The whispers are nothing new.
She gets her first taste of them on her first day at Hogwarts. Robb and Jon smile and wave encouragingly as Sansa is herded towards the boats with all the other First Years. There, on the glassy water of the lake, darkened by the looming shadow of the great castle, the children of other Wizarding families shift and glance at her, whisper the words Targaryen and Lyanna and niece. The tide sweeps around her and through the school soon enough. Father had warned her, as he had warned Robb and Jon before her. People like to talk.
Nothing can prepare her for the Sorting, and the whispers that follow. Jon gives her a little wink and a thumbs up as she walks to the front of the Great Hall, and Robb pats the seat beside him that he’s saved for her amidst the moving cloud of red and gold.
“RAVENCLAW!” the Sorting Hat bellows, and Sansa feels as if the enchanted ceiling is spinning.
She doesn’t know from whence the story springs, but by the next day, after she’s tearfully Flooed home and gotten what comfort was to be had, the halls are extant with the rumour. ‘Did you hear? The first Stark in seven generations to be Sorted outside of Gryffindor!’ The number is actually six, but there is no stopping the chatter, once it starts. People talk.
Sansa is floored. It is not quite disappointment. She has never even entertained the possibility of living her life at Hogwarts under anything but the roaring lion. Father had been sorted into Gryffindor, and his father and grandfather before him. Uncle Benjen had been in Gryffindor before leaving for Romania, so too for the unknown Uncle Brandon and Aunt Lyanna. Robb, Jon… even her mother, coming from a family known for its Hufflepuffs, had followed her uncle the Blackfish into the red.
And yet here she is, after the welcoming feast, facing the stern eagle rather than the cheerful Fat Lady.
Robb and Jon try to cheer her up when they can, ruffling her hair and teasing her gently. “More brains than the lot of us put together,” Robb says.
“Especially him,” Jon puts in with a little grin, and it does make her giggle, for a time.
Out in the halls, however, the chatter does not speak to a surplus of smarts as the reason she’d been so Sorted. They whisper, instead, of a distinctive lack of a certain other trait. Robb, tall and strong for a Third Year, will menace anyone who dares say so within his hearing, but he cannot catch them all. The rumours go on.
They rise up when she starts seeing Joffrey Baratheon during her third year, trickle to a little flow during the first breathless weeks of romance, go deathly quiet amidst rumours of his cruelty, and bubble back up again when he casts her aside before the end of the year.
There are titters when Arya and Bran make their way into Hogwarts, and the Sorting Hat proclaims them for Gryffindor after a scant second upon their heads. More when her father and the Minister for Magic are called north with a team of Aurors to help battle the Walkers (‘They might’ve fallen out, but their fathers are still chums, it seems.’ ‘Well, who knows if Cersei Lannister still thinks of Robert as the father to her children, now that she’s left him and taken all those Lannister galleons with her!’).
The whispers endure.
And now, Sansa knows, they will start again, and to that she is resigned. Margaery stands calm and regal next to her, squeezing her hand tightly behind their robes. The smells of the greenhouse seem deeper and fresher, heightened by her rapidly beating heart and a little twinge of fear. She had hastily buttoned up the front of her robes, but she can tell without looking that it was badly done.
Professor Reed clears his throat. Behind him, the eyes of his class of Second Years are as round as Remembralls.
“Miss Stark, Miss Tyrell… I have to say I am very surprised, and most disappointed.” Sansa’s heart gives another little leap; it occurs to her that Howland Reed is friendly with her father. Margaery squeezes her hand again. “You are both prefects, and no doubt know that the greenhouses are off-limits to students outside of class hours. Some of the plant life that we house here is very dangerous, even—” His papery little voice rises slightly as Margaery tries to interject. “—to those as gifted in Herbology as you are, Miss Tyrell.”
Margaery considers a moment, and then nods. She always knows how to choose her battles. Professor Reed’s eyes slide to Sansa, and seem to soften a bit.
“Five points from Slytherin and Ravenclaw apiece, I’m afraid. I trust we won’t have to have this conversation again?”
This time, they shake their heads in unison. Professor Reed gestures them out with his little hand, and Margaery glides ahead, parting the way, still grasping firmly to Sansa’s wrist. Professor Reed clears his throat once again, but when they glance back, they see that it is to his students that he speaks.
“As for you all… I see no need to speak of this. Understood?”
The class nods acquiescence, and Margaery and Sansa hurry out onto the grounds into the light spring air.
Someone, of course, speaks of it. People talk.
It happens on a Friday afternoon. She and Margaery spend the rest of the evening on the banks of the lake, heads tucked together as they quietly discuss what may or may not come. It had been a stroke of bad luck; Greenhouse Five is always supposed to be empty on Fridays. It might have gone harder on them with another Professor, but neither of them believes that the worst is over. Margaery is pragmatic as ever, and it is hard for Sansa to be frightened when she looks so collected, when her brown eyes shine like galleons.
But as they approach the castle in the twinkling light of dusk, she knows what is coming, and knows that she must make herself into something sturdier than gold. Margaery and Sansa release each other’s hands upon entering Hogwarts, and as they part ways for the West Tower and the dungeons, the corridors echo with the first of the murmurs.
Early next morning, Sansa is awakened by a familiar knocking at the window above her dormitory bed. Ice. The family owl fixes her with a stern, cool gaze as she untangles herself from the duvet, careful not to awaken Elia and Alayaya in the beds on either side of her, and lets him in.
The note is from Robb. Sansa swallows, nods to herself, and dresses as quickly and quietly as she can.
She meets him on the Quidditch pitch fifteen minutes later. Robb is mounted on his Nimbus, doing drills in the air fifty feet above her, and doesn’t notice her arrival until Ice fluffs up his feathers, and shoots up to make a circle around his head.
Robb is flushed and a little sweaty as he touches down on the grass and makes his way over to Sansa’s seat in the empty stands. Ice pecks at his hand, flutters over to Sansa to nip her ear, and then flies off. They watch him go, the icy grey of his feathers eventually getting lost amidst the clouds.
“Early letter from Mother,” Robb explains, nodding at the fast disappearing owl. “I thought I would borrow him to get a note to you before he left.”
Sansa nods. Her fingers twist and fold in her skirt in the brief silence that follows, and all the questions that she might have asked to fill it up — what had Mother wanted, was he nervous about the match today, where was Jon, who told him — are eclipsed in favour of another.
“Will you tell them?” she asks, half a whisper.
“Sansa…” Robb sits next to her, and slips an arm around her shoulder. “You know I won’t.”
She nods again, not bothering to protest about his sweatiness. It feels nice, the weight of his arm. “I knew you wouldn’t, but I had to ask.” Red hair, blue eyes, the Tully look, and now this. Another thing they share.
“You might’ve told me,” he adds, rocking gently into her. His tone says that he’s only teasing, but he does look curious.
“I was going to… you would’ve been the first. We wanted to keep it to ourselves a while longer, though. It felt so nice, having something like that.”
“Yeah… I wanted her to be all my own for a while.” Sansa shrugs to cover up her blush. She hadn’t meant to become so sentimental, but it’s hard not to, thinking of everything Margaery has been for her over the past year.
“I understand that.” Robb’s little half-smile pushes a dimple into one of his cheeks. “They will find out, you know. Mother and Father.” He sounds apologetic, and sad. “Someone will mention it to their parents in a letter, and it’ll all take off from there. You know what Hogwarts is like.”
Indeed. She knows what Hogwarts is like.
“I’m hoping… well, I’m hoping that I’ll have the chance to tell them before it comes to that.”
Tell them what exactly, she’s not sure. There’ll be so many places to start. She wants to tell them about Margaery, about how smart and shrewd she is; about how Joffrey had spent two days in the infirmary with Madame Mordane after what she’d done to him; about how the Lady’s Mantles in Greenhouse Three seem to stretch towards her when she sings to them; about how she is one of the only Slytherins in a family of Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors, how it was one of the first things they’d talked about, bonded over. She wants to tell them all of that, and more.
“I’ll be right there with you,” Robb swears, and she smiles. Robb is like that. Promises come to his lips easier than to most, but he’s always sincere, always means it from the depths of his heart. If he says he’ll be there, she believes him. She had promised him the same, when she’d seen something she hadn’t been meant to in Hogsmeade, and he’d taken her aside and haltingly explained that he didn’t only like girls.
He smoothes back her hair one more time, and then shifts away to pluck at and straighten the twigs of his broom. Sansa gathers her hair at the nape of her neck, and then pulls out her wand to tap it into a tight bun, out of the way.
“Alright.” She straightens up, pushes her shoulders back. “Robb the big brother has had his say. Let’s hear from Robb the Head Boy now.”
She tells herself that she’s prepared for it. She has to be; she’s going to be hearing it in the hallways, in the Great Hall, in the Ravenclaw common room, during her classes, in the library. Bad enough that Margaery is a girl, she is also a Slytherin, and all that that entails.
Robb glances at her with the littlest smile, saying nothing. His fingers move deftly between the twigs of his broom.
“Go on,” she urges. “You might as well say it all now, while you’ve got me here.”
A few more moments pass in silence, and she thinks for a second that he might let the conversation drop. An edge of sadness clings to the corners of his smile, just enough for Sansa to know that his thoughts lie where hers do. But when he speaks up, his tone isn’t scolding as much as it is lightly teasing, a little exasperated.
“Really Sansa. The greenhouse?”
Surprised though she is, Sansa is also grateful, and can’t help giving him a small smile of her own. There Robb goes again, keeping a promise that he has yet to make.
The sun has broken through the clouds by the time the rest of the team arrives. Sansa stays long enough to receive a kind smile and a pat on the shoulder from Jon, and a ferocious squeeze about the waist from Arya. Then, she leaves them to their preparations, and promises to be back in time for the match.
The Great Hall is humming with energy when she arrives. Students wolf down their breakfasts, ignore them in favour of chattering away to their friends, or manage a skilful combination of the two. All the usual signs of pre-Quidditch fervour.
Sansa finds a seat between Sam and Alayaya at the Ravenclaw table. On reflex, she raises on to tiptoes before she sits, peering over the Hufflepuffs to the Slytherin table. She doesn’t find the curly golden-brown head, not this morning. Margaery would have come and gone already; the plants that she strives to grow in the dungeons beneath the lake need careful tending every day.
The murmuring that started as soon as she walked into the Hall is easy enough to ignore in the face of Sam’s relentless cheerfulness, once he’s pulled his nose out of his book long enough to notice her.
“Oh, hello Sansa!”
“Hello. Alright, Sam?”
“Lovely, thank you.” He beams. “I don’t suppose I could tempt you with some eggs?” He points his chin towards the platter.
“Um, no thank you. If you could just pass the toast please.”
The wide silver dish sits only a handbreadth away from Sam, but he withdraws his wand from his pocket nonetheless. Sansa sees why when the platter of toast hovers into the air and settles in front of her in an instant, with nary a word escaping Sam’s lips. Sansa gapes at her friend, and he grins back, his ruddy cheeks turning even redder.
“You did it!” she exclaims, quite forgetting about her breakfast for the moment. Sam nods happily, and helps himself to a tart. “Samwell Tarly, you’re amazing. It’s only been a day!”
“Well,” he concedes, going even redder and looking even more pleased, “I’ve been reading up on the theory for ages; nonverbal magic has always fascinated me. Even though it’s commonly used in battle and I’m no good at that…” He shrugs. “I spent my day yesterday putting what I knew into practice, and it was easier than I thought!”
Sansa laughs wonderingly. It lightens her heart to see how happy it makes him, even as he downplays the brilliance of what he’s accomplished. They aren’t meant to start learning to use nonverbal magic until their sixth year, and even after that, it isn’t mastered by all. Mastery is just what Sam seems to be approaching, as with everything magical that he puts his mind to. If there is just one person among them who was meant to be a wizard, Sansa thinks, it’s Sam.
“Just be sure I’m around when you show Daryn. He’s going to be glad you declined to bet coin on the wager.”
“Oh, he shall regret it,” comes Alayaya’s amused tone. She lifts a slim brow at them, looking up from where she’s been transfiguring spoons into chopsticks and back. An open book lies in her lap. “He took up the wager with me afterwards, for twice the measure of galleons.”
The three of them share a laugh, one that amplifies when Daryn looks up from the other end of the table, confused. Sansa finally starts in on her toast, scraping orange marmalade across the surface. Like this, surrounded by her friends and silly stories, it’s easy to forget that her world has tipped off its axis, that everything could soon be different, that the Gryffindor boy behind her is loudly speculating about what the Prophet has to say about Mace Tyrell’s involvement with the Lannisters, and what Sansa might think about that.
It’s easy to forget until Joffrey Baratheon comes strolling down the space between the tables, seemingly with no aim in mind. Sam squeaks at the back of his throat, and fumbles with the pastry in his hands. Sansa pats his leg under the table, and continues to look straight ahead at the ornate drinking glass in front of her. She feels like she’s been doused in icy water, but refuses to let her shudder show. Joffrey feeds off of and thrives on attention; it’s one thing that she learnt during the months she wasted with him, and she won’t give it to him now.
“It’s no surprise, really.” His voice is as nasal and drawling as ever, thick with faux-charm, and loud. In periphery, Sansa can see him gesturing towards her as he addresses one of his cronies. “A lot of blood traitors and weaklings, the Starks. Quite fitting that there should be an invert amongst them too.”
Alayaya almost rises out of her seat, but Sansa shakes her head minutely, and holds tight to her wrist. Her friend’s eyes are deepening with anger, but she stills herself, and lowers her wandarm.
Joffrey, of course, presses. He would not be Joffrey otherwise.
“Fitting too, I suppose, that my cast-offs should find solace in each other. What do you think, Blount? Knew they couldn’t find another man like me, so they just gave up altogether, eh?”
His burly friend grunts agreement. Now, it is her own temper that Sansa must control. She glances up to the teachers’ table. Empty, save for a few stragglers who pay little mind to the proceedings below them. Arianne Martell, the Head Girl, had walked out moments before. How like Joffrey to attack when he knows there will be no censure forthcoming. And by now, he has what he wanted all along: an audience. Pockets of students all over the Great Hall have stopped eating to turn their heads towards him.
“And you know what,” he continues in that sickening drawl, “Tyrell blood isn’t as pure as that fat fool would like everyone to think. Used to be the Gardeners living in that mansion. Their bloodline was sure, but who knows what the Tyrells might have mixed with over the years. Makes it even more… apt. The blood traitor and the dirt—”
Sansa is flying out of her chair before she even registers it, her wand in her hand and a curse forming in her mind. Alayaya rises with her, standing securely behind her back when Joffrey’s friends adopt menacing postures.
Joffrey himself couldn’t look more pleased, and part of Sansa hates herself for giving him the satisfaction, but a larger part of her simply wants to hex him into a pile of rot.
“Do you really want to do that?” he asks, softly now. His lips curve up into a cruel smile, like a dare. Alayaya slips her wand out of her pocket.
“Just leave off, Joffrey,” she says quietly.
His reaction is instantaneous and abhorrent; he spits in her direction. If not for Alayaya’s reflexive shield, it would have hit her robes. He curls his lip further.
“I don’t recall giving you permission to speak to me, mudblood.”
A gasp flashes round the circle of people still attending them, but Sansa barely hears it, she is too busy moving, acting, inflamed with choler.
“Lower your wand, Miss Stark.”
The voice stills the word before she says it, but the tip of the willow wood is already digging into Joffrey’s throat. He licks his lower lip slowly, then raises his eyes to hers. His smirk is revolting, and she pushes her wand harder into his flesh, feels it press against the bone of his windpipe.
“Now, Miss Stark. You as well, Miss Deng.”
It is Sam’s hand tugging gently at her elbow that brings her back to sense. Sansa steps back stiffly, puts away her wand, and sees Alayaya mirror her movements a second later. Professor Baratheon is striding down the long hallway, his customary cold look etched onto his face as he sweeps his eyes over the scene. All of the onlookers melt away into the background. Hufflepuff’s Head of House is not known for his patience, or his sense of humour.
Joffrey rolls his shoulders, adopting his cool, careless look anew.
“Thirty points from Slytherin,” Professor Baratheon snaps. Joffrey’s face falls. “You may see me in my office at three for details about your detention, and you will address me as Professor Baratheon.”
It takes a second for Joffrey to react, but when he does it’s with flashing eyes and a curled lip.
“Why, how kind of you to offer,” their Professor sneers in the same chilly tone. “I’m sure Mr. Seaworth would like help mucking out the hippogriff stables tomorrow. You have his thanks, I’m sure. Would you like to volunteer for anything else?”
Joffrey’s face goes from pink to red to a deep purple colour. He is tall for a boy of sixteen, but his uncle still looks down on him from an impressive height. Sansa derives a deep satisfaction from the helpless hatred in Joffrey’s eyes before he gives the minutest shake of his head and stalks away, his friends hurrying after him.
There’s a scant second of silence before Professor Baratheon turns in their direction, as steely as ever.
“And ten points from Ravenclaw. Perform the counterjinx, before I decide to make it twenty.”
Sansa starts. “Wha—” she begins to protest, but Professor Baratheon isn’t looking at her.
“Quickly, Mr. Tarly.”
There’s a strangled noise, and Sam raises his wand shakily, flicking it in Joffrey’s direction as he disappears out of the Hall. The word he mumbles under his breath is scarcely audible to her, but it seems to suffice for Professor Baratheon. He walks away without another word, the heels of his boots clicking against the hard stone floors.
Sansa and Alayaya turn to stare at Sam, who goes red from his neck straight up to his temples.
“Minor mouth scrubbing jinx,” he explains. “Would have caught up with him the next time he tried to say something vile. Bad job that Baratheon saw me… I suppose I have to work on that.” He chuckles nervously, and it takes a moment or two, but his friends join in. Sansa pats his round shoulder fondly.
“You’re amazing, Samwell Tarly.”
The altercation doesn’t leave any of them feeling very festive, but Sansa had promised her siblings she would be there to see them play, and she’s never missed one of their games in all her five years at Hogwarts. Sam and Alayaya follow her down to the pitch along with all the other droves of students. The murmuring voices inundate all around them. Sansa sighs. One more thing for them to whisper about.
“I’m really sorry about that,” Sansa says to Alayaya when she gets the chance. She gestures back up to the castle. “If you hadn’t tried to defend me…”
“Then I wouldn’t be me,” Alayaya interrupts, elbowing Sansa softly. She still has her book in her hands, but she marks her place with a finger as she speaks. “And he would have given himself the opportunity to say it at some other time.”
“Still… I wish you hadn’t had to hear that.”
Alayaya nods, simply. “I wish so too.”
When they arrive at the stands, it is to find that the match is almost ready to begin. Sansa blows a kiss to Bran, sitting amidst his friends in his hovering chair, a blanket covering his cursed legs. It doesn’t take them long to find Jeyne Poole, Lyra and the seats they’d saved amidst the Gryffindors. Poor Jeyne looks torn; she’s wearing the Hufflepuff colours out of loyalty, but doesn’t even protest when Lyra asks her to make the ‘A’ in Dacey and the ‘O’ in Jon.
Sansa finds herself smiling as she receives her instructions for the signs they are to make throughout the game; forgetting, for the moment, the unpleasantness of the previous hour. Her eyes search throughout the stands, and she finds Margaery where she expects to: dead centre in the midst of the Slytherins, all done up in yellow and black, and yelling her brother’s name at the top of her lungs. A little firework bursts inside her chest, warming her like a strong gulp of butterbeer, and suddenly, she’s cheered at the prospect of Quidditch with her friends.
It’s a good match. The rivalry between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff isn’t quite as intense as that between Gryffindor and Slytherin, but their teams are considered the best in the school, and this could be the match that decides the Cup. Loras and Jon, both Captains and Seekers, shake hands cordially under the eye of Master Forel before the signal is given and the Snitch is released.
It starts off slowly, with no one really in control of the Quaffle. Soon enough the Hufflepuff Chasers, speedy and compact, really start moving, making Robb work to cover all three posts. Jeyne Westerling scores the first goal of the game in the ninth minute, blowing a cheeky kiss at Robb as she zooms past.
Arya, of course, takes it as a personal affront, and starts working twice as hard. Sansa yells herself hoarse, and her ‘Y’ is bigger than any of the other letters they shoot up in red sparks when her little sister scores two goals in two minutes, zipping past a dazed looking Quentyn Martell.
After that, the pace is set, and it’s anyone’s game. Dacey scores some of Gryffindor’s toughest goals, Arya some of their fastest, Meera some of their trickiest. Gendry and the Smalljon are powerhouses, pounding the Bludgers towards the opposing team like missiles. The Hufflepuffs however, with the exception of their Keeper, are all lithe and small, and seem to have no trouble dodging out of the way. The burlier members of the Gryffindor team, on the other hand, make easy targets for Ygritte and Mya, who are vicious and quick when the Bludgers come their way.
Robb lets in another goal from Jeyne, and one apiece from Pyp and Satin, but otherwise, his keeping allows Gryffindor to remain a cool sixty points ahead of their opponents. Up above, Jon and Loras stay close to each other, kicking up high and zooming down low, always in search of the Snitch. Margaery’s voice can be heard over all others in the crowd, urging Loras on. Sansa smiles: she must have used an amplification charm on her voice, but modified it so that it isn’t loud enough to interfere with Gerris Drinkwater’s commentary on the loudspeaker. She’s always been very clever at Charms.
A cry goes up; there’s a general rustle of movement within the stands and everyone turns towards the north side of the pitch. Sansa quickly enlarges Jeyne’s binoculars so that they can both look through them. Sam gasps. Loras and Jon are going neck and neck, arms stretched forward towards the tiny gold blur that Sansa can see. She starts screaming out encouragement alongside her friends. Ygritte acts quickly; a Bludger that might have gone towards preventing another one of Dacey’s goals is quickly intercepted, and sent hurtling towards Jon instead.
The two Seekers collide into one of the flags, tangling themselves in the fabric, the Bludger missing its target by just a fraction. Sansa holds her breath with the rest of the school, biting her lip in anticipation. It’s not until the mass of red and gold erupts around her that she realises that the hand that emerges from the wreckage, grasping the tiny, wriggling Snitch, is Jon’s.
“You have me for five minutes,” Sansa whispers into Margaery’s neck after the match, arms wrapped tight around her. The Hufflepuff locker room is deserted, and Loras stands just outside the door. The sounds of the Gryffindors celebrating can be heard from within, and Sansa’s siblings will be waiting for her up in the castle, as Margaery’s Herbology Club will be waiting for her.
Margaery kisses her cheek, and then the other.
“And more later, I hope.”
“A lot more,” Sansa promises. It feels nice, being held like this. Margaery is only a year older than her, but something about being in her arms can be so comforting. She smells like rosehips and azaleas and good, clean soil, and her presence creates a cocoon that nothing can penetrate: no noise, no words, no space.
“I was watching your sister,” Margaery says, rubbing the small of her back. “You must be proud.”
“Very,” Sansa confesses with a grin. “Her first year on the team, and she’s doing so well… Robb and Jon should have let her audition in First Year like she wanted to, rules be damned.”
“Don’t tell Loras you said that,” Margaery teases. “He quite likes being the only student in a century to play for his House for all seven years of his life here.”
Sansa smiles, glancing towards the door. “I’ll have to tell him how grateful I am for this.”
Margaery traces the swoop of one of her cheeks.
“He already knows.”
They stand together in a loose embrace for a few more minutes, gathering strength from touch, until it’s time for them to leave.
Sansa’s study group meets for four hours in the library every Saturday at one o’clock sharp. She spends as much time with the Gryffindors as she is able to — asking Bran about his classes, replaying Arya’s most spectacular goals with her — before she leaves to meet them. She, Sam and Alayaya make a detour with Jeyne Poole to the Hufflepuff common room so she can gather her books, before hurrying to the Ravenclaw Tower to collect their own.
The whispers follow them on the way, and remain to nest uncomfortably around their little group.
She should have expected as much, she supposes. Their group is made up of fellow Fifth Year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs who will be sitting their OWLs with Sansa in May, and a few zealous Fourth Years who wish to prepare themselves in advance. Sansa is only friendly with about half of them, and the other half are mostly an unknown entity.
This afternoon, they make themselves known.
“I’m sorry,” Dareon Minster says as there are going over their History of Magic notes, memorising which Targaryen killed which in the Dance of Dragons, which families perished in the Doom. The table is a large, circular one, and each eye around it is soon trained on him. Sansa immediately goes on guard. “This may be none of my business—”
“It probably isn’t,” Alayaya murmurs, adjusting her glasses.
“—but I honestly feel honour-bound to mention that your family doesn’t very much like the Lannisters.”
Sansa’s grip on her quill tightens, and she stares at Dareon. His handsome face wears a careless, but curious expression. No matter that she had expected this; his gall is still a slap to the face.
“Just in case you’d forgotten, I mean,” he drawls. “Starks and Lannisters get along as much as Gryffindors and Slytherins. Not surprising, with what it’s rumoured the Lannisters are up to these days, and your family being such a model of honour and goodness. Now, given that your last tryst with a Lannister didn’t end well, and given that anyone who knows anything knows that Mace Tyrell’s been attempting to crawl into whatever orifice Tywin Lannister will let him, and given that Slytherins are Slytherins… well, I just think that some of your recent decisions are very strange, and not just in the, ah, obvious ways.”
Sansa’s hand is shaking by the time he finishes, still looking so cool and unaffected.
Jojen Reed’s quiet voice cuts through the silence.
“Perhaps we should just concentrate on studying,” he says.
“Um… yes,” Sam agrees. His mild tone belies the consternation in his eyes as he glances at Dareon.
“Perhaps Dareon should just jump into the lake with all the other scum.” This snapped remark comes from Jeyne, to the general surprise of all. It is followed by a few murmurs of agreement. Sansa, through her anger, throws a grateful look at her friend. She hasn’t had a chance to speak to her about any of this yet. “And keep his nose out of what doesn’t concern him.”
Dareon leans back, raising his palms. He addresses Sansa still.
“No need to get so defensive. I’m rendering you a service; everything that I’ve said to your face is what the entire school is whispering behind your back, or thinking to themselves.” He shrugs. “I thought you should know.”
Sansa continues to look at him. He’s a Ravenclaw in her year, and she doesn’t know much else about him, but this has told her enough. He doesn’t want her thanks. He wants to see how she reacts.
“You’re right,” Sansa speaks up.
She feels the shift as their classmates turn to look at her.
“It is strange,” she continues in her politest tones. “All the things they say about the Lannister stock, and yet Tommen Baratheon is one of the sweetest children I’ve ever met. All the things they say about Slytherin darkness, and yet Margaery outshines everyone in this school. All the things they say about Ravenclaws and our brains, and yet… you.”
Jeyne gives a little snort.
“I don’t care for your invasive assumptions, and I don’t care what you think,” she goes on. “We’re all here to prepare for our exams. If you’re not interested in doing that, maybe you should be elsewhere.”
It is not an outburst; it is delivered precisely and calmly. Alayaya does not bother hiding her laughter, and Trystane raises an eyebrow pointedly. Dareon glances around the table, and his smile curves even wider than before. Jeyne actually looks like she wants to hit him, but he rises from his seat before she can, and gives a mock bow.
“I can see I’ve caused an upset. You must accept my sincerest apologies. I’ll take my leave.”
He takes his time departing, careful to gather up all of his books and things. As he does, Sansa takes another look around their table, and the ones close to them. Some seem pleased to see him go; others are carefully neutral. Dareon had been right about more than just one thing. Other people are thinking about it, talking about it, whispering of it, and it isn’t going to stop here.
Margaery won’t be in the Great Hall for dinner, owing to another one of her many extracurricular activities. With that incentive gone, Sansa finds herself not of a mood to bear another moment of the constant murmur, the overwhelming droning buzz of words. Instead, she sees herself down to the lake, to sit by their tree.
She breathes, deeply. The night air is crisp and biting, and for the first time today, she is alone.
Alone, she can give herself over to the feelings that have been clawing gently at her interior for the past twelve hours. She’s been keeping this secret about herself for almost two years, with only Margaery to share it with over the past ten months or so. It gives her a ghastly sort of chill to know that it is out now, and there is no taking it back. The girl she sits next to in Muggle Studies, the rowdy students she deducts points from for duelling in the halls, the sweet-smelling castle caretaker with his powdered cheeks and quiet feet: by now, they all know.
It is a hard fact to swallow.
Sansa thinks of her parents, stern and kind and fair, tries to imagine what their faces will be like when she tells them. It’s even harder, to envision crossing that bridge.
But things have gone smoothly with her friends, better than she would have thought. Her siblings think no differently of her. Perhaps it will be the same with them. Her parents are not like Balon Greyjoy, who had all but disowned Theon after the Sorting Hat had placed him in Gryffindor, or like Sam’s father, who is the reason he spends the summers with a family in Hogsmeade, or Rickard Karstark, who had reportedly forbidden Alys to see anyone outside of Ravenclaw. They’ll understand. She’ll tell them everything there is to know about Margaery, and they’re sure to understand.
She doesn’t remain alone for long, and did not very much expect to. Before the sun has finished setting, Robb, Jon, Arya and Bran come marching down the path, bearing dinner in napkins and small goblets. Sansa smiles.
“We thought you could use the company,” Bran says, grinning, and Sansa beckons them closer, making room.
Robb lifts Bran out of his chair, and Sansa finds a linen square that she charms into a cloth several times its size. They settle themselves onto it to eat, making quick work of the sandwiches, fruits and pies as they talk and laugh. It’s as if they’re home again, sitting around the family table. Sansa finds herself giggling as Bran levitates a grape into Jon’s ear, and teases Robb about Jeyne Westerling. When all of the food is done, Arya takes a squashed packet out of her robes and thrusts it at Sansa. A slice of lemon pie.
She grins, even as Arya tries to dodge the kiss that she smacks onto her cheek, and knows that these are the people that matter.
Afterwards, as they head back up the path to the castle, Jon falls in step with her.
“I heard about the library,” he says quietly, shaking his hair out of his eyes. “And the Great Hall, this morning.”
Sansa sighs, and doesn’t even have to guess. “Sam.”
Jon nods. “He knew you probably wouldn’t tell us until much later.”
She can’t argue with that.
“Are you going to lecture me for being rash?” she asks.
He’s smiling that enigmatic little smile of his, and Sansa sees the twinkle in his solemn grey eyes.
“No. I just wanted to say that it was very brave.”
There’s only a half an hour to wait until seven thirty, but it seems like ages to Sansa. She gets ready as soon as she gets back to the Fifth Year dorm, brushing her hair and putting on a pretty Muggle dress for no other reason than the fact that she likes the way it looks. She runs her hands over the light blue cotton and the silver embellishments, and knows that Margaery will like it too.
At seven twenty sharp, she starts heading towards the seventh floor of the castle. The hallways are near empty, and it is easy to pass unseen up the different levels. Her only witness, in fact, is the Grey Lady, who comes floating round a corner and advises Sansa to take a different route.
“Peeves,” she says by way of explanation, and Sansa thanks her, turning back the way she came.
On the seventh floor, she says hello to Barnabas before quickly completing the necessary steps. It had been Margaery who’d told her about the Room. They know that other students know of its existence, and certainly the teachers, and thus try not to use it too often. But tonight, there is a need.
The door opens onto a simple, cosy room. There are vases full of roses in every corner, and pictures on the walls that depict the Starks, the Tyrells, even a life-sized portrait of Lady. Sansa returns her parents’ gentle nod and warm smile before turning towards the only piece of furniture in the room. Margaery sits on the far end of the settee, her curls all in a tangle and a high flush on her cheeks. She beams when she sees Sansa, and pats her thigh.
It’s the greatest relief in the world to curl up on the couch next to her, drape an arm around her waist, rest her head in the softness of her lap. Margaery’s fingers immediately start combing her hair through, raking from root to tip, and Sansa feels a kiss being pressed onto her crown.
“Hello,” she says. It’s muffled by Margaery’s skirts.
“Hello.” Her fingers rub at Sansa’s temples. “You look lovely.”
Sansa blushes, as if on command.
“Thank you. So do you.”
Margaery’s laugh peals off of the walls. “Liar. You’ve barely looked at me since you came in. Elsewise you’d have seen that I have twigs in my hair and dirt on my cheeks.”
Sansa has to turn over at that, twisting and shuffling so that her head rests against the arm of the settee. She looks up at the other girl. Every time their eyes meet, it’s as if planets are aligning, bells are ringing, and everything is falling into place.
“You always look lovely though,” Sansa says when she remembers to speak. Margaery grins sweetly, and leans down to kiss Sansa’s forehead, then her chin, then her cheeks, and finally her mouth, slow and warm and thorough.
“Flatterer,” Margaery says against her lips.
“I prefer charmer,” Sansa shoots back, and presses up against her again for a quick peck that soon becomes several quick pecks. It’s easy to get comfortable here; it’s warm and safe and feels like home. It is, she supposes, the nature of the Room. It’s a little different every time they come, but it’s always perfect.
“I’d forgotten what it was like to be surrounded by silence for a bit,” Sansa muses, lacing her hand in Margaery’s.
“You’ll have a hard time forgetting again; I think we’ll be here quite often now. And I’m sorry, again, about losing us the greenhouses. I should’ve known that Professor Reed would’ve wanted to make up for those classes that he lost when he was ill.”
Sansa shushes her, kissing her hand.
“There was no way for you to know that. Besides, now that everyone knows… we’ll adjust.”
Margaery runs her hand over Sansa’s hair, a smile touching the corners of her lips.
“I suppose we shall.” She stretches across the couch to reach into her satchel, and pulls out a Chocolate Frog that she hands to Sansa. “How was it today?”
“It went… about as well as we imagined.” The card that Sansa pulls out of the wrapper is a grinning Godric Gryffindor. She hands it off to Margaery; she has enough of her own. “I’m used to people having things to say about me behind my back. It wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t new.” She pauses. “Neither was the scene in the Great Hall, I suppose.”
“I heard about that.” Margaery is back to trailing the fingers of her free hand through Sansa’s hair. Her voice is placid enough, but Sansa hears the steel beneath it. “Did I not frighten him enough the last time, do you think?”
Sansa kisses her knuckles again, dipping between the bones.
“You terrified him.” She’d terrified most of the Slytherins in her year, really. No one knew exactly what had put Joffrey in the infirmary last year, but many guessed who was to blame, if no one dared point a finger. “I don’t think he could’ve helped himself today, though. None of them could.”
“They should learn how to.” Sansa offers her a feebly kicking frog leg, and Margaery leans over to accept it between her teeth. “I can’t tell you how many people in this school think themselves experts on my life, my family tree and my father’s doings.”
Sansa chews her frog thoughtfully, and can’t quite control the curiosity that steals over her face. Her father has been on everyone’s lips. Margaery smiles.
“Aren’t you going to ask me what he’s really getting up to?”
“I only want to know if you’d like to tell me,” Sansa replies truthfully.
“Well… I can tell you that my father is doing exactly as my grandmother instructs him, and I can tell you that my grandmother has no love for Tywin Lannister.”
The sense of it clicks in Sansa’s head the moment she says it. It will, of course, have something to do with the newly empty seat on the Wizengamot. Mace Tyrell wants it (and his mother wants him to have it) and Tywin Lannister can help get it for him. Having a daughter in Slytherin certainly helps, and if it is for her family, Margaery will do anything.
Sansa squeezes her hand, and nods to show her understanding.
“That’s what most of them seem to be talking about, you know,” Margaery continues, sounding wry. “Our families and our Houses. Barely a mention of the fact that we’re both girls.”
“I don’t care what they’re talking about,” Sansa replies at once, and realises that that is also true. The whispers are nothing new, and they can do no more to hurt her now. Words are only words, and she’s not alone with her secret anymore. She has Margaery. “I only care about you, and my brothers, and my sister, and my parents, and my friends, and you.”
She kisses a knuckle for each item on the list. Margaery truly has the brightest smile; she bares it now as she leans down to seal the declaration with a kiss of her own. Her hair falls over her face and into Sansa’s, and the brown mixes seamlessly with the red.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Sansa asks, parting them just by a hairbreadth. “I want you all to myself.”
“You shall have me.” Margaery wipes away a smudge of chocolate from her upper lip. “What do you intend to do with me?”
The thought thrills Sansa.
“I want to have a picnic,” she decides. “Spend the afternoon by our tree on the lake.”
“That sounds absolutely romantic.” Margaery kisses her forehead once again. “Are you sure, though? The weather’s going to be fine, and there’s sure to be people about.”
“I don’t care,” Sansa says again. It becomes truer with each telling. “Let them talk.”