It’s been said that madness is doing something again and again and expecting different results; if that’s so, then, was this sort of love the greatest sort of insanity?
Pearl could recall the day – vividly, in fact – that she came to wonder if she was that brand of crazy.
It was a day she thought about often.
It rained, that day, as it had been all the past week. An early autumn storm had settled comfortably over Hogwarts, washing the grounds til the paths ran over with mud and the windows were constantly painted by transparent droplets.
Pearl had been suffering a bit of a cold since the last time she’d been on the Quidditch pitch, and while her immune system may have taken a bit of a hit, she refused to allow that to deter her from her prefect duties; the First-Years relied on her, especially this early in the semester, and she had every intention of seeing through with her responsibilities.
One such responsibility was stepping up to lend her services to the various professors in cases of emergency – one of which happened in her own Fifth-Year Divination class, on the foretold Monday.
Professor Sapphire had them reading signs in various concave and convex metals or glass, instructing them to pay special attention to the distortion and distention of one’s features in the galvanized surfaces, when one of her Slytherin classmates had taken to a terrifying vision. It had been as if a sort of extrasensory presence had wrapped black tendrils over her heart and eyes, blinding her to reason and any emotion besides fear and anger. Lapis Lazuli, known for her fierce temperament and extraordinary proficiency in hydrokinetic transfiguration, had become so petrified that she couldn’t form words, instead beginning to smash the windows, the glasses pitchers and trinkets that lined the walls of the Divination classroom, crushing the metal with transmutated, highly-pressurized water.
Anything that could carry her own reflection, Lapis sought out to destroy that day.
Professor Sapphire had sent Pearl off to fetch the infirmary witch posthaste, and once a medical attendant was en route way to the Divination Tower, she was to retrieve the Headmistress as well.
Pearl had never run so fast in her life, the terrified image of her peer, an otherwise quiet but driven girl, curling in on herself, cringing if anyone grew too close – what could she possibly have seen in those mirrors? Did Pearl even want to know?
She never did get an answer to that, Pearl noted, as she frowned at her own reflection.
At present, Pearl was nearly ready for bed, unconsciously drawn to the window beside her bed in the Fifth-Year girl’s dormitories. Beyond the plane of glass, the empty night stretched out over and into the surrounding landscape, pale moonlight capping the hills like freshly fallen snow, and just the slightest outline of Hogsmeade could be made out in the distance.
Sighing, Pearl tightened her nightgown over her thin frame and turned away from the night. This pattern, watching her reflection, watching evening creep over their academic and magical sanctuary, had become a part of her routine since that fateful Monday.
Pearl couldn’t find it in herself to feel sorry about what happened, even in spite of the cost that day had incurred.
Lapis, for the record, recovered just fine after a short stay in the infirmary – apparently, she’d almost experienced a fully-fledged vision, and such a violent reaction was not unusual for one’s first time dabbling into the tenuous magic of the mind.
But this had little to do with Lapis, besides that she was a catalyst for a strange series of events in Pearl’s life. That Monday did not end with Lapis as the only student from that Divination class in the infirmary.
Jogging down hallway after hallway, twisting and turning to accommodate the maze of Hogwarts, Pearl thanked her lucky stars for her own preparedness; she had, just that morning, gone through her routine check of her map of the castle grounds and interior layout, excluding dynamic structures like the shifting staircases, and was more than ready to utilize a few shortcuts to get her to the infirmary faster, for her classmates sake.
It took her down through the Hufflepuff’s wing of the castle and required a quick backtrack through the third floor corridor that lead past Potions, but it would end up saving about three minutes in travel time than the typical route.
For the life of her, Pearl still does not recall exactly what happened – there was a clumsy second-year, along with an ill-timed apparition on behalf of the Potions Professor, lots of yelling and broken glass – all of it resulting with her, the ground, tied up in her own robes and covered in a mucky orange liquid, along with some terribly odorous icher that was black as midnight.
And that, for all intents in purposes, was that.
Pearl had no personal memory of how the remainder of her Monday went after that. She was later informed that the mixture of the potions, along with her weakened immune system, resulted in her suffering from accidental over-exposure to a wayward mixture of Legilimency-enhancing compounds, mixed with some of the basics of a sleep draught; as a result, for almost a week, the joint effects on her body and mind had rendered her in a sort of fugue state, guided only by restless bouts of sleep.
Shaking off the distracting memories, Pearl’s brow furrowed as she sank beneath her covers, the sheets cool over her skin.
The infirmary witch never managed to diagnosis exactly what was wrong with her. There had been no evident side-effects after the first week beside that she had begun to have vivid dreams, none of which seemed to bring her pain beside the occasional headache, so they discharged her with a note to return if her headaches worsened or if her dreams began to turn especially dark.
(Pearl did not miss the cagey edge to the the infirmary witch’s voice when sharing this announcement; it was well known that dream magic was highly unpredictable and difficult to correlate with in any meaningful, real-world consequences.)
That Monday had been nearly six months ago, and in time, Pearl grew used to it. She returned to as normal a life as any other fifteen-year old witch could hope for, and the resulting headaches came only when she went too long without sleeping – exam weeks were especially tough, OWLs having swept in that Spring with a vengeance.
Some of her classmates called it a curse, a hex, a fated twist of the magic that had resulted in her being banned from the Divination Tower indefinitely; Professor Sapphire could not stand to be around her after the accident without collapsing. Yellow went out of her way to avoid the subject altogether, Blue often frowned at her during meals, and White even suggested she go to St. Mungo’s over the next break, but Pearl did little else than remind them that she was fine.
If Pearl were being honest, she rather felt like she’d been blessed that day, bestowed with a luck more potent than a bottle of Felix’s Felicis, because, every night when she would close the curtain in her bunk, much like she did just now, Pearl would dream.
And when she dreamt, she saw them. And when she saw them, she fell in love with them, every night, in every universe.
Bright light greeted her when Pearl opened her eyes, blinking at the unrelenting sunshine just as a shadow moved above her.
“Oh, um, are you – are you alright?” A timid, almost hesitant voice said, and Pearl thought it sounded vaguely familiar. After a moment’s focus, she realized it belonged to a girl, who happened to be standing in front of her, her hands trembling as they fluttered nervously in the air over her.
“Do you need to lie down?”
“’M… fine,” Pearl mumbled, voice slightly warbled as she mourned her loss of sleep. “What… happened?”
The young woman bit her lip as she anxiously helped Pearl to stand. She had pale blue skin, not unlike the color of a the sky at dawn on an overcast, wintery morning, and her bangs obscured the larger part of her face. “You were just – I wasn’t – you were helping move the planters for the display – just, please, come inside, let me get you some water.”
“Um,” Pearl did a once over of herself, discovering with a mild startle that she was wearing Muggle clothing, and a bright green apron. “That’s alright, I’m fine.”
“No, Pearl, you’re not,” almost shyly, she laid a hand on Pearl’s forearm before leading her by the wrist. “Please, you do this every day, and you’ve never fainted before. Maybe you’re dehydrated. Just let one of us take care of you for a change, okay?”
The best she could do was smile and allow herself to be guided; it wouldn’t be very courteous to deny someone when they insisted, so Pearl used the opportunity to sneak a better glance at the young woman. She wore a leotard, fitted so precisely it sat over her torso and shoulders like a second-skin, and she had a mid-length skirt of the same color, but it was patterned by white dots. Overtop her ensemble, a bright green apron was tied round her neck and waist, and from the pocket a pair of pristine, oversized gloves and pruning shears poked out.
She knew Pearl’s name, and the gentle hold on her wrist suggested they knew each other well; why was Pearl unable to place her? It was as if a veil clouded her mind, fogged her usually keen senses, rendered her to a constant, maddening state of tip-of-the-tongue awareness. Pearl knew this person, and what was even more frustratingly, she knew that she knew her, but for some reason the information was buried beneath her consciousness, clouded from rationality but stained upon her memory; the memories were a threadbare sweater, the fit too familiar and comfortable, adapted to just the right hugs and curves of her shoulders, waist, and hips, and yet, the garment was unrecognizable from what it once was, even if she knew it was somehow special.
Pearl continued to squint and blink through an oncoming headache as her senses readjusted to her new surroundings. What had once been an unobstructed view of the sky was now gone, but only barely; Pearl realized they’d moved into a building with glass walls, bright bolts of green metal framing the panels. Vaguely, she was reminded of the Herbology classroom, but this was scenic and warm, bright and vivid by comparison.
A thick armory of flowers, petals, vines and leaves greeted her within, filling the space from floor to ceiling and wall to wall in tapestries of green and spotted by buds and blossoms of every color. Almost immediately, she inhaled a wonderful, heady sensory experience, the loveliness of flora trapped within in a glass castle; there was the subtle warmth of lilacs contrasted to the sharpness of lilies, all of it dewy in the manufactured humidity. Spread out over rows and rows of tables sat planters, potters, and plastic liners in which flowers bloomed, some wispy and gentle and others bold, bright and exotic. It was like a tiny rainbow had been cast over the tables lining the walls, a myriad of bouquets and boutonnieres accommodating every size and shape of blossom, many of which Pearl was surprised to realize she could name; delicate little forget-me-nots, plumes of striking peonies, gardenias and baby’s breath woven into intricate crowns that were so beautiful, her own breath was taken away.
“I’m…” she exhaled slowly, not realizing she’d been craning her neck while the other girl looked over with anxious eyes. “It’s so lovely here.”
A wary smile appeared, and the girl seemed to finally relax. “Of course it is. It’s ours.”
Pearl was, admittedly, feeling a bit flustered by the girl’s demure, now almost-admiring gaze. It was obvious that her words came with no ounce of falsehood, so all Pearl could do was agree. “Yes.”
If Pearl wasn’t mistaken, she would have sworn the lightest trace of blush had dusted the other’s cheek, a navy hue taking to her otherwise pastel complexion.
“Okay, where are… Yellow, White? Where are you?”
They arrived at a counter with an ancient cash register setting over the dark surface, around which packets of seeds and gardening gloves were on display with specialty sale prices. From a doorway (incidentally, without an actual door), another young woman appeared, this one looking considerably more tired but satisfied, her face and own bright green apron both pockmarked with dirt. She had soft, light eyes and shock of white hair styled into two-twin buns, likely in an attempt to battle off the stifling humidity within the… the… what was this place, a greenhouse of sorts? A storefront? (With a bit of distaste, Pearl realized the hair on the back of her own neck had started to dampen and was beginning to stick to her skin. Summertime was not her favorite season.)
In any event, in regards to the girl across the counter, there was a light scar that ran down the left side of her face, through the top and bottom of her eye, but it was long-faded and somehow made her appear even more charming, almost mysterious. Just in seeing her, Pearl’s throat burned with questions, curiosities she hoped to unravel, heart fluttering slightly beneath her intense but earnest smile.
“What is it?” the young woman questioned with a wan smile.
Fidgeting, the girl beside her began to speak, but in a way that almost seemed like she was holding the conversation with herself and no one else, a half-mumbled debate. “White, we were, the displays – Pearl and I were setting them up, and she fainted… well, I think. I’m afraid she seems a little out of sorts… Perhaps she’s dehydrated?” Looking up, the girl caught White’s eye. “May I take her to the back room?”
“What in the name of – ” another voice shouted, marching in through what Pearl had to assume was the front door, a scowl deeply set in the lines of her furrowed brow. “Blue, do not yell when I’m meeting the delivery guy! Do you have any idea how embarrassing that is?”
For the third time, Pearl felt a little splash of metaphorical ice water strike her face – or, maybe, more accurately, run down her spine. A light bell clanged against the doorframe as it swung shut behind the young woman, her blonde hair styled atop her head to an elegant, neat point that was both sharp and oddly whimsical, like a business woman who might disarm you with a smile but would stomp a stiletto heel straight through your neck if you weren’t careful. Another green apron, this one tied a little messily, obscured what looked like a high-waisted pair of jeans and a white, sleeveless button-up shirt.
“Ignore her,” the one behind the counter said. She stepped aside to let Pearl and, apparently, ‘Blue’ walk through the back. “Go ahead, I’ll catch her up on things.”
Admittedly, at this point, Pearl felt like their cosseting was quite unnecessary, as whatever momentary vertigo she must have felt to cause her to collapse was now gone, but… well, she might never admit it aloud, but perhaps a selfish little part of her liked being worried after like this. Three very pretty young women, all with figures that would put any ballerina to shame, respective eyes and skin so bright they looked as pretty as the flowers grown within the little shop, all being inexplicably kind to her?
Maybe she would take just a little bit of advantage of the situation. Maybe. Pearl wasn’t the self-denying, suffering type, so, stars above, was it really so wrong for her to enjoy herself a little?
The room at the back was much the same as the front of the flowershop, if only a bit less like a botanical garden and more like the office of someone who admired plants a little too much. There was a loveseat couch that rested opposite a desk with a single chair, over which piles and piles of books and papers were stacked neatly, organized with such precision she couldn’t help but approve. Another door led to what must be an employee bathroom, and there was a door that opened to the back, also paneled by walls of glass.
She wondered how they stood to do all of their work on such display. It made her skin itch, to think of always being under the watch of others.
“Here,” Blue said, quiet, her earlier anxiety returned as she shakily handed Pearl a bottle of water. It was pleasantly cold, and Pearl was eager to drink in the stuffy heat of the now-crowded office. Across from her, Yellow and White entered the room, taking respective seats at the desk chair and on the couch beside her. Blue remained standing, hands clasped together in front of her with the look of someone unsure of what to do with themselves.
“Pearl? You’re really quiet. Is there anything we can do? Do you want to go home?” White began, reaching forward slowly and – oh, stars – threading their fingers together, thumb running over the back of her palm in a soothing way. Despite the jump in her pulse, Pearl felt that same niggling sense of familiarity from earlier, the motion somehow comfortable and filled with care more apt than she’d ever expect of a stranger. Intuition told her that this was, in fact, no stranger.
“I’m… my head hurts, but it’s nothing,” she admitted, but these not-strangers, evidently, knew her far too well to let something like this go.
Yellow scoffed and leaned forward. “Yeah, and I’m the Queen of France. Do you need to go home? If you get a customer sick that would do wonders for our reputation.”
“Um,” Pearl stalled, trying to still figure out what was going on around her, thoroughly distracted by the motion of circles being pressed into her knuckles, the feeling sweeter than honey and with such tenderness it almost made her sleepy.
Blue moved a little closer, kneeling carefully so as not to press her skirt, and reached another hand forward, this one moving to cup Pearl’s cheek. Body reacting on its own, she leaned into the softness of her open palm, feeling herself blush the moment she did so. What was she doing? Why did this gesture feel so – so right?
“She is a bit warm…” Blue murmured, hand traveling to her forehead, and it only made Pearl’s shame burn hotter, a flush running all the way up her neck. “We don’t open for another half-hour… White, maybe you should take her home, Yellow and I can finish.”
White sighed but did not disagree, standing slowly and using her other hand to brace Pearl as she too rose to her feet, now mourning the loss of the feather-light, cold brush of smooth fingers over the curves of her face.
“Alright. Let’s get that apron off, hmm?” White suggested with a small smile, untangling their fingers as her hands smoothed up Pearl’s arms and found the tie at the back of her throat – which, completely by coincidence, had gone decidedly bone-dry.
With absolutely zero motivation to argue, Pearl allowed the bow to be gently guided over her head (rather than untied), the stiff fabric of the green smock navigated over her head...
…and was hooked securely onto a rack with about a dozen others, all smattered with paint.
“We’ll be back in fifteen,” White called, trailing ahead of Pearl as she guided her by the hand. In less than thirty seconds, they maneuvered through what appeared to be a small art studio that led out into – wow – a main drag of some sort of metropolis. It was definitely not London, some sort of American city judging by the cars and signage.
A wind whipped up and caught her hair immediately, delivering a nice couple of strands directly into her gaping mouth, not even having a second to catch her breath before White was leading her across the street.
They were near the end of the city block and used the crosswalk, of course, and they turned almost immediately into a cozy little cafe. Pearl’s eyes squinted through the bitter gusts, a modernistic, simple script spelling out a few words: The Morning Brew.
Much like her interaction with the girls in the flower shop, this felt – this felt too familiar. She’s never even heard of a coffee shop named The Morning Brew, and yet, as she chanced a glance at the glass doors, she very much felt like a place she’d been before, an inviting, yet unassuming, little storefront that she herself wouldn’t mind holing up in for a few hours after OWLs, to maybe read for enjoyment rather than for academics for a change, but this went deeper than that. Pearl knew this place, but, how? Why?
“Pearl, are you coming? You know Holly Blue will get mad if we’re gone longer than our break,” White held open the door, and with Pearl’s heart stuttering like a misfired engine, her focus fell to the quirk in White’s pretty lips, her small smile doing positively unfair things to Pearl’s blood pressure.
Why in the name of Merlin’s beard was White looking at Pearl like that? Worse yet, what had been a spot of dirt on her cheek was now a pink smear of paint, and Pearl’s body cried mutiny to her rational sense because – because who gave her hands permission to reach up and tenderly wipe away the paint?!
“P-Pearl,” White sighed, turning into her touch with a small sigh. “Come on. Blue and Yellow will miss us.”
Shaking her head, and feeling something suspiciously like the contents of her brain rattling around like loose coins, Pearl tugged her hand back like she’d been electrocuted. “Uh. R-Right, yes, I’m right… behind you?”
Within, the warmth of a fireplace, tempered by the delicious armor of coffee and chocolate, filled her lungs and head and heart, a scent of comfort, a peace that radiated with feelings of home, even if her real home was at least an ocean away. Across a modest lobby, perhaps fifteen feet filled by small display tables advertising some local books, was the counter, and more significantly, the lack of a line.
“Yes,” White hissed under her breath, and she hurried over to the side of the counter, forgoing the register completely. Pearl didn’t have to search far to discover why, trailing after her practically out of habit at that point.
“White, Pearl,” a soft, almost sad voice greeted, and Pearl recognized it immediately as Blue, the girl who had helped to gather her from the ground not ten minutes ago in the middle of summertime. “I was starting to wonder if you weren’t going to come by today.”
“Don’t be a guilt-tripper, Blue,” another voice sighed, stepping out of a door that held a sign reading Employees Only. Yellow, smiling despite the disparaging tone of her voice, looked happy to see them. She and Blue both wore matching visors to their green aprons, in which black stitched letters had been embroidered to match the name of the coffee shop, and Pearl watched with interest as Yellow drifted to stand beside a strange machine, boxy machine. It looked like something Peridot might have built… besides the fact that it wasn’t a totally broken piece of junk. Actually, the only evident commonality was that it was shiny and metallic, now that she got a closer look, and she blinked as Yellow’s hands moved expertly around dials and switches, pouring milks and syrups and other ingredients into mugs.
“How is your class going?” Blue asked after a moment, head tilting to one-side like a curious child. It was so precious, Pearl had to punch down the urge to lean over and pull her into a hug just for being so blatantly adorable. Such acts of unmoderated cuteness should be made illegal, immediately.
“Fine,” White sighed as she pulled out one of those Muggle mobile devices from her pocket. She was wearing a coat, which, in this weather, seemed much more appropriate than her earlier sundress. “I wish you both didn’t have to work. It’s more fun with you there.”
Quickly, Blue peeked up at them through her wisp of bangs, and Pearl felt a bizarre flutter in her chest when she watched her lean over the dip in the counter and kiss White on the cheek.
“I’m sorry. I wish we could be there.”
White’s expression was burnt gray, and her lips were pressed thin as she studied the dark wooden floors.
The sensation was… strange. In one sense, Pearl thought it felt remarkably like jealousy in her gut, twisting unpleasantly as it rearranged her stomach; in another, it was remarkable, unmistakable affection, desire and admiration that did not exactly belong to her, but she had no complaints, either. Their small display of care for each other was beautiful, and it reminded of her of grade school – snuck glances and giggled notes passed between pretend girlfriends, except, this was a love that was real as the one thrumming in her own heart.
A slight grating, like a knife whittling a flimsy piece of wood, shocked Pearl from her momentary reflections, and she blinked down at the counter. Two twin mugs were pushed across the sleek black granite surface, complete with foam art and all, both with silly little hearts patterned into the top of the steaming liquid.
Yellow crossed her arms and avoided eye contact, looking around at the few customers who were all in their own private world, paying the four of them no mind.
“I tried not to make it as hot this time… I know you burned your tongue last time.”
Blue quipped a tiny grin and leaned towards Yellow. “And, pray tell, how do you know what Pearl’s tongue was like, Yellow?”
“B-Blue!” The girl screeched, high-pitched and sudden enough to shock some of the patrons out of their meditations, sending mixed looks of concern and annoyance towards the front.
White, barely suppressing her giggles, called out politely to the onlookers. “Sorry! Please, ignore her.”
Personally, Pearl felt like she’d swallowed a lit match, her chest burning from the inside out in embarrassment at Blue’s implication – because how else would Yellow know her tongue had once been burnt if not…?
“Stars, to think, the quiet one is the worst of us all,” Yellow complained, her face so flush her complexion had nearly turned orange.
White gave Pearl a significant look before stage-whispering, “Well, inviting her into the relationship was your idea. You really only have yourself to blame.”
“That’s – that’s not true!” She gasped, whisper-yelling as Blue covered her mouth with a hand to hide her laughter. Unable to help it, Pearl began to join in the teasing at Yellow’s expense; there was something strangely fulfilling and, what, affectionate behind the ribbing? Yes, that seemed right – and Pearl was rather inclined to share in the feeling.
“You’re blushing an awful lot for it to be untrue, you know,” she pointed, grin widening at Yellow’s clear chagrin. “Looks guilty to me.”
“That’s the last time you get a free drink from me, ever, any of you! Heathens,” Yellow pouted – adorably, Pearl couldn’t help but think. Stars, this was unusual, but she would be lying if she didn’t love every moment of it.
“Oh listen to you, ‘heathens’,” White rolled her eyes, cupping the mug in her hand and carefully blowing little ripples over the surface to cool it. “You sound like Holly Blue.”
Yellow threw up her hands and spun away, marching towards the register to pout. Over her shoulder, she tossed a disgruntled, “you’re all lucky you’re cute.”
“What was that?” Pearl asked, coquettishly sweet. Blue and White both snickered, smiles hidden behind a hand and the other into a cup of coffee. Yellow whipped around, appearing actually angry, and began to advance on her.
“I said, you’re lucky...”
“...I don’t stake you, vampire.” She grabbed Pearl fiercely by the collar, and a good thing too, because Pearl nearly staggered backwards. Where she expected her heart to beat, frantically in surprise and at the sudden close proximity of a very pretty blonde girl, instead her body felt shrouded in dark, bone-chilling cold, like she’d been trapped at the bottom of the loch on the western part of the school grounds.
There was no plucky response that tumbled from her lips in the warmth of a cafe, only brisk night air and piercing moonlight, beams shredded by the overhead trees, small spotlights carving a way through the forest overhead. A desperate part of her clawed for an explanation, a familiarity to her surrounding, but all she could conjure up was images of how she imagined the Forbidden Forest must look beneath a full moon.
“Yellow, stop,” Blue pleaded, all earlier mirth gone from her expression. She looked annoyed, but not nearly as terrified as Pearl felt in that moment. In the half-second Pearl had, she noted Blue’s outfit had changed yet again – she was all rough-edges and bandages, tattered clothes evened out by a well-kept a traveler’s pack. No fewer than six stakes were visible, holstered in various means over her arms, legs, and hips. “You’re taking this out on her, but it was your – ”
“I know!” Yellow snapped, her glare never leaving Pearl, unblinking. For whatever reason – call it self-defense, call it bloodlust or regular, shameless lust, but Pearl found she too had no desire to look away. There was something strangely tempting and almost… playful, off-limits, tempting, about Yellow in this light. Moon-bleached skin, almost pale as Pearl’s own, eyes bright and fierce beneath the white light, shadows playing over her sharp features, high cheekbones, the delicious tint of flush that darkened her cheeks.
At a subconscious level, almost primal and animalistic, a voice snarled in the back of her mind: threat, danger, danger, get away, bite, feed, feed, feed. Probably not coincidentally, Pearl could feel a sharpened piece of wood, pressed up against her chest, flirting with the collar of her shirt, tracing lines into the column of her throat and down again.
To one side, out of Pearl’s line of vision in the shrouded thicket of trees, White’s now familiar voice – measured and patient, with just an edge of quiet curiosity – almost made Pearl flinch into the stake.
“You can admit it, hunter. You liked it. The feeling of fangs, scraping over your tongue? No need to be ashamed.”
Yellow did not break her gaze, holding Pearl in place, exerting just enough pressure to cause her to gasp – a funny, human reaction, considering it was one her body had abandoned long ago.
“Give me a reason. One reason not to stake you,” purred the girl, inches away, the space of only a weapon separating them. Pearl could taste the lifeblood on her lips, even at this distance.
In response, she choked on a laugh – she may not have much of a clue of what was going on, but she was nothing if not adaptable, and never one to back down in the face of a challenge.
“Because,” she spoke in a tone so dark, so thirsty, she hardly recognized her own voice. “You don’t want to. Why else would you have…?”
Pearl paused, willing her voice not to crack, and didn’t bother swallowing the lump in her throat. She had to consider these next words carefully – if Yellow had felt her fangs on her tongue… She considered what White had said, how her voice had been biting, almost wicked.
“Why else would you trust me with your lips, if not to trust me with your heart, hunter?”
Then, between them, between the four of them, silence. It was heavy, thick enough to feel like it pulled at her chest, trying to physically drag her into the ground, to bury her where her undead body likely belonged, but she stayed still. One wrong move and she would evidently end up staked, after all.
After a century or two, Yellow took a sharp step away, pulling the stake along with her. Blue and White both sighed.
“Yellow, if you ever pull a stunt like that again…” Blue grappled with her own chest, and, with a bit of a shock, Pearl realized she could hear the thrumming of her heart, a hummingbird trapped in the cage of her ribs, begging for release. The enhanced senses, now that she was aware of them, were borderline painful – she could hear everything. The crinkle of fallen leaves beneath White’s steps as she approached from behind, placing a protective hand on Pearl’s shoulder, the irritated mumbling of Yellow under her breath about the “last time she ever teams up with a vampire,” and, intoxicatingly, the sound of Blue’s heart. It was a warm, addicting sound, like syrup drizzling itself all over the back of Pearl’s throat, making her very real thirst all the more pressing.
Through no will of her own, Pearl’s legs began to move forward, eyes trailing the sinewy frame of the hunter as Blue continued to chastise Yellow. She was a beautiful sight, and Pearl was oh so ravenous, she’d never felt so hungry in her life; so hungry, indeed, that all earlier thought of petals and coffee were forgotten in one of those tiny, fragile little heartbeats. How satisfying it would be, to end that sweet sound, to be the one to have the pleasure of bringing it to its final stutter, beneath her lips.
A warning fell on deaf ears, spoken from White’s voice but not even processing in Pearl’s brain as a intelligible words. It was background noise; secondary, much less important than Blue’s smooth plane of unmarked skin, clavicle poking out in the thin willow of her frame, extending up into such a lovely collar, a pulse roaring just beneath it.
There was little time to think when Blue was so close, the slender curve of her chin and jawline near enough that she could touch it, but Pearl was stopped dead in her tracks (pun not intended, but acknowledged,) when instead hands came out to hold her shoulders, slide up her neck, tuck a piece of hair behind her ear.
“Thank you for not hurting her,” Blue mumbled, with such foolish innocence it made some part of Pearl’s familiar-unfamiliar chest ache. “Thank you for not hurting us.”
Pearl bit her own lip, fangs piercing her skin but drawing no blood. “I… want to. I can’t… you... ”
“I know,” Blue shook her head ever-so-slightly, enough to part her hair to the point where her blue eyes could be seen, and what a sight they were beneath the dusted snow of moonlight. “It’s the fact that you didn’t that made me fall in love with you in the first place.”
And she looked at Pearl with such overwhelming tenderness, such unwavering trust and affection, that in that moment, almost, Pearl could have imagined her own heart try to beat again, to be worthy of accepting such warmth and vulnerability and honesty.
“...I love you too,” she admitted, unsure of how to handle such demanding emotions when her own head did not understand up from down, but she knew, just like she knew that these faces, these lips and words were familiar, that she’d heard them before – ten times? A hundred? They were words spoken from her lips with the familiarity of greeting an old friend, of shaking the dust out of curtains to throw open the windows to a dark room and welcome in the sunshine.
For the second time, a hand came to her shoulder, and White looked at her. Pearl managed not to wince, but the bright red irises that met her were a bit unsettling; esoterically, she had a sense that she probably looked much the same. This time, it covered Blue’s hand, stroking little patterns over the bridge of her knuckles and smiling at them both.
Letting out a content exhale, trying to ignore the slight rattling of her useless lungs, Pearl leaned her head to the side where their joined hands rested, basking in the impossibility of her own emotions.
Her eyes slipped closed, thoughtful, at peace in spite of the dull throb of aridity in her throat. How do you love a stranger? How do you love multiple strangers? Was it so simple as saying the words? Why did she love them? Or was knowing that she loved them enough? How many rabbit holes would she fall through, how many looking glasses must she peer into before such questions could be answered? Would there be an end? Did she even want there to be?
Perhaps this was infinity?
Were they, the four of them, infinity?
Again, beholden to her own extraordinary senses, Pearl heard the rain before she felt the first droplet touch her skin. It was a slight change in barometric pressure, a soft stillness in the air before the downward draft of wind being torn through by tiny, aquatic explosions before beginning to drip its way into the forest.
The canopy of leaves overhead distorted the otherwise regular pitter-patter of rain, but it picked up steadily and soon, Pearl could hear…
...laughter? It came from another voice she recognized, different than the others, and the uneven cadence of the forest was gone, along with the comforting, slender fingers over her ice-cold skin.
Pearl’s eyes flew open as the rain picked up, blinking through the droplets that clung to her lashes, and looked around. She stood on a beach, and nearby – was that…?
“Steven?” She called, running over to him immediately. “What are you doing out here? A First Year shouldn’t be – ”
“Pearl,” he groaned, twirling and giggling in place. “This is important. Remember, it was Peridot’s idea to help them adjust!”
With a grin wider than she’d seen since the first time Steven tried to ride a broom, he poked his head around her body, yelling to someone behind her. “See! It won’t hurt you!”
“I can concur with Steven’s assessment!” answered another voice, in a tone that could only be aptly described as a cackle. “The rain is just a weather pattern produced by this planet’s atmosphere!”
Pearl flinched, not sure what to make of all this sudden company from her classmates – underclassmen, no less – but she turned in the sand and peered up at a fairly standard Muggle home, built into the side of a magnificent stone creation, a woman of many arms carved from a cliff in a way not even the finest terraforming transfiguring witch or wizard could dream of creating. It was a model of masonry, a creation of unrivaled proportions, beautiful and terrifying and it made her heart pang with something akin to pride.
She blinked and rubbed at the corner of her eyes, just to make sure the water hadn’t somehow impaired her vision, but when she blinked through the droplets the image still remained.
“Pearl?” Blue’s voice caught her attention, and Pearl nearly fell backwards into Steven who had taken to building wet sandcastles behind her. “You were right. Everything here… this planet… it’s all so… free.”
Pearl had never crossed a distance so quickly, practically leaping over the sand to get to her. “Are you alright?” she bothered to ask, hand moving to brush her bangs aside to better see her face, but the question was in vain; Blue had never looked so happy. She was well and truly beaming to be otherwise drenched like a wet cat, and Pearl noted with a slight cringe that, in the center of her chest, a smooth, opulent stone was inlaid flush to her skin with just the slightest suggestion of blue coloring the otherwise smooth surface.
Before Pearl could do much but smile back, a laugh seized her attention, a right and proper howl of euphoria bubbling up, and she glanced to see Yellow bent at the waist, clutching her stomach like the laughter was stuck in her belly and had to be coaxed out.
“This – I’ve – Homeworld has nothing like it! It’s so – so warm, and soft? You call it… rain?”
Both of them wore takes on an outfit that vaguely reminded her of the flush fabrics, cut in intricate shapes, that one might see on the stage of a ballet. Blue caught Yellow by her arms and both of them giggled, tipping their chins upward and tears flowing down their cheeks that were cried from the clouds above rather than their eyes.
Pearl formed half a chuckle, the mirth infectious, but the wind was promptly knocked right out of her as shaking arms threw themselves around her neck, a body all but tackling her from the side. Weak cries huffed in her ear, and the grip slowly grew tighter and tighter as the rain continued to pour.
“White?” Pearl prompted, gently, feeling the shaking sobs as they wracked her small frame. “Please, what is it? Are you – are you afraid?”
Immediately, White squeezed Pearl tighter.
“Terrified,” she admitted, voice caught between a laugh and a choked sob. “But I’ve never felt… so free before. Never. Thank you.”
“Oh, White,” Pearl held her, let the relief and fear and confusion and burgeoning, undeniable sense of hope overcome the beautiful, gentle girl in her arms, carding fingers through her hair as the buns came undone in the rain. The white strands were so soft, curled and kinked in gentle waves, not unlike those of the ocean to their backs.
Pearl wasn’t sure how long they stood there, sopping wet, braving the storm as it moved in over the sea, but neither was she in any hurry. In fact, the rest of the universe melted away, Steven’s giggles sounding increasingly far off, the commentary from Peridot turning to white noise, as forgettable as the grains of sand that shifted beneath their feet.
In the time it took for White to cry herself out, to bask in whatever manifestation of grief and joy this newfound freedom meant to her, Pearl realized the two were no longer alone in their embrace. Two more sets of arms had joined them, circled them by waist and shoulder, touching arm and cheek and neck and chin.
Stars, she had never felt so loved in her whole life. She knew what people said about people like them, people who shared their affections so openly, so willingly, but Pearl couldn’t find it in her to care. The moment Yellow’s touch became ticklish, she was giggling; and then Blue was laughing as she brushed White’s long locks through her fingers, pulling her away from the bickering; and the refusal of White to release Pearl’s hand through the well-meaning back-and-forth; and Yellow’s eventual resignation with a small smile; and Blue finding her way behind Pearl, draping her arms over her shoulders, placing a kiss at the base of her throat with petal-soft lips – it was but a few moments, but it was enough, plenty to tell her that there was no questioning how this felt.
Pearl loved them.
Pearl loved the way the scales shined on Blue’s tail under moonlight, or the way Yellow’s fins caught rays of sunshine more breathtaking than any surface-sun ever could, or the way White’s eyes looked like polished stones on the seafloor. They need not air to hold each other, laugh, kiss, chase the lovely twist and turns of the saltwater as it coursed through their webbed fingers.
She loved them when White and Yellow had been cast to hell, and she and Blue sent down to help them repent on the surface world; the dark curl of blackened wings against their pale skin, compared to the diaphanous airiness that surrounded Blue and herself, seraphic images of tranquility and bringers of peace.
Beneath starry skies on the hood of Pearl’s car; through notes passed in their geology class; at the grocery store, falling in love over produce for pete’s sake; as roommates, enemies, strangers, best friends; back through time or thrust forward into an impossible future; servants, royals, knights or musicians – each one lasted only as long as a heartbeat, and still, Pearl loved all of them, with all of her heart, resulting in emotion pure and beautifully unrefined, completely foreign, completely overwhelming, and yet, she was complete for the first time, the last time, a new time, and old time, every time.
It was all she could do to love them, and love them, and love them again.
Sitting up from sleep was always a little disorienting, the muted morning light streaming in through the dormitory tower, patterned by simple streaks of black and yellow in her house’s colors. All the ghosts, the visions, the love and warmth she felt only moments ago, fleeting, fading behind a veil. There were… colors, patterns of some kind, something true and deeply connected to her – some sort of magic perhaps, but she could never tell in the mornings.
In the daytime, Pearl was on the other side of the veil, and whatever secrets she may have stumbled upon in her sleeping hours were off-limits, blocked by some unknown force greater than herself, but she knew that something happened every night, something incredible, waking her with her heart fuller than she’d left it when her head hit the pillow the night before.
Pearl quickly readied herself, washing herself and making herself the appropriate amount of presentable for another day. It was a Thursday, so she had full day ahead of her, and needed to get herself focused and in the proper mindset for classes.
In her head, as she descended the wing of the castle for Hufflepuffs, she passed a gaggle of bright-eyed First-Years, amongst them Gryfinndors Steven and Connie, who both sent her big smiles and waves as she passed.
Pearl gave an earnest one in response before shoo’ing their group off to the Great Hall, including those Jeff and Peedee boys, both of whom were from her own house.
(They should know better than to linger! Ravenclaws and Gryffindors were easily distracted, though for different reasons, and Slytherins usually didn’t have it in them to care if they loitered – Hufflepuffs, though? For shame.)
The remainder of her walk consisted of checking the second and third floor girl’s bathroom for good measure, in which, to her surprise, she found Lapis Lazuli washing her hands under the faucet. They exchanged a small smile and nod while Pearl checked to make sure there wasn’t any problems in the restroom, and they parted without another word. The two still weren’t really what Pearl would define as friends, but following the incident, she would acknowledge a certain fondness, or perhaps appreciation, she felt for the girl; if not for the clandestine series of accidents on that fated Monday, she would have never known the joys she chased in her dreams.
Finally, Pearl made her way to the ground floor, invited in by the bustling, electric energy of the Great Hall. Breakfast was quite the ordeal at Hogwarts.
But then, what was she saying? This was Hogwarts; everything was an ordeal. It was practically written in the school’s creed.
“Pearl! Over here!” Over the head of several students, a hand gloved in pristine white waved to her, shameless above the din of other students.
Smiling, she approached the bench and stepped over the seat, careful to mind her robes as she settled in. “Good morning, White, girls.”
Blue was scowling into a bowl of cereal, looking haggard. “Morning.”
“Hey, you,” Yellow shot her a little smirk, almost knowing, like she was privy to some secret Pearl wasn’t allowed to know about. “You look especially chipper this morning.”
“Do I?” Pearl hummed, piling some toast and eggs onto her plate. “I never was a morning person growing up.”
“I find that hard to believe,” White raised a brow in her direction from across the table. “You’re never happier than you are first thing.”
A weak smile cracked through Blue’s usual morning bleariness. “It’s true, Pearl. You’re like sunshine.”
“Bright and annoying?” Yellow suggested, and Pearl flung a piece of pineapple right at her, nailing her square in the center of her chest.
Blue and White burst into laughter, and Pearl gave a victorious smirk. Yellow was doing her best to look scandalized, but she too eventually cracked and started to laugh along with them, onlookers be damned.
Pearl felt something familiar about the moment, like she’d somehow been there before, felt that same wave of euphoria pass over all of them, but she couldn’t quite place where or when such a moment might have occurred.