, sitting down next to Vivi. So Aiko had run to Vivs.

Figures…

“Sure…” he said, sitting down next to her. Things seemed to look up when she asked if he really wanted to know; he figured that she had a lot to rant about and did not want to start venting to him without giving him fair warning. But when she mentioned it involved him, he had the sudden urge to stab the Brat. Hexing was not good enough for her. She was being dumb again, not considering things before running to Vivs. But why had she run to Vivi? There was no reason to whine to someone.

Not wanting to risk mentioning his feeling that this somehow involved Aiko, he leaned up against a tree and muttered, “What’s up?”

Taking a deep, slightly trembling breath, Vivi began. “I dunno what ya said to her Avery, something about hexing or whatever, but she didn’t take it all that well. Guess she’s just had too many threats too often… so she comes steaming into the commonroom, yelling about ya. Well, I had to tell her about, ‘the plan’ sometime, so I did.”

Vivi paused, her fists clenching up as she thought about it. She was beginning to feel hurt and angry all over again. “She went hysterical. Said I’d betrayed her, that we were playing some sorta twisted game, that all we wanted was revenge and that we enjoyed it. And I guess she’s right…can’t say I don’t wanna see Aggie hurt. But then, I don’t know how she gets that I’m betraying her just ’cause I’m talking ta you again. That’s all this is really, a lie and speaking rights.”

She sat up, tired of staring at the clouds overhead as they lacked substantial wisdom. Only self restraint kept her from ranting and raving about how stupid Aiko was being, or how unfair it was. Yet complaining to Avery was bad enough…telling him everything she was thinking about her friend was defiantly not a good idea.

Brushing angrily at her face (she refused to cry, as Aiko had already flooded the place) Vivi glanced at Avery. “I dunno what ta do, Avery. I’m so…so mad at her, but it’s like it’s my fault too, but I didn’t even know I did it. Ugh.” She shook her head, ruthful. There wasn’t really an easy answer.

“What?” Avery exclaimed, straightening up immediately. Vivi had mentioned other things, but those could be commented on once one thing was cleared up.

“She said what, Vivi?” he asked, looking positively murderous. “She said I mentioned hexing her? I thought we’ve established I wouldn’t threaten her…don’t know where she got that from…”

He sat silent for a good five minutes, forcing himself not to march into the school and stab Aiko with the nearest sharp object. The girl was mental. It wasn’t exactly her fault, it was Prince’s, but still…how could she take a joke so seriously?

He gasped suddenly, remembering he had mentioned hexing her…but he’d been joking…in a very serious manner…but he never expected her to attack him, so he had no reason to hex her, thus he felt safe in making that comment…

…clearly he wasn’t.

Finally, after taking one very long, shaky breath, Avery spoke. “How could she gather you betrayed her? What have you done that could possibly be thought of as betrayal?” He began bashing his head against the tree, hoping to knock some understanding into himself.

Girls… he thought, running his fingers though his hair, breaking up the gelled curls. Too emotional..

He sighed and returned to bashing his head against the tree, hoping desperately that Vivi would not blow up at him for some off-the-cuff reason. She seemed stressed enough that Avery would not dare put it past her.

Vivi answered, “If ya did ya were probably joking. I’ve at least a high enough opinion of ya ta think that ya wouldn’t fake making up with her…but she takes everything seriously. And evidently dating ya is betrayal,” she finished, making a derisive sound in her throat.

Pausing to reflect again, Vivi realized that she did not understand it, and probably would not understand it. Twice she had told Aiko that she was not deserting her, and since when was dating someone a capital offense? Granted, Aiko and Avery did not get along, but did that mean that Vivi had to leave one or the other? Was Aiko trying to make her choose? If so, it was a cruel course of action.

Was this what it felt like to be on the other end? Vivi felt the guilt rushing in, red and urgent. From a different, taller, perspective, Vivi herself had done the exact same thing to Avery when he began dating Agatha that Aiko was doing to Vivi now. What lovely irony.

“Stop banging your head,” Vivi told Avery, “Mine already hurts enough without watching ya do that.” The question now was: what did they do? Vivi refrained from voicing it, because the frank truth was that there was little to be done…which made her feel all the worse.

Ah well. Sitting outside in frigid temperatures while basking in misery is certainly a wonderful way to spend a day, she thought sarcastically, wishing there was something around to throttle, or a pillow to rip up.

“Sorry,” he muttered, tenderly rubbing the now-sore spot on the back of his head.

Carefully considering Vivi’s words (and coming up with nothing to fix the problem), Avery said, “How is dating me—pretending to date me—betrayal?” His fingers found his hair again and he continued to run them through, “and, for the record,” he added, looking once again toward the lake, “I didn’t fake it.”

“I know,” Vivi told him. If she thought Avery had been faking it, she would definitely be yelling at him right now, instead of confiding in him.

“She seems ta think it’s betrayal cause it means I don’t care about her. Cause ya’ll don’t get along and all.” She shrugged, glancing at him. A solution of sorts was forming itself in her brain, but that would involve Avery apologizing to Aiko, again, and Vivi didn’t want to ask him to do that. Especially when this was her fight, not his, and because she wasn’t sure he had actually done anything wrong.

“I think I’ll just have to wait till she cools off.” Vivi finished, closing the subject. There really wasn’t all that much left to be said.

Alex opened the doors to the Quidditch Pitch, unnoticed by Vivi and Avery. He had changed into better, warmer robes and was ready to help Aiko.

Deciding that if he was supposed to wait for someone, by the door was probably the best place to do it, he sat down on the steps and waited.

Aiko returned to her dorms quickly, eager to change clothes. Though to most, her inner kimono would seem like perfectly normal attire, if a bit fancy, Aiko couldn’t bring herself to parade around in only half of her outfit. And, what with the outer kimono stained, she couldn’t just throw on the other half.

So much for looking fancy, she thought as she switched into her casual clothes: a short navy blue skirt and a white blouse. She opted to leave her hair up in its ponytail, though she did smooth the fly-a-ways. Knee high cotton socks and sneakers covered the bandages on her feet, and she grabbed a jacket on her way out the door. It was a more suitable, less expensive outfit that could get washed easily enough if Berke decided to practice his hexes on her. But then, she had Alex to protect her if he tried anything.

Alex

She had not expected his offer, nor had she been seeking it, but she was certainly grateful. A smile played on her lips as she hurried over to where he was waiting. She was going to apologize to Vivi, and things would be fine again.

It seemed Aiko’s guess as to the whereabouts of her friend had been right on, as she looked past Alex to see the Jerk and Vivs. “That’s them,” she said, pointing to the pair.

Alex looked over. Nodding his head, he said, “Well, I suppose we should go over to them.” As they headed over to Berke and Vivi, Alex walking slightly behind Aiko, running over his extensive list of favorite hexes and curses. If worse came to worse, he’d probably not use the wand and use something much better; well, better in his opinion.

Alex stopped when they reached the lake. He did not really know the two at all, who was he to interrupt what seemed like an important conversation? Of course, he was also waiting for Aiko to say something first. When she wasn’t looking, Alex took out his wand and put it up his sleeve. He wouldn’t be caught off guard. If it came to a duel, so be it; Alex hadn’t had a real challenge in a while.

For Aiko, approaching the two was rather like approaching an executioner’s block. Her hands began to shake, and she promptly folded them across her chest to hide the quivering. She wouldn’t, she couldn’t, let the Jerk see that she was nervous. He would probably laugh at her.

“Vivs…” she began slowly, intent on ignoring Berke, “I’m sorry.”

There it was.

“You are?” Vivi asked, shocked by the turn of events. Not two hours ago Aiko had been yelling and sobbing about how Vivi was a horrible friend, about how she was betraying her, and now…now Aiko was sorry? Vivi was tempted to back away, say that she wasn’t sure she accepted it, that she wasn’t sure about anything, but no. She couldn’t do that to Aiko, or herself.

Instead Vivi nodded, replying, “I am too.” As Vivi broke off an awkward, relieved hug with Aiko she turned to face Alex, raising an eyebrow. He was here with Aiko? Her…protection?

Completely ignoring the events between the girls, Avery jumped up, wand pointed at Alex. “What the heck are you doing here?” he asked, very tempted to hex Alex. But he didn’t dare; the third year could always find some way to hurt him…and there was no way Avery could cast spells fast enough to disarm him completely.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Brat talking to Vivi, civilly…but had not Vivi, just moments before, said that Aiko was mad at her? So why were they talking? Maybe one had apologized? Aiko, perhaps? Then maybe she realized she’d over-exaggerated things…

…probably not…

Pushing all questions about Aiko from his mind, he stared at Alex, forcing his hand to stay steady. “What…do…you…want?” he asked through gritted teeth, his subtle Irish accent growing increasingly stronger with each word said.

Seriously, Alex was gonna give him a heart-attack one day, not that he’d ever admit to being intimidated by a third year… A servant of Prince, yes, but not a little third year.

Alex’s eyes widened. He had never dreamed that the idiot would draw his wand first. Once Alex had calmed down slightly, he let his own wand slide from his sleeve into his hand. Smirking, he responded, “I see you’re still terrified of me.” He had no idea if this were true or not, but he knew it would provoke the fourteen year old.

Alex took in the Fourth year. He was at least a foot taller than Alex, who was a mere 5’3″. Deciding to provoke him more, Alex continued, “I see I won’t need this.” He put his wand away.

“If you must know, Berke, I’m here with Aiko. Not that that’s any of your concern. You know, you had her in tears. No… my mistake… you’re not important enough to waste tears on… No… I think she was upset with Vivi here, not you. So sorry for misleading you.” Finished with his subtle insults, he turned to look at Vivi. Obviously this girl was important to Aiko. “I’d put that down if I were you,” Alex warned Avery without turning to face him.

At the sight of Aiko and Alex coming across the field, Vivi stood, brushing dirt and grass off of her robes. The hem was soaked, and her feet were cold, but that mattered little.

“Hi Alex.” Vivi greeted, shooting a warning glance at Avery. If the two boys dueled here, more resentment would result. She was tempted to disarm Avery herself, just to make sure that didn’t happen…but then he’d be furious with her. Yet their glares spoke of hexes to come. With Alex’s propensity for elemental magic, the fact that he had put away his wand was definitely not a good thing.

“If ya’ll don’t mind, could you save any dueling for later?” Vivi asked after a tense minute, exasperated. “I don’t really want to be caught in the crossfire, thanks, and obviously Alex, Avery isn’t about to hex Aiko. He was never planning on it.” She finished with a side glance at her reinstated friend. When neither one moved, she put her hands on her hips, looking between them. “Please?”

Though he hated the thought of facing Alex unarmed, Avery sighed and shoved his wand roughly in his pocket. No use making Vivi mad at him. Three angry third years (two of whom were former minions) against one fourth year wasn’t exactly his idea of fun.

He said nothing, but looked over at Vivi, hoping she knew he was terribly grateful to her for saving him from Alex (that is, provided Alex listened to her) and telling Aiko that he was not going to hex her in the first place.

Sighing, he leaned back against a tree and stared at the others, wondering how each would handle the situation.

“Don’t worry,” Alex said, his smirk still firmly in place, “I won’t hurt him.” Alex was going to keep his word, as he was not positive that Avery would be as easy to fight as he seemed.

Aiko smiled happily, grinning at her best friend in joyous relief. It had been their first fight, and she was glad it had ended so soon.

It occurred to Aiko that Avery and Vivs were staring at Alex with a hint of confusion (well, Vivi was, Avery just look murderous). As far as she knew, Vivi had never really met Alex, and Aiko wasn’t one to drag guys along with her (though her actions in the Great Hall implied otherwise).

“This is Alex,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him towards her and away from Berke. Even without a wand, he looked ready to kill Avery. If a fight broke out between the two, it probably wouldn’t help maintain the two girl’s friendship.

Vivi returned Aiko’s smile; happiness was contagious. After the fight, it was good to know that they were still on speaking terms. Vivi wasn’t sure she could have stood it if Aiko hated her.

“I know.” Vivi said, extending her hand. She recognized him from classes and as a former servant. Besides that, Alex’s reputation preceded him. He was acclaimably even more curse happy than Avery was, with a propensity for elemental magic that made him just as dangerous without a wand as with it. Nearly every curse book in the library had his name written on the card in the back, where he’d checked it out at one point or another. Despite all this, he didn’t look threatening at the moment and was presumably a friend of Aiko’s.

“Nice ta meet ya, Alex,” she added, noticing that his gaze had still been resting on Avery. If she hadn’t known better, she would have thought there was bad blood between the two of them before this…or maybe there was. With a jolt she remembered the rumors of first year, about a duel Alex and Avery had while Alex was serving Prince. If those were true, it might explain a lot.

Taking his eyes off Avery, Alex turned to face Vivi. Taking her hand and shaking it, he said, “A pleasure, I’m sure.” Alex was not used to being nice to people, and as Vivi had not nearly attacked him with tears, his normal attitude towards people was firmly in place. So what might have seemed like a rude response to most was actually as common as saying “Nice to meet you”.

“And obviously I already know Berke,” Alex said jerking his head in his direction, “We’re old time friends, aren’t we?” Alex said, smirking.

Internally, Vivi sighed. Peace was never easy.

It was dinner time a month or so after Alex had offered to protect Aiko, and as soon as the food appeared, Alex rose from his seat and proceeded to the Hufflepuff table. This had become something like a ritual for Alex. He always sat there for dinner; they had decided it best, as Slytherins were not always nice to visitors.

Besides, Aiko was not the most social of people. She was not so much anti-social as she was just shy. Thus when Alex came over, she looked at as she was trying to order her sparkling water in the quietest way possible.

As Alex had observed, Aiko was attempting to order sparkling water. However, due to past grudges, the house elves were less than accommodating. Her cup filled with a dark brown liquid that looked suspiciously like the broth from yesterday’s stew. She tapped her fingers against the goblet and the contents changed; now dirty colored water appeared, sparkling of course. She glared at the mop-water and was about to try again, when the bench wobbled a bit from additional weight.

When Alex’s hot chili and crackers appeared, he looked sideways at the girl sitting next to him, noting her expression. “What’s wrong?” he asked her in a concerned voice.

A barely contained squeak vibrated against her lips. Oh, Morgana, not him. The boy was one of her best friends, yet she couldn’t help wishing he was on the other side of the school. The planet even, magic permitting.

Maybe if I ignore him, he’ll go away, she thought, staring determinately at the rebellious drink. A blush rose to her cheeks, brought on partly by the boy’s presence and partly by shame. She was acting like a prat; what’s worse: she knew it.

Strangely enough, it was rare that Alex and Aiko spoke, even as friends. Neither of them was one to strike and hold a vigorous conversation, but it was obvious they cared for one another. “You seem quieter than usual. And is it just me, or are you trying to master an invisibility spell?” He smiled at the obvious joke.

The blush deepened and she shook her head quickly, tapping the goblet with determined avoidance. Perhaps the elves in the kitchen sensed her plight, for the glass filled with the correct drink. A barely contained squeak vibrated against her lips. Oh, Morgana, not him. The boy was one of her best friends, yet she couldn’t help wishing he was on the other side of the school. The planet even, magic permitting.

Maybe if I ignore him, he’ll go away, she thought, staring determinately at the rebellious drink. A blush rose to her cheeks, brought on partly by the boy’s presence and partly by shame. She was acting like a prat; what’s worse: she knew it.

“Um…no!” she squeaked, “Just…um…getting a drink!” Her hands shook as she grabbed the goblet, as if to prove her statement to him. As she whirled to face Alex the clear liquid spilled over the brim and down the front of her robes. The fourth year ducked her head and let her long black hair cover her red face. Of all the people to see that, it had to be him.

Alex blinked as Aiko attempted to pick up and then dropped the goblet. The water splashed onto her robes and then a bit onto him. He took his wand out of his robes and waved him wand once, clearing up Aiko’s water, and then again, clearing the water from his own robes.

“Thanks… I was feeling a bit parched,” he said with a smile. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?”

Aiko let out a silent groan and rested her face in her palm. This was ridiculous; she was making a fool of herself in front of him.

“Stupid, bloody hormones,” she muttered under her breath, resisting the urge to stalk off to her room to recollect herself (no doubt leaving an even more confused Alex). Still, she was an ambassador’s daughter and it wasn’t in her blood to act like a common teenager. Besides, she couldn’t bear it if she ended up driving away Alex, especially now.

“I’m fine,” she protested, her voice muffled from beneath her hands. “Just a bit caught up in everything.” Like the fact that even being near you makes my heart beat faster and that I’ve probably scared you away.

Aiko pushed away the disobedient thoughts (hadn’t she ordered them to leave her alone?) and turned her head to look at Alex. “Really, I’m fine. And you?”

Strange, she’s avoiding the subject. That’s not much like her, Alex thought, crossing his arms to look more directly at Aiko.

“I’m doing fine, other than the fact that these stupid idiotic powers seem to be growing.” Actually this was an understatement. With his power of fire evolving a couple of terms ago, it was like having a constantly burning sun in him, and even in the dead of winter, he could be seen with his robes unbuttoned and probably wearing shorts underneath. His trainer told him he would get used to it after a while and that eventually, it would go away.

“But that’s besides the point. What is going on with you.”

Had she been a dog her ears would have perked at the mention of his powers. During their first years she had found out about his weather magic capacity while he tortured a student to amuse the Prince’s twisted humor. She remembered her horror at Alex’s gleeful laughs between the hideous shrieks. The memory didn’t suit him; he was actually quite nice when not under the influence of an evil madman.

Well, perhaps he wasn’t that nice, owing to her lingering fear of his magic.

“What’s been going on with your magic?” she asked, showing friendly concern and carefully avoiding his question. “Are you okay?”

Alex took notice that she was avoiding the question that he had asked. Yet it seemed as if she was slightly interested. Why, Alex had no idea. From what he knew about Aiko, she really didn’t like his powers that much.

“Nothing is really going on with my magic. I keep having heat flashes,” he told Aiko. Looking at the look she gave him, he continued, “Not the kind of heat flashes you’re thinking of. I’ll get real heat flashes in which case I’ll get extremely hot and I’ll have to have some water to stare at otherwise something will burst into flame.”

Just as Aiko was told this, the normally hazel eyes of Alex turned a fiery red. As what seemed like a reflex, he stared at his goblet of water. The water began to boil. This effect lasted for about a minute before subsiding. “Along with being dangerous and a lot to handle, it’s also very annoying because I never know when it’s gonna happen.”

As the water started boiling Aiko’s eyes got wide, then instinctively closed shut. It was an old habit; whenever something upsetting happened she would hide herself and wait for it to pass. And it did, as apparently Alex was completely unconcerned about the whole event.

Peeking between her squinted lids she ventured a question. “Does it…you know…hurt?”

“Hurt?” Alex asked thoughtfully. “At first it did, but it was more like having a temporary, really bad fever. But I got used to it. It’s actually more annoying than painful.” Looking at the goblet, where the water had evaporated, he picked it up and showed it to Aiko.

“Imagine what would’ve happened if I hadn’t turned away.”

Aiko pushed to goblet away from her, frowning. He knew how nervous these things made her; why was he egging her on?

“Now you’re just trying to scare me,” she accused, but gave him a concerned look. “Could it…y’know…” Aiko swept her hand across her throat in a quick motion.

Alex smiled at her. “I wouldn’t ever.” He said, confirming that he could, but also that he cared for her. Aiko blushed.

For the remainder of the year, Vivi developed even more steadfast friendships with Aiko and Avery. But The time was not spent without the occasional spat, as mercurial tempers often collided. Sometimes Vivi felt as though she spent more time keeping the peace than doing anything else. Yet at the same time, she was no longer lonely. She had her friends back.

Aiko, for once, could speak of “friendships” rather than “a friendship,” as her relationship with Alex blossomed. He had offered her a shoulder (or more accurately, a collar) to cry on once, and he continued to be a strong presence in her life. It was something that she was thankful for.

So weeks passed. Agatha’s influence evaporated as she was swept into the demanding spring season of coming-out soirees and affairs. Soon revenge ceased to be of importance; plots against Agatha were forgotten; life, for all purposes, returned to normal.

But then, two weeks before summer, something strange happened: Avery Berke disappeared. Vivi, Donal, and Brian all tried to contact him, but to no avail. After the disappearance of three school owls, bearing letters to Avery, Vivi received a short Ministry notice assuring her that Avery was safe, and requesting that she abandon any efforts to contact him. There was nothing for it. School ended, the students packed their bags, and once more the Hogwarts express carried them home.

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