Fate, or whatever higher power had control of these things, really had it in for Susan Ivanova. Since their first year at Hogwarts she and Talia Winters had been pushed together time and time again despite Susan’s best attempts at trying to avoid her.
It had started in their first year potions lessons where they’d been assigned as partners. She cursed Garibaldi’s luck, he’d been paired with Delenn, the Ravenclaw witch who was, even then, the cleverest in the year. Garibaldi, to his credit, quickly recognised his luck and spent the rest of the term obediently following all of Delenn’s instructions. Even John had lucked out by being paired with Lennier who was inquisitive, committed and talented in potions.
Why couldn’t she have been paired with any one of them? But no. She had been paired with Talia. Talia who wore her Gryffindor pride like a badge and whose wide vulnerable eyes and sunshiny demeanour were almost as off putting as her persistent desire to become Susan’s friend.
Admittedly, in the end, they’d done well in potions. After a few rather tense lessons they’d fallen into a pattern that seemed to work, sarcastic, slightly antagonistic with a dash of begrudging respect, and it stuck with them, colouring their interactions for years.
Luck, or whatever, had been on Susan’s side in the second year where they’d managed to stay out of each other’s way for the most part. Third year was when the luck ran out. Everywhere she looked there seem to be the swish of blond hair, pouting lips and blue eyes. First off there was Charms where, because of Londo and fellow Slytherins who’d sat at the back snickering, there had been an enforced seating plan. And where was Susan? On a two people desk right next to Talia, with nowhere to run. (It was also right at the front of the classroom to add insult to injury.) Talia had just smiled and made some comment about how nice it would be. How infuriating.
Next had come divination class. A stupid class in all respects in Susan’s opinion. Made worse by having to try and see Talia’s future in the bottom of a tea cup where mostly she saw only wet brown leaves in the shape of wet brown leaves. And made even worse still as Talia seemed to excel, if anyone could be said to truly excel at making up the future, and the professor lavished her with praise when she said anything vague and mysterious. She would become quietly serious, her lips would turn down softly and her glassy eyes would lose focus, when she stared at the tea leaves or into the crystal ball. She would always say something promising about Susan’s future using words like happiness, honour and love with the hint of a smile on her lips. It was so unendingly annoying.
And it wasn’t just inside the classroom. Oh no. It seemed Talia was everywhere. Susan had quickly impressed the Slytherin Quidditch team with her beater skills, she may have been the best bludger in the school but that alone couldn’t quite push the Slytherin team to the top. All four houses had brilliant teams, John Sheridan was the new Gryffindor seeker, swift and sure, Garibaldi snagged the Hufflepuff keeper position and G’Kar was the determined Ravenclaw chaser. Despite the intense competition a rare camaraderie grew up across the teams. They spent time together off the pitch joking and teasing and though Susan appreciated the new friendships they came with a downside. By the third year friendships began to truly cross the house divide but you never forget those who you shared those first exhilarating moments of stepping into your common room with. So naturally the quidditch players brought some of the house friends with them. G’kar was often accompanied by Delenn or Stephen, Garibaldi and Lennier were almost inseparable, she often brought Na’Toth and occasionally (much against her will) Londo, while John, without fail, brought Talia who seemed to have only increased her determination to be Susan’s friend since their Divination encounters.
The next two years passed in much the same fashion. She and Talia kept being pushed together, maybe she even softened, and it almost became something of a game between them. O.W.L.S were passed, quidditch matches were won and lost, N.E.W.T.S came and went with headaches and tears, the Quidditch cup passed from Slytherin (who’d bagged an amazing third year win) to Gryffindor, to Hufflepuff and back to Gryffindor again. Prefect badges were handed out and Talia now wore hers with a grin that Susan might have found endearing if it wasn’t maddening.
So now, with sixth year in full swing she shouldn’t have been surprised to see Talia where she least expected but as Susan snuck back through the darkened corridors, broom stick in hand, her head was in the game. She’d been putting in a little late night practice, the captain was the core of the team after all, and they needed to beat Gryffindor this weekend if they wanted to take back the Quidditch cup. She was tired and cranky and had a stupid charms test bright and early tomorrow.
“Tut, tut, tut.” A figure stepped out of the shadows into Susan’s path. She flinched with surprise; she hadn’t expected to see anyone else wandering the school at this hour but once she realised who it was she tried to hide her shock with a grumpy huff. Talia stood in front of her, grinning widely, blocking her way back to the dungeon.
“Well, Captain Ivanova? What do you have to say for yourself? Wandering the school at night.” The corners of Talia’s plum red lips curled into a smirk.
“You’re out of bed too Talia.” She crossed her arms and hated how childish she sounded. She wasn’t in the mood for their games right now. Everything about Talia was apparently more annoying in the moon light. From her red and gold Gryffindor tie pinned with her glinting prefect badge, to how soft her blonde hair looked as it fell around her face and the way the v’s in her surname sounded as they rolled off her tongue. It was also interesting and compelling and kind of weirdly perfect...just downright irritating! “Now if you don’t mind I’d rather not get caught.” She said as she pushed Talia’s shoulder with her own, barging past. Talia didn’t say anything but Susan could hear her soft laughter fading into the darkness as she stalked back to her dormitory.
“Out of bed at night Talia?” A voice teased as she climbed through the portrait into the Gryffindor common room. She ignored the comment and slumped into the arm chair opposite her friend in front of the fire.
“Oh as if you don’t sneak out to Ravenclaw tower all the time.”
John blushed but said nothing. John and Delenn thought they were really sneaky but Talia had never witnessed anything less subtle in her whole life. She wished her friends happiness, they both deserved it, and if that meant pretending that she didn’t realise they were obviously in love then so be it. She let the subject drop.
“So who were you seeing then?”
“Oh, I see. You’re allowed to pry into my life?” She pouted.
“It’s for your own good,” John chuckled lightly at her petulant expression, “We all know your track record.”
Talia groaned and put her hands to her face in shame. She would never live that whole Matt Stoner thing down.
“It was Ivanova.” She said through her fingers.
John laughed, louder this time, and when she pulled her hands back from her face her pout had been replaced by a sneaky smile and he could tell she was pretty pleased with herself. He would never understand those two, always skirting around each other, getting on each other’s nerves. Susan was a hell of a Quidditch captain though, and a good person, so he wouldn’t interfere with whatever game they were playing. “You certainly know how to pick ‘em.”
When Susan finally got back to the Slytherin common room things didn’t get much better. A hush fell over the few other students who were sat around on the sofas and typically Londo was sat in the middle, holding court, orchestrating whatever trouble was going on. Always up to no good. “Susan!” He beamed in a way that told Susan he was hiding something, well that and the fact he was always hiding something as well as his pointless attempts to conceal a small black notepad they’d all been gawking at only moments ago.
“Londo, what are you up to?” She said as she stalked towards him.
The other Slytherins got out of her way. “Me? I’m not doing anything.” Londo raised his hands in mock defense causing the notepad to fall to the floor. Susan was quick to snatch it before he could retrieve it. She flicked open the pages, it was a betting book, and one page caught her eye: When will Susan Invanova and Talia Winters finally get together? Underneath in Londo’s scrawled handwriting were a list of familiar and unfamiliar names followed by odds, dates and bets.
“Urgh!” She exclaimed. “What is this?” She shook the little book in the air.
“It is just a silly little game.” He tried first but reworked his tactics once he realised the look on her face wasn’t softening. “I can get you some good odds if you want to place a bet?”
“You are the worst. And gross.” She stormed off to her dormitory taking the little notebook with her.
“Don’t worry,” He said as soon as Susan was out of earshot, “I’ve got a back up. Betting can continue tomorrow!” He proclaimed with glee.
After classes the next day Susan had decided to take a walk in the grounds. Clear her head and maybe take her mind off that awful charms test. She rounded the corner to the greenhouses when she saw someone sat on the low stone wall with a few books stacked next to them. Of course, it was Talia. She thought about quickly back tracking and avoiding the blond but she felt a little bad about her attitude last night, they’d been getting on well (for them anyway) in the last few weeks.
“Hey.” She said almost awkwardly standing behind Talia who faced out onto the lawns.
Talia’s head spun quickly to see who had come to disturb her but a smile spread across her lips when she saw Susan. “Hey.” She replied brightly. “Listen,” She said softly before Susan could speak, “I’m sorry about bothering you last night.”
“That’s OK, I was just in a bad mood.” Talia laughed lightly and in that moment it wasn’t annoying it was just...Susan tried not to think about what it actually was. It could only lead to badness.
“Well, you seem to be in a better mood now.” She replied and popped a Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean into her mouth with none of the apprehension most people had.
“Well,” Susan looked at the stack of books, “I will leave you to it.”
“No, stay.” Talia said too quickly. “I was just doing a bit of reading, it’s sometimes nice to get away from all the noise, but I could do with some company?” She patted the space on the wall next to her with her gloved hand and a hopeful look on her face.
Susan weighed it up in her mind, “Okay.” She said trying to make it sound more begrudging than it was and climbed on to the wall next to Talia. They sat in silence for a few moments while Talia stared at her box of every flavour beans. “What are you doing exactly?” Susan asked.
“I’m getting really good at predicting what flavour is what.” She looked up briefly from the box but then continued to concentrate.
“You know that isn’t a thing right?” Amusement coloured her words.
“Shhhh,” She dismissed Susan’s disbelief and pulled a single bean from the box. “Here, this one is apple pie and custard, that’s your favourite isn't it?” She passed the sweet to Susan.
Susan was surprised that the other witch would know her favourite flavour bean but took it anyway, “Yea it is, are you sure you can tell the flavour?” Talia nodded eagerly and Susan could see that she believed so she put the bean in her mouth and bit down. “Urghhh.” She poked her tongue out of her mouth in disgust and the half chewed bean fell to the floor. “That was dirty sock flavour!!”
“Noo!” Talia responded eyes wide with shocked disappointment. “I thought I was getting really good at that.”
Susan grimaced again screwing up her face, the sock flavour was still strong in her mouth, and Talia laughed loudly. Susan scowled at her, “I’m sorry, it’s just those ones are really gross and your face...” She said breathlessly in defence of her laughter. Susan really looked at her then her blond hair was poking out from under her red woolly hat, her cheeks had coloured pink with the cold and her blue eyes alight with amusement. Susan realised the nasty taste of smelly socks that would linger in her mouth for hours was absolutely worth it to be able to see Talia like this when no one else could.
“Predicting the bean flavour is still not a thing that you can learn to do though.” She said indignantly half looking at Talia out of the corner of her eye but trying to appear as if she was looking out into the distance.
“You never know what might happen.” Talia replied lightly bumping her should into Susan’s in an echo of last night but where last night Susan pushed with annoyance this afternoon they bounced with friendship.
What Susan would appreciate right now is someone wise to talk to. She’d sat out in the cold on that damn wall for hours with Talia until the darkness began to settle in and all the sweets were gone. She hadn’t seen Talia at all since then, that had been two days ago, but she’d been on her mind constantly. But instead of her usual grumpy annoyance or begrudging acceptance all she could think about was the way Talia smiled and how warm she had seemed in the cool night air. She stomped up the stairs to the astronomy tower, taking two steps at a time, she knew exactly who would be able to say the right thing. She heard shuffling and a noise, halting her ascent she listened carefully. It sounded like...whispering and giggling?
She slowly continued on, careful not to make too much sound, and rounded the corner. Sat on the window ledge were John and Delenn utterly caught up in each other. Delenn smiling softly and John apparently mesmerised by a curl of dark hair. Susan could have been a troll on the rampage and they wouldn’t have noticed her arrival. Susan coughed.
Two pairs of eyes looked at her with shock as they quickly put some distance between themselves. John’s face coloured with blush and Delenn looked to the floor but was unable to hide her smile.
“Susan...uhh...” John said awkwardly, “We were...” He struggled to find a convincing excuse.
“Discussing astronomy.” Delenn added helpfully.
“Yes. Astronomy.” He agreed and cast Delenn a lovelorn look.
Susan rolled her eyes. “Okaaay.” She said unconvinced but really it was none of her business. “Uh, I didn’t mean to intrude but I was hoping to get some advice Delenn?”
“Oh,” John realised he wasn’t a necessary element in obtaining such advice, “That’s OK, I was just heading off."
He caught Delenn’s eyes one last time and she said, “We can carry on discussing the stars later, yes?”
“Definitely.” He said with a grin heading off to leave the two girls on the stairs.
“So, Susan,” Delenn sat back in the window ledge, “What can I help you with?”
Susan shuffled her feet and wrung her hands together suddenly acutely aware of what a bad idea this was. What was she supposed to say? Oh I think I just realised I like someone but I have spent most of our time together being snippy and unnecessarily ambivalent towards her.
“It is about Talia.”
Susan’s eyebrows rose in surprise, there was no pint in denying it now. “Well, yeah, kind of.” She offered weakly.
“There is no kind of about it.” Delenn said smiling with certainty.
“I guess, it’s just I think I...” She tried to find the right word.
“You like her more than you pretend.” Delenn filled the gaps.
Susan shrugged her shoulders but nodded. “Maybe a lot more.”
Delenn smiled broadly at the confession and tilted her head sagely. “Then what is the problem?”
“Well...” She started but couldn’t finish. What was the problem? Delenn didn’t helpfully fill in the blanks where Susan couldn’t this time, she just sat and looked at her friend serenely. “Well, I haven’t been, exactly, always, the most easy person to be around but Talia she always smiles when I say something that’s maybe a bit too mean, you know? And I don’t mean to hurt her feelings I just didn’t want to let her in, or let anybody in. It’s because I’m Russian. We can’t just let people into our lives here, there and everywhere. People will get the wrong idea. But she’s persistent, she always seems to be around just smiling and looking at me with her stupid blue eyes and being so goddamn understanding. If only I was the boy Papa had wished for and gone to Drumstrang! I could have avoided all this ridiculousness. But I didn’t. And here I am. What if I’ve pushed too far and what if it’s too late for me to realise and for her...” It all came out in a rush but she paused before she finished, vulnerability slipping into her voice, “To like me back?”
For a moment Delenn only continued to smile until she added. “Talia does not bottle up her emotions in the same way as you Susan. All you need to do is remember her expression when she looks at you to know that she will take you friendship, or your love, in whatever way she can get it. I think that it is not too late at all.”
Susan felt relief and something else, hot and warm and tingling wash over her.
Susan ran up to Talia and tapped her on the back after finally locating her in the north corridor after a brief stop at the dungeons. “Have you got a minute?” She said a little out of breath.
“Of course.” Talia replied and told the group of Gryffindor girls she was with that she’d catch them up later. Without explaining herself further Susan slipped her hand into Talia’s and pulled her back along the corridor causing the blond witch to let out a little squeak of surprise but she followed willingly.
They reached their destination and Susan halted quickly outside the door, “Come in here.” She said scouting around to see if anyone was paying them any attention.
“Susan, I think that’s just a cupboard.” Talia scrunched her face up in confusion.
“I know.” She said opening the door and encouraging Talia in with a hand on the small of her back. Once they were both inside Susan took out her wand. “Lumos.” She recited the spell softly illuminating the old stationary supply cupboard. The space was cramped and the stood agonizingly close together. “I brought you something.” Susan said after what seemed like minutes of silence. Talia furrowed her brow in interest as Susan dug around in her robe pockets. Finally pulling out a box of Bertie’s beans she presented them to Talia, “I thought maybe you could give picking out my favourite another go.” She said earnestly and Talia grinned at her, taking the box of sweets eagerly. It was just like Delenn said, the look on Talia’s face, and Susan’s heart sped up just a little bit faster.
Talia opened the box and carefully studied the contents. Humming gently in concentration. Susan couldn’t handle it any longer. “Wait.” Talia’s eyes shot up shining brightly with apprehension in the warm light of Susan’s wand. “I just...” She attempted words but they died on her tongue. Screw it, she thought. Why not just jump in? She leant forward slowly, keeping her eyes on Talia’s red lips, letting her know she was serious, and kissed her. The kiss was gentle at first as Susan stroked her thumb across Talia’s cheek but Talia deepened it when she roughly tangled her hand in Susan’s hair. Not one to be outdone, even in this department, Susan grasped Talia’s slim waist with her free hand pulling their bodies impossibly close.
When they finally emerged from the cupboard the corridor was empty but as they walked away Susan caught sight of Londo’s smirking face peeping round the corner making little marks in his stupid black notebook. Right now, with Talia’s hand in her own, she couldn’t bring herself to care but later she’d make him pay.