Chapter 28

Quidditch and Double Meeting

The weather for the first match of the Zacharias Mumps Trophy was pleasant— not too hot and not too cold, although there was a bit of a wind picking up from the west. A few clouds also hung ominously in the sky, causing slight concern for those who were not wearing waterproof mascara.

The Headmistress was to open the match, and she stood on the Quidditch Pitch, a black parasol protecting her fair skin from the sun. When she spoke, her voice was magically amplified for the crowds to hear.

“Welcome, students and professors, to the first match of the Zacharias Mumps Trophy. May I present to you the two teams for this match.” Applause rattled the stadium as the two teams walked out onto the pitch. “The White Team will be captained by Vivienne Moor of Hufflepuff and the Black Team will be led by Donal Talmorra of Gryffindor.”

“All right team.” Vivi whispered, in the last tense few minutes before the game began. She was standing with the rest of the White players, tight with nervousness but doing her best to appear confident, holding her broom close to her side. It hummed with anticipation. “Let’s go get ’em.”

This game was important. It was uber-important, a red letter game, brimming with meaning; it might just set the moral standard for the rest of the year. For Vivi, this was life or death.

The headmistress turned to the teams. “This will be a fair match,” she told them. “Shake hands and mount your brooms.”

She shook Donal’s hand, more than aware that for the duration of the game he was her enemy, mounted her broom, and waited for the whistle.

With the fourteen students ready to begin, Scarlett nodded to Coach Lake to release the Bludgers and the Snitch. Taking the Quaffle in her own hands, she blew sharply on the whistle she had been given and threw the red ball into the air.

The match had begun.

Robes flapped in the strong wind, as Vivi scanned the ground. The snitch was not hiding near the Black Team goal post, nor did it lurk in the surrounding grass. She raised her eyes, checking on the opposing seeker, and then appraised the sky above and below.

No Snitch.

Falling into a shallow dive, Vivi searched, fruitlessly. Nothing, no where. She pulled her broom up, gaining altitude until she was higher than most of the other players, above the game. It was the safe zone and offered the best chance to search without interference from bludgers.

Taking a moment to check on the progress of the game, Vivi eyed her team. So far, so good, she decided, and turned back to the task at hand.

Where was the Snitch?

Kameko looked over at Brian with a half-hearted smile. It was weird to be flying on Vivi’s team, but she still enjoyed it. She gripped her bat tightly, her green eyes scanning the pitch.

The heavy whiz of a bludger sounded in Kameko’s left ear and she spun to see one hurtling toward her from the other side of the pitch. Throwing her club into her left hand, she blasted the bludger with incredible strength at the nearest player—Francisco. Smirking, she turned her Frostbite to aim at her own team’s net and zoomed over, ever vigilant for bludgers.

Kameko’s bludger missed Cisco very closely, but luckily was heading for Brian. He blasted the bludger at Cisco, and this time it was much closer to Cisco, just right for an accurate hit, hopefully

Crash! The bludger that the two White Team beaters had hit had finally reached their target. A hard bang in the chest almost took the breath out of Francisco, but he was strong, and could continue. It would only leave a small bump.

With both hands on his Brain 2005, Cisco quickly maneuvered his way around the pitch, hoping to get the Quaffle soon. And sure enough, the Quaffle was headed right towards him only a few short feet above his head.

Pulling quickly up on his broom, he sped towards the red ball. Taking his hands off the broom, he grabbed the Quaffle and started heading off towards the White Teams goals. This was it, Cisco would make the score 10 Black team, to 0 white.

Dodging the bludgers that were attacking him, he made it down the field safely. He took a shot.

The red Quaffle headed straight for the center hoop. Only a few feet away from the goal and…

He missed.

Cisco took off and started circling around the field again. Hopefully another chance would come soon and he would be able to score a goal.

Kameko zipped closer to the ground. Her black hair was tied back in two high pigtails that waved in the air; the small tendrils that always fell free were clipped back, so she wouldn’t get distracted.

A bludger whizzed past her right. Switching her bludger hand again, she chased after it, slowly gaining on it. She swung the bat and sent the ball hurtling upwards towards Donal. She followed it upwards, preparing to blast it back if it missed its mark.

Brian saw her hit a bludger to Donal. He looked at the smears of white and black whiz past him. One of the blacks happened to a bludger. His eyes widened as he quickly hit the bludger before it hit him. To his dismay, he didn’t have time to aim, just to defend himself. The soaring black bludger sped towards Donal. Brian’s jaw drop as he saw Kameko’s bludger aim for Donal also. Brian wanted to scream, “Watch out”, but his voice failed him. Kameko spotted a bludger zipping towards Brian. She was about to shout to him, but then he managed to hit it away—coincidentally, towards Donal. Kameko smiled, but then stopped when she saw the look on Brian’s face. Then she remembered Donal and Brian were friends. Practically best friends.

Swearing under her breath, she turned away and waited for one of the bludgers to return from where they were headed. She wished she had some ground to kick. But, being a good 150 feet up, she was at an acute lack of soil. Her robes waved about her legs in the wind that was picking up more and more.

Brian watched the bludgers fly until they collided with Donal. Brian winced, but he knew that he did not have time for sympathy. He was playing a Quidditch match. He soared ten feet from Kameko, and yelled to her, “My answer is a yes!” Brian threw his voice so she could clearly make out the words.

Before she could reply, he flew off in search of more bludgers.

Kameko was still waiting for the bludger to return when Brian flew by and hollered something. Kameko turned and looked just as he flew away.

What the devil is he— she stopped thinking and stared over, her own jaw suddenly dropping. He said yes. Yes! She closed her mouth and smiled, an odd tickly feeling overcoming her. After nearly a year, she finally had what she had been looking for.

Punching the air with her eyes shut, she laughed and shouted, “YES!” She was so elated, she didn’t hear a dull whiz screaming up behind her. As she stopped laughing and looked at Brian, she noticed a black blur out of the corner of her eye a half-second too late. She gasped, unable to brace herself.

The bludger collided just below her ear, on the top of her jaw, from the back. With a small cry, her eyes clamped shut, her hands flew open and she felt herself tipping. In a second, there was nothing below her but air. Wind blew her hair around her face and her robes about her form. Opening her eyes groggily, she realized things were going black, and she was getting further and further from the players zipping above. Her broom fell past her, and her bat slipped from her hand. A few faint screams penetrated her ears as the roar of the crowd faded, and she winced in pain as she felt herself pick up speed. She estimated she had five seconds before impact. All she had now were pinholes of vision within a hazy black.

Damn bad way to start the Quidditch year, she thought, finally passing out.

Brian sped towards Kameko. He tucked his bat under his arm before he attempted to grab on to an arm as her body fell, but caught a bit of her Quidditch robes instead.

He slowly flew down to the ground, hoping not to rip the robes further, but about three feet before Kameko was on the ground, she slipped out of her Quidditch robes, and fell to the ground in her normal clothing. Brian cursed again, and flew down to see if she was any worse. He put the Quidditch robes over her, and picked up her head. He lightly patted her cheeks, hoping she might wake up. When she didn’t, he reached for his wand in his pocket. He never played a game without it, anticipating situations like this would happen. He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to wake her up, but he attempted to try. With all the power he could muster, which was a great deal as he had six years of it stored up, he bellowed the awakening spell, “Ennervate!”

After he said the incantation, Brian felt incredibly drained, as the spell was extremely difficult for a Hogwarts sixth year. He swayed, almost falling. All he could do was watch her, and see if he had any effect.

After a few moments of floating in blackness that she would not remember, Kameko felt a surge of energy rip through her body. Somebody had used a spell on her to bring her back. Slowly she came back to consciousness, but kept her eyes shut. She could feel the mud below her left cheek—the one that had been hit—and its coolness soothed her injury. Still half unconscious, she moaned and brought one hand up to touch the tender bruise. She could not see it, but it was a dark purple with some mottled darker and lighter spots. The color spread down her jaw a little and to her upper cheekbone, forming a crescent moon shape. It stung when she touched it, so she drew her hand back with a sharp intake of breath.

Someone was nearby. Though her thoughts were shaky, Kameko felt like someone was watching. Pulling her eyelids open the tiniest bit, she looked over and saw the fuzzy outline of a boy on his knees, watching her. He had performed the spell. Was it…

“Brian?” she whispered. Yes, it is, she realized as her vision slowly got clearer. “Thank you,” she said in a half-whisper. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Kameko rolled further to her left and tried to push herself off the ground, biting her lip. She got her torso up on wobbly arms, as if she were doing a push up. Probing the left side of her mouth with her tongue, she could taste blood. The bludger had loosened two molars and slammed her cheeks against them, making two cuts. She spit the coppery blood out as discreetly as she could.

Pulling her knees up so she was kneeling, she suddenly felt very dizzy, like she was going to be ill. “Brian,” she said in a slightly stronger voice, “Get back to the game. We can’t win without a beater.” She smiled at him for a second, and then tried to stand up. She promptly fell back down. Closing her eyes again, she squeaked out, “Medic.”

Echo had been watching from the sidelines as the White team’s girl beater took a nasty blow to the jaw. She had whipped out her wand once she registered the situation, but watched, quite impressed, as—was it Brian Limey?—took over the situation for a while, making sure Kameko made it to the ground okay. But the girl needed a real Medic, so Echo grabbed her bag and headed over.

By the time Echo reached her, Kameko had passed out again. With a sigh, Echo chanted, “Wingardium Leviosa.” Kameko rose up off the bench, and Echo floated her away.

Vivi bit her lip when she realized that Kameko would not be coming back to the game, but she adapted quickly. Brian was a good beater; he could hold down the fort. And in teh mean time…

“Woo! That’a’way—” Vivi yelled, as one of the White team chasers scored, bringing the score to 10 White, 0 Black. Yet her cheer was cut off, as an iron Bludger whistled towards her head. Vivi ducked, flattening herself against her Thunder Bolt as the Bludger hurled by overhead, barely missing her. It was a close call. Looking up in relief, Vivienne Moor paused.

There was a glimmer of gold. It was just above her, hovering, not four feet away—the Snitch! Yanking up on her broom handle, Vivi surged forward, brushing one of the tiny wings, almost…

Whack! The second Bludger collided with Vivi, catching her in the side. Breathless, she doubled over in pain, on fire, hurting. By the time she regained enough strength to look up, it was gone.

“Dammit.” Vivi hissed between her teeth, slowly sitting up as the pain eased. She would be one big, mottled bruise in the morning, but she could not come out of the game. She had been so close!

The seeker directed her broom up, away from the turmoil of the game, fearful that another bludger was on the way.

Brian flew past Vivi, shouting, “Sorry! I’m back now!”

Vivi nodded acknowledgement and looked to the sky. A storm was blowing in. She could feel it, the drop in the temperature, the rise in the wind; her scalp prickled with the tension brewing in the air. The sky, blue not two hours before, was gray and yellow, an old bruise.

Scanning the ground, the flutter of silver wings caught her eye. The reaction was immediate. Vivi dove.

The snitch hesitated, then whisked away, speeding towards the opposite side of the field. Vivi followed it, focused, intent. It was not as though she thought of nothing but the snitch, for there was the nagging fear that she would not be able to catch it, that the other Seeker would snatch it up, that the storm would break and she would loose it. Yet those thoughts were distant and unclear. Thoughts did not control Vivienne now—actions did.

Gold, gold, gold! It was so close; she brushed it with her finger tips, almost there. Surging forward, Vivi wrapped her fingers around it, crushing the wings in her fist, pulling it to her chest. It was hers. She had caught it and it was hers, and the White Team had won!

“Yes!” Vivi screamed, pulling her broom up and looking around like one waking from a daze. The rain was falling lightly now, streaking her face, but that was unimportant as the crowd began to cheer.

160 to 0. Finally Vivi had led her team to victory.

Agatha stood up abruptly at the Slytherin table. This year was foul, utterly and absolutely the worst ever. Abbigale was still (still!) on extended vacation with her parents, joining them on a European tour. How that girl got away with it she did not know. She wished bitterly that her parents thought that touring Europe would be a vital part of her own educative process, but sadly this was not the case.

Daddy was insufferably busy with the vulgar process of making oodles of cold hard cash and mummy was…entertaining gentlemen admirers at home. She hardly wished for the intrusion of an all-too-beautiful daughter into her schemes. Imogene Swales did not wish to be reminded of her age now that Agatha was no longer a pretty play trinket to perform party tricks. Be that as it was, she missed her friend and ally.

Of the rest, Talmorra had proved himself truly a Gryffindor after all and was always bound up with the weasly Head Girl and other nondescripts from that house. And Avery…Agatha set her mouth firm. She would not utter that name even in her head. It was unaccountable and a matter of deep embarrassment, humiliation, fear and horror to her, that no-one must see existed, that Avery Berke was still with the ugly midget Huthleputh.

Agatha was isolated, but she had been quiet too long. She was a Prefect for goodness sake and she had not even begun to abuse her powers! She cared nothing personally for points, but others did, and she was in no mood to be kind.

She swept from her chair and knew her target before she arrived. The Puth was standing talking to other yellow-bellied people towards the exit to the Hall. Agatha swept regally in front of her and sneered down.

“You’re in my way Moor,” she said sharply. “Move. Now.”

The voice of Agatha Swales cut through Vivi worse than a cold wind. It almost stung. Turning, she faced the sixth year, a look of surprise registering on her face.

Vivi’s first instinct was to refuse. The Slytherin had no right to order her around like that; Agatha was hardly as imperial as she pretended to be. On the other hand, it was too pleasant a morning, too early in the day, to be hexed. Avery was no where to be found; she had no savior now.

Did she really want to egg Aggie on?

“Swales,” Vivi sighed, with a slight shake of her head. “If ya insist.”

The Snake isn’t worth i, she thought, in true Hufflepuff form, ever the peace-keeper, even when it hurt her pride.

Vivi stepped to the side, just a little and a little late, before turning back to her crowd of friends. She still had thirty minutes before Transfiguration, and needed to ask a question on the paper due today.

Agatha liked the power conveyed to her by the Puth’s acquiescence. Yet she was not satisfied. She wanted to hurt where she was most hurt, and she knew that the stupid midget cared about her ickle house and the stupid points. Also there had been a delay, albeit of a few seconds, where she had actually thought the brat was about to defy her!

“Ten points from Huthleputh for that little display, madam,” Agatha said, turning Veruca back round with a quick command of her wand. “Rudeness to a Prefect is not to be tolerated you know. Be very careful from now on won’t you,” she said pointedly. “I am very sure neither of us wants any unpleasantness,” she narrowed her green eyes with obvious insincerity and a certain amount of pleasure.

Ten points every day from the Puths from now on would indeed make Agatha’s week marginally more enjoyable.

Vivi felt herself spun around like a puppet on a sting. She almost lost her balance, but she caught herself.

“Rudeness?” Vivi gasped, anger rushing to her face. The loss of points was entirely unjustified! She opened her mouth to shout, but no. As one of the Quidditch captains of the tournament, as a fifth year, and as a Hufflepuff, she stood more to lose in this little power battle than Agatha did.

The problem was, Agatha did not care. Vivi did. She was proud of her house, of her Quidditch team, and she would not jeopardize that because of a Slytherin.

At a guess, it looked like this was Round One. Agatha would be targeting Vivi, targeting Hufflepuff, from now on, attacks that would make life more difficult than before.

It was nothing new, and there was only so much that Agatha Swales had the power to do.

Deigning not to answer the last question, Vivi decidedly wretched herself away once more. With her back to Agatha, she crossed the last few steps to the group and called hello, before Agatha had a chance to take the bickering to a new level.

Francisco was sitting at the Ravenclaw table when he happened to look up and see that Vivi was coming across the room to talk to him. But in an instant Agatha had intervened and taken Vivi’s innocent chat onto a whole new level.

Yes, Agatha had the power to take points away from younger students. But Francisco had to the power to take the power from Prefects.

He made his way over to the two, stopping dead in his tracks when Agatha used magic to hurl Vivi back in her direction. This was just uncalled for. It could not be tolerated.

“Oh Miss Swales.” he said in a sweet mocking voice. “I believe you owe Miss Moor here an apology.” he watched Agatha’s face as he said that.

“I also give Hufflepuff their ten points back. But, I take five points from Slytherin for you unprofessional abuse of your power. And another ten for you using magic on another student in the Great Hall.”

He stopped. He knew Agatha would apologize; she really had no choice. She might be a prefect, but he was the Head Boy. He had just a little less power then the teachers themselves. She would have to obey.

“Well?”

Well, at last, Agatha smirked inwardly. Finally something of interest to break the dreadful monotony of Hogwarts life. Someone looking for a fight was absolutely too divine and the fact that it was the Head Boy, a person with at least nominal powers, made it that much more of a challenge.

“Oh do shut up, Hardy, and keep your big nose out of things which are none of your business,” Agatha snapped. “As if I would ever need to apologize to that, that thing,” she pointed her wand at the sniveler.

She tossed her white blonde hair, “Trying to stand in the way of a Prefect doing her right and moral duty however. Well,” she tutted, “I think you owe me an apology Hardy and,” she finished her inward joy increasing at her own audaciousness, “I’m taking ten points from Ravenclaw for your rudeness.”

Agatha smiled a beautifully wicked smile. She knew that Hardy could not award himself points back again. The ball was firmly in their court. Game on.

Francisco just smiled. She had threatened him with taking away ten points from Ravenclaw. But what Agatha forgot was that she is only allowed ten points to take away, whereas he was allowed twenty. He still had five points left to take away. After those five were gone, it was going to have to be a war throughout the school.

Fights in the hallway—well, he wasn’t afraid to get into a little trouble. He was older and wiser then the snobby Slytherin. He could take her and all her fellow Slytherins.

“Well, Miss Swales, another five points from Slytherin. And remember my dear Aggie, Prefects are only allowed to take ten points.” he stared into her eyes and laughed.

“But how mature of you my dear Head Boy,” Agatha countered. “I am not sure one in your exalted position is meant to fly into a rage and take points away solely out of some weird revenge type motivation. Hardly the right example to be setting for the younger years, Hardy. Dear me,” Agatha sighed in mock disappointment. “And as for points, if you think that I care one way or another for those childish games, you are sorely mistaken. Play with your paltry power for it is nothing,” Agatha clicked her fingers in the air. “And besides which next year it shall be mine and then where will your ickle friends be without their mighty champion?”

Personally Agatha couldn’t wait. Power lay just beyond her grasp but soon, soon, all of this would be hers. Then she should not be satisfied with merely taking away points. Then the games would be far, far more serious and the opposition should be…eliminated.

“But, for someone who is not yet sure of getting Head Girl next year, you…are cocky.” Cisco said. “And besides, if I have my way, I will be back next year. I wish to study Transfiguration here.” He watched as her eyes grew. It was only a matter of time before the two broke out into a fit of hexes, but for now verbal abuse was so much more amusing.

When student fights broke out in the Great Hall, it was usually one of spells and punches. Just now though, Lys saw one of Points. Agatha Swales picking on a Hufflepuff (or anyone) was nothing new, and Francisco seemed to have things in hand. But then Aggie began dropping more points. She’d probably reached her limit, but it didn’t matter. Lys moved from Gryffindor’s table over to where the others stood around, just in time to hear Swales comments about gaining power and Francisco’s reply. She smiled. Agatha Swales with power. Now there was a funny idea. “There a problem Hardy?”

Francisco watched as Lys joined the two. When she asked if there was a problem, he just shook his head.

“Oh no Lys, there’s no problem here. If you don’t call Miss Swales here threatening me a problem.” He smirked. She couldn’t take on both Head students at the same time.

Or would she?

“I? Threatening you? Such an idea.” Agatha looked furtively under her long lashes at the weasly girl. Really these people were so tiresomely wholesome. What on earth did they mean all sticking together like some weird kind of Brady bunch? One for all and all for one. Dreadful, dreadful people.

“No, no,” she said making a sad face. “Unfortunately Mr. Hardy here felt it his business to undermine my authority when I was sadly forced to upbraid Moor for rudeness.” Agatha shook her golden locks and cast her eyes up to the starry ceiling as if to say well whatever has become of the world.

“I am just going to clear up the error with our beloved Headmistress though, right this moment, and don’t worry I shan´t, let Moor get away with it. Never fear,” said Agatha with a noble look.

“She’s right.” Vivi said flatly, glancing at Cisco and speaking to Lys.

“I was rude ta Agatha,” she turned and met the Slytherin’s eyes, apparently sincere, “And I’m sorry.”

The words cost a lot in terms of pride and honor. Vivienne was not only apologizing to Agatha Swales, the one being in the world she utterly despised, but she was lying, and a lie was always wrong. Even when the liar was doing so to protect others, to protect herself, it was still i>wrong.

Yet there was no way around it. Vivienne hated Swales, and for that reason she understood her more than perhaps Cisco or Lys did. Agatha thrived on the game, on a challenge—she was enjoying this! Eventually the spat would end up before the Headmistress, the Headmistress would side with Agatha, and within moments more than a few points might be lost. If that happened, Vivi might be replaced as Captain. Nothing was worth that.

“Cisco didn’t hear the first part of the conversation, so he thought Agatha was abusin’ her powers. That’s what the problem is.” Vivi appealed to Lys now, feeling very short and very silly, but resolute. She would speak with Cisco afterwards. Hopefully he would understand.

“But it’s easy ta fix. Just take away the ten points from Hufflepuff again, and award Slytherin the twenty back.”

Vivi sighed. With any luck Lys would chalk up her confession as a product of Huff honesty, rearrange the point situation no questions asked, and that would be that.

Lys looked between the three. She didn’t know Francisco or Vivienne Moor that well. She knew Swales only enough to dislike her and everything she stood for.

She could also see that there was no love lost between the Hufflepuff and the Slytherin. No reason for Moor to be lying. And yet Lys couldn’t help but feel she was she was lying for some reason or other. Unfortunately, the workings of a Hufflepuff’s mind were as mysterious to Lys as the center of the Forbidden Forest.

So Moor was lying. All right then, it was her call, she wanted to lie let her. But supposing Lys played along and did believe her. The points already had Hufflepuff running behind. And giving Swales points back would just make her head swell even further.

Lys wondered if there was a spell for that.

She gestured to Francisco, and moved just enough that they could talk unheard. They spoke quickly before nodding in agreement. Then turned back.

“All right Moore. ” she said “If what ya say’s true,” and here she paused in case Vivi had changed her mind, ” Five from Hufflepuff for rude behavior towards a Prefect.”

She turned towards Agatha Swales. “and for Slytherin…they’ll get ten points back, since that’s what they took from Hufflepuff. Minus…oh let’s see now…that’d be five for picking on someone younger than you, thus settin’ a bad example to the younger years. Five more for using magic on another student, and five more for undermining Hardy’s authority.” She smiled. “The only way he could be undermining you is if you were the Head Girl and he was the prefect. But it’s not. An’ I dun think even the Headmistress approves of little girls who can’t don’t show proper respect to their superiors.”

Or didn’t you’re mom ever teach you that one? she thought, rather than said.

Very well. Agatha listened carefully, a small smile playing around her lips. So the weasel wanted to play too did she then. The argument was faulty on so many levels, it would be an absolute joy to pick it apart. An intellectual exercise. A pleasure. The more so, as she had noticed with displeasure, that weasel girl had recently been hanging out with Donal more than Agatha would like. She simply wasn’t the right sort of influence for a Talmorra, some weird foundling child who looked frankly like she had been dragged up in the gutter. A trampy girl.

Not, you understand, that Agatha wanted Donal for herself. Not at all. But he was her ex and she had well, ex-girlfriend rights (or at least so she felt).

Moor’s groveling had of course been a delight. Agatha favored her with a sharp look under narrowed eyes. What her game was she would have to consider later. But now for weasel girl.

“But my dear I don’t see any of my superiors here,” Agatha said slyly, casting around her big green eyes at all present. “And I am afraid I can’t accept such flawed judgments in the present case my dear Head Girl. I mean, I do hate to disagree with you, I am sure you’ll see, but really one can’t allow such abuse of,” she smiled, “justice.”

“Now you just heard Moor confess to rudeness so I can hardly allow five points to be taken off for what was it,” she raised one manicured finger, “Ah yes ‘picking on someone younger than me´. Moor was rude; I was sadly forced to use my moral judgment as a Prefect to take away points. So it can hardly be classed as picking on someone now can it?” Agatha appealed around but saw only stony faces. Ah well, she would have to enjoy this alone.

“Secondly,” she continued, “Hardy certainly can and did undermine my authority in this issue. I was in the right, as Moor here agrees.” So divine that the midget agrees, thought Agatha, too, too perfect for words.

“The fact that he has more authority than me only makes the abuse of his power more flagrant. So I am afraid the ten points that I took away from Ravenclaw will have to stand in this case.”

Agatha never gave up an argument. She had been known to continue even when backed into the most horrendous corners. And this was not an easy battle by any means. She knew who they were, but was pretending very hard indeed not to care. At the very least it was something to do, darhling.

Francisco was not about to give up just yet. He had a compromise in his head. “Well my dear ‘equal’,” he stressed the word equal. If she refused to acknowledge that Lys and he were above her, he at least would not allow Agatha to consider them below her. Maybe below her ego, but definitely not below her as a person.

“I will admit, I had no right to give Hufflepuff their ten points back. But I must say, ten points is a lot to take away for such a small crime. I say we take five away and be done with it.” He thought that to be a fair compromise.

“Now, as for your using magic against a younger year, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to stick with the ten points taken from Slytherin. But you may keep your five for ‘picking on a younger year’ as Lys put it.” Now there was only one more thing to take care of. Ravenclaw’s points.

“As for the ten from Ravenclaw, I’m afraid you have no reason to take the ten away now that we have fixed our little problem. I respect that we can all agree on this compromise and leave it at that?” he gazed into Agatha’s eyes. Most were afraid of Agatha Swales, but Francisco Hardy was anything but scared.

Agatha looked between the Head Boy and Girl and her eyes flashed wickedly. Disharmony and disagreement all round. Divide to conquer. How charming.

“Ah now that’s interesting,” she said. “I do wish you two could be more concise here and well, you know, more united. It’s a shame when one cannot rely on authority figures to get it right. Now,” she had to bite her tongue to stop herself from saying weasel girl, “Now Scoresby here claims that for utilizing magic on a younger student five points should be taken from me, whereas,” she turned to the Head Boy, “Hardy here counters that it should be ten. Equally neither of you has the right to reduce points taken by me, that can only be done by the Headmistress if,” and she laid great emphasis on the word if, “If she deems it unfair. But that is not for you two to judge. So let’s say ten from Hufflepuff, ten from Ravenclaw and well ten from Slytherin. Divinely fair all round I should judge.”

Agatha was going to continue when suddenly at the door of the Great Hall she saw a figure whom she had sorely missed for many months now. Her friend, ally and Gucci associate.

“Why Abbigale!” she cried and with a brief, “Do excuse me, I am sure we can continue this fascinating exchange of views at some later date,” she moved as swiftly as one could, whilst maintaining grace and dignity, to see her friend.

It was about time too. It had been far, far too long since Agatha could exchange fashion ideas and bitch in comfort to someone who understood. Far too long.

“I’m sorry,” Vivi sighed as Agatha rushed out of sight, although unhappily not out of mind. She looked at Cisco, unsure as to what else to say. By trying to help, she had in reality only benefited Agatha, and put Lys and Cisco at a disadvantage.

Bloody Slytherin Prefect.

“I was just tryin’ ta keep her from taking it ta the headmistress,” she explained quietly, wishing she had just kept her mouth shut. On any account, the Battle of the Points was over, ended at a draw, with everyone losing except Gryffindor, the only house that could really stand to lose any points. Or something like that. The hour glasses were undoubtedly more confused than anyone.

Abbigale entered the hall in a somewhat less elated mood that she had arrived in the Slytherin common room with. Whilst she had expected Agatha to be in the common room, or at least to see that girl Amelia running around somewhere, she could find no trace of either. A knock on the bedroom door had seen that Agatha was not in there either.

Just wonderful, she thought bitterly, Go on a tour of Europe to stop your parents from divorcing and come back to find what you came back for disappeared!

Oh how true it was. After a behind-closed-doors scandal (that didn’t reach the press or discredit her father in any way among his associates—in fact many of them didn’t blame him at all. “If looks could kill old man your wife would be up for murder. Teaches the rest of us not to marry for looks, eh?”) Abbigail had persuaded her parents that they should go together around Europe to try and resolve the pressing issue of divorce. Whilst scandal avoided the Calver family like a plague, her Mama on her own would attract it as sugar water does mosquitoes.

Abbigail would have no bother with it, for the bitter women deserved every article in the Quibbler she got, but after it all, the damned woman was her Mama…ish. As much as she hated to say words against her father, the woman had taken an awful lot from him, and none of it was nice. She had made the classic mistake of having a child to save a marriage and it had only given her something else to battle over.

Abbigale cast a skeptical eye over the hall and the same dirty-blooded excuses for wizards everywhere. No matter Abbigail, we’ll find Agatha soon enough. “Abbigale! Sweetie! How divine, why didn’t you owl, my dear,” Agatha greeted her friend as she reached her from the far side of the hall, where she had been having the most intolerable argument with the vilest of people. Abbigale was a tonic which Agatha sorely needed.

As she air kissed her friend graciously Agatha admired her new clothes, “Oh, straight off the Parisian runway if I’m not mistaken, the new Yves St. Laurent! Oh, that’s just too, too…I’m quite envious my dear,” Agatha breathed and angled her head slightly the admire the chichi cut.

“It’s been utterly foul here, truly even worse than ever. But enough of that, do tell me your tales of European glamour, trust me I need the distraction,” Agatha took her friend’s arm, and the two tripped bling-bling over to the Slytherin table.

Abbigail smiled serenely; glad to be back with her elegant friend once more.

“I would have owled straight away if I knew I was coming back, but the truth is I almost didn’t. Another one of Daddy’s less subtle attacks as it were, luckily Mama isn’t useless,” she emphasized the word ‘useless’ and Agatha knew what she was talking about. “As for European Glamour” she carried on, “it’s such a long story, I don’t know how I could possibly tell it to you in a lifetime. Next time I go anywhere darling, I am taking you with me. It’s been a nightmare without you! It’s positively freezing here, darling, would you care for a drink?”

Abbigale took out her wand and tapped the table smartly and two tall, steaming lattes appeared. Abbigail dipped a long-handled silver spoon in and stirred lightly.

“No fat at all darling, Jarvis our butler perfected the recipe. I’m on a diet you see, I was rather spoiled in Europe.”

Abbigail had always been given everything she wanted and had never considered this as being spoiled, merely an advantage of being wealthy. However, it was when her father showered her with gifts, such as fine Italian Chocolates delivered on the hour, that were nice but completely unwanted, that she thought it as being spoiled.

“It’s all to do with Mama and Daddy’s recent arguments, you know, darling. Daddy’s just buying me everything and trying to win me over—not that I mind,” she gave Agatha a sly smile and a twinkle shone in her sapphire eyes.

“Mama, on the other hand, refuses to do any such thing, so I’m rather inclined to go on Daddy’s side,” she sipped her latte and ran a perfect hand through her perfect blonde curls. “Enough of them though. It was absolutely charming in Europe. I met all the latest fashion designers and several are at work designing an entirely exclusive wardrobe for me, isn’t that simply gorgeous!”

She finished the last of her latte and sighed, wishing she could have taken Agatha with her to Europe, so she could have seen more of the divine aspects and less of her Mama and Daddy. “Now darling, tell me what’s been happening here? I’m simply dying to here all about it, and darling. Do you know those vile creatures over there are trying to give you the most unsightly of looks?”

Agatha sympathized silently and only by the slightest inclination of her head showed that she understood only too well the trials of parental marriage. True, her parents had never been close to divorce, yet they barely had a conventional marriage. Imogen Swales used both the assets she was born with and those she had cultivated and Edward Swales, as long as these connections were advantageous, turned a blind eye. For as long as she could remember, Agatha had been aware of the arrangement, and it was many years before she actually realized that not all families operated on such a basis. Besides, she did not believe Abbigale wanted her sympathy, in similar circumstances she would not have welcomed pity.

Instead she tried to divert her friend.

“Ah it sounds divine my dear, you are so lucky,” she purred, taking an elegant sip of her skinny latte. “And as for those,” she pulled a face, “foul creatures over there, why I merely took points off a Huth for, well you know sweetie, being a Huth,” Agatha smiled conspiratorially and looked knowingly under her long lashes.

“They were so dull about it. So good and wholesome, sometimes I actually feel like I’m in some sort of horrific D’Artagnen episode. I expect them all to actually cry one for all and all for one, sometimes. Thank goodness you are back is all I can say Abbigale.”

And Agatha was truly comforted by her friend’s reappearance. The last few months had contained some dark days which she would rather forget and she shook her blonde head to clear the image of a certain tall Gryffindor boy with the measly Puffy girl.

The diversion of more schemes against those muggle-lovers was gladly welcomed and Abbigail gave a silvery laugh as Agatha recounted her tale.

“You would think the world had come crashing down around them, wouldn’t you? Everyone knows that house points are just another futile attempt to keep us in line.”

Abbigale smiled, flicking a golden curl over her shoulder. “It really is absolutely wonderful to be back again darling. The school is failing and the students are muggle-lovers, but you’re here dear and it makes it all worthwhile. We’ll have to see about livening things up.”

~~ Agatha might have won the battle, but the war was far from over. And Francisco would make sure of that. But now, he needed a breather from the events that had happened in the Great Hall. He had tried so hard to get Agatha to hex him, so he could take more points from her, but the smart Slytherin wasn’t going to risk it.

But that was then, and now he was walking along a path in one of Hogwart’s many courtyards, thinking about a wonderful event that was scheduled to happen soon: his wedding to his long-time girlfriend, Jamie.

Vivienne sprinted out of the Transfiguration classroom the moment that the chime rang, scanning the corridor for Cisco. Spotting the Head Boy was easy; catching up to him was not. After shoving past a gaggle of first years, ducking in between a few others, and jumping to catch a staircase swinging to a hall way below, Vivi was out of breath, but her quarry lay right ahead.

“Cisco!” Vivi called, pleased to find the courtyard deserted. “Hey!”

Breaking once more into a jog, she covered the last remaining distance to his side. “I think I need ta talk ta ya.”

Realizing how ominous those words sounded, Vivi added, “Nothin bad, though.” Francisco slowed down when Vivi joined him. His long legs were just too much for his shorter friend.

What could he have done? Nothing that he knew of. Maybe it had something to do with him sticking up for her in the Great Hall against Agatha. But if he hadn’t stuck up for her, Agatha would have tried to get away with more then she did.

“Well, what can I do for you?” he asked, a little uncertain of what he could do for Vivi.

“I wanted ta tell ya thanks,” Vivi said slowly, “And sorry.” She stopped, turning to face Cisco. He was taller than she was, but her growth spurt over the summer had done a little to narrow the gap.

“I didn’t mean ta go against ya in the hall, I just wanted Aggie ta leave us alone.” A gust of cold wind hit the two, and Vivi pulled her coat closer, brushing hair out of her eyes.

“She hates me, is why she was doing that.” That, of course, was already clear, but Vivi felt that an explanation was needed.

She wanted to ask a favor of Cisco, too, but it was a hard favor to ask. For one thing, Vivi imagined that he would never agree to it. For the other, she was not even sure that she wanted him to. It was a good feeling, to know that she had friends who cared enough to look out for her, to try to protect her.

And yet…

And yet Vivi could not allow Cisco to fight her battles for her. It was unfair to ask that of him. Agatha was her problem, not his. So that was the favor. Vivi needed Cisco to pledge indifference.

“So, yeah,” she finished lamely, waiting for an opportunity to introduce her real concern.

Francisco stopped walking. It was obvious she was upset that he had tried to protect her. And he felt bad about it; going into someone’s personal business just wasn’t like Francisco. It must have been the fact that it was such a close friend, he didn’t want Agatha to continue hurting her.

“Look Vivs,” he started to say. “I’m really sorry I got myself involved in your and Aggie’s fight. But I couldn’t let her get away with abusing the little power she has. It’s bad enough she was made Prefect by the old hag of a headmistress.”

He had to promise to resist the urge to fight with Agatha whenever she was picking on a friend of his. No matter whom it may be. It was a hard promise to make for himself, but he had to promise.

“Look Vivs, I promise to control my actions from now on. But know this, I will be watching that big-headed bitch from now on. And if she tries to pull that crap again, I’ll be sure to take care of it.”

He put his arm around Vivi’s neck. It was so hard to believe that in only a few months he would no longer be able to have such a great friendship with Vivi. He had to graduate, to become an adult. To be that something he so desperately didn’t want to be.

And now with the wedding coming up soon, it was even harder to believe.

“All right?”

“Thanks.” Vivi said in relief, pleased that Cisco was so intuitive. “I just don’t want ya ta have ta get into stuff over me, ya know?” As Cisco slung his arm around her, it occurred to Vivi just how close she was to losing him as a friend. Certainly, he might come back as a Professor, but it would not be the same. Staff members did not banter over Quidditch, or favor certain students over others. Certainly staff members did not call the Headmistress a hag or Agatha a bitch.

Hogwarts was changing, Vivi realized. Avery would be a seventh year soon! Very soon. It was scary.


“Transfigure, damn it!” Vivi growled at the desk she was attempting to transfigure into a barn swallow. It was entirely uncooperative; by now the thing had feathers and a beak, but it was still inanimate and still the same color as wood.

Smacking the thing a few times with her wand, Vivi produced nothing more than sparks. It was more than frustrating. Transfiguration was her worst subject; it seemed that no matter how much she tried, nothing went right. Simple transfigurations were easy enough, such as changing a pebble to a brick, but the more complicated versions were beyond her.

“Can’t even get the stupid thing ta move,” she groaned, leaning back against the wall. It was time for a break. She needed one, her wand needed one, and most likely the desk would appreciate the respite. Balancing her wand on her knees, she stretched her arms, cracking her elbows and fingers. She closed her eyes, yawned, and then shook her head.

Time to go back to work. Opening her eyes, Vivi scrambled up, wand in hand, startled to see that she was not alone in the room.

She was not alone at all.

Agatha had followed her. Quietly, deliberately and making very sure they were alone. She could quite see why Moor had not told any of her friends that she was here; the girl was really spectacularly appalling at Transfiguration. It was not a difficult spell that she was attempting, but her vowel pronunciation was dreadful, it was no wonder that the wood remained solid. Agatha was quietly amused by the failure, but she could not, would not, be distracted from her purpose.

Amusing as it was to see the sniveler squirm by taking points away from her pathetic ickle house, these were childish games and Agatha was sick of it all. Sick of waiting, watching, being passive. She could not get what she wanted, it seemed, by fair means, so she was not averse to playing foul. She was not used to not getting her own way, and the failure was grating on her soul, weighing her down with its burden.

But more and even more than this, she was hurting, hurting in a way which made her want to lash out at others. To hurt back where she was hurt. To… eliminate the opposition.

“Veruca,” she drawled, moving closer as she saw the sniveler had spied her. “Delightful, utterly, delightful to see such a successful witch at work,” she murmured cruelly. “But charmed as I am, I came to talk to you. To talk,” she fixed her wicked green eyes on the sniveler. “To talk about Avery Berke.”

Agatha had her own ash white wand in her hand and she flicked it dangerously, a flurry of blue sparks omitting from the end.

Vivi gasped, lightly, when she realized who it was. There was no way that this was a chance meeting. Agatha was stalking her, like a predator stalks its prey.

Vivi griped her wand tightly, a number of shield charms running through her head. Transfiguration she was atrocious at; defense she was not. In a clash of white ash and beech wood wands, however, Vivi would suffer—no matter how advanced her shield charms were.

She should have been afraid. She would have been, if she had taken the time to consider it. Anger now blocked out that emotion; it was a deeply embedded, smoldering fury at the indignant nature of this, of what Agatha was doing.

The Slytherin was pathetic. She was striking out still over a loss that was not Vivienne’s fault, but Agatha’s. Over the loss of Avery Berke.

“We’ve got nothin’ ta talk about.” Vivi said shortly, chin set firm. “So move outta the door way.”

Agatha smiled. “Or what, my dear, or you’ll turn me into a block of wood? A bird perhaps? You will forgive me if I am not trembling wildly at the thought, now won’t you?” she asked rhetorically.

Then the smile faded.

“No. I came to tell you to leave Avery Berke alone,” she said, her eyes now hard and very, very cold. “You know Avery,” Agatha continued, “He barely knows his own mind most of the time. Doubtless your ickle Puth feelings will get hurt when he comes running back to me, to beg my forgiveness. Why don’t you save yourself the trouble?”

Not that Agatha cared one little bit if Vivi was hurt or not, you understand, but she thought that persuasive tactics should be applied to the case before…before physical violence. And after all, she reflected, it may not be too far from the truth anyway. Agatha had a point. Eventually Avery might decide he no longer wanted a relationship. Vivi wanted to trust him, to believe that he loved her like she loved him, but sometimes…

Sometimes he looked at Agatha. Vivi knew he was looking, and she was not always sure that it was only hate lying heavy in his mind.

Ever the optimist, the romantic, Vivi convinced herself that the happiness of the relationship would outweigh any hurt at the end. Besides, though Avery had betrayed her before, she trusted him now—she trusted him with her entire heart, with her family, with her life even.

“Why do ya care, Aggie?” Vivi asked softly, unable to hide the bite in her voice. “Don’t ya hate muggle borns? Why does Avery matter to ya?”

Vivi knew the answer, deep down. It did not stop her from posing the question. If she turned the tables on Agatha, she might be able to avoid the tumult and uncertainty lurking in her mind, and the butcher’s block Agatha had prepared.

Yes, yes, yes. Yes Agatha hated muggle bornsl; mudbloods like the one standing before her now were beneath her notice, pathetic creatures who should not be allowed to associate with the likes of a Swales.

And yet she did not hate Avery Berke. She had come to this realization a long time ago now. She had fought the knowledge and the desire for many, many months and even now the top of her arm was black and blue from the poison of the golden snake she wore wrapped around her at the insistence of her worried parents.

But Moor was playing games, trying to distract Agatha from her true purpose. She must not be distracted.

Avery mattered. Mattered desperately. The why was not something she wished to examine.

“Did you know he used to tell me he loved me,” Agatha said softly, dangerously. “Did he ever happen to mention that to you, Moor? You do not understand what we have. You are a child playing adult games. Avery and I, we do not have,” she paused and looked furtively under her long lashes at Veruca, wondering how much insinuation the kid would manage to grasp, “We have a different sort of relationship and I am telling you, warning you,” her voice became much, much more menacing, “To stay out of our lives, or else….” she tapped her wand on the desk nearest to it and white flames danced in tall spirals.

“I am older than ya were when ya dated Avery, Aggie.” Vivi stated. “And he hates ya now.”

Now for the decision. Vivi wanted to lie, or at least to appear to lie. She wanted to harm Agatha, to cut her as deeply as possible.

“Ya had a relationship. Ya lost it.” Pausing, Vivi narrowed her eyes suggestively, and added, “Don’t be naive Swales.”

She left it at that. It was just enough of a hint to mean something, while remaining entirely innocent. Vivi was not interested in sullying her reputation as a good girl, for she believed in leaving adult relationships up to the adults.

On the other hand, it did no harm to make Agatha wonder.

Later, later, Vivi would reflect on the information. It would be merciless agony, when she allowed herself to feel the full impact of the tidbits. Now anger guarded against that pain. It was her antidote.

“Afraid this is one order I’m not taking from ya Swales. I’m with Avery. Get over it.”

Agatha’s eyes flared. Just exactly what did the kid mean? Was she actually implying that she and Avery…? Unthinkable, unspeakable and finally, Agatha felt, untrue. The sniveler was simply too much of a goody-goody for anything like that. But the doubt was agony nevertheless.

Agatha decided to lie. True, Avery and she did not have a relationship any more (although she was actually far from believing he hated her, she had seen him looking at her sometimes and the look had been, well, she would have said full of desire, except for his involvement with Veruca. Avery was always contradictory though, as Agatha knew full well.)

“I wouldn’t be so sure that the relationship is in the past tense if I were you,” Agatha murmured. “At least that wasn’t what Avery said on Saturday when you were busy…oh yes…playing games with balls and brooms that was it now wasn’t it…”

Then Agatha stopped playing games. She took her wand for real and pointed it at Veruca. With one swift gesture she disarmed her opponent, then with the next she forced back Vivi’s wand hand into a most unnatural position. The pain could only be excruciating.

“I do not intend to get over it Moor,” she said, bending Vivi’s hand further and further back. “I will have what I want. And I would not advise you to stand in my way. Believe me, I have no limits to what I am prepared to do to you, mudblood. Avery Berke is mine. And it is you who would be wise not to forget it.”

Agatha looked her in the eyes and tipped her wand backwards.

Vivi’s wrist broke in half with a hideous snap.

“Involve me in this at your own peril,” Agatha said smartly. “And remember this as a lesson Moor. Berke is, has always been and will always be. Mine.”

Agatha left the room, throwing Vivi’s wand on the floor on her way out.


The hospital wing glowed white when Vivi entered, gritting her teeth for control and cradling her wrist carefully with her good hand. Sharp stabs of pain shot up her arm, each louder and more urgent than the next, until she was almost seeing spots.

It was not solely the pain that left Vivi weak and dizzy, with a useless wand arm. The words contributed.

I would not be so sure the relationship is past tense.

Past tense.

Past tense?

The Snake was lying, Vivi was sure, but it was so hard to be certain. A frigid grip held her in her confusion, and it would not let her go. She felt restricted, hurt, lost. It was a miracle almost that she even found her way to the hospital wing, to help.

“Medic?” Vivi asked, gulping down nausea. It would all be all right. She would have the medic fix her wrist, she would talk to Avery, and it would all be all right.

Why did it hurt so much when she was convinced that it was not true?

Wyatt Silver, one of Hogwarts medics, was sitting in his office, enjoying the peace and quite that had come with such little happenings going on at Hogwarts. But just as he was about to start a new chapter in his book, he heard a small girl asking for him.

Lying the book on the table, he made his way out to the main wing of the hospital, before coming face to face with a Hufflepuff girl. He believed it was a one Miss Vivienne Moor. Looking at her clutching her wrist, it was obvious what had happened. She had merely shattered the wrist bone. It was nothing a little potion and wave of the wand couldn’t fix.

“Come, sit,” he instructed to the girl. Leading her to a bed only a few footsteps away. When she was finally upon the bed, Wyatt pulled out his wand, and with a small flick of the wrist, a green bottle floated over to him.

He began to inspect the wrist. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“I—” Vivi opened her mouth to tell him the truth.

And then she closed it, swallowing. There had been no witnesses. There was no way to verify that Agatha had attacked her, threatened her with her life, practically. Agatha would just deny it, and increase her vicious crusade.

“I fell off my broom.” Vivi explained, wincing as Silver touched it. It hurt, but it was not that bad. Just a broken wrist, easy to fix, “Clumsy, I know,” she brushed it off as nothing, bitterly. Agatha had her taped and boxed in, a caged little thing, and she hated it.

There was something more to the story that Vivi was telling, Silver knew. But there was no way to get the whole truth without violating privacy, and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

He reached over and grabbed the bottle that had floated over to him. He gave it to her and waited for her to drink.

Vivi gripped the potion bottle with her left hand and gulped it down, shuddering at the metallic taste. It reminded her of sucking on a penny.

“Well, how do you feel now?” The Medic asked.

“Much better,” she breathed in relief as the pain receded quickly. Her wrist still felt stiff and sore, but it was farther away, a physically much more bearable pain.

She looked up to fake-grin her thanks at Medic Silver, but the spurious smile drifted away as she realized that he knew she was lying. She had always been able to read people with a fair amount of accuracy, yet never understood that she herself was an easy person to read. So it came as a shock when she understood that Silver saw right through her.

Expressive gray eyes flicked downwards as Vivi subconsciously tried to hide by focusing on a point just beyond the Medic. Of course it was a dead give away that she was harboring a secret, but there was no other alternative.

If she looked into his eyes she might start crying.

“Thanks.” Vivi whispered. There was nothing else for her to say.

Snow drifted down outside. It was soft, a secure curtain that draped over Hogwarts, cold and wonderful. There was something touching about a real snow fall, the layer of solid white that created an entirely new world, superposed on the old. It was magical.

Vivi sat on a bed near the window in the Hufflepuff common room, huddled under a fluffy yellow duvet. Her wrist she still held tenderly, for while the pain had faded, the memory was as fresh as it was two hours ago. For the longest while after arriving back in the dorm, Vivi had no idea what emotion to feel. Anger, pain, doubt, hurt: there were too many to contemplate.

She watched the snow fall, miserable in her loneliness, but content in her misery. She knew that if she confirmed what Agatha had said—that Avery was cheating on her—she would only feel worse. So she sat, numb and exhausted, subdued.

Tap.

Vivi ignored it, pulling the duvet tighter around her petite frame.

Tap tap. It was no use. She stood, opening the window so that the offending owl could come in, out of the cold. The owl was her own, a small brown one with more will than way, but she liked him, and the owl adored her.

“Hi, Falen,” she whispered. He landed on her shoulder, nuzzling her hair and nibbling at her ear. The presence of another living creature gave her the strength to shake herself into action. She needed to know the truth.

Grabbing a pen, Vivi wrote a sloppy, left handed message on the back of a previous homework assignment. It read:

I need you. Huff entrance.

“Take this to Avery Berke?” Vivi asked. He was gone as soon as she finished fastening the note on, headed off to the Gryffindor commons.

Vivi wrapped a warm black robe over her cloths, slipped on a pair of imitation Birkenstocks, and ducked out of the Hufflepuff dorms. She had to meet Avery.

A bit later, note in hand, Avery descended the numerous staircases from the Gryffindor Common Room and traversed many of the castle’s winding halls in search of the Hufflepuff Commons. As a Prefect, he’d once been told where it was. As Vivienne Moor’s boyfriend, he’d often visited. Yet for the life of him, he couldn’t find Hufflepuff.

“Right at the statue of…who is it again?” he asked himself, squinting to see down the darkened halls on either side of him. “Or was it left?”

He lit his wand and brushed a loose piece of hair from his face, trying in vain to discern between the many similar paintings that lined the walls.

Isn’t one supposed to be of a lady in red? Or was it blue…? Why is the Huth Common Room so stinkin’ hard to find…?

He sighed and looked sideways at a painting. It was of an old man—a senile old man—who he’d seen before. He wasn’t sure when (or even if it was on his current search for the Hufflepuff commons), but he’d noticed the man seemed to like him.

Yay. Someone liked him…

“‘Scuse me,” he said, walking over to the painting. “Where’s the Hufflepuff Commons?”

Avery figured if the man was insane enough, he would tell anyone just about anything. Then again, the man may have seen him going to the commons with Vivi, so he may have no qualms about divulging the common room’s location.

Hopefully, at least.

It was worth a shot.

The man smiled. “Down past two hallways, hook a right at the statue o’ the goblin king.”

Avery was right. The man was insane. But nice. Avery almost felt bad about using him.

…almost…

“Thanks much,” Avery said, turning on his heel and walking away before the man realized his slip-up.

“She’s not here…” Avery muttered out loud, scanning the hall for the Huth as he arrived. Vivi was short, so she could prove difficult to find, but the hall was empty. Not like she was lost in a mass of people. She probably had yet to leave the commons.

Sighing, Avery sat down against a wall and looked at his watch.

“Over here.” Vivi said, almost inaudible. She was curled up in a nook to the left, just out of sight, her chin resting on her knees.

“Hi.” She did not elaborate, bur rather bit her lip, hard. Seeing Avery made it hurt like she was being ripped apart; she wanted to see him, wanted him to make it all right, but she was immobile.

She stood slowly, looking at him, almost afraid, and turned away. It was more than clear that this was not Vivi, the happy-go-lucky, chipper, Quidditch fanatic Huff. She was quite different now.

She could not look at him. She wanted to and she could not. It was hard, hard to maintain the control she had only a gossamer thread grip on, impossible to meet his eyes. Wrapping her arms around herself, she stood, half-aside, unable to move, wishing she had never left the dorm, and utterly confused.

Avery’s head snapped toward the source of the sound. So Vivi was in the hall. Just in a really dark corner…

Vivi was sulking. She never sulked. Something was up…

“Vivs?” Avery asked, standing and walking over to her. “What’s up?”

She wasn’t her usual self. Not chipper, not annoying, not grinning so much you wanna punch her. She seemed hurt. Like someone had done something…

…Only one person came to mind…

“What did Agatha do this time…?”

Vivi whirled around, shocked, and met Avery’s eyes. Panic flashed into her own and then she burst into tears. Leaning into Avery for support, her hands gripping his shirt, Vivienne cried, loud noisy sobs that shook her whole frame. Black hair obscured her face, but it was just as well. Vivi hated for people to see her cry.

“I-I-I”m sor-sorr-y,” she stuttered, sniffing and coughing. “I-ca-ca-she said that-”

That was all that Vivi got out before a fresh wave of sobs hit her, and she stumbled back, letting go of Avery, to slide down the wall. She buried her face in her arms, rocking back and forth with still unsubdued crying.

It was just too much, too, too much and she could not take it anymore. It was her nightmare. She was afraid of torture, not merely because of the pain but because of the malice behind it. So there was that, and then the words…

The words hurt the most. They were the reason that Vivi could not stop crying.

Since when did Vivi cry? And in public for that matter? Avery wondered. He knew Vivi well enough to know only something really, really bad could set her off like that…

…Aggie had done something…

Instead of assuming things and rushing off to kill Agatha (as much as he would have liked to), Avery sat down next to Vivi and wrapped his arms around her as best he could.

He stayed silent and held her for a bit while waiting for her to stop crying—or at least to calm down some.

It took a long time, but many shed tears and muscle spasms later, Vivi was a little calmer (or not—maybe Avery was just imagining it). “What’s wrong, hon?”

At first Vivi did not answer. She sniffled, tugged a pack of tissues out of her robes, then blew her nose, wiped at her eyes, and gulped, a modicum of control returning.

Leaning into Avery, Vivi shut her eyes, letting his smell wash over her again. She felt better now, having cried, and having him here. The brooding presence of Agatha slowly trickled away. For once in the week, it was time to tell the truth.

“She broke my wrist.” Vivi said quietly, running her thumb over the newly mended bone. “Threatened me.”

Vivi squirmed around, gauging the reaction to this, hesitant. “And I think she lied ta me, Avery. About you.”

He was calm.

Rather, he was suppressing murderous thoughts—and resisting verbalizing his murderous thoughts—so Vivi wouldn’t pull an Aiko and freak out.

…that would be bad. After all, Avery could only handle one spastic Huth at a time…

“She won’t get away with that,” he said, saying something to avoid appearing indifferent, yet remaining somewhat ambiguous to avoid reprimand.

“But what did she say about me?”

He wanted to kill Agatha (not just for lying about him, but for existing…for making his life, and Vivi’s, a living hell). But he had a sinking feeling the lie had something to with his violent temper. Possibly that he had tried to rape her, or that he killed someone, or raped someone then killed her…Agatha could never be underestimated. Any show of anger might just make Vivi cry.

…or turn her into an Aiko clone with an irreversible case of paranoia.

But, then again, it might have been something else. After all, he could never be sure with Aggie.

The coolness, and almost nervousness, radiating from Avery did nothing to alleviate Vivi’s fears. Instead his reaction increased them.

Why was he not mad at Agatha?

Why was he not threatening her death, or at least something akin to it?

Why was he being so damn calm?

Avery was never calm. This was not the reaction she had expected, and, although she hated to admit it, it was not the one she wanted. Vivi wanted Avery to jump to her defense, to protect her, to make everything all right. She felt vulnerable and lost; what she needed was his righteous defense.

She did not need rational. She did not need the doubt that now crept upon her like a snake in the night, poisoning her thoughts with suspicion.

Turning to face Avery, so she could gauge his reaction, Vivi half-whispered, “I don’t think I believe her. But she said ya were still seeing her.” The words were vague, but the connotations certainly were not.

He just chuckled in a half-hearted, non-humored, “someone’s gonna die” way.

He said nothing. He just wrapped his arms around Vivi and kissed her.

He was saving his voice for yelling at Agatha.

After a long while (during which time he hoped to get the “I’m not cheating on ya!” message through to Vivi), he broke the kiss and looked at her. “Think what you will, but I’m not seeing Agatha. I’m with you now.”

He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and said “Love ya hon. Now, going to kill Agatha.” He stood, smiled at Vivi, and walked away to find the snake and reduce her immaculate body to a bloody pulp of pink goo.

Vivi yielded to the kiss, feeling warmth spread over her body until even her toes were tingling. She regained color, perking up like a spring flower as doubt and worry were obliterated, as sunshine melted the winter snow. It was a fuzzy feeling, to be reassured, to feel the last traces of Agatha’s evil leave her body.

“That’s what I needed ta hear.” Vivi breathed, snuggling up next to Avery for a brief moment, before he stood. She believed him. With all of her heart, she believed him.

“Love ya too,” she murmured, watching him go. She hugged her robes to her body, stood, and turned around, mounting the steps to her dorm in a sort of quiet haze.

In a very far away part of her mind, she wondered if maybe she was in too deep.

“You!” Vivi yelled, hands on her hips, nostrils flared. She eyed a painting at the end of the hallway with about as much warmth as she allotted to spiders, roaches, and other things she squished under her tennis shoes. A faint blush tinged her cheeks.

“Me?” The painting asked with wide eyes, flinging itself at the base of an apple tree. It was a boy, with a flop of messy brown hair, brown eyes, and no shoes.

“Don’t play innocent.” Vivi cautioned, wand appearing in her hand as she advanced on the seemingly helpless painting. She wondered if memory charms were effective on works of art. “Ya little pervert, I’ll make sure ya don’t— ” she lunged for the painting, trying to rip it off of the wall before the boy disappeared from the frame. She was too late. He was already in one too high for her to reach.

“Now that’s not nice.” The boy observed, crunching the apple he had nabbed from the tree in the previous picture. “Calling me names. Bad girl. Bad.”

“Accio!” Vivi shouted. A blast of green light hit the picture. It flew off of the wall and she caught it deftly, but the boy dove from it into a picture of the sea before he lost the chance. Vivi glowered, and hung the picture she was now holding back up.

“When I catch ya…”she threatened.

“You won’t.” The boy answered. “How’d you know it was me, anyways?” He shook wet hair out of his eyes, doing the backstroke. He gurgled water, and then imitated a fountain.

“It’s not exactly rocket science.” Vivi said. “Ya left wet footprints in every frame. I just followed your tracks.”

“You didn’t have to dump water on me. Smeared my paint.” The portrait complained.

“I’ll do worse’n’smear it when I get a hold of ya.” Vivi looked around for a ladder, or something to stand on. Water dripped down her back, as her hair was still wet, and her cloths were rumpled. She had gotten dressed in a hurry.

The event that had Vivi so riled and the painting so smug was simple really. The boy, whose name was George, had been peeping in on Vivi during her shower. Someone had left a frame on the shower shelf. It was early morning, and so Vivi, half-asleep, jumped into her shower without noticing she had a visitor. She had realized he was there halfway through shampooing her hair. It was still soapy.

“There wasn’t that much to see.” George teased. You had your back to me most o’ the time, but even from the—“

“You’re dead! Accio! Accio! Accio!” Vivi screamed. Three painting jumped into her arms. George was in the third, and he was caught cold, too far away from other portraits to escape. Holding the painting up triumphantly, Vivi smiled, a sinister gleam shining in her eyes.

“Dead.” One minute and a severing charm later, Vivi walked down the hall, a small, rolled up oil canvas in her pocket. An empty frame now hung on the hallway wall. Agatha smirked and stepped into the path of the loathsome Puth. It was always so divine to be handed such an opportunity.

“Dear me, destruction and is that theft perchance of school property?” Agatha said in a condescending tone, folding her arms and smiling insolently.

“One would have hoped for a better example to younger years, but that, Moor, is something which it is sad to reflect that you have never been capable of.”

Agatha glanced up and down at the specimen in front of her and said languidly, “I mean I do appreciate that the little quip about your lack of, shall we say, assets,” Agatha left a long and meaningful pause whilst she glanced down at her own perfect figure.

“Yes indeed,” Agatha re-emphasized, “Your lack of assets, may have upset you somewhat, but my dear facts are facts and you really must learn to control that temper of yours.”

Agatha shook her beautiful blonde head and sighed, as if truly upset by such an occurrence. “Naturally it pains me to do this, but I fear I shall have to report this incident to our beloved Headmistress. A thief in the school is a serious matter, you know. Where shall we all be if we have to watch our property constantly? I suppose daddy, as a governor, may be alarmed also,” she mused.

“Oh and Moor,” she added as if it were a last minute remembrance, “Ten points from Hufflepuff.”

Agatha raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow and with a mock gesture stepped aside to let Vivienne past.

Under different circumstances, Vivienne might have been surprised. But she had long since accepted that she had her very own, crazed and obsessive Slytherin stalker. The irony was fantastic; once, Agatha had accused Vivi herself of being Avery’s stalker. Now the roles were reversed.

It might have been flattering, in a disturbing way, if Vivi had not despised Agatha so intensely.

Later, in the Hufflepuff dorm, Vivi would replay this conversation, filling in the blanks with what she would wish she had said.

“I suppose setting an example for younger years means breaking their wrists,” she would quip, hand on her wand, eyes meeting Agatha’s squarely.

“Or following them constantly. It’s pathetic you know.” Watching Agatha admire her own figure, Vivi would laugh, unable to contain her mirth. “Get over your self, narcissist.” She would finish, then spin, defiantly, her pony tail almost hitting Agatha’s nose, and walk down the hall, leaving a speechless snake behind.

Unfortunately her conversations with Agatha never went like that. Instead Vivi sighed, her face stone, and walked silently past. She refused to give Swales the satisfaction of a reaction.

Vivi knew it was the smart thing to do. She knew fighting would only get her into deeper trouble, knew that Aggie was not worth it, knew that she controlled the trump card: Avery. She knew that the stronger person turned the other cheek. Yet all of that knowledge did not keep Vivi from feeling sick as she backed down from one more insult.

I’ll make her pay, a tiny voice at the back of her head whispered, but Vivi shooed it away. Revenge was not the answer. What she had almost done in second year still haunted her; she would not go down that road again. She was the bigger person!

But then why did she feel so small?

It had been as easy victory, Moor slinking away defeated to lick her wounds elsewhere. Yet perversely Agatha was somewhat disappointed. There were few things she liked better than a decent argument and in the past Moor, if not a worthy opponent, had at least put up a small fight, in a pathetic Puth-like manner.

Agatha could not let things lie like this. Points were somewhat of a futile revenge. True, it was most divine that she could take them and of course next year, so, so soon, the role of Head Girl would be hers. Hers, ah the power and the glory, she could imagine it now, as in perhaps a neat Dolce e Gabbana trouser suit with the badge pinned showily on her right breast, she swept all before her, then her final plan could be brought to fruition with no opposition….

Abruptly she snapped out of her reverie. Moor was getting away! Already she was at a distance to necessitate shouting, but luckily Agatha’s voice had always possessed a rather piercing quality. She decided on the one tack which she knew was guaranteed to get a response.

“I’m so sorry about your so-called relationship, Moor,” she called. “Avie seemed almost sorry for you when we were together last night. Shame, but then what did you really expect?”

She put one hand on her hip and twisted on finger around the diamond sparkling at her throat.

Vivi almost let it go. Almost. At the far end of the hallway, turning just enough so that Agatha could see her face, Vivi smiled. It was an easy, upper-handed smile that spread across her face like butter on bread.

“A lie works better when the person you’re lying ta doesn’t know the truth.” She advised.

Vivi knew exactly where Avery had been last night: with her. They had crammed for a Defense Against the Dark Arts test (it was worth three grades!) until the sun’s soft rays had slipped into the sky. Then it was off to breakfast for a caffeine pick-me-up, and then on to DADA.

Agatha was lying, and it was a desperate, revealing lie. The thought gave Vivi enough pleasure to make up for the loss of house points; it was invigorating to catch Swales in her own trap.

Content with having the last word, Vivi spun and leaped up the stairs, her spry steps carrying her to the Hufflepuff commons in a matter of minutes. It was time for Operation Cover-up. Assuming that Agatha was as good as her word, the Gucci-princess would be on her way to the Headmistress right now—and that meant Vivi had to work fast.

“Aggie made one mistake.” Vivienne informed George as she pulled the oil canvas out of her robe pocket. “She didn’t take ya away from me.”

“Fancy that.” George grumbled.

“Hop on into here.” Vivi directed, her wallet in her hand. She removed a faded picture of her family, and waved it in front of George’s nose. “Or I set fire ta ya right now.”

Without looking back the boy dove in among Vivi’s family members. He got a sharp elbow to the ribs from one of her cousins, but other than that he matched in nicely with the Moors.

“Now,” Vivi said, “You’re goin’ back in my wallet. We’ll talk lata—I’ve got work ta do.” She stuffed the picture away, despite George’s muffled cries, and then stood. The oil canvas was uninjured, except for a few loose threads. Vivi smiled. This could be fixed easily, and make Agatha look like a liar to boot.

Sprinting back to the hallway, Vivi scanned the wall until she spotted the injured picture frame. “Accio!” She whispered. It shot into her arms. Now it was time to mend the painting. She performed the charm easily, for once glad that she was so hard on her cloths. It meant she had plenty of practice with sewing spells.

The portrait was fixed, without a thread out of place to show for the damage, so Vivi hung it back up, taking a moment to make sure it was straight. She estimated that she had about five minutes before Agatha and the Headmistress arrived, so she was careful to be thorough. It could make all of the different between a successful escape and a failed one. Satisfied, she fled back to the Hufflepuff common area, without any sight of a prefect to say her nay.

“All righty. Here we go.” Vivi breathed as she sank into her bed. Propping herself up on pillows, she sat a black box next to her, and lifted a paper-back book with a picture of an ear on it. Why the author thought an ear was a good idea she did not know; it was highly unattractive. It even had hair growing out of it.

Communication: The Key Ta the Modern World,” Vivi read aloud. Beside her the black box buzzed. She opened the book and flipped to the first chapter. There were runes around the edges of the pages and on the box—clearly magical. The first page contained an introduction, albeit a short one, and instructions.

In the modern world, communication is paramount to your place in a quickly evolving workforce society. The tools of communication are many and varied; this book provides an extensive guide to them, depending on your weaknesses and strengths in different areas. Please flip to page three for a comprehensive analysis of your skills.

Vivi, perplexed, flipped to page three. A set of questions awaited her.

Skills Analysis

Pronunciation Please recite the following paragraph in your normal voice:

Hello to all, I hope that you are having a wonderful day. Please come in and make yourself at home. You are all welcome.

Vivi blinked. She stared at the page and blinked again, then with a shrug of her shoulders, began to read.

“Hello ta ya’ll, I hope that ya are having a wonderful day. Please come in and make yourself at home. You’re all welcome.” The box at her side began to bleep red, whirring an alarm. Vivi stared at it, and then back at the book, and then at it again. What in the world was this? It had been on sale for half price at Hogsmeade the last time she had visited. Deciding that improving her communication skills might be a plus, Vivienne had bought it, but forgotten about it entirely.

And now the thing was bleeping at her.

She almost jumped through the roof when a warm baritone boomed, “Repeat after me! Hello to all! Remember, the ‘to’ is pronounced ‘t-oo’ not, ‘t-a.’”

When her breathing returned to normal, Vivi picked the box up shakily, and looked closely at it. The runes were deep, and she recognized a few of them as spells of power. So that was why the kit had been expensive, even on sale. It was a bloody English teacher in a box.

She considered throwing it out of the window, but stopped. She was a southern Mississippi girl in England. Her country accent was all right now, but sometimes she did feel self-conscious…and what happened when she tried to get a job in the real world? Did she sound uneducated to the English just because she talked differently?

Well, it wasn’t a chance worth taking. Dolefully Vivi tapped the box and repeated, “T-oo.”

“Y-oo all.” It intoned. Slipping back under the covers, Vivi resigned herself to a long night.

“You know, that sounds as natural as a merperson singing opera.”

The door to their room had slid open with newly established silence. It was an improvement which she expected had to do with a certain Gryffindor’s escapades to a certain hanging-covered bed

As Hufflepuff prefect, it was her duty to prevent after-hours bed-switching, which she did…in the other rooms. It was hardly her fault that said bed belonged to her best friend, and the violator was a crazed giant. Just as long as they stayed off her bed.

Aiko climbed onto the bed across from Vivi’s, practice keeping her from ruffling the smooth yellow silk that served as her comforter. The long expanses of the color that reminded them of their house was almost a guaranteed headache, had the antidote not been long years of exposure.

“Thank ya,” Vivi said dryly.

“Thank y-oo,” The box corrected sharply. Vivi rolled her eyes. Patting the bed beside her, she flipped the OFF switch on the box and motioned to Aiko.

“I haven’t caught up with ya in ages. How’re ya?” She asked, scootching over so that there was room on the bed for two. Her Prefect friend always seemed to be absent. Vivi somewhat suspected that this had to do with a certain Slytherin whose named started with an A and ended with a -lex, but she had not wanted to press Aiko into revealing as much.

Then again, she had best friend rights. She was supposed to know this sort of thing!

Aiko gave out a theatrical groan and shifted onto Vivi’s bed. She had been waiting for a chance to grumble; had her American-born friend not brought up the opportunity, she would have had to create some sort of scene.

“It’s absolutely awful,” she complained, bouncing with malignant enthusiasm. “Alex has completely disappeared—I think he might be avoiding me! Every time I go to see him, one of those horrid Slytherin pricks show up, and you know I can’t stand to be around them, so I come back and…” Her eyes widened.

“What if he doesn’t like me anymore!”

Aiko collapsed onto her friend’s bed and dissolved into a well-exercised hysterical fit.

Vivi bit her lip, throwing her arm around Aiko in a one-sided hug. “He likes ya.” She pronounced with authority, certain it was the truth.

“He’s just, he’s a guy Aiko,” she tried to explain, her gesticulations indicating that all guys were insane. “So he’s loo-loo. Ya might have to nudge him in the right direction. And he has the added thing of being Slytherin—so less open than others.”

Nudge in the right direction? Aiko wondered. What direction were they supposed to be going in? She wasn’t sure she was ready for the direction Vivi and Avery had followed; she had only barely been able to peck the boy, let alone snog him. And she still wasn’t sure whether her lips had actually touched him before her face grew red and she bolted.

Aiko collapsed into her friends embrace, sniffling loudly as she continued to cry.

It was a crazy match, Vivi decided, considering her hysterical, servant-gone-Prefect friend. Aiko, the quiet, scared, sweet-as-banana-pudding Hufflepuff, and Alex, the cold, hard, I-can-kill-you-if-I-want-to Slytherin hardly appeared meant-to-be. Considering her own relationship, however, Vivienne decided that she had no room to talk, and besides, there was truth in the theory that opposites attract.

“When was the last time ya’ll talked?” Vivi asked, preparing to glean all of the information about their relationship she could, before offering up advice.

“Not since the beginning of the term, and barely even then!” Aiko let out with a particularly high pitched wail into Vivi’s shoulder.

“S’okay,” Vivi soothed, rubbing Aiko gingerly on the back. She would never let it show, but the information about conversation worried her.

Alex Stone was rich; he liked Aiko, but those carnivores in Slytherin might love to command the Stone diamond fortune. Agatha clearly was not interested; she had her eye on Avery. Yet Agatha was not the only threat in stilettos. There was also Abbigale Calver, Swale’s certified clone, and Amelia Grover, a younger, but equally annoying pureblood.

Vivienne almost winced. While she had always dealt with competition and love triangles, it was a fate she never would have wished on Aiko.

“How about…I need help with my transfiguration homework, Aiko. And you don’t get it either.” Vivi hinted quietly. It was a hesitant suggestion; she did not want to scare Aiko off of the idea. “Isn’t Alex really good with transfiguration?”

It would be a good plan, if Aiko would agree. Simple. Easy. They would go to Alex for homework help, but Vivi would leave her book in her room, and be side-tracked by a Quidditch player on the way there, and voila!

Alex and Aiko would be alone.

Aiko’s sniffles and silence indicted tacit agreement, so Vivi smiled. Things would work out well for her best friend. She was sure of it.

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