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Strange Girls

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Audrey Stone, as well as her sisters - Paige, Lillian, and Elizabeth Stone - had always been under the impression they were quite normal.

Audrey was the eldest of four. Born in July of 1976, with a sister two years younger than her (Paige) and another sister five years younger than her (Lillian) and a youngest sister (Elizabeth) who was born when Audrey was seven years old. They grew up in the suburbs of London and lived in a fairly nice house. Audrey and Paige often joined their grandmother for lunch in a tiny café on Saturdays, eventually accompanied by Lillian when she was old enough. In fact, they spent a large portion of their time with their grandmother - but never at their grandmothers' house, because both she and her mom insisted that she visit them, and never the other way around.

Their mother, by the time Audrey was old enough to form an impression of her, was a frail, beautiful woman who aged rather gracefully. She was very tall, with long, dark skin and hair and eyes, and a smattering of faded freckles on her cheeks. Their father was a short, gangly man with a permanent blush and very pale skin. Audrey could remember a time when his hair was a very vibrant red color, but by the time Audrey was ten it was fading to blond and thinning. He always seemed to be perpetually confused about one thing or another, and he always dressed a little more than casual.

For the most part, all four of the sisters took after their mother. Audrey had dark brown hair that fell to her middle back, which tended to act very funny in humid weather. She had a prominent bridge of freckles over her shoulders and across her nose - and on that nose sat quite large, rounded glasses. Her eyes were a pretty dark brown and her skin was dark like her mothers. By the time she was ten she was already very tall. Paige's hair was much shorter, stopping at her shoulders, and was never not tangled. When she was much younger her hair was lighter, but faded to dark brown as she grew. Her face, arms, and legs were scattered with freckles, and her skin was lighter than Audrey's by a few shades. Her eyes were hazel, and she too was very tall. Lillian had straight, dark hair that reached her middle back, though it was just about always plated. Her skin was light and she had pretty brown eyes and a rather frail figure. She had no freckles on her face and she was tall, like her mother. Elizabeth's hair fell to her shoulders and was always frizzy no matter what anyone did to try and help it. Even being so young, she had tons of freckles, and it was obvious she would not grow to be as tall as any of her siblings - perhaps the only thing she had in common with her mother was her dark skin and her deep brown eyes.

Audrey personally felt she belonged to the best family in the whole world. Her grandmother visited them so often she didn't even feel like an extended member of the family - just a member. She did wonderful in school - which her dad was very proud of. Her mother always had a different sort of look on her face when she told her what she'd done at school, but she voiced her happiness and pride nonetheless. Every winter she and her sisters had an annual snowball fight in the backyard and afterwards her mum would always light a fire and make apple cider.

She never once thought it, but it was an unspoken given - this was what normal looked like. Felt like. Audrey was very happy with this routine.

Audrey's birthday was in the summer.

Audrey's eleventh birthday was when normal fell apart.

It did not happen right away - in fact, she had a very wonderful birthday. No, the day itself - July 16th - was not really the problem. It was just the age. Eleven. She wouldn't have had much a problem with it, if it weren't for what happened next.

Early one morning in late July, her mother stood clutching the post by the door; she visibly shook.

Her father was awake - he was sat in the living room reading. Elizabeth was awake - she sat next to her father on the couch, chewing on something; she was only four. He did not notice, thus did not take it out of her mouth. Lillian was awake - she was sat on the floor in front of the couch, looking slightly dazed as she clutched a glass of orange juice and stared at nothing. School was to be starting soon, and she had to get used to the feeling of waking early. Paige was in the process of waking - she rolled in her bed, trying to savor the last few minutes before somebody told her to get up, because she was supposed to be waking earlier.

Her mother walked gracefully into the living room; she showed no sign of distress, "Is Audrey awake?" she asked, before her eyes landed on Elizabeth, with God knows what in her mouth.

"Probably." Her husband answered simply, turning the page in his book. When a moment passed with no response or movement from his wife, he glanced up, only to find her eyes fixed on Elizabeth. He finally took notice of his daughter, closing his book and moving to pull what she was chewing on out of her mouth, "What's that you've got?" he asked absently, as Elizabeth refused to give up the mystery item.

"A thank you letter from Jared," her mother said without hesitation; her grip ever so slightly tightened on the envelope, "From his birthday party last week."

"Ah," her father said, finally managing to wrestle the item - a pen cap - out of his youngest daughters mouth; he threw it to the side, "She's probably in her room." He said, reopening his book.

She left the living room without another word, walking quietly up the stairs and trying not to let her breath catch in her throat. She knocked lightly on her eldest daughters' door, before opening it and peaking inside.

Audrey was awake and dressed, getting ready to come downstairs when her mother opened the door. She held the envelope in her hand very close to her as she stepped into the room and closed the door; after a moment's hesitation, she locked it.

With this action she had Audrey's full attention; she sat down on her bed and stared at her mother, "What's wrong? Did someone die?"

"No, no..." her mother said gently, "Nobody's died..." she looked unsure as she made her way to Audrey's bed, sitting down in front of her, "I have something for you, Audrey." She said, and Audrey looked uneasily at the envelope, "Perhaps you should read it for yourself." Her mother said, handing her the letter and folding her hands in her lap.

...

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore

Dear Mrs. Stone,

We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July.

Yours Sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

...

Audrey smiled at the letter, and then up at her mom, "This is cute."

Her mother didn't smile back, "It's not supposed to be cute." She said gently, "It's real."

...

Audrey woke early the next morning and got dressed. She didn't turn the lights on, as she didn't want anyone else to know she was up. She hadn't exactly been in the very best mood since yesterday morning, when her mother had tried and tried and tried to explain to her what the letter meant and Audrey had gotten more and more confused and frustrated as she insisted that it couldn't be real and her mother insisted that it was. And finally the light bulb in Audrey's room had burst and they'd both started so bad it made her mother dizzy and it put Audrey even more on edge.

"We will go to see your grandmother tomorrow morning - early. Then you will see." Her mother had said very simply, before leaving Audrey alone with the letter in her room until dinner.

Audrey had eaten in her room.

As she was brushing her teeth, someone tapped on the bathroom door; Audrey stiffened, but it was just her mom. She smiled very faintly at her from the doorway, "Are you almost ready?" she asked; Audrey nodded, spitting into the sink and rinsing it out.

"Great. Come on down. Grandmum's gonna take you to breakfast - we need to get going." Her mother left, and she could hear her walking down the stairs. Audrey rinsed her mouth out and turned the bathroom light off, stopping in her room to grab the letter off her desk and going downstairs, meeting her mother at the door.

The sun had hardly risen as they got in the car and began to drive. Audrey sat with the letter in her hands, staring at the broken seal and picking at it. They sat in silence for nearly an hour, until finally her mother spoke softly, "You're grandmother's going to be so proud." She said, glancing at Audrey before letting his eyes flicker back to the road; they shined, but in a very strange way. Like she wanted to be happy but she was scared, "I know I'm very proud. I hadn't expected any one of you girls to be witches - what with your dad being a muggle and me being a squib. But I'm very, very happy you've gotten into Hogwarts, dear," she rested a hand on her eldest daughters knee, and although her smile was thin, it was genuine; "I just know you're going to be a wonderful witch."

Audrey could hardly comprehend what she was saying - she hadn't the faintest idea what a "muggle" was, and she was almost certain it wasn't a word. She'd definitely never heard the word muggle tossed around - maybe it was a swear? But then why would her mother be calling her dad such a thing?

They spoke not one more word for the rest of the ride - but thankfully the rest of the ride wasn't very long at all. An hour and a half out of London until they finally turned down a long, winding dirt road that seemed to lead nowhere - until in the distance she saw a tiny, wooden house that hardly seemed to be standing. Audrey sat up in her seat, peering at it, when she suddenly realized she had never once been to her grandmother's house.

"Is that where she lives?" she asked in a very small voice.

"Yes," her mother sounded very happy, "This is where I grew up."

...

Her mother shoved the door open forcefully, and the sound of many things knocking over resonated from within the tiny house, "Whoops," her mother said, ushering Audrey through the door before stepping inside herself.

Audrey's eyes went wide at the site of the houses interior. Strange things she'd never seen before were everywhere. There were no lights she could see, only candles burned down to their last breath - and books, so many books were all over the house, and Audrey noticed suddenly that it seemed to be at least thrice as big within the structure than it had appeared to be outside.

A sudden crash sounded off and Audrey flinched, clutching the letter so tightly it was a wonder it didn't rip in half, "Who's there?" she heard her grandmother shout, before she came flouncing around the corner with a stick in her hand, "Lucile?" she lowered the stick, "What're you doing here?" she asked frantically, before her eyes flickered down to Audrey, "What - what is she - I thought we agreed Lucile we weren't going to tell them - is everything alright?"

Her mother smiled, "Everything's wonderful, mom," she nudged Audrey forward gently, "Audrey has something to show you."

Before Audrey could even comprehend what was happening, her grandmother's eyes swept over her and landed on the letter in her hands. She let out a loud squawking noise that was very uncharacteristic of her, before moving forward and pulling the envelope out of Audrey's hands, "You've gotten a Hogwarts letter?!" she pulled the letter out of its package along with the list of needed items, "Oh Lucile this is wonderful! I can't believe it! Audrey - Audrey's a witch!" her grandmother looked down at her, tears filling her eyes, and Audrey stared back up at her, confusion still swirling in her own.

Her grandmother suddenly gasped and she looked to her daughter, "We have to tell all the girls."

Her mother blanched, "Oh no - no not yet." She said quickly, "I haven't even told Phil. And I don't even know if the rest of the girls will be witches -"

"I've told you a hundred times and I'll tell you again, Lucile," her grandmother pointed the stick nonchalantly at her daughter, "Your daughters are witches if I ever saw one. Remember that one time Paige sneezed and all the flour flew out of its tin? Oh - the look on Phil's face was absolutely priceless." She laughed, and Audrey smiled faintly; she remembered that too. Her mother still looked unsure.

"Mum, I was wondering if maybe you'd be able to take Audrey to Diagon Alley today to get her the things on her list." Audrey's mother said timidly, "I can certainly pay you back later."

"Oh, nonsense, all you've got is muggle money anyways - I've no need for that." She smiled happily down at Audrey, "I can certainly take her today. All I was doing was a bit of cleaning up really."

Audrey glanced around the house; it certainly looked like it needed cleaning. The pile behind the door they'd come in was smashed all over the floor; the debris looked like it used to be a bunch of vases. Audrey felt a very sudden bang of guilt, "Um," she said, her first words since walking in here, "We kind of - knocked those over - when we came in - because they were - right behind the door..."

Her grandmother glanced at it, then smiled down at Audrey, "Oh, that's no big deal - those break all the time." She told her; how was that possible? Did she take the time to glue the vases back together and then just set them right back behind the door? Her grandmother nudged her gently, "Here - watch this." And she winked at her.

Her grandmother straightened and pointed the stick at the pile of broken vases, "Reparo." She spoke very clearly.

Audrey watched in shock as right before her very eyes the shards of the broken vases seemed to fly back into one another and set themselves up right, and then there sat four pretty vases without so much as a scratch. She gaped at them - she wanted to kick herself. Her mind wasn't putting anything together to explain what the hell had just happened other than 'witch - witch - witch - witch - HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY.'

"Well, we should probably get going," her grandmother said, and Audrey turned back to her, "Diagon Alley will already be quite crowded, and of course it's all the way in London -"

"Wait - we've got to drive back to London?!" Audrey asked suddenly; it'd taken them almost two hours to get out here, and they'd only been in her grandmother's house for maybe five minutes.

Her grandmother laughed, "Oh no, dear - we won't be driving - it'll be much quicker than that," she winked at Audrey again, before turning to her own daughter, "has she had breakfast?"

"No," her mother said, "I was hoping you could -"

"I'll take her by Rosa Lee's." her grandmother told her reassuringly, pulling her into a hug, "Now you should be getting back, I think - I'm assuming you didn't tell anyone you'd be gone?"

Her mother flushed ever so slightly, "Yes, perhaps I should be going." She said; she bent over and kissed Audrey on the forehead, "Be good. Don't get hurt - please don't get her into anything that will get her hurt," her mother said to her grandmother, who smiled, "I'm serious, mom - I want absolutely no talk of quidditch."

"I'm not the one who brought it up." Her grandmother said simply, before turning away, "Now, let me find my bag and my cloak, Audrey, and I'll look over your list one more time and then we can go."

"I'll see you this afternoon," her mother said to Audrey once more, before she left the house (careful not to knock the vases back over) and Audrey heard the car driving away.

Her grandmother flounced back over to her; she was a beautiful woman as well, having aged even more gracefully than her mom. She was only in her late fifties, but really, she could've been Audrey's mother. Sometimes Audrey had trouble believing she was really twenty-five years older than her mother, who was only thirty-four.

She had now dawned a cloak and a bag over her shoulder, and tossed a cloak over Audrey, as well. As she struggled to fit it on her (it was far too big) her grandmother read aloud form the list, "Ah, now let's see - we'll want to go to Rosa Lee's first for breakfast and tea, and then we can get this done." Her eyes scanned the list thoughtfully, "I already know where we can find all of your robes and books - don't worry about that, dear," she began to mutter to herself as she checked over the list, saying things Audrey didn't recognize, "Ollivaders...Potages...Wiseacres...and of course you can have my telescope dear," her grandmother said, seeming to remember she was there, "I never use it anymore anyways...and Josh's old scale...hm...and of course the menagerie...and I think that'll be all." She smiled warmly down at Audrey, "Are you ready then?" she asked, handing the papers back to Audrey, who tucked them in the envelope.

Audrey glanced around, "Er - how're we getting there?"

...

Using floo powder, Audrey thought, was very low down on her list of experiences she enjoyed. In contrast to though, Diagon Alley was quickly climbing up her list of favorite places. Not that she actually kept these lists - she thought about it sometimes - but it was the thought that counted to her. If Audrey had to pick something to throw at the top of a favorite places list, she probably would've scrawled down Diagon Alley without a second of hesitation.

Her grandmother had brought her into a tea shop for breakfast, where they'd spent about forty-five minutes each eating a pastry and sipping their tea while Audrey asked all the questions she could manage to think of with her limited knowledge.

"What's a muggle?" "Non-magical people, dear - like your father. He's not got any ties to the wizarding world - believe me I've checked. Thoroughly."

"Is my mum a witch, then?" "No, no dear, your mother's a squib - she's a non-magical person born to me and your grandfather. He was a wizard, as well as I'm a witch."

"Why didn't you or mum ever bring this up before?" "Well - your mother simply didn't think any of you girls would end up being witches. Which is a little absurd, in my opinion, given the background you come from. You've got a lot of magic in those veins of yours, dearie - lots of different forms. And besides, well, sometimes it's not the best idea to explain magic to muggles."

"Why?" "Well - more often than not it - well - it scares them away."

...

Audrey tried very hard not to think about this for the rest of the trip. They bought her robes, hat, gloves and cloak at a second hand shop (which eased Audrey's nerves slightly once she learned they'd be paying with silver and gold coins) as well as her books at a second hand shop a little ways down. When Audrey noticed they'd entered the shop that seemed to sell brand new cauldrons to purchase hers, she pointed out to her grandmother that there was a perfectly good second hand cauldron shop they'd passed only a little ways down the road. Her grandmother frowned at this, and all she said was, "Well - the owner of that shop and I aren't exactly on the best terms, dearie."

Once they'd left that shop and the one next door - Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment - to get quills, ink and a set of phials, Audrey had all the clothes she'd had folded neatly in the cauldron, which she should carry, with the quills, ink, and phials on top of the clothes and all eight of her books stacked on top, and while it took up significantly less space than it had before she'd bought the cauldron, it was still very awkward and heavy to carry around.

Her grandmother seemed to notice this, because they stopped outside a very small shop and removed the bag from her shoulder and draped it over Audrey's, before taking the stack out of her hands, "Why don't I take these back to my house so we don't have to keep carrying them around?" she asked Audrey happily, who nodded, "Great - you stay here. Run in Ollivander's right here and have him help you find a wand. Then when you're done in there the menagerie's right across the way. Fine a toad, or maybe a cat."

Audrey's eyes went wide, "The list said I didn't have to have one." She said, and her grandmother winked at her.

"My treat." She said happily, and before Audrey could protest she flounced into the crowd without another word. Audrey clutched the straps of the bag very tightly, looking over at the shop she was standing by for a long moment before entering it quietly.

The shop was very small on the inside, with stacks and stacks of boxes lining the walls up to the ceiling, covered in a very fine layer of dust. Audrey swallowed; she wondered shortly what the actual walls looked like, before a man appeared around a corner.

"And you would be?" he asked, and Audrey swallowed.

"I'm - Audrey. Audrey..." she wondered for a second - she shared her dad's last name, but the magic certainly seemed to come only from her mom's side. She racked her brain trying to remember her maiden name.

"Audrey..?" he prompted.

"Audrey Baker." She said sharply, suddenly remembering, and he raised his eyebrows.

"Baker?" he asked, and she nodded, "Been a while since I've sold to a Baker..." he looked at her again, "You are here for a wand, yes?"

"Yes, sir." She said quickly, her hands tightening around the straps of the bag over her shoulder.

"Hmm..." he mused for a moment, before he suddenly moved, making Audrey jump; he moved passed her and pulled a box out of the stack that was right next to the door, opening it and pulling out a pretty ebony colored wand, "Here." He said, handing it to her. She took it very gingerly, holding it in both her hands, not knowing what to do with it. He gave her a very puzzled look, "What're you waiting for? Wave it around a bit!" he prompted.

She did just that; nothing happened. He snatched the wand back out of her hand without a word and put it back in the box, slipping it back on the shelf; he pondered for a moment, "Baker..." he mused quietly. Audrey shifted awkwardly on her feet; the floorboards under her groaned.

He seemed to have a sudden thought, because he disappeared back behind the corner and came back with another box in his hands. He quickly took out another wand, thrusting it into her hands, "Here - try this one." He told her.

She waved it awkwardly and without warning a shower of bright white sparks came dancing out of the tip, making her jump and nearly drop it, "Ah," he said, taking the wand back from her twirling it around for her to see, "I thought so - this is cherry wood, thirteen inches," he paused the motions and held it for her to see clearly, "with a veela hair at the core. I don't use those very often...they tend to be rather...temperamental..."

Audrey payed for the wand and he sent her on her way without another word before disappearing back around the corner. She stood in the shop for a moment longer, the wand in her hand, not knowing what to do with it. The bag was too thin and too shallow to properly fit the wand in without it sticking out awkwardly. Finally, after a moment of indecisiveness, she gingerly slipped the wand in the side of her boot and left the shop.

She still didn't see her grandmother anywhere, so she squirmed her way through the crowd to the other side of the street until she stood in front of the menagerie. She thought back to the list - students may also bring an owl, a cat or a toad. It did not say she needed one of those things - it just said she could have one.

She felt incredibly awkward standing still outside in the hustle of everything, though, so she slipped inside the shop. She would just look.

The menagerie was filled with animals, but was surprisingly very devoid of people; Audrey looked around at the cages and cages of animals. Some of them were asleep, but some of them, upon her entrance to the shop, had shot up and began to mewl and scratch at their cages. She noticed it was mainly various breeds of cats, with one small section of rodents and toads, and up higher in the lofts of the store, some owls.

Audrey peered at the cats; there were many dozing and a few pawing at her from inside their cages, seeming to have stirred and now wanting attention from her. She came to stand next to a cage that held a very pretty Siamese cat that couldn't've been more than a year old. It had bright blue eyes and very fluffy fur and it peered at it from inside the cage; without a thought, Audrey reached forward and poked her fingers through the bars, prompting the cat to come closer.

It leaned over and simply rested its head against her fingers, so Audrey scratched the part she could reach and was becoming aware of a vague purring noise when a tall woman bustled into the room, arms full with an empty cage and when she peered around it and saw Audrey with her fingers in the Siamese's cage she let out a gasp and hastily dropped the cage on the counter and moved towards her quickly.

"Don't let her bite you!" she said swiftly, before realizing the cat was purring in Audrey's hand, "Is it - is she letting you pet her?"

"Er - I guess." Audrey said awkwardly, withdrawing her hands from the cage; the cat let out a mewl of protest, "Sorry."

The woman looked shocked, "Oh - would you like to buy her?" she asked in a pleading voice, "That cat's wretched. She hisses and scratches and bites at every person who tries to come near her! Look at this!" the woman rolled up one of her sleeves, where there were two dozen bright red scratches, "Nearly all of these are from her. The other night my husband sat me down and asked me if I'd been having suicidal thoughts! This is thrice the amount of scratches I usually get working in here!" she cast and angry loom at the cat, then a desperate one back down at Audrey, "Please - it likes you - please won't you take it?"

Audrey swallowed, "Er - how much?" she asked in a very small voice, and the lady blinked.

"Four galleons?" she asked hopefully, and Audrey bit her lip; she'd only just learned that morning what a galleon was - she didn't know if four of them was a good price for a cat. She peered into the bag - she could see at least three galleons right away, but she had to dig for a second to find a fourth; she held them in her hand.

"Er - okay. I guess." She said quietly, handing the woman the money.

"Oh, thank you so much, dearie." The woman said happily, tucking the money away and hesitating before picking up the cage, "Er - you can grab that, if you want." She told Audrey, who promptly picked the cage up off the shelf without much of a problem; the Siamese looked contented.

Audrey left the menagerie and almost immediately spotted her grandmother flouncing towards her, who smiled widely, "Oh, what a pretty cat." She said, taking the bag off Audrey's shoulder and peering down at her; she cast a look of confusion, "Did you get a wand?" she asked.

Audrey hastily reached into her boot and pulled the wand out, showing it to her grandmother, who stared at her; she was quiet for a moment before she muttered to herself, "Clever girl..." she picked the cage up out of Audrey's hands; the Siamese didn't look very happy about this, but it stayed quiet, "We should be getting back - your mother is waiting at my house. How much did you pay for the cat?"

Audrey swallowed, "Four galleons." She said hesitantly.

"Only four galleons?" she asked in a surprised tone; Audrey nodded, "How nice. Have you thought of a name?" she began to walk, and Audrey, once slipping her wand back in her boot, followed quickly.

"I might name her Holly." She said quietly, and her grandmother smiled.

"What a pretty name."

...

Audrey absolutely could not bear the look on her father's face when she came through the door with a cat in her arms. Her mother sent her up the stairs before he could say anything to her, but the scowl etched into his features was etched in her head before she turned away; he'd never looked at her like that ever before.

"And I don't suppose that's an outside cat?" she heard her father asking, as she got to the top of the stairs, where she made a beeline for her room.

Before she could open the door, a voice stopped her, "Where have you been all day?"

Audrey turned to find Paige standing in the doorframe of her own room, "Out."

Paige tilted her head up, staring at Audrey down her nose, "With grandma?"

"Yeah." Audrey saw no reason not to be honest - but she did wonder how on earth Paige had known that if her mother hadn't intended to tell any of them.

"Where'd you go?" Paige asked, and Audrey shifted; she didn't much wish to continue this conversation.

"Tea." She said shortly, and Paige continued staring at her intently.

"Anywhere else?" she asked in a very false innocent tone.

Audrey scowled, "None of your business."

Paige narrowed her eyes, "Oh, I was just asking." She continued in the same tone, "Because mum and dad have been at each other's throats all day over it. Must've been doing something important." She paused, "What's with the cat?"

Audrey shifted, moving the cat, but with that movement suddenly realized she hadn't taken her wand out of her boot and put it with everything else in the garage, "Like I said - none of your business."

"What's that in your shoe?" Paige asked, and Audrey nearly let her mouth fall open; there was no way she would be able to see anything in her boot from where she was standing.

"It's. None. Of. Your. Business." Audrey said sharply, and Paige merely shrugged.

"Might be my business in about two years or so." She said nonchalantly, but before Audrey could ask what on earth that meant she shut the door to her room with a tone of finality.

...

The next month at home was the worst thing Audrey had ever experienced.

Like Paige had said, their parents definitely seemed to be fighting. The air began to grown tense with anger whenever her parents were in the same room, and Audrey soon found them angrily avoiding each other until after all of them had gone to bed, where their shouts could be heard throughout the house.

The fights at night were making Audrey increasingly uneasy and when she heard them start to yell it made her feel sick. It almost seemed like a race to get to her room and go to sleep before the shouting began and she had to listen to it for hours on end. One night, about a week before she was due to Hogwarts, she snuck downstairs very, very late when she was certain she heard no shouting and the house was quiet to get some water.

As she crept down the stairs she saw the living room light on, but slipped past nonetheless with her cup in hand and was reaching up to the tap when she heard the faint sound of crying. Audrey lowered her glass and snuck over to the doorway that led to the living room, where the sounds were coming from, and peaked inside.

Her mother sat on the couch, her head in her hands, sobbing profusely. Her grandmother, held her shoulders tightly, saying things to her that she couldn't quite make out; her wand lay forgotten on the coffee table. Her dad was nowhere in sight.

Audrey's mouth felt drier than she could ever remember, but she crept back upstairs without a drink anyways.

...

The night before the train left was undeniably, the night that everything Audrey knew crumbled to pieces.

She had to admit - she had been in a little bit of a good mood. It was past midnight and she had to be up early that morning, but she couldn't sleep. She was too happy. There had been an absence of fighting since the night Audrey had gone downstairs and seen her mum crying. Her cat was keeping Paige at a good distance because her cat hated Paige and Paige hated her cat, so she hadn't been bothered by her anymore. She was due on a train tomorrow to take her to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She couldn't sleep. It was impossible for her to sleep.

At fifteen minutes to one, her door creaked open. Audrey rolled over and saw her dad's silhouette standing in the doorway.

"Audrey," he asked quietly, "Are you awake?"

Audrey saw no reason to lie, "Yes."

He walked over and sat down on Audrey's bed; she suddenly felt very sick for no reason. She sat up, "Audrey, I want to talk to you." He said; he spoke very calmly, but there was something in his voice that made her uneasy.

"Is everything okay?" she asked quietly; he showed no sign of even listening to her question.

"I don't want you going to that school."

Audrey could not see his face in the dark; all she saw was an outline of his head. How was he looking at her? Panic set in, deep rooted in her veins. He didn't sound angry, or upset, but she couldn't fully tell without seeing his face. She swallowed thickly.

"But -"

"Audrey, let me make this very clear." He said, his voice steady. He sounded like he did when she'd once fallen off a bike at her friend's house and he had to calm her down so he disinfect the enormous scratch on her knee, "I do not, under any circumstances, want you attending that school." Audrey's eyes were so wide, straining in the darkness to see what his face was saying, but she could see nothing, "Audrey - are you listening? Audrey you're not a witch. You're a normal girl. You can attend secondary school in the city. I don't want you getting on that train."

He sounded so calm, like he was simply telling her what they were going to be having for dinner, or requesting that she make the guest bed. Audrey's mind was racing - she was a witch. She could prove it right there, her wand was just on her nightstand, next to her glasses, but she didn't dare pick it up. She didn't dare move. She couldn't go to school in the city - her mom, her grandmother were so proud of her for getting into Hogwarts, her grandmother had spent so much money on her to get her to this point.

Audrey began to feel very hot.

"But - but I -"

"Audrey, I want you to listen to me very closely," her father's voice was soft, calm - if she didn't know any better she'd have thought they were discussing what he should get her sister for her birthday, "If you leave tomorrow to get on that train, I will divorce your mother."

Audrey went numb all over; like she'd just been doused from head to toe in cold water. Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes went even wider, straining to make out anything on his face in the dark, "You - can't -" she managed to choke out, before her father cut her off.

"I can, and I will." He reached over and pulled something out of his pocket, "Look," he said calmly, "I have the papers right here." Audrey felt like retching at the sight of them; she couldn't exactly see what they said, but she knew, and that was enough to make her feel sick to the very core of her being, "I don't have to use these, Audrey," he said softly, "just tell me you won't be attending that school, and we can go burn them right now."

Audrey felt hot and cold all over; her ears were ringing and she couldn't tell if she couldn't see anything because the room was so dark or because her breath kept catching.

"I - I - I -"

"Perhaps we can discuss this tomorrow," he said, tucking the papers back in his pocket and standing from the bed, "I trust you'll make the right decision. Goodnight, dear."

And then he had the audacity to lean over and place a kiss on her forehead, before closing the door behind him as he left the room.

...

It was very early morning, as the first rays of sun were barley brushing over the house.

Their father was sleeping soundly - he expected to chat thoroughly with his oldest daughter when she got back from school in the city today. Elizabeth was dozing - she was still far too young to be starting school. Lillian was asleep still - she had longer to snooze before she had to wake and begin to get ready for school. Paige was wide awake, already dressed - she sat on her bed staring out the window surrounded by an air of finality, because she knew what was coming, because she knew too much.

Audrey's room was empty, as she was currently following her mother and grandmother out the door to head into the city - she felt like she was going to be sick, and she did not dare mention in the silence of the car one word to either of the woman of what was to come.

Chapter Text

Audrey had managed to find a compartment all to herself, and she sat so close to the window, huddled in the corner of the seat she almost didn't notice when the door slid open and a short, dark skinned girl with rather large and curly hair stood in the doorway. She was absolutely swamped in her robes, but she offered Audrey the tiniest of smiles, which Audrey surprisingly found herself returning.

"Do you mind if I sit?" the girl asked quietly, and Audrey shook her head.

"No – it's not my compartment." Audrey managed to say, and the girl smiled wider at her.

"Thank you so much," she said, closing the door and taking a seat across from her, "Every other seat I've tried to stay in is so cramped. Everyone is so loud." She told Audrey, "I'm Penelope Clearwater – you?"

"Oh, sorry, I'm Audrey – erm – A-Audrey Baker." She finished faintly. She didn't much see the point in using her dads' last name if by the time she returned to home she wouldn't even have a dad.

Penelope cast her an exhausted look, "Have you met the Madison girl?" she asked darkly.

"The who?" Audrey asked, confused.

"The little girl – Angela Madison – she's been waltzing around the train and bursting into people's compartments bragging about her blood status." Penelope sighed, "I've moved through about three compartments, and it's like she keeps following me. I think she's perplexed I don't have the faintest idea who she is."

"Well, if it makes you feel any better, neither do I." Audrey offered, and Penelope grinned.

"If you haven't seen her, it probably means she'll be in here soon." She squirmed in her seat, staring hard out the window.

Audrey fiddled with her glasses, "Are you nervous?" she finally asked, and Penelope gave her a look of horror.

"Yes." She said exasperatedly, "Everyone seems so calm! Even most of the first years I've seen look perfectly collected! Everyone's excited; I'm scared out of my mind! I –!" she caught herself, but Audrey wasn't really minding her rant as it was personifying her own feelings, "Sorry." Penelope apologized, blushing scarlet, "I'm a muggle born, if you can't tell."

Audrey had to think for a moment to remember what "muggle born" meant; finally she offered Penelope a small smile, "I feel the same way," she told her quietly, "I'm actually freaking out, don't worry. My mum's a squib, and my dad's a muggle. She didn't really bring up the fact that there was magic in the family until I got my letter." Penelope's eyes widened in shock.

"Oh, well then I suppose we're very much on the same boat, then." She said happily, and Audrey nodded.

Just as she said this, the door to their compartment slid open again with a loud clang, and a very short, very small girl stood in the frame. She had blond hair that came to her shoulders and an upturned nose; her eyes hardly swept over Penelope, but they landed on Audrey. The girl entered the compartment and sat down, "And who're you?" she asked very shortly to Audrey.

"Um – I'm – Audrey Baker..." she said faintly, and the girl smiled brightly.

"Oh! Baker – I know that name – you must be a pureblood then of course! Let me think – your grandmother worked for the ministry – well, now you know she worked with my grandparents! Her husband died a few years ago, and she only had one daughter and that daughter was a squib! I didn't know she'd married any wizards, nor that she'd had a daughter, our records didn't follow that far."

Audrey gaped at her, "How do you –"

"Know all those things?" the girl finished for her, "My parents have access to all the family trees of all the pureblood families! Oh do tell, what wizard did your mother marry – must've been some muggle born to have wanted to take her name."

Audrey swallowed, "My dad's a muggle."

The smile fell from the girls face, "Oh – never mind then, it's not important." She waved it off, "I'm Angela Madison. I'm sure you've heard of my family name – my grandparents were very famous aurors, as are my aunt and uncle." She leaned across the compartment as she talked, before suddenly jumping seats and sitting right up next to Audrey, all but pressing her into the window, "You're the first pureblood I've met in my year! Everyone else is damn muggle borns or half-bloods – well, I guess you are a half blood, technically, but I'm willing to overlook that because you know, Bakers are very well known – or at least they used to be. Oh – actually, I guess there was the Weasley boy a few compartments down – he's in our year, but he doesn't really count as a pureblood, you know?" Angela smiled at her again, and Audrey stared at her with wide eyes, trying to figure out what to respond to first.

"Um – okay then – it was nice meeting you." She finally managed to say, and Angela frowned.

"What, you want me to leave?" she asked, looking horrified.

"Um – I tend not to make friends with people who know more about my family history than I do." Audrey told her sheepishly.

"Well just how much do you know? I might be a big help." Angela said proudly.

"I don't know much of anything." Audrey said, "I only just found out I was a witch last month."

Angela gaped at her; if she'd look horrified before, she looked as though Audrey had just suggested they jump off the train, "How could you not?! You're practically a pureblood witch! Did your mother mention nothing of the wizarding world to that muggle man?!"

Audrey's lack of an answer seemed to be enough of an answer for Angela.

"Wow. That's really sad. You've been missing out. Though I guess if your mum was a squib and your dad was a muggle there wouldn't have been much to show you anyways." She shrugged, then finally seemed to notice Penelope, who'd been watching them silently the entire time, "Oh – Persephone, right?"

"Penelope." Audrey and Penelope both corrected together; Angela rolled her eyes.

"Right," she paused, and looked them over as if seeing them for the first time, "Why're you both in your robes?"

Both of them looked at each other, then at themselves, "Should we not be wearing them?" Penelope asked.

"It said to have them on the sheet." Audrey said nervously.

Angela laughed loudly, "You two are awful – I can't believe you know nothing about this!" she gestured to Audrey, the glanced quickly at Penelope, "I didn't expect that much from you, you know, since you're a muggle born, but you don't need to wear your robes on the train. We've got at least another half hour until we actually get to the school. Anyways, I should be going." She suddenly jumped up and flounced from the compartment, leaving the door standing wide open.

Audrey stood to slide it shut, and once it was closed she turned back to Penelope, "What a rude girl."

"I hope we never see her again." Penelope agreed.

...

The two girls stayed very huddled together as they were led by the tallest man they'd ever seen to the far edge of a lake, where they cast their eyes on an enormous castle. They both stared at it with wide eyes until Penelope nudged her, then leaned over and whispered, "We get to go to school here!" excitedly. Audrey smiled back genuinely; for most of the train ride after Penelope had joined her, she'd hardly even thought of her dad.

They were directed into row boats, though they both quickly discovered they were not meant to be rowed by them, as they each laid a hand on the paddle and it swatted them away without hesitation. As they huddled together in the boat, the tall man looked down at them, then suddenly said very loudly, "th'nk we can squeeze one more ont' this'n!"

Both girls could see Angela standing near the edge of the cluster of remaining kids, and she was obviously small enough to consider jumping in with them. However, before she could volunteer herself, a very skinny red haired boy wearing robes a bit too big for him and horn-rimmed glasses stepped forward and was all but hoisted into the boat by the giant man.

Penelope offered him a small smile, which he just hardly managed to return; he looked about as nervous as Audrey was starting to feel again. She'd almost forgotten she was nervous before Penelope sat down with her. Time suddenly seemed to be running much slower now that the boy was in the boat with him; kids around them didn't seem to be moving as fast as they were before, and Audrey couldn't decide if she wanted them to hurry up or continue at the same pace.

She found herself not being able to look directly at the boy for some reason; instead she stole tiny glances at him as the boats around them were filled. His hair was very curly, and she noticed not only his robes but his glasses seemed oh so slightly too big on him as well; he kept having to push them back up his nose. His face was covered in freckles, as well as his neck, and they disappeared under his shirt.

Suddenly, Penelope was speaking, "Are you excited?" she asked the boy quietly.

He didn't so much look at her, but behind her, and Audrey knew he was looking at the school; he suddenly didn't only look nervous, but scared, "I'm not sure yet." He said very softly, and then he looked at Penelope, "My entire family's been in Gryffindor. I'm nervous I'll get put in a different house. My older brothers told me you have to do something really embarrassing to get sorted..."

Audrey's heart raced at the sound of that, but despite the lump that was oddly forming in her throat, she found herself speaking, "I'm sure you'll do fine." She said so faintly he almost didn't hear her; he glanced at her, and for some reason her heart raced even faster. She looked away, "Good luck."

...

As it turned out, they did not have to undergo "something really embarrassing" to get sorted, as the boy said they would; all they had to do was put on a hat. Audrey didn't know where they boy had gone by the time they were given this information, but she was certain this was a relief to him. As they were marched into the dining hall, Audrey smiled at Penelope, "Good luck," she told her happily, "I really hope we get sorted into the same house."

"Me, too." Penelope smiled back at her.

Professor McGonagall placed the sorting hat on a large stool in front of everybody, and the room grew quiet very quickly. Audrey and Penelope listened silently as it sang a song for the entire hall to hear; when it was finished, everyone clapped, even Audrey and Penelope, who were slightly confused but still happy nonetheless.

Professor McGonagall unrolled a long sheet of parchment once the applause had died down, and cleared her throat, "Baker, Audrey."

Audrey visibly stiffened. She was first? She hadn't expected to be called first. Her last name for so long had been Stone, she didn't think –

Her mom enrolled her.

Her mom must have known.

Penelope nudged her; Audrey swallowed hard and moved herself forward, walking up onto the platform and sitting on the stool, where Professor McGonagall lowered the hat onto her head.

Audrey started as a voice spoke in her ear, "Hmm. Very interesting. Lots of conflicts here – veeeery interesting...let me see – not very keen to face what's happening head on, are we? Hmm now...we can't place you in Gryffindor...certainly not Hufflepuff either...very much desiring to prove one's self, though, are we now? Very eager indeed...very clever...then we better make it RAVENCLAW."

Audrey all but winced as the last word was shouted for the entire dining hall to hear. A table in the middle erupted in cheers, and she quickly removed the hat, dashing off the platform and over to the table that was cheering. A good amount of people patted her on the back as she tried to find a place to sit, until finally settling in a fairly empty spot.

Not two people later did Penelope get called, and she took a seat on the chair and the hat was placed on her head. After hardly a few seconds the hat shouted "RAVENCLAW" aloud and Audrey beamed, clapping along with everyone else as Penelope darted over to where she was sitting, slipping into the seat next to her.

"We're in the same house!" Penelope said happily, giving Audrey a tiny side hug, "How cool! I wonder how many other Ravenclaw girls there'll be?"

The answer was only one: Angela Madison was called up about five minutes later and the hat had hardly even touched her head before it shouted, "RAVENCLAW."

Penelope and Audrey both groaned quietly as Angela made their way over to them, sweeping across the floor as if she owned the place. She sat down next to Audrey and beamed at her, "My family has a long history of Ravenclaws and Slytherins. Of course – just about everyone from my mum's side has been a Ravenclaw, and she doubted I would be any different! I just knew you'd be in Ravenclaw, too – you know, your family doesn't have a long history with Hogwarts – only from about the start of the eighteenth century – because before then your family was mainly stationed in France, and most everyone in your family studying magic attended Beauxbatons Academy of Magic – that's a wizarding school in France, in case you didn't know. Did you know your family had ties in France, Audrey? I bet you didn't – anyways, at Hogwarts at least, your family has a history of mainly Ravenclaws and Gryffindors, with the odd Slytherin here or there."

Audrey once again found her gaping at Angela, but she seemed to see nothing wrong with knowing just about everything there is to know about someone else's family history. Penelope too found herself staring at Angela in shock, before she finally nudged Audrey, who turned quickly to her.

"That girl is starting to scare me." She said quietly, "How much can you possibly know about someone else's family off the top of your head?"

Audrey shrugged, turning her attention back to the sorting that was going on; they were into the S's, and the pool of first years waiting to be sorted had diminished noticeably. Audrey noticed the red haired boy they'd shared a boat with was still standing in the crowd, looking paler and more nervous than ever. As more and more names were called out, the boy remained standing on the floor, until finally he was the only one left; Audrey swallowed nervously, her eyes on him.

Professor McGonagall eyed him, glancing at the bottom of the parchment then sighing, "Weasley, Percival."

Angela rolled her eyes, and started to say something, but Audrey and Penelope both shushed her, their eyes on Percival. He walked quickly up to the platform, sitting on the stool and letting Professor McGonagall place the hat on his head.

The hall was deathly quiet; the hat said not a word for a very long time, and a nervous tension began to fill the air. Percival began to look more and more worried as he sat with the hat on his head, and Audrey wondered what it could have been saying to him when it suddenly screamed, "GRYFFINDOR."

The Gryffindor table exploded with noise on the other side of the room, two boys with red hair the same shade as Pecival's cheering the loudest; he now looked incredibly relieved as he jumped down from the stool, removing the hat and walking over to join the table with a smile on his face. Audrey beamed at him, happy he'd gotten into the house he'd been hoping for, and that he hadn't had to do something incredibly embarrassing in front of the whole school.

...

"Oh, I can't believe we're the only Ravenclaw girls," Angela said for the umpteenth time that night; she'd talked nonstop through dinner, starting with explaining the Weasley's family history in grave detail ("As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted..."), before moving onto explain Audrey's family history to Audrey herself, despite her constant protests ("No – really – it's okay – I don't want to know how many of my family members majored in divination.") ("No Angela it's fine – you don't have to tell me exactly why they got divorced – really Angela – Angela –") before moving onto bragging about her own family history in such detail Audrey felt like she was already in class.

Now she was sweeping around their dorm room – that they would have to share for seven years – inspecting every little thing and chattering to herself, because Penelope and Audrey had long stopped listening.

"I got my wand at Ollivander's. It's hazel wood, ten inches, with a dragon heartstring in the core." Penelope told Audrey; they were huddled on her bed, avoiding Angela as best as possible, "My parents were really freaked out when we went into the shop. There were wands everywhere, and the shop keeper kept pulling more and more off the shelf. It was a mess. I had to try a bunch of them before this one finally sent blue sparks all over the room and scared my parents half to death. Then he just boxed it up without a word and had us pay and sent us on our way."

Penelope let Audrey look at her wand; it was a pretty tan color, and very finely cut, "Yours is really nice," Audrey said, handing it back to Penelope and pulling her own wand out of her bag, "My grandmother bought me mine – she had to take me to Diagon Alley – I got it at the same place." She rolled it over in her hand, "I got mine pretty quick, actually. He made me try some ebony one, then he thought for a moment and disappeared and came back with this one. It's cherry wood, thirteen inches, with a...erm...veela hair in the core." She paused, "He said that was really rare."

"Veelas are semi-human semi-magical humanoids that appear as young and beautiful human women." Angela told them happily, sitting down on the bed without warning, "Their looks and dances are magically seductive to almost all male beings." she added happily, before shooting a strange look at Penelope and jumping off the bed, "Well, I'll be in the common room if you need me!" she said cheerfully, leaving the door ajar as she left the dorm room.

"We won't." Penelope said quietly, standing to close it.

...

Audrey was sheltered inside her four poster, all of the curtains closed so shut her inside. She had five sheets of parchment out in front of her, and a quill in her hand, but no desire to work. Her eyes were filled with tears. Earlier that morning she'd signed up to stay at Hogwarts over the winter holidays because she couldn't stand to know what was going on at home.

She had received tons of owls from her younger sister, Paige, absolutely begging for information about the school, and the classes, and...well – magic. Audrey had written back with as much information as she could manage to give her, but neither of them had mentioned anything about home. Paige wrote notes from her other sisters as well – she got a lot of "I miss you's" and "I love you's" and "I hope you're having a lot of fun's" from her second younger sister, Lillian, who was only six, and Paige wrote that Elizabeth kept "Missing Audrey." She even got a few letters from her mom, wishing her luck on exams as well as other things that were happening around the school that Audrey had written them about.

There hadn't been a word written from or about her father.

She knew Paige would definitely be upset because she was staying at school over the break, but she didn't know what to expect when she got home, so she figured she could at least avoid it. Not bother with it. Not think about it.

Except home was all she was thinking about.

She wanted to go home very badly, especially for the holidays, as they were her favorite time of year. But she'd signed her name on the list, and she didn't much feel like walking in front of everybody and scratching it off. She didn't feel like going home. She did. She didn't. She didn't know.

The door to their dorm opened, and Audrey prayed that it was not Angela who's come in – although when she heard the door close softly she knew it couldn't be her. A few moments later, one of the curtains to her bed was moved out of the way, and Penelope stood there.

"Audrey, why've you signed up to stay here for the break?" she asked gently, and Audrey said nothing, "Just the other day you were telling me how much you missed you sisters – surly you want to see them?" Audrey fiddled with the quill in her hand, "Is everything alright?"

"Yes." Audrey said in a very unconvincing tone; Penelope frowned and crawled onto the bed, rolling up the parchment Audrey was attempting to work on and setting it aside, "I was using that." Audrey told her halfheartedly.

"No you weren't," Penelope said, "What's wrong?"

Audrey was fighting the tears welling in her eyes very fiercely, "My parents are getting a divorce."

Audrey did not have to tell her why; Penelope knew almost instantly, "Oh, Audrey, I'm so sorry..." she said sincerely as she leaned over and hugged Audrey tightly. She didn't protest; letting the inkless quill fall from her hand she let Penelope hug her tightly, tears finally flowing down her cheeks.

"It's my fault..." she said very quietly, and Penelope let go of her, shaking her head.

"Oh no, no it's not Audrey." She tried to say reassuringly, but Audrey only cried harder.

"It is! It's all my fault!" she sobbed, "He hates magic! He hates that it's in the family – he hates that I'm a witch!" she told her, and Penelope tried to protest but Audrey stopped her, "He told me so! The night before I left for the train he came into my room late at night and told me! He said if I went to this school to study magic he'd divorce my mum!"

Penelope looked taken aback to say the least, "Why would he..." she mused, before shaking her head, "Oh Audrey, that's awful. He's awful – don't listen to him. If he wants to leave because there's magic in the family that's his loss! Magic is great."

Audrey wiped her eyes, "My mum's sick." She said suddenly, and Penelope stared at her, "she has hyperthyroidism and chronic fatigue syndrome. It's not too bad but..." she paused, "I just worry. I have three sisters and I just...worry."

"It's not your job to worry." Penelope said, "I'm sure everything will be fine. I'm so sorry, Audrey." Penelope said again, "But it's not your fault – your dad's just an arse. Don't let him make you feel bad."

Audrey nodded, but for the life of her, she could not bring herself to imagine going home.

...

Angela swept her way gracefully out of the castle after giving Penelope and Audrey a lengthy goodbye, much to both their relief. Penelope had opted to stay the break too, to keep Audrey company in the now quiet castle, now that almost everyone had gone home for the holidays. Audrey insisted she didn't have to do this, but Penelope insisted that she did, to make sure Audrey didn't only spend her time crying and studying (though the latter was what they mainly planned on doing).

As soon as Angela was on the first step they turned and made a beeline for the library, visibly much happier now that Angela was out of their hair for the next two weeks. They entered the library, which was somehow even quieter than it normally was, and made their way towards the back quickly.

On their way, they passed the red haired boy, Percival, who was sitting alone at a table, obviously very busy. As Audrey passed, she saw him glance up at her out of the corner of her eye and then bury himself in his book again. His glasses were very low on his nose. Audrey felt a strange urge to push them back up. She decided to ignore it.

Penelope pulled a book off a high shelf after a moment of struggling, "I'm doing horribly in charms." She said gravely as she opened the book to inspect it; she nodded after a moment before setting it on the table and reaching up for another one.

Audrey sighed, "Penelope, you're doing the best out of everyone in the class." Audrey insisted, sitting down on the floor to get a better view of the books on the lower shelves, "I'm doing dreadful in herbology."

"You're great in that class," Penelope argued, pulling another book from the shelf and putting it in her pile, "At least you're willing to get your hands dirty. I hate having to dig around and mess with plants," she pulled another book, adding it to her queue, "And anyways, I'm usually rubbish at half those charms – it's a wonder I manage to pull them off in class."

"Penelope, I watch you practice," Audrey told her sternly, "You've practically mastered all of the ones so far, stop being so modest." She pulled a rather thick and daunting book off the shelf, setting it on the table and flipping it open.

They continued like this for several hours, switching back and forth between criticizing themselves and complimenting each other, with the odd comment about how they were both incredibly grateful to not have to deal with Angela over the break. Finally, both girls decided it was getting late, and the candle they'd lit was almost all the way melted, so they blew it out and put the books away.

As they were walking out of the library they passed Percival, who was sitting very similar to the way he was when they'd came in. His nose was buried in a different book, but other than that he looked like he hadn't moved in hours.

He peaked at Audrey the same way he did when they first passed him, before quickly hiding back behind his book; Audrey was not entirely sure what made her turn around once she'd passed him, "You've been in here for hours." She said, leaning against the table.

He stared at her from behind his book with wide blue eyes; he looked about as shocked as she felt, "Have you eaten anything at all? Well – no of course not we're not allowed food in the library," she added quietly, "Anyways – why don't you come to the great hall with us? You must be starving – I am – and I'd assume you'd want to have dinner before all the foods gone."

Penelope was staring at Audrey as if she'd lost her mind, and Audrey was pretty sure she had. Percival nodded very slightly, "Um – I suppose." He sounded nervous, but not in the same way he'd sounded on the boat that first night; a different kind of nervous. His cheeks were dusted with pink that clashed horribly with his red hair, but Audrey found herself not minding. His glasses were still very low on his nose; she had to force herself not to push them back up for him.

As if reading her mind, he did exactly that, pushing his glasses up his nose and closing his book; Audrey straightened herself, "Great, then let's go." She said quickly, moving away from the table and practically running out of the library.

Penelope followed her, and Percival after her, both of them struggling to keep up with her, but they eventually matched her rapid pace and the three of them walked without a word to the great hall, where they paused at the entrance.

"Well, goodbye." Audrey managed after a moment, before turning on her heel and trying to walk calmly to the Ravenclaw table; she sat down with her back to him, her face probably completely red, and Penelope jumped into the seat next to her, "What was that?!" she hissed, staring at Audrey with wide eyes.

"I don't know!" Audrey said in a panicked voice, "I don't know what made me do it! He'd been sitting there all day! He's that boy from the boat – I don't know! I all of a sudden felt this urge to talk to him and I just did, I don't know why!" Audrey stared down at the table, "That was so weird. I hope I never do that again."

"Yeah, for his and my sake, so do I – he looked scared out of his mind." Penelope spared a glance in his direction; he was sitting alone, "Hasn't he got brothers? Why doesn't he sit with them?"

Audrey hardly had to look around to know the answer, "I don't see them."

"You don't suppose he's staying here alone, do you?" Penelope asked quietly.

"I don't know." Audrey said simply; she didn't want to think about it too much or her thoughts would plummet back into upsetting things. There was still plenty of food out on the table, but she didn't feel very hungry.

...

The door to their dorm room banged open, and Angela stood in the frame, "Where were you two at dinner?" she asked, her tone even more irritating than normal.

"We ate early." Penelope said just as Audrey spoke, "We already ate."

"So?" Angela looked greatly annoyed as she strolled into the room with her bag, "I get no welcome back? No hello?"

"Welcome back." Audrey said, as Penelope muttered, "Hello..."

Angela set her bag by her bed, before moving over to Audrey's bedside, "What did you get for Christmas?" she asked happily.

Audrey was laying on her own bed, her nose completely buried in a book, "Favorite author put out a new book," she said, but she didn't seem like she wanted to be holding this conversation, "Next one in a long series. My mom sent me our set so I could reread them, and then the new one."

Angela barley glanced at the set of books on her desk, "So you got old books?"

"Good old books." Audrey said defensively, her eyes only leaving the page for a second, "And a new book. I love these books."

Angela rolled her eyes, turning away dismissively, "What about you, Penelope? What did you get for Christmas?"

"I'm Jewish." Penelope said, without taking her eyes off the piece of parchment in her hand.

Chapter Text

Not two seconds after the Welcome Feast had come to an end, Angela had jumped out of her seat so fast she looked like a blur to Audrey. She grabbed Penelope and Audrey's wrist's rather forcefully and wrenched them out of her seats, dragging them out into the hall much to their dismay.

She silenced their protests, "Shh! I want to get to Ravenclaw tower before everyone else! I have something to show you two!" she dragged them down the hallway at a very fast pace until they finally reached Ravenclaw tower, far ahead of the rest of the Ravenclaw's.

"Aren't we supposed to wait for a prefect?" Audrey asked wearily, glancing behind them nervously, but Angela merely shushed her again and turned back to the door. She slammed the bronze knocker against it rather roughly, until the eagle finally stirred looking incredibly ruffled.

"There's no need to be so reckless." It told her in an irritated tone, but Angela just groaned.

"Give me the riddle!" she said impatiently, and Penelope and Audrey exchanged a glance; they wouldn't be surprised if the eagle refused her.

It gave all three of them a very skeptical look, especially Angela, before finally sighing and opening its beak, "How far can a fox run into a grove?"

Angela looked greatly annoyed when she could not immediately provide an answer; after a very long moment of angry brooding, the eagle sighed again, "If you do not know the answer, you'll have to wait for someone who doe—"

"No! I know it!" Angela insisted, though it was obvious she did not.

"I eagerly await your answer." The eagle told her, but his tone made it very apparent he could not care less.

"Um – he can run all the way out?" Angela guessed, and the eagle simply looked away.

"That is incorrect." He told her simply, and Audrey could almost swear he sounded triumphant about it.

Audrey decided to take pity on Angela, "It can run halfway into the groove," she told the eagle, "because then it's running out of the groove."

"Well spoken." The eagle told her, and the door clicked open.

Angela shoved it open all the way, "I knew that," she told Audrey over her shoulder, "I was just making sure you did."

She led them up the stairs to their dorm room, and Penelope shut the door after they'd all entered, "So what's so important we just had to get here before everyone else?"

"This!" Angela said proudly, throwing her trunk open and pulling a pretty cloak out of it, holding it up for both of them to see.

Penelope and Audrey both exchanged a glance, before looking back at Angela wearily, "You dragged us up here to show us...a cloak?" Penelope asked her.

Angela sputtered, "It's not just a cloak!" she said, sounding quite offended as she lifted it up and over her shoulders; Penelope and Audrey both gasped as every part of Angela covered by the cloak suddenly disappeared, "See! I told you – isn't it cool?"

"What is it?" Audrey asked, staring at her with wide eyes.

"It's an invisibility cloak! My grandma gave it to me just before school started. I was supposed to share it with my sisters, but they'd just confiscate the damn thing." Angela rolled her eyes, "Anyways – my grandma said that now that I'm starting my second year I should be really careful because danger is bound to be lurking around every corner."

Penelope stared at her, "So she gave you a cloak that turns you invisible?" she asked, "No offense, Angela, but your grandmum sounds like a bit of a nutter."

"Oh she is." Angela said without hesitation, "she's been a little off her rocker since she retired as an auror, and I swear it gets worse every year," she laughed, "But still, that's no reason to turn down an invisibility cloak! And look!" she spread her arms wide, so it lifted and exposed her body but not her arms, "It's huge! It'll probably fit all of us!"

Audrey frowned, "Why does that matter?" she asked, "I see no reason to crawl under that – I can go places perfectly fine when I'm visible."

Angela rolled her eyes, "You're so dense sometimes – we can use it to sneak around!"

Audrey didn't hesitate to shut this idea down, "Oh, no thank you. I'd prefer not to go sneaking around and getting into trouble."

Angela scoffed, "Audrey, you're so boring. Your grandparents were famous aurors!"

Audrey folded her arms, becoming increasingly agitated, "Just because my grandparents fought against bad people doesn't mean I should go around trying to get myself into trouble."

Angela didn't seem ready to hear this response; she blinked, her features showing her confusion, before she cast a dirty look at Audrey for half a second and then wiping it off her face, "Whatever you say." She said, draping the cloak fully over her, "Ooh! You can't see me!" she said happily, beginning to dance around the room, "You can't see me! Where am I? You don't know!" she giggled gleefully, unaware of her feet being uncovered by the cloak, dancing merrily around the room by themselves.

Penelope cast Audrey a tired look, and Audrey cast the same one back at her; they knew without speaking that it was a lost cause. They'd been back in Angela's company for mere hours and already Audrey was wondering how far away Christmas was. She left Angela to her dancing and padded over to her bed, flopping down on it and staring around the pretty dormitory. She had missed Ravenclaw tower very much.

Both Audrey and Penelope had grown at least a few inches over the summer; they were now taller than many of the people in their year, especially Angela, who didn't seem to have grown at all during summer. Penelope had grown her hair out, and along with the increased length it seemed to have become even curlier and frizzier. Audrey had grown hers out as well, as her grandmother had shown her before returning to school how to put it up in pretty looking buns; she had also grown more into her glasses, and her freckles had become a bit more pronounced. Indeed, the only changes about Angela were her hair had gotten a bit straighter, her features a bit more pronounced, and her chest noticeably larger.

Penelope followed Audrey's lead, lying down on her own bed; her enormous curly hair sat like a cushion around her head. She watched Angela's feet prance around the dorm for a bit longer, before finally sighing and reaching over to dig through her trunk. She pulled out a large book Audrey vaguely recognized, set it beside her, and pulled the curtains of her four poster shut. 

Audrey quickly grew weary of watching Angela's feet as well, and without even changing into a night gown she suddenly found herself asleep.

...

A gorgeous girl with long blond hair that fell down her back gracefully had just plunked a box of pretty, cloudy glass spheres on the Ravenclaw table in front of Audrey and Angela. Audrey froze halfway through a sip of pumpkin juice, keeping the cup pressed to her lips as her eyes traveled from the box to the girl; she was tall with sharp features and a pronounced figure. She bore a prefects badge.

"Angela, could you do me the world's biggest favor and bring this box to the seventh floor of the north tower?" she offered a teeny smile, "Professor Trelawney is expecting them back."

Angela stared at the box, "Why can't you do it?"

"Because I'm busy." The girl offered simply; Angela scowled.

"Busy with what?" she snapped back; Audrey kept the glass of pumpkin juice pressed to her lips.

"None of your business – I'm just busy. Professor Trelawney needs them by the end of the day – she plans to use them in tomorrow's lesson."

"Lesson in what? What could you possibly use these things for?" Angela plucked one of the cloudy balls out of the box, causing all of them to shift around; the girl pulled it out of her hand and set it back in the box.

"Divination – they're crystal balls." Was the only answer she bothered to give.

Angela rolled her eyes, "I don't even take divination! The north tower is so far away!"

The girl gave her a very sour look, "How awful of you – take the damn things up to her tower now before I dock you points."

"Dock me points for what?! Wanting to stay in my chair? You'd be taking points from your own damn house!" Angela protested angrily.

"I don't care! And don't cuss!" the girl said.

"You hypocrite–!"

"I'll take them."

Audrey had finally lowered her cup from her mouth, staring up at the prefect, who looked pleasantly surprised, "Oh – how – how kind of you – er..."

"Audrey." Audrey informed her, standing from her seat.

"Oh. Audrey," she nodded, "Angela speaks fondly of you. I'm sure she'd love to help you take these up to the north tower." She shot a look at Angela that shut down all of her protests wordlessly, "Seventh floor. Shouldn't take you long." And with that she left with a swish of her long blond hair.

Audrey picked the box up from the table, "Know her then?"

Angela stood to follow her, reluctantly, and let out a bitter laugh, "Know her? She's my sister..." she shot her a glare over her shoulder, "Damn near perfect...I hate that bitch..."

Audrey looked shocked, "How could you say such a thing? I'm sure she's just fine –"

"Just fine! Maybe to you! She hates me!" Angela snapped as they left the great hall, "She's always bossing me around! Just because she's a prefect and she's older than me! Her and Sloan..."

"Oh now who's Sloan?" Audrey asked, mocking Angela's tone.

Angela did not pick up on this, "Oldest sister! She's Head Girl...and Catherine's a prefect...she'll probably be head girl next year...and my mum expects the exact same from me! Ha!" she shook her head, "I'd sooner die than be made a prefect...or Head Girl! Can you imagine? Me! Head Girl!"

"No, I can't say that I can..." Audrey muttered; they began their accent up the stairs of the north tower.

Angela chattered like this for seven flights, until finally they reached a trap door and stared up at it, "Oh, Angela, I can't grab that my hands are full." Audrey finally pointed out; Angela seemed to have forgotten why they were there and was waiting for Audrey to continue.

"Oh, okay." She said, moving forward towards the trap door, but it was quickly made apparent to both the girls she was too short to reach it.

"Oh – here. You take the box. I'll probably be tall enough." Audrey told her; they were in the process of exchanging the box when the trapdoor swung open and a silvery ladder cascaded down.

"Ooh." Angela said, immediately abandoning the box so Audrey had to move quickly to ensure it didn't fall on the floor. Angela began to climb up the ladder, leaving Audrey on the floor as she couldn't follow with her arms full.

"Angela – Angela please take the box when you get up there, won't you?" Audrey called after her; Angela stopped short of wandering off into the room.

"Oh," she said, turning to look down at Audrey, "Oh. Oh right – okay." She leaned down and grabbed the box out of Audrey's outstretched hands, pulling it up through the gap and setting it on the floor before wandering out of sight. Audrey sighed and clambered up the ladder, pulling herself into the room and picking the box back up.

Angela was in the process of wandering around and closely examining all the objects she could reach. Audrey only wandered a short way away from the door, looking around for the teacher; she turned and was suddenly face to face with a woman with enormous eyes and long black hair. Audrey started, stumbling backwards and nearly dropping the box on the floor.

"Do not start child!" the woman said mistily, "I was expecting visitors..." she strode forward and lifted the box out of Audrey's arms with minimal effort, "And who would you be?"

"Erm – I'm – this is – this is Angela Madison." Audrey nodded towards Angela, who was examining a shelf of tea cups and not paying attention; the woman placed the box on a table and began to pull the crystal balls out, examining them.

She looked up, "Madison? You're a sister of Catherine and Sloan then?" she asked, pointing a finger at Angela.

"Huh? Oh, yeah..." she answered, picking up a cup and looking at it closer.

Audrey bit her lip, "Yes, sorry. And I'm Audrey Baker. We were sent up to deliv—"

The teacher made a loud gasping noise that made Audrey jump; she rose from her seat and glided over to where Audrey stood, staring down at her with very wide eyes, "Baker?!" she exclaimed, and Audrey nodded, "Baker as in – the pureblood family?" Audrey nodded once more, and the woman looked almost beside herself, "My child! Why didn't you say so?! You come from a very long line of gifted seers!"

"I seem to come from a lot of things and places..." Audrey muttered to herself, her head filling with thoughts of gorgeous creatures and French wizarding schools, "I'm sorry – I actually don't know very much about the wizarding world. See – my mum's a squib and my dad's a muggle." She explained.

"I see – but no matter. I can sense a very strong aura around you, my dear – you have a very strong inner eye." The teacher said happily, "I am Sybill Trelawney – you will be partaking in Divination lessons, won't you?"

"Er – I'm only a second year." Audrey said awkwardly, "And – I was actually thinking of taking Arthrimancy next year..."

"Oh but my dear girl," Professor Trelawney said, taking Audrey's hand suddenly, "You have a very wonderful gift – you would do very, very well in Divination. I see you excelling greatly in my class." She said in a wistful tone, closing her eyes and rubbing her thumb against Audrey's hand.

She pulled away, but before she could say anything, Angela piped up, form where she stood now holding a box of antique looking tea leaves, "Hey, can I have these?" she asked.

Professor Trelawney opened her eyes, turning her head to look at Angela, apparently having forgotten she was there, "No, no." she said dismissively, "I need those for class, my dear." Angela scowled, but put the tea leaves back on their shelf anyways, if not a bit forcefully; she turned her back to them.

Professor Trelawney was looking at Audrey expectantly, "I'll – erm – I'll think about it." She said, "Perhaps we should be going – breakfast is – is almost over – don't wanna be late for Transfiguration."

She turned from Professor Trelawney quickly, grabbing Angela's sleeve as she passed her and starting on her way down the silvery ladder, "Farewell my dear!" she heard Professor Trelawney call after her, "I see us meeting again soon!"

...

As they passed the third floor on their way down, Angela finally spoke up, "What an old hag."

Audrey pursed her lips, "I thought she was just fine – a bit strange, but I'm sure she's..." she searched for some sort of good quality, "...A great teacher."

"Yeah, well, if she's so great, how come I managed to nick this?" Angela reached into her bag and pulled out the box of old tea leaves she'd asked about back in the classroom.

Audrey gasped, "Angela!" she shouted; she stopped on her way down the stairs, "She told you, you couldn't have that! How – how – oh! Take those back up to her right now!"

Angela laughed, "And what if I don't?"

"I'll tell her you took them!" Audrey snapped without hesitating, "I'm serious, Angela! Take them back!"

"Why?" Angela protested, annoyance starting to shine through her tone.

"Because you don't need them! When are you going to make tea? They serve tea!" Audrey said angrily.

"Yeah well maybe I want," she paused to look at the box, "...puer tea. Ever think of that, Audrey?"

"You didn't even know what kind of tea it was until you looked at the box!" Audrey cried, "Look at that thing – it's ancient! It looks like it went bad fifty years ago! Where are you going to make tea!? When are you going to find the time to make it?!"

"Maybe I wanna take it home!" Angela argued.

"You can buy puer tea when you're home! Aren't you always bragging about being rich? Write your parents an owl and ask them to send you puer tea! That's not yours to take, Angela, and not yours to brew! Take it back right now!"

Angela had run out of arguments, and Audrey was sure to shut down anything else she could think of anyways. She scowled at her, but finally she began on her way back up the stairs, "Fine. I'll take it back. Wait here." She snapped angrily, "Bitch." She added after a moment, and Audrey folded her arms and watched her walk up the stairs until she couldn't see her anymore, tears threatening to spill the entire time.

...

"Well, I was kind of hoping we could take Arthrimancy together," Penelope said, pulling a book off its shelf in the common room, "But – Angela has talked a lot about your family, and she's mentioned quite a bit about Divination." She paused as she examined the inside cover, "I've done a bit of research, you know, on a couple of the pureblood families she's mentioned. Bakers, Weasleys, her own, you know? And, I really hate to admit it, but she hasn't been wrong about one thing thus far. Your family line does have quite a history with Divination. So maybe you should take it."

Audrey was closed her book, "But I was looking forward to taking Arthrimancy, too." She paused, "I know I said I wanted a free period to study, but," she stood and picked the book up, "I might take both. I want to see if I'm any good at it..."

"If you're taking both, then I'm taking both." Penelope said, "Besides – Angela's taking Muggle Studies and a free period," she glanced around, "so that just means one or two more hours we won't have to see her." She finished in a whisper.

Audrey put the book back on the shelf, "Why's Angela taking Muggle Studies?"

"I think she thinks it's fascinating. In a...pureblood kind of way." She put her book back as well, "You said she tried to steal tea leaves from the Divination classroom, too?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah." Audrey pretended to be interested in a book about Advanced Ancient Runes, "I dunno why, though. She asked Professor Trelawney if she could have them while we were in there and she said no..."

"Then she probably just wanted them out of spite." Penelope concluded, an Audrey nodded.

"Probably..." she paused, "I made her take them back. The tea leaves, I mean." She stared hard at the binding of an old Herbology book, "...She called me a bitch."

Penelope glanced over at her, "Oh." She said quietly, "...Sorry. You – er – you weren't though. You weren't being a bitch. You were just making her do the right thing. I don't think anyone forces her to do that very often."

Audrey nodded, "I'm, er – gonna go to bed." She said suddenly, turning away from the bookcase and making her way over to the staircase.

"Oh, uh, okay." Penelope said, looking up from the book she was currently examining, "Goodnight. I'll probably be down here for a little longer." She paused, "Try not to think about the bitch thing too much, okay Audrey?"

She didn't respond.

...

Audrey was awoken in the middle of the night by a very violent movement of her shoulder; she sat bolt upright and grabbed at the thing that was shaking her so harshly. She struggled to see in the dark without her glasses, but in the moonlight through the windows she could make out a head of blond hair.

"Angela?" she asked drowsily; she became aware of the sound of someone crying, "What's – what're you –?"

Angela made a sudden movement, leaning over to Audrey's desk, picking something up and shoving them right onto Audrey's face. They were her glasses, "Put those on! Oh it's awful, Audrey, just awful!"

"What's awful?!" Audrey asked, sitting up a little straighter.

"Shh! Keep your voice down, you'll wake Penelope!" Angela snapped, and for a moment all sorrow seemed to have slipped from her voice, but when she spoke again it was there, "My sister! Sloan! She was out on her duties and some horrible, awful students decided to play a prank on her and now she's in the Nurse Promfey's office and – and – and –"

"Oh, Angela, that's awful! I'm so sorry!" Audrey said, reaching over and pulling Angela into a hug, albeit wondering why this needed her full attention and she needed to be awake at all, "Why – er – why've you come to wake me?"

"Oh, well, Nurse Promfrey needs something to help make Sloan better again!" Angela explained, pushing Audrey off her suddenly, "She doesn't have it in her office and she sent me to go get it, but there's only one place I know where it would be and I don't want to go up there all alone!"

"What? Where do you need to go? What do you need to get?" Audrey asked, incredibly concerned.

Angela wiped a tear from her eye, "Puer tea leaves."

Audrey paused, "...Puer tea leaves?" she repeated; Angela nodded, "You're absolutely certain she asked for puer tea leaves?" 

"Of course! I asked for clarification!" Angela snapped, "I'm not dumb." There was a pause where Audrey considered going back to sleep.

"Oh, Angela, you know where Professor Trelawney's classroom is..." she said, "Just go on up there and...ask to borrow some, I'm certain she'd understand..." she eyed her pillow longingly.

"Won't you come with me? Please Audrey; I don't want to go alone!" Angela begged, grabbing Audrey's arm and tugging on it.

"...Fine. Fine, let's go." Audrey finally said, throwing the covers off and climbing out of bed, "But I want to come right back afterwards, I'm very tired..."

"Yes, yes, whatever." Angela jumped up from the bed and grabbed something off of hers, "Get under here." She ordered.

Audrey paused, "Why do we need to use your invisibility cloak?"

Angela looked like she'd just been inconvenienced a thousand times at once, "So no one sees us!" she snapped; Audrey didn't move, "Er – you know...so...so we won't get stopped! So we can get the tea leaves faster!" there was a pause, "Now let's go!" she finished.

"...Fine." Audrey muttered, slipping under the cloak with Angela. They made their way quietly down into the common room, and then through the door and off towards the north tower. Their breaths sounded like claps of thunder in the silence of the dark castle to Audrey; their soft footsteps like explosions.

As they wound their way up the stairs to the seventh floor of the north tower, Audrey tripped, falling out from under the cloak and hitting her knee on the edge of a stone step. She cursed rather loudly, before quickly covering her mouth. Angela's head appeared about ten steps above her, "What the hell do you think you're doing?!" she snapped.

"Sorry! I fell!" Audrey defended, standing up and hurrying back up the stairs, "Ow – damn – that hurts!" she rubbed her knee gingerly, "Oh – I suppose I'll just ask Madam Promfrey for something when we give her the tea leaves."

"What? Oh. Yeah." Angela brought the cloak back over her head once Audrey had gotten back underneath, and they continued to the seventh floor. Once there, Audrey just barely managed to reach the trapdoor and open it. They climbed up into the Divination classroom and looked around.

After a moment, Angela spoke, "Where d'y'reckon the old wench is, then?"

"Hush!" Audrey snapped, "I doubt she lives in her classroom, Angela, she probably sleeps in the teachers' dormitory."

"Oh. Yeah. I forgot about that." She paused, "...You don't think she'd mind if we took a box or two, do you? I mean, it is for my sister..."

Audrey looked incredibly conflicted by this, until finally she spoke, "I suppose this is...a special situation..."

"So we could – er – borrow her tea leaves, then?" Angela prompted, and Audrey squirmed.

"I – I – well." She paused, "If...Madam Promfrey...needs them..."

"And she does!" Angela added.

"Right..." Audrey swallowed, "Then I suppose...it...would be fine...if we...what I mean to say is, I – I'm sure she...would be okay with...if we were to just—"

"Grab a box of tea leaves!" Angela snapped suddenly, making Audrey jump. She quickly pulled a box of puer tea leaves off the shelf; Angela pondered, "We don't know how many she needs. Let's bring two boxes, just in case."

"But –!" Audrey started, but Angela was already picking another box up.

"Oh, Audrey! What if one box isn't enough!? And she can't help my sister and she's seriously hurt forever?!" she didn't pause long enough for Audrey to give an answer, but either way, the look on Audrey's face was answer enough, "Let's go!"

They clambered back down the silvery ladder and began to descend the tower; this time neither of them tripped. They turned down the hallway to Madam Promfrey's ward, but as they passed the door Audrey stopped and Angela kept going. Audrey, in her nightgown with her bare feet and curly brown hair, suddenly became visible, "Angela! Where are you going? Her office is right here!" she called into the empty hallway, not sure where Angela had gone.

Her head suddenly became visible fifteen paces ahead of her, "Shut up! Keep your voice down, you'll wake someone!" Audrey shrank under her words, clutching the box of tea leaves to her chest.

"But – Angela – your sister..." she glanced at the ward; there wasn't a single candle lit. There was no sign of movement.

Angela lowered the cloak onto her shoulders, "How dumb are you? My sister's in bed sleeping! I wanted puer tea!" her arm suddenly became visible, clutching her box of tea leaves, "Ooh! Look! It's imported from China!"

Audrey felt a lump forming in her throat as she looked from the ward, to Angela, to the box in her hands, "...You...you tricked me?"

Angela only grinned, "How does it feel to be bad?"

Audrey turned on her heel, "I'm taking these back." She said immediately, beginning to storm back down the hallway.

"And what if you get caught?" Angela called after her, "You won't have my cloak. And who's going to believe the story of a second year out of bed at midnight? Returning stolen tea leaves to the Divination teacher? You shouldn't even know where the Divination classroom is." She paused; Audrey had stopped walking at this point, "Turn around, Audrey. I win. You stole tea leaves. Big deal. This isn't anything near as bad as what I get up to at home. You should feel proud! We pulled off a heist together! We're partners in crime!"

Audrey had so many things she wanted to say to that her throat went dry; instead, all she could manage was a very meek, "No..."

"Yes! Looks like somebody isn't little miss perfect anymore." Angela laughed, "...Now get back under the cloak, Audrey, before we get caught and get into serious trouble. We'll have some puer tea in the morning, c'mon."

Audrey remained in her spot; she thought even if she wanted to move, she wouldn't be able to.

Angela was losing her patience, "Audrey. Get your ass back under the cloak – we're going back to Ravenclaw Tower."

They didn't have another moment to argue, because at that moment there was a very loud, "WHO'S THERE?" and both girls started. Audrey, now as pale as a sheet of paper, ran back over to Angela and ducked under the cloak, Angela lifting it back over her head. Not a second after it had settled, Filch came staggering around the corner and glared into the hallway, "I heard voices...I know I did..." he muttered darkly, hobbling down the hallway, closer and closer to where the girls were standing. As he passed, he looked right through them.

Angela grinned as this happened. She felt more successful than she ever had in her whole life.

Tears where streaming down Audrey's cheeks. She had half a mind to throw the cloak off and toss the tea leaves on the floor.

Filch rounded the corner and was gone, "Let's go." Angela breathed.

...

"Professor Trelawney has asked me to announce that two of her boxes of puer tea have gone missing since yesterday afternoon. If any Divination students know their whereabouts would you kindly inform her so she may reclaim them? She needs them for her lessons. Thank you." Professor Dumbledore's closing words of the morning made Audrey feel sick to her stomach. She pushed her food away.

Penelope glanced at her, "Are you okay?" she asked, "You look like you didn't sleep at all."

Audrey swallowed, "I didn't."

...

"You didn't tell Penelope about our little excursion, did you?" Angela asked Audrey while they were alone in the dorm.

"No." Audrey muttered, reaching up to close the curtains to her four poster; she fell back onto the pillows and tried to concentrate on the book in her hands.

Angela pulled the curtains open, pinning them back up, "Good." She sat down on the edge of Audrey's bed, "Because, no offense, but Penelope's kind of a goody-two-shoes. And she can be a bit of a bitch."

"Don't call her that." Audrey snapped, shutting her book and leaning back up the close the curtains, "I don't like that word. I'd like these shut, if you'd please."

"Oh, alright." Angela said, folding her legs up and moving towards the middle of the bed, "Anyways, I think we should go "visit" Professor Trelawney again." She winked at Audrey, who blushed furiously.

"No, absolutely not. If your definition of "visit" is "steal from" then I don't think I'd ever like to "visit" anyone with you again, thank you." Audrey said definitely, "And besides – I was – going to – go and tell her I found one of her boxes of puer tea." She finished quietly, knowing Angela's stolen box already lie open in her trunk.

"What?! No! You can't!" Angela snapped, "Audrey, you'll be ruining the fun!"

"What fun?!" Audrey glared at Angela, "Whatever fun you're finding in this I can't enjoy! I don't think it's very fun at all! I think it's awful! It's thievery! I've done a wrong and I have to right it!"

"NO! Don't you dare!" Angela sat up further, even though it didn't put her anywhere near eye level with Audrey, "I won't let you do it!"

"And how're you going to stop me?" Audrey snapped.

"I'll freeze you and dump all the tea bags in your trunk and run downstairs right now and tell Flitwick and Trelawney and every other professor I see that it was you who stole the tea! And you won't be able to deny it because it'll all be right there in your trunk!" Angela said triumphantly, pulling her wand out of her back pocket and pointing it daringly at Audrey, who paled visibly.

"You – how – how –!" Audrey took a deep, shaky breath, "You're awful! I only want to do the right thing!"

"Yeah, well, everyone always does the right thing!" Angela said hotly, "That's all Sloan and Catherine ever do! The right thing! And everyone loves them! Well, everyone loves me and – I don't even have to do the right thing! I can do the wrong thing! I can do everything wrong and they'll still love me! I don't want to be like them!" she jumped off Audrey's bed, pushing her way through the curtains; Audrey followed, "I bet you wanna be just like them! I bet you want to be a prefect! And – and Head Girl, too! Don't you?" she turned and glared at Audrey, who blushed furiously, "Ha! I knew it...yeah well...I'm going to take something else from Trelawney! And you're gonna help!"

"I will not!" Audrey argued; Angela pointed her wand at her.

"Yes you will! Or everyone will know it was you who stole the tea and you'll never be a prefect! Or Head Girl! Since that's what you want so badly!" she shouted angrily.

Silence fell between them, Angela breathing hard and still holding her wand in Audrey's face; Audrey holding her breath with tears welling in her eyes. Finally, Angela spoke, "See? You don't have a choice. So when do you want to go? I noticed she had quite a collection of candles..."

...

Over the next four months they made multiple trips in the middle of the night, despite Audrey's protests. She often sulked under the cloak with Angela's wand pressed into her back and the lingering threat of a leg locking curse and all of their stolen items dumped into Audrey's trunk while Angela ran to get a teacher in her head.

They had acquired quite a collection, much to Audrey's dismay. Multiple boxes of various tea leaves, three decorative tea cups, four journals filled with unreadable chicken scratch, a pretty candle that smelled like vanilla, two bottles filled with a horrid smelling perfume, and on their most recent trip Angela had gone as far as picking a crystal ball up off one of the tables and walking out with it. It sat in the bottom of her trunk, unused and completely useless.

"Why do you even need that?" Audrey snapped once they'd reached the dorm room.

"Eh. Looks pretty." Was all Angela said.

Professor Dumbledore's announcements about the missing items from the Divination classroom continued, and in fact grew more frequent. With every announcement Audrey felt sicker and sicker, and every time she was in Professor Trelawney's company she felt so guilty she thought she might vomit.

One chilly morning in February, Penelope leaned over to Audrey, "Sucks what's happening to the Divination teacher."

Audrey started, "What – what do you mean?" she asked, trying to keep her terror subtle.

"She keeps getting all her stuff stolen! How awful. I hope they catch the people who're doing it..." she went back to her eggs without another word, and Audrey swallowed. She didn't voice an agreement.

...

"I've had my eyes on that purple candle on the edge of the shelf for ages." Angela whispered before Audrey opened the hatch. They clambered up as silently as possible, and Angela dragged her over to the shelf she spoke of quickly, "Reckon we should grab anything else?" she asked as she reached up to grab the candle.

As soon as her hand was visible in the moonlight, someone shrieked, "IMMOBULUS!"

Angela, immediately unable to move, fell to the floor, now only partially covered by the invisibility cloak. Audrey, who felt like she was about to spontaneously combust, had stopped breathing and was unable to think or feel the tips of her fingers. She momentarily forgot where her wand was, and what a wand was.

Even if she had been able to do anything, before she could process half of what was happening, the same voice shrieked again, "HOMENUM REVELIO!"

The cloak was flung to the other side of the room by nothing in particular, and Professor Trelawney jumped up from behind a small couch. She stared at Audrey, who was staring back completely horror struck. Angela was laying on the floor, immobilized, the purple candle laying crumbled on the floor next to her. If she could've laughed, she would've.

...

"Professor Trelawney, what brings you by at this late hour?" Professor Flitwick asked when he finally opened the door to his office.

"I've found my culprits!" she exclaimed, wrenching Audrey and Angela through the door by the tight grip she had on their wrists. Audrey was incredibly pale and looked like she was going to be sick. Angela looked mildly inconvenienced.

"I'm sorry?" Professor Flitwick asked, stumbling back as the girls were tossed into the office. He glanced at them both, his eyes lingering on Audrey before he looked back up at Trelawney, "Culprits?"

"The thieves who have been stealing my possessions for months!" Professor Trelawney explained, as though it should be incredibly obvious, "I caught them tonight, in the act! Taking one of my candles right off the shelf in my classroom!"

"These two?" Flitwick asked, staring at Angela, and then Audrey, "These two young ladies? Are you certain it was them?"

"I saw them with my own eyes!" Trelawney proclaimed in a very unconvincing manner.

"Why...these are two of my..." he paused, staring at Angela, "...my most talented student in my house!" he finally finished, turning his attention to Audrey, who's blush fought to be seen on her pale cheeks, "I don't understand..."

"I've seen them stealing! I am certain it has been them! They have been to my room!" she pointed to Angela, "This one has asked for my tea leaves!"

"Now, madam, asking is different than stealing," Flitwick said calmly in his squeaky voice, "I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation."

"We stole them." Angela said casually, and Trelawney pointed at her again.

"Ha! You see! She admits!" she yelled, "You cannot deny!"

Flitwick took a moment to consider Angela, then turned, "Audrey – you are one of my best students. I do trust you – you're diligent, hardworking, and honest. Tell me what part you've had in this and I will believe you." He told her.

Audrey felt like she was falling apart from the inside out. She couldn't breathe. Her hands and feet had gone numb. She was vaguely aware that her glassed were on upside down. Her mouth was a desert.

All she could do was nod.

"...You...have been stealing from Professor Trelawney?" Flitwick asked quietly.

Audrey's eyes were filled with tears; she nodded again.

"...I see." Flitwick finally said; he turned to Professor Trelawney, who looked incredibly triumphant, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'll...see to it that the correct punishments are put in place."

Trelawney nodded. She left. The door closed.

Flitwick was silent.

Angela was grinning.

Audrey was falling apart.

...

"I don't know how long you girls were expecting to get away with such an act, but you can't've expected not to be punished." Flitwick said sternly as he turned and made his way back over to his desk, "As your Head of House I will have to see to it that said punishment is put in place and enforced." He paused, considering, "I believe two weeks detention with Professor Trelawney will be a nice place to start. She can decide what to do with you there." 

There was another long pause, "You are to return everything you've stolen tomorrow morning before breakfast, and you will not be back in the great hall until everything she has had gone missing is back in her possession." He seemed like he was contemplating something, "And – neither of you will be attending the rest of the Quidditch games for the remainder of the year."

"What?!" Angela suddenly exclaimed, making Audrey jump, "That's insane! That's way too much! Ravenclaw has a good chance of winning the cup this year!"

"I don't care!" Flitwick told her angrily, his voice growing squeakier, "And you won't either, unless you'd like three weeks with Professor Trelawney?"

Angela didn't have anything to say to that. She only pouted. Silence fell in his office.

"...And of course, fifty points from Ravenclaw." Flitwick said finally.

That didn't seem like enough to Audrey. None of this felt like enough to Audrey. She felt like she should be expelled right then and there. She was trying so hard not to cry she thought she might explode.

"...I must say I'm very disappointed in both of you." Flitwick said when the silence was finally broken, "Especially you, Audrey. Both of you come from very long lines of wizarding blood – I would assume you know at the very least the basics of right and wrong." She paused to stare at them for a long time, "I'll be writing your parents about this."

Angela looked slightly discomforted by this statement.

"...Before I let you go I – I really must say." Flitwick said after yet another long stretch of silence, "I – I never expected such an act to come from you two." His eyes lingered on Audrey; she felt like she was going to melt from the heat of the blush on her face, "I'm incredibly disappointed. If something like this happens again I want you both to understand that much more serious actions will be taken." He stared at them, "Haven't you two got anything to say for yourselves?"

Yes, Audrey thought, yes I have so many things to say for myself. I'm sorry and I didn't want to do it and I'm sorry and I'm ashamed of myself and I'm sorry and I hate myself for this and I'm sorry and it'll never ever happen again and I'm sorry and I'll sooner die than step out of line again and I'm sorry and I was forced to do it and I'm sorry and Angela made me and I'm sorry and it's all her fault and I'm sorry and I never should have let her manipulate me and I'm sorry and I'm sorry and I'm sorry and I'm so, so, so SORRY.

Her lip trembled. Angela watched her intensely, like she was daring her to say something.

"...I see. Very well. To bed with you both."

...

Audrey was avoiding everyone. She was avoiding everything. She didn't stay in the common room longer than it took to run to the door to the stairs and vice versa. She wouldn't talk to Penelope. She refused point blank to even look at Angela. The curtains to her four poster where always closed and the one time Angela attempted to open them and invite herself in Audrey hit her with a book and shoved her away. The only thing she would say were spells and the only people she would answer to were teachers and the only thing she could focus on was work.

She singlehandedly brought everything back to Professor Trelawney at the break of dawn the morning after they were caught. As she handed everything over she still had tearstains on her face. She managed a meek apology for the absence of two bags of puer tea (Angela had decided she didn't much care for it). Despite everything (or at least, as close to everything as you could get) being accounted for and back in Professor Trelawney's possession, Audrey was nowhere to be seen at breakfast. She was not in the common room, the library, or the dorm. She was in fact, in the North Tower, on the seventh floor, in the Divination classroom, where she had offered to put everything back where it belonged and clean up as well. She only left the classroom when the first bell rang and she absolutely needed to leave, so she turned her pockets out as proof that she had nothing from the room on her and went straight to Transfiguration.

She didn't speak to Penelope or Angela, and she sat as close to the teachers' desk as she could, by herself. She received a letter from her mother three days after the incident (It wasn't a howler, unlike Angela's, which had exploded in front of everyone in the dining hall and contained a five minute message on the shame Angela had brought on the Madison family name. She left halfway through the speech to allow everyone else to listen to it. She didn't seem very bothered by the message). Her mother didn't seem to believe for one second that Audrey had committed such a crime and wanted a response from Audrey explaining her entire side of the story. Try as she might Audrey could not produce such a letter.

End of term rolled around. Audrey had not spoken to anybody she didn't have to. She had not been in the presence of anyone she didn't need to be. She read the letter from her mom every night. She thought about Professor Flitwick's words whenever she wasn't forcing work on herself. Part of her knew she was punishing herself for something she'd already been punished for, but fifty house points still didn't feel like enough. Not watching the Quidditch games didn't feel like enough. Detentions with Trelawney didn't feel like anywhere near enough.

It seemed obvious to Trelawney that Audrey was sorry for what she'd done, because she warmed back up to her within the first week on detentions. The detentions themselves were never very bad, considering Audrey served a majority of them alone (Angela attended two in total by the end of term) and Trelawney only wanted to talk about Audrey's family history in Divination. This bothered Audrey to no end, because after the third detention there was no work to do – there was no punishment (unless you counted having to spend two hours with Trelawney a punishment).

Penelope informed her through the curtains of her four poster that Ravenclaw lost the Quidditch Cup to Slytherin by only a few points. Audrey found herself not caring very much about Quidditch so she pretended to be asleep. This wasn't an easily believable lie because her glasses were not on her desk. Penelope didn't push it; she just kept Angela away from Audrey.

Audrey and Penelope sat in a compartment with two fifth year Ravenclaw girls on the Hogwarts express on the way home for the summer. The two fifth years left to peruse the food trolley and only one of them came back to retrieve a tiny bag and requested, "Watch our stuff?" Before Audrey or Penelope could agree, she was gone.

They sat in silence for another hour before Audrey finally spoke, "I reckon I'll be fine."

Penelope sat straight up, so excited to hear words form her best friend after months she nearly knocked the bag she was digging through on the seat next to her over, "Sorry?"

"I'll be fine. I mean, I've been mad at myself. But I don't think that can last forever." Audrey clarified, never once taking her eyes off the landscape flying by.

"Oh." Penelope said, "Well that's good. Great! That's really great. Um..." Penelope drummed her fingers on either side of her legs.

Audrey took a deep breath, "I was mad because now I'm – probably never gonna be a prefect." She explained, and Penelope frowned, "Which is – dumb – it's really dumb but I – I – I just really wanted to be a Ravenclaw prefect." Audrey blushed and looked away from Penelope, who smiled.

"That's okay. Me too." She said; Audrey glanced back at her.

"Oh – so you'll probably be one of the Ravenclaw prefects." She said, smiling softly.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it was you, Audrey, really." Penelope insisted, and Audrey turned to stare back out the window.

"I would." She muttered.

Chapter Text

On July 2, 1989, Paige Baker woke up at five o'clock a.m.

She sat up and stared around the tiny room. It wasn't dark out anymore, but it wasn't necessarily light either. It was grey. She could make out Elizabeth, wrapped in three blankets even though it was the middle of the summer, her fiery red hair sticking out everywhere. She was dreaming about nothing. Lillian was snoring on the top bunk, but it was muffled because her face was pressed halfway into the pillow. She was dreaming about the strawberries their Mum had bought. She had the biggest one out of all of them. It was the size of her fist.

Paige climbed down from the top bunk of her and Audrey's bed. Audrey was still asleep - a rare sight. She'd be up in an hour or so. There was a puddle of drool on her pillow, and the book she'd been reading had fallen open onto the floor. Her hair had come out of its bun and it looked like an explosion of dark brown curls around her head. Paige wished she had something to take a photo of her with. Audrey was dreaming about a gigantic spiral staircase. There were hundreds of glass balls falling down it. Audrey couldn't catch them.

She left their room and made the short walk to the kitchen, past their Mum's room and the bathroom. She walked to the window in the kitchen, the one by the cabinets that held the plates. It had a tiny planter hanging outside it that only held clumps of dirt from the park and birdfeed. She stared out it for a minute then moved away from it with a jerk.

Paige paced the kitchen. She paced the living room. She went and stood in their tiny entrance hall for a few minutes with no real purpose. She checked the locks then went back to the kitchen. Then the living room. She paced the hallway.

5:23 a.m.

She went into the bathroom. She came back out. She went into the kitchen again and stared out the window for no longer than a minute. She went into the living room. She came back into the kitchen and opened the window. She stared out it for another couple minutes.

She went back into their room. Elizabeth was still dozing and dreaming about nothing. Lillian was still snoring and dreaming about strawberries. Audrey was still drooling and dreaming about crystal balls.

She got dressed and went back into the kitchen. She stared into the pantry even though she knew she wasn't going to eat anything. She went back into the bathroom and brushed her teeth. She went back to pacing the kitchen. She stopped and peeled an orange that was on the verge of going bad. She ate half of it and put the rest in the fridge. She went back to pacing.

5:36 a.m.

She opened the pantry again and took out a tiny bit of fresh bird seed and put it in the planter. She went back into the living room. She went back into the entrance hall. She checked the locks again even though she knew everything was fine. She went into the bathroom again and tried to brush her hair. It didn't end well. She left the bathroom with her hair more tangled than it was when she went in.

5:41 a.m.

Audrey's cat ran past her while she was pacing the hallway again. She heard their door creek open while she was walking away from it, "What're you doing up?" she heard Audrey ask. When she turned to look at her, it was strange. She looked the same as she had when she was lying in bed, minus the drool puddle, plus her glasses. Her hair was still a curly mess and she wasn't dressed.

"What're you doing not being perfect?" Paige asked her, and Audrey somehow scowled and blushed at the same time. It wasn't a very flattering look. She shut the door to their room.

Paige could hear Holly mewling from the kitchen; she went back in there to find her sitting by her food bowl. It wasn't empty, but it was bare in the middle, all the food pushed to the sides. Paige picked it up and shook it a little bit to even out the distribution. She set it back on the floor and Holly started eating, completely ignoring Paige.

"Yeah, whatever..." she muttered, walking away. She went into the living room and stared at the couch. There wasn't enough room for all of them on it, so Elizabeth usually sat in their mom's lap. That wasn't a permanent solution, though, so Paige usually sat on the arm of the chair. Her mom always yelled at her for it but one day they weren't all gonna fit and her mom wouldn't have a choice.

Paige smiled then went back into the kitchen. She started pacing again without meaning to.

5:52 a.m.

"Seriously, what are you doing?"

Paige looked back to find Audrey standing in the doorway. She looked much more Audrey-ish. Her hair was pulled up into a neat bun and she was dressed fully except for shoes. The dried drool had been wiped off her chin. If you compared this Audrey to the one lying in bed less than an hour ago, you'd think they were a different species.

Paige went back to pacing, "Nothing."

"That's obviously not true." Audrey said, rolling her eyes, "Nobody in this whole house believes you when that word comes out of your mouth. Not even Elizabeth."

"Elizabeth trusts me. So does Lillian. You and Mum should, too." Paige said calmly; she didn't stop pacing.

"I wouldn't trust you if my life depended on it." Audrey told her, "I'm being serious, what the hell are you doing?"

"Ooh, big bad Audrey used a swear, I'm so intimidated." Paige said sarcastically. She didn't have to look to know Audrey would be blushing, "I'm not doing anything, really. I'm just;" she paused, "waiting."

"Waiting for what? What could possibly happen on a Tuesday in the middle of the summer?" Audrey asked; she was annoyed now, which would usually make Paige overjoyed, but this morning it juts pissed her off. She stopped pacing when she came back to the window; she turned to face Audrey.

"I could turn eleven." she said fiercely.

Audrey's face softened, "Oh." she said quietly, "I'm sorry."

"Whatever." Paige said quietly, looking down at the ground.

"Happy Birthday." Audrey said after a long time.

"Whatever." Paige whispered, turning away and leaning against the window sill. She stared out at the sky. It was growing much lighter. She tapped her fingers on the wood.

"You're waiting for you letter." Audrey said; it wasn't a question. Paige didn't answer, "It might be a while...I could make breakfast if you want." Paige knew Audrey was trying to be nice, she knew she was thinking about how she could make it up to her, but she wasn't really feeling up to responding to it right at the moment, so she just set her head down on the window sill.

"Really, I can make whatever you like." Audrey continued. Paige felt like exploding.

"Just make what you normally would. It's not like anything special happens on a Tuesday in the middle of the summer." Paige said.

Audrey didn't answer, and Paige didn't know if it was because she was annoyed again or if she still felt bad, but she didn't care enough to find out. Audrey opened the fridge anyways and pulled out the carton of eggs and set it on the counter. She started pulling things out all over the kitchen so Paige just tried to ignore her completely.

She stared at the sky intently. She was so focused on it, so expecting to see an owl slowly start to come into view from the distance, that it scared her when one fluttered out of nowhere from the right and landed on the planter. She jumped and squawked, scaring Audrey, who dropped an egg on the floor. It cracked and spilled everywhere, and Paige stepped right on the yolk and slipped, falling on her ass.

There was complete silence, then Paige started laughing, "I can't tell if that was anticlimactic or overly climactic." she said between giggles. Audrey smiled at her, holding out her hand and helping her up. Paige wiped the egg off her leg and Audrey wet a towel and cleaned the rest off the floor. The owl sat watching impatiently. Audrey put the towels in the hamper and untied the letters from the owl's leg while Paige watched anxiously, trying not to appear anxious.

Audrey handed Paige her letter without a second thought and Paige snatched it, ripping it open. She skimmed the first page then went back and read it again and again. She set it down on the counter with the supply list and stood there awkwardly.

"A lot of anticipation for a couple sheets of paper." Audrey commented, going back to cracking eggs, "How many do you want?"

"Hm. Just one." Paige said quietly. She stared at Audrey while she started breakfast; she hadn't disclosed very much about Hogwarts in the two years she'd been going there, and Paige didn't want to dig for the information. It was annoying and relieving at the same time. Like maybe not knowing anything about it would mean she would get to discover the whole thing on her own.

Audrey kept all her school things locked up during the summer, which bugged Paige, but apparently using them outside of school was against the rules so it was no use anyways. Paige had never even seen Audrey's wand. She kept it hidden, and even though Paige knew where it was it seemed like a lot of hassle to reach into her boot.

Whatever; she'd have her own by the end of the day.

When Paige noticed Elizabeth standing in the doorway, she wasn't sure how long she'd been standing there, but she hadn't seen or sensed her approach, "Oh, good morning, Lizzie." she said happily, and Audrey turned to look at her, too.

"Oh, Elizabeth, how many eggs do you want?" Audrey asked. Two, and Elizabeth held up one finger.

Elizabeth hadn't been talking very much. She was only seven, but didn't seven year olds talk much more often than the occasional whispered "yes" or "no" or "please"? It was like she'd gone silent after their dad left.

Paige looked back out the window. Those weren't things she liked to think about.

Elizabeth took a seat on the other side of the bar. Paige took it upon herself to start cleaning the strawberries their Mum had bought for her birthday. She pulled the leaves off and cleaned them out under the tap. She tried not to listen but she couldn't help herself. Audrey was thinking about going back to school. Elizabeth was thinking about not having Audrey and now Paige around until December. Paige looked up and gave her a sympathetic look, then remembered she shouldn't be and went back to strawberry cleaning.

Lillian wandered in a little while later, when Audrey had finished Elizabeth's eggs and she was eating them over the counter with a glass of milk, "What smells so good?" she asked sleepily; the food was the only thing she was thinking about.

Paige put a few strawberries on Elizabeth's plate and heard her thank you even though nobody else did, "Breakfast." she said. She dumped all the strawberry tops in the trash, "How many eggs?" she asked, because she knew Audrey was about to.

"Hm...Two..." Lillian yawned and rubbed her eyes, "Is Mum up? Is Grandma here yet?" she asked, "Happy Birthday Paige..."

"Aw, you remembered." Paige said, shooting a teasing glance at Audrey, who rolled her eyes without even looking at her, "Mum's not up. Grandma's not here yet. It's almost seven though, so she might be here soon."

Lillian's eyes opened wider, "It's seven? Cripes, why are you three up so early?" she asked.

"I'm always up early..." Audrey muttered, her tone borderline bitter; she cracked an egg with a bit more force than she'd used for the last one. Paige shut her and everyone else out; her own thoughts would do for now. Lillian grabbed a plate and went to sit next to Elizabeth; Paige dumped a few strawberries on her plate. She made sure she got the biggest one.

As Audrey was dumping the eggs onto Lillian's plate, Mum came into the kitchen very slowly, padding in her slippers. She had on a robe and her hair was in a very messy bun, "It's so early!" she said in the midst of a yawn.

Audrey's hand froze just before she cracked an egg; she stared at the skillet for a second before she asked, "How many eggs do you want?"

"Well since it's Paige's birthday we have to be up before God himself, apparently..." Lillian said through a mouthful of strawberry. Paige smiled at her.

Audrey was still clutching the egg, "How many eggs do you want, Mum?" she repeated.

Mum stared at all of them in the kitchen for a very long moment; Paige didn't want to know what she was thinking, it would probably just make her sad. She got out a new plate and put a few strawberries onto it for her. Finally, just before Audrey was about to ask a third time, Mum spoke, "Just one, dear." Was all she said; Audrey cracked the egg before she finished her sentence.

Mum was staring at the fridge now, and after another spell of silence filled only with the sound of Audrey cooking the egg rather aggressively, she spoke, "I bought bacon..."

All four of the girls looked at her almost in unison, and she smiled, ""s in the fridge...don't bother dirtying up the other skillet, Audrey, just finish with the eggs and then cook the bacon." She instructed her, padding over to the counter to sit between Lillian and Elizabeth. Paige handed her her plate of strawberries. She thanked her and bit into her first one.

Audrey finished her egg after Paige fished the bacon out of the back of the fridge. Paige opened the package as Audrey slid the eggs onto Mum's plate, but she shot her a look, "Don't get it out yet." She said, sounding like she was trying to be a little nicer in Mum's presence, "I still want to make my egg."

"Okay." Was all Paige said; she took a count of how many strips everyone wanted. Mum just wanted one, Lillian two, Elizabeth held up two fingers but Paige heard three, so she pulled three out on 'accident' along with two for herself and two for Audrey. She pulled two out for Grandma too, for when she got here.

Just as Audrey was dumping her egg onto a plate, Paige heard the front door unlock, "Anyone awake?" Grandma called into the house. Three of them answered. Elizabeth nodded even though Grandma couldn't see her. Audrey gave the egg on the plate a look of sadness before she haphazardly tossed the plate onto the counter. She set the fork down next to it a bit forcefully and then grabbed the first strip of bacon and put it in the skillet.

Grandma made herself visible; she smiled as she walked over to the counter, "Good morning ladies!" she said cheerfully, giving Lillian, Elizabeth and Mum a kiss on the cheek. She waved at Paige from the other side of the counter, "Happy birthday, Paige."

Paige smiled, "Thank you."

Grandma eyed the plate on the counter, "Are these for me?" she asked.

"Yeah." Audrey said shortly.

...

"So Paige." Grandma folded her hands on the other side of the table. It was around noon and she'd taken Paige into a tea shop in Diagon Ally. They'd left the flat at around nine to go and get her things for Hogwarts. So far they'd collected second hand robes and cauldron, which had proven to be a challenge because everyone seemed to be here this morning. Audrey had opted to stay home; she said she'd go another time. Grandma had just left to return Paige's books and robes home before returning and bringing her into the tea shop for a quick break while everything died down outside.

"Would you like to play a quick game with me?" Grandma asked. Paige set her cup of tea down and nodded enthusiastically, "Okay." She reached over and pulled her bag into her lap, "I'm going to think of a number between one and twenty, and for every number you get right, I'll give you," she reached into the bag and pulled out a silver coin, "one sickle to spend on your own. Deal?"

Paige smiled even wider, "Deal."

"Okay then." She said, placing the sickle back into her bag, "Let's begin." She paused in thought.

Three.

Paige pretended to think about it, "Three." she said after a moment.

She raised an eyebrow, "Lucky guess." She said, "Let's go again."

Nineteen.

Again, Paige pretended to put thought into her answer, "Nineteen?" she feigned a guess.

"Hmm." She said, "You're good at this. Let's try once more."

Three.

Paige fought back a smile and stayed quiet for a long time, and then she said, "I bet you're trying to trick me, by picking a number you've already used." She gave Paige a quizzical look, but the number in her head stayed the same, so she said, "Three!"

"Very clever." She said happily, "Let's try just one more."

"If you insist." Paige said, smiling wide.

Paige, I know you can hear me.

The smile fell straight off her face, "What?" she practically squeaked.

Grandma shook her head, "I thought so." She said. She reached into her bag and slid five sickles to Paige's side of the table. She didn't pick them up.

"But – but how did you–" She tried to ask, but Grandma put her hand up.

"It's a long story, sweetie." She said, taking the bag out of her lap and sitting up a little straighter, "let me explain.

"When you Mum was a kid, it became very apparent to me and your grandfather that she did not have any magical talent. She was to be a squib. But, just because your mother wasn't magical didn't mean she couldn't get up to trouble.

"We had this neighbor, you see. This cranky little hundred-and-something year old witch who lived a ways off. Our properties kind of bled together, because we couldn't really be bothered to build a fence, but she was avid about not letting Lucile on our property. She thought children were a bad omen, and Lucile especially, because she was a squib. Lucile wandered onto her property a number of times, and the old witch never didn't know about it.

"So, one day your mother's outside, and wanders onto her property because she's got wildflowers blooming out there. Lucile's maybe nine or ten at this point, and the old witch comes running outside to see her picking her flowers! So she decides this is the absolute last straw and curses your mother."

Grandma took a deep breath and shook her head sadly; Paige stared at her with wide eyes, "How'd she curse her?" she asked curiously, and Grandma looked at me sadly.

"Well – she was a little off her rocker." She said, "She cursed your mother never to have a second born."

It took a second for those words to sink in, "But–" Paige tried to say, but Grandma cut her off again.

"Yes, yes," she said, "You're the second born." She took another deep breath, "We thought the same thing."

"What do you mean?" Paige asked quietly.

She sighed, "Technicalities." Was all she offered at first, but when she saw this wasn't enough for Paige to understand, she sat up a little straighter and tried to explain, "Your Mum and I were both shocked when she managed to get pregnant a second time. It didn't make much sense to us. Especially when the pregnancy went splendidly throughout all nine months. But see, when...when you were born..." she paused for a long moment, staring at Paige sadly, "When you were born, sweetheart you...you weren't the only one."

At the front of the store, one of the windows shattered, scaring Paige half to death but not affecting Grandma. Someone fixed the window with the flick of a wand and the tea shop was quiet again. Paige stared at Grandma for a very, very long time, eyes wide, "So – you mean–" she paused, "I was supposed to have a twin?" her voice was barely above a whisper.

Grandma looked down at her tepid tea, "Three and a half kilograms, red hair, blue eyes. Stillborn." She said faintly, "Her name was going to be Caroline."

Paige could hardly breath, "So I'm alive on a technicality?" she asked finally.

"So is Lillian. And Elizabeth" Grandma sighed.

Paige was quiet for a minute, and then, "That's a lot to lay on an eleven year old."

Grandma's shoulder's shook with a soft laugh, "I'm sorry." She said, looking up, "I just – that needed to be explained before this."

"Before what?" Paige asked, looking back up at her.

Grandma paused, "You can read thoughts, can't you?" she asked quietly; Paige nodded, her eyes wide, "See – twins in the wizarding world, they're sometimes born with that ability. Their minds are connected, but you – well, you never had anyone to connect to."

Paige swallowed thickly, "So I'm just on my own?"

"Well, you can hear everyone; I wouldn't say you're on your own." Grandma said, "How good are you at controlling it?"

"If I don't wanna hear anyone, I don't have to. I can ignore it." Paige told her; Grandma smiled.

"That's good – you're good at controlling it." She said happily, "It'll get even better with time, I'm sure."

...

When Paige went back into their room, Audrey looked up at her from the book she was reading, and her eyes immediately landed on the cat in Paige's arms. They were both quiet for a long time, then Audrey's eyes fell back on her book, "What kind is it?" she asked, trying to sound friendly.

"Turkish Calico." Paige said, petting its head; it purred.

Paige stayed standing in the doorway petting it, until Audrey finally spoke again, "What'd you name it?" she asked, quieter than before.

"Caroline." Paige said setting the cat down to roam. Audrey's eyes flickered up to look at Paige, but she looked away just as fast.

"What kind of wand?" Audrey turned the page of her book.

Paige pulled it out of her pocket and stared at it, "Willow...nine inches..." she told her.

Audrey slowly looked up from her book, "...Core?"

"Oh – dragon heartstring." Paige said.

Audrey's eyes snapped back to her book, "...Mine's a veela hair..." she muttered. Paige glanced at her, but looked away almost immediately. She wanted to ignore the jealousy festering in Audrey's head for as long as she could.

...

Paige and Audrey were the only ones that crossed the barrier to Platform 9¾, and once across they gave each other one glance and silently agreed to pretend they didn't know each other.

"I'd get on the train pretty fast if I were you." Audrey told her as they walked, "It's pretty hard to get a good seat when you're a first year."

Paige didn't answer, she just stopped and looked around; Audrey paused a few paces in front of her. She was about to say something, when through the crowd a voice practically screamed, "AUDREY!"

A blonde girl hardly taller than Paige barreled through the crowd towards Audrey, grabbing her in a hug and nearly lifting her off the ground. Paige raised an eyebrow; for such a small person, she seemed to have amazing strength.

"It's been such a long summer without you. My family spent most of it in France! Have you ever been to France, Audrey? Well it's not all it's cracked up to be, you know – I mean it was pretty and all but the way they say their R's is just – ugh! So grating on the ears! I actually –" the girl stopped mid-sentence when she noticed Paige standing just a few feet away. She looked like she was going to explode, "Is this your little sister?!" she asked, shoving past Audrey to come closer; Paige took a step back almost immediately.

"What's it – Prag?" she asked, leaning in closer to peer at Paige.

"Paige." Both Audrey and Paige corrected in unison.

"Right." The girl said dismissively, "Hi, Paige! My name is Angela Madison I'm one of Audrey's best friends! I'm a third year with her in Ravenclaw! What house are you in? Oh, wait – you're a first year! You don't know that yet! Well I hope you're in Ravenclaw so we can talk a lot more and hopefully become just as close as me and your sister! If you ever need to know anything at all don't hesitate to ask I know lots of things about Hogwarts and the pureblood family trees! For example – did you know that your family, the Bakers, originated in Fr –"

"You know, that's actually really cool, but I think I'm gonna go find a seat on the train." Paige said suddenly, effectively shutting her up. Paige could see where this was going, and she knew if she let her keep talking they'd both miss the train.

"Oh, okay! Well it was nice to meet you Paige I hope we get to talk again sometime!" Angela said as she began to walk away with her things.

"Me too!" Paige lied through her teeth.

Just before she turned away, a dark skinned girl with big, curly hair sauntered out of the crowd towards Audrey, "Did she tell you about France?" Paige heard her ask.

Audrey gave her a pained look, "About three sentences so far – but I can't wait to hear more!" she finished sarcastically. Paige smiled to herself; quite a best friend Audrey had there.

...

It hadn't been very long since the train had taken off, maybe thirty minutes. Paige found herself in a tiny compartment sitting across from a tall boy with curly red hair and horn rimmed glasses who was adamant about staring bitterly out the window apparently for the entire train ride.

Paige yawned, rubbed her ankles together to make sure her wand was till in her boot, then stood up, "Well," she said to the boy, who spared her a glance, "Not that this isn't fun, but I'm gonna go look around."

Before he had a chance to answer, Paige slid open the door, stepped out into the hall and closed it. She smiled at him through the glass then disappeared down the way.

...

About a cart and a half down from where she'd been sitting with the silent boy, she found Audrey and her friends. Audrey had her wand out – Paige had never actually seen it – and she was using it. There was a thin blue trail of silky, shimmering something coming out of the end of her wand, staying in the air where Audrey drew it. She was making pretty blue spirals in the air that glimmered before slowly disappearing. Her curly haired friend was doing the same, but with a silvery color instead.

Audrey wrote Ravenclaw in the air in pretty handwriting. Her friend surrounded it with pretty silver stars. Angela somehow had her mouth shut, writing in the air with her own wand, but nothing was coming out. Paige watched them for a moment longer; Audrey was smiling, Paige could hear her laughing through the door.

It had been a long time.

Paige moved on, so as not to spoil her moment.

Chapter Text

"You know, Audrey," Angela said, throwing herself onto her bed and rolling over, "It really is a shame that your little sister was sorted into Gryffindor. She really looked like a Ravenclaw to me. I was looking forward to getting to know her."

Audrey sat down wearily on her bed and pulled her wand out of her boot, "Really? I thought for sure she was going to be in Gryffindor. Or at the very least Slytherin." She kicked off her boots and peeled her socks off her feet; she sighed in content.

"Well, your family does have rather a history with Gryffindors and Ravenclaws. There's not many Slytherins in there, but enough that it stands out." Angela chattered on. Penelope and Audrey cast each other looks, "Of course, it usually reflects the parents – whatever houses the parents were in usually influences the kids. But of course, we can't use that for either of you." Angela laughed a little to herself.

Penelope was messing with the covers on her bed, but she looked up at Audrey, "What houses do you think your parents would have been in, Audrey?" she asked. Angela looked at her very angrily, but didn't say anything.

Audrey set her wand on her desk and took her glasses off, "Huh." She said, thinking hard, "That's a good question. I think..." she paused for a long moment in thought, "I think my mum definitely would've been in Gryffindor. And my dad..." Audrey had to put a lot of thought into that. She almost said Hufflepuff, but he didn't really fit there...Hufflepuff's were supposed to be loyal...her dad was not loyal...or brave...or clever...

"Let's not talk about muggles being sorted." Angela suddenly snapped, "It just doesn't make any sense and it would be a waste of time anyways! It's not like your father will ever step foot in the castle!"

Penelope huffed in Angela's general direction, "I'm going to bed." She said, reaching up and pulling closed one of her curtains on her four poster.

Angela sat up, "What? Why? It's our first night back together! We should be talking!" she protested.

"Oh, I think you've been talking plenty for all three of us." Penelope said, reaching up to grab the other curtain, "We have class tomorrow. Goodnight."

Audrey blinked, "Er – yeah, I'm gonna go to bed, too." She said awkwardly, "I'm, er, kind of tired." She faked a yawn and pulled her curtains shut after a moment of struggling, "Goodnight Angela." She said hurriedly, throwing her glasses onto the desk and slipping under the covers.

...

"I absolutely cannot believe we have three classes where we're not together!" Angela practically shrieked the next morning at breakfast. She was gaping at her own schedule, "This is unacceptable! What are you taking?"

"A better question would be what are you taking, Angela?" Penelope said bitterly, taking a long sip of her tea; Audrey swallowed thickly between them.

Angela scoffed, "I told you, Penelope – I'm taking Muggle Studies, Care of Magical Creatures and a free period!" Angela shook the piece of parchment slightly, "Ugh, why didn't you two talk to me! We all should've taken the same things!"

"Angela, I doubt Muggle Studies would've done us much good." Penelope said, "We were both raised by muggles."

Angela sneered, "Well you would've made great marks! What're you two taking anyways!?"

"Divination, Ancient Runes and Arithmacy." Audrey said quietly.

"Those are classes that require actual work! You two are crazy." Angela shook her head angrily, "And look at this! Care of Magical Creatures is double blocked with the Griyffindors, ugh." 

"What's wrong with that?" Audrey asked defensively.

"There's only one pureblood in our year in Gryffindor and it's that stupid Weasley boy! And he hardly counts!" Angela whined.

Penelope slammed her cup of tea down on the table so hard a good portion of it sloshed onto the table, "Why do you care so much about blood status Angela!? It's not like it fu-reaking matters!" Penelope said angrily.

Students' heads turned to look at the three curiously; Penelope and Angela were glaring daggers at one another from either side of Audrey, who looked like she wished she could disappear.

Penelope took a deep breath, "You know what? I've lost my appetite." She said, shoving her plate away, "I'll see you two in Charms."

Audrey was quick to get up from the bench too, because she didn't much feel like listening to Angela bitch. She didn't immediately follow Penelope, either, though. She paused for a moment and glanced around the dining hall, looking for Paige. She wondered what class she'd be taking first. Audrey personally felt she'd enjoy Charms, or possibly even Potions if it weren't for the downcast Professor Snape.

Audrey's eyes finally found Paige – sitting at the Gryffindor table surrounded by three other girls laughing with her. Audrey bit her lip, and Paige made sudden eye contact with her; she frowned, and then kind of nodded towards the door or the dining hall. Her eyes were telling Audrey no.

Oh.

Okay.

Audrey left the dining hall feeling deflated and not at all in the mood to listen to Penelope vent about Angela. She felt more in the mood to cry.

...

Audrey found herself taking the long way to Charms so as not to run into either Angela or Penelope. They had hardly been at school for a day and they were already fighting. Audrey never like when they fought much, because it was almost always about the same thing: blood. And Audrey hated picking a side – obviously, blood didn't make any one person better or more valuable, but at the same time it wasn't exactly insignificant. Families with long, extending blood lines had to be given some credit, right? But it wasn't all that mattered...

Audrey came from both sides; her mum was a pureblood in all the sense of the word, and her father was a muggle who wanted nothing to do with magic.

The fights never lasted a long time, at least; Penelope usually got over it first, because if she didn't Angela never would.

...

Penelope was in a better mood by lunch, but that was mainly because she was excited for Divination. She was sat with Audrey outside in the courtyard, trying to avoid Angela; so far, she hadn't found them.

"I know I wasn't really very excited about Divination last year, but after I bought the book I read through almost the entire thing. It's a very interesting category of magic." Penelope said happily, "Is the teacher nice?"

"She's nice enough. A little strange." Audrey told her, "But then, that's most of the professors."

Penelope giggled just a little bit, "I guess you're right." She glanced up as a group of students passed by the other end of the courtyard, and then she cast a look at Audrey, "You know the red head boy in our year?"

"What?" Audrey asked, slightly confused by the sudden change of topic, "Er – you'll have to be more specific..." she kept her eyes on the book in her hands.

"The one in Gryffindor – the one Angela doesn't like? The pureblood one." Penelope elaborated.

"Ooh, yeah." Audrey paused in reading for a second, "Er – sat with us in the boat? I dragged him out of the library that one night to the dining hall?"

Penelope snorted, "Yeah, you've got him." She paused for a moment, stretched, and then said, "I think he fancies you."

Audrey looked up from her book, "What?" she asked, sounding very surprised, "What – what makes you say that?"

Penelope smiled at her, "Don't act so shocked. Tell me you haven't noticed he looks at you every time he walks by you."

"I – haven't." Audrey confessed, "I'm sorry, did you?"

"He just walked by, and he was staring at you pretty hard." Penelope assured her, "He definitely likes you."

"He could've been looking at you." Audrey said, burying her face back in her book. Penelope pulled it out of her hands and closed it.

"He's always looking at you. I've seen it. He never even makes eye contact with me." She said whimsically, "We should get to Divination. It's in the North Tower, right?"

"Yeah..." Said Audrey, skeptical, "But I have to feeling this won't be the last time we're going to talk about this."

"It won't be." Penelope said, standing up and handing Audrey her book back; Audrey took it and stood as well, placing it in her bag, and they walked.

...

Audrey clambered into Professor Trelawney's classroom first, only to find there weren't many other people in there. A group of Hufflepuff girls was huddled in the corner, as well as a Ravenclaw boy from their year sat next to another Hufflepuff boy. Once Audrey was through the trapdoor, she helped Penelope up as well, "I think we're double blocked with Hufflepuff's." she told her.

Penelope stood and dusted herself off, "Hufflepuff's are nice; I'm glad. Too bad we're not double blocked with Gryffindor, though." Penelope teased, nudging Audrey playfully; Audrey simply huffed and sat down at a table closer to the middle of the room.

The room was filled with the tiniest buzz of chatter, mainly coming from the Hufflepuff girls in the corner of the room, but Professor Trelawney was nowhere to be seen. Finally, just after class should have started, she came slinking out of a darker part of the room silently; Penelope started slightly at her sudden presence.

"Do not be frightened, my child." Professor Trelawney said in a misty voice, "I was simply waiting for the right moment...hullo my dears..." she smiled, and it looked very strange with her large eyes, "It is so nice to finally meet you – of course, some, I have had the pleasure of acquainting," she paused, and smiled directly at Audrey, who sank into her seat a little bit more, "So you have chosen to study the art of Divination...nothing brings me more joy...but I must warn you – if you are not gifted with the Sight, there is not much I will be able to teach you..." she shook her head, "Books will only take you so far, in this field..."

She took a deep breath and glided to the far corner of the room, where the Hufflepuff girls sat, "My dear girl..." she said, hovering over the girl sitting closest to her, "How is your sister doing?"

"Er – she's going to have a baby in the winter." The girl said wearily; Professor Trelawney nodded and began to move away.

"Send him my best wishes..." she said whimsically.

"Er – actually, they're most certain it's a girl." The girl corrected.

"They are most certainly incorrect." Professor Trelawney returned to the middle of the room and faced all the students, "This year we will be covering the basic methods of Divination – a majority of the first term will be devoted to reading tea leaves, and next term we will begin with palmistry. Oh, and my dear –" she said suddenly, turning to face the Hufflepuff boy, "Choose your battles wisely."

The Hufflepuff boy squirmed and looked away awkwardly. Professor Trelawney continued, "Later in the second term we will progress to the crystal ball, and perhaps fire omens...of course one of us will not be able to continue in the art come the second term..." she paused dramatically, "Now...I want you all to divide into pairs..."

...

Once Penelope and Audrey had their tea cups filled, they sat back down at their table and drank the tea as quickly as they could. Once finished, they swilled the dregs around just as Professor Trelawney had instructed, then drained the cups and swapped.

"Read mine first." Penelope said curiously, setting Audrey's cup aside. Audrey opened her book and peered into the cup for a long time.

"Hum..." she said quietly, "looks to me like there's a little apple, so...you have a good opportunity to gain knowledge in the future..."

Penelope smiled, "I knew that." She leaned forward a little bit, "Anything else?"

"Hmm..." Audrey shifted the cup around, "This little piece almost looks like a club...but that means a fight..." she shot Penelope an apologetic look, "And, er – this last little bit looks like spade...so that's just general good fortune." She slid the cup back over to Penelope, "my turn."

Professor Trelawney glided behind Penelope then, "May I?" she asked, and Penelope shot Audrey a look but reluctantly handed the cup to the Professor. She hummed and swished it around a bit, turning it in different directions, before finally, she smiled.

"I see a foot, my dear – you have some decisions to make very soon..." she turned the cup another direction, which kind of seemed like cheating to Audrey, but she didn't say anything, "I see a tree branch...you have a secret to keep, then?" she smiled a Audrey, who squirmed, "And – what's this?" she squinted closer, then smiled much wider than Audrey had ever seen her, "Ah, my dear," she said whimsically, handing Audrey's cup back to her, "Not one – but many – love hearts."

Penelope's head turned from looking at Trelawney to Audrey so fast her hair bounced for a moment; she had the world's biggest smile on her face, "What's that mean, Professor?" She asked, sounding more genuinely interested than she had at the start of class.

"It means, she will run into her true love." Professor Trelawney said dreamily, "Soon, all will fall into place, my child." She finished, before walking away slowly, looking transfixed.

Audrey was blushing so hard she thought she could die, "Before you say anything." She snapped to Penelope, "I don't need true love for things to fall into place. I'm perfectly content as I am."

"Oh, but surely true love wouldn't hurt." Penelope insisted.

...

"I don't want to discuss this, Penelope!" Audrey said as they spiraled down the many stairs of the North Tower, "It's probably not even that accurate! I bet she means in like, twenty years, or something! And besides, doesn't everybody?"

"Okay, obviously, it must mean something, since you had not one – but many! – love hearts!" Penelope giggled as they reached the bottom of the tower.

"It's not even that funny!" Audrey said as they entered the main castle, "Divination has never been credited as the most accurate form of magic. It's probably only slightly more accurate than reading my horoscope in the paper! It's not going to happen anytime soon, so can we just go to Ancient Runes, please?"

Just as Audrey finished this sentence and began to round the corner to get to the great hall, someone else was rounding the corner coming from the great hall, and they were both walking so quickly and paying so little attention they ran straight into one another in the most literal sense of the phrase. Not only their arms, but their foreheads smacked into each other at full force and they were both sent sprawling onto the ground.

"Ow! Dammit..." Audrey muttered from where she landed at Penelope's feet – whom she hadn't yet noticed was staring down at her with an even bigger grin than she'd had in Divination. Audrey rubbed her head and winced, readjusting her glasses, "I'm sorry," she said, looking up at the unfortunate person who was also now on the floor, "I wasn't paying attention..."

"No – it's – it's okay," Percival Weasley said quickly. His glasses were low on his nose, and there went Audrey again with the mysterious urge to push them up for him; she blinked.

"Um – are you okay?" she asked awkwardly, moving to stand up and pick up her quill which had rolled out of her bag when she hit the floor. He noticed it, too, and went to pick it up as well; he beat her by just a second, handing it to her, "Er – thank you." She said quietly, tucking it back in her bag and holding her hand out to him. He took it awkwardly and she helped him off the ground, "It's – um – Percival, right?"

He halfway winced, "Er – most people just call me Percy." He said, and she nodded.

"Right, sorry. Percy." She said, and smiled at him; he smiled back weakly.

"Um – I don't believe I know your name." he confessed, and she bit back a laugh.

"Oh – er – Audrey. Audrey Baker." She said, and his smile looked a little less weak.

"Audrey." He said simply, and this time her laugh was a bit less stifled.

"Yeah." She said.

"Baker – oh, your sister's in my house." He sounded not as happy about that part.

Audrey bit her lip, "Oh, Paige." She paused for a moment, "I'm deeply sorry for anything she's already done to ruin your life. Or anyone else's."

He shook his head, "I'm – sorry I ran into you." He said.

"Oh, don't be – I ran into you, too." Audrey assured him, "We – er – ran into each other."

What sounded like half a laugh escaped him, "Yeah." He paused, "Well – I – have to go. But I hope I see you. Around. Without running into you."

"Let's aim for that." Audrey said happily, "Nice to finally meet you, Percy."

"Er – you as well, Audrey." He said. He awkwardly stepped around her and nodded at Penelope, who had not said a word throughout the entire exchange, rather smiled a bit too wide at the pair. He disappeared around the corner and Penelope looked at Audrey expectantly.

Audrey, finally noticing her friends' odd behavior, dropped her smile, "What?" she asked defensively, and Penelope snorted.

"You're joking." She said, but when Audrey only looked more confused and defensive she placed her hands on her hips, "Oh, Divination isn't even that accurate! It'll probably take place in like twenty years!" she mocked, "Do you even hear yourself? You literally just got proven wrong and it didn't even take twenty minutes!"

"What are you talking about?" Audrey asked seriously; truthfully all thoughts of whatever conversation they'd been having before they'd rounded the corner had been knocked out of her head, quite literally.

"You're not telling me you don't understand you literally just ran into him." Penelope said the last part very slowly.

It took Audrey another short moment to connect the dots, "Oh – oh no, no, no." she said defensively, "Stop smiling like that – that was just a coincidence. I run into people all the time."

"I have never seen you run into a single person in my life." Penelope said, highly amused.

"You have not known me that long." Audrey said stubbornly.

"I've been by your side for about twenty months of your life, that's a long time, and I've never seen you run into one person." Penelope pointed out.

"Let's go to Ancient Runes!" Audrey said suddenly, turning on her heel and stalking towards the great hall very quickly.

...

Audrey refused to talk about anything besides class work until the end of the day. After Transfiguration, they parted with Angela for their last classes of the day before dinner. Angela went to Care of Magical Creatures, and Audrey and Penelope went to Arithmomancy.

Audrey and Penelope got to the great hall for dinner first, and they claimed a seat at the edge of the table. Penelope sighed, "I'm just saying Audrey –"

"And I'm just saying I don't want to talk about it." Audrey said back immediately; Penelope rolled her eyes.

"Okay, fine. I won't push it – after this." She said quickly; Audrey glared at her from the corner of her eye, but didn't protest, "I'm just saying, he's very cute, he fancies you anyways, and that was quite a coincidence."

Audrey didn't answer; they sat and ate in silence for another few minutes before Angela came stomping into the dining hall and sat down angrily next to Audrey, "You will absolutely never believe what happened to me in Care of Magical Creatures!"

"I'm certain we will." Penelope muttered, shoveling a spoonful of food into her mouth.

"We're double blocked with the Gryffindor's, and that Weasley boy –" Angela started to say, but Audrey interrupted her.

"His name is Percy." She said simply, and Angela paused, staring at her for a second.

"I – I don't care what his name is!" she said, "He tried to talk to me!"

Audrey poked at her food, "'bout what?" she wasn't very interested.

"Well – he – he was asking about you, actually." Angela said, and Audrey and Penelope both looked at her.

"What did he ask?" Penelope asked, suddenly interested, and Angela rolled her eyes.

"I don't know – I don't remember. Probably something stupid." She said, "I told him not to talk to me."

"How rude." Penelope said simply, going back to eating.

Audrey went back to eating as well, tired from the day and not much in the mood to listen to Angela chatter on, when suddenly she elbowed her in the side.

"Ow–!" Audrey said, but Angela shushed her.

"Shut up! He's looking at me." Angela hissed, very non-discretely looking away from the Gryffindor table. Audrey glanced over and saw Percy, indeed, looking over at them – but less at Angela and more at her. Audrey offered him a small wave and he returned it. They both went back to eating.

"S'fine, Angela, he was just saying hello." Audrey said.

"But why does he think he can talk to me?" Angela asked, "I've never even looked at him and suddenly he wants to be friends!" she gasped suddenly, "Oh my god – what if it's worse?" she paused dramatically, then grabbed Audrey's arm, trying to get her attention again, "What if he fancies me?"

Audrey paused; she didn't quite know why, but that thought made her slightly uncomfortable, "No," she said, "I don't think so." She went back to eating.

...

"No, but really, think about it!" Angela insisted when they'd made it back to their dorm room, "I bet you he does fancy me! Why else would he just, randomly want to start talking to me?"

"Tell me this, Angela," said Penelope aggressively; she looked about ready to yank out half her hair. Or all of Angela's, "If he likes you, why was he asking about Audrey?"

Angela paused to think about this, not catching the halfhearted glare Audrey threw in Penelope's direction, "Oh, I don't know..." she thought for a moment longer, "I bet he was just looking for something to talk about! After all, Audrey's family history is extensive enough to write a whole book about."

"You should do that, so you wouldn't have to waste all that time telling it to us yourself." Penelope suggested in a light tone.

Angela smiled, "I don't have time to write a book!" she told her, her tone suggesting Penelope was stupid to even suggest such a thing in the first place, "I'll hardly have time for anything anymore, what with all these new courses."

"Then shouldn't you maybe be working?" Audrey asked her gingerly, not willing to look up from her desk, where she was already working on homework.

"Oh, please, this is far more entertaining. It's like a scandal." Angela said honestly, "I want to figure it out!"

"Figure what out? Why he would like you? Because I don't think anyone knows the answer to that." Penelope grumbled to herself.

Angela shot her a look, "No. I know why he would like me, I mean obviously I'm the total package." She said, and she didn't even sound like she was remotely kidding; she stood up a bit straighter, as if trying to fool them into thinking she was taller than the first and second years.

"What's the total package in your opinion? Knowing too much about other people and bitchiness?" Penelope retorted.

"Is there some sort of problem?" Angela snapped suddenly, turning to face her and tapping her foot.

Penelope rose quickly from her seat, pulling herself to her full height, putting her at least a half a head above Angela, "Yes, actually, I think there is."

Audrey very slowly set her quill down and held her breath; it wasn't that she didn't want to see how this played out, but she very much did not want to get in trouble again. She decided for now to keep her mouth shut and watch them carefully.

"I'm very much sick and tired of having to listen to you tell anyone who will listen that you're better than everyone around you!" Penelope said angrily; her voice wasn't raised, but it was suddenly much more powerful than it normally was, "Everything to you is about blood! Status! Money! Power! How much influence people have over each other is what draws you to them! And you need everyone in your immediate proximity to know you're a pureblood! That you're the best! That people whom you think are less than you should envy you, fancy you, look up to you, but never dare to speak to you! I can't stand it anymore, Angela! Shut up! Just shut up! No one wants to listen to you brag!"

"You only care because you're not like us! You're a muggle born!" Angela shrieked, her voice gone shrill and her cheeks dusted pink, "You want to know why I think I'm 'so much better' than you – it's because I am! I'm a pureblood! My talent isn't watered down by muggle blood! I'm better than you! I'm better than all the muggle borns in this school! And I won't humor them about it either! I won't let stupid mudbloods or blood traitors walk around thinking I'm their friend because I'm not! I will never be! I am better! And it's time you accepted it!"

In one swift motion, Penelope swiped her wand off her desk and pointed it straight at Angela, "Locomotor Mortis!"

Before Angela could move, her legs were locked together and she fell, unable to pull them apart, "Hey!" she whined loudly, reaching up and grabbing her own wand and pointing it at Penelope from the floor, "Densaugeo!" she shrieked, sending a violet light towards her, which Penelope swiftly blocked without much of a problem.

Audrey shot up from her desk chair, "Stop!" she shouted, unwilling to run into the middle of their fire but wishing they would end their bickering, "Please! It's not worth fighting over, stop it!"

Penelope and Angela weren't listening, though; they were far too wrapped up in their own affairs. Both with their wands raised, Penelope shouted, "Petrificus Totalus!" at the very same time Angela screamed, "Mutatio Skullus!"

The hexes shot through the air and crashed into one another, resulting in a spectacular shower of light and sparks and the hexes themselves to ricochet around the room. All three girls screamed, Penelope and Audrey frantically ducking out of the way, Angela left on the floor unable to move her legs but squirming wildly.

When the hexes finally settled, Angela and Penelope immediately looked ready to go back to dueling, but Audrey was not about to let that happen. She jumped out from under her desk and grabbed her wand, pointing it at Penelope, whom already had half a hex out her mouth, "Expelliarmus!" Audrey said confidently, and Penelope's wand flew out of her hand and into the wall.

She looked rather shocked to find her hand empty, "Audrey, why –"

"Oh, thank you, Audrey, for saving me from that maniac with a wand." Angela interjected, "Now, if you'd just preform the counter-curse, I could–"

"Silencio." Audrey said, her wand facing Angela, who immediately found herself unable to talk; she stared at Audrey wildly, wondering if she'd perhaps gone crazy, too.

Penelope snorted, "Good idea, mate. Maybe if we –"

"I'll silence you, too, if you don't shut up for five seconds!" Audrey snapped; Penelope stared at her with wide eyes but nonetheless stayed quiet, "I'm sick and tired of having to listen to both of you!" she declared, crossing the room to the door that led down to the common room, "Blood and bitching is all that ever comes out of either mouth!"

She opened the door slightly, peering down onto the staircase, only to come face to face with Sloan, Angela's older sister (a prefect), only about five steps down.

"Oh, hullo Audrey." She said politely, "I was just heading up because from the common room it sounded like there was a bit of commotion." She gave Audrey a questioning look.

"Commotion? Oh, no, no commotion here!" Audrey said, cheeks heating as she quickly searched for an excuse, "We just got a bit excited about – um – about – about Gilderoy Lockhart! Yes, Gilderoy Lockhart, hahaha..." 

Sloan blinked, "...Oh, well that's understandable. I love his books, very entertaining. He really knows how to tell a story, don't you think?"

"Oh, yes, he is quite the story teller! Haha...um, well goodnight!" Audrey said, closing the door quickly. She turned back to her two dorm mates, "Now you two," she said, "I wish. You would stop. Fighting. Almost every day it's back and forth and we're only one day into this year!

"Angela! I'll say this once and only once – blood doesn't matter as much as you think it does! If you actually did your reading you'd know that before the fourteenth century everyone in every family married muggles! The only person around that time to believe so called 'purebloods' were better was Salazar Slytherin, and he's dead! So stop arguing it!" she paused as she turned to face Penelope, and she added, almost as an afterthought, "And Percy Weasley doesn't fancy you!

"Penelope! I know you don't get along the best with you, and what she just proclaimed was incredibly uncalled for, but you know what else was incredibly uncalled for? Casting hexes that ricochet around the room." Audrey stood, feet planted firmly with her hands on her hips, looking as intimidating as a third year could, "I'd appreciate if you could both work out your differences as efficiently as possible, without casting curses across the room. But for now I'm going to sleep, and I would love if you both did the same."

She turned away from both of them, taking off her glasses and, seeming to remember as an afterthought, cast the necessary counter-curses on Angela from across the room before crawling into bed and shutting the curtains to her four poster.

...

Audrey woke before either of them and made her way to the dining hall around five a.m. In there, she found half the teachers, a handful of prefects, and Percy Weasley sitting alone at the Gryffindor table. She swallowed and made a detour from her table to have breakfast and stopped next to him.

"Good morning." She said quietly, then awkwardly cleared her throat because it came out a bit scratchy, "I – um – my friend mentioned to me? Her name is Angela – Madison. She's not the nicest. She mentioned you – er – asked about me? During Care of Magical Creatures? Then said she was awfully rude – well she didn't say she was awfully rude, she just said she said something I thought was awfully rude, so I just – just wanted to apologize for that. About her. I don't actively choose her company. She kind of just follows me around and knows an alarming amount about my family history so I guess we're friends or something. Sorry."

Percy was staring at her with a very strange look in his eye; half confusion and half something Audrey couldn't quite identify, "Um – it's, er...well actually yeah, it was a little rude, what she said to me, but it wasn't your fault. Don't feel like you have to apologize for it." His gaze flitted downwards, "I wouldn't dwell on it."

"Well, see, the thing is," Audrey said quickly, which stole his attention back, "I kind of was dwelling on it. Because she mentioned that you asked about me, and I was just wondering – what were you asking about? I might be able to answer your question, seeing as I am me."

Percy's ears had durned a pale pink color, and he tried to keep his eyes everywhere but her, "Oh – that – well – I was just – um – you know Hogsmeade?" he stuttered out, "Well of course you...you probably do...but I was just – er – are you – going? Attending? The first trip of the year? Because if so I am...too...and I just...maybe we could...see each other around..."

"You should come with me and Penelope." Audrey invited blindly; she didn't even think about it, she just found the words tumbling out of her mouth, "We probably won't be with Angela, anyways, so you should come hang out with us. Walk around. It'll – um – be nice. You seem nice."

Percy looked kind of dazed, "Nice..." he muttered, then seemed to think better of himself, "Er – yes! That sounds..." he peered around the dining hall like he was looking for someone, then shook his head, "Nice – yes – it sounds nice. You sound nice – seem, seem nice. Nice...um, Audrey."

She smiled warmly, "It does sound nice." She paused, content in the silence, but after a moment seemed to catch herself staring at his freckles and jumped softly on the balls of her feet, "I'm going to go – eat. Yes. That's why I was, um, awake. Why I came down here. I was also of course hoping to catch you, but, food is um. A nice perk to, er waking up."

She blinked, and he blinked back, blushing softly; she wondered why she'd suddenly forgotten almost every word she knew, "Well it was nice to see you! Talk to you – um – Percy. Hogsmeade?"

"Yes, um, Hogsmeade." He returned, and smiled softly at her.

She kept smiling as she made her way back to the Ravenclaw table, not at him – not to anyone, really. She was just happy. Happy about Hogsmeade. Happy about Percy Weasley.

Penelope came down to breakfast when Audrey was about halfway done with hers. She slid onto the bench next to her and started helping herself to what was laid out on the table, "Angela's still asleep. She'll probably be a while." She paused, playing with her food but not eating it, "I'm sorry about – um – last night. Fighting with her was bad enough but – I shouldn't have hexed her. It was kind of unfair. And dangerous. Sorry about that." She said earnestly; she looked at Audrey kind of sheepishly.

Audrey swallowed the food she had in her mouth and shook her head, "It was last night – it's not like you can go back and change what happened. I appreciate your apology, though. I forgive you." She said calmly. Penelope smiled at her and started eating, like Audrey had just given her permission.

They sat in contented silence for a while, then when Penelope was almost done, Audrey said, "I invited Percy Weasley to come hang out with us during the first Hogsmeade weekend trip."

Penelope almost choked on her eggs, "Why?" she asked, although she sounded more excited than shocked.

Audrey blinked, "I dunno." She said honestly, "I just – did."

 

Chapter Text

Paige noticed within the first week of school, Audrey's cat liked the Gryffindor common room.

Holly could be seen curled in front of the fire or slinking in and out of the boys' dorm rooms on occasion, and when she wasn't doing that, Paige wasn't sure where she was. She hoped she was with Audrey, which would make a lot more sense considering Audrey wasn't even in Gryffindor House.

She noticed very quickly that Holly had seemed to have taken quite a liking to the silent train boy. She often pestered him; clawing at his robes while he sat in the common room to work, and when he retired to the dorm rooms she would often follow him up the stairs.

But Holly wasn't his cat. Holly was Audrey's cat, so Paige had to wonder why it wasn't lounging around the Ravenclaw common room and following Ravenclaw prats into their dorm rooms. Holly hated everyone except Audrey, and apparently the silent train boy.

...

Paige found Audrey one morning in the dining hall and decided to bring this to her attention, "You know Holly hangs around the Gryffindor common room more than some Gryffindor's hang around the Gryffindor common room." She said just as Audrey put a bite of food into her mouth; she looked like she wanted to say something, but her mouth was full, so she just stared at Paige while her friend spoke for her.

"Holly as in Audrey's cat, or are we talking about someone else?" her friend with the curly hair asked.

"Holly as in Audrey's cat. I find it quite strange considering it only likes you and you're not a Gryffindor." Paige said sweetly.

"I do never see Holly around very much. That must be where she disappears off to." Audrey said, now that she'd swallowed her food, "She doesn't cause trouble, does she? Otherwise you should get her for me."

"Um, first of all, I'm not touching your demon cat," Paige said seriously, "And either way, she doesn't cause any trouble. True to her owner." She finished sarcastically, "Although, she does follow around this one boy like he's the one that feeds her." She added quickly, before Audrey could say anything.

The friend appeared to kick Audrey under the table, "What boy?" she asked curiously, while Audrey rubbed her ankle.

"I dunno his name." Paige said honestly, "Kinda your height, older than me, red hair with the glasses, bit of a prat."

"Oh that's Percy!" Audrey said happily, but when her friend snorted violently into her pumpkin juice and almost spilled it all over the table she blushed and added, "Well he's – he's not a prat. He's very nice."

"Up for debate." Paige said quickly, but pressed on, "But I just thought I'd let you know since your cat seems to think it's a Gryffindor. And it seems to be a running thing, considering the prefects this year warned the first years not to try and pet her because she's horribly mean." Paige smiled, "Anyways – I'm gonna go since nobody's seemed to figure out we're related and I don't really want them to start speculating because I'm talking to you. Ciao!"

"Okay, I could've done without that ending bit and the sassy Italian." Paige heard Audrey's friend mutter as she turned and walked away from the Ravenclaw table.

...

"Percy, is it?" Paige asked the silent train boy one night in the common room. He looked up from the paper he was working on and frowned at her. Holly went on playing with his shoelace. Paige didn't wait for him to reply, "That's my sister's cat." She said, pointing downwards.

Percy looked down at the cat then back up at her, "This is Audrey's?" he asked, sounding partly relieved and partly something else. Elated. How strange, Paige thought to herself.

"Yeah. Her name's Holly." Paige said sweetly.

"Oh – well, would you mind taking her?" he asked her, and Paige laughed a little bit.

"Oh no – that cat hates everyone except you and my sister. If I tried to get near her she'd go for my eyes." She smiled, "She recognizes my face because I have to share a bedroom with her for three months."

"Oh." Percy said quietly, "Well, we've tried to let her out before. She always finds her way back in here, but I guess she really should be in Ravenclaw tower."

Paige gazed curiously at him, "Are you good friends with Audrey?" she asked innocently, and she watched in half amazement as the tips of Percy's ears turned red and his mind raced.

"I wouldn't say – good friends," he said quickly, "We just – know – know each other. We're in the same – um – third year. Yeah. Um. Yeah."

Paige blinked, "She mentioned to me she invited you to go with her the first Hogsmeade weekend." Paige lied; well, half lied. The information was true – the source was not, "Are you going to take her up on that offer?"

Percy swallowed, "I was – going to, yes." He said quietly, "A-and we're going with her friend," but Paige knew he wished they weren't going with their friend, and her smile grew slightly wider, "And besides – I'd prefer if you didn't talk so loud about that down here," his eyes scanned the room.

"Oh," Paige said, understanding immediately, "You have brothers, yes?" she asked, and he nodded, "Ohh." Paige pretended to suddenly understand everything, "I get that. I have three sisters. I'd feel awful if someone," she paused, "shouted something like that out loud, for them to hear." Actually, she wouldn't really mind all that much, because Audrey was too good to gossip and Lillian and Elizabeth weren't old enough to understand how to gossip.

Nonetheless, Percy looked incredibly relieved to receive this sympathy, "Thank you." He said, looking back to his paper, "I'm glad you understand."

"Certainly." Paige said, voice dripping with sincerity that was soon to dissolve, "Your secret is safe with me."

...

About half an hour later, Percy retired to the dorm room and Holly followed him lazily, both of them disappearing up the staircase. Paige watched them go, settled into the corner of the common room, and once he was gone moved closer to the fireplace. Caroline found her, stretching on the floor in front of the hearth before leaping up into Paige's arms, curling into a ball and falling back asleep. Paige pet her contently, staring happily into the dying flames.

Charlie Weasley was sitting on the couch talking to an incredibly enthusiastic Oliver Wood, but when the latter finally got tired, he reluctantly followed in Percy's footsteps up the stairs. Paige knew Charlie was thinking of going up to bed himself now, so she stole her opportunity and lifted Caroline form her lap, standing and making her way over to him.

She sat down on the arm of the couch right next to him, crisscross, and he looked a bit surprised; he didn't recognize her, so he blinked and said simply, "Hi."

"Did you know," Paige said, smiling devilishly, "That your brother, Percy, is making a date of the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend?"

Charlie found this highly amusing, "Percy?" he asked, and Paige nodded, "Percy's made a date out of the upcoming Hogsmeade weekend?" he reiterated, and Paige nodded again; he laughed, once, short but full of amusement, "I think you're lying to me."

"Oh, no, it's true." Paige said confidently, "He and my sister are going into Hogsmeade together and they fancy each other quite a lot for some reason. I don't know how your brother stands doing that, because my sister is insufferable."

Charlie laughed a bit harder this time, "I have to say the same about you sister, I wonder how she manages that." He smiled, "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely positive." Paige said happily; she leaned in ever so slightly, "But, uh, can you do me a favor and keep this between you and me?" she smiled when he raised an eyebrow in question, "I did promise him after all, that his secret was safe with me."

"Wow." Charlie chuckled, "Have, er, you met Fred and George?"

Paige smiled and blinked once, and she knew everything she needed to, "I plan to." She said sincerely.

 

Chapter Text

The trap door to Professor Trelawney's classroom swung open abruptly, and Charlie Weasley clambered through it awkwardly, holding a box filled with assorted teas. He set it on the ground and finished pulling himself up into the classroom.

Professor Trelawney appeared above him, making him jump, a funny sight from someone with his build. He cleared his throat, standing and offering her the tea, "I was asked by a – um – prefect girl to – er – bring these up here." He said, and Trelawney smiled wistfully, taking the box gingerly.

"Thank you, dear boy." She said, turning away from him and gliding away, "These are essential to my practice. I was running quite low on puer. Would you like to take a seat, have a glass of tea before you head out to practice?" she asked, turning back to him after she set the box on her desk.

He blinked, "How did –"

"My art, dear boy!" she said mistily, eyes going wide as she held her hands out whimsically, "The art of Divination. You'll take that cup of tea, yes?"

"Er – okay. If it's, uh, already foretold." He said politely, shifting slightly on his feet.

"Lovely. You can join Audrey." She said, gesturing to the far side of the classroom. He followed her gaze, and noticed a girl he hadn't before sitting at one of the tables in the corner, wearing big, round glasses and a frown, writing furiously on a piece of parchment.

"Audrey?" he questioned, but she didn't look up at the second mention of her name; she just continued writing. Trelawney simply nodded happily, turning away from him and beginning to unpack the boxes of tea.

Charlie did as she said and wandered over to the table in the corner, sitting down across from Audrey, who only now looked up, seemed quite startled by his presence. Her eyes were big behind her glasses; her cheeks and nose were covered with freckles. The few strands of hair that stuck out from the elaborate bun she had put it up in were curling in seeming defiance about being trapped. She blinked at him, but said nothing.

Maybe there actually is someone in the world who belongs with Percy, Charlie thought in bewilderment, before he smiled and said, "I'm just here for a cup of tea. I'm Charlie. Weasley."

Comprehension dawned in her eyes, "Oh," she said, setting her quill down, all attention deflected away from the parchment in front of her, "It's nice to meet you. I'm Audrey Baker." She extended her arm across the table, hand out to shake his; he did the same.

"You know me?" he asked, and she smiled softly.

"I know your surname. I'm friends with Percy. He's in my year." She told him, sliding both her parchment and her quill to the side before returning her attention to him. She folded her hands under her chin and leaned on them, the smile still on her lips. She looked rather friendly; very welcoming. Her eyes were quite warm and pretty when you got past how big they looked behind her classes.

Never mind, Charlie thought, "So you're a third year?" he asked, like he didn't already know; Audrey nodded, "So are you going into Hogsmeade tomorrow?"

"Oh, yes." She said happily, "Are you?"

"I might go." He said, then paused, "Are you going with friends or going it alone?"

"Oh – I'm going with my best friend and Percy. And probably Angela Madison." She rolled her eyes at the last part, but her over all demeanor didn't really change, "I'm still looking forward to it, though."

Professor Trelawney appeared next to their table holding two cups of very hot tea, "Here you are, my boy." She said gently, setting a cup down in front of Charlie, "Chamomile, very hot. Worry not, you will not get burned."

"Oh – er – good..." Charlie said awkwardly, staring at the steaming cup before him.

"I made you a glass too, my dear," Trelawney said, setting a cup down in front of Audrey, "Puer tea, since I know how much you enjoy it."

Audrey blushed fiercely as Trelawney turned away, but Charlie simply stared awkwardly at his drink, not knowing what to do with it, "I can't drink this." He said quietly to Audrey, who met his gaze with confused eyes, "I have to go down to practice in a bit. This is going to knock me out. Which – by the way – that professor is really good at her job. She knows where I'm going after this."

Audrey laughed, "Oh – not to be rude, but she's not that good." She said quietly, "Most of it is just people reading. And you already have on half your Quidditch uniform."

A quick glance down confirmed her words, and he shook his head, "Well I'll be damned."

"You should burn yourself on the tea, just to prove a point." Audrey told him, smiling widely, "Speaking of tea – hand yours here, I'll trade with you." She said, reaching her hand out for his cup. He handed it to her, trying not to spill it, and she set it down in front of her before handing her cup to him.

Audrey took a sip of the tea and set the cup back down, "I like chamomile much better anyways. I'm not a very big fan of puer." She told him, taking another long sip.

Charlie took a tentative sip of the puer; he'd never had it before, but it wasn't that bad. It wasn't as strong as black tea, but it still had a distinct taste. He took a bigger sip then set the cup down, asking Audrey, "Is it rude not to finish the whole thing? I really need to get down to the field."

Audrey lowered her cup, "If you finish it I could read the tea leaves for you before you go down." She offered, and he raised an eyebrow.

"Really?" he smiled, and she nodded, "Okay – one second." He finished the tea in another few gulps and set the cup down in front of her. She picked it up and swirled the dregs around, then set it back on the table and peered at it.

"There's only two I can identify off the top of my head, without looking at the book," she told him apologetically, but he waved her off, so she told him, "I recognize a cat and a chair. The cat means you might have an untrustworthy friend, and the chair means you have a guest, or you'll be meeting a new member of the family very soon." 

Charlie paused, "Oh, er, cool." He said, staring at Audrey while she wasn't looking at him, then he shook his head and stood from the chair, "Thank you for the – er – reading, I'll uh – I should be going now." He reached for the empty cup, "Where should I put this?"

"Oh, leave it." Audrey told him simply, "I'll finish mine and wash them out, don't worry about it. Have fun at practice! And good luck to you on the upcoming game." She finished, eyes happy before she took another sip of her tea and pulled the parchment back in front of her.

Charlie made his way back to the trapdoor, "Thank you for the tea." He said as he passed Trelawney, who nodded at him. He opened the door and began descending the ladder, shooting one last look at Audrey, who had gone back to writing on the parchment like she'd never been interrupted in the first place.

He pulled the trapdoor and shook his head. That's nearly impossible; he thought to himself, she couldn't – Percy couldn't – she's – she's not his type.

 

Chapter Text

The fall wind nipped at Percy's red nose, giving him a chill as he continued down the path to Hogsmeade village. He glanced shyly at the two girls walking beside him, both talking animatedly about something they were supposed to start learning in their sixth year. Audrey was walking closest to him; she had her hands in her pockets to keep them warm against the autumn air.

He bit the inside of his cheek and looked away from her. The trees along the path were starting to change colors, beautiful shades of red and orange and yellow steadily replacing the greens. They reminded him of the many trees around the Burrow; it had been a couple years since he'd seen them in such a state.

"What about you, Percy?" he suddenly heard Audrey asking him, and he turning to look at her again.

"What? Sorry I wasn't – er – I was looking at the trees." He said awkwardly, jamming his hands into his pockets.

"S'okay." Audrey said warmly, "What is it you want to do when you get out of school?"

"Well, I want to get all my O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s and then go to work for the Ministry of Magic." Percy told them confidently, smiling softly as Hogsmeade came into view up ahead.

"The Ministry?" Penelope asked, looking slightly affronted, "Why there – specifically?" 

"My dad works there." Percy told her, "And it's – it's a respectable place."

"That makes sense." Audrey said, "A respectable place for respectable people." She smiled at him, "I want to be a healer."

"The only problem with that, though," Penelope pointed out, "is that you'd have to take Professor Snape's class for two more years. I couldn't even dream of doing such a thing."

"Whatever point you're trying to make I'm not listening to." Audrey said happily. The path wound into Hogsmeade Village and the students around them began to disperse. Penelope slowed her pace just slightly, walking a few steps behind Audrey and Percy, whom Audrey had finally been able to pull a conversation out of.

"Well, to be a healer you have to have a lot of N.E.W.T.s." Percy pointed out, and Audrey nodded.

"Yeah – you have to have either outstanding or exceeds expectations in Potions, Herbology, Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts..." she paused, "There's another one, I just can't remember it off the top of my head..."

"Care for Magical Creatures?" Percy suggested, and she shook her head.

"No, I don't have to take that..." she muttered, "It doesn't matter. I'll probably remember it later."

"Well now it's gonna bother me." Percy told her, frowning slightly.

"Don't worry about it." Audrey told him, "So! Where do you guys want to go–" she turned to face Penelope, who was no longer standing by her side, "...first."

She turned in a circle searching the area for Penelope, who seemed to have disappeared, "Where did she go?" she asked Percy, "Did you see her?"

"No." Percy admitted, glancing around with her, "You don't think she went back up to the castle, do you?"

"We'd see her on the path." Audrey pointed out, frowning, "That's frustrating. I – er – I guess we're on our own." She looked back at Percy and smiled sheepishly.

The blush on Percy's face blended in with his nose, red from the chill, "I – er – I guess so." He said quietly.

"So where do you want to go?" she asked him, shuffling closer and giving him a small smile.

Percy looked down, "Where ever you want to go, I guess." He told her, but before he could say anything else she moved forward and very gently grabbed his arm, pulling him along with her as she made her way to The Three Broomsticks. He looked back up at her, his face warm against the brisk fall wind and he knew it must be red and he hated that, but at least she was looking ahead and not at him.

...

The Three Broomsticks was warm, not only in temperature, but in spirit. It exuded and air of friendliness and welcome. It had been a while since Charlie Weasley had come into the pub, but it seemed to bring him in the same way it always had. He's sifted through excited third years and into a table towards the back, situating himself so he could spare glances at his brother.

Percy was sat in a booth a bit closely to one Audrey Baker, who was smiling and talking, making all kinds of gestures with her hands. Percy was smiling back at her with a strange look on his face that Charlie had never once seen him dawn back home.

Charlie stared at them; he wished he could hear what they were talking about, what was keeping Percy so enthralled. The buzz of the pub was so deafening he didn't even hear the girl who had slid into the seat across from him until she spoke.

"Hello!" she said brightly, causing Charlie to start violently. He whipped around in his seat to stare at her; she was tall with thin shoulders and dark skin. Her curly hair fell in abundance around her shoulders and her dark eyes didn't quite convey the smile she had plastered on her face.

"You scared me," Charlie said, willing his heartbeat to slow back down again, "Who're you?"

"My name is Penelope Clearwater; I'm Audrey's best friend." Penelope chirped.

"Audrey –" Charlie began, but Penelope interrupted: "Yes, Audrey Baker, the one sitting a few booths over, the one whom your brother is practically drooling over. He is your brother, yes?" Charlie nodded, "Cool – anyways, they're here on a date and I've made sure it's a date – it's all the right circumstances. Angela has detention and was unable to join us for the first trip, I just so happened to disappear right as we got to the village, and your brother already happens to have a huge crush on Audrey. Unfortunately, I didn't seem to take into account meddling brothers." She leaned across the table and the smile dropped from her face, making her look very unamused, "You weren't intending to meddle, were you?"

"No!" Charlie said defensively, "I just – someone told me they were going on a date and I didn't think it possible anyone to date Percy–"

"Who told you they were going on a date?" Penelope asked sharply, and Charlie hesitated.

"Um – her sister I think." He said cautiously, and Penelope looked frustrated.

"Funny – I didn't think Audrey would trust her sister with anything let alone information like this – how strange – I'll have to mention to her that you were informed." Penelope looked back up at him again with an intensity in her eyes, "I think they're soul mates."

"...Her sister?"

"Percy and Audrey you tw – you lampshade." Penelope bit her lip, but pressed on, "Just a few weeks ago in Divination, Audrey had her tea leaves read by the teacher and the teacher said that Audrey would run into her true love and right after class she literally ran into Percy Weasley – isn't that funny? Audrey says it's just a silly coincidence but I think it's more than that." She smiled at him, "Don't you think?"

Charlie was struggling to comprehend half of what she was saying just because she was talking so fast; he blinked slowly and shook his head, "No – that is silly I – the Divination teacher is all talk – it's just – just people reading." He said definitely, recalling what Audrey had said to him up in the North Tower.

Penelope pouted, "Ugh, you sound just like Audrey." She paused, looked around, "I'm going to get a butterbeer. If you even think about meddling I'll meddle you through the floorboards, okay?"

"Okay." Charlie said, looking down at the table and taking the threat to heart.

...

Shortly after Lee Jordan had removed himself from the common room under the pretense he was going up to their dorm room to finish Transfiguration homework (he was actually going upstairs to check on the lizard he had snuck into the castle), Paige sat down on the couch right next to George Weasley and smiled at him.

Fred, his twin, leaned over to peer at her curiously, and asked, "Can we –"

"Help me? No I'm afraid not, but I do believe I can help you." Paige grinned wickedly, "Your brother, Percy," both the twins groaned, "He's gone into Hogsmeade village, yes?"

"Yeah, we knew that." George said, and Paige could not fight her feeling of happiness.

"Oh, but do you know who he's with?" she pressed, and they both looked deeply interested because no, they did not know who he was with, "He's gone into Hogsmeade on a date."

"A date?" Fred asked, and George sputtered, "You've got to be joking there's no way –!"

"Somehow there is a way," Paige said sweetly, "He's on a date with my sister, Audrey – won't you ask him all about it when he gets back?"

"I think we'd be crazy not to." Fred muttered.

"How did he..?" George pondered quietly.

"Who knows?" Paige said simply, standing up and stretching, "If you think he might giving false answers about the date, ask me about it. I can get you the truth."

George looked at her with wide eyes, "Do you...do you know how to make Veritaserum?"

For a moment Paige didn't know what that was, but then she smiled, "No – my methods are better." She turned away and began walking towards the girls dormitories, "He should be back around two."

...

"–but of course that's expected from me as I come from a big family – I have three younger sisters and being the oldest is sometimes just so exhausting. They get away with things I couldn't imagine having gotten away with when I was younger." Audrey rolled her eyes, taking another sip of her butter beer.

"You have three sisters and you think that's a big family?" Percy asked, "I have five brothers and a little sister."

"Yikes." Audrey said, for lack of better words.

"And I really wouldn't be that bothered, because really I do love them, but they're just so immature!" Percy said heatedly, "Two of my brothers, Charlie and Bill, are older than me, and when I was younger I wanted to be like them – they were like my role models. And I try to be a good role model for my younger siblings, too, but it's like they all think it's a joke! I have three brothers younger than me, and Fred and George – they're twins – they just started at Hogwarts and it's like they want nothing to do with me."

"I feel the same way!" Audrey agreed, "Paige – she started Hogwarts this year and the other day she flat out told me she didn't want people to know we're related." She sank down a bit in her chair, "Penelope was sitting right there next to me, I was so embarrassed. She has all these little friends in Gryffindor and I have one friend." She paused, "Two, counting you."

"What about, er, Angela Madison?" Percy asked, and Audrey rolled her eyes.

"She is not my friend. You know when I met her she gave me like a ten minute lecture about my family history? She's obsessed with blood status – it's disgusting." She took another sip of her butter beer.

"She sounds annoying. She was quite rude to me last time I tried to talk to her." He paused, "How does she know about your family history?"

"Oh, something about her family having access to all the pure blood archives or something." She rolled her eyes again, "It's quite dumb. I really hate to admit how much I've learned about my family from her."

"Did you not know much before?" Percy asked, and Audrey sighed.

"I didn't really know anything before I met Angela. About my mum's side, I mean. She goes on and on about me being a pureblood but I'm not really. I didn't even go by Audrey Baker until I started attending Hogwarts. I used to go by Audrey Stone, which was my dad's surname."

"Why did you change it back?"

"Well – it's not my favorite conversation topic, but my dad is a muggle and my mum was a squib. So my mum kind of just assumed me and my sisters wouldn't be witches, so she just didn't mention the whole...'magic' thing to my dad. So he kind of...divorced her."

"That's awful!"

"Yeah, I know – I don't like to talk about it. Can we change the subject?"

"Absolutely – sorry to have brought it up."

"It's not your fault, I really don't mind." Audrey paused, swirling what was left of her butter beer in her mug before looking back up at Percy, "I think it might be getting late. Later in the day, at least. I'm already fairly certain we missed lunch."

"Oh, okay." Percy paused, "Do you want to head back to the castle?"

"I think that might be a good idea." Audrey smiled sweetly, before finishing off what was left in her glass and standing. The pub had become far less crowded than it was when they'd first arrived. There were only a handful of students left, and even they looked like they were about to leave.

Audrey turned back to Percy and smiled at him, holding her hand out to help him out of the booth. He took it gently, trying to stop himself from blushing, although he failed as even after he stood up Audrey didn't let go of his hand.

"Shall we head out, then?" she asked happily, and he nodded, staring at the floor.

...

"–and so then my brother was just yelling at me and I'm like okay enough, I get it, you're being a twat and the entire family is concerned now, it's really not my problem you're a muggle. So now he's mad at me and oh – Percy and Audrey are gone." Penelope pulled herself out of her story long enough to notice that the booth they had previously been occupying was empty.

Charlie turned to survey it, "Oh." He paused, "How long ago did they leave?"

"Who knows?" Penelope shrugged, standing up and stretching, "Anyways this was fun. Thanks for not ruining my best friends date. I'm gonna get back to the castle."

"Wait," Charlie said, standing up next to her, "What happened with your brother?"

"Oh – well he's still being an insufferable pillowcase." Penelope said nonchalantly as she began making her way to the pub door; Charlie followed her, "He wouldn't even get out of the car at King's Cross to see me off. He goes to some boarding school in Scotland so my parents were driving him to the airport after they dropped me off –"

"What's an airport?"

"Great question."

...

It was deathly quiet outside; there was no wind to rustle the steadily falling leaves. The clouds were dark; it was likely to snow for the first time that year tonight. The lake had yet to freeze over, but it was getting close – the water was icy to the touch. The only sound that could be heard was the distant echoing of the rocks Paige was skipping out into the water.

She waited for the echo of the last one to stop before she began searching for another. As she turned over rocks and stones looking for a nice flat one to skip, voices could be heard coming over the hill. Paige paused; crouching by the water and listening. As they grew closer she recognized a girl and a boy, and soon identified them as Audrey and Percy.

As they came up over the hill they were laughing about something, although Paige didn't know what. The curiosity was killing her, but they were too far away to read, so she went back to looking for a skipping stone.

When she finally found them she cast them another glance as they made their way up the steps of the castle. They were walking hand in hand; disgustingly close as they made their way inside.

Paige turned away and flicked the stone towards the water; it skipped four times and the echo was all that filled the air.

Chapter Text

When Audrey finally returned to their dorm room, it was devoid of activity besides Angela sitting on her bed reading through one of her textbooks. She didn’t look very far in, and when she saw Audrey standing in the doorway she immediately closed it, “Oh good! You’re back!” she chirped, hopping off the bed; she paused for a moment, “Where’s Penelope?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing.” Audrey admitted, “she wasn’t in the common room or the dining hall and I didn’t see her when we were leaving Hogsmeade - do you think she’s okay?”

Angelia hesitated, obviously sensing Audrey’s concern, “I’m sure she’s fine.” she said abruptly, “Where did you last see her?”

“Just as we were walking into the village.” Audrey explained, removing her coat and laying it on the back of her desk chair, “I turned around and she was just - gone! She left me with Percy.”

Angela frowned, “Who?”

“Percy Weasley.” Audrey elaborated; Angela continued to stare at her blankly and she sighed, “The Gryffindor pureblood in our year.”

“Oh,” Angela said, comprehension dawning, “Oh. Him? Why were you with him? 

Audrey blushed, “We’re just friends.” she said defensively, “Er - we were just - just hanging out. We don’t see each other quite often seeing as we’re not in the same house. What’re you working on?”

Angela huffed, “Muggle Studies.” she said bitterly; she glanced Audrey over and smiled wickedly, “maybe you could help?”

“I’m sure I probably could.” Audrey agreed, “What do you need help with?”

“Well, for starters, what the hell is a telephone?” Angela asked, opening her book back up and pointing to an illustration that looked quite outdated.

Audrey glanced over it, “Oh my.” she said softly, “Er - it’s a bit like, er…” she paused, “Like a letter, but it speaks to you.”

“Like a howler?” Angela asked wearily.

“Yes! But with less screaming - you don’t have to scream. You can just talk.” she explained, sitting down on the bed next to Angela, “and the other person can respond right back. Like holding a conversation, but they're just further away.” Audrey gave another look over the illustration, “and most of them don’t look like this anymore, this is a very old one. This is what they looked like when they were first invented. Nowadays they look a bit different.”

“What do they look like now?” Angela asked, and Audrey hummed.

“GIve me one moment, I’ll draw one for you.” she said finally, getting up off the bed and pulling a piece of parchment out of Angela’s desk, before she moved to her own and pulled out a quill. She was halfway through a very poor drawing of a telephone when the door opened wide and Penelope stood there, still covered in hints of snow.

“Penelope!” Audrey said happily, abandoning her drawing and standing to greet her, “Where were you? Are you okay? Why are you all wet?” she asked; Penelope shut the door and yanked her coat off, dropping it on the floor by her bed.

“It started to snow quite heavy on my way back!” she explained, kicking her shoes off, “I was walking with Charlie Weasley - and we were about halfway back when it started to come down. We had to run for the castle before we couldn’t see anything and got stuck.”

“But where did you go?” Audrey asked, annoyance hinting in her tone, “You left me in Hogsmeade.”

“I left you and Percy in Hogsmeade.” Penelope corrected; before Audrey could continue, Penelope winked at her and went back to unbuttoning her sweater, “Your sister was sitting on the front steps of the castle.” she said nonchalantly, “I think she was watching the snow come down. Charlie pulled her inside before it got any worse.”

Paige loitered in the great hall until Charlie Weasley and Audrey’s friend had disappeared around the corner, and then she opened the castle door again and stepped out into the storm.

There wasn’t much cover on the front steps, but there was just enough so that Paige could stand flushed against the castle door and watch the snow tumbling down in blankets. She could no longer see the edge of the lake where she’d stood less than half an hour ago; it would likely be frozen over by tomorrow morning.

The white snow was blinding, disorienting as it covered all traces of earth with a blanket of powder; Paige closed her eyes and listened to the wind howl, whipping her hair as it rushed past her. There was nothing but the harsh sound of snow and wind and the cold.

Thoughts emerged from the void in front of her, and Paige opened her eyes. Charlie and Audrey’s friend seemed to be the last kids returning from Hogsmeade, but could there be somebody else? The thoughts were hard to grasp, slipping from her every time she took hold, but it seemed to be a song.

Who would be singing at a time like this? Trapped in a storm and all they can think of is a melody?

Paige reached a hand out into the snow; she didn’t have on gloves, so the warmth of her body melted the flakes on impact, leaving it dripping wet and cold. She retracted her hand, holding it close and wiping it on her robe. If she walked out there she’d be soaked in a moment, she might freeze to death in two minutes.

She pulls her wand from her boot, holding it nervously; she knows no spells, nothing to help, nothing to show her where the hidden figure is. The thoughts grow ever louder, and Paige is about to shout for whoever must be struggling towards the castle, when an enormous outline becomes visible in the storm.

Paige presses herself back against the door, watching as he struggles closer, his thoughts growing louder still; as he reaches the steps of the castle she recognizes him as the man who guided the first years across the lake two short months ago. As he makes his way towards the door he sees her, stood under the balcony in nothing but her uniform and a pair of boots.

He quickens his pace, pushing the door to the castle open and taking her by the back of the shoulder, one of his enormous hands nearly the size of the small of her back. They stand in the entrance hall in silence as he closes the door, and he looks down at her, “Wha’ were you doin’ out th’re?”

“I thought I heard somebody - out in the storm.” she lies, “it must have been you - I was worried it was a student, trying to return from the village.”

The man paused to consider her, his eyes lingering on the red and gold scarf wrapped haphazardly around her neck, before he says, “Tha’ was v’ry brave of you, young miss, but you shou’n’t ‘ave been out in the storm.”

Paige is about to protest, but then the man looks down the hall and leans down towards her, eyes sparkling, “But let’s say three points t’ Gryffindor, jus’ between us?” he asks, and Paige grins, turning to see three rubies twinkle down into the bottom of the Gryffindor hourglass.

Percy Weasley had been in the Gryffindor common room for all of thirty minutes when Fred and George came bursting into the room. they paused as the painting closed behind them, glancing around the common room before their eyes landed on Percy.

Percy looked away, trying to focus on what he was working on, but the twins took a seat on either side of him anyways, “How was Hogsmeade?” Fred asked, and Percy blushed, keeping his eyes on his paper.

“It was nice.” he said flatly.

George nudged him, “How was Audrey?” she pressed, and Percy almost broke his quill.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he said quickly - too quickly - and the twins noticed.

“Ah, I bet you do.” Fred teased, “Tall?”

“Curly hair?” George added.

“Glasses?”

“Big eyes?”

“She doesn’t have big eyes.” Percy snapped, which was a mistake, because both of the twins grinned like foxes.

“He seems awfully defensive for somebody who has no idea what we’re talking about, don’t you think, George?” Fred asked, and George nodded.

“I think he has an inkling of an idea of what we mean.” George continued, leaning on Percy’s arm, “Don’t you, Perce?”

“Get off of me.” he snapped, standing up and holding his pile of work close to his chest, “I have no idea what either of you are talking about. It sounds like nonsense to me, so don't bring it up again!”

“Aw, look at that, Fred.” George cooed, “Percy’s shy about his girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” Percy hissed, “I - I - I don’t even know any Audrey! Stop talking to me!” and he turned on his heel and stormed up the stairs to his dorm.

Paige hopped over the backside of the couch, landing seamlessly between the twins, and she smiled, “He’s lying.” she said simply, “He spent all day with Audrey in Hogsmeade - I saw him and her making their way back to the castle holding hands.” she pursed her lips, “they’re not dating, but he wants to be dating her.”

The twins blinked at her, “How do you know for sure?” George asked, and Fred nodded.

“I just do.” she said, “Don’t question it - it’s undeniably the truth.”

“Goodmorning Audrey!” Paige chirped happily the next morning, gliding up behind her sister at the Ravenclaw table, “How was Hogsmeade yesterday?”

Audrey sat in stunned silence, shocked that Paige had initiated a conversation with her in front of her peers; she swallowed the pumpkin juice she had in her mouth and glanced at her sister over her shoulder, “I thought it was nice - a bit cold. I’m sure you’ll like it when you become a third year.” she said, and Paige beamed.

“I’m sure, yes.” she paused, “You went to the village with Penelope?”

Audrey nodded, “Penelope and Percy Weasley - he’s in your house.”

Paige cocked her head to the side, “You went with Percy Weasley?”

Audrey flushed, but didn’t care to comment on it; instead she said, “Yes, we went as a group.”

“Are you sure?” Paige asked, feigning innocence.

Audrey frowned, “Fairly certain, yes. Why do you ask?”

Paige hummed thoughtfully, glancing up to the ceiling of the dining hall like she was thinking, “You see it’s just - yesterday Percy’s younger brothers asked him who he’d gone into the village with, and they brought you up. I had mentioned to them that you were in Percy’s year, and you were going on the trip, too, but when they brought you up, Percy said he didn’t even know who you were!”

Paige paused to register the look on Audrey's face, which was a strange mix of shock and disappointment; Penelope turned around in her seat so quickly her hair was tossed over her shoulder, “Did he really?” she asked, her eyes burning.

Audrey cast a look towards her that Paige couldn’t read; whatever Audrey was thinking came and went too quickly, before she looked back down at her plate, so Paige just nodded and said, “He absolutely did, I was there.”

Penelope hummed, “That’s so interesting.” she said, turning back to her food with a bitter expression that matched her thoughts.

Paige smiled softly, turning away from them on her heel with a swish of her hair and a skip in her step.

... 

Penelope’s hand landed on the middle of Percy’s parchment, which undoubtedly smudged the ink, but she couldn’t quite bring herself to care, “Listen up twat.” she whispered, seeing as they were in the library. 

Percy’s head jerked up to look at her, his glasses sliding down his nose; his face was a strange mix of shock and annoyance, but he stayed quiet so Penelope could speak, “I have been working on this for a bit of time, okay?” she told him, “Now listen to me - I did not just happen to slip away while we were in Hogsmeade, Angela Madison did not just happen to have detention on that day, and I did not spend the entire afternoon entertaining your older brother to keep him distracted from you so you could turn around and tell people you don’t even know Audrey.” she lifted her hand from his parchment, which was now ruined, to point her finger in his face, “You are lucky Audrey even acknowledges you. Audrey is wonderful and you look like a lanky bird, but I’m trying to make this happen while you’re being a little twatstick, so if you’re going to keep this up, Audrey isn’t going to be available for much longer.” 

Percy’s eyes had gone wide with realization, “Oh, no - no, no, no!” he said quickly, trying to stay quiet, “No! You’re confused! I didn’t - I mean - I did deny knowing Audrey, but that was because of my brothers!”

Penelope placed the hand that wasn’t covered in ink on her hip, “Explain.”

“My brothers are just - my brothers.” he said, “they just - look - they’re first years and if they had known I’d been with Audrey alone I would never hear the end of it! Of course I think Audrey’s great! She’s wonderful! I don’t disagree with you, but I don’t want my brothers knowing that.” he paused, “I - does Audrey know?”

“Audrey is very aware.” Penelope said, and Percy winced, “I’ll go get her.” she said suddenly, turning away from him.

Percy sat bolt upright, “What?” he asked, and Penelope rolled her eyes.

“So you can apologize, dude.” she said, “And I also need to wash my hand. Sorry about your paper by the way. I’ll be right back.”

Audrey was dragged into the library fifteen minutes later and placed directly in front of Percy as he attempted to undo the ink smudges on his paper; he was halfway done when he looked up to see Audrey. Blushing, he practically dropped his wand, and Audrey huffed in what sounded like a laugh.

“Percy has something he needs to say to you.” Penelope said, before she disappeared around the corner of a bookshelf.

Percy looked back up at Audrey awkwardly, “I - er - I’m sorry. I mean - it’s really just a bit of a misunderstanding, but I just - my brothers were bugging me and I just - I didn’t want them to know that I had been hanging out with you because they’d never let me hear the end of it. But if anyone else had asked, I would’ve been - been very proud about hanging out with you.” 

Audrey blushed a little, smiling softly, “I forgive you.” she said gently, and Percy smiled back up at her, “I understand, really - I think my sister tipped them off. Although I’ve no idea how she figured it out in the first place.”

Percy frowned, “You didn’t tell her?” he asked, and she frowned right back.

“No, I didn’t. Why would I?” she asked, and Percy paused.

“I...I guess that’s fair.” he said, “but then how did she find out?”

Audrey shrugged, “Who knows? Maybe she read my mind.”

Chapter Text

Penelope wrote Audrey on the sixteenth of July, 1991, to inform her she’d been made a prefect; Percy Weasley did the same.

Audrey wrote Penelope back first; her owl arrived first and she closed the window before he could leave. He pecked at her impatiently as she struggled to write a positive congratulatory note that didn’t suggest jealousy. What she ended up with was a short and sweet I’m so happy for you!! Tell me more when term starts!! Before tying the note to her owl’s leg and letting him back out the window.

Percy’s owl arrived hours later, as Audrey and her mother were getting ready for dinner. She wasn’t sure who it was from at first, as it arrived attached to a fancy looking owl; she opened the window for it anyways and poured it some birdseed before she plucked the letter off and opened it up.

It was rather long, like most of his letters were, and Audrey could not stop herself from smiling as she read through it. He detailed being named prefect and how his family was very proud of him and how this owl was his - a gift for becoming prefect from his parents. Her mother made her wait until after dinner to pen him a response, so Hermes (that was the owl’s name, which made Audrey giggle) had to sit and wait by the kitchen window while they ate.

Audrey spent less time trying to come up with a response to Percy, because the words flowed easier; she didn’t have to worry about jealousy seeping through the pen onto the paper because there was no such thing going through her head.

(I’m very proud of you, as well!! Nobody in Gryffindor house is anywhere near as qualified. You’ll have to show me your badge when term starts. Excited for you!! xx)

Paige watched her pen the letter at the kitchen counter while she did the dishes with Lillian; she had a bitter expression on her face.

Audrey sent Hermes on his way just after the sun set with a smile on her face and a dreamy look in her eyes. She watched him in the sky until she couldn’t see him anymore, and she sighed, turning away to face Paige, who was looking at her with her nose scrunched up.

“What?” Audrey asked, and Paige shook her head.

“You’re so weird.” is all she offered, before going back to the dishes.

Paige and Audrey went their separate ways as soon as they crossed the barrier to platform 9¾, Paige going to find her friends while Audrey searched for Penelope and Percy.

Penelope was sat on a bench with Angela, who was chattering away as quickly as she could think of the words. Her story about her adventures in rural Germany while they were on break was put on hold when she spotted Audrey, who smiled halfheartedly as she sprang from her seat to give her a hug.

“Oh, Audrey!” she said happily, “It’s been such a long time! I hardly heard from you at all over the break!”

Audrey thought back to the mound of letters that had been sitting, neglected, on her desk nearly all summer, and swallowed guiltily, “Er - yeah.” is all she offered, before moving past her to Penelope, who stood and gave her a hug as well, “It’s so good to see you!”

“Oh, you as well!” Penelope said, “The break really does get so long when we aren’t with each other - and look!” she pointed to the prefect badge pinned to her chest, and Audrey smiled.

Percy and his family were late crossing the barrier, so Audrey was already on the train by the time he got onto the platform, “Percy’s a prefect, too,” Audrey mentioned to Penelope before they parted ways, “so when you’re dismissed from the prefect carriage, just come find me and Angela together, okay?”

“Will do!” Penelope said happily, giving a little wave to Angela before disappearing.

“Let’s go find a carriage before they all fill up.” Angela declared, taking Audrey by her arm and dragging her along. They found an empty compartment towards the end of the train and settled in it before anyone could steal it. Time passed at a painfully slow pace as Angela restarted her tale about her Germanic summer adventures, and Audrey only listened enough to throw in a comment every now and then to make sure Angela knew she wasn’t ignoring her.

The train left the station and Audrey gazed out the window; slowly, Platform 9¾ faded into the distance, and she sank into her seat, “Angela?” she said, not really caring that she had just interrupted her friend; Angela paused to gaze at her, “I’m going to take a nap, okay?”

Angela frowned, “It’s only ten.” she protested, but Audrey closed her eyes anyways.

“I woke up early.” is all she offered, taking her glasses off and leaning back. Some time after she closed her eyes, Angela couldn’t seem to bear the silence, so she stood and left the compartment. Audrey was left in peaceful silence, the only noise being the rumble of the train on the tracks. She had just managed to doze off when the door to the compartment was slid open quite violently, startling Audrey awake.

Angela was stood in the doorway, her face lit up, “Audrey!” she cried excitedly, “you’ll never believe who’s here on the train!” she sat down next to Audrey, forcing her to sit up, and leaned in close, “Harry Potter!”

Audrey put her glasses back on, “Oh,” she said, “how cool.”

“It’s better than cool!” Angela exclaimed, “It’s amazing! I have to talk to him! I had to come straight back here to recollect my thoughts! I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself.” Audrey looked at her strangely, but Angela didn’t notice; she simply shook her hands to relax herself and leaned back in the chair, “Oh, and you’ll never believe this,” she rolled her eyes, “he’s sitting with a Weasley. How many children can one woman have?”

Audrey scowled, although mentally she brought the tally up to six and had to find herself impressed; but rather than indulging Angela in her prejudice, she said, “I wish you would stop saying rude things about their family. They’re all quite nice!”

Angela looked like she was going to argue, but she seemed to catch herself, “Oh,” she paused, “right. I forgot you were dating one.”

Audrey blushed, “We’re - ” she paused, and Angela gave her a bitter look, “Fine. I guess we are dating. But he’s very nice. And so is his family.”

Angela scoffed, “Have you met them? They’re as poor as fleas! They’re covered in them, too!”

Audrey shoved her so hard she almost fell off the seat, “Stop it!” she cried, “you’re awful! I hate when you say things like that, Angela! It makes me wish I’d never spoken to you at all!”

Angela scowled, but didn’t say anything else; after a long moment, Audrey said, “The Weasley’s are very nice people.” When Angela still didn’t look at her, she added, “Blood and money isn’t all that makes a person, Angela. My family doesn’t exactly live luxuriously, but you don’t seem to have much of a problem with me.”

Angela rolled her eyes, “You’re a pureblood.”

“So are they!” Audrey said, “What difference does it make?”

“It makes a world of difference!” Angela argued, “you just can’t see it! You didn’t grow up seeing it - you’ll never understand.”

Audrey pursed her lips, “No,” she said finally, “I suppose I won’t.”

Angela heaved a great sigh and stood up, “I’m going to go talk to Harry Potter.” she said, throwing the door to the compartment open.

Audrey stood and followed her, “Don’t you bother that poor boy!” she protested, but Angela was already making her way down the aisle.

Audrey followed her all the way until she reached a compartment at the back of the train, where Angela threw the door open and walked right in; Audrey stopped in the doorway, frozen, “Angela - ” she tried to say, but she was already too late to stop what was happening.

Inside the compartment were Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, and two other first years. A boy with bright red hair and a face full of freckles, who Audrey knew was Percy’s little brother, Ron, and a girl with bushy hair and large teeth, whose name Audrey didn’t know. They were surrounded by piles of candy presumably bought off the trolley.

Angela sat herself right next to the girl and began introductions, “Hello!” she said brightly, “My name is Angela Madison - you might recognize the last name,” she boasted, “and I do believe you are Harry Potter!”

The boy gave her a strange, uncomfortable look, and Audrey cringed, “Er,” he said, “Yeah? I guess.”

“Amazing!” Angela said, and Audrey only cringed harder; Angela turned her gaze to the Weasley boy, who was staring at Audrey currently, “And what would your name be?” she asked in a tone meant to be polite, although prejudice still seemed to seep through.

Ron turned to look at her, “Ron Weasley,” he told her, before looking back to Audrey.

She tried her best to smile in a way that didn’t portray embarrassment, “Hi, Ron.” she said, and he nodded.

“Hi, Audrey.” he said back, and Angela’s gaze flitted between the two of them.

“You know each other?” she asked, and Audrey rolled her eyes.

“I’m dating his brother, Angela,” Audrey snapped, “Do you think the boy is blind?”

Angela flushed, “Oh - right - of course.” she paused, “Of course! How silly of me,” she turned to the girl, “and you are?”

The girl extended a hand, “Hermione Granger.”

Angela took her hand eagerly, “Granger!” she exclaimed, thinking aloud, “Are you perhaps related to Dagworth Granger? The great wizard?”

Hermione frowned, “I don’t think so.”

Angela retracted her hand, “I see.” she said.

She was about to continue, when Audrey swooped down and grabbed her by her arm, “Okay! That’s enough for now!” she said, trying to keep the situation from spiraling any further, “we really must be going now, thank you for entertaining her.” she pulled Angela to the door and began trying to push her out, “Lovely to see you, Ron!”

“Wonderful to meet you! Remember - Angela Madison!” Angela cried as she was pushed completely out of the compartment by Audrey, who promptly shut the door.

Audrey scowled, “You’re a bloody piece of work.” she declared, at which Angela blushed bright red.

They walked back to their compartment in silence.

Chapter Text

Audrey arrives at the Burrow the same day Harry Potter does, albeit a bit later in the day. She arrives using floo powder (not her preferred method of transportation) just after lunch, dizzy from the trip. Percy is waiting for her in the living room and jumps to his feet as she steps out of the fireplace, smiling brightly. Audrey greets him happily, and gives him a peck on the lips while they have a second to themselves.

Just as they step apart, Mrs. Weasley comes around the corner from the kitchen and beams at her, “Audrey! My dear, so wonderful to see you!” she greets her, trapping her in a hug and squeezing her tightly. Audrey returns it happily, smiling, until Mrs. Weasley pulls away, “How have you been? Percy doesn’t tell us much out of all those letters you two send back and forth.”

Audrey can feel herself blushing, “I’ve been good.” she says, “I’m excited to go back to school. Excited to see you all more.”

Mrs. Weasley smiles at her, but before she can say anything the twins barrel into the living room, “Is Paige here?” they ask in unison.

“Paige is grounded.” Audrey says, a bit smugly, and they both pout and tuck into themselves and make their way back upstairs.

“Mother,” Percy says, stepping forward, “Audrey and I were going to go down by the pond? Is that okay?”

Mrs. Weasley pauses, then says, “Yes, that’s fine, dears.” she lets go of Audrey’s shoulders, “Just be back before it starts to get dark out, alright?”

“Yes ma’am,” Audrey and Percy say at the same time.

Audrey and Percy leave the house and walk towards the pond on the Weasley’s property, waiting until they’re a fair way away from the house to hold hands. When they arrive at the pond Audrey takes her backpack off and sets it near the tree, opening it up and pulling out two towels before turning to look at Percy, “Don’t get mad at me.”

“Oh?” Percy says, intrigued, “why am I getting mad?”

“You asked me to find you a pair a swim trunks, since you don’t own any,” Audrey reminds him, “and when I was in the resale shop I saw these and I got them for you.”

“They’re used?” he asks, weary, more used to having hand-me-downs from his siblings than from strangers.

“I washed them.” Audrey assures him, before pulling them out of her backpack. They’re faded, but were obviously once a very bright pink, with crabs scattered around the fabric.

Percy blushes so hard his ears turn red, “I’m not wearing those.” he hisses.

“Okay,” Audrey says, shoving them back into her backpack with a grin on her face, “feel free to go nude.”

Percy somehow blushes harder; after hesitating for a moment, he holds his hand out wordlessly, asking for the the bathing suit. Audrey hands it to him and he goes to the other side of the tree to change, while she simply takes off her shirt and shorts, having worn her bathing suit underneath them.

“Is the water cold?” Audrey asks as Percy comes out from behind the tree, his clothes folded neatly. He sets them next to her backpack and she quietly notes how many freckles he has on his shoulders; as he makes his way over to where she stands near the edge, his face doesn’t betray his intentions.

“I’m not sure.” he says; he pauses and takes his glasses off, setting them down in the grass and then standing back up straight, “you tell me.”

He reaches over and pushes her into the pond suddenly; she squeals, falling into the water which isn’t cold but also isn’t warm. When she resurfaces, Percy is smiling at her; she’s holding the sides of her head to make sure her glasses haven’t come off. “Percy!” she shouts, pretending to be upset with him. She takes her glasses off and extends her hand to him, but when he reaches out to take them from her, she grabs his wrist and pulls him into the water with her.

When they both resurface, they laugh, but then they have to spend several minutes actually searching for Audrey’s glasses, which is difficult to do without using a spell and while neither of them can see. Percy eventually finds them at the bottom and sets them in the grass next to his, before turning back to his girlfriend and sinking into the water.

“So,” he says, “um. What do you want to do?”

Audrey smiles, but stays where she is and doesn’t move towards him, “I don’t know.” she says, “Is there anything you want to do?”

Percy blushes, but he doesn’t take the bait; instead he says, “Why is Paige grounded?”

Audrey rolls her eyes, “She was trying to teach Elizabeth spells, but Paige’s wand wasn’t really cooperating with her, and Elizabeth caused our sugar container to explode while me and my mum were making dinner. Of course I don’t blame Elizabeth, she’s only nine, she shouldn’t even be trying to use a wand. Paige was the one that talked her into it.”

Percy sighed, “Paige is strange.” he says, then quickly tries to backpedal, “I mean - don’t get me wrong - I love your family, it’s just that Paige is - ” he pauses, trying to find his words, “I don’t know. She’s just… strange. She watches me when I speak, and she keeps watching even when I’m done talking. And she always has that look on her face.”

“I know.” Audrey says, “It’s like she knows something you don’t. She is strange, but I do love her, as much of a nuisance as she can be.” she swims backwards into the middle of the pond, where the sun is shining; Percy follows her.

“I hear Harry Potter is living with you.” Audrey says.

“I wouldn’t say living.” Percy says, “but he’s staying here until term starts.”

“Why?”

“He and Ron are friends,” Percy explains, “and Harry’s parents - er…” he pauses, “his aunt and uncle. He lives with them, you know.” Audrey nods, “Well, they’re muggles. They don’t like magic all too much. They had him barred into his room to keep him from starting term at Hogwarts because something happened with magic they didn’t take kindly to. Harry didn’t say what it was.”

“How awful.” Audrey says. She wonders briefly if her father would have put her and her sisters behind bars to keep them from attending Hogwarts.

“The twins are in trouble for it,” Percy continues, vaguely smug, “Ron is, too, but he got off kind of easy because Harry is staying with us. But they took our dad’s car all the way to London, mum was so upset about it. She’s still mad at them.”

Audrey hums, and the conversation fizzles; they don’t have much to talk about, with as many letters as they’ve been exchanging. They tread water in silence for several minutes, before Percy drifts closer to her and says, “I wish I had my glasses on. Your hair looks different when it’s wet.”

Audrey smiles and opens her eyes, “So does yours.”

“Mine is short.”

“It’s still curly.”

She shifts so she’s upright again and reaches a hand up and runs it through his hair; he blushes and she smiles at him, “You’re very cute.”

Percy looks down as the tips of his ears turn red, “I’d like to kiss you,” he says, “but I don’t think I can while my feet can’t touch the ground.”

Audrey laughs, then takes his arm and pulls him to the side of the pond, where it’s shallower and they can both stand. “When I bought these swim trunks I figured I’d end up snogging you in them.” she tells him; before he can get flustered, she kisses him.

They spend several moments kissing; they’re still stood a few inches apart, not completely pushed together. Percy has a bad habit of pulling away every few moments to make sure no one is coming towards the pond from the house. He’s mostly worried about the twins catching them and reporting back to their mum that he and Audrey were snogging, or them sneaking up and around the tree and stealing his clothes.

They get bored of kissing eventually, so they float back out to the center of the pond and float on the surface near each other, their eyes closed and enjoying the warm sunbeams. She surface of the water is the warmest part, and when the sun starts to sink lower in the sky they swim to the bank and pull themselves out of the water. Audrey puts out both the towels and they put their glasses back on and lay there talking about school until the sun really starts to hang low, at which point they change back into their clothes and leave the towels and their bathing suits on the lowest three branch to dry. They hold hands until they get close to the burrow, where they can see the twins with Ron and Harry watching them through the window.

Chapter Text

Early in May, Audrey Baker and Angela Madison get called into Professor Flitwick’s room at once, pulling them out of Transfiguration. Argus Filch burst into her classroom rather abruptly and came hobbling up to Professor McGonagall’s desk; he whispered something to her in a hushed voice, and at once Professor McGonagall went from looking annoyed at having her lesson interrupted to concerned.

Her eyes fell on Angela and Audrey, who were sitting together with a space on Audrey’s left side, due to Penelope’s unexplained absence.

“Angela Madison, Audrey Baker.” she said sternly, and they both looked up at her, “Would you please follow Mr. Filch to Professor Flitwick’s room? He must discuss something with you. It’s urgent.”

Student’s heads swiveled to stare at the two girls. Audrey stood up quickly and capped her ink before throwing it in her bag. She opted to hold her quill and her parchment since the ink on it was still drying. She was ready to follow Filch long before Angela was, which prompted Professor McGonagall to snap at her so she could get on with the lesson.

Once outside in the corridor, following Filch’s slow pace was painstakingly difficult. Audrey knew exactly where Professor Flitwick’s classroom was, and she wanted to run there. She wasn’t even sure what this was about - she was certain she hadn’t done anything in months that could get her into trouble, but the thought of being lectured by him once again at Angela’s side made her stomach feel like it was filled with stones and her throat feel like it was burning.

When they finally arrived at the charms classroom, the ink on Audrey’s parchment had fully dried, although it had dripped a bit since she’d been holding it at an odd angle. She would likely have to redo the notes later, as her grip on both sides of the paper had grown so severe it had crumpled and rendered the words around it illegible

As soon as Filch had left the room and Professor Flitwick had set his quill down, Audrey couldn’t help herself, “Are we in trouble?”

Flitwick looked surprised at the outburst; after a moment, he shook his head, “No.” he said. He rose and walked down from his podium, where he stood on the floor much shorter than both the girls, which made Audrey vaguely uncomfortable, but she knew saying anything about it would offend him.

Angela and Audrey both waited for his word, obviously enthralled by whatever the situation was, although Audrey was visibly more noticeable than Angela. Flitwick opened and closed his mouth several times as though he knew what he wanted to say, but kept suddenly changing his mind. Finally, he said, “As you are the only other fifth year Ravenclaws.” he started, and then thought better of himself, “Excuse me, female Ravenclaws. I mean - let me start over.”

He took a deep breath, then said, “I assume you’re both well acquainted with Penelope Clearwater? As you both board with her.”

“Yes.” Audrey says quickly, eagerly. She wants him to get to the point.

Flitwick looks away from both of them for a brief moment, then he continues, “And I’m sure you’re both very aware of the attacks that have been happening around the school.”

“Yes.” Audrey and Angela both say in unison, both of them with their attention fully on him. Audrey has a sneaking suspicions of what the professor is about to tell them, and she hates it.

“Well, this afternoon,” he pauses, “coming back from the library, Ms. Clearwater and Hermione Granger, a third year Gryffindor, were both - ” he stops for a moment, unable to continue, “they… well, you know.” he pauses again, knowing he has to say it, until he finally spits it out as quickly as he can, “They were petrified.”

Angela’s eyes go huge and Audrey covers her mouth with her hand, trying to stop the aggressive surge of emotions she feels at his words. Flitwick shakes his head and busies himself looking for something on his desk, obviously not wanting to dwell on the sorrow circumstances.

“Audrey,” Flitwick says suddenly, and Audrey raises her gaze from the ground to meet his own, which isn’t far. Her eyes are filled with tears; he sees this and looks away from her, and instead down at the desk, where he’s fiddling with a shiny Ravenclaw prefect badge, “In light of the situation,” he continues, “and I know it may seem a ridiculous thing to focus on, with everything else that’s happening, but every house needs two prefects per year, fifth and beyond, and it seems now I’m short one. I’d like to ask you to fill in for Ms. Clearwater until she’s out of the hospital, along side Mr. Robert Hilliard, in your year. I of course understand if, given the circumstances, this is too much for you, but you are my first choice.”

He holds the prefect badge out to her, and Audrey cannot speak. Still, she reaches out and takes it from him slowly with the hand that was covering her mouth; her other hand is still clutching the parchment which has grown more crumpled and illegible.

“I appreciate it.” Flitwick says, “Your duties begin immediately. Discuss with Mr. Hilliard to see what needs to be done. That will be all for now.”

Angela and Audrey leave his classroom slowly, and as soon as the door is closed they’re both silent and still. Angela starts to open her mouth, but Audrey turns and stares down at her angrily, “Don’t. Say. Anything.” she snaps, still choked up.

Angela doesn’t argue with her, she just watches Audrey as she turns and marches down the corridor to the library.

Audrey comes into the library as quietly as she can, but she’s struggling to keep herself from sobbing. Tears have been streaming down her face since she left Professor Flitwick’s room, and although she’s been trying to wipe them from her face, when she comes in the library her eyes are red and watery and her face is blotchy. The librarian pays no attention to her because she sees her in there so often, but once she rounds the corner to the study area she occupies herself with trying to find Percy.

It’s Percy’s off period, and she knows he’ll either be here or in the Gryffindor common room. She can’t get in there and she isn’t about to try, so the library is her best bet. She walks around all the tables trying to find him, but with no luck. Finally, she comes around the corner to find Harry Potter and Ron Weasley barreling out from behind a shelf. Out of habit, she sticks her arm out to stop them even though she still has tears streaming down her face; Ron and Harry stop abruptly, although it’s probably more due to the fact that she looks like she’s spiraling than the idea that she has any authority over them.

“Please don’t run in the library.” she says, trying to keep her voice steady, “Where are you supposed to be?”

“We don’t have class this hour.” Ron says quickly, and Audrey believes him because she doesn’t have the energy to be suspicious.

“Are you going to Gryffindor tower?” she asks, and they both nod, “Good. Will you do me a favor and ask Percy to meet me in the library? Tell him it’s very serious.”

Ron nods and he and Harry make their way out of the library quickly, obviously trying not to run until they can get into a hallway. Audrey sits down at an empty table with the crumbled transfiguration notes still in one hand, and the Ravenclaw prefect badge in the other. She puts her head down without even taking her glasses off.

It feels like it takes forever for Percy to get to the library, although it wasn’t as long as it would’ve been if it had been a normal trip. As soon as Ron informed him that his girlfriend was in the library, wanted to talk to him, it was serious and that she was crying, he did not necessarily break the no running rule, but he came very close.

Audrey lifted her head when she felt a hand on her back, to find her boyfriend standing over her. He looked very concerned and sat down quickly, “What’s wrong?” he asked, very worried she was upset with him, but also worried it could be something worse.

She sniffled and shook head head, and just leant into him and began to sob, rather than letting the tears flow slowly and silently. She did her best to keep herself quiet, both by forcing half of the sobs down and burying her face in the front of Percy’s robes. Percy slid his chair closer to her so she wasn’t bent at such an awkward angle and placed a hand on the back of her head, and resting his chin on the top of it. He waited for her to calm down before he asked her again, “Audrey? Won’t you please tell me what’s wrong?”

Audrey nodded, sitting up and wiping her face with the sleeve of her shirt because she was still holding things in both of her hands. She opened her mouth and then immediately broke into a sob, which was quite loud. She winced, looking down at her feet, “Sorry.” she whispered.

“It’s fine.” Percy assured her, reaching forward and taking her glasses off her nose, cleaning the tears she’d gotten on them off on his robe, “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Audrey nodded again, lifting her head and taking a deep breath, “It’s Penelope.” she said after a moment of hesitation.

“Are you fighting?” Percy asked, and Audrey crumbled, dropping her head down and resting it on his shoulder. She takes a moment to gather herself, knowing she’ll only get choked up if she tries to speak.

Finally, she says, “She’s been petrified.”

Percy’s eyes went wide, “You mean - ”

“Yes.” Audrey says, very choked up, and no longer wishing to speak of it, “It’s awful. It’s horrible.” she sits back up and looks at him angrily, “Percy, I swear, if Angela says one word to me about muggleborns I’m going to petrify her.” her anger evaporates and she brings her hand back up to cover her mouth, but she’s still holding the prefect badge so she uses her sleeve instead.

Percy, noticing she’s clutching things in both her hands, reaches over and pries the parchment out of her grasp and holds it up to look at it. The mix of sweat from her hands, tears, and the ink not being dry and running on her walk to Professor Flitwick’s room, combined with the fact that she’s been gripping the paper mercilessly since she left Transfiguration, rendered almost all of her notes illegible. Percy sets the paper on the desk and reaches up to lower her other hand, “What’s this?” he asks, trying to get her to let go of the badge.

“Oh.” Audrey says, and picks the badge up and stares at the shiny letters and blue paint, “Flitwick asked me to be the prefect while Penelope is…” she squirms, “you know.”

“Yeah.” Percy says, “Can I see it?”

Audrey nods and hands it to him, and he takes it in his hands gingerly, looking it over. Finally he says, “I’m going to ask Robert Hilliard to switch slots with me.” he looks back up at her, “is that okay?”

Audrey smiles through her tears, “Yes.” she says, and leans forward and gives him a peck on the lips.

Percy sighs, looking down at the badge, “It’ll be okay.” he tells her, sounding more confident than he feels, “I promise. Professor Sprout is doing everything she can to cure them, but mandrakes only grow so fast.”

Audrey nods, “I know.” she says, “I just - I just… I got very scared.” she says, “I panicked. I’ve been so worried and whoever is doing this is just…” she pauses, “evil. They’re evil. It’s disgusting, I just. I want this year to be over. I want to go back to London. Or the burrow. Or just,” she looks at Percy, “somewhere with you.”

Percy smiles at her, “I feel the same way.” he says, and gives her another peck on the lips, “They’ll find whoever’s doing this, I swear. I’ll find them myself, if it’ll make you happy.”

Audrey smiles back at him, “That’s very sweet of you, but I wouldn’t want you…” she trails off and looks at the ground, “well, you know.”

“I know.” he says gently, “besides, it’s not like anyone else could replace me as prefect. Who are they going to put in, Oliver Wood?”

Audrey giggles, “I don’t think they’d find a replacement for you, love. You’re too diligent.”

Percy blushes at the nickname and at the compliment, “Thank you.”

He turns the badge over in his hand and unclips the pin, reaching over and fastening it to her robe, “This belongs on you.” he says, then he leans in and whispers, “and not that I don’t enjoy hanging out with Penelope, but I would’ve been far more excited if you’d been named prefect.”

Audrey blushes, looking down but smiling, “Was my jealously very obvious?”

Percy shrugs, still grinning, “I don’t think she noticed.”

Audrey shoves him playfully, “I’ll tell Robert Hilliard you’re swapping slots.” she says, “and that it’s not optional.”

“Understood.” Percy says, then leans in and gives her a kiss, “but I really shouldn’t be sitting in here doing nothing, I’m supposed to be patrolling the hallways when I’m not studying.”

Audrey nods, “Of course.”

Percy stands, and then holds his hand out for her, “You should come with,” he says, “you know, so I can teach you what to do.”

Audrey huffs but stands, taking his hand quietly, and he leads her out of the library.

Chapter Text

The very last thing Audrey ever expected was to get off the train after her sixth year and see her father standing on the other side of Platform 9¾. She met his eyes with confusion and he looked away almost immediately. He fidgeted where he stood as Paige appeared at Audrey’s side, where she went still at the sight of their father and said nothing. The longer she watched him, the more horrified and heartbroken she looked, until Audrey placed a hand on her shoulder and walked them both closer to him.

Paige moved numbly, following Audrey’s lead for once as if she was tied to her with a tight string. She stared, unblinking, at their father, who was standing awkwardly with Elizabeth at his side. Eliza stared at them desperately, breaking their father's grip on her hand and running forwards to Audrey; she wrapped her skinny arms around her waist and Audrey placed a hand on the back of her head as Eliza began to cry. Paige watched her sadly, before looking up to Audrey and finally turning away, abandoning her things and her sisters in favor of finding Lillian.

Audrey did not move from her spot; instead she held her youngest sister as she cried in the middle of the platform. Muggles passing them gave them strange looks, their eyes lingering on them as they made their way around. Audrey looked back to their father, hatred burning behind her eyes; he was not looking at either of them.

Paige emerged from the crowd practically dragging Lillian by her arm. Ginny was following close behind them, obviously concerned by the look of distress on Paige's face, “What’s wrong?” Lillian asked, coming closer to Audrey, “Elizabeth - why are you crying?”

Elizabeth buried her face deeper into her sister's shirt and shuddered; Lillian noticed their father and fell quiet, quickly looking away. She turned back to Ginny, leaning in and whispering something softly, to which Ginny nodded and turned back into the crowd.

“What are you doing here?” Audrey asked finally; her sisters had silently chosen her as their speaker, seeing as they had taken places behind her or trembling into her. She held Eliza tighter as he looked back to them, sadness in his eyes.

“I’m… here.” he said softly, so much so that Audrey barely heard him over the bustling of the platform, “I’m… here to pick you up.”

“Bullshit.” Audrey said, before she could stop herself; Lillian looked away, biting her lip, but Audrey did not relent, “Where’s mum?”

Paige looked away ashamedly; Eliza shuddered again and a small sound escaped her throat. Audrey held her tighter, fear gripping her as she waited for her father to tell her what she knew she didn't want to hear.

Before he could speak again, Mrs. Weasley appeared from the crowd, so close to Audrey it startled her; she placed a hand on Eliza’s head and looked up at Audrey, “What's wrong here?”

Audrey blinked at her, “Oh - my - our - father.” She choked out, and Mrs. Weasley turned to look at him.

She faced him fully, “Mr. Baker!” She said, fake enthusiasm dropping from her tone, “It’s wonderful to -”

“Stone.” Their father said quickly, “Baker was Lucile’s maiden name. My last name is Stone.”

Mrs. Weasley paused, “Mr. Stone, then.” She said cautiously, “I understand you don't have custody over these girls so if you'd kindly find their mother or tell us where to find her that would be wonderful. Otherwise I can take the girls until - ”

“Lucile has passed.”

Audrey gasped, looking down and away and anywhere but her father because she could not stand to see his face.

Mrs. Weasley looked about as shocked as Audrey felt, staring at a man with a vacant expression before she moved suddenly and gave each of the girls a very tight hug, which Audrey could hardly feel anyways since she felt numb all over. Mrs. Weasley introduced herself to their father very shortly, before telling her children it was time to go.

Audrey wished each of them off numbly; Ron, Harry and Hermione together before they themselves parted ways, and the twins as well as Ginny, though she was mainly busy giving her own goodbyes to Lillian, who now had tears streaking down her cheeks. Both twins enveloped Paige in a hug, holding her very tightly between them.

Audrey hugged Percy for what felt like a very long time but still not long enough; she rested her head on his shoulder and very angrily fought back tears. For a short moment, even with her life seemingly ending right there on the platform, she felt very safe in his arms.

“Come and visit,” he said very quietly into her ear, “Please.”

“I’ll do my best.” Audrey had felt herself saying; she meant it. She wouldn’t have left him – or any of them – if she’d had the choice not to. She didn’t know how her dad felt about any of this – if he still felt the same about having magic in the family. If he did – and was only housing them because he had no choice – then there was no way in hell Audrey could’ve walked downstairs during the summer and said, “Dad – I’m going to visit the Weasley’s for today. You know, the wizarding family you met at the train platform when you picked us up at the start of the summer. I’m also dating their older son, Percy. He’s a wizard, too. In case you were wondering.” The thought sounded stupid even in her head.

After checking very quickly that not a single person had their eyes on them, Percy kissed Audrey very quickly, “Write me as soon as you can.” He said quietly, “I assume you’ll want to talk – maybe somewhere more private than a train station.”

“I will,” she’d told him honestly, before looking at the crate that held her cat, “Holly will miss you.”

He glanced down at the crate, “I will miss you.” He told her, not even bothering to check before planting another short kiss on her lips, “I’m sorry. Write me. I’ll miss you.” He told her quietly.

“Percy?” she asked softly, “I love you.”

He blushed rather deeply, “I love you, too.” Then, just because he couldn’t help himself, he kissed her for the third time, again without checking to see if anyone was watching.

“Oi! Lover boy, we need to get a move on!” George said rather loudly from behind them; Percy threw a glare his way, but moved away from her nonetheless.

“Have a good—” he seemed to catch himself.

“Summer?” Audrey finished for him, “I’ll do my best.” He smiled ever so softly, just for her, “I love you.” She added.

“I love you, too.” He mouthed back, now that he was too close to the twins to say such a thing without getting taunted.

The happy buzzing feeling Percy and his affection left in her chest did not last five minutes into the car ride. The air was filled so thickly with tension you could have cut into it with a butter knife. Audrey sat rather slouched in the passenger seat, while Paige, Lillian and Elizabeth – who’d come along with their dad to pick them up – sat in the back seats. Lillian and Elizabeth were both in tears, and Paige, clutching her cat like a lifeline in her arms, looked far closer to hysterics than she’d looked at the station.

Audrey stayed perfectly composed, even as they passed the very old, very broken down apartment complex in the heart of London that they’d oh so recently called home (the very complex they’d been expecting to return to today). They drove straight through London into the outskirts of the city, where their father pulled into a driveway in front of a rather large and modern looking house.

It was rather cold inside, and the modern, spread out furniture made the living room look empty and unwelcoming. Their dad, with red hair going blonde with age and who wore very formal attire, blended right in with the setting. The girls, however, remained very close together, and looked very out of place standing around the modern furniture and appliances.

Maybe it was because they were all witches; maybe it was because their dark hair and eyes and tones in general clashed absolutely horribly with the room – house – around them. But really, it was most likely the fact that they were all so worn; that the jacket Audrey was wearing had been bought for two pounds at a thrift store; that Elizabeth’s shoes had been worn by every other girl in that room at a previous date; that Paige’s hair hadn’t been cut in ten months and was now growing at odd lengths everywhere and gathering multiple split ends.

Audrey was tall – taller than her dad, in fact – but standing in that room she felt so small.

“Er – Elizabeth and I have already gone to your – er – apartment.” Their dad said awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck, “We’ve gathered your things – well, Elizabeth did. She walked around picking things up and pointing out things to me too heavy for her to carry.” Elizabeth had now hidden herself behind Audrey, clutching her wrist and clinging to it; Audrey didn’t make her let go, “Erm – she’d already picked her room.” He paused, “She actually seemed to have picked all of yours, as well. She pointed out who’s things to put where.”

A long and uncomfortable silence followed, and their dad coughed, “You can – er – make yourself at home.”

It didn’t look like anybody had ever made themselves at home. Even Audrey, who had constantly complained about the messiness of their apartment, was unsettled by how untouched everything seemed. Paige shifted her cat in her arms, and their dad eyed it.

“Oh – erm – I’ve been meaning to ask – ” he paused, staring at the Turkish calico in Paige’s grip, “Is that an… outside cat by any chance..?”

Perhaps for the first time in her life – at least that Audrey had witnessed – Paige stiffened uncomfortably, “Er – no.” she said quietly, “She’s almost strictly an indoor cat.” She paused, seeming to debate over whether or not to continue, “So are Audrey and Lillian’s.” She said finally.

Their dad stared at them, “You’ve all got cats?” he asked frantically.

“Elizabeth doesn’t have a cat.” Paige said quickly, and Audrey bit her lip.

“… She’s going to need one,” she added, “When she starts school.”

They couldn’t quite place the look on their dad's face; finally, he asked, “Why do you need a cat for school?

“Well – you can have other things,” Audrey said, “A toad or an owl, for instance – Percy even had a rat he passed down to his younger brother – but Elizabeth’s been waiting an awfully long time to get her own cat.” Elizabeth stayed hidden behind Audrey, “Er – they’re not normal cats.” She added quickly, to which her dad looked even more distressed, “I mean – they’re pretty normal but they’re a little smarter than regular cats – because – we get them in Diagon Alley – which – is the uh – the wizarding shop… place.”

The look on her dad's face told her it was time to stop talking.

The girls left the living room together, none of them daring to even stand alone in one of the rooms of the house. They walked quietly up the stairs without saying a word and were met with a long hallway with several doors.

Elizabeth pulled Audrey over to the first closed door, which had a taped sign to it that said “Audrey” in her handwriting. She smiled down at Elizabeth, “Thank you.” She said, opening the door.

The room was almost entirely empty; in it laid a bed – a bed bigger than any bed she’d ever slept on – a desk, a chair and a cupboard. The contents that had been removed from Audrey’s room hardly took up the corner. She had never seen the furniture in the room in her entire life; she wondered for a moment where her own bed had gone, then realized that in a house like this, her dad probably wouldn’t have wanted something like that in it.

Her dad probably didn’t want a group of witches in the house either, but it wasn’t like he could go to the nearest Rooms to Go and purchase four new daughters.

Audrey closed the door behind her and pulled her trunk onto the bed; it was already made. The room was incredibly barren and crisp, and as much as she was happy with how clean it was, the emptiness of it upset her. She wouldn’t have enough things to make the room appear even half full.

As she was pulling things out of her trunk and setting them aside, the door creaked open, and in the mirror above the desk she saw her dad standing there; she ignored him, continuing to unpack her things as if he wasn’t standing in the doorway.

“Remember when you were younger, and your hair was red? Like mine?” she heard him ask from behind her, and she frowned, stopping in her process of laying her clothes out on the bed.

She was quiet for a long moment, “Remember when I was eleven and you came into my room in the middle of the night and told me if I attended Hogwarts to study witchcraft you would divorce my mother?”

She didn’t look at her dad; she couldn’t bring herself to. She knew she would crumble and become a sobbing mess in an instant and she couldn’t allow him to see her that way. Instead she resumed her unpacking (there was not much left to be done anyways) and she finished laying everything of hers out on the bed. Her dad said absolutely nothing.

Finally, “Audrey – really – I – I didn’t mean –”

“Oh I do hope the words ‘I didn’t mean it’ aren’t about to come out of your mouth – because clearly you did – you know, since you divorced my mother.” She said calmly, closing her trunk and pulling it off the bed, pushing it underneath. She then found herself facing him, “If you’ve come upstairs to discuss the details of your abandonment, please close the door – I’d rather not burden anyone else with the discussion.”

Her dad stared at her as she reached over, undoing the hatch on Holly’s cage and letting her wander out onto the bed, stretching and staring at her dad curiously. Once again, her dad finally spoke, “Why – why do you all have cats?”

Audrey struggled to hide her annoyance, having just attempted to answer this question downstairs, “We’ve all got cats because we need them for school. They help with various things.” She explained shortly; her dad nodded.

“I see – and they’ll be here? For the summer?” he asked, and Audrey rolled her eyes.

“Yes,” she said, “Sorry if they’re an inconvenience to you – but I guess that might just be three more things you’re reluctant to house this summer.”

Her dad frowned, giving his face a scowling expression that looked rather upsetting on him, “Audrey, really – I understand you being upset but you’re being awfully childish—”

“Oh, don’t start that with me!” Audrey snapped angrily, making her dad jump in surprise, “I don’t care how childish I’m being – I’ll be as childish as I want to be over the fact that my father abandoned me – and my three younger sisters – when I was only eleven. ” She glowered at him, “I happen to have a right to be upset with you, after you divorced my mother and made absolutely no effort to be a part of our lives for six years until the law forced you to. ” Audrey took a breath, composing herself quietly, “Now leave.”

“Excuse me?” he dad asked, looking very taken aback.

For a moment, Audrey was very quiet, then she reached down without a word and picked her wand up off of her bed and pointed it directly at him, “ Leave. Come on now, you’re quite good at it.”

He took the two steps he’d only managed to take inside back, and slammed the door. Audrey lowered he wand at once, throwing it back onto her bed; an empty threat. Even if she was of age and old enough to do magic outside of school, she never would have pointed her wand at her father with an intention to use it.

Holly leaned over and sniffed the wand tentatively, then backed away, seeming to approve, before curling into a ball and closing her eyes. Audrey pet her quietly, listening as it seemed just down the hall, her dad had just entered Paige’s room. She smiled faintly as the sound of something rather heavy being thrown, and Paige’s door slammed shut. She resumed her earlier activities, quietly hanging her robes up and thinking to herself, avoiding the tears that kept welling in her eyes.

As the afternoon turned to evening, Audrey slowly came to terms with what had happened. Her mother had died in the spring. Three days after Easter weekend. Audrey herself, as the eldest, was now the lady of the house. Her dad’s house. And she didn’t even use his surname.

Upon this thought, she found herself clutching her sweater rather tightly. She loosened her grip, and only then realized that the sweater in fact, didn’t even belong to her. It was knitted, homemade, of a very mute color with a large “P” on the front of it in yellow. She blushed rather deeply as she realized it was Percy’s, remembering his explanation of his mother’s traditional Weasley sweater gift every year at Christmas after he’d gone to fetch his for her. He said he only wore it one day out of the year anyways – besides, she didn’t have one and “the Ravenclaw common room was much further away than the Gryffindor.”

A knock resonated from Audrey’s door and she jumped, stuffing the sweater into the nearest draw and shutting it hastily, turning away from it unsuspiciously, “Come in.” she said faintly.

The door opened, and once more her dad shuffled into the room; for a brief moment Audrey entertained the idea that perhaps he had returned to apologize, but seeing as he had gone the last six years without saying a word to her, the chances of that seemed rather slim.

“I’m – going to run to Nandos and pick us something up to eat,” he said shortly, “What would you like?”

It had been years since Audrey had so much as heard the word “Nandos” let alone eaten the food, “Um…just…whatever. If you see something that reminds you of me just get that.” Audrey said quietly; she was too drained to pretend to still be angry with him. Well, she was still angry at him, she just didn’t have the energy to show it right at that moment.

Her dad left her room without another word, leaving the door ajar much to Audrey’s bitterness. She moved to close it, but as she reached it Lillian appeared in the doorway, her eyes watery, “I haven’t had Nandos in years…” she said so softly it was almost impossible to hear, “I haven’t even thought of it. We could never afford to eat out and moms’ food was always so good anyways… it’ll probably taste like rubbish after tasting the food at Hogwarts…” she wasn’t even looking at Audrey; rather, she was staring at something behind her Audrey knew wasn’t there. Lillian was rambling and they both knew it, but Audrey didn’t stop her.

Lillian swallowed, “I wonder if it’ll be any good…” she mused faintly, “Maybe I’ll ask Elizabeth… that’s all she’s probably been eating the last few months… Dad couldn’t cook if his life depended on it, remember?” she turned and began walking down the hallway, the turned back, “Audrey?”

“Yes?” she asked very quietly.

“You… you know that feeling you get when you walk into Professor Snape’s class?” Lillian asked timidly, “Where the air gets ten degrees colder – and you can’t tell if it’s because it’s actually colder or you’re just nervous? And then the whole time you’re there there’s a weird lump in between your stomach and your throat? And even after you leave, it – it lingers?”

Audrey nodded wordlessly.

“That’s how I felt walking into this house.” Lillian said, tears brimming her eyes as she quickly turned away and shut herself back in her room.

Audrey followed her lead and closed her door, leaning against it and fighting away tears that threatened to spill, “Me too.” She said very softly.

Audrey didn’t go to sleep that night right away. She found it incredibly difficult to drift off in the quiet when she’d gotten so used to the sound of other people breathing around her. For the longest time, it had either been Penelope and Angela or her sisters in the room with her, but now it was silent. Only silence filled the air, and Audrey couldn’t sleep.

Sometime after ten, Audrey was suddenly aware of Elizabeth climbing into her bed. She didn’t mind this at all, and let Elizabeth curl up next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Elizabeth’s breathing evened out quickly, and after this Audrey suddenly found herself very drowsy.

She was close to dozing when someone else appeared in the doorway. Lillian snuck into the room and over to the side where Elizabeth lay, and grew very quiet. Audrey could only barely make out her willowy frame in the darkness; she slowly wiggled her hand loose from underneath Elizabeth, who didn’t stir, and patted the bed softly.

Lillian took the invitation without hesitation; she lifted the blanket up and nestled herself under the covers next to Elizabeth, who only stirred for a moment before clinging to Lillian, who was now enveloping her. Audrey laid her head back on her pillow as she felt Lillian reach over to hold her hand; she squeezed it tightly. Audrey squeezed back as tight as she could with her remaining energy. It took less than a minute for Lillian’s breathing to steady.

She was certain she was asleep when she heard the voice, “Audrey?”

She started a little bit, jerking only her head up and seeing another silhouette in the doorframe of her room. Her heart stuttered because for a moment, she thought it was her mom.

“Where’s Elizabeth?” Paige’s voice was quiet from the doorway.

Audrey struggled to think for a second before remembering the heat of two extra body’s right next to her, “S’here.”

“Oh,” Paige muttered quietly; she almost sounded disappointed, “Um… what about Lillian?”

“S’here, too.” Audrey was so tired; she just wanted to sleep. The day had been so long and so mean to her. She could barely see Paige’s silhouette nodding from where she stood in the doorway; she lingered there for a long time, and even in Audrey’s exhausted and half-awake state, she knew why.

There was still a whole other side of the bed next to her; she patted it with her free hand, “Come lay.” She said, but it came out more slurred than Audrey had intended it to; she was tired. Paige reached over and closed the door, then walked over to Audrey’s bed side without saying a word. She hesitated at the edge for a moment, but it only took another couple of soft taps to the mattress to coax her under the covers.

Paige slid into the bed next to her, fitting right up next to her and burying her face in the crook of Audrey’s neck. Her cheeks were all wet, and Audrey slowly wrapped her arm around Paige and pulled her closer to her and held her while she shook with sobs.

Audrey was too tired to do anything but tilt her head and say, “ I know, I know, ” in the softest voice she could conjure and press a kiss to Paige’s forehead as often as she deemed necessary. Audrey couldn’t recall when Paige’s breathing had finally evened and she’d stopped shaking so horribly, nor could she recall when Paige had begun clinging to her or when Audrey had begun to let tears fall as well.

Her throat burned with repressed tears, but nonetheless she leaned and pressed a final kiss to Paige’s forehead and laid her head back on her pillow, ready to sleep.

And then suddenly, from the darkness, “It hurts so much.”

Audrey cracked her eyes open again to look down at Paige, “I know.”

And then with absolutely no warning, “I love you.”

Audrey closed her eyes, “I love you, too.”

“Do you mean it?” Paige’s voice was hoarse from tears and exhaustion.

“I wouldn’t say something I didn’t mean,” Audrey said faintly, “I love you very much.”