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Chapter Text

"Watch where the fuck you're going, bitch!" Trini yells, craning her head in the direction of the green blur that nearly just knocked her off her broom.

The offending girl bellows at her as she passes, "That's a bit harsh, don't you think? You should really let a girl know when you're going to be diving at her like that, Tiny!"

Trini scoffs and they continue playing.

.

The Hufflepuff team flies towards the ground together, landing and patting each other on the back. Their Quidditch season is over, and it's bittersweet.

Trini hangs back on the pitch for a minute as her team walks ahead of her towards the changerooms. Craning her head back, she sees the Slytherin team still celebrating high up in the air. As her eyes are drawn to the movement of the people in the stands, she tries her best to etch the view into her memory: the stadium full up of students and staff set against a beautiful spring day. There's nothing like this feeling—being part of something and loving it so completely. The Quidditch pitch is her favourite place at Hogwarts.

With a little nod to herself she enters the cool dark tunnel that connects the pitch to the changerooms. Lets out a breath. Though the loss stings a bit, their plan had worked—they delayed the match ending long enough to pull ahead of Ravenclaw in the Inter-House Cup standings. They needed to score 90 points in their match against Slytherin today, and nobody seemed to think they would even get that many.

But they had; they'd succeeded in robbing Ravenclaw of third place, which is the best her team could ask for given the circumstances—Ravenclaw beat them by a very wide margin in their match earlier this year, entirely thanks to a lucky Snitch catch.

Whoever said Hufflepuffs couldn't be a tiny bit petty? It’s incredibly satisfying, she has to admit.

Doesn't mean she wants to stick around, though.

There will be plenty of time for hanging out with her team later tonight. For the moment she's making a beeline for the changerooms, eager to peel her kit off and get back to the castle.

"Hey... HEY! Tiny Puff!" comes a shout from well behind her.

Trini vaguely recognises the voice and keeps walking through the empty tunnel, bracing for the expected vitriol that's about to be sent her way. Slytherin just beat them 290 - 90, after all.

"Will you just… hold up, please? GOMEZ!"

A girl with long raven hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail comes running around in front of her, slightly out of breath and looking windswept. And not in the way that Trini is sure she herself must look, given the both of them just stepped off the pitch and all.

No, there's something... different here. Something that forces Trini to remind herself to breathe. Because the energy in the air around her shifts; she feels it. And it's older, maybe. She tries to put a word to it, to classify, to define, but all she can think—feel—in this moment is something like... reverence?

And Trini is struck by it; sure that she's never even talked to this girl before, who, with her Quidditch robes slightly askew and her broom gripped in hand, seems to be both sounding every alarm in her mind and quieting her every anxiety all at once.

Trini feels her own eyes soften a bit of their own accord. 'Cause god, she's gorgeous.

Wait, no. Stop being so Gay, Trini.

She brings herself back to earth and lets out a small sigh. "Can I help you?"

The girl opens her mouth then closes it. Nods. "Right. Well... I wanted to introduce myself. 'Cause honestly, I usually only let my friends call me 'bitch', you see," she says, smirking at Trini, her eyes twinkling with something that's somewhere between cocky and sincere. Maybe it's both.

She gives Trini a little wave then holds out her broom-free hand to shake. "So hi, I'm Kimberly Hart. Pleasure to meet you, and I'm sorry we nearly collided on the pitch."

Trini quirks her eyebrow slightly but takes Kimberly's hand, each of them still wearing their Quidditch gloves. "Trini Gomez. And nah, it was my bad too—I dropped quite quickly to avoid that Bludger, and it was you swerving that prevented us from crashing together."

There's a stout pause. Kimberly smiles then rocks on her feet slightly.

"You were really gre—"

"I better go chang—"

They both stop abruptly, each huffing out a small laugh at having spoken at the same time. Kimberly discreetly shifts her weight backwards and grips the back of her neck with her hand, lips parted, head bowed almost unnoticeably, looking at Trini with uncertain eyes. It's incredibly endearing.

Trini, nO.

Tipping forward again, Kimberly takes her hand off her neck and vaguely gestures in Trini's direction. "I just wanted to— erm, you were really great out there today," she mutters, then seems to collect herself, straightening her spine a little. "I didn't realise what you lot were doing until you hit that ninety-point mark and, like, completely switched up your strategy." She pauses for a heartbeat, blinking rapidly a few times. "I mean, it was like playing a different team — when we took that timeout there, I checked the IHC standings and it clicked."

A small smile pulls at the corner of Trini's mouth as she slouches a little to the side. Like she's acquiescing. "Well, when you're competing for last place..."

Kimberly scoffs and shakes her head quickly. "Don't short-change yourself. It was a smart strategy that worked, and you carried your team today," she insists, then her eyes widen slightly and her hands become more expressive, as if she's trying to get Trini to understand. "You were everywhere, like, one minute I'd think you were way over on the other end of the pitch, and the next there would be a very well-hit Bludger sailing towards my face."

Trini laughs lightly. She really does need to go change, but it can wait a little bit longer. "I had to. You scored eleven out of your teams fourteen goals... you're aware of that, right? Or is there another pretty girl on the Slytherin team who wears the number fourteen, has your last name on their robes, and looks exactly like you?"

Ah, shit.

Smooth. Now she's going to think you're hitting on her and get uncomfortable.

To her surprise Kimberly just beams back at her and appears completely at ease. She tips her head to the side, her smile devolving to a smirk. "Well, someone has to score. My squad is made up of idiots who are more concerned with playing dirty than with playing at all. In the first two years it was manageable — the team was different. This year, though..." she trails off, frowning. "It's getting to be a bit insane."

Trini blinks a few times and fails to keep the fact that she's seriously impressed out of her voice, "You were on the squad in first year?"

Kimberly shrugs her affirmation. "I'm born in February so I never get the 'youngest person to do whatever’ title, though. Don't worry. Keeps my ego in check." She smirks, then pauses—a smile begins to tug at the corners of her mouth and her eyes glaze over, as if she's recalling a memory. "But I've always loved Quidditch. Been playing since forever, so I had a bit more practise coming in than most kids, I guess. Nowadays it just feels nice to be above the world, you know? Not have to think about anything but the match for a little while. It's… freeing — I don't think I'll ever get enough of it."

Trini's eyes soften and she smiles at her, trying to communicate that she understands. She's taken aback at Kimberly's honesty, and on a whim she decides to share a little bit of herself, too, though it’s the last thing she would usually do in a situation like this. "I fell in love with Quidditch completely by accident," she begins, then pauses. "Knew I wanted to get involved in something extra-curricular and I was into muggle sports as a kid, so I picked up one of the school brooms in first year and started messing around."

Kimberly's watching her with unreadable but… bright eyes, and Trini takes that as a good enough sign to keep going, voice coming out softer, "After a year of coming down here to the pitch nearly every day, it became the thing that freed me, too." She gestures vaguely, trying to insert some casualness into her posture to guard the vulnerability in her words. "Even better, I realised I was good at it. I tried out for the team at the start of second year and the rest is history."

"That's quite the happy accident," Kimberly mutters, smiling warmly down at her.

Trini shrugs. "Well, I guess it's the things you don't see coming that tend to have a way of turning your whole life upside down, right?"

Kimberly nods, seemingly to herself. Breathes out, "Yeah."

"T! Everything okay out here?" comes a voice behind Kimberly.

Cedric has his head sticking out of the Hufflepuff locker room at the end of the tunnel, and even at this distance, the look on his face is unmistakably saying 'I will throw down if she's bothering you'.

Trini sends a fond smile his way. "All cool, Ced! I'm coming."

And with that, she inclines her head to Kimberly slightly then steps to the right around her, leaving a wide berth between them that is probably a little unnecessary. Kimberly's body seems to unconsciously mirror her own, pivoting on the spot to follow Trini with her eyes.

Trini spins around and walks backwards. "It was nice to meet you, Kimberly Hart."

Kimberly smiles and inclines her head in return. "And it was nice to meet you, Trini Gomez."

Chapter Text

Trini wakes to the shrill sound of her alarm clock blaring from her bedside.

Murmuring curses under her breath, she rolls over and smacks her hand toward it, hitting her desk a couple times before finding her mark. Grunts, "Christ," rolling onto her back and rubbing at her face, willing her eyes to open.

Her pet Kneazle Sabre gets up from where she was curled up near Trini's elbow, stretching lavishly. Steps up to stand on her chest and stares with brilliant green eyes, moving so there's but inches between their sleepy faces.

"Bun, I'm up, I'm up," Trini says, voice coming out in a croak. Runs a warm hand over her fur, threading fingers through the golden orange, tracing one of the thick black stripes on her back. Sabre meows at her and hops down off the bed, making her way over to the open bedroom door then slipping through the gap with a swish of her tail.

Not a minute later, Trini's nearly drifted off to sleep again when there's a loud BANG and her eyes snap open. A pattering of little feet across the carpet heralds the arrival of two very small people, who proceed to climb up onto the bed with some difficulty and body slam her in the next moment. With the action her old down duvet puffs up, offended at the frenzied movement that's so much out of place in the easy silence of the early morning.

"WAKE UP TRINI!" Enrique yells in Spanish, rolling back and forth on her legs. His outstretched hands smack the duvet as he does so, sending tiny little white feathers floating up into the air.

"We have to catch the rubbish, Trini," Dante stage-whispers, bouncing up and down on her stomach.

Trini grunts, reminding herself that they're only seven and fighting the urge to throw both of them off of her and onto the floor. After a moment of deliberation she settles for putting her entire hand on Dante's face and pushing him back lightly, leaning back into her pillow to avoid the tiny hands that shoot out in an admirable but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to poke her.

Her dad appears in the doorway, cleaning his glasses on his faded wool jumper. "Up, honey!" he says, smiling at her and briefly pinching the bridge of his nose. Scrunches his face up, certainly sleepy himself. "Portkey's at quarter past five. Boys, go eat please—there's toast and jam on the table."

At that Trini sits up with a huff, shoving Dante off proper and onto the empty space of bed beside her. There's a whoosh as he sinks down into the duvet, and after sitting there for a few moments, the dread she associates with the effort of waking up in the morning gives way to something much brighter. Because her brain seems to catch up with the rest of her as she remembers where they're going: the Quidditch World Cup.

With an energy buzzing through her akin to how she feels on Christmas morning, she jabs the twins both in the ribs a few times playfully before scooping Enrique up and swinging her legs over the side of the bed. Runs her fingers through her long, wavy brown hair with a huff, teasing at the tangles gently.

"Come on boys," she mutters, putting Enrique down and grabbing the clothes she laid out the night before from where they're draped over her desk chair. With a wave of her grey beanie in Dante's direction, who still hasn't made to move, a little spark of a teasing kind of warning flicks on in her eyes. "Get to eating!"

Dante hops to the floor and scurries after Enrique, Trini chasing them out of her room lazily as they go. As they make their way down the stairs to the main floor their laughter lingers, carrying through the house.

Trini showers and changes with haste, dashing around her room with jerky, half-decided movements and muttering to herself before grabbing her rucksack off her bedroom floor. If it weren't for the Charm it would be heavier than usual on account of the camping supplies, but with the magic assisting her she hauls it up just fine, shouldering it before starting down the stairs, steps slow due to the different distribution of weight, conscious of the increased risk of losing her footing spectacularly in a slapstick, shoe-to-banana-peel kind of way. She’s learned from experience—this particular set of stairs has worn carpet made flat and glossy by constant use and has, on many occasions, taken advantage of her inattention in the past for its own amusement.

Trini huffs as she grips the bannister with her left hand. For some reason, nobody else in the house seems to have this problem.

Arriving safely on the main floor, she yawns behind her hand, hiding it out of politeness for nobody but the old picture frames dotting the walls; a force of habit. Propping her pack up next to the front door, she turns around and strides the narrow hallway, tight wheezy creaks tracking her progress over the honey-coloured buttery hardwood, past the front room on the right and into the small kitchen at the back of the house. Following the smell of fresh coffee like it's beckoning her personally.

Three windows look out from the kitchen into the back garden, off-white paint splitting in creeping cracks here and there around the frames, a result of years of sun and rain buffeting the exterior brick and radiating inside. It's still entirely dark out, making her feel like they're all having a spontaneous group snacktime in the middle of the night.

And the four of them certainly tried to get to bed early, but the excitement and anticipation meant that she didn't sleep as well as she would have liked.

Trini pours herself a cup of coffee and pops a slice of toast into her mouth before laying food out for Sabre, who's begun winding around her legs in a tight figure eight. "Bun, uncle Javier is going to be here over the next few days to take care of you, okay? You be nice to him."

Sabre looks up at her and meows in a kind of way that suggests begrudging compliance at best, and their Golden Retriever Kwanza comes trotting into the kitchen, tail wagging; no doubt choosing to get out of bed on account of the distinctive food sounds floating through the house.

"I know you'll be nice to uncle Javier, Kwanza," Trini mutters, opening the cupboard with his food bowl in hand. She tips downward to fill it, one leg lifting up and paralleling the floor to offset her weight and prevent her from doing a faceplant. Pats him on the head, stretches her neck a little.

A quick look at the clock on the wall tells her it's quarter to five.

Nodding to herself, she walks around the table to sit down for a moment, ruffling Dante's hair affectionately on her way. The twins sit there cramming toast into their mouths, washing it all down with glasses of milk in great gulps, jittery in their excitement.

She leans over and swipes her thumb over the bit of rogue jam on Enrique's cheek, licking it off before taking a deep breath and taking another couple bites of her own breakfast.

Her dad comes thundering down the stairs with a tattered duffel bag in hand and a large rucksack on his back. Placing them next to Trini's at the door, he speeds into the kitchen and glances between Sabre and Kwanza. Nods once and pauses, pivoting on the spot and looking around with his hands held out in front of him like he's scanning the area.

"Dad, we're okay," Trini says softly, finishing up her toast and draining the last of her coffee.

He looks over at her and smiles, pushing his glasses up on his nose and taking a deep breath in and out. "Yes, yes. About time we get going, I reckon," he mutters, beckoning to Kwanza and leading him out of the kitchen to let him outside. Trini smiles back and gets up from her chair, ushering the twins out and towards the front door.

They both sit on the bottom of the stairs and start to tie their trainers up carefully—Dante with his tongue between his teeth, having only got the hang of it in the last couple months—preparing to leave as Trini pulls her denim jacket on over her grey hoodie and laces up her boots.

"Alright kids," her dad says, walking into the front room with Kwanza on his heels. He turns and pats him on the head fondly then comes over to them, stepping into his own boots and waving his wand to lace them up. There's a ruffling sound of worn canvas when he pulls his duck coat on, and he looks around at the three of them with a small smile as he zips it up halfway, tucking a lock of damp dark hair behind his ear. The shorter strands at the front are nearly past his jaw, and Trini makes a mental note to offer to trim it a bit for him before she heads back to school.

She mirrors her dad and pulls her own rucksack onto her shoulders, and with one last uncertain glance at the dark house, he grabs the duffel and ushers them all out of the front door ahead of him. Once it's locked up the four of them walk a bit down their long, packed gravel drive before stopping.

"Okay, up you come, monkey," Trini says, looking down at Dante and holding her hands out. He steps forward and she hauls him up, where he clings to her front like a baby koala, blowing a raspberry on her neck. She nips at his ear by way of response, complete with growling noises, which earns her a light little laugh from him. Her dad holds his hands out for Enrique to do the same and he's soon situated as well.

Trini takes her dad's hand in a tight grip and he looks at her with a smile. "Ready?" he asks.

"Ready."

"Hold on tight Ricky. Dante, you too," her dad says, before nodding once and turning on the spot to Disapparate.

And Trini's pulled into a squeezing blackness, body constricted on all sides for a moment before they reappear on the outskirts of Black Forest in Sussex, a mere few miles south of their house. The darkness is different here—grainy, almost, as they all peer about—given there seem to be no dwellings or man-made lights for quite a ways. Trini reaches across Dante and draws the collar of his jacket up closer around his throat to shield him from the air, which isn't uncomfortable in temperature, really, but smells cold due to the setting. It's all ancient wood and moist soil; more forgiving under Trini's boots than the lawn outside their house.

Her dad kisses Enrique on the top of the head and pivots around, squinting in the darkness for any sign of where their Portkey might be. Trini looks about as well, rubbing Dante's back absentmindedly before he hops off of her and takes her hand. They start along the edge of the forest, with her dad checking his wristwatch reflexively as they walk.

When they haven't found the Portkey after a few minutes, he takes his wand out and raises it into the air. A set of green sparks erupt from it, travelling upward and exploding above them like a firework on mute.

"Are we going to catch the rubbish, daddy?" Dante says quietly, looking up. Green lights dancing in his curious eyes.

They all wait, watching for a moment—the playful sparks lingering too long to be anything but magic—and her dad hums before muttering, "If we don't see anything from the others, I'll just Summon it to us. Don't worry, sweetheart."

But ten seconds later another set of green sparks erupts against the inky black sky, only a short way further in the direction they'd been walking, and Trini smiles at the sight. Something like a content kind of ease tickles her heart, radiating warmth that spreads from the top of her head, down her neck, and across her arms.

Her dad smiles too and they speed up, soon spotting a group of nine people standing at the top of a grassy hill with the clear night sky surrounding them on all sides. The sight of their silhouettes set against the stars pulls a vivid memory to the forefront of Trini’s mind: a trip her muggle class took to the London Planetarium years ago. Experiencing this same feeling while standing surrounded by the sheer vastness of it all, dreaming of everything that existed just beyond the sky. Juvenile, enraptured; her classmates wondering out loud if standing on each other's shoulders would get them high enough to touch the stars.

Trini blinks a couple times, coming back down to earth as they make their way over. She gives a lazy wave before Gia Moran, one of her three roommates at Hogwarts, smiles wide and tackles her in a warm hug. Her long wavy blonde hair is pulled up into a high ponytail and she smells like she always does: flowery with a barely present vanilla that Trini associates with the comforting warmth of their dorm room.

"Hey," Gia says, stepping back once, meeting Trini's eyes through the light fog that chased her voice into the chilly air, breath made momentarily visible then dissipating into the night. And she sounds a bit different, a little rough due to the early hour.

"Hi," Trini greets back, walking with her a few strides and coming to stand in the circle. "Thank you so much again for this, honestly—"

Gia shushes her before rubbing her hands together to warm them, the movement silenced by the thin fuzzy gloves she's wearing. "None of that," she says, then squeezes Trini's hand affectionately and moves to stand beside her lifelong best friend, Emma Goodall—a Slytherin girl a year below them.

Enrique takes Trini's other hand as their dad walks up to Gia's parents—a broad-shouldered, burly red-haired man with a thick, close-trimmed greying beard and a tall brunette woman with kind eyes—and shakes their hands. "Nice to see you both again. I can't thank you enough for the pair of tickets."

Mr. Moran smiles wide in the same way as his daughter. "The more the merrier, Mike," he says, in a thick Irish accent. He digs through the inside of his fur-lined jacket until he produces two large parchment tickets, handing them over with a satisfied hum. Trini's dad takes them with a smile and stows them away carefully, zipping them into his own coat pocket.

When Trini looks around at the group she sees Summer Landsdown and Chip Thorn, her other two roommates, and both give her a wave: Chip's a quick, bubbly thing and Summer offering more of a half-arsed flick of the wrist coupled with a small, warm smile.

"T, this is Vida's big sister Madison," Chip says lightly, gesturing to the tall dark-haired woman who looks to be in her early twenties standing beside Vida Rocca, another Slytherin and long-time friend of Chip's.

They all greet each other, and once they're done making their introductions and chatting a little Trini's dad glances at his watch once more. "Okay team, one minute," he announces, picking Enrique up again.

"Time to catch the rubbish, Dante," Trini whispers, running her thumb along the back of his hand before lifting him up into her arms. Their group of thirteen moves closer around their Portkey, which very much is a piece of rubbish indeed—it looks to be a rusted piece of a fence post. They each grip it and Dante and Enrique look at each other from their places wrapped around Trini and her dad, eyes wide and grinning with excited, toothy smiles that glow bright against the surrounding darkness.

There's a pause where they're standing there holding it in silence, then Trini's jerked forward as if by a hook around her waist, sending her spinning weightlessly, zooming through the air. She soon hits the ground with a lurch and bends her knees like her dad told her to, which allows her to stay standing without falling over.

And Trini doesn't have to open her eyes to know they've arrived in Dartmoor: the air is damp but clean, refreshing as it wraps around them, with the ever-present fog coming up around their shins to greet everyone with enthusiasm. Dante hops down from her a moment later, bending down to pat the cool grass beneath their feet a few times as if in thanks.

"Quarter past five from the Black Forest," comes a man's voice.

Meanwhile Chip—ever incapable of standing normally—somehow has toppled into Madison, who grabs her by the armpits and hauls her upright, muttering, "I'm going to start charging you a Sickle every time this happens," as she shakes her head good-naturedly and pats Chip on the head like a toddler, making a bit of an effort to mess up her spiky auburn hair.

Chip smirks and waves her off before looking quizzically to the pair of Ministry wizards who stand in front of them. And the look is very much warranted—in evidently trying to pass for muggles they're both dressed in the strangest assortment of clothing.

After looking them both over once Trini has to hide her laugh behind her hand; Summer most definitely doesn't do the same and laughs under her breath without shame, which prompts an elbow to the gut by Gia.

"Welcome," one of the wizards greets, holding a large unfurled roll of parchment in hand and sporting a tweed suit and a pair of rain boots that reach all the way up to his thighs. His counterpart, who's flat-out wearing a kilt with a poncho over top, grabs their rusted Portkey off the ground and tosses it into a beat-up box.

Mr. Moran steps forward to talk to the wizard with the parchment. "Under 'Moran', if you please," he says politely, and the other wizard in the kilt snaps his head up to stare at him, eyes widening.

The one in the tweed suit looks gobsmacked for a moment as well before he hurriedly starts looking down the names on his parchment, seemingly much more awake all at once. "Right, you're just a smidge over a quarter mile that way," he says, gesturing further into the moor. "It'll be the second field you come to. Your site manager is called Mister Payne."

"Thank you both very much," Mrs. Moran says, nodding at them. And with that, their group of thirteen turns to start off in the direction of their campsite, moving through the thick mist.

They walk for half a minute before a hasty voice rings out behind them, with the air of someone who had very much been itching to speak, "Best of luck to your side! Your daughter is incredibly talented!" one of the Ministry wizards calls, and Trini turns her head to see him waving at them with a giddy excitement.

"The Irish don't need luck, sir!" Mr. Moran replies, turning to them as well and smiling wide as he walks backwards. "We make our own! But we appreciate the sentiment very much!"

Gia turns around too. "Have a nice day!" she chirps, voice full of over-the-top yet somehow genuine enthusiasm, waving back.

Emma pulls her by the arm insistently then, shaking her head and looking amused. "You're such an idiot," she mutters, playing with the camera slung by a black nylon strap around her neck.

Summer nods her agreement, kicking her feet through the dewy grass in great swooping strides. "I don't know how you've put up with her for this long, honestly," she quips, looking from Emma to Gia.

Emma smiles, running a hand through her long dark brown hair. Shrugs. "It's a tolerance thing, I'd expect. I've built up an immunity," she says, which earns her a light shove from Gia and a chuckle from Chip.

Gia kicks her feet out behind her and scurries up to stand right in front of Emma, spinning around to start walking backwards with a bounce in her step. "I am a delight and you know it, Em," she says, turning back around to walk beside her again. "You must know you're stuck in it, anyway. At this point, it's right well a 'till death do us part' kind of deal."

"It already became that, though. A long time ago," Gia's mum says with a smile, looking over at the two of them and absentmindedly pulling at the lapel of her massive, calf-length dark fur coat. When it becomes clear that Gia and Emma have no idea what she's talking about, though, she elaborates, "I mean those weddings you two'd hold when you were tots."

Seeing continued blank stares, Mrs. Moran frowns. Looks at her husband for support. "In the back garden, don't you remember? Surely we've talked about this...?" she says, voice going up slightly in pitch and throwing Gia a questioning look.

"Even if you have, I'd love to hear it again please," Summer says, looking at Gia with a gleeful glint in her eye. Trini's sure she's going to be teased about this later.

Emma smiles and nods at Gia's mum. "I think you’ve mentioned it, but I'd like to hear it too."

"Suuuuure mam, take us back," Gia says airily, making a sweeping gesture with her hand.

Trini smirks and keeps pace forward, holding Dante's hand and swinging it lightly.

They walk for a half hour or so, chatting and arsing around, before coming to a little stone cottage next to a lane with a gate. A weathered-looking man sits out front in a chair with a scruffy dog sleeping at his feet.

"Hello there," the man says, removing a nearly-finished cigarette from his mouth and placing the end in a rusted bean can next to his chair. He gets up and walks forward, and Mr. Moran goes to approach him, but Trini's dad puts a hand on his shoulder and steps in front of the group to grip the man's hand instead. The dog observes them curiously from its spot on the ground, tail wagging.

"Good morning. Mister Payne, I presume?" Trini's dad asks, and the man nods once, flashing a welcoming smile. "Brilliant. We've a booking under Moran, please."

"For all of you's?"

"Yes sir."

Mr. Payne nods again and consults the clipboard in his hand. A tiny crease appears between his eyebrows as his eyes flit over the page. "Moran... Moran... ah, here you are. At the top of the hill—really nice spot, that is." He taps the paper with one finger. "You can see the whole great mess of tents we have here, sure. View goes for miles, really, and if you get tired o'that you've got the wood right beside..."

Trini smiles, amused, watching as Mr. Payne chitchats away with her dad. It must get a tad bit lonely up here, to be sure. Not every day do a hundred thousand people decide to stay at your campsite.

"...plenty private. And—" he pauses abruptly, furrowing his brow. "Er, that can't be right. Says here you've only got one tent space booked."

Trini sees her dad's eyes widen slightly as Mr. Payne stares down at his clipboard, flipping through pages with the crease in his brow becoming deeper in confusion.

Ah, oops. 

Having thirteen people booked for only one tent would certainly be puzzling from his non-magical perspective. As much as they'd all done quite well at dressing like muggles, they hadn't even thought about this.

But her dad recovers quickly. "Oh, no—you are quite right. We're only booked for one tent. Some of us are staying in another field," he says, voice still cheery and waving a hand vaguely toward the multitude of tents that are starting to become visible in the approaching daylight. "Just making sure we all know where each other is situated so we can visit!"

And it's a bit of a stretch, given her dad said that they all were in the same booking moments ago, but Mr. Payne seems to accept the explanation. "That's kind of you's," he says, looking between the group with a soft smile. "Alright then, here's your map." He hands one to her dad then turns around, gesturing back toward the great dark wood visible in the distance now, a solid silhouette set stark against the soft morning light. "Up that hill you go – walk down the main lane all the way to the treeline and turn right up the incline until you're at the crest of it all. There it'll be!"

"Excellent. Thank you very much," her dad returns, shaking his hand again then handing over a mismatch of muggle bank notes. "And here is the fee."

Mr. Payne nods and takes the money back to the low table beside his chair, where he begins rummaging around in an old lockbox for some change.

"Oh, don't worry about it," her dad says, as Mr. Payne turns back with the change in hand.

He smiles sincerely, inclining his head. "Thank you kindly. I hope you's have a pleasant stay."

"Have a nice day," her dad replies, then jerks his head for all of them to follow past the cottage towards the gate.

Once they've entered the campsite and are out of earshot, Mr. Moran claps him on the shoulder. "Thanks for doing that Mike. Likely, we would've needed to Obliviate him within thirty seconds if I was doing the talking. I'm rubbish with looking inconspicuous."

"Aye, he really is," Mrs. Moran chimes, squeezing his bicep and kissing him on the cheek.

"Boke, parents," Gia mutters, pulling a face but smiling at them.

Trini's dad smiles. "Of course. Getting the camping fee is the least I could do, so thank you again. As for the chatting, being muggle-born certainly has its uses."

They all make their way across the sleepy campsite together, walking along the main grassy lane toward the treeline and passing by hundreds of people as they go. The fog is lifting and Trini finds herself unable to stop smiling as she looks around, because there are plenty of tents that are in no way whatsoever complying with the Ministry directive to keep a low profile, sporting all kinds of things—extensions, contraptions, decorations, and the like that look equally ridiculous as they do fantastic.

She's never been to an event like this with so many wizards in one area. As she eyes them curiously, she can't help but feel giddy at all of the magic that's on display.

"YO! CAPTAIN HANDSOME!" Gia shouts abruptly, speeding to the back of their group to yell after two people walking away from them up the hill to the right, both clearly in the middle of trying to read a campsite map. She cups her hands on either side of her mouth. "STRUT, STRUT!"

The tallest of the two figures—Cedric Diggory, Trini and Gia's Quidditch team Captain—looks around in confusion for a moment before Gia starts wolf-whistling at him obnoxiously. Emma covers her face with a hand and shakes her head, looking at the ground and grinning, and Mr. Moran stops to wait with a fond smile pulling at the side of his mouth, seemingly accustomed to his daughter's antics at this point. And Trini is delighted that Cedric actually responded to 'Captain Handsome', given that their entire Quidditch squad had been calling him that incessantly for the entire year previous. He refused to respond to it then, but it seems that they've engrained it into his subconscious.

Excellent.

Cedric sees Gia and makes a similar face to Emma's, happily bewildered, then pats the person next to him on the shoulder—his dad, it looks like—and starts making his way back towards them, weaving around a handful of other sleepy people mulling about.

Trini turns and meets her dad's eyes. "Why don't you all go on up to the site?" she says, not wanting to make the entire group wait.

"You've got a polite one here, Mike," Mr. Moran deadpans, staring pointedly over Trini's shoulder. She turns to see that Gia has taken off like a shot, running in Cedric's direction and flailing her hands in the air like an over-the-top comedy act.

Trini turns back to smile at Mr. Moran and he nods once. "If you can wrangle my daughter, we'll meet you up there in a moment, Trini," he says with a twinkle in his eye. He and Mrs. Moran share a look and stare fondly after Gia for another moment before he turns to Trini's dad, who nods.

"Okay, and you know where to find it?" her dad asks, peering at Trini over top of his glasses.

Trini nods. "Yeah. Top of the hill right next to the trees. We'll walk up the hill along the treeline until we see you lot," she replies, then pushes Dante gently so he can go and stand with her dad.

"Okay mija, see you soon," her dad says, smiling and turning with the rest of the group.

By way of departure Summer flips her off happily before whipping her long straight blonde hair around like a diva, while Chip gives her a jaunty wave. Emma turns to go as well, walking backwards with the group and gesturing in Gia's direction. "I'll leave you to deal with her, shall I?" she asks, wearing a soft smile.

Trini lets out a little laugh. "I've got it from here. We'll only be a moment."

Emma nods before turning to go with the rest, and with that Trini starts walking down the grassy lane over to Gia and Cedric, who are chatting away. When she reaches them Cedric bends down to give her a hug, lifting her up a little off the ground before letting her go.

He grins down at her. "Small."

"Tall," Trini returns, giving him a curt nod. "Where're you staying?"

He gestures back to his dad, who's still standing in the same spot and trying to read the map with an expression that suggests he's hoping for it to audibly tell him where to go. "Haven't a clue. Dad tends to be a bit presumptuous, see—the bloke at the entrance was trying to give him directions, but he sort of just walked off and said he knew where he was headed."

"Yikes," Trini says, grimacing. "Go back and ask, maybe?"

Cedric nods glumly. "I expect that after wandering around for another half hour or so, he'll finally give in and admit that he has not a blundering idea of where he's going."

"Well, we can walk with you now if you want?" Trini suggests, gesturing toward Mr. Payne's cabin.

Cedric smiles. "It's not a bother, honest. He knows the general vicinity I think, and we're here for father-son bonding time, after all." He shrugs one shoulder. "You're both lovely for offering though."

"I did no such thing," Gia grunts, examining her cuticles with a faux-bored expression. Seeing this, Cedric looks at Trini for a moment with a twinkle in his eye then swoops downward without warning, picking Gia up at the thighs and swinging her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Trini starts laughing as Gia struggles for a moment then gives up just as quickly. Propping her elbow against his back and resting her chin atop it, she begins casually looking at the mass of tents around them as if she'd requested to be picked up in the first place.

"As I was saying," Cedric drawls, acting like nothing happened, "I don't mind wandering around with him for a bit. But why don't I come find you after we're done setting up? Dad said he wanted to take a nap for a few hours, but I'd rather be up and about." He gestures around at the campsite with a flourish and Trini understands; she doesn't think she could ever be tired in a place like this. Not now, anyway.

"Deal," Gia says loudly. Trini raises her eyebrow and Cedric pivots so she can be heard better. "If you run into Cadwallader again or any of the others, Ced, feel free to bring them along too," she continues, drumming her fingers on his back. "We're just going to have breakfast and get to drinking. Maybe explore a bit."

Cedric tips her off his shoulder gently and lowers her to the ground. "Sounds brilliant." 

Trini smiles and turns around then, gesturing toward where she expects their campsite to be. "We haven't actually been there yet, but we know our spot is right up against the treeline and at the very top of the hill. Shouldn't be hard to find. Come over whenever you'd like."

"Cool," Cedric says, backing up and back towards his dad, who hasn't moved an inch. "See you!"

Trini and Gia both wave and then turn around to make their way back down to the main grassy lane that runs across the campsite.

"So, you're full of beans this morning," Trini says after a minute or so, with a bit of a question in her voice.

Gia looks over at her and seems to deflate a little. "Is that a leading comment?" she asks, in a tone that says she knows full well that it is.

Trini shrugs. "It's not a bad thing. You just have a bit of a... different vibe today."

Gia groans quietly. "You and your vibes, for fuck's sake." She pauses for a few moments. Deflating, dropping the pretense. "I think it's excitement plus nervousness, plus..." she trails off, looking a tad self-conscious. "I don't know. This sounds so feckin' whiny, but having a sister who's one-third of one of the best—if not the best—Quidditch front lines that the literal world has seen in a really long time? Man."

Trini nods, catching on. "It's a lot, mate."

Gia sighs, whipping her hands up and gesturing around vaguely. "And I'm so happy for her! So proud – she's wanted this her entire life and she's done it! I just..." she trails off again. Her voice gets quieter, smaller, like she's telling Trini a secret, "I just hope that I can make my parents as proud of me one day as they are of her, you know? And not just in a success kind of way, but also more generally, I guess." She's silent for a few moments as she looks at the ground, watching their feet tread together through the flattened dewy grass. And Trini waits, because Gia opening up like this isn't something that happens often.

"I want to be a person whose life has just as much of a purpose as hers does," Gia says softly, tipping her head to the side a little. The skin of her cheekbone pulls taut, jaw flexing a few times. Chewing on her words. "I want to find the kind of meaning that she's found by doing something with my life that I believe in, or love, or am passionate about, or whatever. And I hope to everything that it makes them proud of me."

She takes a deep breath in and out then, lighter already somehow at having said all of that out loud, and Trini looks over at her with warmth in her eyes. They walk for a bit like that in silence before Trini takes her hand and squeezes it once. "I know you aren't going to believe this, Gia, but they're proud of you already. I can see it in how they look at you," she says gently, running her thumb over her hand once before letting go. "And your sister has, what, eight years on you, right?"

Gia nods.

Trini hums then adjusts her beanie. "Listen, my little brothers are younger than me by six years. And I'm no all-star Chaser, but if I were to compare their accomplishments to mine, it would be doing a massive disservice to them. Because I've had so much more opportunity—I've had so much more time. They're still so young."

Trini sighs, dips her head. Talks to the grass to make the words feel less targeted. Safer, softer. "I know you, mate. I know that you hit the ground running with everything that you do. And I want you to find that thing—something to believe in, something to love—that instills a feeling of purpose in you. I want that so much for you."

As they walk, Trini watches a few little kids chase each other around one of the tents laughing, shrieking, having the time of their lives. She feels remarkably at ease here: in the rising sun of the early morning, surrounded by the promise of a bright bubbling chaos that's just beginning to wake up around them. "From where I'm standing, though, you're already halfway there," she continues. "'Cause from what you just said, your biggest hope is that your family is proud of you after you get to the top of whatever mountain you choose to climb."

Trini's hands get a bit wavy, forming something more physical than sound in attempt to help Gia grab hold, to understand. "That's the distinction: you're not trying to find purpose and meaning in order to make them proud of you. You want to find it for yourself, not anybody else." She hears her own smile begin to play through her voice, "And, man, god knows what your purpose might turn out to be. You could end up anywhere. I don't know your parents, but I mean it when I say that they look at you like you're the centre of their universe already. They're already proud of you, and I need you to know that."

She puts her hand on Gia's arm as they stride up the last bit of the hill, nearly coming to the top. "If they see you find meaning in your life—whether that's being a Quidditch god, or a cook, or a regular person in an office, or something neither of us can even dream of right now—where you're happy and fulfilled and believe in something?" Trini shakes her head a little, a smile pulling at one side of her mouth. "Mate, they're going to be so fucking proud of you."

Gia takes a deep breath in and out then and stops walking, gazing out over the mismatch of tents stretching out below them. She looks at Trini for a moment before tilting forward, stepping once, twice into her space tentatively and pulling her into a hug. "Thank you," she whispers.

They break apart and Trini smiles at her then changes tack to something much sillier, puffing up like some kind of overgrown bird and grinning like an idiot. "Now, shall we go party like it's not seven in the morning?"

"Mate, I'm Irish," Gia says, with a mischievous grin blooming on her face. "We're going to party exactly like it's seven in the morning."

.

A few hours later finds all of the kids—including Trini's little brothers—playing a rowdy game of Exploding Snap on the plush red rug in the centre of the Moran's massive, airy wizarding tent. It's outfitted and decorated in a manner that Trini would imagine a very expensive manor house to look like on the inside: deep red velvets, dark woods, and a whole lot of individual rooms featuring mattresses that are probably worth more each than the sum of everything that she owns.

Cedric and two more members of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team—Dustin Brooks and Cadwallader, Keeper and Chaser respectively—are present, laughing boisterously and clutching butterbeers with big smiles on their faces. Outside are the adults, along with a bunch of the other parents of the Irish players, all gathered around the cooking fire. The Irish team's families seem to be staying in their vicinity by design, and hearing her dad out there laughing with all of them warms Trini's heart a whole lot.

It reminds her a bit of being in the youngsters football league when she was still in muggle school, travelling around with her team and all of their parents to away tournaments, staying in little hotels or motels scattered all over England. Always feeling like they were all on a different planet for those weekends—where they'd have a whole block of rooms between them and take over entire floors, goofing off and getting into trouble while their parents all spent time together close by, be it around a fire at the back of a seedy rural motel or in a stuffy fast food restaurant with burgers and chips between them.

And Trini's been drinking since seven o'clock this morning, so she's sure it's the (light) influence of butterbeer that's bringing her back to nostalgia central, but she doesn't entirely mind. It's warm, safe. Not a bad place for her thoughts to occupy.

"Lunch, wains!" comes Mrs. Moran's voice, and Trini looks up to see her head poking through the tied-open canvas tent flap. "Burgers and potato salad!"

Realising she's starving, Trini smiles wide and looks around at their group with a question on her face. Across from her, Gia elbows one of the boys Trini doesn't know (save for that he's the brother of one of the Irish players) and the two of them get up and stretch.

Trini gets to her feet as well and pulls her brothers up with her, not feeling unsteady from the butterbeer in the slightest. It's certainly alcoholic, but she's paced herself well and eaten a whole lot of food throughout the morning. Better yet for her, the entire group—including the parents—is planning to nap for a few hours after lunch.

Given the game isn't until after dusk, she thinks this an excellent idea.

They all make their way out into the sunshine, and after squinting a bit at the light Trini marvels at the sight again. Because Mr. Payne was right—their campsite has a brilliant view: the wizard tent city stretches out before them, down the hill and further, further, quite literally as far as she can see. It's a white strip against all the lush green—much longer than it is wide, bordered on the right by the woods and on the left by the cabins of the site managers, tiny dots spread out with quite the space between them.

Standing above it all and feeling the energy abounds makes her feel brighter, somehow. Like she's a living, breathing part of all the waking reverie and celebration.

"'Look Simba,'" Cedric says, coming out of the tent to stand beside her and doing his best attempt at a deep voice. "'Everything the light touches is our kingdom.'" He gestures with his beer out over the sprawl of tents below them and Trini chuckles, rolling her eyes before grabbing his forearm gently and tugging him to the right, to just beneath the treeline where some thirty people or so are gathered around the fire in the shade.

She shepherds her brothers to sit with her in the lush cool grass around their dad's camp chair, and they plop down with content smiles, the two of them leaning on one of his legs apiece. Cedric comes along and sits as well, leaning up against Gia, who's leaning on Summer, who's leaning on Chip, who's leaning on a tree and looking squished but comfortable.

And this whole hanging out outside of school thing is entirely new for them. Because they four—her, Chip, Summer, and Gia—are roommates, yes, but they're by no means best friends.

It isn't due to some big, glaring issue or anything, either; they all have each others' backs and Trini would throw down for any one of them in a heartbeat, but she doesn't feel the kind of closeness that she knows exists between Gia and Emma, for example. Trini has a hard time being vulnerable with anyone, which tends to stunt the growth of her friendships before they can really get going, and though that's not exactly the case here—she talks with these girls about all kinds of things—it's more that they just don't click on a deeper level.

It took Trini a while to understand that not every friendship is a linear line of goals or milestones, where you get closer and closer with someone until you inevitably ascend to some kind of idealistic, higher friendship Zen. It took her even longer to grasp the fact that being close with someone, but not Best Friends, isn't a failure between two people. Because some people just fit together better, like puzzle pieces matching up seamlessly, while others can get so, so close to it, but the reality might be that they're made a bit differently; maybe all of the grooves work except for one, so there's that gap of space, even when they find themselves pressed up against one another.

But those pieces are still close—as close as they can be given everything that they are. And that's not a flaw in their make up at all.

No, just a difference.

And Trini's content with these girls not knowing every single part of her, because they don't have to. The four of them are doing something outside of school that they all enjoy, with family and other people they care about around them; they love each other deeply, and her roommates are true friends—loyal and loving, and the closest thing she has to sisters. Being with them, going through school with them – it's enough.

Their group sits around the fire for the next few hours eating, laughing, drinking, and listening to one of the Irish players' dad's play folk songs on his fiddle while some of the others sing along softly.

"'Oh whisky, you're the devil! You're leading me astray...'"

Trini smiles as she listens, Enrique in her lap now and asleep up against her. Dante is more of the same, curled into a loose question mark on top of her dad, who sits in his chair stroking his back, eyes shut. Around them, people have either fallen asleep or started to make their way back to their tents for some shut-eye before the game.

"Okay, I think it's nap time," Cedric whispers, leaning into Trini's shoulder with a lazy smile. He makes to get up from beside Gia, careful in trying not to wake her, but her eyes flick open with the movement. She blinks a few times, eyelids heavy, takes in her surroundings and cranes her head around, then nods once at the two of them.

"Nap?" Gia mutters, rubbing at one of her eyes and trying to get up from where Summer is leaned against her. She has more success than Cedric, and Summer lays down flat on the grass in her absence, head bobbing side to side for a moment before she settles back into sleep.

Just as Trini's about to deadlift Enrique into her arms, Cedric puts his hand on her shoulder and jerks his head downward, asking permission to pick him up. She clasps his forearm and nods once, soft eyes watching as he bends down and gently brings Enrique up, wrapping his arms around him and stabilising his head between his chin and shoulder. They follow Gia into the tent and to the left, over to the small comfortable room that her family is sharing.

Trini pulls the sandy-coloured canvas flap back that serves as a door and turns the bedcovers down. Removes Enrique's shoes and smiles as she watches Cedric tuck him in on the far side of the little cot. "Okay, one..." he breathes, making to go back outside again.

To their left across the tent Gia putters around the kitchen, getting some water for the three of them as Trini and Cedric go back out to the fire. Coming up to her dad, Trini gestures to Cedric and he smiles before picking Dante up in the same way. He wraps his little arms around Cedric's neck unconsciously, trusting without knowing.

And watching Cedric walk carefully as they go back into the tent, Trini can't help but think that he's going to make a really, really great dad one day.

He puts Dante in the cot next to Enrique and they curl towards each other in their sleep. Watching with warm eyes, he smiles down at them then looks at Trini, nodding once. "Two."

Trini leads him back out into the open-concept tent and into the kitchen, where Gia's slouched in one of the dining chairs, all plush pale leather brass-pinned elegantly to stiff lacquered wood, nursing a water and mid-way through devouring a packet of crisps. There are two more full glasses beside her, and Trini takes hers gratefully. Sips at it. The cool water glides down her throat, and she sighs contentedly.

Cedric throws his head back and drains his in one go. Wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand, he checks his watch, nods once. "I'm going to clear out. Hoping to get a couple hours before sundown." He jerks his head in the direction of the fire outside. "I'll grab Wally and Brooks and drop them off at their tents—they're on the way."

Trini and Gia nod at him, both blinking slowly, and he gives them a warm smile before putting his glass down in the sink and starting to make his way across the tent. "See you back here after the match, team. Thanks so much again for hosting us all day."

Gia waves him off easily, heavy head braced on her palm, elbow up on the table. A position likely to earn her a tell-off from her mother were she to walk in.

Trini's dad comes through the entrance flap then, shaking Cedric's hand warmly and gripping his shoulder as they pass each other. With that, Cedric exits the silence of the charmed tent and walks out into the late afternoon. Her dad yawns and waves at them as he pads across the airy space, making his way to bed and retiring for a nap. Gia and Trini both get up to do the same, drinking the last of their water and getting off to bed.

Trini bids her good-nap and enters her family's shared room. She smiles—her dad has forgone his own cot and cuddled up to the boys on theirs, barely fitting on the edge. Protective in the way he's curled around them.

With light footsteps she moves over to her bed and climbs into it, not even bothering to change clothes. Within minutes she's fast asleep; warm, content.

Chapter Text

"'I'M GONNA LIVE FOREVER! I'M GONNA LEARN HOW TO FLY!'" they shout-sing, arms draped around loose shoulders. Gesturing with half-drank beers and dangerously sloshing plastic cups toward the thousands of tents that stretch out below them. They're at the crest of the after-match celebration, right in the thick of it all—thousands of people staggering around, beaming in the high of the Irish win and stoking the revelry, burning against the night.

With the entirety of Ireland's team now drunk as all hell, 'Fame' by Irene Cara is blasting from the amplified gramophone setup at the doing of their Seeker, Aidan Lynch, who looks much more unsteady than the rest on account of his repeated ploughs into the pitch earlier.

"'...I'M GONNA MAKE IT TO HEAVEN, LIGHT UP THE SKY LIKE A FLAME!'" Trini yells along with the rest, voice moving through her throat in a thrumming way now, vocal chords signalling they'd like a break now, please. But she does it with what seems like everyone in the vicinity, which makes her feel like she's soaring above it all, lifted by the goosebumps on her skin and the fearlessness in her heart.

The fire at the treeline has grown—cultivated into a bonfire proper, reaching high above her head and up to the starry night sky, a blazing witness to the huge group of people dancing around it with abandon, arms linked and holding each other up; somehow now keeping the beat of the Rolling Stones cover of 'Not Fade Away' that's begun to play, despite their wobbly, intoxicated knees working against them.

And the rest of the campsite as a whole is settling down, a steady slip off into unconsciousness that they, from their vantage point atop the hill, can see in tangible measure: fires doused and lanterns snuffed, with shouting, laughing, and singing falling away, embraced by the calm silence of a summer night in an otherwise unremarkable campsite on a misty moor.

Below them and a good ways off there's a large distinctive patch of tents that is still awake, all with shamrocks growing over them and around. There are great fires, dancing, and plenty noise coming from there; not seeming to want to quit anytime soon, which she can definitely understand.

To be sure, Trini's not entirely sure how long they've been celebrating—must be hours?

Certainly spent some time up on Cedric's shoulders, swaying and shooting a whole host of Dr. Filibusters Wet-Start, No-Heat Fireworks off—green ones picked from the pile deliberately like sweets—into the sky above;

Chased Summer around when she stole her beer, nearly tripping over Gia snogging that guy—the brother of... whichever player—in the grass;

Nearly was sick after chugging whatever number drink that was (but kept it down, like a winner);

Chatted with Quigley, one half of the Irish Beaters duo, about tactics. Nice bloke, sweeter than she would have thought. She hopes she remembers more of their conversation tomorrow than she does right now.

Useful, that.

Presently, and the time irrelevant, Trini can be found flouncing about holding Chip up—or being held up by Chip, not sure—weaving between drinking game tables, deliberating what to try her hand at next.

And ah, where did that keg go?

Someone passes by and then the crowd parts. It's there beckoning a keg stand, but, no. Because here her team is—this is better. Gia, Cedric, Dustin, Cadwallader playing flip cup.

Her and Chip set themselves up on opposite sides, each the fifth to the team, and Summer, grinning like the devil she is, points with two fingers to her own eyes then at Trini, all 'I see you, bitch'. Trini jerks her chin up and smiles right back, accepting the challenge. Their rivalry is a loving one.

Then the ten of them are playing, with round after round blurring by when a sound like another firework going off erupts from behind them—somewhere down the hill amongst the sea of tents.

It's louder, though. Did she feel that in the earth underneath them?

Trini frowns, head turning anti-clockwise almost imperceptibly, curious ear following the noise, unable to make heads or tails of it. And it must be due to her brain not processing very quickly at the moment on account of the alcohol, but something like alarm sparks once in her chest, flickers, then goes out.

Easy. It's just fireworks.

Why is her heart picking up pace?

Ah, Cadwallader flipped his cup. It's her turn, and she knocks the beer back like it's water, having lost the ability to taste much of anything some hours ago. With a flick of deft fingers, a slight practised raise of the wrist, she flips it in one go.

BANG.

What the—

In unison Trini, Cadwallader, Dustin, Cedric, and Gia turn around, away from the game, from the laughter; squinting in effort to filter the darkness from the glare of the happy lights, the fires, the celebration.

That wasn't a firework. Was it a gunshot?

No, no, Trini. You're in the middle of a wizarding event...

She tries to spur her brain to work faster, now, walking closer to where their flat area of hilltop starts to tilt to a decline. The rest of her team and friends are with her, shoulder-to-shoulder in a line, drawn toward the violent noise; moths to something like a streetlight—jarring in the dark, unnatural in the setting, imposed on the environment around it.

This feels like that. Off, out of place. One of these things is not like the other.

They join the growing group of people who have gathered at the edge of the hill already. Trini squints in the same way they are and follows the line of their index fingers, pointing into the darkness across the camp diagonally from where they stand.

Then a scream pierces the night.

Then another, then another.

Shouts, yells, frantic and frenzied.

And after a moment Trini sees it: a dark mass of people on the edge of the tent city—on the moor side, where they all entered from this morning, near the first site manager's cabin they passed before coming to their bloke, Mr. Payne.

The mob is the furthest possible from the woods, emerging from the mist of the moor in a way that is sinister, somehow. And it's no different from how she, her family, and friends walked through it this morning, but also not at all the same.

Screams continue to sound. And people are running, now, towards the woods in the opposite direction. Tents seem to vanish as they're spelled to collapse and pack themselves up—trying to be inconspicuous for the muggles has been abandoned, apparently—their owners trying to get them out of the way as the ominous group gets bigger, as it approaches.

Another BANG sounds—the dark mass of people clearly the source. This time, the noise is paired with a green light that illuminates everything for a moment, and Trini's breath hitches. Because from here they can see everything, and they can most definitely spot the group of people—four, maybe—hanging above the mob eerily. She sees wands in the air.

"You guys," Cedric says lowly, not taking his eyes off the scene below them, "what the fuck?"

Summer has a pair of Omnioculars from the match pressed up to her eyes. She lowers them in a jerky movement, handing them back to whoever she borrowed them from, then looks between the chaos then back to all of them—Emma, Vida, and everyone else around too, now—as people hurry past, everything becoming more frantic in the spaces between tense seconds.

Looking between their group, Summer nods like she's steeling herself. "We have to go help. Do you see who they have above them?" she asks sharply.

Trini shakes her head then crudely slaps her own face before drawing her wand out of the battered brown leather holster she wears on her left forearm. She's about to ask Summer to clarify when—

"TRINI!" comes her dad's voice, clear through the growing noise, and she spins on the spot. She can't see him, where did that come from?

"TRINI, WHERE ARE YOU?" her dad shouts again, in Spanish.

"DAD! I'M HERE!"

He finds her quickly, her brothers both clinging to him and blinking slowly, woken up from peaceful sleep in a rush. Dante's on her dad's back with his arms wrapped around his neck, and Enrique is being held up by his right arm. Her dad bends down a little, perches Enrique on his leg and grips onto Trini's biceps.

After searching her eyes for a moment, he nods to himself then points his wand at her face. "Sorry for this, honey—"

There's a flash of bright blue light, and she's certain he's just dumped a cold bucket of water over her head. She blows a breath of air out quickly, shaking her head like a dog despite being completely dry. Feels her alcohol-clouded mind clear, sobering up at once.

Everything sharp again, no longer blurred at the edges, her heart really starts thundering in her chest.

Her dad stares at her with an uncharacteristic hardness in his eyes. "I'm sorry, but you need to be in your right mind." He jerks his head towards the mob. "I have to go help down there. Those are muggles they're tormenting..." trailing off, he pauses, seemingly considering whether to tell her something else. "That group, they're wearing Death Eater masks—"

Trini's eyes widen and she immediately shakes her head. "If they're Death Eaters you can't—"

"We don't have time for this," he interjects, gripping her biceps a bit tighter. "You need to take the boys and get into the woods. Go as far as you can and find a place to hide."

Her voice gets higher, grabbing his shoulder and holding onto him just as tightly as he is her, "No. Don't be a hero—"

"Discussion over," he says, and there is a rare finality in his voice. It's this, of all things, that stops her from continuing to argue. And he must see the resignation in her eyes, because his tone is softer when he speaks again, "Trini," he takes her face in his hands and looks deep into her eyes, "if I can help those people, then it's my responsibility to."

She grits her teeth and shakes her head, heartbeat now in her ears and honest-to-god terrified. As she stares back at him wide-eyed, she takes a deep breath in and out, trying to calm herself down like he taught her years ago.

Control, control. It's all about control. Breathe.

Trini turns around to look at the rapidly-swelling mob below and silently damns her limited education. Because she wants to help, wants to curse those scumbags to the darkest, hottest corner of hell, but she knows full well that all of this is way out of her depth. She'd just be in the way.

Feeling helpless, she finally nods and her dad does the same.

"Okay," he says in English, looking around at where Mrs. Moran is talking fast to Gia, Summer, and Chip. "I will find you. Just get to safety." He hands her Enrique, who's looking more awake now. Scared. "Take the boys and go—"

"Here Mike, give me Dante," Cedric says, appearing just behind Trini. A solid presence at her back, support against all of the blurring confusion around them.

Her dad nods and Cedric scoops him up, carrying him on his front in the same way as he did earlier.

"Trini, I can take Ricky," Cadwallader says quietly then, coming up to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Cedric. They stand a couple inches taller than her dad, the two of them nearly the same height and about the same build, and tend to get asked if they're related quite often.

Trini looks down at Enrique. "I'm going to be right beside you, okay? We'll be able to go faster this way," she says in Spanish, and when Enrique gives her a tiny nod, she guides him up to Cadwallader with thanks.

"Do you lads need help sobering up?" her dad asks, not condescending at all. Cedric furrows his brow then nods, screwing his eyes shut in anticipation of the spell (and though he doesn’t drink, Cadwallader does the same, perhaps hoping it'll make him more awake). Her dad raises his wand again, emitting another two flashes of bright blue light.

Both of them shake their heads a little—Cadwallader's cheeks puff out, exhaling sharply—as Mrs. Moran comes up to stand beside Trini's dad with the girls on her heels, wand out and still in her long woollen dressing gown. "All of you stay together," she says firmly, looking between them. Some of the other older kids take Cedric and Cadwallader's lead, picking the younger ones up into their arms.

With that, Trini's dad kisses her and the twins on the head then takes off to their right, striding with Mrs. Moran to stand at the front of a group of what must be forty adults: Mr. Moran, Gia's sister, Vida's sister Madison, along with parents, friends, and the rest of the Irish Quidditch team, all with wands out and looking determined.

And with every single thing Trini's ever read about Death Eaters running through her mind like some kind of sick highlight reel—all of the death, torture, needless suffering, brutality—she wants to scream after her dad. To run and grab him. Force him to come back somehow.

But her feet stay rooted to the spot. She knows she can't.

And standing here staring after them, she's certain that she's never been this terrified in her life.

The adults all start descending the hill at a sprint and Disapparate as they go, presumably appearing in the thick of the chaos below.

And Trini looks to the centre of the disturbance—seeing tents on fire now, the crowd growing larger and larger around the floating muggles—before looking back at her friends and the rest of the kids. "Okay, fuck. Let's go."

They all nod and promptly take off with Cedric—ever the Quidditch Captain—at the front, running straight into the darkness of the woods.

"Lumos," Trini mutters, certain that 'Dark wizard gang inactive for the past thirteen years decides to attack an international wizarding event campsite' falls under the Emergency Circumstances exception to the Degree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. Around her she hears the others do the same, and the ground at their feet is at once lit up in bright, revealing light.

The breeze sweeping through the trees becomes cooler as they go, the air more slippery and agile, not as thick as out in the moor. They keep pace until the wood is close to silent around them—the dark shadows that had been running parallel to their group now gone, a cacophony of cries and screams and shouts faded into the night. Trees become closer together, plants more dense, and Trini's starting to wonder if they should climb up a tree or something to camp out when Dustin makes a noise as if to speak, then stops and clears his throat of whatever frog has hopped in there, what with all the running.

"Let's stop here," he huffs, gesturing to a thicket then looking to Cedric beside him for agreement. They're the two eldest of the group—Dustin going into his seventh year at Hogwarts and Cedric into his sixth.

Cedric cranes his neck past Dustin to see what he's pointing at and nods. Swallows thickly, chest heaving. "Yeah, alright. Good call."

They all follow Dustin and Cedric, ducking under a kind of natural knotted archway into a small sheltered clearing. It's a whole mess of thick twining plants that have grown together around trees, forming a natural, roughly circular fence taller than she is. Cedric waves his wand and conjures a host of blankets for them all to sit on, then sits down himself, pulling Trini gently by the elbow down with him. They all huddle together against the cold, Trini with the twins on either side of her, snuggled into her chest and held with her arms around them protectively.

Nobody really talks, too worried for their friends and family to say much of anything—vague imaginations running through their minds of duels in-between tents, echoing screams, and towering Dark Wizards in masks cursing the people they love. There are some hushed, whispered comments or questions here and there; idle chat to pass the time.

After a while Trini feels something wet against her neck, and she's confused for a moment before realising that Enrique is crying silently. With a start she tilts her head down to speak into his hair, making sure to keep her voice as soothing as possible, "Hey, hey," she coos in Spanish, rubbing gently at his arm. "We're okay, Ricky. Dad's going to be fine. You're doing great." She kisses Dante on top of the head, too. "You're both doing brilliantly."

She takes a deep breath in and out, adjusting the blanket that covers them. Trying to keep her traitorous heartbeat from cracking her Calm & Collected Older Sister façade.

And twenty minutes or so go by before Cedric speaks, voice quiet and calming as to not wake the twins and the rest of the younger kids, who have by now drifted off to fitful sleep, "Why don't some of you lot go to bed for the moment?" he asks, looking around at everyone. "We dunno how long this is going to be."

Murmurs of agreement sound here and there but Trini elects to stay awake, despite all the while knowing that she wouldn't be able to fight a full-grown wizard unless she had the jump on them. But she feels useless otherwise, and Summer seems to have the same idea—she shakes her head silently, blonde hair catching the light of the moon coming through the trees. Just as stubborn as Trini, if not more.

With everyone still huddled together Emma falls asleep with her head on Gia's chest. Chip does the same spooning Vida, who in turn is wrapped around one of the little boys protectively, who's holding onto the toe of Dustin's shoe lightly in his sleep. All feeling a semblance of safety at the contact.

And time passes in sprints and stops as Trini finds herself in an exhausted half-consciousness, head lolling a bit against the ancient tree she's propped up against.

She's trying to stay awake and mostly succeeds until she no longer has to try at all – sitting up with a start, all sleepiness is jolted out of her at a faraway shout that sounds through the trees:

"KIDS?!"

Gia and Chip's heads pop up at nearly the same moment, looking confused briefly before stilling in effort to hear better. Trini doesn't recognise the voice and holds out her hand to Cadwallader, who looks like he's about to shout back. "We don't know who it is," she whispers, just loud enough for the others who are awake to hear.

Next to her, Cedric nods seriously and gets up, a finger to his lips, then moves towards the little opening in the thicket and goes out. Trini carefully extracts herself out from underneath the sleeping twins and makes to follow with Summer at her shoulder, finding Cedric leaning up against a tree to shield himself from sight.

She stands with Summer behind a thick tree next to Cedric's as Dustin and Cadwallader do the same on his other side. The other older kids fan out a bit, wands held tight in their hands, jaw muscles flexing over and over as they all wait in taut silence.

"KIDS?! ARE YOU OUT HERE?!" comes the shout again, and they can see flashes of multiple lights coming their way now, sweeping through the dark.

Trini tightens the grip on her wand, ready to shout the only real spell she knows that could be of any help in this situation ('STUPEFY!') at anyone who comes close. Gia, Vida, Chip, and Emma, along with three of the other, older kids who had fallen asleep, come stalking up around them, mimicking their positions braced against the trees.

Gia and Cedric share a look, where Gia points to the thicket and back to their group—Trini gathers they've left some of the older kids in the shelter of the thicket to keep the young ones calm if they wake up.

They don't make to move, waiting. Standing coiled, ready to storm out. And Trini's heartbeat has travelled up her rushing bloodstream, apparently, taking up residence in her ears.

Thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump...

The unfamiliar voice is followed by another, then, with a thick Irish accent this time. The sound causes Trini's shoulders to sag with how the tension floods out of her. "KIDS?! WHERE ARE YOU?!"

Summer does the same beside her, letting out a tiny breath of relief at Mr. Moran's booming voice.

Dustin seems to recognise it too. "WE'RE HERE!" he calls, cupping a palm to the side of his mouth to help his voice carry.

At the same time, Gia yells, "DAD!"

"I HEAR YOU, PUPS! SIT TIGHT!" Mr. Moran shouts. There's a pronounced pop that sounds, then silence. Another moment and a set of blue sparks streak straight upward, climbing up, up, above the top of the skeletal trees and erupting a little ways from where they're situated. Trini looks up and allows herself to breathe again, watching the sparks streak away and disappear into the sky like lightning escaping from a bottle.

Not ten seconds later there's a whole lot of pops followed by what sounds like a crowd of voices, and a huge host of lights start sweeping about.

"KIDS?" comes a new voice, a woman's. At the sound, one of the boys on Trini's right—the one who Gia was snogging earlier—perks up.

"MAM!" he shouts, sounding as young as Trini feels.

Another new voice, relieved, "KIDS!"

Trini, Chip, Dustin, Emma, Vida, and a few of the others rush back to their thicket shelter and soon come out with all of the little ones. And Trini doesn't know why she's holding back tears, but with her brothers clutching at her hands, she wipes at her eyes quickly with the tops of her shoulders.

As they stream out into the open darkness again they hear heavy boots snap branches up ahead, plants pushed out of the way quickly like an army of brooms swept across a porch in staccato – the lights get brighter, and Mr. Moran finally emerges out of the night, limping a little.

A warmth floods Trini’s body as he strides toward them, because even in the suffocating darkness two things are perfectly distinguishable: his smile—a toothy, mouth-half-open kind of happiness that radiates outward; and the bright whites of his watery eyes—illuminated by a tangible, peaceful relief.

More of the adults appear, lit wands held aloft and walking in a massive formation akin to a search party line. As they start to see the kids they converge, walking faster and together in a group; a living, breathing arrow pointing home.

It's a tense few seconds before the two sides collide: Gia's mum, dad, and sister embracing her, Emma, and Summer, Madison Rocca nearly tackling Chip and Vida, Cedric's dad there, too, slamming into him in a hug, both of their eyes screwed shut with emotion as they clutch at each other—

But Trini only sees one person, really.

Her dad speed-walks toward them, his old duck coat cut up and bloody in places. She opens her clutching hands and the twins surge forward, let free, sprinting, crying, and his knees hit the packed earth ground heavily just before they jump into his arms. In a breath Trini is there too, gripping at any bit of him she can, sandwiching the boys between them tightly and putting their foreheads together.

His voice is low, a whisper trying to control for the way Trini can feel him shaking against them, "Are you guys okay?"

"Are we okay?" Trini mumbles, shaking her head. "Are you okay?"

He tips back a little on his knees, searching their eyes. "I'm okay, of course. Always am."

"You're bleeding," Trini breathes, plucking at his jacket gently.

"It's not all mine, honey. I will explain once we're all back at the tent."

With that he stands up abruptly and hauls the boys into his arms. Grabs her hand. And before she can say anything, he turns on the spot.

A pressing, suffocating tension squeezes around her, sucking all the air from her lungs. In an instant they've appeared right next to the Moran's tent, and her dad tugs on her hand gently and walks them in, where there is already a whole lot of commotion: injured adults are slumped in chairs or up against the great wood beams that hold the tent up, people in better shape are trying to help, and medical supplies are flying through the air from one person to the next by magic.

Trini looks around the bright space in a bit of a daze before her dad guides them to sit in a big circle of people who have congregated together on the floor on the right, the large dining table plenty crowded already.

Her dad sits cross-legged and shrugs his jacket off, wincing a little, and Trini parks herself directly in front of him, lurching around to grab a roll of gauze from the bowl in the middle of the circle. She looks down at his shirt—formerly a crisp white, now sporting a vivid patch of red splashed across the left side of his ribs. As he tips back to pull it off Trini sees that the waistband of his jeans directly below the wound is a dark maroon colour as well; it's been bleeding for some time.

She runs her thumb across the stubble on his cheekbone and clicks her tongue—there's already a dark bruise blooming under one of his eyes—then puts his shirt aside and starts to look around for some kind of cleaning agent when a little tin is pressed against her bicep.

Gia stands above her, urging her to take it with a sad smile.

"Thanks," Trini says, unscrewing the cap.

Gia squeezes her shoulder and hands her a clean wet cloth as well. "Hosting duties extend to now," she replies, then pauses, brow twitching as her eyes fall on his face. "Hang on, we've something for that—" she walks over to the kitchen and brings another little tin back over in seconds, squatting down to put it on the floor beside Trini. "Bruise remover. Should help."

Trini meets her eyes. "Thank you, honestly."

Gia waves her off, striding away to continue handing things out, and Trini starts dabbing at the gash in her dad's side, which is still bleeding profusely. After a moment she stops and just presses the whole cloth to it, soon using the entire roll of gauze (and then another) to secure it in place very, very tightly.

Trini stares at her handiwork, unsatisfied but not in a position to do any better of a patch job, and lets a long breath out. "What happened?" she asks in Spanish, moving to start on his eye instead.

His chest rises and falls in a large sigh, eyes a bit glazed over. Trini waits as he hesitates, seemingly making an effort to gather his thoughts.

She's working on his eye for half a minute before he begins, "We Apparated down there to find that the crowd was quite large, full of mainly intoxicated people who had come over to see the source of the commotion." Trini watches him carefully; his voice is slow and slurring a little, though she knows he's entirely sober. "The Death Eaters' numbers kept swelling—more and more of them appearing in the middle of it all—and us and a number of others were trying to get to them."

Her dad shifts a little and grits his teeth, hand moving in something like a reflexive spasm toward the gash on his side before he seems to think better of touching it, dropping his hand into his lap instead. "But they had that muggle family in the air, see. Nobody wanted to start shooting spells anywhere in case we hit them on accident, or made them fall, or something else. And with the crowd around it was nearly impossible to move."

He pauses, clenching his jaw a few times. Moves his hand from his lap forward a few inches to put his fingers on her knee. "You know how some people get when they drink, and especially at sporting events... we tried to push through quickly, politely at first, but then there were blows being thrown every which way because people were drunk and hot-headed. Wands started appearing, people trying to fight the Ministry wizards and us. Was a right sodding mess."

"Fuckers," Trini mutters, now layering the bruise remover potion on his cheekbone generously.

"Curse Knut," Dante blurts, voice barely audible. More of an automatic response, if the look of surprise on his own face is any indication. Trini bops her knee into his gently, silently promising to put a few Knuts in the glass Swear Jar they keep on the fireplace mantle at home as penance for cursing.

Her dad hums. "We got to the Death Eaters eventually, some of whom you could tell were just itching to fight someone, and spells started flying. In such close quarters it was pandemonium—one of them hit a tent with Expulso, it must have been, and blew the thing up like a bomb." Trini's eyes go wide and he shakes his head. "Nobody was inside, but some people got hurt in the blast."

Gia and her mum come over to sit beside them then, fixing to do the same thing that they're doing, given Mrs. Moran—only in a grey tank top herself, now—has a gash in her shoulder and a split lip to match. She sighs heavily as Gia starts cleaning her shoulder and smiles at Trini's dad. "Look at our wains, fussing over us," she says softly.

Trini tries to smile politely but only manages a twitch of her lips, not looking at Mrs. Moran but at her dad's wound, which has already started to bleed through her makeshift dressing.

"I was just filling Trini in," her dad says in English, tipping his head and torso in Mrs. Moran's direction and giving her a lopsided smile, falling a bit further than Trini figures he intended to.

Trini gently sticks her arm out to steady him, noting he looks paler now. He puts a hand on Enrique's head gently and ruffles his hair, giving him a comforting smile.

"Mrs. Moran," Trini asks, gesturing to her dad. "Do we have anyone in here who has Healer training?"

Gia's mum shakes her head. "No, but we've the next best thing—" she gestures to a woman crouched in front of one of the Irish players' mum's, who looks to be resetting her broken nose, "Bridget there is one of the mediwizards from the match—for the World Cup, they use the staff already employed by each national team. She's one of Ireland's and is very good."

Squinting, Mrs. Moran peers around the tent for a moment before waving a little wildly to someone—so much similar to Gia that Trini can't help but grin a little.

Mr. Moran comes speeding over a few moments later.

"Dear," Mrs. Moran says sweetly, nodding over at the mediwizard, "would you please get Bridget over here?" She gestures at Trini's dad's ribs and Mr. Moran nods seriously, his thick eyebrows knitting together so closely that they look like one big reddish-grey caterpillar. He peels off, reaching the mediwizard and talking to her, pointing over at them and nodding.

"Thank you. I could have gone over—" Trini starts, but Mrs. Moran reaches across the couple feet of space between them and grips her shoulder.

"She works for the team, love. It'll be quicker if he does it."

And true to her words, not a minute later Bridget comes over with Mr. Moran on her heels. With her lime green medical bag in hand, she smiles down at Trini's dad. "Hello, you must be Mike," she says kindly, and Trini backs up from him a little to give her space to work, gesturing for Dante and Enrique to come sit with her.

"How did this happen?" Bridget asks, squatting in front of him. She begins to poke at his wound with a blunt silver instrument the size and shape of a pencil, which emits clicking and whirring noises intermittently.

"Not entirely sure, if I'm honest," Trini's dad replies, still not sounding completely present. "I think it was a graze from a spell but I can't be sure. Could very well've been from something sharp.

Bridget nods. "If it's properly cursed, then this isn't exactly my area of expertise. But I'm going try to put a clotting potion on it, and I'll give you this now—" she takes a ruby red liquid in a clear vial out from her bag, "and ask you to drain it, please. I think it's right time we get some of that lost blood replenished."

Trini's dad does as he's asked and Bridget nods, continuing to prod gently at the gash, biting her lip. "Why don't you lot chat while I do this? Help keep your mind off it, Mike."

"You can keep telling us what happened if you want, dad," Trini says, then looks at Bridget. "Er, should he be talking?"

Bridget nods. "Better he is. Any kind of engagement." She pauses, looking up and meeting his eyes. "This is going to hurt a little."

Her dad nods and Trini puts a grounding hand on his arm. "So the tent had just exploded from that Death Eater's spell..." she prompts.

He hums, formulating his thoughts for a moment before speaking, "Everyone kept… fighting. The Ministry people were trying to either apprehend the Death Eaters or get the muggle family down safely while the rest of us tried to subdue them. A few got Stunned or knocked out, but then one of them set the Dark Mark in the woods—"

"What?!" Trini exclaims, voice coming out more shrill than she intended.

Because she's read plenty about the Dark Mark, but she never thought one would be cast in her lifetime. The implications are horrifying.

Her dad shakes his head. "No, no. Nobody was killed, I don't think. And we don't know who did it—they weren't caught."

"I work for the Ministry, Trini," Mrs. Moran adds, giving her a placating look. "We all Apparated there as soon as we saw it go up. A whole host of us sent Stunners into the woods and came up with nothing. There was an elf there with a wand, but the consensus is that it was used to set the Mark and then planted on her."

Trini's brow furrows, watching Bridget start to spread a silvery salve on her dad's wound.

"But that's the thing—" her dad says, wincing a little as Bridget works, "as soon as the Mark went up, it's like the Death Eaters couldn't Disapparate out of there fast enough. And I'm certain it wasn't some signal for them to leave—you could tell by how they were moving. It was jerky, panicked. They picked up those who had been Stunned or injured and Disapparated quicker than we could all close in."

Mrs. Moran nods. "So... we aren't sure what that was all about," she says slowly. "Perhaps to set the Mark after the vanquishing of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is disrespectful, or it carries a cursed penalty that we are not aware of? We can only speculate."

Trini nods and her eyes go a little unfocused, still bewildered that the Mark was cast. And she looks around at everyone else in the tent not really seeing, not really taking it in properly; like reading a page then stopping, realising you processed none of it at all. Because her mind is elsewhere: sifting through old articles, passages from books on the history of the Dark Arts, little bits about the war her dad had told her over the years. Trying to link all of that somehow to the events of tonight.

And Voldemort is gone, certainly—vanquished just a few months after she was born.

So what was this? Some drunk Death Eaters trying to relive their glory days?

Why?

Why now?

.

When they walk into their house early the next morning, Trini lets out a heavy breath. Because here is their front room, with low light from gas lanterns reflecting off tan-painted walls in glowing sunny mandalas, bookshelves full, her dad's favourite chair with the old goose lamp, dark sofas grouped around their massive fireplace with the coffee table between, smattered with an assortment of things: an empty water glass, a book in progress, a tiny cactus that waves at them as they arrive.

She waves back at it and breathes in slowly. Smells like home.

"Anything you need, Trini, you send us word," Mr. Moran says, deep voice insistent. He gently places Trini's dad's rucksack and duffel just inside the front door and begins to walk backwards on their drive. "If more urgent, you have our address. Come by Floo any time of day or night."

"Thanks sir," Trini returns sincerely.

Mr. Moran nods at her, dark amber eyes incredibly warm. "Expect an owl from us later today, pup. We'll be in touch." He steps back a few more paces, limping down the drive to clear the Anti-Apparition Charm that surrounds their house. Trini gives him a small smile as she shuts the front door softly, and a pop sounds when he Disapparates a few moments later.

Stepping into the house proper, Trini drops her bag with a thud, uncaring to be careful anymore, and grabs her dad's good arm to hoist it over her shoulders again, barely holding him up at all with their height difference. Mr. Moran had helped him most of the way, insistent on accompanying them back, and she couldn't be more grateful for his help.

The two of them shuffle carefully together to his favourite chair, and she helps lower him into it.

Trini lays a blanket over him, raising it in a jerky motion so it's suspended momentarily in the air like a tarp in the wind, spreading it out with a thwap before she lets it fall around him gently. He's pale, sweating, and hurting, but the Irish mediwizard said he should be okay.

If he gets feverish, her instructions are to take him to St. Mungo's.

Trini stands above him for a few moments, just watching. Kwanza comes over and bops his head into her dad's hand, seemingly knowing not to be too full of energy at this moment.

"Honey, don't be so serious," her dad murmurs, petting Kwanza. "I'm just fine. Don't let this put a damper on the match for you, or any of it. Please."

Trini sighs, head tilting to the side unconsciously. "I think I've separated all of it in my mind already," she says quietly, then pauses, internally poking with a stick at the confused, cluttered pile that is her own feelings, trying to find the words to describe them hidden somewhere, perhaps underneath it all. "Not on purpose though. Feels like the good parts and the bad parts happened with years between them."

Her dad nods. "We are going to continue to talk about this once I can provide proper, fatherly insight," he says sincerely, taking her hand and squeezing it. "It will take some time to process the shock of what happened, but we're going to work through it." Trini nods, still feeling a bit dazed, and he looks to the boys then. Voice croaking a little, he says, "Why don't you two go shower so you feel nice and clean, then have a little sleep?"

Enrique rubs at the side of his face and Dante nods like his head is on a swivel. Both exhausted.

Trini pats her dad's shoulder and grabs him a glass of water from the kitchen, placing it next to him on the side table carefully. Gestures to the boys, sweeping them out before her and grabbing her rucksack from the floor before shepherding them upstairs. It's not a far way up but it takes her much longer than usual due to her legs feeling like lead, and she reaches the second floor with one last lurch.

Walking into the twins' room—moving depictions of cartoon dinosaurs on the walls, a train set that whistles at them twice in greeting—she waits as they grab clean clothes and putter past her back out into the hallway to make their way to the bathroom together. By past agreement, one sits on the floor and waits for the other to shower, then they switch. They're old enough to do it on their own by now, and this way is the safest.

The bathroom door swings to where just a small sliver of space is visible, not shut entirely, and she nods to herself, moving into her room. With her body steeped in frustration she pulls the drapes open with a bit more force than intended, the scraping sound they make against the mounting rod more unpleasant than usual, cutting through the quiet.

Trini screws up her face in a grimace and grips her sleeve.

The view of the countryside calms her though. The sky's getting brighter, vivid pinks and yellows preparing to welcome the morning sun. She takes a deep breath. Holds it. Lets it out.

As the boys shower she unpacks her bag by upending it like a dramatic arsehole, dumping the entire contents onto the carpeted floor of her bedroom.

Amongst the pile and peeking out from underneath her dad's bloodied white t-shirt is the tiny Ireland flag she was waving like an adrenaline-addled maniac the entire match. It attempts to draw her attention, tries to remind her of everything that happened before the riots. She bends at the waist and scoops the bloody t-shirt up, meaning to go grab the rest of her dad's soiled clothes and get them washed. The blood should come out, and with any luck they'll be good as new again.

And it all really is okay. Everyone is safe and her dad is going to recover. It's more the implications that are getting to her.

Whatever this all means, it's nothing good.

Chapter Text

"---inform you that the inter-house Quidditch Cup will not take place this year."

paRDON.

Suddenly very awake, Kim's head snaps up from where it had been resting on her hand. She was dozing lightly, tuned out of Dumbledore's opening speech in favour of succumbing to a pumpkin pasty-overload haze.

Her eyes flit around the Great Hall in horror, and judging by everyone's faces, what she heard was not a pudding-induced hallucination.

Quidditch is cancelled?

Someone pokes her shoulder lightly. "You alright there, Hotshot? Look like you're gonna pass out."

Kim turns to see Terence Higgs peering at her with concern from his place to her right. He had taken to calling her a whole host of (not unkind) nicknames in her first year on the Quidditch team; as she was the youngest player at the time it had come with the territory, and 'Hotshot' stuck.

He lost his place on the squad due to Malfoy buying his Seeker spot in her second year, but he still practised with them as a substitute, and they remained friends all the same.

Just as she's about to respond to him the main doors of the Great Hall clang open, revealing a cloaked figure who stands there for a moment, still, before lowering their hood. Kim instantly recognises his face as he begins to limp into the hall: Mad-Eye Moody.

Lovely.

She certainly noticed the empty seat at the Professor's table earlier; a famed Auror will be an interesting addition to the staff.

As Moody makes his way up the length of the hall Kim drifts into Terence's space slightly, nudging his shoulder and letting out a long sigh. "Ter, come on. The Cup was cancelled two years ago, what reason could they have for doing it again?"

Terence looks at a loss. "I don't know... maybe there was some kind of accident?"

His words stir her memory a bit as her mind flashes back to last year's Quidditch season, and she feels her brain reaching as if trying to recall something. It's on the tip of her consciousness—the feeling is reminiscent of walking into a room and realising you've forgotten why you're there.

Accidents...

Ah.

Lost in thought, her gaze had wandered over to the Hufflepuff table. After spacing out for a moment her eyes focus as she finds who her subconscious was apparently looking for: the girl she hastily introduced herself to last spring (with the adrenaline-boosted courage that only a Quidditch win could provide) is looking up at Dumbledore intently, her brow furrowed in clear disapproval of his announcement.

Kim smiles despite the internal drama that is her Quidditch feelings. Because the girl is all kinds of beautiful already, but with her brow furrowed like that?

That's just unfair.

Shaking her head a little to bring herself back to reality, Kim redirects her gaze up to the Professor's table and tunes back into what's being said by Dumbledore, addressing the hall and smiling down at all of them with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, "---an event which has not been held for over a century. It is my very great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year." 

.

Monday morning finds Kim walking near the back of the mass of Slytherin fourth-years snaking its way down to Hagrid's cabin. She's always enjoyed Care of Magical Creatures, but she can't bring herself to be excited about it given the circumstances.

They tread the path with the lush sloping lawns flanking them on either side, a light late summer breeze brushing the grass gently, and Kim walks in silence amongst the chatter of her Housemates around her.

"Alright, Kim?" comes a familiar voice.

Rose Ortiz walks into her peripherals, a toothpick protruding from her mouth, flashing a half-smirk that masks the effort of carrying both the large book in her hands and a laden rucksack on her shoulder.

Kim exhales, the held tension in her body releasing a little. She's come to realise that constantly being geared up for a fight is exhausting.

Her fault though. Nothing to be done now.

"Hey," Kim returns, looking over at Rose with a soft smile. Her dark hair is a bit longer than it was last year, ending just below her shoulders, though she still sports the choppy bangs that always tend to fall into her eyes.

"Don't worry, okay?" Rose says gently, giving Kim a knowing look.

And Kim sighs again, because Rose is a friend that she really, really doesn't deserve. There were multiple times last year—more than Kim can count on two hands—where Rose was her saving grace.

Because the first time Kim cried herself to sleep in the middle of the night, she was alone. Just her and her thoughts; her and the echoes of the taunts she'd endured that day, desperately trying to keep quiet as Amanda Clarke, her ex-best friend turned personal bully, slept just across the room.

But the second time she found herself sobbing into her pillow with a horrible ache in her chest, Kim looked up through tears to see the green silk curtain of her four-poster being pulled back carefully.

And Rose stood there with a box of tissues and a question in her eyes.

Kim was overwhelmed in that moment; so used to being the person who has a strong spine and thick skin, who is supposed to be okay with walking alone through darkness. That was the path she chose, after all.

Before she had even begun to protest, though, Rose climbed into bed next to her with a shake of her head and a look on her face that communicated that the arrangement was non-negotiable. Wrapped her arms around Kim and held her tightly. And to Kim's surprise (and despite her attempt to look tough, which lasted all of two minutes), she had cried even harder with Rose holding her. As if having someone there to help you pick up the pieces gives a kind of permission to fall apart completely.

Rose was there for her that night and would continue to be for every bad one after that. There were a lot, and Kim couldn't be more thankful for her.

"I'm not worried," Kim mutters.

Rose scoffs. "Oh, come off it," she says, pulling a face. "You think that just because we don't live in the same dorm anymore you can lie to me now? Cheeky business, K."

Kim smiles softly and shakes her head as they come to Hagrid's small cabin on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, striding up to where he's standing, grinning at all of them with a mass of wooden crates at his feet. There are tiny explosions coming from them intermittently, and Kim raises an eyebrow at the sound.

The Gryffindors are already here, most looking apprehensively down into the exploding crates—their expressions tinged with a mixture of curiosity and disgust at the contents—and Rose jerks her head towards them. "Let's find Jason."

"You don't have to escort me," Kim says quietly, tone self-conscious.

"Again, bugger off with that crap," Rose grunts, shooing Kim over to where Jason Scott is sitting perched atop the wood fence that runs around the pumpkin patch with some other Gryffindors.

As they approach Jason sees them and his face lights up in a smile. "Hey," he greets, hopping down and looking at ease as ever, though Kim saw him sit up a little straighter as her House arrived.

"You have her for the rest of the day," Rose says quietly, shaking a finger in Jason's direction. "No ice cream, and she has to be in bed before ten."

Kim shoves Rose lightly, and Jason laughs under his breath as he looks between the two of them with a warm smile.

Pulling a face, Kim mutters, "If this is joint-custody, I choose to stay with neither of you."

"Yes, yes, love you too, K," Jason chirps.

Kim makes a soft kissing noise at him then turns to Rose. "In all seriousness, thank you."

Rose waves her hand dismissively. "Anytime. You know I've got your back." She pauses, turning to walk back towards the rest of the Slytherins. "I'll leave you two to it."

.

"Blast-Ended Skrewts," Jason murmurs haughtily, face pained and shaking his hand as if it's on fire. Class is over and they're walking towards the castle at the back of the pack of Gryffindors and Slytherins, many of whom seem to have similar opinions about the subjects of today's lesson.

Kim stops abruptly and grabs his elbow. "If you'd just quit being so macho and actually let me look at it—" she mutters, tone frustrated.

He stares at her for a moment, then makes a tiny whining noise and holds his hand out obediently. She takes his wrist gently with one hand and reaches into her rucksack with the other, bringing out the little metal box that serves as her first-aid kit.

Having a Healer for a mother rubs off on you, it seems.

Jason pouts down at her as she begins to fuss over the raw, angry-looking burn that covers most of his right palm. "Am I going to die? Leave me here, save yourself," he whines, bringing the back of his uninjured hand to his forehead and miming light-headedness.

"Merlin's pants, you're ridiculous," Kim says fondly, clicking her tongue at his antics. She smudges a thick orange paste on the burn with her fingers, layering it generously, then shoves the little tin at him. "Hold this," she mutters, taking a roll of clean white gauze and beginning to wrap his hand expertly. Once she's finished she ties it off at his wrist, pats it gently, then kisses it. "All better."

"You, love, are the greatest person alive," Jason says, handing her the salve tin back. He sighs heavily, holding his hand gingerly and examining it as they resume their walk back up to the castle. "Holy fuck, it's cold. That feels so much better..." he trails off, then pauses.

"WAIT!" he exclaims softly, pausing again for dramatic effect and pointing at Kim wildly with his good hand. "Ma'am, are you a witch?"

Kim gives him a deadpan look. "Ha ha ha. You didn't get blasted in the head too, did you?" she mutters, unable to keep herself from laughing.

"I adore you. Thanks, honestly," Jason says, smiling. "Saves me a trip to the hospital wing. I don't wanna get Hagrid in trouble with this rubbish, anyway."

Kim hums. The class response to the Skrewts had been less than ideal, what with how many people got injured. And she can't say she blames them given the circumstances, but some kids were acting entirely out of line. Hagrid doesn't deserve that.

They soon arrive in the Great Hall for lunch, plopping down at the end of the Gryffindor table in a way that's become routine for them. 

Kim takes her copy of the Daily Prophet out of her bag and dishes food onto her plate absentmindedly, scanning the headlines for an article to read. Across from her, Jason begins emitting tiny whines every few seconds like a sad puppy, and she glances up to look at him over her paper with an eyebrow raised.

Jason's pouting as he looks pointedly between his injured hand and his empty plate. After a few seconds he reaches for the dish of lamb chops and potatoes that sits between them on the table, struggling to spoon some onto his plate with his good hand awkwardly.

She smirks, bringing her newspaper up to block his view of her and gazing back down at her chosen article.

He's a big boy, he can do it himself.

A moment later there's a very wet thud, though, followed by more whines—he must have dropped a chunk of food and missed his plate—and he starts mumble-singing as if through tears, "'And I'm never gonna dance again... guilty HAND has got no rhythm.'" His voice increases in volume as he presumably leans across the table, clearly now singing an inch away from her raised newspaper wall, "'Though it's easy to pretend, I know you're noT A FOOOOOOL—'"

She ruffles her newspaper with a huff and folds it up, smacking him on the head with it. "You're absurd, Jason Scott. 'Careless Whisper'? Really?"

"Honey, if you love me won't you help me? Don't leave me like this," he drawls, not chastised by the smack in the least and holding out the serving spoon for her to take.

Kim stares at it for a moment before she grabs it, smiling at him and chuckling. "You do know how much I love you though, don't you?" she asks, spooning a Jason-sized helping of food onto his plate.

"I do," he answers, all joking gone from his voice.

"Good. But I'm not going to do like, the choo-choo train bit and spoon feed you like an infant." She pauses. "I know you're not a lefty but you can do it. I believe in you."

It's then that Billy Cranston comes into her peripherals, zooming around Jason to sit beside him.

"Hey guys," Billy says lightly, closing the buckles on his navy blue backpack and stowing it at his feet. "How was Care of Magical Creatures?"

And Jason's entire demeanour changes, coughing once as he straightens his back and replies, "It was okay. The creatures Hagrid has us working with are these right nasty things, though."

Kim tries to contain her laughter at how the drama seems to have evaporated from him in an instant. "They sting and shoot fire, Billy," she explains, then gestures in Jason's direction. "Jase got quite the burn from one of them, actually."

With a look of deep concern appearing on his face, Billy raises his eyebrows and turns his whole body to Jason on the bench.

"It's nothing," Jason says in a nonchalant voice, bringing his bandaged hand out from his lap and waving it around. "Kim's patched me up, it's going to be just fine."

"What happened?" Billy asks, holding his own hand out palm up. Jason looks up at him to be sure it's alright to touch him, then gently places his hand there and allows it to be inspected. Without taking his eyes off of Jason's hand, Billy inclines his head in Kim's direction. "Did you use that strong-smelling orange salve, Kim?"

Kim smiles at their interaction. "Yeah. It's the same stuff my mum uses at the hospital. It's self-sterilising so it should take care of any venom or dirt that was in there, and it has a cooling effect. Give it a few days and it'll be right as rain."

"I've always loved that expression," Billy says softly, more to himself than anyone. "Right as rain..." he trails off, running his fingers gently over the bandage. Kim searches Jason's face intently, and she could swear his ears are turning a little bit red.

Billy carefully gives Jason's hand back to him and nods. "I'm sorry that happened. You should have been wearing gloves."

Kim shrugs. "Nobody was, but yeah. I think I'm going to start bringing my dragon hide gloves with me to Creatures in the future."

Billy nods seriously. "Jason, you do that too. I will as well. Can't be too careful," he says, spooning some lamb chops onto his plate and plucking a roll from the basket.

"How was Moody?" Kim asks. Admittedly, she's curious about Mad-Eye. He seems like a strange pick for a teacher.

Billy chews slowly, clearly considering his words, then swallows. "Honest? I don't think I like him very much."

Kim blinks. It's fairly rare for Billy not to like a teacher, so when he doesn't, it's usually for good reason.

A famed Auror, though? Her interest is piqued.

Jason's seems to be too. "Why do you say that? Was he an arse?"

Billy shakes his head, though he still looks uncertain. "Not exactly. But he quite literally killed a spider in front of the class by way of the Killing Curse."

Kim and Jason stare at him, jaws open and horror-struck. "What do you mean, 'By way of the Killing Curse'?" she asks slowly, stunned.

"I mean that exactly, Kim. Literally, as I said."

Jason finds his voice, "That seems awfully not all right to me."

Billy nods, looking troubled. "He Imperiused the first one, then tortured another with the Cruciatus Curse." He pauses, a muscle in his jaw twitching. "It was horrible."

Kim pales. One of Billy's idiosyncrasies—as him and his mum, Candace, call them—is that he's deeply affected by the suffering or mistreatment of other living things. And that's not necessarily different from other people (as Kim, for example, once punched a boy on the playground when she was young because he purposefully stamped on an anthill), but as is the case with Billy generally, it's not that he's different from them in some alien sense—it's just that his senses and reactions are more pronounced. Something like an unpleasant sound might simply bother Kim or Jason, but be excruciating for Billy's brain to try and process.

And Billy certainly has a heightened response where the well-being of living creatures is concerned. It's so much so that, by Jason's account, Billy was so horrified at the prospect of turning mice into snuffboxes in their first year that he had flat-out refused to do it, then proceeded to lock himself in a caretaker's cupboard outside of the Transfiguration classroom (apparently not on purpose), and curl up in the corner.

Professor McGonagall knelt at the door and patiently explained that the mice were not being hurt in the process, mostly via bits of parchment pushed through the keyhole, given Billy was covering his ears with his hands.

He eventually calmed down, and McGonagall reportedly gave him a book on the subject and allowed him to sit at her desk and read while she taught the rest of the lesson. Afterward, she spent over an hour with Billy, explaining the entire process to him in detail so that he would be completely at ease. She even lent him a book of laws relating to the treatment of live creatures in magical learning.

Looking at Billy now, Kim finds her stomach churning at the thought of him sitting through that lesson, feeling as if she'd very much like to throw McGonagall's book of animal treatment laws at Moody's face. "Billy, you know you can leave if something like that ever happens, right?" she asks quietly.

Billy nods solemnly. "I know. But it's a lesson—I didn't want to just miss it. Something that heavy will probably be on the exam."

"Fuck the exam," Jason spits. "I'm going to report him, I don't care how famous he is."

"Jase..." Kim starts.

"No, K," he mutters, fuming. "Listen, I understand we can't be sheltered forever—there's a reason why Defense is a practical class. You need to be exposed to spells and practise them and everything. It can't all be theory and I know that." He pauses, taking a deep breath. "But those curses are Unforgivable for a reason. They're illegal. I know there's no guarantee that some dark wizard won't come 'round and hit us with them one day, but I can't get behind this."

Kim sighs. She wasn't intending on arguing with him at all—she knows he's right.

Jason sits there shaking his head, and Kim hums softly at him. "I will report him with you," she says gently, looking over and meeting Billy's eyes as well. She pauses, organising her thoughts. "There are certain horrors that you learn about but hope beyond hope that you never have to actually see. I don't think a teacher, no matter how much shit he's done or been through, should be allowed to expose anyone—let alone kids our age—to any of that in the name of learning. As part of mandatory curriculum, no less. I don't give a fuck what he uses either; those spiders were still living things with a consciousness. It's incredibly cruel."

She pauses. "We won't mention your name or anything Billy, and we'll wait to say anything until after my class tomorrow afternoon. Maybe he won't do it again."

Jason looks at Billy. "But we're reporting this regardless," he says, voice soft.

Billy nods then drains his glass of water. "I wasn't intending to, but your reasoning is sound. There were other people who—by the looks on their faces coming out of class, at least—felt the same as me, but I didn't loiter very long afterwards to discuss it."

"I don't blame you," Kim says, then pauses to finish off her roll. "On the plus side, I'm certain we can expect a curse-free learning environment from Professor Vector today."

Jason scoffs, smiling. "You just made a maths pun. Here, in my House," he says, gesturing down the Gryffindor table.

"Puns are welcome in my House Kim, shall we move there?" Billy quips, nodding towards the Ravenclaw table with a twinkle in his eye.

Jason pouts. "Don't leave me."

"There he is," Kim says, grinning at him. "I was afraid we were going to have to deal with Tough Jason for the rest of the day."

Jason just glares at her as Billy smiles and takes something out of his robes. "The bell's going to ring in seven minutes," he says, glancing down at his silver pocket watch. It was his father's, and Kim has always admired how handsome it is.

She nods and shoves the last bit of her potatoes into her mouth.

They all make their way out of the Great Hall and towards the Arithmancy classroom, arriving before the vast majority of the class.

"Billy, would you be okay to sit in the middle again this year?" Jason asks.

"Yeah, that'd be fine."

Jason leads them to a row of seats on the left and they all sit. He goes to reach for his tattered bag with his injured hand on reflex and winces, and Billy takes it from him without a word, unpacking his writing materials and textbook slowly.

"I can do that—"

Billy just shakes his head, smiling. "You can unpack my things a few days from now when you're feeling better."

And watching them, Kim smiles too. Because Billy certainly doesn't want anything in return for helping Jason, but he knows him well enough to understand he won't ask for help. On the whole Jason tends to reserve his pouty, dramatic side for Kim and Tommy Oliver, exclusively, given they've all known each other since they were in diapers.

He's starting to be more open with Billy, though, and it warms Kim's heart.

.

The next day the three of them are sat in Muggle Studies, with Jason sprawled across a few seats as the lecture comes to an end. It's not a super large class, and Professor Burbage is one of the most easy-going teachers at Hogwarts. It's cool material most of the time, but this morning's History of Magic lecture was draining enough.

Everyone around them starts to get up, stretching and eyelids heavy, and a Gryffindor boy with tall spiky black hair pops his head over the seats from behind them to look at Jason. "Falling asleep there, babe?"

Jason looks up and flashes a lazy smile. "Go bother someone else," he grunts, tone jokingly exasperated.

The boy—one of Jason's roommates, Kim knows—makes a kissing noise at him and grins. "Touchy. Was just wondering if you still wanna join us in the library after lunch."

Jason huffs and nods, sitting up and spinning to grab his messenger bag. "Yeah, mate. These two are about to leave me, and you very well know that if I don't have people around me, I die."

Kim scoffs. "Like some kind of extrovert shark? Always has to be moving?" she mutters, raising her eyebrow at Jason. Hums. "Don't think you'd want to be with me where I'm going, anyway, Jase. I have Defense next."

Not wanting to be impolite, she looks up at the newcomer to acknowledge him as part of the conversation, and he makes a sympathetic face down at her. "Heard how that class went for the Ravenclaws—seems brutal," he says, shaking his head. "I wish you luck."

"Thank you," Kim replies easily. "For the moment though, lunch."

They all get up together as a pretty Gryffindor girl sticks her head into the classroom. "Zack, I swear to god, you are the slowest person on the planet," she calls, shooting him a glare. "Sometime in the next century would be fantastic."

The boy nods, adjusting his bag on his shoulder and starting to walk towards the door. "It's Jason that's slow. Yell at him."

Jason elbows Zack and they all follow him into the corridor, where they're met by a knot of five Gryffindors.

A tall brunette boy with floppy hair and an easy smile gives Zack a nod. "The prodigal son returns," he drawls, leaning against the wall.

The girl holding his hand, a blonde with striking blue eyes, smirks at Zack before looking at Jason. "I don't blame you for falling asleep, Scott," she says lightly. "Burbage is the shite, but those lectures can get a bit dry."

"Super interesting for us muggle-born folks, though," her boyfriend adds, shrugging and swinging their interlinked hands gently before he steps toward Kim and Billy, sticking his free hand out. "Rocky DeSantos. Roommate of these idiots—" he jerks his head between Jason and Zack. "We've met a couple times in passing."

Kim shakes his hand and nods as Billy gives him a wave. "We have. Kim Hart, and you know Billy," she returns kindly.

"Sky Tate," the blonde girl says, nodding at Kim with a small smile.

The good-looking girl who initially yelled at Zack nods at Kim as well, though hers is more of an upwards jerk of the head. "Mackenzie Hartford. Nice last name, Hart."

Kim smiles and they all start walking down the corridor together. "Yours isn't so bad either. Reckon it'd be better a bit shorter, though," she chirps, then realises how flirtatious that sounded.

"You never know, you two might be related," Hermione Granger says from slightly in front of them, turning her head and raising her eyebrows a little. There's a sly smile playing at her lips, and Kim's stomach does a jaunty little flip as their eyes meet.

Whoops.

Admittedly, she's had a tiny, tiny crush on Granger for ages. Who couldn't, when you're always jockeying for top scores in the year? Nothing stokes a fancy like a little competitiveness.

Mackenzie shrugs. "We'll have to make sure that's not the case before we get married," she quips easily.

Kim chuckles and scoffs, internally very much appreciating the banter. She's want for it these days, as sad as that sounds. Interacting with new people casually without having to be on the lookout for trouble is something she's missed. It's ease, peace.

"Aaaaand there it is," Parvati Patil mutters, shaking her head.

Mackenzie laughs, glancing sideways at Kim with her mouth still a bit open. "What! That would be an important thing to check for!"

Kim chuckles too. "It would," she says, looking at Mackenzie with a playful, suggestive raise of her eyebrow. Mackenzie shakes her head and looks forward, clearing her throat and blinking rapidly; cheekbones a tiny bit more flushed than they were a minute ago, to Kim's delight.

"Heaven forbid you don't hit on every fit girl you meet, Mack," Jason mutters, throwing his arm around Kim's shoulders as they all come to the Grand Staircase, the labyrinthine slowly moving flights stretching out above and below them, awash with chattering students making their way down to lunch. "But she's mine. You're too late, bub."

Mackenzie clicks her tongue. "Better luck next time."

.

Later that night Kim is sat up against the headboard of her four-poster, doing her reading for History of Magic with a cup of tea in her hand. Defense Against the Dark Arts had gone just as expected, with Professor Moody demonstrating the Unforgivable Curses in the same fashion Billy described. She left feeling sick to her stomach and skipped supper altogether, opting for a packet of rice crisps and a couple satsumas instead, now enjoying having her dorm room to herself while her roommates are elsewhere in the castle.

The lake makes a quiet sloshing sound against the two massive floor-to-ceiling windows across the room, and her emerald bedsheets smell like fresh laundry. She takes a deep breath; her tea is warm, and the whole setting is working to make her feel much better.

Closing the book and marking her spot with a scrap bit of parchment, Kim reaches up to the lamp just above her bed and pulls at the little silver tassel that serves as a switch. At once her space is illuminated, blending into the soft green glow of the lake that's always present in the room thanks to the windows. She stretches, gaze drawn to a tiny school of silver fish swimming by outside as she twists to grab her rucksack from its place leaning against her bed.

Taking out a fresh page of parchment and a fountain pen—having an inkpot on her bed has always ended in disaster—she begins a letter to her mum, the first of what's to be weekly correspondences. Given everything that happened at school last year, her mum had insisted on regular letters to keep in the loop.

Kim wets the tip of the pen with her tongue and writes, telling her mum all about the Triwizard Tournament and the lessons she's gone to so far this week. She tells her about Jason and Tommy and Billy, about Rose and Terence, among others, with the final product coming out more like a diary entry than a letter.

With a final paragraph asking about her mum's job, the pets, and her grandparents, Kim twitches her fingers to fold it up neatly by magic and swings her legs out of bed.

Padding over to the door, she yanks her trainers on and enters the girls dormitory corridor, then takes a deep, settling breath before making her way out into the common room. It hasn't been the best place for her over the last year or so, and she clenches her fist before pulling at the door handle and speeding across the space. There aren't too many people around, and she lets out a sigh of relief as she exits through the sliding stone wall and begins her journey up to the Owlery.

.

The first week continues to speed by, with Wednesday afternoon arriving to find Kim emerging from an empty classroom, looking around with a measured attempt at casualness.

Satisfied, she hikes her bag further up her shoulder and strides towards the Ancient Runes classroom at a brisk pace.

She nudges the heavy wood door open and glances around the full room—Professor Babbling hasn't arrived yet. With a couple quiet steps she plops down in the nearest open chair, right by the door.

This has been her strategy so far—getting to class right before the bell sounds and leaving as soon as they're dismissed. If people barely notice she's there, they're likely to bother her less. Sitting around before a lesson is all well and good if you have people to chat to, but she doesn't have that luxury in all of her classes.

Not anymore.

So she's made a habit of swooping in quick and leaving just as fast. The hostility is a lot to deal with; it's better like this.

Professor Babbling arrives not thirty seconds after her, sailing up the middle row and dimming the lights around them in preparation for what Kim assumes is some lecturing with help from the projector. And Kim's always enjoyed this class—it's large, but not ridiculously so, and with it being an elective everyone here is actually interested in the subject matter.

For the most part, at least.

As Kim takes her writing materials and textbook out, her eyes flick up to the front and catch a familiar brunette side braid whipping around—a girl sat at the outer edge of the front row, thumbing through her textbook.

Kim's memory stirs and she realises that she remembers Trini Gomez vaguely from last year's class as well, though if her recollection serves, it was usually with a small knot of Hufflepuffs gathered 'round. Kim looks around the room—there aren't a whole lot of Hufflepuffs here, actually.

Continuing to look about, she realises that, admittedly, the class has thinned out since last year, members of her own House included.

A few more seconds of searching and... brilliant. Amanda Clarke is nowhere to be found.

Kim exhales heavily.

Well, that's a great development.

Professor Babbling starts lecturing and Kim sees Trini's head snap up to listen. Her and Granger—whose hand has just shot up from the opposite side of the room—are the only ones occupying the front row.

Kim smiles to herself. What a nerd.

She spends the rest of class engrossed in the material, lulled into a prime kind of learning trance by Professor Babbling's low voice. It's the first lesson back so it isn't very long, but once the lecture is over she has ink smudged on the side of her palm regardless with her hand cramping uncomfortably.

Despite this, she smiles. Because she has that familiar, light feeling in her chest that comes from learning something she's genuinely interested in.

Babbling dismisses them with a heavy reading assignment for next week's class and Kim starts packing her stuff up with measured haste, still determined to get out before everyone else does.

But internally, she's heavily debating whether she should go say hi to Trini.

She could just walk up casually, right? Go say 'Remember me?'; go say anything at all to her. Because they'd kind of bonded over the couple minutes they chatted after their Quidditch match last year—

The rest of the class starts rising to their feet and a few walk out of the room, and Kim is going to do it.

She's going to do it...

As soon as she sees a couple dreaded people start to come her way, though—two of Amanda's closest friends, Rebecca and Harper, specifically—Kim is out of there like a bat out of hell.

She sighs. Perhaps it's for the best that she doesn't approach Trini today.

Besides, she doesn't want to come off as weird or anything, like: 'Oh hey look we talked that one time and kind of both overshared because there was a weird energy buzzing between us! At least I felt that, did you? No matter, we're in the same class! Let's be friends!'

That might be considered a little bit too intense. Maybe next time.

Kim lets out another small sigh as she peels down the corridor, excited to meet the boys in the library and determined to use her free period to get started on her rapidly growing pile of homework.

.

Trini shivers slightly as she walks purposefully down the dungeon corridor that leads to the Potions classroom. Double Potions isn't exactly her idea of a riveting way to spend her Thursday morning, but at least she has a knack for the material.

Tomorrow she has History of Magic first thing for the second time this week, which is infinitely worse.

She crams her banana muffin into her mouth to free up one of her hands (the other is occupied with her giant thermos of coffee) and pushes the door open, which creaks obnoxiously.

Walking into the dim-lit classroom she sees that there are only a few people scattered around. She's twenty minutes early, and she squints as she scans the backs of everyone's heads. Her eyes fall on the person she's looking for—there in their regular spot—and she smiles to herself, continuing to walk between the cauldron-laden tables.

"Hey, Billy," Trini says, sitting down next to a tall Ravenclaw boy at a table at the front of the classroom.

"Hello Trini!" Billy greets, turning his entire body to face her.

"How was your summer?" Trini asks, smiling at him softly as she takes her potions kit and textbook out of her rucksack.

"It was nice. My mum and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents at theirs," he replies, words coming out in rapid-fire. "Otherwise it was fairly ordinary. What about you? How was your summer?"

Trini nods, her eyes warm. "Mine was nice too. Me, my dad, and my brothers did a lot of hiking... and we went to the Quidditch World Cup final together, which was so, so cool." She pauses, frowning slightly. "Well, other than that stuff that happened after the match."

Billy nods his head vigorously. "I went to that too! It's too bad we didn't see each other there. I stayed in my friend Jason's tent. It was very unnerving to witness, what happened with the Dark Mark." He pauses, a crease appearing in his brow. "How was it going through that situation with your family? Your brothers are young. That must have been very hard."

Despite the topic they're discussing, Trini can't help but smile a little at Billy's questions. He's one of the most genuine people she's ever met; they aren't incredibly close friends by any means, but she knows that he legitimately cares to know about what he's asking. He remembers the things she says and cares for her as a person.

As far as casual Potions-mates go, it's refreshing.

She nods, then sighs. "I'm sure it was hard for everyone, but our main concern—my dad and I—was, yeah, getting my little brothers out of there. I've never seen my dad like that…" she trails off, frown deepening. "Seeing him go into survival mode so quickly was a harsh reminder that he lived through the war, you know? He knows what people who play with the Dark Mark are like."

Billy nods. "I hope that didn't sour the Cup for you though, we talk all of the time about how much you love Quidditch."

Trini shakes her head. "Nah. I don't think any part of Quidditch could ever sour for me." She chuckles a bit sadly. "Me and Zack have spent every class we have together this week whining because the IHC is cancelled – I don't know what I'm gonna do with myself to be honest."

"Have you considered playing some pick-up games?" Billy asks.

Trini hums. "I reckon my team Captain might set practises here and there so we all don't get too rusty, which is something at least…" she trails off again, flipping open her textbook. "And Zack and I have been out to the pitch a few times in the last couple days, but it's not the same, you know? One-on-one is a lot different than a match between two teams."

Billy smiles back at her, twirling his quill in his hand. "Well, we haven't been out yet, but Jason and I've been talking about doing that too—playing pick-up games." He pauses for a moment, seemingly considering something. "Maybe all of us could play together? Zack and Jason know each other. It wouldn't be a full spread of two regulation-sized squads, but it might be better than one-on-one."

Trini doesn't even hesitate before nodding. "That would be brilliant. If it's okay with Jason too, that is." She shrugs, hesitating. "I was thinking I might ask my teammates, but I don't want to bug them or anything. Hopefully we get to scrimmage a little if we end up doing those practices."

"I reckon Jason will think us playing together is a great idea," Billy says, smiling.

Trini sighs softly. She isn't really one to be the organiser of social events, or the person who actively tries to get a bunch of people together in one place. When it comes to social interactions, wallflower is her go-to designation; even joining the Quidditch team was a big leap for her. But as much as she has found a home with her team, she still isn't entirely comfortable. At least not enough to ask them all to come out to play with her, which really isn't that big of a deal.

She's getting there, though. Stepping out of her comfort zone is something she's actively been working on, but it has to be done in small steps.

Billy's eyes flit around for a moment, like he's trying to think. "Why don't we do it sometime this weekend before school gears up proper? I will check my schedule and see if Jason has anyone else who would like to play with us. We'll keep it at a small group, but a few more people might be nice."

Trini's stomach tumbles around a little—meeting new people tends to make her nervous. But she'll have Zack there, and she really likes Billy; his friends can't be that bad.

"Okay, that sounds awesome. Count us in," she says, smiling.

Chapter Text

"Excellent work, Miss Hart," Professor McGonagall says, passing between tables with a sewing pin in her hand as the class works at transfiguring their hedgehogs into pincushions. Kim's just managed to do it after a few unsuccessful tries, and she smiles softly, allowing a bit of pride to flicker in her chest. She knows it's not a race, but being the first in the class to complete the assignment feels kind of nice.

"Thank you, Professor," Kim replies quietly, as Professor McGonagall stops and brings the pin toward the pincushion a little bit tentatively, just in case the Transfiguration didn't manage to change it all of the way.

But given she's just commended Kim, it's likely only a precaution.

The needle goes into the cushion just fine, with no squeaking or fright from it at all, and McGonagall picks it up to examine it closely. After a few moments, she places it on the desk again and transfigures it back. "Once more, if you please," she instructs, gesturing at it before taking a step away from the desk and linking her hands behind her back.

Kim nods and takes a deep breath in and out before pointing her wand at it, focusing on tuning out the noisy classroom around her. As vividly as her brain can muster she pictures exactly what she wants the pincushion to look like, then says the incantation quietly and clearly.

And she feels the corner of her mouth pull up involuntarily as soon as she does, because some part of her knows it's successful before she even examines it closely; like she can figuratively hear something clicking into place.

Professor McGonagall nods as she picks it up and looks at it again. "You have improved the quality," she says slowly, referencing the improvements to the material and the little embellishments Kim added. She examines it, holding the pincushion only inches from her face, then looks at Kim curiously. "Why?"

Kim shrugs. "Why not? I guess?"

Professor McGonagall surveys her for a moment. "Good answer. Ten points to Slytherin."

"Thank you Professor."

McGonagall inclines her head. "You may use the remainder of the lesson to work on other things, if you so wish," she says, then pauses to send a scrutinising glance around the classroom. Her gaze lingers on Goyle, who, despite being purple in the face with concentration, hasn't managed to change his hedgehog one bit. She looks back down at Kim with her lips pursed pointedly, then speaks again, "We will be on this assignment for at least one more class, so I will likely give you a future essay or something of that nature to begin working on next week."

Kim nods and Professor McGonagall lingers above her, eyes softening all at once. "It's nice to have you back, Kimberly," she says, voice now just barely audible.

With that she continues walking around the classroom, Kim's pincushion still in hand. And Kim watches her, eyes widened just slightly. Stunned at the comment.

Because Transfiguration has been her best subject ever since she started at Hogwarts, but last year she found herself sliding academically in not just this class, but across the board. To know that Professor McGonagall still has some faith in her is... great. A relief. The encouragement is surprising and unexpected.

"Nice one, Hart," Cameron Watanabe whispers from the seat next to her, giving her a small smile before returning to his pincushion—which still mostly resembles a hedgehog, save for it being more square and entirely red.

She smiles back at him then looks over to Rose on her other side, who is muttering under her breath and reading the spell description in her textbook, having managed a very pincushion-looking thing that still has hedgehog spikes along the top.

Kim sits still for a few moments then, looking around the room and watching everyone working at the spell, before her gaze falls on Amanda Clarke a few rows in front of her.

And Kim's eyes linger, watching as Amanda talks with the other Slytherin girls grouped around; feeling somehow like she's looking at them from another room. From another planet, even.

Without warning, a familiar pain flares up in her chest at the sight—a splintering, dark thing that presses on her lungs from all sides, trapping her in place—rooting her to the spot as guilt, shame, and complete disgust with herself looms then crashes over her like waves on a worn down shoreline. It all hits her at full speed, forcing its way up her nose, into her sinuses; saltwater stinging her throat like bile, leaving an unpleasant taste in her mouth.

Not falling away either, not dripping off. No, it all grips her relentlessly, unnaturally, shaking her by the throat and looking deep into her eyes. Repeating a whispered, dangerous mantra over and over—

Someone good could have never done what you did.

She blinks a few times and leans back into her chair discreetly, shutting her eyes for a moment and trying to breathe deeply to little success. With an effort she tries to push it all from her mind, but it's all moving too fast for her to catch it.

"Kim," comes a small insistent hiss from her neck, barely audible over the chatter and bustle of her classmates working around her. "Kim, I can feel your heart rate spiking. You are alright."

Kim shakes her head just barely, back and forth over and over with her eyes still shut, and when she doesn't respond she feels him—her tiny pet corn snake, Ptero—slither off her neck and down the front of her white oxford shirt, brushing the base of her neck with his tail as he does. He proceeds to wrap himself around her torso diagonally like a sash, exerting pressure by constricting in effort to calm her down.

Bowing her head, she balls one of her hands into a fist in effort to focus on something else. "P, I'm okay," she hisses out under her breath, in Parseltongue.

And she knows he hears her but he doesn't move for the next few minutes, only letting up once he feels her heartbeat start to slow.

Because panic attacks are a regular thing for Kim now—brought on almost easily, like she's always teetering just on the edge of a precipice. One intrusive thought or one external trigger can tip her headfirst into darkness. And there is always an opportunity to catch herself in those first few moments—mentally slap herself out of it somehow—before she really goes tumbling over the edge, but she manages that fairly infrequently.

She's getting better at it though. After everything happened with Amanda last spring she could never stop them, often experiencing multiple, full-fledged attacks in a day with no relief. It was all brand new to her and she had no idea how to deal with them back then.

Now, and with Ptero's help especially, she's able to stop them here and there. It's some improvement at least.

"Thank you, P," she breathes, reaching up to where he's coiled around her neck again and running her finger along his spine gently. To anyone else, he looks like an accessory—a dark green choker necklace or a thick bracelet, depending on where he is on her body at the time. His true colour is a hot pink, but this way he can be with her all day long, disguised.

He said that he prefers being with her over being in his terrarium during the day anyway, so it works out.

And all of the trickery was her mum's idea, given she and Kim both figured it best if he was with her as often as possible. His ability to help bring her down from an impending panic attack is game-changing, invaluable.

"Of course," Ptero replies, tickling the back of her neck with his tail in an affectionate gesture.

She takes a few more deep breaths in and out then fishes her Charms textbook out of her bag, hands a bit shaky, looking to start the reading assignment that Flitwick assigned them a few hours ago.

.

Once the lesson is over Kim bids goodbye to Rose and leaves just as quickly as she usually does, if not faster, knowing that drawing any kind of attention to herself—good attention, especially—is asking for trouble that she really doesn't want to get into right now.

And she refuses to let her grades suffer any more than they already did last year, so staying quiet or doing mediocre work when she has the ability to excel is not an option. Especially not in her favourite class.

But she felt eyes on her as she sped out of the classroom. As a result her steps are a bit faster, just enough so that it doesn't look like she's running away, all the while feeling like there's a stage spotlight above her along with an even bigger target on her back than usual.

And as Kim strides down the corridor, the space around her growing more crowded by the second with supper-bound students, she takes a deep breath then lets it out. Feeling okay, relatively, at how well she's just done. For the first Transfiguration lesson of the school year, she's off to a good start.

She allows herself to smile a little, and it's precisely then that a cold, piercing shout sounds from behind her; travels, crashes around her ears like a thunderclap, "NICE JOB IN THERE KIMMY!"

Kim grits her teeth, squeezes her eyes shut once then opens them again, forces her feet to keep moving. Shakes her head.

No.

Because her first instinct is always to fight, to stand her ground, to march right back towards Amanda and tear her apart.

But that's the thing, isn't it: she already did that. Tore Amanda apart. And this shit that's constantly being thrown her way now? Kim fucking deserves it.

So, no. No fighting.

Deep breath in. Keep walking.

"MAYBE IF YOU KEEP PRACTISING, YOU'LL BE ABLE TO TRANSFIGURE AWAY YOUR SHITTY FUCKING PERSONALITY!" comes Amanda's voice again, stalking her down the corridor.

Kim clenches her fist tighter, fingernails digging into her palm. She's nearly at the end, almost turned the corner, then she can disappear.

Nearly, nearly.

But Merlin does she want to yell back. Tell Amanda that comment was weak, inform her that she's losing her fucking touch, that she knows she can do better.

And forget yell, forget it — she wants to scream back, wants to punctuate some cutting insult with a laugh that's exactly like the cruel, high-pitched sounds that follow her now; filling the corridor, imposing, all the way up to the high ceiling: Amanda's friends, mocking her.

Kim's friends, once.

She turns the corner and darts through a hidden passageway, using it to gain a few precious extra seconds to get to the bustling Great Hall before Amanda and her entourage.

A short time later she's sitting down at the Gryffindor table feeling light-headed, not entirely remembering how she got from the Transfiguration classroom to here.

And she's kind of just staring at an empty plate for awhile—not sure how long—when a tentative, careful hand comes to rest on her shoulder.

With no control over her body at all, Kim flinches away like she's been burned, grimacing, sucking air in through her teeth. Ptero is around her torso again, compressing, trying to bring her down. But her every nerve is still exposed.

She thought sitting, breathing, waiting might help. But all at once she realises that she's past the point of being able to slap herself out of it.

And maybe that's Jason's warm voice beside her, or above, or below...

Everything is tilting on an axis, time slowing and speeding up at its own leisure.

Fuck, she needs to get out of here.

As abruptly as she arrived she gets up again, feet carrying her away and not really processing anything at all.

Because she's losing herself now, feeling disjointed, thoughts all over, heart skipping like a warped record. Here— here— here it comes, watch the breakdown—

She exits the hall and soon turns into a familiar, lesser-used passage, crashing down the deserted narrow staircase with her teeth bared like an animal, breathing like she suddenly can't—choked splutters and gasps, silent, suffocating—trying to get as far from people as possible before she loses her mind completely.

Kim's sprinting full-stop now, down further into the dungeons, far enough so there's no risk of running into anyone. She turns off the staircase and her legs are shaking underneath her.

Ptero's trying to talk to her, she thinks, but she can't hear him over her heart pounding in her ears.

And after all of that she doesn't even go into a dungeon proper, because her destination is elsewhere: the furthest away that she can physically get from the main dungeon staircase. A corner at the very back.

As it happens, that particular place is a caretaker's cupboard.

She taps the handle of the wood door with her wand, mutters, pushes at it, movements stiff and jerky. It opens earnestly, happy to have someone stop by, so used to loneliness after hundreds of years of neglect. And the state of the place is an easy indication that this isn't her first time here by any means—it's strangely clean everywhere, the floor quite literally a different, lighter colour than out in the corridor, what with all the incessant scouring she's done.

Past caretakers likely gave up on cleaning the majority of the dungeons a long time ago. And as much as she despises Filch she can't blame him—there are hundreds of rooms down here, some as big as concert halls and others not much larger than the one she's in now.

This is her stupid cupboard, damn it to hell, scrubbed clean in many a panic attack comedown while her brain was still in standby mode, sapped of any ability to process, reason, or feel much at all.

For the moment, Kim collapses against the stiff wood shelving—what could be hundreds of little built-in cubbies that serve as both storage and walls, some imperfect and charred in places where they've been blasted as if by small explosions; her knees hit the stone floor hard, wrists bracing, jamming, straining at the impact of all of her weight coming down. She grabs at the shelf with clawing fingers, curls up against it a little to ride the attack out, squeezes her eyes shut tight despite the tears streaming down her face and the sobs wracking her chest. Ptero is still trying so hard to help, and him squeezing her like he is will take it all away faster, she knows.

He's so good, so fucking loving and she doesn't deserve him.

A creak splits the gasping silence as the door of the cupboard is pushed open—she forgot to lock it—and in the space of a stuttered heartbeat there's another, heavier thud as someone else's knees hit the floor equally as hard as hers did. Ptero moves up to coil around her neck just as arms wrap around her from behind. Strong, warm, saving.

Jason.

She might have known it was him before he even opened the door, but the recognition is mostly at how he smells—the sense memory stored somewhere safe, stable, well away from her reeling conscious mind. And he grips at her with a kind of desperation, throwing a lifebuoy to her as she's drowning, pulling her up to sit, squeezing her tight against his chest that's rising and falling in a quick beat, smelling like cologne and exertion and breathing rapidly into her hair through his nose.

He ran here, followed her all the way down.

"Merlin, Kim," he whispers, rocking her a little, pacifying. Surely not even realising he's doing it.

She brings her hands up to grip at his arms, flexed under the soft fabric of his robes at how tightly he knows he must hold her for him to be of any help at all. Eyes still closed she clutches blindly, fighting the frantic, trapped urge to push him off of her, trusting that a good hold on him will keep her afloat somehow. Impossibly.

It might be seconds, minutes, hours, or days that go by as they huddle together on the cold stone floor, but eventually she starts to feel herself come down. Breathes, and it's something a little rattling but unquestionably whole.

"'The palm trees fall into the sea,'" Jason begins to sing softly, like a lullaby. "'It doesn't matter much to me. As long as you're safe, Kimberly. And I can gaze deep—'" he takes a breath, "'into your starry eyes, baby, looking deep in your eyes, baby...'"

She lets the familiar song fill her ears, trying to hum along with him but failing to keep her voice still, interrupted by echoes of sobs, though now only faint remnants of the real thing.

Finally fading away, letting her breathe.

Chapter Text

Kim does something very uncharacteristic the following morning and skives off History of Magic entirely.

If she had the energy to do much of anything she would probably be pleasantly scandalised at her own rebellion, given they're still in the first week of the school year.

But upon waking up she found herself so exhausted that she could barely lift her head from her pillow. The lethargy isn't something that she's had to deal with in a few months, and its presence at all sparks a small flicker of panic in her chest as she stares up at the canopy of her four-poster.

Because she knows this particular brand of tiredness—it isn't her getting a cold, or a result of her staying up too late—it's a case of Depression Fatigue, very familiar to her now, where truly nothing seems more important than sleeping. Where regardless of how much rest she gets, it's like there is a hole in her energy reserves; all of it leaks out no matter what she does, and as a result she's unable to do much of anything at all. Like the voice of reason in her mind that tells her to do things decides to take a break, goes on vacation for a few hours.

And she lays here now, having woken up again after sleeping for a blissful hour past when she would normally get up, the lesson upstairs already well under way. In the pitch darkness afforded to her by her curtains she blinks, feeling like a failure because she caved, slept in, while the other Depression Side of her mind assures her that it was completely, undoubtedly necessary.

Kim sighs, knowing that she's not in her right mind at the moment.

And it's comforting, at least, knowing that Jason or Billy will be able to give her the lesson notes. That Jason will completely understand, given how last night went. But even if she had nobody to cover for her, she's not sure if she would have been able to make it.

Luckily for her and the rest of the Slytherin fourth-years, they've a free period between History of Magic and lunch on Fridays. So Kim has a few glorious hours with the dorm to herself before she has to make her way to Double Potions.

"Ptero, are you awake?" Kim hisses out softly, rolling onto her side and pulling back the silk curtain of her four-poster. As her eyes adjust to the soft green glow of the room, she peeks over at his enclosure, which sits right next to her bed.

It's a few moments before he comes slithering into view and up the tiny tree in the centre of his enclosure. Once at the top he continues onto the length of smooth nylon rope tied there, spinning around it and making his way over empty space like a tightrope daredevil. Upon arriving at the other end where it's attached to the knob at the top of her four-poster, he leisurely spirals down the post, bright neon pink against the dark, ancient wood.

Once at her eye level he wraps himself around the post securely and sidles forward, stretching toward her until he's positioned his face right in front of hers. "Good morning."

Kim tips her head so that it sinks into her pillow further. "You could've just told me you were awake and I would have helped you over, you goofball."

"No need," he hisses softly, bopping his face into her nose. At the contact, she closes her eyes. Breathing deep, full.

.

Up a whole whack of storeys and across the castle, a tiny, barely audible snore sounds from the small girl on Trini's right. And knowing Chip, it won't be quiet for long—once she gets going, her snores tend to crescendo into something much more substantial.

And she shows no signs of waking up, given she's passed out in a typical fashion on her writing desk with most of her face buried in the elbow of her cloak.

On Chip's other side, Summer looks down at her pointedly before rolling her eyes and tossing her long blonde hair off her shoulder. Twirling her quill in her hand for a moment she considers the sleeping Chip fondly before bringing it down in an arc and mercilessly cramming the feather into her exposed ear.

Chip twitches for a few seconds before shooting backwards with a little yelp, her back hitting her chair with a small thud as she starts to paw at her ear wildly. A few curious people look their direction and she glances around, running a hand through spiky red hair slowly and squinting, seemingly confused as to where she is for a moment.

Her gaze lands on Summer, who blinks back innocently. "Have a good sleep, pumpkin?" she asks sweetly, making a show of running the feather of her quill underneath her own chin.

"Ha, ha, ha," Chip mutters, voice gravelly from sleep. "I hope something at least mildly interesting has happened for you to wake me up--"

Trini smirks. "Unlikely, unless Binns dies again," she says matter-of-factly, which earns her a gleefully amused smile from Summer.

"Then why for?" Chip whines, looking between them miserably.

Summer purses her lips together. "You'd just started snoring," she deadpans, which they all know is explanation enough in of itself. "I still have zero idea how such a small person can produce that loud of a noise, but better we don't let you get going."

Trini hums, looking at Chip and nodding. "We already have to deal with it sounding like a train is running through our dorm every night," she says gravely. "Better to save all of these innocent people from experiencing that as well."

Gia leans forward in her seat then, snaking her arm around Summer with a paper bag of doughnuts in hand and shaking it at Chip. "Sugar, love. You didn't even eat yours yet."

Chip grumbles something incomprehensible before taking the paper bag, opening it and bringing her doughnut out.

Within a few moments of taking the first bite, she's looking happier.

"There you go," Trini says, her hand flying over the parchment page on her desk as she writes. It's her day to take good notes, as one or more of them tend to be overtaken by a very insistent need to take a nap every time they're in this class.

They have a regular spot near the back of the lecture—a good vantage point—and Trini looks around for a moment as Professor Binns continues writing on the blackboard. It's the largest lesson that any of them have, at least by student number, given that all four Houses are in one section and the class is mandatory.

In reality the amount of people who actually attend has a tendency to be much smaller, whittling away every year without fail as the school year goes on. Given this is only the second class so far since they've been back, it's still quite crowded.

All things considered, Professor Binns doesn't seem to notice.

Looking around, Trini sees more of the same: there are people asleep, others clearly doing other schoolwork, and some who are having what looks to be full-blown conversations in low voices. Still others are taking notes like she is, a few no doubt intending to capitalise on all of the gold to be made at the end of the year, when people undoubtedly go looking for good sets of notes for exam review.

It's quite a lucrative business, especially for History of Magic.

As for Trini, her memory tends to work better if she's both listening to the Professor and writing everything down, at least where test recall is concerned. She came to terms with this a couple years ago and has since resigned herself to her fate: she will undoubtedly be here in this seat bright and early twice a week, listening to Binns drone on about subjects that should, in theory at least, be interesting.

To be sure, she would rather be sleeping. But there's nothing to be done.

The lesson finishes up after another quarter hour or so and Chip manages to stay conscious for the remainder. With a yawn, Trini packs her stuff up and makes her way out into the corridor with her roommates, walking in the direction of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Instead of going in, though, they turn and descend a flight of stairs to the ground floor of the castle and make their way out into the sun of the courtyard near the Great Hall, eager to spend their short break outside.

It's a beautiful day and Gia plops down into the grass, squinting up at the three of them in the sunlight and smiling wide.

Trini looks between Summer and Chip then shrugs before sitting down next to Gia and leaning into her a little. "Are you guys ready for Moody?" she asks, as the other two sit down as well.

Summer grunts. "Going to have to be. Sometimes I wonder if Dumbledore's going senile though, honestly."

Trini can't help but understand where she's coming from—they've had a remarkably interesting set of Defense Professors thus far, with only one of them being competent.

Well, Professor Lupin was more than competent, really, but at this point he seems like an outlier.

She understands that they have to be exposed to gnarly subject matter—the class is literally on the subject of the Dark Arts, after all—but she would hope that there'd be some kind of limitations.

Either way, it's bound to be an experience.

.

And Defense most definitely passes slower than usual, given that the entirety of her class seems to be dreading Moody's demonstration of the Unforgivable Curses. As their House has their Defense lesson last out of the four, they'd all heard plenty from other students throughout the week.

He lectures for the first half of class, and when the bell rings everyone leaves for lunch looking rather glum. He's bound to do the demonstrations afterward, and Trini, Summer, Chip, and Gia find themselves not able to eat very much through the whole lunch hour.

They return to the Curse demonstrations, and it's interesting, to be sure. But it's also horrible, and once the double period is finally done Trini leaves feeling sick to her stomach. Even Summer—who tends to be stone-faced as her default setting—looks a bit shaken up.

Walking with the rest of the Hufflepuff fourth-years through the castle for a few minutes, they pass through the Entrance Hall and make their way out into the grounds, merging with the Ravenclaws as they all head down to Hagrid's cabin together for Trini's favourite class, Care of Magical Creatures. Her abuela—her dad's mum—worked for the national park authority all her life, and she instilled her love of nature into all of her kids and grandkids. Growing up, Trini travelled all over Britain with her family, hiking and camping and loving every minute of it. Even on the rainy days.

As a result she's always felt at home with animals, and having never encountered a magical Beast or creature before Hogwarts, she signed up for Care of Magical Creatures in third year without hesitation.

Both Billy and Zack had warned her to bring her dragon hide gloves to the first class, a tip she shared with her roommates, in preparation for whatever odd creatures Hagrid had for them to study. Approaching Hagrid's cabin, she finds herself grateful for the heads-up as the sound of a series of small explosions reaches her ears.

The next hour is spent in what Trini can only describe as peril, and that's with her rose-coloured-favourite-class-glasses on. As they all walk back up to the castle for supper with the distinct smell of singed robes in the air around them, she finds herself exhausted. The first week back is always a long one, but not necessarily in a bad way. Just draining.

She does have something to look forward to, though: Billy came over to her during class and asked if tomorrow worked for their pick-up game. And regardless of how much homework she has—which isn't a lot, yet—Quidditch is always at the top of her priority list.

Trini finds herself smiling as they enter the Great Hall, and as she sits down for supper with her roommates, there's an ease that descends over her.

.

As planned, the next day finds Trini walking into the Quidditch stadium with her broom in hand. Far across the pitch she spots Billy and Zack with two other people she doesn't recognise, all holding broomsticks. Smiling, she hops on her broom and speeds over.

Getting closer, she clocks both of the figures next to Billy.

Her breath catches slightly.

Oh.

Dismounting mid-air and lightly jogging up to them, she breathes out a "Hi, Billy," and moves to stand next to Zack, who holds his hand out to her for a fist bump.

"Hey, Tiny."

Kimberly Hart is addressing her, eyes alight and observing her with an easy camaraderie, just like the first time they met.

Without missing a beat, Trini smirks and responds, "Hey, Bitch."

Billy and Zack look between them, clearly confused.

"Wait, you two know each other? That's great!" Billy says, clapping softly.

Trini waves her hand at him. "Oh yeah, we go way back. She tried to hit me with her broom once, it was really special."

"I thought we agreed that was your fault—"

Interjecting, Billy turns to the sandy-haired boy next to him, "Jason, this is Trini! You've seen each other in passing."

Jason smiles softly at Billy then steps forward, holding out his hand, and Trini shakes it. "We definitely have," he says, giving her a nod. He's wearing a set of well-made and slightly tattered red leather Quidditch gloves, and her eyes linger on them as he steps back out of her personal space and leans casually on his Nimbus 2000. "Nice to meet you officially, Trini. Billy told me about how you stuck up for him during finals last year, and Zack won't stop going on about how good of a flier you are. I've heard great things."

Raising one eyebrow at Zack—who pulls finger guns at her in return with a wink—Trini shrugs a little, eyes flicking over to Billy with a warm expression. "Warrington and Montague were saying some really awful shit to him," she says lightly, then pauses. Seeing Billy smiling at her, she throws a little grin back. "The entire school knows where your spot in the library is, Billy, and they can't just go around shoving people's stuff onto the floor, anyway. They got what was coming."

Kimberly visibly perks up at the mention of Warrington and Montague, looking like she's just heard Christmas has come early.

"Waaait wait wait. That was you?" she says, eyes widening a little as she looks at Trini. "Those two couldn't make any kind of noise that wasn't in a ridiculous singsong voice for hours. I saw Madam Pince laughing so hard behind one of the stacks in the library that she cried. And like, this is hard-arse, doesn't-allow-you-to-breathe-too-loudly-in-the-library, Madam Pince..."

Kimberly trails off and pauses for a moment, looking contemplative. "Merlin. Next time we go to Hogsmeade, your first drink is on me."

Trini smirks, then shrugs again. "I figured if they were going to continue to talk shit, they might as well sound pretty while they did so. Not to mention they couldn't seem to jinx me back which was a bonus." She pauses, trying to gauge if Kimberly was being serious. "But sure, I'll take that free drink."

Jason smiles, stepping up to the wood crate sitting in the grass between the five of them. He takes an old practise Quaffle out and shuts the lid snugly, then mounts his broom and ascends to hover a few feet above their heads. "I reckon we're all going to get along splendidly. This is gonna be fun."

Tossing the Quaffle up and down in one hand, he tilts his head slightly and squints at the four of them on the ground. "What do you lot think, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw versus Hufflepuff and Slytherin, to start?"

Trini and Kimberly look at each other and cocky grins spread across both of their faces.

Flipping her half-braided ponytail behind her, Trini clasps her hands together. "Yeah Red, you're on."

Mounting her broom, she kicks off.

Chapter Text

Kim breaks the surface of the Black Lake, drawing air into her lungs. Running a hand over her face, she pinches a thumb and forefinger along the sides of her nose to get the water out. Smiles.

Because she has that familiar feeling of buoyancy bobbing in her chest again; the one she knows has nothing to do with the cool water holding her up.

This is her thing, swimming out here. Cliff jumping. This is her place, tucked away from everything else.

And with her fingers starting to prune a little with how long she's been out, she decides to call it a night. The first swim of the school year is always her favourite, but she should really be getting to bed.

Diving back under the water, she swims toward the tiny pebble beach on the shore where she's left her towel, old portable gramophone, and little waxed canvas rucksack she uses for this particular activity.

Walking along the bottom—hard-packed sand and a flat rock here and there, smoothed by the gentle flow of water over years and years—she comes rising out, water dripping off of her. She cracks her neck and adjusts the black leather wand holster on her left forearm a little. Never without it.

After drying off she ties her towel around herself, pulls her socks and trainers on, then one of her faded Slytherin Quidditch crewnecks. She lets the gramophone play out the last few notes of 'Mayonaise' by The Smashing Pumpkins, then packs it up and shuts the briefcase. Looking around to make sure she hasn't forgotten anything, she shoulders her bag. Starts making her way back.

Entering the cover of the trees that surround the lake, her feet take her to the right, east towards the castle. She walks in a rough diagonal line, moving to the south in effort to stay in the trees for as long as possible.

As she goes, she takes a deep breath at how surrounded she feels—something encompassing, peaceful. The night is warm, still a tad bit too early in the year for it to require any kind of proper clothes, and the water still lingering in her hair and on her skin pulls the breeze to her. It's comfortable, serene. Like every other time she comes out here.

She steps over a protruding root, the leaves of the ancient trees around her doing a slow waltz in the gentle wind. And it's well past midnight—technically into very early Monday morning now. There's certainly nobody out here, not that she's encountered. Here and there over the years, maybe, but never close enough to see her before she saw them.

Never anyone, never caught.

The worst she would get if she was found out is a slap on the wrist, anyway. And she would be out here the next night regardless; maybe take a different route.

Because doing this—hiking around the lake, cliff jumping, night swimming—has kept her half-sane for nearly two years, since everything here at school started sliding out from underneath her. She could never give it up, and rules be damned, she would find a way to keep going.

Coming to the end of the wood with the lush lawn spreading out before her, she lingers a moment, looks around, then casts a Disillusionment Charm over herself. Something she taught herself a long time ago.

It's not like she's an expert so the spell is far from infallible, but it keeps her hidden enough in the darkness as she speeds over the sloping lawn, coming to the path up to the castle front doors and treading just beside it.

Once she's arrived she takes the steps two at a time and grabs the great iron handle of the left door, making to tug it open very, very carefully. Just enough to stick her head into the Entrance Hall to see if the coast is clear.

But it doesn't budge.

Her heart does a disappointed flop in her chest. More of a dramatic faceplant than anything.

Filch, you useless bastard.

She tries the other door to no avail. Sighs loudly. When she came through an hour ago they were both unlocked -- to be sure, they usually are. With the wall and the charms on the entirety of the grounds in addition to the security of the castle itself, locked doors don't quite seem necessary.

Apparently not tonight, though.

Ugh.

Kim turns on the spot and lurches forward, dragging her feet a little like an unhappy toddler. Retracing her steps back the way she came: over the grass and back into the safety of the trees surrounding the lake.

Plan B it is, then.

And this has happened before, of course. She always has a back-up plan, even when she's doing a smidge of rule-breaking.

Kim's irresponsible, yes, but not an idiot. There's a difference.

Northwest she goes now, passing where she would usually turn a little to make her way to her cliff.

She comes to the end of the trees again and looks down at herself, checking that her charm is still up, then continues along into open space; back over more lawn.

Striding up a small incline, she comes over the little grassy hill and can make the Quidditch pitch out ahead of her in the night, reaching up to the starry sky. Like an idiot, she gives it a jaunty wave as she walks towards it, specifically aiming for the small broom shed that stands between them.

Coming to it, she takes a quick look around again and pulls the rusted iron handle on the door with minimal effort—the wood brittle, dehydrated after hundreds of years of sun beating down—and swings it open just enough to slink inside. Reaching up in the pitch darkness, she grabs blindly until her fingers brush the metal chain pull switch above her head.

Click, click.

At once, the whole place is illuminated in a soft light. The bare gas lamp hanging from the centre of the low ceiling sways a little with the disturbance, back and forth like a pendulum, throwing different parts of the cluttered shed into light, then shadow, then back again. She grabs a busted broom handle from its regular place propped up in the corner and wedges it through the door handle and frame, crudely jamming it shut. Preventing anyone from being able to open it on the other side.

Kim drops her bag and towel, pulls off her crewneck, and changes out of her wet swimming costume into a soft t-shirt and a pair of joggers. With a nod, she packs all of it up and leaves her bag on the floor, standing up with her gramophone briefcase in hand.

She walks a couple paces and climbs a little over boxes and shelves packed full of an assortment of supplies: maintenance sets, extra Quidditch kit, practise pinnies, sanders and clamps and clips among them. The air is thick with the smell of dust, wood lacquer, and mown grass—all of it triggering a mostly unconscious kind of familiarity that makes her feel even more at ease.

Wedging herself into the back left corner and draping her body uncomfortably over a tall barrel on the floor, Kim reaches behind it and pulls a dirty tarp back to deposit her gramophone there carefully. With a lurch, she pushes herself backward and into the open space of the shed, then waves her wand and replaces the tarp, hiding the gramophone further to be safe. She leaves it here in the warmer months; one less thing to carry.

Satisfied, she picks her bag back up off the dusty floor then shuffles a couple paces to the right, to the opposite corner at the very back of the shed. The one closest to the castle.

Here is the familiar pair of sawhorses, who, to be sure, are intricately carved to look like actual horses. They're used to work on brooms that need repairing, and are her favourite two things about this entire shed.

She taps each of them once with her wand. Waits, plucking an old moth-eaten pinny from where it hangs over the one on the right.

"Kimberly, sweetheart," the one on the left says in a kind voice, springing to life just as its twin does. It runs a hoof along the boards beneath it, now much more alive than the inanimate, stiff wood it was a moment ago.

"Hi guys," Kim says softly.

The one on the right snorts, sounding like he's blowing a raspberry. "Thank you for taking that wretched thing off. It's been bothering my nose, you know how I get with the dust—"

He stops talking abruptly and sneezes. Huffs.

"Bless you, Roderick," Kim mutters, a small smile pulling at the corner of her mouth.

"Poor dear," the one on the left coos, swishing her tail so it brushes his rump affectionately.

"Have you two not been dusted yet?" Kim asks, taking out her wand back out of its holster and pointing it at them, then waving it toward the rest of the shed vaguely. "Filch is such a useless ass. Tergeo."

There's a puff like pollen being shaken from a tree, disturbed dust lingering in the air for a moment, visible in the low light as it swirls around the gas lamp overhead, like fog against the dawn before it vanishes, magicked away into nothingness.

Kim grimaces. "Is that any better?"

"You are a dear, Kimberly," Roderick says, nodding.

The horse on the left, Rodina, tips her head at Kim kindly. "Nothing from Greg today, I presume? Given you didn't come this way?"

Kim shakes her head. "No, sorry. Filch locked me out."

"No matter, sweetheart," Rodina returns. "Ready?"

Kim nods.

Roderick clears his throat. "Feed me and I live, give me drink and I die," he says, voice clear and quiet.

"Breathe with me, stay with me, and I will thrive," Rodina says, in the same tone. "But do not offer me sleep, for I will not survive."

Kim waits, and when they don't keep going, she nods slowly. Takes a deep breath and lets it out; hangs her head to stare at the floor, unseeing.

What is it, some kind of disease?

She racks her brain, running through definitions and analogies, wading through a sea of numbers and letters and shapes.

A fever? Or is that way off?

Kim steps back a little, murmuring, "Hang on, guys. My mind's still a little rusty from summer holiday."

"Take your time," Roderick says, tipping his head.

Kim starts pacing the shed slowly, with only enough space among the clutter for three short strides before she has to turn around again.

To prevent herself from getting dizzy she slows. Breathes.

Okay.

Her mum always says to keep it simple where riddles are concerned: the most basic answer should always be the first guess. In all likelihood, it really wouldn't be some kind of bizarre magical virus. Nothing that specific.

'Give me drink and I die.' 

Kim furrows her brow. What dies when given water? Given liquid? No plant she knows of. Even a cactus needs water to live—

She stops pacing abruptly and sighs, annoyed with herself. Turns around and walks back over to the sawhorses. "Okay, is it fire?" she asks, a little timid.

If it is, she'll eat her shoe. That was so simple.

"The answer is fire, or a flame. Yes," Rodina replies, throwing her head about a little, satisfied. Roderick whinnies softly.

"I'm a tad bit slow today," Kim mutters, shaking her head. Both of them make hushing noises at her and she smiles.

There's a soft click, and the unremarkable bit of square space of floor between them opens up, a hidden trap door swinging downward and revealing a pitch dark hole beneath.

Rodina tips her head. "It's the first week back, Kimberly dear. You gave us the correct answer."

Roderick nods. "Indeed. It's not a race."

"Thanks guys," Kim says, putting one foot on the rung of the ladder that will take her downward. As she lowers herself in, she waves her wand—swish and flick—at the broken broomstick wedged in the door, muttering, and it comes free, floating back to its corner. With one more wave she extinguishes the gas lamp hanging from the ceiling, throwing the shed back into its previous sleepy darkness.

With a few more steps down the ladder she's beneath the floor, safely clear of the trap door. "Bye, you two!" she says kindly. "Until next time."

The both of them say their goodbyes and the trap door begins to swing upward slowly. As soon as it does, Kim mutters, "Lumos," pushing the spell out through her palm and igniting her hand like a torch. In another moment the door has shut completely with a second click, revealing an intricate carving that emits a soft blue glow: two magnificent horses facing each other with the Ravenclaw eagle sitting happily between them.

Kim smiles and begins climbing the ladder down carefully, her hand the only source of light in the dark. On her first time doing this she made the mistake of trying to climb down without a light, which resulted in her nearly slipping and breaking her neck. Clinging to the ladder with her heart thundering in her chest, she called up in a panic to Rodina and Roderick to open the trap door again.

They were very understanding—the ladder began moving on its own by magic at once, carrying her back up to them without her having to move. And after sitting up there for a minute to calm herself, she proceeded to climb down without issue.

As far as passage guardians go, they're really quite lovely.

Kim lets out an easy breath. The air cools the further she descends, the smell of damp earth filling her nose. Her foot soon hits the ground and she hops off, turning around to face the stone tunnel that will take her back to the castle. It's an obsidian kind of darkness but it doesn't make her apprehensive anymore. Not after years of using it.

Humming 'Today' by The Smashing Pumpkins—one of the songs she was playing earlier at the lake—under her breath, she walks along by the light of her hand, the whole thing a sloping incline.

At long last she comes to the wrought iron spiral staircase at the end. Craning her head back with a displeased huff she begins to climb it, up and up and up until she reaches the top and steps onto the landing. It's ten by ten feet or so, with a solid wall staring back at her and a bookshelf on the left, both reaching up to a ceiling she can't see, lost in the dark.

"Nox."

Kim runs a finger along a few of the book spines as she steps forward and leans up to the wall, lips nearly brushing the cold stone, so close that she hears her voice whisper back at her when she murmurs, "Fire."

She waits and the wall doesn't change, but she sticks her index finger out as if to poke at it. It passes into it, the wall now an illusion, and she sticks her head through to check if there's anyone around before she steps through.

"Hi Greg," she whispers, now finding herself standing beside a tall stone statue of a large bald man in a recessed nook of a Hogwarts corridor. The East Wing of the fifth floor, to be exact.

"Good evening Kim," Gregory the Smarmy whispers back, his voice like spun silk. And he's really not that bad at all; not as much as the nickname implies, anyway. "Neither as of yet," he says then, even quieter and meeting her eyes as she walks around to stand slightly in front of him. Answering her usual question before she asks.

She hums and glances about the corridor. If he hasn't seen Filch or Mrs. Norris come through here yet, then she will have to be double careful. Mrs. Norris is a bit trickier, but Filch, for all of his talk, is really quite predictable. He starts at a different part of the castle almost every night—his final patrol before he goes to bed—but tends to go in the same order: top to bottom, then bottom to top again.

"Thank you," Kim breathes, then shrugs out of one of her rucksack straps and swings it around to her front, opening it up and digging through until she finds what she's looking for: a faded, battered paperback novel. She takes a deep breath in and out and taps it with her wand. "Geminio."

The book becomes two, and she flips through the copy to check if there are words on the pages—habit now, as the first few times she tried the charm on a book, they all came out blank—then looks up at Gregory and pushes it into his large stone hand. "Here, I've got a new one for you. It's called Pride and Prejudice."

He peers down at her curiously and takes it, bringing it up to his face and squinting at the title by the light of the torch a little ways down the wall. Smiles crookedly, which means he's pleased. "Are you enjoying it?" he asks.

"Yeah," she whispers, backing up. She can't linger. "Right up your alley too, I reckon."

He continues to smile at her and gives her a nod. "Thank you very much."

She waves lightly and turns to walk away, descending the first set of stairs she comes to and winding her way through the castle carefully—through hidden passageways, along corridors, deeper and deeper down—until she's finally approaching the blank stretch of wall that serves as the entrance to the Slytherin common room.

Kim exhales. Despite the detour, she still feels light. Still buoyed, like she's floating on the surface of the water, staring up at the night sky.

.

The next morning finds Trini out in the greenhouses and wiping at her brow with the crook of her elbow, mindful not to touch her face with her dragon hide gloves, which are currently covered in Bubotober pus for the second time in two weeks.

Across the battered wooden table from her, Summer has a gleeful smile on her face as she pops another of the swells, causing strong-smelling pus to come flowing out and into a bottle Zack has at the ready. He stands uncharacteristically still, carefully maneuvering to catch all of it.

The smell is entirely of petrol and Trini finds herself profoundly homesick again, just like last week. It's a reminder of her dad's car repair garage, of days spent sitting on the smooth, cool concrete floor with her nose in a book, the sound of ratchets cranking and air spanners whirring in concert, spinning around some old song playing on the wireless into a familiar medley she associates with home.

Rocky DeSantos, a puppy of a person and roommate of Zack's, elbows her gently and she snaps out of it, pushing the bottle over to catch the pus now draining from the squeeze he's just popped.

"Spaced out there, Crazy Girl?" Zack asks, glancing quickly up at her then returning his focus to the same task.

Determined not to dignify the name with a response, Trini shoots him a glare. She pulled a bit of a fancy corkscrew in their first pick-up match a couple days ago—scoring, to be sure, but also nearly crashing into one of the goalhoop posts in the process.

She didn't expect the nickname to carry over, yet here she stands. Dealing with this shit.

"I love space, man," Rocky mutters absentmindedly, gripping another swell with a furrow in his brow at its refusal to pop.

Seeing this, Trini leans back a little. "That's nice," she deadpans, then raises her gloved hand up between them to protect herself after another forceful, unsuccessful attempt by him to pop it. Getting pus all over her and breaking out in some kind of ghastly reaction is not the way she wants her Monday to go. "But watch the trajectory of that shit, Houston, or we're gonna have a problem."

Rocky nods his head once, a sly, satisfied smirk playing at his mouth. "Roger that. Ground control hears you."

"Honestly," Summer says drily, glaring at Trini utterly unimpressed and running her fingers over a swell like she's trying to get the last bit out of a tube of toothpaste. "T, you'd be a lot cooler if you weren't such a fucking nerd."

Trini looks up to shoot a retort at her and sees a gentle darkness clouding Zack's face, a promise of a storm approaching in a fierce wind, jaw jumping under skin as he grits his teeth over and over with a side eye in Summer's direction. "And you'd be a better time if you weren't such a bitch," she quips, smiling at Summer sweetly.

And Trini watches Zack curiously, who clearly unwinds at her comment, even shaking his shoulders discreetly to get rid of the tension. Because he hasn't seen the two of them interact much, but this is her and Summer's relationship. Once quite hostile—at Summer's incitation, to be sure, back in their first year at Hogwarts—now turned into a continuous, crackling roast of each other that Trini quite delights at taking part in.

Summer used to be quite mean, as she herself admits. But she's like a personification of some... distant cousin of toxic masculinity, where she tends to be an arsehole to everyone as a litmus test and only respects them if they match her ferocity with equal (or better yet, greater) intensity. If someone gives whatever she throws at them right back to her, she gets a strange satisfaction out of it.

Her and Trini were rough for the first while; burning, scathing, spitting, with Trini being equally as vile in her unwillingness to be tread over, like an animal provoked to strike, until one day Summer's tone began to change, head tipping to the side, eyes brighter, exhibiting something like a tick where the corner of her mouth would twitch. All like she was flirting with stepping over the line that separated a mean comment from a joking one.

And Trini, though stunned at first, began inching ever so slowly to the lighter side of it all too, mirroring Summer. Suddenly, their exchanges constituted of ripping each other apart mercilessly and thoroughly enjoying it.

They've been mates ever since.

But Zack's response of being about to tell Summer off warms Trini's heart, though she would never say so. In their time spent together so far, her and Zack have made a real effort to get to know each other, and though they've only really been hanging out since last spring, she knows that loyalty is ingrained deep into his nature.

"Time, you lot," Professor Sprout calls from where she's standing at the back of the humid greenhouse, all earthy smells mixed with the petrol. "Stopper the bottles and bring them to me, then you're free to go. Next week we're on to the next."

Trini grabs the little crate that contains the bottles from their table, waiting with an impatient teasing glare as Summer pushes a cork into the last. Once they're all safely inside, she starts making her way up to Professor Sprout.

She sees Gia eye her from her place slightly ahead, picking up her pace like an idiot to beat Trini there, glass bottles clinking in her crate obnoxiously.

Trini glares but waits to act until Gia turns her back. When she does, she positively sprints with her crate as quietly as she can muster, mindful of not tripping up and making a fool of herself, and arrives in front of Sprout just before Gia.

She shoots Gia a smug look, who looks thoroughly appalled.

"You sneaky, condescending, tiny rubbish bin—"

Professor Sprout gives Gia a look and she shuts up immediately, murmuring under her breath and stepping on Trini's foot hard as Sprout counts their bottles and marks the boxes with the names of their respective tables.

Jason Scott comes sauntering up on their right then, placing his own crate down gently and nodding once at Trini.

"Hi Trini. Hope Zack didn't do anything too destructive today."

Trini opens her mouth to respond, only to be hip-checked roughly to the side by Gia. "You're very pretty," she says lowly, eyeing Jason up and down in a manner she usually reserves for appraising freshly baked donuts in the morning. "Proper ride, really."

Jason's whole body has a bit of a flustered fit at that: his eyes blink rapidly, mouth opens, closes, twitches. His fingers pinch at his robes and he rocks on the balls of his feet a little, before seemingly deciding on a course of action and tipping his weight backward slightly, like he's trying to lean away without being too obvious.

Trini watches this with sympathy and shakes her head before stepping in between them. "No," she scolds, grabbing Gia's gloved hand with her own and tugging her away from him. Gia pouts her lips in a good impression of a smug duck and shrugs, allowing herself to be pulled back to her table and dropped off with Chip.

"Keep this—" Trini grunts, nodding at Gia, "here with you." Chip smirks and gives her a little salute.

Trini walks back to her table and strips off her gloves, waving her wand and spelling them clean before putting them away and shouldering her bag. Zack comes over to walk with her and Summer, and the three of them catch Jason on their way out of the greenhouse.

"Sorry about that," Trini says, grimacing at him and adjusting her mustard yellow rucksack strap on her shoulder.

Jason chuckles. "No worries. You should see Kim when she gets going—she could give your friend a run for her money."

Trini hums. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me in the slightest," she quips, then jerks her head towards Hagrid's cabin as they make to go their separate ways. "Tell her to turn the charm off for the Skrewts though, won't you?"

The four of them diverge and Jason turns his head to keep eye contact with her. "I'd be better to tell her to turn it up, actually. She has a listening problem when it comes to me," he calls, voice raised a little to carry across the growing space between them. He waves goodbye and Zack blows her a kiss before she turns around and continues walking to the castle with Summer, who's lagged a bit behind to wait for her.

"Gia hit on the poor bloke?" Summer asks, full well knowing the answer.

Trini nods. "Typical day in the life."

.

For the second week in a row, their Transfiguration lesson is spent attempting to change hedgehogs into pincushions. And a handful of them manage to get it this time—Trini included—but Professor McGonagall, seemingly very unsatisfied with their House's progress on the whole, sets them a heavy assignment due for their next lesson.

Groaning internally, Trini makes her way out of the classroom feeling the homework pressure. It's only the second week, for fuck's sake.

She spends their lunch hour shaking her head over and over at Summer and Chip struggling to copy her Arithmancy notes down—wrestling and jostling each other unnecessarily with the page sitting on the table between them, acting in a way that reminds Trini of her twin brothers messing with each other on a particularly long car ride.

They really should be separated, but Trini, Gia, and the other Hufflepuffs in their vicinity are finding it much too entertaining to put a stop to it.

And the both of them are usually more on top of their shit, but in their defense, Professor Vector technically didn't give them any homework last week. What she did do was hint that there might be a pop quiz to brush up on last year's concepts, and Trini made a review sheet as a result.

Because Professor Vector is certainly a fair teacher, but her coursework is known for being anything but an easy time. Though Trini's sure Chip and Summer will both do fine—given the pop quiz is just review anyway—them taking it seriously is understandable.

A few minutes before the bell is set to ring Zack catches Trini's eye from the Gryffindor table next door, and she nods before standing and shouldering her bag.

They bid goodbye to Gia and merge with the steady stream of students making their way out of the Great Hall, and Zack comes speeding along from behind them, slowing to walk beside Summer. "T, I thought our eyes meeting across the room was supposed to be significant. Then you go and leave me behind."

Trini shrugs. "Gotta keep up, homeboy."

Him and his regular grab-bag of Gryffindors sit in their row, and as predicted, Professor Vector begins the class with a pop quiz.

The rest of the lecture—a double period—passes in a mix of numbers, formulas, and calculations, and they're set a bunch of questions for homework, as is typical.

"I owe you, T," Summer says, bopping into her shoulder a little as they leave the classroom, waving goodbye to Zack as they all make their way down to supper.

Chip nods from her right. "Same. You saved our arses."

Trini hums. "I'll think of something for you two to do for me. Indentured servitude, likely."

This earns her a light chuckle from both of them, and Summer dips her head a little. "As long as I don't have to launder your Quidditch kit, we're in business."

Chapter Text

Two days later finds Kim in the Owlery, watching the school owl that's carrying her letter to her mum become smaller and smaller against the overcast sky. It bears the news that her mum had insisted she keep her in the loop about—mainly how her mental health is faring, how the situation is with Amanda, how lessons are, and the like.

She hums to herself as Billy shifts his weight beside her. "Owls are some of the most calming creatures alive," he says quietly, craning his head back to peer at the hundreds of sleeping birds perched above them.

Kim nods, turning to look at him with soft eyes. Theirs is an odd relationship, borne out of proximity more than anything. Because she's known Jason her entire life—they grew up together in the suburbs of East London, where Jason's parents and little sister still reside. Together with Tommy Oliver, the three of them were inseparable all the way up until Kim and Jason, a school year above, left for Hogwarts.

But as soon as they set foot in the castle—and even in the months before, really—Kim had started to change. Younger and easily influenced, she became too concerned with the new people she hoped to gain favour with and the image she wanted to construct.  

Kim found herself quickly becoming something that Jason never would've been okay with; something different, meaner.

He tried to keep them together, but knowing Kim better than anyone else around, he also got the message quite fast. She treated him like a particularly unwanted nuisance, and they had stood right here in the Owlery one fine October morning, in only their second month at Hogwarts, when she flat-out told him that she didn't want him in her life anymore.

It was cruel and due to no fault of his own, but he respected her wishes. His friendship with Billy had sprung up out of that ruin, from a place of hurt and utter heartbreak that Kim knows she will spend the rest of her life trying to make up for.

And she's told Billy countless times before, but she's certain that she will never truly be able to put her thankfulness for him into adequate words. Because the reality is this: when Kim was nowhere to be found in her former best friend's life, Billy came in and was there.

It's that simple.

Not that Jason wanted for friends—he's an easy to love kind of person. But Billy represents a depth and fraternity that Kim knows Jason yearned for upon arriving at Hogwarts, to a place brand new and exciting but isolating in its novelty. He needed someone genuine who wouldn't just drop him out of the blue, turning their back on him in an act of horrible selfishness.

And once Tommy arrived in their second year, Kim knows that she was there with Jason as much as she could be. Though sorted into Slytherin like Kim, Tommy easily avoided all of the vitriol and managed to find the absolute best, most kind people in their House to befriend. Outside of their common room she was present in Jason's life like a best friend should be, providing everything for him that Kim refused to.

But that first year was entirely Billy—someone for Jason to be around without expectation or pretense. Someone to show him that the world could still be true and kind and good in the face of overwhelming personal evidence to the contrary; a person to quietly help him pick up the fractured pieces of himself and start to build again.

Kim shakes herself a little to come back into the present and takes a deep breath, considering Billy as he stares up at the owls above them. She's still working at figuring him out; he's certainly someone she never would have befriended had it not been for Jason, but her life is so much better having him in it.

"Shall we?" Billy says lightly, feeling her eyes on him and gesturing to the door. Wednesday is the day the two of them spend the entire morning together; they have a shared free period now, having just finished Herbology.

"Yeah," Kim replies, walking towards the door and pushing it open. "Library still okay? I'd like to get that write-up done for Sprout before we get saddled with more work this week."

Billy nods and they begin to make their way, Kim still getting faint whiffs of a smell akin to petrol here and there, no doubt left over from their harvesting of Bubotober pus this morning in class. It seems stuck in her nose, but it's not entirely unpleasant. Just noticeably present.

They pass the pearly-white ghost form of the Grey Lady in a corridor and Billy waves at her, getting a small smile in return. "Will your mum be continuing her pattern of weekend visits from last year, Kim?"

Kim shakes her head. "No, we agreed that I'm to write her every week instead. She was all for coming to see me as often as before, but I didn't think it necessary." She pauses, the corner of her mouth quirking up a little. "She's still going to come on Hogsmeade trip days, though. Figure it'll be a nice break from the city."

Billy nods. "That's great. She's a very lovely person, it's clear she cares about you immensely."

"She does," Kim says quietly. "I'm very lucky."

They soon arrive at the library and make their way inside, Billy just ahead of her and singing Stevie Wonder's 'Living for the City' softly, doing a goofy little dance as they enter the boxy wood-panelled hallway that serves as the entrance. Kim chuckles under her breath at his antics, gently tapping along to the beat on the side of her thigh.

This brief thoroughfare always feels more like a nondescript castle passage than an official entrance, only twenty feet or so long and just over half that wide; it requires no more than a mere handful of soft strides to cross, trainers padding along the beautiful, ornate rug that runs the length of it.

Passing the brass book return slot and the ever-colourful bulletin board that covers the majority of the left wall, she catches a few club adverts, neatly written schedules for the student-to-student tutoring program the Ravenclaws run, and offers of sale for everything from old textbooks to incomplete sets of Gobstones.

With a few more steps, her field of vision at once opens up to reveal the main part of the library.

It's gorgeous in a way that caused Kim's breath to catch the first time she saw it, and she exhales a content sigh as they walk forward into the space, entering the main stacks and beginning to pass row after row of ancient dark wood shelves that tower over them on both sides. It's not too busy, mostly populated with upper-years at this time of morning; at a glance, some have come prepared with a steaming mug for company while others still look half asleep.

And it feels both airy and cozy in here, offering a study environment option for just about anybody: countless large wood tables scattered all over, small nooks in reading rooms filled with squishy armchairs, and personal desks of varying sizes abounds. There's a diverse landscape, sprawling and ever-changing; certainly difficult to navigate, some days. But there is always somewhere, reliably a place for you if you're willing to look, the library as whimsical and alive as the castle it lives in.

As they make their way out of the main stacks and towards an archway closer to the back, Kim yawns wildly and runs a hand through her hair. It seems brighter in here than usual—the late summer sunlight streaming through tall windows, bathing open books in gold and making wet ink shine. On their left, a student stands on his tiptoes and pulls a book from a shelf, causing a gentle swirl of dust to appear in the air, backlit and visible.

There's something like ease coming off of everyone they pass, the tension that builds around exams nowhere to be found amongst the gentle, unhurried scratching of quills; the smell of parchment and old wood managing to keep the whole place imbued with something softer, at least until midterm season arrives.

Turning down another row, Kim ducks to avoid a book at her eye level that's occupied with shelving itself and Billy swerves casually around another, still singing quietly.

They soon arrive at the large table that's become theirs, the feeling much like coming home at the end of a long day. Kim drops her bag on the floor with a huff, collapsing into her regular seat next to Jason's usual chair by the window. Billy takes his place at the head of the table, a bookshelf at his back, and immediately begins arranging his school supplies in his preferred pattern.

She lets out another content sigh, and they fall into comfortable silence for the remainder of their free period.

.

Around an hour later, Kim's reading over her completed Herbology assignment for the second time when Billy's voice sounds softly from her right.

"Lunchtime?"

She nods slowly, rolling up her assignment and beginning to pile her things back into her bag. The bell already rang fifteen minutes ago or so, but they wanted to finish up the last of their work. "You know what I really want?" she mutters, and Billy gives her a questioning look. "Frozen yoghurt. Like, a whole pint of it."

"You're a strange one, K," comes a familiar voice from behind her.

Kim turns around and a giant smile spreads across her face at the sight of Jason and his passenger—Tommy Oliver herself, clinging to his back like a lanky koala. He has his tattered messenger bag slung across his torso and Tommy has her dark green rucksack on her shoulders, and to Kim's post-essay brain they're an odd sight, lumbering about like a bipedal turtle on stilts.

"You know me, Tom," Kim returns, getting to her feet and stretching. Billy walks over to stand at her shoulder, and with the unexpected presence of all three of them around her, so much of… everything feels lighter at once.

Jason smiles, hitching Tommy up a bit higher on his back. "Sorry I'm late, guys—" he starts, but Kim and Billy wave him off. "Picked this sack of potatoes up on the way. Figured we'd all go eat together."

"'Picked up' is putting it much more calmly than the reality," Tommy chirps, not making to move from her spot. "I may've run at him screaming from behind and jumped on him. Almost got jinxed, eh Peppy?"

Jason pulls a face. Tommy's called him that—a short-speak of 'Peter Pan'—since the three of them were little kids. "Dangerous times, Tom," he says, voice faux-grave. Tipping to the side a little, he reaches up and ruffles her afro curls, which earns him a whole lot of nips at his fingers.

"Do nOT TOUCH THE FRAWK, MAN!" Tommy groans, ever-protective of her frohawk. She begins messing his golden brown hair up with gusto and covers his eyes with her hands, to which Jason starts spinning around precariously like an idiot, holding his arms out on either side of himself for balance; barking out an uproarious laugh.

There's an aggressive shush sent their way immediately, and Kim bristles.

Annoyed, she turns her head, ready to launch a few choice curse words back in order to adequately communicate the definition of Conversation-Friendly library zones—

Instead of a cheeky student, though, she's met with the sight of the school librarian: Madam Pince. To be sure, she's seemingly appeared out of nowhere a few stacks away, waving her wand at a pile of books floating in the air as if she had been there all along.

Oh no.

Kim feels three pairs of teasingly delighted eyes on her as she freezes in place, screaming in horror (internally, though not very far down) and wondering where in the eldritch fuck Pince came from. Briefly, she considers the chances of an interdimensional portal to the underworld being present in the Hogwarts library before she feels Pince send a bone-chilling glare at HER, specifically.

She's slapped back to her senses and winces, not making eye contact but mouthing "Sorry" before she grabs Jason's elbow and steers him hastily in the direction of the library entrance.

Jason and Tommy both chuckle under their breath and Kim tries to shoot them her most disapproving look as she mutters, "Not a word."

Once they're safely out of harm's way Tommy seems to take pity on her, redirecting the focus to resume their previous line of conversation by scoffing down at Jason. "White people," she mutters, twisting around on his back to pout at Kim and Billy accusingly. "Where's my minority solidarity, friends?"

Kim chuckles, her fright ebbing away into happiness at Tommy and Jason's continued goofing around. "Your hair is perfect as always, stop being such a baby."

"It does look great, Tommy," Billy says, swinging his arms at his sides. "Besides, you did a bigger number on his hair. Justice has been served."

Tommy nods proudly. "It'll take you an hour to get it back to its regular floppy goodness, I expect," she mutters, planting a kiss on Jason's cheek.

They soon cross the library threshold and enter the corridor outside, continuing to banter as they make their way down to the Great Hall for lunch.

Arriving to a rapidly-filling hall, Jason looks around and leads them towards the closest end of the Gryffindor table. He sits on the bench sideways and Tommy slides off his back to sit next to him, where she promptly grabs a turkey sandwich, dunks it in gravy, and sinks her teeth into it.

Kim and Billy sit opposite them, piling food onto their own plates and beginning to eat immediately. Predictably, Jason turns part of his attention to his hair, running his fingers through it and not-so-subtly checking his comically warped reflection in a pumpkin juice flagon.

"So what have you kids been up to?" Tommy asks around another bite of sandwich, tipping her head back to pour water into her mouth. "It's great being back and all, and the excitement around the Tournament is cool, but after seeing you all for the majority of the summer I like, miss you and shit."

Jason smiles at her, a depthless fondness in his eyes. "We can make this a standing lunch date, if you'd like."

"I'd love that," Kim says, and Billy nods his agreement as well.

Because this past summer was the first they'd spent together again in years. The ease that Jason, Kim, and Tommy fell back into—almost like they'd never been apart—made Kim wonder how she ever got on without them. Having Billy there was an interesting addition, but it felt just as natural with him around, somehow.

"Done," Tommy says easily. "And before I forget — Kimcam, please tell my nephew I love him."

Kim smiles, bringing her hand up to her neck and running a finger along Ptero's spine. After a few seconds of talking back and forth in a barely audible Parseltongue, she replies, "He says he loves you too, and he's happy to see you."

Tommy pulls a ridiculous but entirely genuine sappy face, reaching to grab a treacle tart with one hand while still holding the last bit of her sandwich in the other.

Jason rolls his eyes affectionately, letting his breath out in a little huff. "But nothing new, really, to answer your question," he says, taking a pumpkin pasty for himself. "You know we've played a bit of pick-up to try and fill the IHC void — are you sure you don't want to play with us?"

Tommy shakes her head. "You lot have fun. Maybe once I get used to all these new electives and shit." She sighs dramatically, gesturing sadly with her sandwich. "The schedule is currently kicking my arse."

Jason gives her a soft smile. "Okay. Would love to have you whenever you find a minute."

"Absolutely," Kim agrees, smiling too.

Jason pats Tommy's forearm and shrugs. "Other than that, though, it's been quiet."

They continue to chat as they eat with the hall bustling around them. As is typical, Kim finds her attention divided between talking and people-watching, and her wandering eyes eventually fall on Dumbledore chatting animatedly with Professor Sinistra over pudding up at the staff table.

Kim hums to herself, chewing on the last bit of her pumpkin pasty. "I am curious about how the Tournament is going to go down though. The teachers are talking it up quite a lot."

The other three nod their agreement. "Bridge and Carlos—those two gangly puppies from my year—" Tommy starts, smiling fondly, "keep going on about how they're gonna enter despite the age restriction. No idea what they plan to do, but it's bound to be free entertainment."

Billy frowns. "There certainly has to be some kind of method to control for that..." he trails off, looking thoughtful. "Admittedly, it would be very cool to compete. But it seems quite dangerous? Plenty of people have died in the past — I understand the administration wanting it to be more regulated."

Kim's reminded of something then, and she leans in a bit over the table to address the three of them. "On that morbid note," she says, voice very quiet and looking between Jason and Tommy, "I was waiting until we saw you, Tom, to tell you lot: I got a letter from my mum yesterday. She said that my dad contacted her."

Jason's eyebrows shoot up and Tommy's face falls, all of her usual joking manner vanishing.

Kim feels a rush of affection for them both as she continues, "They apparently met up to talk last week, which you know is unheard of. She didn't give me a lot of detail—didn't want to say it over a letter, I'd expect—but er," she pauses, considering how to phrase it. "His... scar, from the war? It's acting up."

Tommy and Jason both seem to understand immediately, but Billy looks confused. "Kim, I'm sorry, but I don't know what that means."

Jason holds a finger up to his lips, then whispers, "You know Kim's dad was on the Dark Lord's side during the war, Billy. He has a tattoo—"

"A Dark Mark. Here," Tommy interjects quietly, pushing back the sleeve of her robes and running two fingers over the underside of her left forearm, feather-light.

Billy looks taken aback. "On his arm?" he asks, apprehension in his eyes.

"Yeah," Kim says softly. "They were… branded with it, and after everything was over it went from jet black to something like a scar." She pauses, sighing. "It's been like that for the last, what, thirteen years? But my mum said that it's been getting—" she makes quotes in the air, "more apparent."

Kim furrows her brow and takes a calming breath, feeling Ptero stroke the back of her neck with his tail soothingly. At the touch, she relaxes a bit without even trying to. "You guys know my mum, and you know she's not the type to make a fuss over nothing. If she didn't think it important then she wouldn't have told me. But I just... it freaked me out, and I wanted to tell you." She pauses, voice becoming smaller. "I can't talk about it with anyone else."

She runs her fingers through her hair and grips a bit at the roots as all of them just look at each other for a few moments, contemplative. "Thank you for telling us, K. Honestly," Tommy says, reaching across the table to take Kim's hand. It's warm, soft. "We're here with you always."

"Thanks," Kim says quietly.

"You know," Jason mutters, looking thoughtful, "Professor Moody said something in our first class last week—that his teaching this year was a 'special favour' to Dumbledore." He pauses. "You don't reckon he might know something...?"

Billy's brow furrows. "Professor Dumbledore is incredibly powerful, it isn't unreasonable to think he might. And it's definitely curious, given everything that happened at the World Cup, isn't it?" He shakes his head, eyes flitting from side to side as he stares at the table like he's reading something written there. "I know the Ministry is saying it was just a group of intoxicated idiots messing around, but I read up on it a bit. There isn't a lot of information, but you apparently need to be..." he pauses, considering his words. "You can't just be anyone to cast that spell."

They all know what he means without him having to say it—the person who cast the Mark very likely had a proper connection to Voldemort at one point. Whether that connection is in the past remains to be seen.

The bell rings and it startles all of them out of their huddle.

Jason sighs and covers their hands with his own on the table, squeezing once. "Keep us in the loop, K. If you want to talk about it, we're here. But that's definitely unsettling."

Tommy nods, and Kim gives the both of them a soft smile. Billy hums next to her, and she once again finds herself feeling incredibly safe in their presence.

The four of them start to get up, shouldering bags and stretching. "You two have free period now, right?" Tommy asks the boys, who nod in response.

"And I have Ancient Runes," Kim says, voice a light sing-song.

Tommy pulls a face, turning and making to start walking out of the Great Hall. "Your enthusiasm is gross. Try not to drool too much over Professor Babbling, won't you?"

Kim feels her ears go red. "You're such an arse!" she says, throwing Tommy an impassioned flick of the Vs.

"Excellent form," Jason mutters, grinning.

Tommy starts cackling then stops abruptly, eyes going wide as her gaze falls on something over Kim's shoulder. Her cheeks puff out comically and she scurries away, making a beeline for the door.

A second later, Kim turns around to find Professor McGonagall's face a foot from her own.

"Er—" Kim starts, suddenly unable to speak. Her voice seems stuck somewhere in her throat, evidently too frightened to emerge.

Professor McGonagall inclines her head, staring down her spectacles. "I know you and I don't have Transfiguration until tomorrow, Miss Hart," she says curtly, "but I would be happy to get started on teaching you a thing or two now, if you insist on waving your hand around in that manner."

Kim gulps. "No, Professor. I'm sorry— it won't happen again."

"Good," Professor McGonagall says simply, walking past her towards the doors.

Once she's out of earshot, Kim exhales heavily. "Holy shit." Jason bursts out laughing, and Billy's smiling, shaking his head. "Guys, I almost just died!" she whines, pouting like an idiot. "This is no laughing matter!"

Jason comes around the table and pats her on the shoulder. "I know what'll cheer you up."

Kim huffs. "And what is that, Jason Scott?" she asks, shooting him an unimpressed look.

Jason doesn't miss a beat, leaning down to stage-whisper into her ear, "You'll be seeing Babbling in like, five minutes."

She smacks him on the shoulder.

"Ow!"

.

Kim shuffles quickly down the corridor, hitching her rucksack up on her shoulder as she speeds into the classroom, darting through the door just as it's about to close behind Professor Babbling.

She sits down quietly and gets her stuff out as inconspicuously as she can, trying not to look out of breath as she tips her head back a bit in relief.

Once she's got her quill in hand and Babbling starts talking, her gaze drifts to the front row to find Trini sitting alone again, slightly rotated to the right with her leg draped over the armrest of the empty seat beside her as she writes. The position looks ridiculous but somehow comfortable, and Kim understands—she's got one leg folded underneath herself at the moment.

To be sure, the darkness of the room made necessary by the presence of the projector makes this class feel more informal than any other, and while Babbling is by no means a pushover, Kim's certain she would let them all sit upside down if she thought they were paying attention adequately.

As she writes, listens, learns, she gets lost in it—feeling outside of herself in the low light. Here and there she finds herself peering over at Trini, eyes drawn to her out of curiosity, mostly unconsciously.

And the conversation with Tommy, Jason, and Billy is still causing a tiny undercurrent of anxiety to flow through her mind otherwise, not present enough to be uncomfortable, but certainly pulling part of her focus.

She waited to tell them because she wanted Tommy there, the only person she knows who really can understand this particular feeling—of having a parent on the wrong side of everything—given Tommy's late mum was part of the Death Eater ranks along with Kim's father during the war.

To have something like this coming up now certainly just trudges everything up again; all of that pain and hurt, betrayal and heartbreak. But to not tell Tommy, or to tell the boys before her, would feel wrong.

The presence of Death Eaters at the World Cup was something else entirely to see—those masks, those cloaks—and it had brought out something in Kim unexpected.

Not fear, but anger.

At fourteen she wanted to run at the group of them, illogical and crazed, screaming and yelling. And it would have been foolish, but something darker emerged in her that night, threatening to burst through the gates of her consciousness; something raging, crackling, unmerciful. And Kim wanted to hurt them beyond just stopping, beyond just subduing. She wanted to make the group who took her father from her feel the pain she feels.

And she's thought about it before, meeting him again in a situation like that. Vague imaginations blurred at the edges play out in her mind, recurring dreams in the dark. Always the same: him in his Death Eater robes, standing in front of her. Just the two of them staring at each other across open space, frozen.

To this day, Kim doesn't know what she would do if she encountered him proper. Say, if she bumped into him on the street — him tall, dark, handsome in his long black wool coat with the high collar, heavy leather boots taking him somewhere unseen, unnamed.

Because... what would she do? Would she try to fight him? Or would she cry into his arms, tell him how much she fucking misses him?

And she really isn't sure, given that these days, and for years, really, she hasn't been sure if Ted Hart is actually that person—her dad—anymore, or if he ever was. Is it possible for her father and the man who was a Death Eater to be separate, somehow?

It's a strange kind of mental gymnastics, to hold two completely different versions of someone in your mind at once. They separate, blur together, separate again; a broken, fleeting double vision, impossible to reconcile.

And would she want to? Reconcile them? Accept that those two people are really just one; that her father is both a Death Eater and the man who raised her, who was there when she was afraid, holding her at night and telling her that he would keep the monsters away?

What happens when the person protecting you from the world becomes exactly what you needed protection from in the first place?

And bits of her memories play through her mind now, all helped along by the sepia tone of classroom, the soft light casting shadows that could be hiding him just at the edge of her vision, hiding him on those days he would play around with her in the house, popping out from behind a curtain, laughing and sweeping her up—smaller then, thinner—into his arms.

Clicks of the projector could be a record player starting, stopping, framing them dancing in the kitchen with Kim's mum to some old song. Their family together forever: one, two, three. Bright smiles flashing, growing, brilliant and warming like the sun.

Kim writes lecture notes as it all plays out, half of her mind occupied by the present and half stuck in the past, Professor Babbling's voice overlaid over the memories like double exposure on an old photograph.

And with her hand cramping as usual, the lamps start to go up slowly, gradually, increasing in brightness until that stark contrast is swept away, the shadows slinking back, running from the harsh light. All of it no longer an outline, a potential for her mind to fill with images that she incessantly, constantly reaches for.

But you can never go home again, can you?

Kim takes a deep breath in and lets it out slowly, beginning to pack her things up. And Trini's there at the front taking her time, sliding back to sit in a semi-regular position that would be considered comfortable by most humans, tracing fingers over the side of her palm, over the dark ink smudged there.

And Kim raises her own hand, feeling like she's still not entirely here; still stuck in her own mind somewhere. Sees the ink there too, just the same as Trini.

She shakes herself a little and packs up faster, considering approaching Trini again. But she's at the front, and Kim would have to walk by Amanda's friends to get to her, there's no way around it. Going up to the front, sitting at the front—she could just as well paint a sign on her back that says, 'Hit Me'.

And Kim should really leave the classroom now.

But she's watching Trini while the rest of the class packs up in what could be slow motion, all of it happening at the borders of her consciousness, on her peripherals, when Trini runs a hand through her hair absentmindedly. And Kim's stomach seems to trip over something, stumbling a little, doing an attempt at a somersault before righting itself.

Hell, she's beautiful.

Kim sighs and shakes her head lightly. Not today, not today. She's too out of it; her mind feels like the dregs left over at the bottom of a teacup.

Couldn't talk to Trini properly right now, no.

So Kim gets up. Turns, leaves, walking out into the airy, bright corridor. Leaving her ruminations—and every one of her almosts—behind for the moment.

.

"Look at her fly!" Jason shouts, imitating a Quidditch announcer as Kimberly streaks down the pitch with the Quaffle tucked under her arm, having grabbed it once Billy scored on the opposite end.

Flying just behind the play, Trini waves at Zack like she's guiding an airplane onto a tarmac and makes a few motions before pointing to herself, then to Kimberly's right side. Bless him, he somehow seems to get it, and gives her a thumbs up while a cheeky grin spreads across his face.

Within a few seconds he comes to glide in on Kimberly's left shoulder languidly before starting to jostle her a bit, miming at reaching for the Quaffle with gusto, and Trini can hear her laugh as she tries to strong-arm him.

That's when Trini swoops in, giving the Quaffle a hard punch to knock it out of Kimberly's firm grasp. Zack pulls around Kimberly to block her just long enough for Trini to go into a quick swerve downward and grab the ball, where she makes a sharp turn to go streaking back the other way.

"HAH!" Trini shouts, turning her head to see Billy's eyes widen before he pulls around too. As soon as she levels out he comes in to fly right at her shoulder, flashing a toothy smile.

And she senses Kimberly right above, glancing up to see her grinning down at her from ten feet up, seemingly delighted at having the ball stolen from her in such a manner.

"How's the weather up there?" Trini calls, grinning right back.

She hears Kimberly chuckle in response just before Trini's ancient Cleansweep Six starts to do the thing where it brakes on its own a little. Used to it by now, she uses it to her advantage, coming into the scoring area and winding up as if aiming for one of the hoops and forcing Kimberly to change tack a bit to match her speed.

Anticipating a scoring attempt, Kimberly comes streaking downward like a shot, looking to block the ball, but Trini pulls a fake and tosses it to Billy instead.

"AGH!" Kimberly yells, laughing, missing the Quaffle with her foot by an inch.

And internally, Trini is impressed. That dive was on a hairpin, and to be able to go from flying normally to shooting down at such a sharp angle takes a whole ton of skill. A certain kind of recklessness, too, which she finds incredibly... admirable.

Trini certainly knew Kimberly was good—she's watched her play for years. But they've only ever played in an official match against each other once, and being on the pitch with her is a whole other thing entirely. Trini's having to seriously focus on playing it cool, even in an unofficial scrimmage where they're all just messing around.

Because Kimberly is a force of nature when she plays, and it still makes Trini kind of perplexed every time she does something to drive that point home. Pulling off a move that should be difficult but somehow making it seem effortless is a great example.

Head in the game, Gomez.

Trini tunes back in as Billy catches her pass and shoots, with Jason coming in just a bit too late to slap the ball away before it sails through the left goal hoop.

"SCORE!" Zack shouts, flying around to hover beside Trini and whooping as Kimberly redirects her broom to streak after the falling Quaffle, catching it and bringing it back up to them. And when she comes level with everyone, it's with messy hair and bright eyes; there's an ease to her posture that radiates a carefree kind of happiness.

And Trini has a memory that flits to the front of her mind then, of Kimberly telling her the day they met about how she finds Quidditch freeing. How she doesn't think she'll ever get enough of it.

Looking at her now, Trini can see just how genuine she was being in that moment. Not that it's a surprise, but to be that candid and open with a stranger about something you love so much is a certain kind of bravery. And it's undeniable, the truth of what Kimberly said then; it's written all over her right now, coming off her in waves that float around, like words being read aloud to the wind.

Trini suddenly has an acute awareness flash through her, telling her that she's... flying? And she's about to 'No shit, Sherlock' herself when a sensation starts up at the crown of her head and begins to flutter down her back, causing her breath to hitch.

Because, yes, to be clear, she's very much aware that she's currently playing a sport on a broomstick—literally flying—and there's most definitely a certain kind of rush that she gets every single time she starts sailing through the air. But that's not the same as what's happening to her right now.

Here in this moment, she really... feels like she's flying. It's reminiscent of the very first time she got on a broomstick: like a ballooning elation has inflated in her chest, lifting her up as that gentle electric sensation continues to spread all the way to her fingertips and toes, up and down her spine. The entire experience catches her off guard so much that she has to shake herself a little.

Serious question, is this what an aneurysm feels like?

"Nifty little play you two pulled there," Kimberly calls then, out of breath and giving Trini and Zack a measured grin. She tosses the Quaffle in one hand lazily, and Trini finds herself still not entirely tuned in, her gaze lingering there, watching her wrist move.

She shakes herself again. God, these people are going to think she's a space case.

They don't seem to have noticed, though, and Zack winks in response to Kim's comment. "I just do what she tells me," he says, jerking his head toward Trini. "Crazy Girl and her crazy plays."

Trini grunts. "How long are you planning on going with that nickname, exactly?"

"Indefinitely," Zack chirps.

"Lovely."

Jason pipes up from where he's hovering next to Billy, "Anyone fancy calling it a night? I reckon we're going to lose light soon." He gestures to the candyfloss sky, all pinks and blues floating above the Scottish mountains, teasing them with a promise of a summer night's sweetness.

Kimberly nods and stops tossing the Quaffle in the air; her carefree, somehow untouchable persona melting a little as she sends a warm, genuine smile at Jason. "Old man getting tired, I see," she says, then scrunches her nose at him when he scoffs. "Kidding. I'm ready for bed. Are you guys all okay with stopping, though?"

Zack nods along with Trini, and Billy smiles at all of them as he says, "Given we've all expressed interest in playing like this twice a week from now on, stopping earlier here and there should be just fine. On Tuesday night maybe we'll play right up until it gets dark."

Trini smiles at Billy before looking around at the other three. They've all had so much fun thus far that playing twice a week seemed an easy decision.

With consensus the five of them start to make their way down to the ground, and Trini lets out a big yawn. Tomorrow is Friday and she has a bunch of homework to get through on the weekend, but these pick-up games have been great. She hopes there will be many more to come, and it seems that the rest of the group feels the same way.

Kimberly yawns wildly a heartbeat after Trini starts, half-covering her mouth with her hand. And it's soon apparent that Trini's started a trend—Jason, Zack, and Billy all follow suit not a moment later.

The five of them look at each other with little bits of pleasant surprise flickering on their faces, mostly at the notion that none of them really realised how tired they were until this moment.

Trini smiles. Time flies, and all that.

Chapter Text

Kim emerges onto the fifth floor and peers around, a familiar tickle of pleasant, yet slightly apprehensive rules-breaking anticipation scratching at her scalp. And she knows the risk of being caught is much less at this hour—it's half-past four in the morning, well after Filch's bedtime. But due to the continuous unpermitted outings, her behaviour in this particular part of the castle is almost instinct at this point, and with a careful first step into the corridor she sets off at a lurch, scurrying along.

She approaches Gregory the Smarmy at a quick pace, shoes barely kissing the floor with how quietly she's moving. He looks up though, ever aware despite being asleep just a moment ago, and nods once as she approaches.

"Hey Greg."

"Kim. An early outing today, I see."

She nods. "Got to get time in while the weather lasts."

Gregory sighs, amused, looking down at her with raised eyebrows and lips pursed. "Though you will still be out there regardless, I know, like some kind of ice sprite. Flouncing about without a care of the chill."

Kim smiles and shrugs. "Can't be helped."

He inclines his head. "I expect you would like one of your back-up passwords, and I do believe I have the perfect one, if you could just hang on for a brief moment—" he twists around on his stone base and sticks his arm straight through the wall behind him, reaching. Pulls out a book a moment later. Clearing his throat, he brings his glasses—which are made of stone with no glass in them at all, the movement so purely out of the force of some living, breathing habit—up from their chain around his neck to perch on his nose. Blinking like he's concentrating (though his large fingers are practised at this by now), he flips it open to a dog-eared page.

"I say, I squealed so loudly when I read this yesterday that I scared the wits out of a pair of students. It is divine, ah, where is it now..." he pauses, running a stubby index finger along the page. Hums after a moment. "Here it is: 'I had not known you a month before I felt you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.'"

Kim looks up at him seriously and nods. "Classic line. Bloke got absolutely obliterated, didn't he?"

Gregory makes a pleased twittering noise, a gleeful twinkle in his eye. "He so much deserved it, the pompous bastard."

"You said you read that bit yesterday, so are you about halfway then? Enjoying it?" she asks, smiling. Genuinely curious to know his opinion. And years ago, she wouldn't have thought that a man with 'smarmy' in his nickname would have a certain fondness for novels with epic love stories in them—or novels in general—yet here she stands, discussing Pride and Prejudice with him like they're part of a Hogwarts book club.

And they kind of are, really, by their own doing: the shelf at the entrance to the passage he guards holds all of the books he's read. It appeared there the first time Kim gave him one, and they've had this little arrangement ever since; whatever she's reading, he reads too.

He told her once that he likes books because they take him out of himself; out of this corridor, this castle, this country. Kim knows the feeling well—he's the same as her (and most other readers) in that respect—so she finds it enjoyable, giving him new stories. They get to discuss them like this, and his input is always interesting.

"Halfway or so, yes," he confirms, nodding again. "So do not spoil me, young devil!"

"Greg, it was published nearly two hundred years ago," she deadpans, a teasing grin twitching at the corner of her mouth. "I really think you're outside of the acceptable time limit to ask me that."

They both know that she would never spoil the story, of course. He's just being dramatic as always, which she very much appreciates.

Gregory huffs. "Oh, away with you," he mutters, giving her a shooing, jaunty wave. Mirth in his stone eyes, somehow. At this point, she's stopped asking herself how that could be.

And Kim smirks because she can't help it, clutching at her chest and feigning offense. "Ouch," she drawls. "Before I'm rudely dismissed, can we shorten the password though? I know it's a back-up, but just in case! I don't want to forget it and I don't have my copy of the book on me."

It's likely unnecessary—in her experience the castle front doors tend to be unlocked by around six o'clock in the morning most days (if they're locked at all in the first place), so she's not expecting to have to come this way again. She'll only use his password if she returns through the broom shed passage, where giving it to Rodina and Roderick will allow her access to the trap door without having to solve a riddle.

It's a security measure in place, she knows, so that people who come out through the castle are vetted by Gregory the Smarmy and can get back in as a result, but if anyone else wants to come through and into Hogwarts without being subject to his judgement first, they need to pass a different kind of test.

(She has a feeling, though, that if someone who wasn't a student somehow managed to get in, Gregory would grab them by the throat as soon as they came through the wall.)

So no, she likely won't need the back-up password. Never can be too careful, though.

He peers down at her, pretending to consider giving her another or not. "We must use that one some other time," he says, acquiescing. "For now, the password will be 'Ice Sprite.'"

"Thank youuuu," Kim sing-songs, voice soft. "Enjoy the rest of the book. I'll likely not see you later, so I bid you good morning." She gives him a wink and looks up at him, waiting, before he reaches out and discreetly drums his fingers along the wall. At that, she steps forward into the alcove he's situated in, knowing the wall to be an illusion now, and comes through it onto the landing with the spiral staircase just beyond.

Raising her hand in the pitch dark, she mutters, "Lumos," to ignite her palm like a torch. Continuing her pace from earlier she sets off, speeding along down the stairs and through the stone tunnel, always quicker with the decline.

Kim hums to herself as she goes, feet padding along packed earth. And perhaps it's the comfort of knowing that she's on her way to one of her favourite places, but this tunnel has never felt ominous to her, per se. The rich, damp darkness was apprehension-inducing at first, sure, but as a physical space it exudes a neutral kind of feeling, simply a means to an elsewhere; the movement of it all better for her, healthier, less stagnant. Certainly different than being alone with her thoughts while stuck in one place, leg bouncing and worrying at her lip.

It's much closer to peace, the in-between. Here, she's better than usual at willing her mind not to fill the unfocused silence.

The iron ladder that leads up to the school broom shed soon catches her spelled light and Kim sighs contentedly, habit taking over as she tightens the straps of her rucksack so they're snug. Up, up, up she climbs, pushing her lit hand into the kangaroo pocket of her faded black hoodie once she's just beneath the trap door. As her eyes adjust, the familiar carving of two horses with the Ravenclaw eagle sitting between them becomes visible above, glowing faint blue against the ancient wood.

Winding her arm around the smooth cool metal of the ladder like a vine, Kim draws her wand from her forearm holster and reaches up to tap the two horses. The entire thing glows brighter before there's a click and the trap door starts to swing downward slowly; practised at this by now, she steps down a rung without thinking about it, allowing it to pass over her head and open fully.

Once she's safely standing on the floor of the broom shed above, the trap door begins to shut of its own accord. With the corresponding click, Kim putters over to her hiding spot—taking a grand total of two small steps to cross the cramped space—to yank the old, soft tarp up and off of a few tall barrels in the corner. She exhales sharply through her nose to avoid inhaling a lungful of dust and grabs her gramophone case from its spot, swinging back out to stand proper again.

Nodding once, Kim extinguishes the light in her palm, casts a Disillusionment Charm on herself, and walks out of the tiny shed, into the misty Sunday morning.

.

Trini climbs the spiral stone staircase at a sleepy pace, rubbing at her eye with one hand and holding the handle of her portable gramophone with the other. Coming to the door at the top, she grabs at the iron ring that serves as its handle, tipping forward to shoulder it open and walking out onto the parapets of the Astronomy Tower.

It's a cool morning, the air thinner up here despite the gentle, shallow fog that blankets the grounds below. She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes briefly before walking forward and gently depositing her gramophone on the stone floor. Going into a kneel, she fumbles at the old, stiff latches of the small briefcase and props it open, taking a record out of the built-in sleeve—Nas' Illmatic—and setting it up. With a few turns of the crank handle the first song begins to play quietly through the chilly September air, just loud enough for her to hear it.

From up here, the view is breathtaking: she's almost directly above the castle front doors, looking out over the grounds towards the front gates and further. The village of Hogsmeade pulls her gaze, there just beyond the wall to the north and nestled up against mountains that stretch and spread for miles. It's one of those places that even a wizarding postcard can't do justice; more than picturesque with its tiny thatched cottages clumped together, set against the lush green surrounding environment. The only entirely wizarding village in all of Britain, living and breathing for nearly a millennium; as ancient as Hogwarts, like a sibling next door. And sleepy, still, though waking—a handful of chimneys exhale thin tapering spires of smoke into the sky, evidence of the warm, crackling fires lit by residents preparing for the day.

Closer, a couple of owls come swooping towards the castle from the Forbidden Forest on her right, gliding lazily on the breeze.

Late summer in the Scottish Highlands. It's still, beautiful.

Trini takes a deep breath in and out again, rolling her neck gently to stretch it as she makes to take a couple steps back from the edge of the parapets—

Oh, look who it is.

She peers down, squinting at the familiar sight of someone under some kind of concealment charm walking the grounds below her. Over the years they've clearly gotten more proficient at it, but in the stillness of the early hour, and aided by the blueish twilight of the dawning morning, Trini can usually spot them. They're not entirely invisible after all—more like a chameleon taking on the appearance of the space around them; a person covered in tiny mirrors like stars, an imitation galaxy.

And the two of them don't always coincide in the days or hours they choose to do their respective activities, whatever the mystery person's may be. Trini doesn't see them every morning she's out here by any means, but she's familiar enough with the peculiarity of the sight to notice, now.

Curiosity has nearly bested her a few times, fueling an urge to sprint down through the castle as soon as she sees them coming closer. Because if she were to run fast enough, she might be able to catch them as they slip into the Entrance Hall, right?

But no – not knowing what she would say or do with their identity is the reason she doesn't. Because… what would she say, anyway? 'Hi, I watch you without your knowledge from the top of the Astronomy Tower sometimes and I really wanted to meet you proper! My name is Trini, what's yours?'

Definitely not. The identity of this Morning Glory, whoever they are, will unfortunately have to remain a mystery.

This is the reality Trini has arrived on, even despite that curiosity becoming more and more insistent, prodding her in the side of the head with more force every time she manages to spot them. What else can her intrigue do but grow after years and years?

She lets out a disappointed sigh, watching the person enter the castle then stepping back as she meant to before, getting into position, pulling her beanie further down around her ears and beginning the yoga routine that's become muscle memory to her. Every single morning she's up here—rain, snow, or shine. There's nothing in her life that quiets her ruminations quite like this.

Beginning to move through the positions, Trini works at emptying her mind and controlling her breathing in the way that her dad taught her years ago. Her brain likes to spin at a mile a minute, so the process has always presented a challenge, even after all this time.

And more so recently, even? Because something about this year feels different—she isn't sure what it is yet. It's holding on to her like bits of a spider web, lightly and just barely there. Every time she thinks she's swiped the last of it away, another bit of it makes itself aware to her senses. Clinging, invisible.

A few more deep breaths and she's rid of it for the moment, focusing on her heartbeat and the music drifting around her. Hip-hop seems an odd choice for a yoga soundtrack, but the heavy beats and rhythm have always worked to help quiet her thoughts. This particular record is insistent and artful in how it fills up her consciousness.

Genius, really. She loves Nas.

.

Trini gets lost in moving, in breathing, and before she knows it she's done. She uses the record as a timekeeper—once the forty minutes or so of it have played out, the sun is already on its way up to take its place in the sky.

Nearly seven o'clock in the morning, now. The castle just starting to wake up underneath her.

With one more deep breath Trini finishes stretching, packs her gramophone up, and makes her way back inside. Through the castle she goes, descending the marble staircase into the Entrance Hall with an energetic bounce in her step and turning left immediately to push open the door that leads down to the basement.

The air gets warmer as she makes her way down the stone flight of stairs, passing some sleepy, early-riser Hufflepuffs on their way up to breakfast. She hops the last two stairs and turns right, entering the corridor that leads to her common room, greeted at once by the happy warm glow of the torches on the walls and the unmistakable smell of fresh rolls and cinnamon buns wafting from the kitchens.

Stifling a yawn behind her hand, Trini comes to her destination: a seemingly ordinary stack of barrels. She taps out the password with her wand and the passage opens up—within thirty seconds she's standing in her common room, sunlight already peeking through the small basement windows that provide a shallow glimpse out into the grounds.

The circular room is a picture of comfort: the plants hanging in polished copper pots all over seem to reach out towards the windows, and the light wood and crackling fireplace always gives it a cozy feeling, regardless of the weather outside.

A cactus waves at her as she passes it on her way to the girls dormitories, and she waves back with a small smile.

.

Trini eats a light lunch on Tuesday, arses around in her dormitory for a little while, then makes her way up to the Entrance Hall with her broom in one hand and her Quidditch kit duffel in the other. When she steps out of the staircase to the basement she immediately sees Zack across the hall, leaning up against the wall next to the castle front doors and dressed similarly to her—a fitted tank top, running shorts, trainers, and his regular tattered black rucksack slung over one shoulder.

She weaves through the last few stragglers in the hall—the afternoon bell sounded five minutes ago—and the two of them walk out into the sunshine together.

"This is wicked, eh?" Zack says, cruising down the front steps beside her and squinting a little in the light.

Trini nods, feeling something like relief at being outside during class hours. "Yeah. Whoever decided that our Houses'd share a double free period is touched in the head. Honest."

"Not complaining though," Zack chirps, stretching his hands out above his head lavishly and letting out a satisfied hum.

They make their way across the grounds, stopping at the small shed that contains the school brooms (where Zack picks his favourite) before arriving at the Quidditch pitch. Walking over the lush, manicured grass, they drop their bags and brooms at the entrance to the east change room tunnel, Trini kneeling down to take her beat-up portable gramophone out of her duffel. She looks around for a moment, considering where to put it, then walks out to the very middle of the pitch. Setting it down carefully, she opens it and begins to play a David Bowie album: Let's Dance.

Hopefully, Zack will like it. She's not entirely sure about his taste in music—she's asked him before to only be met with a vague answer, and when she asked him earlier today after History of Magic he just shrugged and told her to surprise him.

By her metric, at least, this should make for good running music.

It starts to play and she takes her wand out of its holster, waving it to increase the volume as she walks backwards. By the time she gets back to Zack it's not at ear-shattering levels, but loud enough that they'll be able to hear it clearly.

"Shall we?" Zack says, jerking his head towards the pitch proper.

Trini nods, double-tying her shoelaces before they set out at a light jog with 'Modern Love' booming through the stadium.

She smiles, craning her neck side to side and trying to loosen up a little.

"So what do you think about them? Our little pick-up crew?" Zack asks a few minutes later, voice joining the beat of their quickening breaths and the swish of their shoes sweeping across the grass.

"I like them so far," she answers, considering. "Kimberly is... hard to get a handle on? but I think I'm getting there. And Jason is full Wonderboy but more approachable than I would've guessed. Billy I've always been a fan of." She pauses, eyes roaming the empty stands. "Really are a strange trio though, aren't they?"

Zack nods. "They are. Jason and Kim have history, but I know it's complicated as all hell. You know him and I aren't that close, so I don't have the full gist."

Trini's jaw clenches lightly. "I can see that—the two of them. They're both too pretty not to date."

"No, not history like that," Zack clarifies, as they come to the end and begin to curve around, running the edges of the pitch like a track. "They've never dated, I'm certain."

"Huh," Trini mutters. "Matter of time, then."

Zack makes a disagreeing noise. "Nah T, really. They quite literally grew up together—parents sent them to muggle school same year and everything. Jason's more protective of her than anything. Like, I made a comment about Kim, right—"

Making an assumption, Trini reaches up and smacks him on the back of the head. Nicely.

"Mate!" he groans, chuckling, slinking away and putting a few feet between them for safety as they continue to jog. "It wasn't disrespectful! I just said like, 'Your girlfriend is quite the character' or something when we were in the common room this past weekend."

Trini grunts. "Okay, okay. My bad."

"It's cool, I'll get you back another time," he says, grinning. After another moment of determining whether or not she's going to hit him again, he comes back to run beside her. "Anywho, Jason clarified that they weren't dating. But he said if I was interested in her, he'd throw me from Gryffindor Tower if I ever hurt her, then come down and sink me and 'all ten of my abs' into the lake—" Trini raises her eyebrow at him and he shrugs. "His words, not mine."

"Points for imagery," Trini mutters, reaching up and adjusting her ponytail a little.

Zack hums. "So no, they aren't a thing. And I can't say exactly why, but I get the best friend vibe? Though I reckon they're mad difficult to gauge. Either that or I'm losing my touch."

Trini considers this, and they run for a bit before she speaks again. "Okay, I have a question, and I don't mean it to be offensive so please tell me if I'm being an arse," she starts, craning her head around a bit to look at him. "I get that you and Jason are more like, roommates-in-passing kind of deal, but if you haven't got a clear picture of his and Kimberly's relationship by now, isn't that a bit of a red flag?"

He looks back at her curiously and she runs a flat palm over the top of her head, smoothing out her hair, considering what exactly she's getting at. And she's always valued this about her relationship with Zack—she can say what's on her mind and not feel like she has to hold it back. He helps her think through things and she almost never feels self-conscious.

Very few people in her life are like that, and having him around is really, really nice.

They'd started doing these runs together last spring, not long after they met. And the endorphin rush of jogging plus being beside each other for the entirety of the workout, with nothing but a song playing around them, makes for a great setting to chat about all kinds of topics.

"I just mean like, you've known them for three years, even if it's been more surface-level," she says slowly. "But if you've gleaned nothing from them in regards to their relationship that entire time, doesn't that strike you as a bit odd?"

Zack makes an unsure hum and Trini hesitates, trying to formulate her thoughts. "I'm saying this knowing that you aren't thick," she continues, smirking, "despite how you act ninety-nine percent of the time. So I'm sure it's not an inability to read them on your end. And I myself am apparently very hard to get to know as a person—I tend to be reserved, right, but even I will open up eventually."

Trini pauses again. "If they're that closed off though, should we—should I—keep them at arms length?" she says, a bit timidly now. Not entirely sure why this is irking her so much. Her voice gets smaller and smaller as she continues to speak, "I really don't get a bad vibe from either of them—not at all, actually—but now I'm wondering if I'm just panning for fool's gold, I guess?"

She sighs, hesitates. "Man, I don't know..."

But Zack looks back at her like he understands. "No mate, I get what you're saying, and I would probably agree with you if that was actually the case. It's impossible to trust a person if they never open up – why pursue a friendship if you know right out of the gate that someone's never going to trust you? You're setting yourself up to get hurt from the beginning." Trini nods and he inclines his head a little. "But that's the thing, T – I really haven't known them for three years, so I can't make that call. I've only known Jason, and again, we aren't best mates, but he's definitely opened up to me in that time."

Zack tips his head. "Not Kim though, see. Jason and her only started talking again... December of last year, I think it was. He—" he stops abruptly, clearly considering his next words.

Trini peers back at him, curious.

"I don't want to overstep," he says slowly, furrowing his brow, "so I'll just say that he was a mess for a while after she kind of materialised in his life again. And not a bad mess, but not a good mess?"

He squints a little at his own vagueness, though his face looks softer. And Trini thinks she understands—Kim coming back into Jason's life had been hard on him, and Zack witnessed it firsthand.

Zack gestures vaguely. "Because they lived in the same neighbourhood when they were growing up, right. Were inseparable, the two of them along with their friend Tommy." A little smile pulls at his mouth and he pauses. "Brief tangent: Have you met her?"

Trini shakes her head. "No, but I can hear how fit she is in your voice," she chirps, chuckling.

He laughs lightly as well—an airy, unbridled kind of sound. "Man, when you meet her I want to be there. She is... wow," he mutters, rubbing at his neck in a rare show of shyness. "I guess it makes sense, her being best friends with Kim and Jason. They're like genetically predisposed to gravitate towards each other or something."

Trini smiles and he continues, "But yeah. When I said earlier that Jason and Kim have history but it's real fucking complicated, that was what I meant. They didn't talk at all for the first two and a half years they were here—I'd never seen her around him or heard anything about her even in passing—then BAM they're glued together at the hip...?"

Huh. That does sound strange.

"So something happened before, obviously," Trini says slowly.

Zack nods. "Figure so. But it's really none of my business to ask."

"Yeah, of course," she mutters. "They're good now though, right? Regardless of whatever happened before. That's good for us if we're gonna be hanging around them twice a week."

"Absolutely," he says, putting a hand out in halt and bending down to tie his shoelace. "I don't think we should be wary of them unless they give us a reason to be. The two of them seem closed off, but I reckon that's a learned thing."

Trini nods, taking the opportunity to stretch her cramping hamstring. "Yeah, agreed. And my interactions with both of them've been limited so far, but... I don't know." She huffs, sighing. "You know I don't take to people very easy, it's something I'm working on—" he nods kindly, "but the two of them seem to be sailing past all of the traps I've laid out in my mind to snare new people from getting too close. Does that make sense?"

"Look at you, being self-aware," Zack chirps, nodding again.

Trini shrugs. "All I'm saying is that I don't mean to go all inquisition on you with the questions about trusting them. I guess I'm just... trying to be even more cautious? to compensate for all of those alarms being turned off in myself, which is backwards, I know—"

"Not backwards," Zack mutters, smiling down at her. Encouraging, easy, as always. "I'm the same way, though you tend to come off as more of an arse in your particular approach."

She shoves him lightly. "Self-protection and being an arse can look like the same thing much of the time," she drawls, smirking. "And being wary of people can manifest in different ways—I see that in Kimberly especially, though her approach to it is different than mine. It's easier to pick something out in someone's behaviour when it's something you recognise in yourself."

Zack makes an agreeing noise, running a hand up over his brow to keep the sweat out of his eyes.

"I don't know man. There's a click there with her, and with Jason," Trini says slowly. "Just like you and I have—we've talked about this before."

He hums. "Like we're holding the same hand of cards, but arranged in a different order."

"Yeah," Trini agrees, sighing. "And that's kind of weird to say at this stage, I know. But that's the feeling I'm getting. Billy included in there, too."

"It isn't weird to say, T. I get what you mean, I really do." He pauses, frowning. "It's strangely... easy? I've never felt anything like it – not so quick, anyway."

Trini shrugs. "Who knows, maybe it'll turn out that we all go our separate ways, right? I'm not particularly invested—not yet—but it's a curious feeling."

They run for a bit in comfortable silence before Trini adds, "To answer your original question though, I like them. I hope we keep hanging out, even if we never really get close."

"Me too," Zack says, speeding up a little and whipping around so he's running backwards, able to meet her eyes. "But regardless of them, you're stuck with me forever now, I hope you know that."

She smirks. "And I will never admit it again, but I'm surprisingly okay with that."

He smiles too, pivoting back around to run normally. "As for Billy generally, he's sunshine in a person. You know that."

Trini smiles. "I do."

They continue their run, the entirety of the David Bowie album nearly going by before they slow to a walk, doing one more lap to let their heart rates slow, then stopping beside their bags in the grass, stretching. The sun is sweltering hot, and both of them are sweating heavily.

Once the record finishes proper, she waves her wand toward where her gramophone sits in the middle of the pitch. The record sleeves itself mid-air then puts itself away in the built-in storage space within the briefcase, sitting snugly among the rest of the records in her collection.

And the case is magically expanded, certainly. She has a lot of albums in there.

With a little nod to herself, Trini turns back to her bag and groans a little at how gross she feels. In one swift motion she peels her tank top off, adjusting her tattered brown leather wand holster on her forearm and silently thanking whoever enchanted it for making it sweat-proof.

"Hot there, Crazy Girl?" Zack says, mimicking her and stripping his own tight black sleeveless shirt off, bunching it up and using it to wipe his face, brow, and the back of his neck. When he's done he tosses it onto his bag and collapses to lay in the shaded grass. Whoops softly. "That is so much better, oh sweet Jesus."

Trini laughs, stooping down to grab her little towel from her kit duffel. "Man, it's brilliant having another person around who has a muggle-born parent," she mutters, wiping at her own face now. "Hogwarts really deprives us of the most quality expressions here, eh? It's all Merlin this, Merlin that."

Zack smiles. "I kind of love that we don't get in trouble for it though. We can use all the religious curses we want with no retribution."

"Ironic," Trini chirps, smirking, and Zack laughs proper. "Admittedly, I'm a fan of the magical creature ones—" she stretches her calves out a bit, "and the Merlin ones, to be sure. All of them, really. I'm always here for more fun ways to express myself."

"Amen," Zack says, a twinkle in his eye, now sitting up a bit and gulping at his water bottle.

Trini drinks some of hers as well before starting to pace a little, fanning at her face with her hand and feeling like some dramatic Victorian noblewoman as she does so. Billy, Jason, and Kimberly should be coming down shortly for their pick-up match, and she would like to cool down a bit before that, if possible.

She strides out towards her gramophone and stops a few feet away, looking out at the stadium with her back to Zack and contemplating whether she might have time to jump in the showers in the Hufflepuff changeroom.

But her train of thought is interrupted when Zack walks around to stand in front of her, grinning like an idiot.

Trini stares up at him. "What?"

"I do this because I'm your friend," he says, then whips his water bottle out from behind his back and upends it on top of her head.

And it feels great, it does. But he is dead meat.

Trini glares and Zack drops the empty bottle in the grass, backing away from her slowly with his hands raised in the air. "I told you I'd get you back for smacking me before!" he says, still smiling. At the look on her face though, his voice starts to get higher, his words more rushed, "But it worked for you too, didn't it? You were hot! I did a good thing!" Trini just continues to stare daggers at him through another pause, and his eyes widen a little. "I'm a good person T! I am innocent!"

She considers him for a moment, a solid ten yards of pitch between them now.

Walking calmly to her gramophone case a few feet away, she—in what truly must be an idea of divine influence—replaces the David Bowie record with something else. Positions the needle, cranks it a few more times for good measure. And the volume is still loud as all hell, so when the song—the classic, terrifying organ theme from the Phantom of the Opera—starts to play, the effect is brilliant.

Zack's eyes widen comically, a deer in headlights.

With a kind of eerie calm that would most certainly have sent her little brothers running for the hills by now, she looks down at the record—the compilation album for the musical, Highlights From the Phantom of the Opera—as the first song, 'Overture' continues to play. So wickedly appropriate.

Trini looks back up at him, a sly smile starting to tug at the corner of her mouth.

Without so much as a twitch to give herself away until the last moment, she draws her wand out of its holster in a flash, pointing it straight at him. "Aguamenti," she says drily, voice sounding nonchalant while internally she's concentrating very, very hard on what she wants the charm to manifest as.

The music booms around her, and it's all very dramatic.

Better yet, it works—the spell going full water cannon (but larger around and softer, to be sure, given she doesn't want to hurt him), looking like something sprawling and alive as it shoots towards him, glinting merrily in the sunlight.

Her aim is true and it blasts him backwards spectacularly, sending him soaring through the air in an arc and carrying him in a way that only charmed water could.

She watches this gleefully with a smile that's a little bit manic, she's sure, judging by the way she feels it light up her eyes. And she casts a Cushioning Charm to catch him gently, lovingly as he lands on his arse ten yards away, drenched head to foot and spluttering.

He shakes his head wildly and blinks a few times, staring at her for a moment, completely stunned.

Trini smiles sweetly at him and tosses her wand into the grass beside her, holding her hands up now in a lazy kind of double wave, assuring him she's done.

But Zack's face changes from blank shock to smiling like an absolute idiot, then, and he pulls his wand out from the pocket of his running shorts with a flourish. And she can't hear him say the spell over the music, but in an instant, Trini's buffeted by a literal wall of water that engulfs her for a moment completely before it falls away around her, sloshing about.

Her turn to splutter now, she wipes her face with a quick palm and beams. Lunges for her wand madly, diving and sliding on the wet grass; sends another jet of water at him, clutching at her wand with both hands.

Zack ducks, cackling, and brandishes his wand like he's throwing a frisbee underhanded, shooting another stream of water at her that she rolls out of the way of before rocketing to her feet.

His next one hits her square in the face, but not violently.

And she's cackling now as she flat out rushes him, his eyes widening before turning on his heel and sprinting away, shrieking like he's being chased by the devil herself.

He throws jets of water over his shoulder haphazardly, dodging as she continues to fire at him, both of them slipping and sliding on the sodden grass. Soon her eyes are wet not only with spelled water, but with tears at how hard she's laughing.

.

Kim, Jason, and Billy arrive at the Quidditch stadium to see two people sprinting across the far side of the pitch, wands out, one absolutely peeling after the other, clearly mid-chase, stopping and starting, ducking, dodging, weaving.

And it has to be one of the most peculiar things Kim has ever witnessed.

Because something like soft, calming opera

"'Think of me, think of me fondly when we've said goodbye...'"

is BOOMING through the stadium so loudly that Trini and Zack themselves seem soundless from this distance, despite clearly yelling back and forth at each other every few seconds and laughing uproariously.

"'Remember me, once in a while, please promise me you'll try...'"

And with them both firing massive jets of water with the circumference of storm drains repeatedly at each other to boot—some rising up into the air like the necks of silver-blue dragons in the afternoon sunlight, then diving in merciless, sparkling arcs—it is the single most bizarre thing that Kim has seen in a very, very long time. A silent slapstick comedy film in real life, complete with the outlandish soundtrack.

It could therefore be deemed understandable that the three of them kind of just stand there, absolutely gobsmacked as they watch, until Kim covers her face with her hand, watching the two of them through her fingers; feeling laughter start to bubble up slowly in her chest, a bewildered smile pulling at her lips.

And at Trini and Zack beginning to come their way, completely unaware of anyone watching them, at Trini chasing him like an absolute maniac, Kim bursts out laughing.

In seconds the laugh has taken over her entire body, reverberating from her stomach up through her ribs, soon finding her face and pulling insistently at her every feature.

Now crying, Kim leans on her broom for support in a manner not at all superfluous.

Jason's whole body is shaking, his hand frozen in the midst of running through his hair as he laughs, and Billy is just standing there with his fist pressed to his mouth, staring at Trini and Zack with one of the widest smiles Kim's ever seen him wear.

"What the fuck?" Kim whispers, voice not thick with tears but airy, coming out in a disbelieving squeak. Bent at the middle, teetering a bit precariously, seeing through eyes half-closed with how her smile has taken over her face.

Because really, who the hell are these people?

Luckily for the three of them, the lady singing in the song, bless her, does a big old soprano scale at the end which snaps them out of their daze.

Kim leads the way and walks onto the pitch, her broom in hand, trying to compose herself.

Trini sees them and starts walking their way at once, waving her wand to silence the gramophone then shooting one last jet of water at Zack's legs as an afterthought, which hits the back of his kneecaps and buckles them underneath him, sending him tipping onto the plush grass like he's just been hooked forwards.

Soaked to the bone and looking smug, Trini strides up to them in nothing but a sports bra and a pair of cropped running shorts. And Jason makes some remark that causes Trini to smile, but Kim can't hear him over the racket of her own mind, currently repeating one word ('LEGS!') over and over like a skip on a record.

Holy fuck, get it together. Stop ogling.

Kim shakes herself a little as Zack comes jogging up behind Trini and taps her on the shoulder, holding his arms open for a hug and absolutely beaming. With a smile she wraps her arms around his neck, muscles jumping about under her skin, and he snakes his arms around her waist before lifting her up good-naturedly. Spins her a little, which earns him a laugh.

"That was mental," Zack says softly, releasing her.

And it's an interesting interaction, both of them shirtless for reasons Kim can't comprehend right now past the fact that they're shirtless at all

And they both really are incredibly good-looking. Trini e s p e c i a l l y—

And Kim didn't think she could be So Fucking Gay as a Known Bisexual yet hEre SHe sTaNDs—

The two of them say a few more things Kim doesn't catch and Trini turns to look at them all proper again. "How much of that did you lot see?"

"All of it," Kim blurts out, though surely not meaning to say anything at all, feeling like she's been hit over the head with a Beater's bat. Trini's Beater bat, maybe. She opens her mouth to say something else then closes it again, then opens it, then closes it.

Jason seems to sense Kim struggling and pulls her out, nodding at Trini. "Quite the show there, you two. You right had us in stitches."

"Looked like you were having a fantastic time," Billy adds, smiling. "Would you both still like to play, or do you think you've tired yourselves out? It's not a problem if it's the latter."

Zack shakes his head and Kim's attention moves to him briefly, noting that he really does have like, a hundred individually defined abs.

Jason wasn't kidding.

"I'm good to play, no problem Billy," Zack says, looking over at Trini. "You cool too, Crazy Girl?"

Trini smiles, still smug, still causing Kim's heart to flounder about like a fish out of water. "Absolutely."

Chapter Text

"Yo," comes a low voice from her left.

Trini looks up as someone casually sails into her row and plops into the seat next to her; movements light, easy, as if their behaviour is completely normal and not at all out of the ordinary. Just a standard Wednesday afternoon in Ancient Runes.

But that person happens to be Kimberly Hart, and Trini didn't even know she was in this class.

"Er, yo?" Trini replies, eyebrow raised.

Kimberly promptly begins making herself at home, pulling her textbook and writing materials out of her bag. "So you sit at the front, eh? I should've guessed," she says conversationally, a note of mischief in her voice.

Trini huffs, though there's a tiny hint of playfulness that sneaks into her tone in kind when she mutters, "What's that supposed to mean, Kimberly?"

"Please, call me Kim. My mum doesn't even full-name me," Kim quips, smirking. "And I just mean, like, isn't there something about high-achievers or whatever sitting at the front?" She pauses, scrunching up her face a little. "Though actually, I'm fairly sure that's a myth..."

Trini just keeps staring at her, eyebrow fixed in place.

Kim shrugs coolly, though her voice comes out a bit quicker to explain, "In my quest to beat Granger at everything, I like to keep up to date with the top few students in every subject. Your name tends to come up quite often."

"You're backtracking 'cause you were going to make a joke about my height, weren't you?"

The corner of Kim's mouth twitches. "In theory I could have considered it, but I'm not sure if we're there yet in our budding friendship. Wouldn't want to come across as an arse."

Trini hums. "More than usual, you mean?"

Kim chuckles and inclines her head, conceding defeat. Leans back in her chair to balance on the back two legs and glance around lazily at the students taking their seats in the rows behind them. Her mouth pulls into a charming half-smile in that... cocky, Top Scorer Quidditch Chaser way that Trini has become familiar with in their fairly limited interactions so far.

And Trini has witnessed guys exude this type of charm—she's seen it from Cedric, for example, at many a Hufflepuff Quidditch party—but she never understood what people found so irresistible in those moments, given the only thing she's ever felt for awesome players is great respect. She didn't get how being a sports star made a person more attractive.

Until she met Kim, that is.

Trini understands now.

She understands so much that she actively pictures the more controlled and rational section of her brain hauling off the other part—the one that is currently swooning—in a fireman's carry and away from her conscious mind.

Stop being so GAY, TRINI!

Trini tips her head and pretends to consider her words for a moment. "How about this: if you acknowledge that you're only a half foot taller than me, I'll permit you to make jokes," she says, tone still dead serious. "I'm calling you Kim now, after all — I feel like we've reached a more casual point. Poking fun is allowed."

Kim nods. "Deal. Acknowledged. Though..." she trails off, pausing. "May I just say that putting the word 'only' before 'half a foot' when we're talking about height is a bit of a reach."

And all at once her eyes are brighter, slowly crinkling at the sides from trying not to laugh at her own joke.

Trini groans, though a large part of her wants to really, really laugh too. A small smile forms on her lips involuntarily. "Starting right up then, are we? I guess I authorised this."

Kim smiles back then her face changes; it becomes softer, almost, and her voice quiets slightly, "If it legitimately ever bothers you please let me know, okay? I'll totally stop—as much as I can be a runaway train sometimes with the banter, I'd never want to hurt your feelings or anything."

...Huh.

Admittedly, Trini's taken aback at the honesty in her tone. It's reminiscent of the first time they met, where Kim was surprisingly candid with her, completely unprompted. A pleasant surprise then, of course, but even more so now.

Because up until this moment, that first meeting has proven to be an outlier—since the five of them started playing pick-up games together, all Kim's really offered Trini by way of conversation is joking remarks and sarcastic quips. And Trini doesn't particularly mind, given she herself isn't one to jump into friendships headfirst either; there's a natural and expected thawing period as people get more comfortable with each other, and she's not in a rush.

Or... she's trying not to be. 

Her and Kim clicked the first time they spoke, after all. It's certainly not everything; not a promise or a guarantee, but there's some potential for them to get along, at the very least. 

It's a start, really. With any luck, they might just come to know each other a bit better in time. And as much as Trini's determined to go slow with it, any sincerity from Kim's end is welcome.

Truly, she's more than willing to meet Kim halfway.

So Trini answers in a voice that's soft, as well. "You know, you're surprisingly sweet underneath all the bravado," she says, eyes catching on how Kim opens her mouth then closes it, unsure of how to respond. "I'll speak up if it bugs me, sure, but you have to do the same on your end. Budding friendship and all that."

Kim hums happily just as Professor Babbling—in all her badassery—comes striding into the room, waving her wand to soften the light coming from the large hanging lamps above them as she goes.

Trini's only ever fancied one teacher in her entire life, and Professor Babbling is that teacher. She always sits in the back of her classes at Hogwarts because being in the front usually makes her anxious, but this one and Potions—which is solely because of Billy's preference—are the exceptions.

As it happens, she would be lying if she said that her choice of seating in this class was entirely academic.

With the Professor's arrival the lesson begins, and as they go through it Trini regards Kim curiously in her peripherals every now and then. Each of them has their guard down in favour of focusing on the material, and working beside each other like this is... nice. In the simple setting of the dimly-lit classroom, it's comfortable.

Third period passes quickly and soon enough, the lamps are returned to their former—seemingly blinding, now—brightness. Kim stretches lavishly, stifling a yawn behind her hand as Trini takes off her reading glasses and puts them in their case, her own eyelids heavy as well.

"What do you have now?" Kim asks, as they both start to pack their stuff up. Her voice gravelly from not talking for the last hour or so.

"Free period. I'd usually go back to my room or something, but I told Zack I'd meet him in the library to keep him company," Trini replies, feeling oddly talkative in her sleepy state, words slipping out past her filters easier than usual. They file with everyone else toward the classroom doors and she puts more of her weight on one foot, trying to get rid of the pins and needles.

"How about you?" Trini asks, as they come out into the corridor and fall into step with one another. She runs her hand through her hair and rubs at the side of her face, trying to wake herself up a bit.

Kim smiles warmly. "I have free period too, actually. So do Jason and Billy, and funny enough, we all have planned to meet in the library."

Trini makes a face, pleasantly surprised. "Cool. You going straight there, or?"

Kim inclines her head, readjusting her bag slightly on her shoulder. "Yeah." She pauses for a moment, hesitating. "But, like, if you would rather not be seen entering the library with me, or walking through the school in general together, I can split off and take a different route..." she says, tone joking.

As Trini glances sidelong at her though, she sees a flicker of uncertainty in Kim's eyes.

Ah, shit.

Day-to-day, Trini actively tries to keep herself at an even keel. She's quite reserved as a person, but that demeanour can be read as 'I don't care, get out of my face' by a lot of people.

(And much of the time, that is exactly what she means, but that's not the case here.)

Her and Kim click quite solidly on the humour chemistry front, though, so she was under the impression that she was navigating it a bit better than usual.

Guess not.

Trini's heart sinks as she begins to rack her brain quickly. Had she said something to make Kim feel that way?

She decides not to draw attention to it in favour of reassuring her instead, as Kim is clearly trying to mask it. "I know you're joking, but for the record, if I don't like someone I generally don't permit them to make jokes about my height, for one. Nor would I commit to playing pick-up with them multiple times a week, indefinitely."

Kim's face brightens at that, and she smiles softly at Trini before bringing her hand up to play with her choker necklace absentmindedly.

They continue the rest of the way in a neutral kind of silence—not familiar enough with each other for it to be comfortable, but not strangers enough for it to be awkward either. And in weaving through the corridors filled with students, Trini finds the energy invigorating; everyone's still bubbly to be back at Hogwarts despite it being the third week of classes already.

It doesn't take them long to make it to the library, and as they look around for their separate study dates they're met with a surprise: the three boys are situated together in one of the cozy reading rooms at a large rectangular table next to some windows. It's just a bit down the way from Billy's tiny secluded desk that he uses when he's working alone—somewhat of a perch off one of the narrow second floor walkways, where Trini jinxed Warrington and Montague last spring for messing with him.

"Hi Kim, hi Trini!" Billy greets, smiling at them from his place at the end of the table, a large bookshelf at his back. "Zack found Jason and I — we figured the five of us could sit together. Is that okay with you both?"

"That's perfect," Trini answers. Kim smiles at him and nods her agreement, then walks around the table to sit next to Jason.

Trini sits next to Zack—who already has a bunch of books and materials spread out in front of him for his Muggle Studies essay—and returns his offered fist bump fondly. Once she's situated, she promptly puts her head down on top of her arms, just to shut her eyes for a moment.

.

And it's much longer than a moment, because when she comes to, it's darker outside than it was before.

Trini blinks slowly as she registers a gentle hand on her left shoulder and props her head up on one palm. Finding four pairs of eyes regarding her kindly.

"Morning," Jason whispers across the table. "We didn't want to wake you, hope that's okay."

Trini squints. "'S definitely okay," she slurs out, then grips the back of her neck, grimacing a little. It's going to be stiff for a few minutes. "Hungry though, did I miss supper?" she asks, hiding a yawn behind her hand.

"No, Crazy Girl," Zack answers, removing his hand from her shoulder. "We're just about to go down. Figured you'd had enough beauty sleep and we've all finished our schoolwork."

"Cool, cool."

.

The start of lunch hour the next day finds Trini turning into the Charms corridor, intent on talking to Professor Flitwick in advance of their lesson next period.

But— ah.

Up ahead stands a familiar silhouette, back to her—identifiable by a shock of choppy shoulder-length raven hair and an easy lean up against the doorframe of Flitwick's classroom. And Trini has an urge to huff as she wonders how someone can look so cool while just fucking standing there, stupid olive green rucksack slung over one shoulder, right heel lifted and pivoting back and forth like a pendulum. Radiating both attentive interest and ease, somehow.

Trini mentally slaps herself to her senses as she approaches quietly, and Kim doesn't turn around. She manages to catch some of the conversation as she gets closer, "...invisible, then? Maybe if I keep going I'll get there," Kim is saying, with a smile in her voice.

Professor Flitwick's squeaky cadence carries out of the classroom, "Certainly! Just like any spell, the more you practise — and a natural affinity helps, of course—"

Trini pops her head through the door and Kim starts a little, having clearly not registered her approaching at all.

Flitwick smiles. "Ah, and here, an example of natural Charms affinity has materialised! Hello, Miss Gomez."

Trini feels a slight blush colour her cheeks at the praise, glancing sidelong at Kim, who still looks at ease. "Sorry to interrupt — Professor, should I come back?"

Professor Flitwick shakes his head. "No, that won't be necessary. I have your assignment right here—" he reaches a tiny hand across his desk and sifts through a pile of parchment for a moment before finding what he's looking for, "it's quite intensive. Should keep you busy!"

Trini walks past Kim and up to his desk, taking the offered page with thanks. It's an extra assignment to keep her occupied during the classes where she finishes the set work well before everyone else—Flitwick suggested the arrangement to her last winter, but she wasn't too keen on the idea of extra homework.

With their O.W.L.'s taking place next year though (as Professor McGonagall has reminded them countless times already) she figured it might be handy to actually learn during her downtime in Charms lessons. She's never really been able to bring herself to make use of the extra class time and focus on other, non-Charms schoolwork; this arrangement is certainly better than staring off into space.

And at her own insistence she didn't want Flitwick approaching her about it during class hours—preferring to avoid unwanted questions—so here she is.

Trini peers down at the parchment briefly and thanks him again. Turning on her heel, she makes her way back out of the classroom and towards Kim, who's still leaning against the doorframe, foot stilled and arms crossed casually. Watching her with soft, though somehow unreadable, eyes.

And Kim gives her a little smile as she passes by, which Trini returns; though hers is small, tight-lipped—similar to the reflexive face small town residents pull while passing on the street—and coupled with a curt incline of her head.

She's away and halfway down the corridor when she hears Kim speak, "Thanks for the help, Professor. I'll see you next week."

"Certainly. And good work today, Miss Hart."

Trini registers a bit of a shuffle from behind her before Kim's voice, a softer tone now, reaches her ears again, "Hey, wait up." And she turns her head to the side, not stopping but slowing her steps just enough to be noticeable.

Kim reaches her a moment later. "Where're you off to now?"

"Library," Trini answers, continuing to walk as Kim falls into step beside her. "Need to take out a book for this assignment—" she raises her hand a little and waves the parchment lightly, "so I can work on it if need be."

Kim nods. "No lunch?"

"Grabbed sandwiches from the kitchens," Trini says, keeping her tone even and tapping her rucksack as they turn onto the Grand Staircase. It's nearly empty, with most of the school down at lunch. "I wasn't intending on going to the Great Hall." She pauses, tipping her head to the side to look at Kim. "You?"

"I hadn't really decided," Kim says, shrugging. "Lunch probably, yeah. I usually eat with Jason and Billy."

Trini hums her acknowledgement. She's certainly seen Kim at both the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw tables before, but the concept still strikes her as a bit odd. Inter-House friendships certainly exist, and there's no rule against sitting at another House's table, but she's been firmly inside a Hufflepuff bubble ever since she got to Hogwarts. It's comfortable, safe, and she's never once sat anywhere else at mealtimes.

They fall into that same neutral silence as they walk, extending right up to where they have to diverge—Kim down to the Great Hall and Trini to the library.

Kim speaks then, voice casual, "You know, if you want I could come with you. We could grab your book then go down to lunch together and sit with the boys?" 

The last bit is more of a question than the rest—a tentativeness, almost, leaking through her easy tone. It seems contrary to what Trini knows of Kim so far, having come to the conclusion that any kind of socialisation is second-nature to her.

And Trini's roommates are currently down in the common room, scrambling to finish up their homework for next class; her grand plans for lunch included parking herself near them and spending some quality time sprawled on a couch, so it's not like she would be missing much by going to the Great Hall. 

"Er," Trini starts, blinking once. "Yeah, sure. Does that mean I have to interact with Zack for an hour too, though?"

The two of them direct their steps towards the library and Kim chuckles. "Can't promise either way. He tends to make appearances at unpredictable moments."

Trini nods sagely, allowing herself to smile a little, consciously dropping the blank look. "Should've figured."

Kim hums. "Mmm. Have you two known each other long? I only just met him earlier this year."

"Same," Trini replies. "But we clicked really fast." She pauses, tilting her head. "I don't know what that says about me, given he's an idiot, but he's easy to get along with."

"You two would be cute together," Kim says, voice light, a bit teasing.

Trini scoffs. "Absolutely not. He's... not my type, trust me," she mutters, in what she hopes is a convincing voice, something light without being too obvious or insistent. And for a heartbeat she considers going one step further, telling Kim that Zack isn't her type because he's a boy, specifically, before thinking better of it.

It's such an unfamiliar urge—to share something that she considers so personal with someone who's practically a stranger—and she's... struck by it. Kim is someone she barely knows, so why on earth would she tell her that? She doesn't have to defend her relationship with Zack to anybody, and Kim's just joking around.

Instead, Trini flips it. "I could say the same about you and Wonderboy."

Kim's turn to scoff, now. "We get that a lot. He's my best friend and I love him to death, but not like that."

Trini hums, though she doesn't entirely believe her, regardless of what Zack told her last week on their run. And given Kim didn't seem to exactly accept what she said about not fancying Zack either, it doesn't feel too hypocritical. "Whatever you say."

"How about you come find me when you end up dating Zack, okay?" Kim chimes, as they cross through the wood-paneled entrance threshold and into the library. Her voice drops down to a whisper as she peers around, as if to check if the coast is clear, "I'll be the one holding the sign that says, 'I told you so.'"

Trini doesn't dignify that with a response, instead shooting Kim a deadpan glare and leading the way to where she expects her Charms book to be shelved. The familiar smell of ancient wood, parchment, and ink fills her nose, and she sighs contentedly.

Once they reach the stacks Kim bobs up and down on the balls of her feet, rocking her weight gently, humming a tune under her breath that Trini doesn't recognise. Clearly content to wait while Trini runs a finger down book spines, skimming the titles, trying to find it.

After a minute or so, Trini lets out an impatient huff. "How about I just do this—" she steps back once from the towering bookshelf and takes her wand out of its holster, eyes locked on the title of the book Professor Flitwick wrote at the top of her assignment. "Accio," she mutters, focusing intently.

A few feet above their heads a book pops off the shelf, teetering a little before soaring down to her outstretched hand. She plucks it out of the air, satisfied, and looks over to Kim, who's stopped her humming and has her eyebrow raised in surprise.

"You know the Summoning Charm already?" Kim asks, eyes warm, curious.

Trini nods, waving casually. "Yeah. That was my first assignment a couple weeks ago." She looks down at the book then back up to Kim. "Ready to go?"

"Yeah, sure," Kim says quietly, turning on her heel and leading them out back into the main part of the library. 

As they walk, Trini considers for a few moments before placing her wand between her teeth. Her pace slows a bit and Kim matches it, walking shoulder-to-shoulder and peering at her with puzzled interest.

"We can stop for a moment, you know—" Kim tries, amusement colouring her voice.

"I've got it," Trini mutters around her wand, talking in much the same way as she does when there's a toothbrush in her mouth. Determined to look semi-graceful in her efforts, she flips the library book open carefully, balancing it on her left palm. Glancing up once to make sure she doesn't walk into anybody, she grabs her wand and pokes at the borrowing card peeking out of the pocket affixed to the inside of the back cover. "Trini Gomez. Er, three weeks, please."

She feels Kim watching her, that gentle mirth still giving her voice a lilt as she asks, "So you don't need to say the name of the thing you're Summoning, then? I thought I'd read that."

Trini shrugs, watching the borrowing card fly up and out of the book pocket to hover a couple feet in front of her face, moving with them as they walk. She could sign her own name manually but this is easier, watching 'T. Gomez' appear on the card as if written by an invisible hand. "You do at the beginning, and if you're ever distracted then you might as well. Even after you've got the general hang of it, mind," she answers, as the due date is printed both on the tiny grid pasted to the back cover and the borrowing card. "But as you get going proper, definitely not. The spell relies on intent, that's it. At least after some practise."

Kim hums, and with a dismissive wave of Trini's wand the borrowing card sails up and away, joining a few others high above their heads to fly like a gaggle of geese towards the circulation desk. And it's not that she avoids the desk as a rule, but Madam Pince is often away from it, off prowling elsewhere in the library. It usually takes some time for her to materialise, and Trini doesn't want to make Kim wait around.

"Makes sense," Kim returns, nodding thoughtfully. "It'd be a pain to continually have to name things." She pauses, turning her head a little, eyeing Trini in her peripherals as they walk towards the library entrance, passing a few keen students here and there who are posted up for their lunch hour—the scratching of quills, turn of pages, and chatter of low voices spinning into a gentle working melody around them.

"So erm, you've got extra assignments from Flitwick, then?" Kim asks, after a few moments. "Do you choose what you want to learn?" Her voice is tentative, though she's clearly trying for something more casual. And by Trini's regular measure of sharing anything at all with someone she barely knows, it really isn't any of Kim's business.

Nevertheless, she inexplicably finds herself a lot more willing to answer than normal. Which... seems to be a building trend, where Kim is concerned.

It's just a question, after all. Kim's trying to show interest, which is a nice gesture.

Budding friendship, right?

"Sort of," Trini replies slowly, swinging her rucksack off one shoulder to place the book inside. "We discuss it and go from there." She pauses, consciously reminding herself to be more forthcoming. "Mind, I've only been doing it for three weeks? But when he pitched it to me last year he said if there's something in particular I want to learn that's not on the curriculum yet, or not at all, I could swing it by him."

Kim looks impressed. "That's cool. Keeps you busy when you're done assignments early, I expect?"

"Yep. Something you're familiar with, I'm sure," Trini chimes, bringing a teasing lilt into her voice. But Kim feigns confusion, clearly trying to look humble. "Quit it with the modesty. I keep track of the top students in our year too, you know."

Kim tips her head back a little. "Er, right." She pauses, looking hesitant. "Yeah, McGonagall does the same thing with me in Transfiguration..." she trails off, furrowing her brow. "Well, she used to. Not since last winter now, I guess."

And Trini wants to ask for more information, but it's easy to tell that Kim's being vague on purpose. It's none of her business, anyway. "I'm actually enjoying it so far," she says instead. "The extra assignments, I mean. And that's... so lame, but I really do like the material. Reckon it can't hurt to have a few more spells in my back pocket."

Kim nods, a soft smile spreading over her face, smoothing her brow back to something more at ease. "Yeah. Once I've got everything under control a bit better I'd like to go back to doing it too."

They continue to chat as they walk, soon arriving at the top of the marble staircase. The Entrance Hall beckons below them, littered with students making their way into and out from lunch.

Trini makes a vague gesture. "Lead the way."

Kim does a little hop to start down the steps, altogether seeming lighter now than she was a few minutes ago, turning her head slightly every couple paces as if to check that Trini's still with her. They angle to the left and into the Great Hall, making their way past the Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff tables—the last finds Trini almost turning to approach it out of habit—before coming to Gryffindor, situated furthest from the doors.

Trini peers around at the mostly unfamiliar faces, feeling entirely out of place, as Kim looks about for all of five seconds before turning to Trini and gesturing for her to follow.

They walk the length of the hall to the very end, closest to the staff table, where Billy, Zack, Jason, and a bunch of other Gryffindors are sitting, eating and chatting away.

"Hey Gomez," Rocky greets, clearly pleasantly surprised.

Trini gives him an upwards jerk of her head. "Sup."

Kim indicates the bit of bench beside Billy, where some of the other kids budge up to make more room for them without prompt. "Sorry we're late," is all she says, not making a scene out of Trini being there, which strikes her as considerate. As if Kim knows instinctively that Trini would much prefer that there's no big announcement.

So Trini takes her place beside Kim, with a little sliver of space between them that makes her feel comfortable, but not too squished. And it's strange initially, this being her first time sitting away from the Hufflepuff table ever. But as the minutes pass—as she starts to eat, listening to the jovial conversation (even contributing here and there), with Kim soon laughing beside her—she begins to think that sitting at other House tables might not be so odd after all.

Maybe Kim's been onto something all along, really.

Because here's Zack, throwing quip after quip at Trini across the table, gentle light dancing in his eyes. Billy at her shoulder, with his book propped up on an elegant little stand that she doesn't doubt he made himself. Jason, who's elbowing Zack repeatedly for no reason at all except to be annoying, Zack stealing his food in retaliation; the purest example of 'boys will be boys' that Trini can imagine, in this moment.

And, yeah. Kim too—palpably less subdued as soon as they arrived, a carefree energy coming off of her now that Trini's only seen rivaled on the Quidditch pitch. It's like there's a safety in the familiarity that exists right here at this table; a safety which Kim is actively leaning into. Allowing herself to because she trusts it will hold.

Trini isn't even sure how she knows that save for that it's all over Kim in the same way that magic is apparent to all of them—something that can be felt and sensed as certain as anything she knows to be true in the world. It's like a bright light radiating off of Kim, even mirrored on Jason's face as he watches her from across the table, eyes lingering, soft and warm; something like pride shining back, blazing like fire. 

And if the people make the place, Trini thinks she might just be okay with sitting here sometimes. Not every meal, of course, because her House is home and that won't change. She would miss it terribly, the sense of belonging. That besides, she's quite sure that if she were to ever stop sitting with the Hufflepuffs altogether, Cedric would have her head.

Summer certainly would have no qualms with hunting her for sport. Lovingly.

But sitting here—in a relatively foreign territory while surrounded by friendly faces—is certainly something different than what she's used to. It's so much like discovery, brimming with potential.

Seeming to sense her ruminating, Zack searches her eyes for a moment before smiling wide at her across the table. Bops the toe of her trainer gently with his before lobbing a roll her way, which she catches easily.

.

"So you're still good for Sunday, right?"

Kim nods once in answer, too focused on tipping a handful of chopped-up ingredients into her bubbling cauldron to reply proper. Once her cutting board is clear, she puts it aside and sighs heavily, finally done with the lesson's assignment.

Tipping her head back a bit, she squeezes her eyes shut and rubs at her temple, fighting a headache. It's Friday evening, and having double Potions as her last class every week is proving to be even more unfortunate than she anticipated.

Exhibit A: their dungeon classroom is presently full of thick vapor from all of the cauldrons boiling their contents simultaneously, and the resulting wet chattering sound, though not half-bad for masking a clandestine conversation, is driving her up the wall.

Normally it wouldn't bother her to this... extent. Auditory rubbish tends to reach her brain jumbled as a general rule, sure, like there's a detour somewhere in her ears that tangles it up before it reaches its destination, but it doesn't always amplify the way it is right now. Day-to-day, her normal is usually one of two options: either she's aware of everything around her or she's honed in on one thing intensely—there's almost never an in-between. And the circumstances that determine which setting she'll be on at any given moment in time vary (though she's much better at understanding what those are than she used to be). 

But if there's one thing she knows, it's that she's leagues more sensitive to sensory input when she has a headache; lights get brighter, sounds become excruciating, smells can make her nauseous. If stressed out or tired on top of that, it's game over. 

Jason, who also knows this (bless him), picks her cutting board up absentmindedly and waves his wand. Muttering a cleaning spell over it, he replaces it on the table, having finished his own potion a minute before she did.

Kim smiles and pats his arm in thanks.

"Alright," he says, continuing their conversation. "Just checking—if you want to play less or whatever, just let me know." He speaks quietly as to not be overheard by Snape nearby, who's in the middle of scowling his way around the dungeon. "Don't want to be a pain in the arse."

"Jase, I like playing with everyone," Kim mutters, furrowing her brow. She looks up at him from where she was double-checking the potion recipe in her textbook. "Do I really seem that miserable all of the time?"

And she asks it with a bit of a playful note in her voice, trying to cover the twinge of hurt. She thought she was doing better at not looking pissed off constantly.

"No," Jason replies, sighing. "I just know you've a lot going on, K. It has nothing to do with your very real resting bitch face."

She pokes him in the ribs, smiling, and he resists the urge to jump, eyeing Snape as he walks further away from them. "I really am trying to fix that, you know."

Jason shakes his head. "You don't have to, mate—I'm joking. Nobody has to smile all the time anyway. That shite's exhausting." He pauses for a moment, tipping his head to the side. "If your face is a bitch when it rests, let it be." Kim rolls her eyes at his phrasing, and he flashes a goofy smile. Certainly trying to make her feel better a little, which she loves him for. "Better to have it at neutral than to spend energy on arranging it a particular way. I certainly don't give a damn."

"But the others do, don't they?" Kim asks quietly, unsure. "Trini, Zack, all the Gryffindors you hang around..." she trails off, brushing the pad of her thumb over the corner of her textbook as her gaze falls on Zack at the table next door. There's enough space between them that he won't overhear, but she keeps her voice low anyway. "I want them to think I'm nice, and looking more approachable helps, right?"

Jason's face softens, hearing the sincerity in her tone. "Kim, you're overthinking it. I talk you up to the Gryffindors already—because I love you—so you really don't need to do anything intensive to make them like you. They already do." The corner of Kim's mouth pulls up in acknowledgement, a tight-lipped smile that's more like a twitch, and he takes her hand under the table, sensing her insecurity. "As for Zack, he seems curious about you, which is a good sign. He's asked me a few things."

Kim's eyebrow quirks. "And?"

"And nothing," Jason says easily, shaking his head a little. "Roommate confidentiality. He asked about Billy before too—just interested in what you both're like, now that we've all been hanging around each other a bit."

She nods slowly. "Well, I suppose it's good I haven't scared him away."

"He's an intuitive bloke. Even if you did look ticked all the time—which you don't—he'd be able to see past it." He pauses, looking contemplative. "As for Trini, I can't make heads or tails of her. She's a little shit just like you."

That's the impression Kim's got so far as well, and she chuckles. "Emphasis on the little."

Jason hums. "But she strikes me as a no-bullshit kind of person," he says, shrugging. "Meaning you don't need to put on an act for her, I'd expect. And she does look angry or indifferent most of the time—" he smirks, "so I'm sure you two could bond over that, if nothing else."

"Or I could just talk with her about Quidditch all day," Kim muses, a playful sing-song in her voice. "In all seriousness, she's really good, eh?"

He eyes her curiously, something calculating flickering in his gaze before disappearing. "She is. Don't think I've ever seen anyone go toe-to-toe with you on the pitch like she does, truly."

Kim flashes a smug smile. "Bet your arse you haven't. We have to keep her—at this rate, I'll be a better player going into next season even with the IHC being cancelled this year."

"You Slytherins and your ambition," he mutters, smiling.

"Oh, shut up," she says, poking him in the ribs again, and he really jumps this time. The both of them freeze as Snape looks over, eyeing them dangerously for a moment before turning away again.

Kim waits until the coast is clear, not wanting to die today (at the slimy hands of an overgrown bat impersonator, no less). "I genuinely would like to hang out with her—and Zack—even if we weren't all playing together," she mutters insistently, smirking. "Hence the whole me trying to will my stupid mug to look more friendly and all."

Jason gives a vague tip of the head. "Yeah, yeah. And I'm glad you like them, but I still mean what I said: I know you have a lot going on, so don't feel obligated to play with us all the time." He pauses, arranging his face into a silly frown. "And your mug is not stupid. It's lovely the way it is."

"Thank you mum," she chimes, though she can feel her affection for him warming her eyes. And he must see it, because he smiles sincerely.

Chapter Text

Trini walks into her dormitory and lets out a content sigh, toeing her trainers off at the mat by the door and padding through the room. It's similarly constructed to the common room: walled in light stone with the same honey-coloured wood everywhere. A massive burnished copper lamp hangs from the ceiling in the centre, with four more—much smaller, of course—spread around, one hanging above each of their beds.

It's different from the common room in one very distinct way, though—there aren't any windows whatsoever. And originally, Trini had been worried about this. But the earthy feeling that the whole place has about it makes up for the absence somehow, and the numerous potted plants hanging from the ceiling help substantially. With the yellow light from the centre lamp shining through the greenery, it's easy to forget that she's underground altogether.

Moving over to her nook—the first on the left—she comes to her bunk, which is set back into the wall six feet or so, allowing for her entire massive bed to fit sideways. It's a loft setup, with her bed high up off the ground on sturdy wood posts and situated above a small work area.

She ducks slightly to start down the three wood steps that take her to the sunken square of space right beneath her bed, mirroring its size and shape. A bookcase sits to her right that houses her comic and record collections, schoolbooks, any leisure books she intends to read (if she has time), and gramophone. On the left is a corner desk that runs about half the length of her bed and the entire width of it, along the wall opposite the bookcase. Her pet Kneazle Sabre is curled up on the end and greets her with a chirp; Trini runs a hand through her fur, making cooing noises under her breath.

And she's found it comforting, being surrounded like this; as if she's got her own little house within the dorm. She's felt at home here since the moment she arrived.

Trini drops her bag next to the bookcase and makes a beeline for the parcel sitting atop her desk, waiting for her since she dropped it off after breakfast this morning. She sits in her chair to open the brown paper carefully, certain that she knows what it is—

When she pulls the record sleeve out, she beams. There's a note on top and she unfolds it,

Trini,

Here we are! If Griffin gets this to you as fast as I know he can, then this album is hot off the press. It will look like it's been taken out because it has—I took a listen. Hope you don't mind. Let me know what you think! I will refrain from commenting until you write.

Love you to the moon and back,

Dad

Trini smiles down at the note and puts it on her desk, taking the crisp new record—Day For Night by one of her favourite bands, The Tragically Hip—out of its sleeve. Walking over to her gramophone, she sets it up and waves her wand to charm the volume to increase. Rotating the crank a few times, the album starts to play.

Letting out a content sigh, she takes her books out of her bag and sits in her desk chair, starting to research for Professor Binns' essays that he's just set—one for every week of the next month or so.

And she always listens to music when she works; it helps her think when she's writing essays or doing assignments. Studying is a different story—she needs total silence for memorisation especially. But sitting here, she finds that listening to a brand new album while researching the Goblin Rebellions of the eighteenth century is a great way to unwind.

.

A half hour later or so Trini sees movement out of the corner of her eye and turns, finding Chip outside her workspace waving.

Trini grabs her wand and waves it at her gramophone, bringing the volume down from where it was just shy of shaking the floor. She has a sound muffling charm on the whole area under her bed so that she can play music as loud as she wants without disturbing her roommates, and it's a setup that has served her well.

Bringing the charm down too, Trini flashes a sincere smile. "Hey."

Chip smiles back. "Hey, sorry to bug. Reading Room is starting in five — you're coming right?"

Trini blinks and nods, stretching a little. Reading Room is one of her favourite things about Hogwarts—where a group of Hufflepuffs read and very casually act out a story for the rest of the House every week. It's the closest thing they have to a theatre company, and it's a wildly popular and respected Hufflepuff tradition. As far as ways to spend a Saturday night go, hanging out with what amounts to nearly her entire House is top tier.

She stops the gramophone and ascends the little stairs out of her workspace, shuffling her feet into her fluffy slippers and grabbing a bag of crisps from their communal shelf near the door. Chip comes walking up behind her and they exit their dormitory, stepping out into the main hallway and walking towards the common room.

They find it packed with people: sitting on the plush overstuffed furniture, sprawled out on massive beanbags that are scattered about, or straight up laying on the floor in piles of pillows and blankets. At the opposite end of the room to the entrance there's an open space where a raised, slightly tilted stage platform has been set up, mostly blocked from their view by a rag-tag of old bedsheets fastened together to serve as a curtain.

Chip steps ahead and leads Trini into the mass of people, weaving through carefully before finding Summer starfished obnoxiously on their favourite giant yellow beanbag, saving them seats.

"Budge up," Trini mutters, waving her away so that they can sit down.

"'Thank you, Summer,'" Summer drawls loudly, shifting to make space then laying back to stare at the ceiling, eyes half-lidded, dozing.

Gia comes traipsing through the crowd and drops a brown paper bag on Summer's stomach; the smell of chicken fingers and chips fills the air immediately. "How about, 'Thank you, Gia,'" she chimes, patting Summer on the head before sitting down next to her.

Summer pulls a silly face and sits up, leaning into Gia gently. "Thank you."

Trini reaches into the bag and takes a couple chicken fingers out, popping one halfway into her mouth and handing the other to Chip. "Thank you both," she says sincerely. Until she smelled the food, she hadn't realised how hungry she was.

Chip already has a few handfuls of crisps piled in the front of her jumper, using it as a bowl, and takes the offered chicken finger happily before handing Trini the crisp bag.

Gia promptly swipes it and Trini rolls her eyes.

"Alright, everyone! We're starting. Please take your seats—" calls Dustin Brooks, one of the Readers and the Keeper on their Quidditch team. He's wearing a tall, ancient-looking top hat which looks like it's had a hole blown clean through the centre of it, and seems to have swapped his regular floppy brown hair for a more voluminous and flaming orange style. There's a bit of a bustle and a few noises of grumbling protest as the stragglers in the audience rush to sit down, treading on some limbs as they go.

After a minute the lights go out everywhere in the common room save for above the cleared stage area, and everyone quiets down at once. Trini smiles, noting a group of first-years sitting on another beanbag next to them in the dark, all looking excited but slightly confused. 

A light classical music starts to play as one of the other Readers, an upper-year boy built like a troll, walks out onto the curtained stage. He seems to be wearing a juror's wig, his entire face is painted green, and a piece of parchment with 'BILL THE LIZARD' written on it in bold messy letters is Spellotaped to his chest.

Looking out at them all, he gestures to the room happily with a tattered book in hand. "Puff Players presents: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Part Two," he announces, then walks off.

There's a pause before the curtain is jerked back to reveal a bare bones setup: three people—Dustin and two girls—grouped around a tiny table in ridiculous costumes, crammed together on two rickety chairs and nearly on top of each other. A cast iron kettle sits on the table with three of the yellow plastic cups that they all use for drinking games at House parties.

"Chapter Seven: A Mad Tea Party," comes the boy's voice again from beside the stage. "There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it," he reads, voice magically magnified just enough to carry comfortably through the room. "A Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head."

Another of the Readers—Wayne Hopkins, a boy in Trini's year—steps onto the stage from the back then, arriving in a way that she can only describe as prancing. He's wearing the same getup as last week: a long fraying blonde wig and a pale blue dress, which is a solid few sizes too small for him.

Bringing his own copy of the book up to his nose, he reads as he steps up to the table. "'Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,' thought Alice;" he says, going between a high-pitched voice for Alice and a low one for narration, "'only, as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind.'" 

The Readers make their way through the story with an attentive audience, all snacking and enjoying each other's company, until Alice is set to meet the King and Queen of Hearts and they all freeze in place.

The boy narrating the play comes out onto the stage with a twinkle in his eye then, using his wand to direct the tattered curtain to follow him and block the stage from view again. "House-mates, I have the absolute pleasure of introducing our guest Reader, playing the Queen of Hearts—" he pauses for effect, then spells the curtain back once more, "HEAD OF HUFFLEPUFF HOUSE: PROFESSOR SPROUT!"

The room explodes in applause, all cheers and loud wolf-whistles as Professor Sprout comes into view, wearing a shiny black cloak with moving pictures of playing cards all over it and holding one of the tall rusty shovels from the greenhouses as a royal sceptre. And Trini beams, watching the bushy-tailed first year's gaze at up at the stage in surprise with big smiles and wide eyes.

As per tradition, Sprout guest stars annually in the first Reading Room story of the school year. When she wasn't present last week everyone was confused, but given it was only part one of the book, they'd assumed that they would see her tonight.

The new kids hadn't known she would be here, though.

Reprising his role from last week as the Duchess, Cedric Diggory comes to the front of the stage in a puffy-shouldered, red velvet dress and gestures for everyone to quiet down, grinning like an idiot. After that the story starts up again with enthusiasm, and Professor Sprout's take on the Queen has everyone in stitches.

In four more chapters it's done, and the Readers all take a bow to a fervent applause. The lights go back up gradually, leaving everyone sitting there basking in the happy energy for a few minutes before struggling to their feet, shaking pins and needles out from their legs and cleaning up their rubbish.

Some nights it's like this—where there are silly costumes and some semblance of props present—but others it's just a few Readers gathered on the stage, reading a book out loud like a bedtime story. It's always a good time regardless of how much energy is in the air, because no matter how extravagant they make it that week, the vast majority of the House is always there.

And it's been a bit different every year in how the whole thing runs, but never overly organised or uptight. At its most basic it's a bunch of kids reading a story out loud to their Housemates, with everyone experiencing it together and getting lost in another world for a couple hours.

Trini helped out a whole bunch of times last year, much preferring to be behind the scenes. On occasion she'll read as a stand-in if they need it, but being on stage isn't really her thing. Playing in Quidditch matches in front of the entire school three times a year drains her enough to require multiple months of recuperation; she prefers to lay low when she can.

She follows Summer, Gia, and Chip back into their dormitory, chatting with a few people here and there as they go. Once they've shut the door she yawns wildly, feeling exhausted, and moves to start getting ready for bed.

.

The following morning, Trini finishes up her regular yoga routine and makes her way back down through the castle, trailing a hand along a stair bannister or two as she goes, feeling light.

Once she's made it back to her dorm she putters about, showering and tiptoeing around the room. Stops at her bookshelf, about to put an album on and settle in to read some comics for a couple hours before their pick-up game—scheduled for earlier than usual today—when her stomach gives an unexpected growl.

Trini hums, frowns, looking to where the box of granola bars usually sits in the top corner of her shelf, only to find an empty space. Because, that's right, she finished the last one a few days ago.

She sighs, grabbing her towel and untwisting it from where it was wrapped around her head. After drying her hair a little more she brushes it quickly and shakes it out. Pulls on her holster again and picks up her wand, waving it and muttering to send her towel soaring into the bathroom where it hangs itself up neatly.

Over to her wardrobe she goes, pulling on a pair of soft grey joggers and a navy hoodie, yawning. Slippers next, then Trini's walking out of her dorm with Sabre on her heels.

When she exits the common room and comes into the warmly-lit basement corridor outside, Sabre's sitting there waiting already, having used some kind of cat passage. Gives a little meow before falling into step beside her, and Trini smiles.

Because the cats that live in the castle certainly prowl about, but Sabre tends to only visit Trini in the comfort of the common room or her dorm. There are exceptions of course—one of which is early mornings like these where there are little to no students awake yet. Sabre often elects to accompany her around, tagging along before she inevitably disappears with a swish of her tail, off to other exciting pursuits.

Trini certainly enjoys the company, and she sweeps down to run her hand along Sabre's thick fur fondly as the two of them walk the length of the corridor, making for the Great Hall. Preferring not to bother the house elves this early, given the kitchens resemble something like the aftermath of a tornado in the couple hours both leading up to and in the wake of every meal.

They emerge out of the staircase and into the cavernous Entrance Hall to find it empty, making their way to the left and into the brighter Great Hall, where the dawning light of the morning reflects in the enchanted ceiling above. And Trini's immediately met with a surprise in the form of Kim, sitting near the centre of the Slytherin table alone, reading a book and sipping at a steaming mug.

The place is almost entirely empty, as it always is at this time of morning, with one, two, Kim... fourteen people in total scattered about. As is typical Professor McGonagall is sat at the staff table; Trini's only ever beat her here a handful of times in all of her years at Hogwarts.

Focus.

And Trini is doing an admirable attempt at thinking quickly considering how achingly slow her brain seems to be working—clearly upset at being asked to do anything at all this early—and she can't really blame it. Because she's stopped walking just past the Slytherin table, at Kim's back now and safely outside range of her peripherals, not sure if she should go say hello, or—

But Sabre seems to have her own idea, already halfway to Kim.

What the…?

They've never even met before. What is she doing?

Trini blinks a few times then lurches in their direction, mumbling under her breath in Spanish about the audacity of her demon cat while trying internally to compose herself to little success, her sleepy mind stalled on noting that she's certainly looked better than she does right now, what with the damp, tousled hair and baggy lounge clothes.

Sabre brushes her tail against Kim's leg and Trini frowns, given her cat is not the type to even approach strangers, for one, and certainly not so warmly if she does.

At the sensation Kim starts a bit, looking down before her face softens. "Hi love," she coos, low voice carrying through the empty space between them that Trini's quickly closing, "up early again, are we?"

Trini resists the urge to furrow her brow and huffs, seeing Sabre now winding around Kim's legs like a needy idiot.

Breaking news: aloof cat decides to cuddle up to pretty girl. Local idiot lightly panics. Stay tuned for updates.

"Sorry," Trini says, and Kim's head turns, eyebrows raising a bit in surprise. Apparently too absorbed in the moment to notice Trini approaching, which seems to be a building trend.

Her hearing really could be better.

"About?" Kim replies, looking at her with a curious expression.

Trini gestures to Sabre with a half-arsed flick of her wrist. "That."

Kim peers down at Sabre then back up to Trini, a soft smile dawning on her face. "This one's yours?"

"I would say something along the lines of, 'Couldn't you tell by her arsehole demeanour', but she seems to like you."

There's a playful light in Kim's eyes as she regards Trini for a moment. "Do you want to sit with me? Or is this strictly a chase mission?"

The question is simple but there's something in Kim's voice, her eyes—like always—that throws Trini, that slaps her awake better than any amount of coffee ever could. And with her brain spluttering like a bad engine, she wonders for a split-second if Kim meant to insert a double meaning there—playfully suggesting that Trini's figuratively chasing her instead of literally chasing Sabre; slyly asking if Trini's even interested in sitting, talking, getting to know each other a bit better, or if her intentions are purely one-off, superficial, a chase and nothing else—

Wait.

Is Kim flirting with her?

As soon as the ridiculous thought crosses her mind she swats it away, frustrated with herself.

Get a grip. Jesus.

"Er, no," Trini replies, then hastens to clarify, "I mean, yeah, I'll sit. No to the chase mission. She goes wherever she pleases." She gestures weakly to Sabre. "I stopped trying to get her to do what I wanted a long time ago."

Kim looks back down at Sabre, scratching behind her ears, now. "Mmm. She's quite the character."

Trini nods. "I know when I'm out of my depth."

"Do you?"

And it's teasing, the way Kim says it, with a smirk playing at her mouth, eyebrow quirked as if in challenge. But there's something flashing in her eyes again that acts like a Pavlovian command for Trini's stomach to somersault.

Blinking a few times, Trini decides she doesn't know what to say to that, presently feeling like her brain has packed up and gone on holiday in some kind of lack-of-coffee strike, leaving nothing behind in its wake except a single bumblebee.

Yep. Just buzzing in her head, now, where there should be coherent thoughts forming.

So she sits next to Kim, trusting her body to perform better than her mind, carefully picking her feet up to slide them between the bench and table. Leaving what she hopes is a comfortable amount of space—a foot or so of bench—between them.

"Nice slippers," Kim mutters, and Trini closes her eyes slowly, mortified.

Her slippers, her slippers. In the shape of tiger paws.

News update: Local idiot, Trini, has been cancelled. Thank you for your interest.

Her eyes lock on the jug of ice-cold pumpkin juice on the table, actively wondering if it holds enough liquid to drown herself in, right here, right now—

"I've some like that too back home. Not the same, but... similar," Kim offers, jerking her head in the direction of the slippers, grinning. There's still a barely held back note of mirth in her voice, and Trini takes the opportunity to twist her torso to face her defiantly, looking Kim right in the eyes.

"They're comfortable, okay?" she says, voice coming out with a whine present underneath, like an unexpected, below-deck stowaway on what is usually a very solid, sturdy ship.

She holds Kim's gaze, daring her to make fun of them again, and Kim raises her hands in surrender a moment later. Laughs, then—a melodic sound that flutters out, vibrant, alive, into the quiet between them. "Easy there, tiger. I like them."

Trini groans, leaning forward to rest her head on her hand, squishing one side of her face dramatically and staring blankly at the stone wall across from them. "If I knew I was going to be subjected to this—" she gestures with a limp wrist in Kim's direction, "I would've preferred to die hungry in my dorm."

Another little laugh. "Okay, okay," Kim mutters, relenting. Pauses, then adds, "But can you blame me? You're so easy to tease."

Trini shrugs, pressing her lips together, but a small smile breaks through anyway.

Kim seems to accept this as a win, taking a long pull of her coffee. "Do you often wake up this early?" she asks, properly offering a truce, which Trini gratefully accepts.

And with all the teasing and joking they've been doing—at her own expense, to be sure—Trini finds that her response comes easier than expected, "Yeah. I'm not a morning person, really, but I like the quiet."

"There's something about it, eh?" Kim mutters, nodding like she understands. "I love this place when everyone's asleep."

There's an easy pause, and Trini can't help feeling a bit curious. Still warmer, more willing to talk. "Do you love it when they're awake?" she finds herself asking, and quietly; the question passing her lips before she gave it permission to leave her mouth.

But Kim hums, not fazed, lips parting just barely. Holding, considering her answer. "This is my favourite place on earth," she says softly, like she's sharing a secret. "I guess it's just easy when there's nobody around."

It's not exactly an answer, but Trini thinks she might get her meaning perfectly. She nods slowly, and Kim turns her head to give a soft smile, genuine warmth in her eyes as she meets Trini's gaze.

And Trini isn't sure if she's just more... susceptible? to Kim because of the Gay Thing, like an inborn vulnerability, but she has absolutely no concept of how much time passes before she turns her head a little—feeling like she has to physically move her body to break eye contact—with the intent to grab the handle of the coffee pot that sits on the table a bit to their right. More to stop herself from continuing to stare than anything, to find something else to focus on, to use the caffeine to get that insistent buzzing (much louder, now) out of her ears.

And she immediately realises her error: it's necessary to lean across the space of Neutral Bench that separates them. But Trini's committed to it now, already moving, and her right arm, the navy material of the oversized hoodie—her dad's, soft and faded, too big, baggier than she accounts for—brushes against Kim's left as she stretches a little to reach the coffee pot.

Something like a firework shoots through Trini's body from the spot the two of them touch, freefalling to a place somewhere in the pit of her stomach and exploding—crackling tendrils of lightning travelling, sparking through her bloodstream, nerves, bones. And she pushes through it, keeping to smooth movements, grabbing the coffee pot handle and bringing it back, retreating to the safety of her side of the gap of bench between them, though it seems to have shrunk, slightly.

Closer, they're closer.

Trini starts to pour a cup for herself, wondering how long it's been since Kim spoke. Feeling like she's come out of the cinema and back into real time, disoriented, not sure if it's day or night outside.

A mug slides into her field of vision—which still seems strangely narrowed—and she turns her head to look at Kim again, who's looking back at her, smiling softly with something indecipherable in her eyes.

Silently asking for Trini to fill it. Mostly empty, now.

Trini inclines her head and does, leaving a bit of space at the top, not sure if Kim takes milk in her coffee or not.

"Thanks," Kim breathes. She puts the cup to her lips, blows on it, barely visible steam chased away for a beat before she takes a sip. Prefers it black, apparently.

Trini certainly does not, reaching for both the sugar and milk and adding a teaspoon of the former before pouring the milk in, watching it carefully as the two liquids refuse to blend together for a moment—black and white dancing, spinning around one another—before relenting, combining, the colour turning to something more like a caramel.

Satisfied, Trini sips at it happily, rich warmth flowing down her throat. She takes a sweet roll from the basket on the table with her free hand as a soft meow reaches her ears, and she twists around to see her cat on the floor behind the two of them.

"Hi bun," she says softly, forgetting to play cool with Kim beside her. Feeling strangely at ease, like they're present on a softer, safer plane at the moment.

Trini holds her hand out above Sabre's head, who hops up a little, standing on her back legs to headbutt her palm affectionately. And as soon as Kim mirrors her position, twisting around to grip the outside of the bench, watching them with soft eyes, Sabre turns and brushes her tail across Kim's fingers in greeting.

"Hi to you too," Kim breathes, reaching her hand down slowly, tentatively, to run a hand over Sabre's back. 

Sabre leans into her touch, and Trini finds herself frowning again.

"She really does like you," she murmurs, puzzled now that she can think a bit better on account of the coffee. Because Sabre rarely lets anyone but Trini touch her, and if she does feel so inclined, it's not for very long.

"I don't blame her," Kim chimes, tipping her head to grin at Trini, that easy charm brightening again in her eyes. "But we're familiar—we tend to run into each other. Or, she finds me."

"Really?" Trini asks, properly curious.

Kim nods. "Yeah. Since..." she pauses, considering. "When did we meet?" she asks, looking down at Sabre as if expecting an answer.

Trini tilts her head. "Before this month?"

"Mmm. Sometime last spring," Kim says slowly, continuing to stare at Sabre. When she looks back up at Trini, her eyes are still soft, but there's something behind them that's unreadable, a locked door. "After we met."

The memory flashes in Trini's mind, just once: the smell of freshly mown grass, a cool spring breeze against her face. A girl in front of her, long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, looking as windswept as Trini felt. A feeling of being pulled forward, inexplicably.

And it feels like so long ago. Because, god, she's actually talking to that girl right now.

Kim. Who seems older, hair shorter; a different glint in her eyes most days, though she still looks at Trini the same.

"Huh," Trini says.

Kim shrugs like she's trying to get something off her back discreetly. "She's really great. I've just been calling her 'cat,'" she smirks, "which I can tell she does not like."

Trini smiles. "Her name is Sabre."

Kim seems to consider this. "Sabre..." she mutters, like she's trying out how it sounds. As soon as she does, Sabre really leans into her hand, nuzzling against her palm gently.

And Kneazles are incredibly intelligent, being not just a cat but a magical one—protective, uncannily able to sense untrustworthy or rubbish people, and all-around more perceptive and understanding than what would be expected of an animal. Watching Kim interact with Sabre, Trini gets the distinct impression that she has past experience with Kneazles. They can be properly tricky arseholes if you don't know what you're doing.

"Okay, so no more of the name-that-shall-not-be-named," Kim says lightly, giving Sabre a goofy look. "I'll be very happy to not be on the receiving end of your death glares in the future." She cranes her head up to look at Trini and squints playfully, the teasing lilt returning to her voice, "Ah wait, I think I see the resemblance now."

"Hah, hah," Trini mutters, rolling her eyes.

Kim just grins back at her before informing Sabre that she's going to eat, now, receiving another head bop to her hand in acknowledgement. With that, she pushes back up to sit properly and begins dishing some scrambled eggs onto her plate. "It's... really cool that she's yours, actually. I've been wondering about her owner for ages."

"Well, Sabre's never introduced me to any of her friends before," Trini returns, smirking. Feeling like the biggest dork but not finding it in herself to give a damn at the moment.

Kim laughs sincerely at that, though, and any hesitation Trini had at making silly comments vanishes.

"I'm honoured," Kim says, still smiling.

Trini hums, copying Kim by serving herself some eggs and a few pieces of bacon. "You should be, but you're also really good with her. You must have pets, no? Wild guess: a Kneazle?"

"Two. And others..." Kim replies, smiling as her hand comes up to her throat to run a finger along her chunky choker necklace absentmindedly. "My family's always been big on animals."

"Mine too, but non-magical ones."

"Oh?"

"Dad's muggle-born and he raised the three of us, mostly," Trini explains, shrugging. "Me and my younger brothers. A lot of hiking, national parks, that kind of thing."

Kim nods, taking a moment to swallow the forkful of eggs in her mouth. "My grandparents live in a national park not far from here. They're Magizoologists, actually."

Trini's eyebrows shoot up, turning to look at Kim with an excitement stirring in her chest that makes her feel like a little kid, though she thinks she succeeds in keeping most of it off of her face. "That's so cool. I want to be a Magizoologist when I'm older, I think."

"They love it," Kim says, smiling. "If you ever want to talk to them about it, let me know."

And the offer's clearly genuine—Trini's come to realise that Kim really isn't the type to say something unless she means it. At least in quiet moments like this.

"Thanks, Kim."

"Of course."

They chat as they eat, minutes stretching easily, falling into comfortable silence here and there. A couple handfuls of early-riser students trickle into the Great Hall, passing them on their left, but it still feels like they have the place to themselves.

"So..." Kim says some time later, poking Trini's slipper with her own under the table and clearly trying to suppress a smirk. Failing miserably. "I have to ask: is Sabre short for Sabretooth Tiger, or?"

Chapter Text

The end of September arrives in a crisp fashion, chillier in the mornings but not unpleasant, bringing with it the promise of autumn weather—Trini's favourite.

It's certainly still warm for the moment, though, and Wednesday free period finds her outside in the grounds, sitting underneath the ancient beech tree near the lake with Zack, Billy, Kim, and Jason.

And Trini's not entirely sure what this is—the five of them hanging out on their shared free period for the past few weeks, now for the third time in a row—but she doesn't mind it. She spends the vast majority of her time with her roommates and the Quidditch team otherwise, so it's not like she's snubbing her other friends or anything.

But she's never quite gravitated towards a group of people the way she has (and continues to) with this lot. Like they've all been pulled into the same orbit at once, suddenly on the same trajectory despite originating from different parts of the universe.

Celestial mumbo jumbo aside, though, she meant what she said to Zack a few weeks ago about taking it slow with Kim and Jason specifically. She finds making friends difficult—always has—and the ever-present paranoia of sharing too much of herself, enough to be considered 'weird' by Cool Kid Standards, doesn't aid in the process.

Besides her roommates and the Quidditch team (who she knows technically aren't obligated to like her, but it doesn't stop that little voice in her head sometimes, muttering that they're only putting up with her because they have to) Jason and Kim are the two most conventionally 'Cool' people she's ever come close to befriending. And Trini's own inclusion on the House team apparently grants her what is referred to at Hogwarts as 'Squad Appeal', which she knows puts her in a better-off tier than most when it comes to automatic popularity points. But Kim and Jason are on another level just based on who they are, looking like they could walk onto the set for a reboot of The Breakfast Club and play the roles of the popular kids without batting an eye.

Trini can't knock them for that, exactly, but it makes her more wary of them than is probably necessary. And she has the Tough Kid Of Few Words thing going for her, an identity that has been meticulously crafted very, very intentionally over her last three years at Hogwarts. But internally, and as much as she hates herself for it, she's just as worried as any other kid would be about not being enough; always fretting about not saying the right thing, looking the right way, or acting the part, though she'll never show it.

But she's trying. Clicking with Kim and Jason has been amazing, and if she's able to get a good enough read on the both of them to maybe start to open up a little, it would be brilliant.

Presently, they're all out in the grounds — Billy looked outside not a minute after her and Kim arrived in the library post Ancient Runes and suggested it, to enthusiastic agreement from all sides.

Billy sits with his back up against the enormous beech tree trunk now, homework in his lap, with Jason and Kim sprawled out on the ground a few feet away, all three sheltered by the shade cast under the tree's massive canopy.

Trini and Zack both elected to stay in the sun. And with an array of books and parchment spread out in the lush grass in front of her, she's presently experiencing the satisfying feeling of a tough concept coming together in her mind. She loves moments like this—that little click where what was foggy is made clear. Her Arithmancy homework is the cause, and she flops backward into the grass dramatically, smiling up at the sky.

"I see your nerd glow, T."

"Let me have this!" she huffs, shooting a glare at Zack. And it was certainly difficult—she quite literally made a note in the page margins that says, 'this was hard'.

A small way of validating herself now that she's grasped it. It's the little things.

"I'll bugger off if you explain it to me."

Trini rolls her eyes and an unimpressed look crosses her face before Zack tips to the side and lays down in the grass beside her, wearing a toothy smile.

"Do you have food to offer as payment?" she asks, not humouring him by looking his way at all. She continues staring up at the clouds—imagining the swipe of a giant's hand, tips of huge fingers painted white and streaking across a bright blue canvas. Finding herself itching to paint, wishing she had her supplies with her at school. She never brings them, because who has that kind of time, anyway?

"Erm," Zack starts, then sits up, squinting in the sunlight. "Yo Jase, can you check my rucksack for those crisps?" he asks, looking to where Jason and Kim are both laying a few feet away—Kim with her head resting on his stomach, dozing, and Jason using his tattered messenger bag as a pillow, one arm curled behind his head for more of a cushion. He's doing class readings, levitating his History of Magic textbook above his face in a manner that's either very brave or decidedly stupid.

Jason grabs the floating book with one hand and makes to reach a few feet away to Zack's bag—looking worried about moving too much as to not wake Kim, gazing down at her like she's a sleeping puppy—when Billy covers his hand with his own. "I've got it, Jason," he says quietly.

Billy bends forward, brings the rucksack towards him and looks up. "Zack, can I check your bag instead?" he asks, voice still quiet, also clearly trying not to wake Kim. "I'm closer."

Zack smiles. "Yeah mate, of course. Thank you."

"No problem," Billy says, now poking through the bag. "There's a packet of crisps here, yes, and some licorice wands. Do you want those?"

"Please," Zack replies, and Billy sends them all floating over. Trini shades her eyes with her hand, looking up at Zack happily as he plucks them out of the air.

"One licorice wand will suffice," she chirps.

Zack deposits it in her hand with a flourish. "Cool. Though I know that you would've helped for free. You can't fool me."

Trini scoffs. "Just get your stuff."

He does, and the two of them get to work on it.

.

Trini walks into the Owlery the next morning and pulls the sleeves of her hoodie down over her hands. It's chilly and she hasn't got her coffee yet, but she's been meaning to send this letter to her dad for a couple days.

She's surprised to see another person as soon as she walks in: wearing a light grey hoodie that's a bit tighter than he usually would seem to prefer—short in the sleeves, like he's had a growth spurt recently—golden brown hair mussed from sleep, and holding a parcel in hand with his back turned to her.

Jason turns around at hearing the door close and looks at her blankly for a fraction of a moment before smiling, eyes crinkling at the sides. "Hey, Trini."

Trini responds with an upward jerk of her head, moving to look up at the wall with hundreds of perches going up to the tower ceiling, half-filled with owls who are snacking away happily on their breakfast mouse. She squints, looking for one that's finished eating, and raises her hand up in the air for one to come down. Smiles at Jason. "How's your morning?"

"Decent," he replies, now attaching his parcel to the leg of a barn owl. "It's my little sister's birthday today, so I'm hoping this will be there soon after she gets back home from school."

Trini smiles. "Cool. How old is she?"

"Eight today." He grins and shakes his head, emitting a little laugh as a quick breath out through his nose. "I reckon this sounds stupid, but it kind of amazes me every time I see her now. She's growing up so quickly."

"My twin brothers are eight this year too," Trini offers, as a large tawny owl comes swooping down to land on her forearm. It hoots at her in greeting and she whispers a hello at it, bringing it over to one of the little worn writing tables and letting it hop down. "I get that—I remember the first time I heard one of them say something that was like... adult-sounding, I was kind of dumbfounded for a moment."

"Same age, eh?" Jason says, bringing his owl over to one of the tall glassless windows and sticking his arm out slowly. It takes off, and he watches it go out into the overcast morning with a small smile. "Yeah, she's a good kid. So pure of heart."

"So she'll be a Hufflepuff, then," Trini chimes, grinning. She finishes attaching her letter to her owl's leg, double-checks the address, and brings it over to the window beside Jason.

Jason barks out a laugh. "Hah, no."

"We'd love to have her," Trini teases, as her owl lifts off her arm with another hoot in goodbye. The breeze plays with her hair as the both of them watch it go, and she turns to him with a twinkle in her eye.

"Uh huh," he says, turning to walk out of the Owlery and glancing at her in silent question to follow. She does, and they begin to descend the spiral staircase out of the tower together. "You know what's right awful though? She doesn't even want to be in Gryffindor like me! She wants to be in Slytherin!"

Trini whistles lowly. "Betrayal in the Scott clan."

He chuckles. "It's all Kim and Tommy, honestly. Pearl's always thought they were cooler than me."

"Well, they are."

Jason cranes his head around to look at her proper as they come to the door out of the staircase, pouting. "How can you say that! You don't even know Tommy, do you?"

"I've heard enough about her to make the call. Can't fault the truth, Wonderboy."

He gives her a disgruntled hum paired with a small smile. Rolls his eyes. "I should've joined the Quidditch team. I bet she'd think I was cool then."

"You know, I could actually see that," Trini mutters, turning with him to make their way to the Grand Staircase. They seem to have wordlessly agreed to go down to breakfast together. "If you don't mind me asking — why didn't you? You have a natural knack for it, from what I've seen."

Jason shrugs. "I've always loved playing as a fun thing. Not that it isn't fun when you're competing, but I much prefer being the fan to being the player." He pauses for a moment, frowns. "My dad was really good in his time—Captain of the Gryffindor team and everything. When I told him I wasn't going to play he was disappointed, but I didn't want to do it just because he wanted me to, you know?"

"Don't like being told what to do, then?" Trini asks, and though her voice is teasing, it's a bit softer.

"Nah," he answers, smiling. "Prefer to do my own thing. He said he thought I was being unreasonable, side-stepping a cool opportunity, but I've been playing Quidditch my whole life casually and never once wanted to play organised."

"That's cool of you, knowing yourself at that early an age," Trini says, turning her body a little as they weave by a group of Ravenclaws. "My dad's always been my idol—if he wanted me to play, I probably would've tried it just on that alone."

Jason nods. "I thought about it. And it really isn't a big deal, or at least it wouldn't be in most cases, but he played pro too, right—"

Trini can't help herself. "What! Mate, that's so cool!"

Jason beams. "Yeah. Started on the Arrows then moved to the Magpies for the last two years of his career. Played for… seven? years or so, then quit when my mum had me."

"Wow. What a dad," Trini says, grinning.

"He did the stay-at-home thing," Jason says, shrugging. "My mum's an Obliviator with the Ministry so she worked, and he decided not to go back to Quidditch after a few years of being off; in the end, he got a job at the Ministry too. Works with mainly aquatic magical life—going out on boats and stuff liaising with Merpeople colonies, evaluating areas where muggles have come into contact with magical water creatures, that kind of deal."

Trini nods. "That's really cool." And she means it—she's never met an Obliviator before, only seen a few of them running around at the Quidditch World Cup in the summer. And working with magical creatures in any capacity is kind of her dream job.

"He'd always wanted to do that, really," Jason says, as the two of them come to the marble staircase landing and start to descend into the Entrance Hall. "That was his focus in school—took Creatures all the way through to N.E.W.T., same with Herbology and all that jazz."

He pauses when they come into the Great Hall, which is decently populated given they have around an hour until school starts. They aim for the end of the Hufflepuff table, with Jason looking around a bit apprehensively as they arrive.

Trini sees this and laughs. "They aren't going to tar and feather you, don't worry."

Jason smiles and shakes his head, plopping down on the bench, grabbing the pot of coffee in front of him and pouring the both of them a cup. They don't have much time to spare, so they both start eating immediately.

"What I was saying with all of that," he continues, as Trini stirs her milk and sugar into her coffee, "was that he was putting... more pressure on me to play Quidditch than I liked. And if he was already doing that before I even started, it likely would have been way worse if I actually decided to play."

Trini nods, eyes warm at him sharing this with her, and he hums. "And I get where he was coming from—he's my dad and he wants me to have the best possible experiences in life, right? But after being weirdly icy with me for awhile about my decision not to play, I think he grew to respect me more for doing my own thing."

He pauses, tipping his head to the side a little. "He apologised to me earlier this year, actually. Saying that he was proud of me and that he was sorry for being an arse back then. Bought an old beat-up automobile as a weird, very dad kind of peace offering and asked if I wanted to learn how to fix it up with him."

"That's really great," Trini says, smiling. "Him admitting he messed up and trying to make it right. And that's a cool way to bond. I love cars—my dad owns an auto garage."

Jason's eyebrows shoot up. "Oh man, that's brilliant!"

Trini nods, biting into a piece of toast with jam and chewing for a moment before she grabs a satsuma from a bowl and pockets it for later. "We've had a few projects like that over the years, where we fix up an old beater and make it look like something out of a vintage car catalogue. Never kept them, though—my dad's always sold them as a side source of income."

"I guess if you have the skill, right?" Jason says, still seemingly very interested in their topic of conversation. She can practically feel him wanting to ask her a million questions.

Trini smiles. "Yeah. It was a great way to get to know each other better, and he'd always buy a little gift for me at the end of it as a kind of reward. We've only done it twice—it can take years per car, right, especially as something you're doing as a hobby—but if I ever have kids, I'd love to do that with them one day."

"If I ever get that good at it, I'd love to do that too," Jason says, tipping his head to the side a little.

"It's just practise, like anything," Trini assures him, letting out a little yawn. "If you keep at it I'm sure you'll be some brilliant magical car mechanic in no time."

Jason smiles wide. "I love mechanics. I'm good with knick knacks already, but engines and such is the dream." He pauses, drumming his fingers on his coffee mug. "That's the goal, really." He looks down the table and notes how she's shifted in her seat a little. "Ready to go? I should probably get back to my dorm. I have to shower before lessons and McGonagall will hand me my arse if I'm late again."

"Yeah," Trini answers, getting up and grabbing another piece of toast for good measure. Jason stuffs a blueberry muffin into his mouth, turning to her and flashing a brilliant, silly smile that grows around it, and she shoves him lightly. They walk out together and she waves goodbye as he ascends the marble staircase, making her way down into the basement with a bit of a quicker pace than she usually would. Potions is not a class that she can be tardy for.

.

"How are you doing, K?"

Kim looks up from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy to see Jason looking back at her, the concern on his face evident even in the cool afternoon shadows cast by the great beech tree they're sitting under; the worry in his voice heard over the early autumn breeze moving lightly through the grass around them.

She sighs and drops her book down to her lap, wedging her finger into it to mark the page and letting it close. "I should be asking you that, Jase. And I do, but you won't talk to me."

And she's trying to divert him, of course, given she had another panic attack this morning—her second this week. Jason's trying to be a good friend, trying to talk about it with her. But he's treating her like she's made of glass, and she's tired of not hearing anything about his life despite her constantly making it known that she's here for him.

How can he expect her to start to open up to him again when he won't do the same?

Jason shakes his head. "No, don't flip this on me. How am I to start complaining about my life when you're having literal panic attacks all the time?"

And, yep, there it is. She knows he didn't mean it badly but it stings a little, makes her feel weak. "You don't exist to worry about me, or to protect me. This has never been a one-way friendship, has it?" she mutters, surprised at how her own voice is abrupt and clipped, stemming from the defensive tension now coiling in her every muscle. "I know we're learning all of the steps to this again, and I know that is entirely on me, but you don't have to be extra worried or attentive for fear of me leaving you again if you don't—"

"Don't be an idiot," Jason interjects, frustrated, and she can feel the pressure mounting between them all at once, a wall of water sloshing against a shoddy, creaking floodgate. Inevitable, they both knew, given they've been steering around talking directly about this. "My concern has no ulterior motive—"

"That's not what I meant—"

"But it's what you think," he says softly, sighing. His jaw flexes. "Sometimes I feel like you forget how well I know you."

There's a pause for a beat. Her voice gets even harder when she speaks again, grinding against the gentleness in his tone, "Nobody knows me anymore, Jason. Forgive the drama of that statement, but it's true. Nobody does—myself included."

She drops the book off her lap and into the dusty dirt, the page forgotten. Because who gives a fuck, honestly. "And I've really liked spending time with Trini and Zack because it's a fresh start, right? So there I am trying to look more approachable and shit so they won't think I'm awful right out the gate, but all of it is such a fucking farce, because as soon as they find out what happened they're going to be gone. You need to be preparing for that—for what associating with me gets you—not being fucking kind to me."

Jason scoffs. "You're assuming so much without knowing anything at all, which is so unlike you," he says, aghast. He starts to count off on his fingers. "You're assuming Trini and Zack will run when you don't know shit about it, you're assuming that opening up to me and Tommy means that you're doing us some kind of... what? disservice? which is so backward—"

"Piss off 'I don't know shit about it', anyone would run—"

"You are still you and I still fucking know you," he says firmly, matching her in cursing and disregarding her comment. Makes a point of looking into her eyes. "You're still the same person. And I know the reality of that might be even scarier than believing that you're different..." Kim swallows thickly, staring him down, jaw clenching over and over, "because you don't want to believe that you—the same person you were years and years ago—could do the horrible things you've done. But you are that person: past, present, and future. You are all of them—"

She starts to open her mouth and he holds up his hand, voice rising in volume a notch, "And it's because I know you that I'm trying to pull you back and help you traverse this. There's a haze in your mind that is going to take some time to clear, and you can't guide yourself out of it alone. Not when you can't see the way."

He takes a breath, looking at her with something like pleading in his eyes. "We've done this dance before."

Kim shakes her head, voice rushing out, defiant, "I may not be able to get out of it alone, but I don't want you in that grimy, cold, suffocating place with me. Stop giving me the benefit of the doubt when I deserve none of that from you—"

"Can you can it with that crap for like, thirty seconds?" Jason exclaims, exasperated, voice cracking a little. "Tommy and I forgave you that night on the pitch when you apologised. You will always have the benefit of the doubt with us because we're your best friends. That's the end of it, so stop fucking pushing me away—" his voice wobbles, falters, "when I'm right here—"

Her breath hitches. "Jase, you're here and I love you but that doesn't mean I'm going to bring you further into this than you have to be—"

"You don't think I've been in this from the first day we started talking again?" he interjects loudly, eyes alight, gleaming more than they were a moment ago. "No— the first day we ever fucking met? I've wanted to be beside you this entire time and you push me away regardless of what I do! I've stepped back before because you insisted, and look where that got us!"

Kim stares, alarmed, as he shakes his head, unshed tears shining in his eyes. "We've been there for each other equally—you, me, and Tommy—since we all learned to fucking speak," he says, enunciating, deliberate, his words like well-placed jabs, sounding more like he's trying to wake her up from something than to hurt her feelings. "And it was you who started to pull away when everything went down with your parents."

When he takes a quick deep breath in she hears it catch, hears it shake. "Kim, we gave you space when you asked for it because we expected you to come back to us—" his voice breaks, and it's like she's seeing him unravel where he sits, his regular calm demeanour replaced with something wilder, something more desperate; posture falling, curling in on himself. "And we fucking tried, but it didn't take long for us to realise we were losing you. And once it became clear that space was not boding well at all, we tried to come to you instead."

Jason gestures, a back-handed slap through the air, voice rushed, trying to get her to understand. "But that only pushed you further away! You kept doing exactly what you're doing right now—saying you didn't want to bring us into darkness with you."

His face falls then, and there's such profound disappointment there that it feels like all the air is gone from around them. "You fucking left me. You left Tommy, who was in the exact same boat as you, Kim. Her mum and your dad—both Death Eaters. You both lost parents that day, but you got so wrapped up in it that it was like you forgot that she was going through the exact same thing."

Jason shakes his head, running a hand over his forehead roughly. "In the name of protecting us you left us. You tore yourself away and it broke us both." He pauses. Gestures, defeated, to her. "It broke you, too."

He falls silent abruptly, clearly trying to compose himself, but seems to soon realise it's useless. When he speaks again his voice resumes its previous track, rising in volume, inflating with his posture, "Don't you get by now that this whole bit doesn't work? Every time you say stuff like this I hear your voice from that fucking day in the Owlery—"

Her breath hitches. "Jase—"

He barrels on though, too quick to be stopped, now, "...that fucking day when you told me, after being together since the day we were born, that you didn't want me around anymore. Just like that. You remember what you said?"

Kim stares at him, pale. She remembers every word of that conversation—it plays in her dreams, in her nightmares, in the back of her mind on bad days. One of her deepest, most profound regrets.

Jason's jaw clenches. "You fucking said: 'I won't bring you into this. You're not going to be able to take it, and I don't want you with me.'" He sounds congested, suddenly whispering to keep his voice steady, "How is that any different than what you're saying now? You've always been so fucking black and white, Kim. And something you don't get—and something I'm starting to wonder if you'll ever get—is that you can't do this alone. You're letting yourself flounder because you're being a sodding idiot and won't take someone else's hand to help pull you out."

A pause, and then he's staring right at her, defiant, determined. "Merlin, I'm not dealing with this complex of yours anymore! You aren't allowed to keep setting yourself up for crap because you think that's what you are, or it's what you deserve. I've seen this fucking film before, and I don't buy any of it." He sighs, wiping at his eyes like he's frustrated with himself for being so emotional. "I lost you once because I listened to your idiot arse and backed away. I'm not making that mistake again. You're too fucking important to me."

And just like that he deflates proper, stopping his abrupt rising and falling, the swinging from blunt confrontation to quiet dejection. Looking exhausted. Kim stares at him for a few moments, completely baffled. He's never gone off on her like this before.

She waits a few moments before she goes to reach for him, then stops. Hesitates.

No. Come on, you have to face this.

And she steels herself—timidly tipping forward, dirt from the roots of the tree scuffing up the knees of her trousers, and shuffles to sit directly in front of him, legs crossed. Doesn't touch him, timid. "None of what happened is on you, Jase," she says quietly, tipping her head to try to meet his eyes.

He kind of just sits there, frozen, before he shakes his bowed head. Takes a shuddering breath in and lets it out. "You weren't in your right mind and I should've stepped up," he says softly, playing with the zipper on his Quidditch duffel. "If I had've been more stubborn, if I had actually fought for our fucking friendship, kept you from being so stupid, none of this would have happened. You wouldn't be sitting here believing that you're undeserving of my love, or of anyone's."

She takes his hand gently, carefully, and he stares down at it for a moment before squeezing back once. "Kim, you came so close to ending it," he says, so quietly that she barely hears, voice trembling. More soft than he's ever spoken to her, still not catching her eye.

"I know," she breathes, and they sit in silence for a minute.

She told him a few months ago. And he cried harder than she'd ever seen—her best friend in the world, learning just how close she was to taking her own life.

He takes a shaky breath in and out. Calmer, now, but still cloudy, like a flash summer storm come and gone. "We've talked about all of this and I know that you know what I'm saying is true," he says, sighing. "You're in a bad spot in your mind, I can see it. That's why I'm asking how you are."

"I'm sorry," she says quietly.

So many things she wishes she could take back.

Jason shakes his head, bringing her hand up to his lips and kissing it, finally looking at her with a kind of love in his eyes that she could never even begin to try and quantify. "You know now. I know now. And I'm not letting you do this alone, so please quit it, alright?"

Kim nods. She knows he's right.

She picks up Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy from where it lays in the dirt, brushing the jacket off a little, finding her page again and putting her finger there. Marking her progress. "I'm not gonna promise you that I'm going to be any easier to deal with," she says then. Softly, plainly. "But I swear to you I'm going to try."

"That's all I'm asking," he says, kissing the back of her hand again. He stares at the ground, eyes unfocused. "And I'm sorry too, for getting like this—"

"You don't have to be," she interjects quietly, putting a hand on his knee. "I'm glad you said something, and I want you to talk to me about anything—but especially if I'm the source of what's bothering you."

Jason nods, humming. "And I'll try to." He waves his hand vaguely. "I know it isn't fair for me to expect you to talk then not do it myself."

And there he is, so much on her wavelength, always.

He pauses, still looking like he's lost in his own mind somewhere. "I just— it was supposed to be the three of us against the world, you know? And it's kind of all fucked now, with Tommy closer to other people. I guess I wonder if there's even room for us anymore. If she would be better off..."

Kim shakes her head. "Before I threw a bomb into all of this, our friendship was the best thing about my life, Jase. And I know she felt the same."

He nods. "Me too."

Kim smiles softly. "It won't ever be the same as it was, because that's true of everything. But it will be better, something that's grown with all three of us," she says, tone sure. "It's going to be a slow process, but we'll get her back properly. We will be whole again."

He sighs. "And that might include other people too..." he trails off, a small smile pulling at the side of his mouth.

"Billy is lovely," she says, sincere. Knowing. "He clicks with us, somehow."

Jason smiles properly. "He does. And..." he pauses, looking pensive. "You know, that ease with him—I feel it with Zack and Trini too. They feel like us." And the statement doesn't entirely make sense, but she knows exactly what he means. She felt it their first pick-up game together, and feels it still.

Kim nods, looking to where her broom is propped up against her Quidditch duffel. "I'm trying not to get too ahead of myself with those two. But they do feel like us, and I can't quite find the right words to explain it beyond that."

"Just a feeling," Jason says, nodding too.

"Yeah."

He meets her eyes, and the affection still shining there sends a warm kind of buzz spreading through her whole body. "But I know you won't talk to anyone else about any of the stuff that's going on with you. Not yet at least," he says, voice gentle again. "Treat all of this as trauma, I've said that to you before. You're dealing with the fallout and you need to talk to me about it, or to Tommy."

And the tension truly leaves his shoulders, his neck, his voice. "So, new friends or not, Tommy and I are going to be there for you. You're going to let us support you together." He smirks. "We'll be the best bra you've ever had."

Kim raises her eyebrow, pleasantly taken aback. "Your bi is showing."

His own eyebrows shoot up, eyes widening theatrically as he runs his hands over his front. "Wait, it is?" he says, faux-alarmed. "Bollocks, I have a bank robbery planned for later today. Is some nefarious entity disrupting my powers of invisibility?" He pops to his feet, drawing his wand and spinning around on the spot slowly like an idiot, stirring up a tiny cloud of dust that swirls, floats, settles. "VILLAIN! COME OUT, I SAY! I JUST WANT TO TALK!"

"You're honestly something else. Why are we friends?" Kim asks, bewildered.

"We're friends because our powers magnify astronomically around each other," he explains in a posh accent, peering down at her as if speaking to a toddler. "A male and female bisexual together is like, world-ending levels of invisibility."

"Bipocalypse," Kim chirps sagely, nodding.

He smiles at her, and properly, before plopping down next to her again. They sit in comfortable silence for a couple minutes before he speaks, all business, "Now, K. I will talk to you proper about my life once you answer my original question: how are you?"

Kim looks back at him and sighs, acquiescing. And staring out over the sloping lawn of the grounds, she starts to talk about all of it—slowly, at first, then quicker.

Trusting him. Because underneath all of the swirling doubt in her mind, she knows she can.

Chapter Text

Later that evening, as they're all striding out of the pitch windswept and high on adrenaline, Trini notices one of her trainers is untied and kneels down to fix it. There are plenty of fun and colourful ways in which she could reasonably accept injuring herself on the Quidditch pitch, but tripping over her own shoelaces is not one of them.

Billy and Zack wait for her while Jason and Kim continue walking ahead towards the castle, chatting away, unaware that she stopped. And in typical idiot fashion, Zack begins leaning on the space between Trini's shoulder blades, essentially preventing her from getting up in any kind of dignified manner.

"Keep digging your elbow into me any longer, homeboy, and I'll jinx it to jelly right here and now."

He's familiar enough with her to know she's joking, but he backs off nevertheless. "Feisty," he teases, offering his hand to hoist her up. "Is this 'cause of that amazing feint I pulled on you earlier? No hard feelings." 

Rolling her eyes, she takes it, and he pulls her to her feet with ease. She looks over at Billy, who's just standing there watching them quietly, rocking back and forth a bit on the balls of his feet.

"Thanks for waiting, lads."

Billy gives her a soft smile. "Of course, Trini."

"No child left behind," Zack says seriously, with a twinkle in his eye.

Trini shoves him, keeping her expression set to unimpressed. "I anxiously await new and exciting comedy material, Z."

Zack shrugs. "Height jokes are so classic, T." He pauses, smirking. "Not sure if I can ever measure up to Kim on that, though. Girl's got a skilled tongue on her."

Trini groans at that, all the while feeling a heat creep up her cheeks that she hopes isn't noticeable. But with the flush already present from soaring through the chilly air for the last hour, she figures she should be good.

God, though. One mention of a pretty girl's tongue and she gets like this? Gay.

Pull yourself together, Trini.

In an effort to brush it aside, she focuses her attention up ahead, to where Jason and Kim have just come to a stop. A group of four people blocks their path to the castle, and even from this far away, it's clear that the interaction is unusually tense.

On instinct Trini starts walking faster, just as Jason—who's usually so steady in terms of how he asserts himself physically—lurches forward as if about to get into the space of one of the people standing in front of them. A Slytherin girl, by the looks of it. And, yeah—the other three grouped around her are Slytherins as well.

Trini can't clearly see Kim or Jason's faces, but Kim grabs his forearm firmly, pulling him back and putting her hand on his chest to steer him away from the hostile group and back towards the pitch.

It takes some effort on Kim's part, and as Trini, Zack, and Billy approach at a jog, now, they get a glimpse of why—Jason's face is arranged in a look of pure rage.

It's so unlike him that Trini immediately has the violent urge to rush the offending group, who are presently walking away from them in the direction of the greenhouses. As they go, their jagged, mocking laughter cuts through the air, seemingly hanging around for a moment too long. 

"What in the bloody hell was that?" Trini asks quickly, steps heavier as she slows, skidding a little as she comes to a stop on the path and looks between Kim and Jason. "Do you want me to go break their legs?"

Zack nods fiercely from beside her and Billy gently puts his hand on Jason's shoulder, who's deflating already but seems to come out of it a bit more at his touch, expression softening back into familiarity.

Jason shakes his head and Kim doesn't even respond; she at once looks exhausted, but there's something else clearly wrong with her. Her eyes have gone dim, and her usual laid-back posture has been traded for something smaller, more weathered. She stands with her jaw clenching and unclenching rapidly, arms wrapped around herself, fists gripping at the soft black fabric of her hoodie as if trying to find an anchor. Looking ready to fall apart.

And Trini hasn't known either Kim or Jason for very long, but from what she's seen, this is entirely atypical for the both of them.

She's about to set off after the group of Slytherins, drawing her wand out of her sleeve when Kim's voice sounds:

"Listen, I'll meet you lot back at the castle," she says to nobody in particular, not meeting their eyes and evidently trying to keep her voice steady.

Trini and the other three look at her, and all the anger is gone from Jason now. There's only deep, sincere concern in his eyes.

"Kim, she's just being—"

"It's all right Jase. I'll see you guys in a bit, okay?"

Kim walks away from them then, leaving the path that leads up to the castle and swooping down to pick up her Nimbus 2001 from where it lays in the grass. She begins crossing the lawn towards the lake, and Trini watches her go with a feeling washing over her that's a lot like failure—like there's something she should have done.

She stares after Kim as the distance between them grows, at a complete loss.

.

Kim quickens her pace as she strides away from her friends, needing to be alone as soon as possible. With effort she attempts to slow down her breathing on her own; Quidditch is one of the rare times when Ptero can't be by her side for obvious reasons—he's safely in his enclosure back up in the castle, and she chastises herself for relying so much on him to keep her steady in moments like this.

And Jason just was inches from hexing someone into oblivion, which is entirely not what needs to happen right now. What Kim needs is to keep her head down and away from Amanda Clarke; to sweat it out until the fever breaks. And as much as she wonders if this isn't dangerous, to harbour this kind of hatred for herself in the meantime—when, on the nights when she feels like she's shipwrecked leagues underwater a familiar reel of her most abhorrent actions tends to replay on loop, when the sheer weight of everything she's done is as substantial and crushing as the pressure of an entire ocean on her shoulders—she knows that there's nowhere to hide from any of it.

Because she's not being tormented by something arbitrary, after all. She's not being chased by demons.

No — her particular poltergeist haunts the surface of still, dark water on cloudy days; it appears in corridors when a shiny suit of armour catches her eye; it stares, unblinking, out of every drinking glass, window, and mirror in this fucking castle.

The shorter hair still throws her sometimes. Sallow skin seems to be stretched more taught, now, over cheek and jaw bones sharp enough to look almost alien. Blueish purple bruises under flickering, tired eyes are unfamiliar, woefully imperfect.

Washed out; a far cry from the person she used to see. Whoever that was.

And after removing all of it—all of the ice and steel and oil that she had encased and covered herself with over the years—she had found this broken, vulnerable person cowering underneath. The same person who stares out of mirrors back at her now and is somehow the closest to herself that she has felt in years.

Everything that she has done is blocks of iron on chains, fastened securely around her ankles and goading her to surrender to their weight, whispering her faults and stoking her guilt like a bush fire in a drought. Setting her entire person aflame—burning her up from the inside out. And after everything, Kim believes that she deserves it.

There are some ghosts that never leave, she thinks. Maybe they'll work out a mutually-agreeable schedule between them as time goes on, though, where haunting might occur only during the morning hours? Or perhaps a standing appointment for tormenting to exclusively take place in Potions, when her mind is already elsewhere due to Snape's incessant, tedious drawl.

She shakes her head like she's trying to get water out of her ears.

Still here, still here.

Still here.

You can't run from yourself.

Kim plucks at her Quidditch kit duffel, mind caught on the picture of her and Amanda that resides there, tucked away safely in a zippered pocket. The one she carries everywhere. Not that she needs a reminder.

Willing tears not to fall, she walks over the sloping lawn, feet carrying her in the direction she wants to go without much conscious thought. As soon as she comes to the edge of the wooded area that surrounds the lake she enters it, checking over her shoulder to make sure she's not being followed and adjusting her broom to sit a bit more comfortably where it's slung by a thick leather strap across her torso.

Kim walks amongst the ancient trees, a chill placating breeze shifting through her hair, footsteps cushioned by the rich moss that blankets the ground. After ten minutes or so she comes to it—to the small cliff presiding silently above a tiny cove, tucked away from the rest of the school. Her refuge.

Dropping her duffel, she gently leans her broom up against it. Removes her robes from her bag and spreads them out over the smooth rock edge to sit, hugging her knees to her chest and looking out over the Black Lake.

She glances down at the photo that's now scrunched up in her right hand. It's enchanted to never wrinkle, an image meant to stand the test of time. Her and Amanda, sitting on lush green grass in a London park and laughing together candidly; a bubbling, bright thing that shook Kim's shoulders and painted a dazzling shine in Amanda's eyes. Kim remembers that day perfectly.

A profound feeling of loss washes over her. It wasn't supposed to go like this.

.

"Are you sure she's okay?" Trini asks, looking across the Gryffindor table at Jason with clear concern on her face.

He hesitates. "It's... been a lot, Trini," he replies vaguely, with sadness in his voice.

And Trini's well aware that it's none of her business unless Kim discloses it to her, but she can't help but be concerned. She knows what bullies are like.

It seems like a strange situation, though. The Kim she's beginning to know is quick-acting, blazing, and can be reckless at times. But her apparent willingness to let those people go at her, back there? And holding Jason back from a fight, for that matter? It doesn't feel right.

Trini sighs. "I'm not going to press you. And I know you don't know me very well, but I'm here for the both of you if you ever want to talk about it."

Jason nods once. "She won't say it—at least not yet—but I know she's grateful. As am I, though the only reason I'm tangled up in it is 'cause I refuse to allow her to go through it alone." He pauses for a few moments, considering. "Not for her lack of trying, though," he adds, shaking his head and smiling sadly at Kim's stubbornness.

Trini furrows her brow, feeling an insistent concern tugging at the back of her mind. And she's once again surprised by it, by how she already feels connected to these people, somehow. Her first instinct is usually avoidance, after all—not because of cowardice, but due to a practised apathy. She's been playing at nonchalant for so long that sometimes it's like it bleeds off the page of whatever script she's following. Like over time the more she pretends, the more she becomes.

But with that situation just now, she had no urge to walk away whatsoever—no flat affect taking over her entire person. No, she was just as ready to throw down as Jason seemed to be. And she can scrap when she wants to, that's for certain, but finding people she actually cares about enough to do that for is a rarity.

And Kim is somewhere out there in the chilly grounds, alone and trying to hold herself together. A girl who Trini's known to be so much elusive and almost untouchable in how she interacts with the world, like a solid object that keeps vanishing and re-appearing. Tangible, yes, but too quick for anyone to get a grip on it.

That impression is being tossed around in Trini's mind now, flipped and turned, everything she thought she had gleaned up to this point being thrown into question. With this new information, she's now beginning to wonder if Kim's dodging and weaving act—the vanishing and re-appearing, all of it—is more evasive than elusive.

Perhaps Kim's a solid object, yes, but one that's made of glass. Where a point in time frozen in one place for too long could mean exposure. It could mean shattering and cracking, destroying the illusion of something stronger.

Trini clenches her jaw and takes a deep breath in and out, looking across to Jason, whose mind is clearly out in the grounds with Kim as well. "We shouldn't ask her about it, right?" she asks, trying to meet his eyes. He would know best, and she doesn't want to make the mistake of not talking about it, if that's what Kim needs.

Jason hesitates for a moment then shakes his head. "I reckon not mentioning it is wise. Mind, she tries to keep... all of this under tight wraps, but that's not going to be possible forever."

He seems to consider his words again, his tongue darting out over his lips and looking a bit apprehensive. "Listen, you two—" he says, looking between Trini and Zack fondly now, "have been a brilliant respite for her from all of this. And I don't mean that on a superficial level at all. She—and Billy and I, of course—has loved hanging out with you guys like we've been."

Trini smiles softly at him, trying to be encouraging.

He gives her a small smile back. "Beginning to know you both after all of this that's happened with her has been lovely, because though I'm sure you both've heard about it vaguely—" Trini nods once and Zack does the same, "it's been nice to find new friends who aren't going to dismiss her right out of the gate? We've all clicked so far, at least in my experience."

"Yeah," Trini says quietly. "It's been a nice surprise."

Zack hums his agreement and inclines his head. "We really do enjoy spending time with you three," he says, voice carrying an unusually serious tone. "So if this rubbish with Kim is something that's been happening for a while, which is what it sounds like, I don't want you lot to think you have to hide it from us. We want to be here in whatever way that works for you," he looks between Jason and Billy, "and for her."

"Yeah, we won't push it," Trini adds, sighing. "No pressure to tell us what's going on. But if we can help, do tell us."

Jason hums. "All of this is... heavy stuff. I expect she'll approach you lot when she feels ready, but until then, better we leave it to her."

"Fair," Zack mutters, shrugging. "Whatever she needs. Whatever you all need."

"And you know that goes both ways," Billy says, smiling. "We're here for you both as well. And we can definitely speak for Kim in that respect too."

Trini smiles back at him.

Chapter Text

"Yo, wait up!"

Trini slows her steps and turns around to find Kim jogging down the castle front steps, broom in one hand and the other steadying her Quidditch duffel.

When their eyes meet, she flashes Trini a genuine smile—bright, welcoming, like they haven't seen each other in some time.

In a way, they haven't; at least not by the standard that they've built up in the last few weeks. And until last night Trini hadn't realised just how used to seeing Kim every day she's become. Because they don't share classes daily, but they tend to bump into each other nonetheless. Like one of those things where once you're made aware of it, you start seeing it pop up everywhere.

That particular awareness began for Trini immediately after her and Kim met last year, certainly. But she's also never been one to... reach out. Her forte is moving away, not towards.

There were times last year where she would get the feeling that someone was looking at her and glance up, only to catch sight of Kim, apparently deep in conversation with someone else, engrossed in a task, or elsewise unaware of her existence. But as of the last few weeks, Kim seems to be conscious of Trini's presence any time they're within shouting distance; she will smile at Trini as they pass each other in the corridors, meet her eyes across the Great Hall out of nowhere, or, as of the last week or so, be known to send balls of parchment sailing across the room at Trini's head in History of Magic. On days they don't share lessons, they'll almost always eat at least one meal together with the boys.

After that incident on Thursday night, though, Trini noticed a pronounced absence of any kind of Kim interaction on Friday—she hadn't been around at mealtimes, and though they all share History of Magic in the morning, they don't sit together. What's more, Kim's the one who tends to do the approaching in their relationship; given what Jason said about not mentioning what happened, Trini sat with her roommates as usual, and when the lesson came to an end she elected not to say hi to Kim, Jason, or Billy. She steered clear of them all day (which, in a castle of Hogwarts' size, is easy enough for it to not feel forced) in effort to give Kim some space.

After Reading Room last night, though, Trini found herself feeling like her and Kim had... fought, or something? Apparently seeing someone so often then suddenly not, even if only for a couple days, can make everything feel off-kilter. It throws a spanner in the works, breaking the comfortable routine.

To be sure, Trini wasn't sure if Kim was going to come to pick-up today at all, so the fact that she's jogging toward her now is pleasantly surprising.

And at the sight, Trini gives a half-arsed wave in greeting, finding she has to hold a smile back. Turns to continue making her way down to the pitch just as Kim's about to catch up.

Kim speeds to a halt beside her, feet sliding a bit on the path before she matches Trini's pace. "Hey."

Resisting the urge to ask how Kim is—to offer to jinx those bullies from Thursday to shit, to find some way to fix what happened—Trini keeps her voice casual. "Sup."

"How's everything? Been awhile."

"Kim, it's been two days."

"Trini, stop being a little shit."

Pulling a playfully affronted face, Trini pauses for a moment. Changes tack with a twinkle in her eye. "Do you ever hear someone say your name and kind of go, 'Huh'. Or is that just me?"

"Did that happen just now? It's probably 'cause I used my Stern Voice."

Trini smirks. "Is that what that was?" Kim gives her a deeply unimpressed look in response, and Trini laughs, feeling close to giddy at interacting with her again. "Okay, now that's more like it. Maybe you're more of a physical communicator...?"

There's a beat where she realises that might come off as flirty, but Kim's face remains unchanged, something like amused challenge sparking in her eyes as she mutters, "I'll physically communicate plenty in a minute—"

Trini's still chuckling. "That's right, play to your strengths," she coos, flashing an innocent grin.

Kim stares back at her for a few moments, amusement taking over her whole face, now. "Are you going to answer my question, or do I need to wait until you've got this out of your system?"

"Might be a while," Trini drawls. "I've been deprived of poking fun at you for an entire two days, after all."

Kim grins. "I've been on your mind then, huh?" she chimes. And Trini falters, tongue darting out to wet her lips, about to brush it off when Kim speaks again, voice softer, "I know what you're doing, you know."

Trini looks at her expectantly, unsure of what she's getting at. "And what is that?"

"You're trying to cheer me up."

Trini blinks a couple times, surprised at being called out. "Hey, you never know," she says, keeping her voice at an even tone. "It might just be that I'm completely disregarding your feelings by not asking how you are up front."

Kim scoffs, a soft smile on her face. "Right."

They enter the dark, cool tunnel at the south end of the Quidditch stadium and Trini takes a deep breath in, reveling in the familiar smell that acts on her stuttering heart like honey does on a scratchy throat. "To answer your question, everything is just fine. Zack and I have been living our best lives in the years you and I've been apart."

This earns her another little smile from Kim, and Trini pauses as they walk out onto the pitch, bright grey overcast October sky stretching out above the stadium like a domed, softly swirling ceiling. "Though I was anticipating being hit in the head by a ball of parchment in History," she continues, tilting her head a little, "and when it didn't happen I found myself missing the sensation... which I should probably be concerned about, but I can't be arsed."

"I'll make it up to you next week," Kim quips, laughter in her eyes.

"Lovely."

They continue to banter back and forth as they make their way to the middle of the pitch, aiming their steps to the right and towards the mouth of the larger, wider tunnel that contains the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff team changerooms. Billy is already there, cross-legged in the cool grass and writing in a notebook, softly singing what Trini quickly determines to be 'Walkin' After Midnight' by Patsy Cline.

"Hey B!" Kim calls, once they're twenty yards or so from him. Announcing their presence so they don't come up on him unawares.

He looks up and smiles. "Hi!"

Trini deposits her broom and duffel next to him. Stretches, then moves to sit. Jason and Zack should be arriving soon, with any luck.

Kim collapses into the grass in front of the two of them and lays on her back, humming contentedly.

"How's your morning been?" Billy asks, looking at Kim particularly with soft concern evident on his features.

Kim tips her head to face him. "Improved as it's gone on. Trini here was practically jumping through hoops to cheer me up, just now—"

Trini scoffs. "Give me a break—"

"No really, you should have seen how playful she was being," Kim insists, smiling goofily at Billy.

Making a very determined effort to hide her shy smile, Trini rolls her eyes.

.

A couple hours later, Kim and Billy are walking away from the school broom shed post their scrimmage match, eyes fixed up ahead on Jason, Zack, and Trini. It's darker now, still afternoon; the warm wind whipping about stronger than earlier in effort to usher storm clouds in from over the mountains. 

And they're too far to hear proper, but Zack's clearly just said something moronic, because Jason shoves him lightly as Trini smacks him upside the head, all three laughing.

Kim and Billy watch, both smiling at the sight; fondly, in a way that's entirely involuntary. "What do you think about all of this?" Billy asks, looking to Kim with warmth in his eyes.

"About the five of us, you mean?"

Billy nods, running a hand over his short black hair.

Kim hums but hesitates, a small crease in her brow appearing then vanishing. Still worried, despite Jason's reassurances, that all of this new friendship stuff is doomed to fail.

(And even more so now, given what happened with Amanda last week.)

So she makes a noncommittal noise in response.

"I think it's going quite well, don't you?" Billy tries, peering over at her kindly.

They walk for another few moments in silence, Kim still considering her response. "I—" she starts, sighing. "Yes, of course. I really do like them. Zack and Trini."

She falls silent again and Billy watches her curiously. "What's on your mind, Kim?"

"It's nothing. Everything's good," she replies, a bit too quickly, though she injects a manufactured smoothness into her voice and adjusts her posture to be more relaxed. Feeling pathetic for dwelling on it so much, for being so scared; not wanting to whine.

She makes to quicken her pace a bit, to dismiss the subject and leave the conversation behind, but Billy slows to a halt, stubborn and insistent.

Kim stops too, throwing him a look that says, 'Really?' to which he jerks his head a little, encouraging. Fully aware of what he's doing. 

Flexing her jaw a couple times, she tries to find the right words before explaining, "It's just... when Trini and I came down to the pitch earlier, she cheered me up more in a few minutes than I'd been able to manage on my own in the last couple days combined. And she didn't even do anything groundbreaking."

She gestures vaguely, shrugging. "But in the back of my mind, all I keep thinking is that it's not going to matter how well we click, or if we might have the potential to become real friends, because all of this is going to collapse before we ever get there..." she trails off, scoffing a bit at herself.

"Waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it were?" Billy asks, and Kim nods. "Is this why you've been actively avoiding Trini and Zack since Thursday evening?"

Kim blinks. "'Avoid' is a strong word—"

"What else would you call it?" he asks, completely serious. "Evade? Circumvent? Elude? I can get my pocket thesaurus—"

She runs a hand through her hair, sighing loudly. "Okay! I was avoiding them!" she mutters, whining a bit and making a dismissive gesture with her hand. "Can't fault me for being embarrassed, can you? I wasn't expecting them to see the Amanda rubbish so soon. And I didn't keep my composure at all afterward, either, walking away like I did."

"You thought that Trini and Zack would act differently after witnessing that?"

Kim nods dejectedly, suddenly unable to look at him. "Wouldn't you? Like, I get that they don't understand the history there, but I'm trying to project a better image. Shit like that doesn't help." She pauses, and when Billy doesn't say anything, she continues, "It's fine, alright? Bottom line is I agree with you that everything's going well. And Jase already told me not to worry, so you really don't have to poke me about this."

She adjusts her tone to something softer, trying to communicate that she isn't angry, "I appreciate it from both of you, truly, but I can't see my mind changing. It's smarter to expect the worst and save myself the disappointment."

They resume walking as Billy hesitates, silent for a few moments before he speaks, "I'm not trying to change your mind. But full transparency: I did want to talk to you about this." He pauses again, letting out a breath. "When you two came down earlier and you joked about Trini cheering you up, I didn't continue the line of discussion deliberately, even though I felt inclined to comment, because I wanted to share something with you that I felt might be better for a private conversation." 

His tone of voice piques her interest—at once more steady than usual, less rising and falling in a way that makes him sound older, somehow. "What's more, you've just confirmed my suspicion in regards to how you've been feeling. I won't pressure you to tell me anything else, and I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable—"

"You didn't," Kim interjects softly, smirking. "I'm just a sensitive bitch. You know this."

The corner of Billy's mouth ticks up. "Sensitivity isn't a bad thing. But I was worried about you and a direct approach seemed best, given you have a tendency to repress your anxious thoughts and feelings for fear of seeming weak to others."

Kim scoffs, a bit bemused at his honesty, though she knows he doesn't think of it as a jab. There's fondness in his eyes as he stares ahead towards the castle, different than what she's seen from him before. "Again, I'm not trying to change your mind or convince you of anything. I'm just asking you to consider what I have to say, because I have some relevant insight." She slowly nods her agreement and he pauses, hums. "This needs context to explain, so bear with me."

She watches him curiously as he begins, "Trini will shed her snarky tone and trade it for something goofy and bright when she can tell someone she cares about is hurting. It's a strange tendency, seemingly uncharacteristic in someone of her disposition, but I have known her as long as we've been at Hogwarts. It is a certainty."

He slows his walking pace a bit and Kim matches it, fidgeting with the hem of her jumper. "In first year, though we were Potions table-mates, Trini didn't talk much to me initially. I attempted to initiate a friendly camaraderie multiple times, but she was clipped and brisk in her replies." He hums gently; a warm, low sound. "Though not… unkind. Rather, she seemed disinterested, which I resolved to take in stride."

Billy pauses, brow crinkling slightly. "Despite how she behaved, I quickly deduced that my initial impression was incorrect, because it became apparent that she was remembering everything I told her. And... at first I thought that it was perhaps a memory quirk and not an act of friendship. But I began to notice something: though she was reluctant to speak about herself in any capacity, she would engage if we kept the topic on anything else."

He smiles, gesturing stiffly with one hand then dropping it back to his side. "Over time, she used what she learned about me to prompt me, better understand, and listen with a depth that, at the time, I had not encountered in a person our age. She was considerate, and it would come out in the tiniest of ways, scattered through the small amount of words she actually said to me."

Billy turns his head towards Kim, a muted look in his eyes. "You know that by societally conventional standards, I tend to offer new acquaintances an over-abundance of information. I told Trini in our third class together—in September—about my favourite season being autumn, and added that it came with a caveat, given my dad's birthday occurs on the fifteenth of October. She continued to be relatively arms-length with me until that day came a few weeks later: we happened to have class on the fifteenth, and I had an encounter with a bully shortly before. I wasn't having a good day."

"But when Trini entered our classroom, she sat down next to me and it was..." he trails off, pausing. Hums. "Something akin to speaking with a different person, all at once. She was joking in ways that I had very little trouble understanding, and doing it so... naturally, like all she had to do was throw a switch to activate a language that she hadn't even told me she could speak."

His voice breaks a little; wavers, steadies. And like a jab to the gut Kim feels an instinct to reach out for him, startled by his abrupt display of emotion.

But she doesn't touch him. Just watches as he closes his eyes slowly, keeps them shut for a few moments, then opens them again. "And it was the first time in my life that I didn't feel like I was some... extraneously complex puzzle that nobody would ever bother to learn their way around, you know?" His jaw flexes. "Because up until that point, I didn't have any friends. You know I was home-schooled because of the meltdowns—"

Kim nods. Being in muggle school as a wizarding kid is one thing—at such a young age, most children can't control their magic at all, let alone keep it from erupting in high-emotion situations. Mishaps are bound to happen across the board, but Billy is also prone to sensory overload episodes. As a kid, if he had one, it almost always meant he would lose control of his magic too; without a seasoned magic-user around to help diffuse the situation, he could have seriously hurt himself or someone else. It was too dangerous for him to be in an environment where an older witch or wizard was not present at all times.

"...so I never had anything like you, Jason, and Tommy did. I'd met other kids, sure, but most thought I was odd, or wouldn't take to me on a deeper level because they didn't understand how to relate to me. And I can't blame them for that. I understand that being on the spectrum makes me…" he trails off, pauses. "I know that I'm difficult sometimes."

Kim makes a loud disagreeing noise and Billy pauses, brushing his elbow lightly against hers in a barely-there touch to quell her as he continues, "But Trini was the first person other than my parents who went out of their way to make me feel... seen. Like my role didn't have to be the expendable film extra by default—that 'different' kid who always sat alone in the corner."

He starts to smile and it spreads, lighting up his watery eyes. "Nah, I could be the ruddy lead if I wanted to be. And, to revert to my original analogy: I started to think that even if I was this unnecessarily complicated puzzle, perhaps someone, if it was the right someone, might just think I was worth the trouble one day."

"B, getting to know you isn't trouble—"

Billy smiles sadly and hums. "I'm starting to believe that slowly, Kim. But my point is that it was Trini who made me realise that I could have real relationships outside of my family — that there were people willing and open enough to learn as much about me as I was them, even if I was different from what they'd encountered before. Since that day in Potions, I have rarely found such ease in talking with another person as I do with her."

He turns to look Kim right in the eye, smiles kindly, then glances away. Shakes his head, looking bewildered. "She made interacting with me seem effortless! Just stepped forward and jived with me so seamlessly that it might not have been noticed by anyone else. But I knew it wasn't as easy as that in my case; nobody can just decide to get along with me. There is an inevitable learning curve, and she made a conscious effort to mould her approach to fit me."

Drumming his fingers on his thigh, he slows his pace to a stop again. Takes a deep breath in and sighs it out. "What I'm getting at is this: being there for someone isn't always about saying the 'right' things. There is a... presence of mind and action that is so important, which can only be accomplished by a real effort to listen and support in a way that particular person needs."

Billy continues to stare ahead, though his eyes are unfocused. "I know you're afraid," he breathes, tone still immeasurably deeper but shifted to something more careful, now, and Kim's throat feels thick all at once. "You think she won't accept what you've done."

Kim continues staring ahead, too. Swallows.

"And I cannot make any guarantee on what she will or won't do," he continues, voice gentle like a melody. "But I know her, and though you may not think it of much importance, her letting her guard down a bit more to try and cheer you up is a very good sign. She took that step, and in my experience with her, that only happens after immense calculation. You see the tip of the iceberg in her words and actions, but the consideration under the surface is... substantial."

Kim hesitates. "Respectfully, don't you think that's a lot of meaning to put on a bit of teasing? She's joked around with me before this..."

"This is post-exposure to the Amanda Situation," Billy insists, shaking his head. "There's a lot to unpack there, and that'd be easy for someone like Trini to infer after what happened. The key is that she didn't shut down when you approached her earlier. That's huge, Kim."

"Is that a thing she does? Shut down?"

Billy nods. "Withdraws, more. She wouldn't have ignored you, per se, but her instinct is to back away—"

"HEY!" comes a warm male voice, carrying down the sloping lawn towards them.

It's Jason, standing at the base of the castle front steps, holding his arms out wide on either side of himself in a gesture of goofy confusion at their dawdling. A moment later, Zack hoists Trini onto his shoulders, who proceeds to wave with both arms like a palm in the wind; signalling the two of them to get a move on, her laugh spinning around the gentle autumn breeze floating over the grounds, beckoning.

Kim returns the summons with an equally silly wave, the wind playing with her choppy hair as Billy starts them walking towards the castle again.

He hums then picks up his previous line of thought, "Trini's instinct is to back away, yes. And the fact that she didn't earlier, the fact that she engaged... it means that she was trying incredibly hard to stay. Picture someone struggling to hold a very, very heavy door open."

Kim smiles, watching Zack bounce Trini around on his shoulders. "A very small someone, to be sure." That earns her a little chuckle from Billy, and she sighs heavily. "Thank you for telling me this. I had... some idea that a more toned-down approach might be a good way to go with her. So if she hasn't written me off yet I suppose I'm doing something right...?"

"I think you've a better understanding of her than you realise," Billy says, voice still soft. "Your instincts are good. Don't be afraid to keep nudging her; just continue to do it gently."

Kim takes a calming, deep breath in and out.

"And I'm telling you all of this because you need to hear it," he continues, looking her in the eyes again then back towards their friends. "You need to believe that her and Zack will take a chance on you, and Jason's assurance evidently hasn't done much. I figured I'd give it a try."

To her complete surprise, he reaches down and takes her hand, squeezing it once. Lingers before he lets go. "Give them credit, Kim. They see more of your heart than they let on."

And it's his touch, more than anything, that acts like a validation seal on their whole conversation, leaving a warm tingling in her hand where he touched it, like electricity.

Quiet tears spring to her eyes as she considers that this is the first time he's ever done that—taken her hand purposefully, deliberately. Been comfortable enough with her to initiate that kind of physical contact.

And Kim never thought that she could be more grateful for Billy after he was there for Jason when she refused to be. Her assumption was that their friendship would always be one of association—strong because of their mutual love for Jason, but not because they themselves had any kind of chemistry.

But all at once she's hit with the foolishness of that assumption—to write Billy off as someone too different from herself, a casual friend that could never truly love her after everything she had done, who would never even give her a chance.

Because he had given her a chance. He is.

She tips her head back discreetly, taking a shaky deep breath in and out. "Billy... thank you."

Not far from the castle, now, Billy waves at Jason, Zack, and Trini where they're waiting, sat on the front steps of the castle chatting. He looks over at Kim again, searching her eyes. "I have never told you this, but you are very important to me, Kim. I am with you, and I'm here to support you, just as I know you'll support me if I ever need it."

A couple tears threaten to fall and she wipes at them quickly. "You're important to me too."

His smile gets wider, lighting up his own watery eyes.

Chapter Text

The trees are beginning to change in the Scottish Highlands: crisp autumn colours summoning up the courage to appear, to make the leap, slowly peeking out in small brave bursts on the borders of the Forbidden Forest and playfully dotting flashes of rich reds and golden yellows all over the surrounding mountains. The breeze is cool as it makes its way through the Hogwarts grounds, though without a bite, too early for that, still holding on to the ends of summer; gentle as it plays with the young vines of the numerous, quickly-growing orange sugar pumpkins in the patch behind Hagrid's cabin.

Kim pulls at the neck of her cloak, taking a deep, content breath in. It's early Monday afternoon and their Care of Magical Creatures lesson is done—passed in what has become typical fashion, consisting of numerous close calls and plenty of frustrated or alarmed curse words shouted throughout. And despite the Skrewts clearly intending otherwise, Kim, Rose, Jason, and the rest of their class have managed to make it through alive (and with all of their limbs intact).

Jason in particular is noticeably relieved, given he still seems a bit scarred by his first Blast-Ended Skrewt experience—easy to spot, now that the regular saunter Kim usually associates with him has repeatedly and consistently changed to something more like a scutter when in mere sight of a Skrewt.

His fright is only evidenced further when, just as they all start to leave at the end of the lesson, he jumps a solid two feet straight up into the air after one nearby emits a louder-than-usual explosive BANG. Kim has to work very hard at holding in her laughter, and Rose most definitely fails at doing so, cackling at him the entire way back up to the castle.

They bid Rose goodbye to sit at the Ravenclaw table for lunch, and an hour later Kim is striding into the airy, cathedral-like Arithmancy classroom with Jason and Billy on her heels. The magnificent looming wooden doors slowly creak closed behind them until they shut with a noise like hushed thunder, deep but warm, somehow; contrasting with the cool, pale brightness of the room, made so by light stone walls comprised mostly of narrow, towering lancet windows that welcome the overcast October light inside.

Entering the centre aisle, Kim's about to continue towards their regular seats when she notes Zack and Trini sitting together on their right—Trini with a giant, red tartan blanket wrapped around her shoulders, using a common tactic employed by students who have lessons in this classroom in the cooler months, drafty as it is. The two of them are surrounded by a handful of Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs that are familiar to Kim, some vaguely.

They could sit nearby, right? What could it hurt?

Would that be weird?

Jason seems to have the same idea and turns to Billy, addressing him quietly, "Billy, how would you feel about switching up seats today?" he asks, searching his eyes. Changing routine isn't Billy's favourite thing, and some days he's more up to it than others.

Billy seems to hesitate a little, looking at their regular seats then back to Jason a bit apprehensively. "Where were you thinking, Jason?"

Jason shrugs easily, making sure to communicate that it's a non-issue. "Just saw Zack and Trini over there, but we can go to our normal spot," he says, starting to walk in the direction of their regular seats, which are near the front. "No big deal—"

Billy lights up though, interjecting, "Oh, I'd like to sit with Zack and Trini, actually!"

Kim blinks, his quick change in tack surprising her (and Jason clearly as well). Because if Zack and Trini are that much of a selling point for Billy already, then that's... really great. And after their talk about Trini yesterday Kim should have expected it, but to see it in action is another thing entirely. Her heart warms unbidden, seeing how at ease Billy looks with the prospect of changing seats now.

Jason smiles wide. "Cool," he says, leading the way to the row just behind where Zack and Trini sit, closer the back of the classroom. Beside them are two of Trini's roommates, along with Rocky, his girlfriend Sky, and Will Aston, another Gryffindor girl in their year.

"Alright, roomies?" Jason chimes, looking between Zack and Rocky, who have both twisted around in their seats with big smiles on their faces.

"Hey mate," Rocky returns easily, holding his hand out towards them, where Jason smacks it obnoxiously in some kind of Boy Handshake.

They sit, with Billy immediately bringing his writing materials out and setting himself up. Kim takes a deep breath in and out, almost feeling the calm coming off of him.

And Trini's turned around too, still in her blanket cocoon, looking between the three of them with an expression Kim can't place. "Are my worlds colliding proper, then?"

"If that's okay with you," Kim replies, a teasing lilt in her voice. Holding Trini's gaze.

Zack smiles. "More efficient for us this way, isn't it?" he chirps, then squints, a playful glint in his eye. "Plus, individual social interactions and Trini's level of niceness are inversely related on the daily. Cause and effect kind of thing—pure maths."

It takes Trini all of one second to realise what he's said, and she promptly rolls a page of parchment up in her hand and makes to smack him on the head with it, leaning wildly over her roommates to do so, but he ducks away, chuckling.

Billy looks up, smiling softly. "You mean to say that the more social interactions Trini has in a day, the meaner she is? A proper Arithmancy function, then."

Zack nods gravely as Trini gives up on reaching across her roommates and gets up from her seat proper, walking right over to stand in front of him and swatting at his head repeatedly. He holds up his hands to protect his face, laughing, and once she seems satisfied, she strolls back to her seat and plops down like nothing happened.

"See? Safer for everyone," Zack stage-whispers. "If we get all her socialising over with now in one go, she'll be much less of an arse. People annoy her, innit."

Trini turns around again, pretending not to have heard him. "As I was about to say, you lot are welcome to sit in our general vicinity."

"But not in front of you though," Kim quips, keeping a straight face with effort and feigning absentmindedness as she takes out her books. "Wouldn't want you to need a booster seat."

There's a beat where one of Trini's roommates—the pretty one—starts sniggering silently, her back shaking. And Trini stares Kim down for a moment before raising an eyebrow. "I could best you in this class regardless of the scenario, booster seat or no booster seat," she says, shrugging one shoulder nonchalantly.

"'Is that a challenge?'" Kim growls, dropping her chin to look at Trini darkly, eyebrows raised and injecting a bit of a rasp into her voice. She puts a particular inflection on it, wondering if Trini will get the Lion King reference.

Too vague, maybe.

But there's a little twitch in Trini's brow and around the borders of her eyes before she smirks, and genuinely, though she looks bemused. "'Temper, temper,'" she replies, voice posh. And Kim smiles back at her like an idiot. "Deviation from the script, though—sure, let's make it a challenge."

Kim tilts her head. "Name your terms, booster seat."

Trini's mouth falls open a little, a crooked, still bewildered smile pulling at it, and rolls her eyes good-naturedly. "Loser has to do the winner's Arithmancy homework for a week?"

"Done."

"I like you," Trini's pretty roommate says then, twisting around in her seat and regarding Kim with amusement. "I'm Summer, by the way. Ripping on Trini is my favourite pastime."

"Kim," she returns, giving a little nod. "But you can call me 'winner' if you want."

Jason throws his head back dramatically and groans, Sky rolls her eyes, Rocky beams, and Billy chuckles, shaking his head.

"You lot're children," Will mutters, looking between them with a small smile on her face.

Kim shrugs as Professor Vector comes striding into the classroom, arriving at the teacher's desk and taking a stack of parchment pages from her briefcase.

Jason hums then, still smiling a little. "How about your scores on the quiz determine the winner? Looks like she's going to hand them back today." He pauses, looking between them. "Or are we intending to drag this out?" Trini and Kim both shrug noncommittally, which he takes as agreement. "Alright then, whoever scores higher has to do the other's homework for next class. Deal?"

Kim holds her hand out, smirking, and Trini takes it.

And Trini's hand is warm, soft, save for the four tiny calluses at the top of her palm—from Quidditch, likely. Unavoidable in the sport despite them wearing gloves; Kim has them too.

They let go and Kim exhales a breath.

"Settle down, all," Professor Vector barks, starting to write on the blackboard. Trini and the others turn around to face the front, and Kim starts copying her words down. "Given your performance on the pop quiz, we're going to do another, more in-depth review lecture," she announces drily, waving her wand at the stack of parchment on her desk. The pages all go soaring through the classroom in an orderly fashion, finding each of their owners.

Kim plucks hers from the air in front of her face and frowns at the score: a little black nineteen over twenty. "Arse," she breathes, looking over it for her mistake.

And, ah, she miscalculated a vector, and just barely. Mixed up the formula with a similar one.

Trini turns around in her seat slowly, looking less than pleased herself, and holds hers up for Kim to see.

Nineteen out of twenty.

Kim chuckles lightly, showing her quiz as well. Trini's eyebrows quirk up a bit, and she gives Kim a curious look.

Jason cranes his head to look between them, scoffing a little when he sees the scores. He takes both of the parchment pages gently, comparing the two side-by-side. "Even got the same question wrong, and in the same way..." he mutters, looking up at Kim with a little twinkle in his eye.

"Five points to Ravenclaw for the top mark," Professor Vector says, voice full and rolling in how it carries through the room, back still turned as she writes on the blackboard. And Kim and Jason look at the same time to Billy, who, at the questions on their faces, holds his quiz up for them to see: a perfect score.

Kim smiles and looks down at her own again, a bit annoyed at herself.

Bollocks.

She tilts her head up to see Trini looking at her. "We didn't say what happens in the event of a tie."

Kim hums. "Do the questions half-half then swap?" she tries.

Trini regards her with a soft, barely-there smile. "Sure. Done by free period on Wednesday?"

"Deal."

.

Tuesday night finds Kim sitting in a deserted dungeon classroom, her old teardrop gas lamp the singular warmth in an otherwise very present darkness, soft light streaking along the floor and up the walls, meeting the eerie green glow of the dungeon lamps now dimmed to but a flicker at the late hour.

Back to the frigid stone wall and knees drawn up close to her body, she's presently using a book as a writing desk with the others open and spread out on the floor in front of her, having just finished her half of the Arithmancy questions that she's to swap with Trini tomorrow.

She takes a sip of the tea in her thermos, cold long ago, scrunching up her face a little at how steeped it is at this point—bitter, coating her tongue—and continues on with her Transfiguration homework, taking notes on the assigned reading in preparation for beginning their unit on Switching Spells.

Sitting on her left is her gramophone, softly playing an album that came out a few weeks ago: The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die.

And it's not hers—a homework companion on loan from Damon Henderson, one of the Slytherin boys in her year. Her House has a sort of record sharing system going, affectionately called Slytherin Spins, an attempt to fill the culture gaps present with Hogwarts' relative isolation from the rest of the world, absent a music shop or current events stand of any kind.

And it's a sharing program given that making copies of records seems to stump even the upper-year students—in trying to spin the duplicates, the playback's never quite right.

Kim's managed to make it work for books with a lot of practise, but the spell is like anything, where some iterations are more complicated than others. So where the ideal scenario would be one person buying the album and everyone who wants it getting a charmed copy—given there are no anti-duplication jinxes on muggle-made goods—sharing the records as a collective works just fine. And there's an accidental, unintentional kind of camaraderie that's sprung up within the whole thing that she's come to genuinely appreciate.

She taps her foot to the beat as 'Juicy' plays quietly from beside her.

And it's nice, because between all of them who share records there are thousands of albums, all from different genres, styles, and time periods. They're all listed in a large black leather-bound notebook—The Ssspin Compendium, the boys who run the sharing system dubbed it, much to Kim's delight—that hangs from a bit of rope next to the noticeboard in the common room. At the very back is the Greatest Hits list, where anyone in on the system can write up to ten of their own recommendations—their favourite albums of all time.

Kim hasn't gotten around to that part yet, though it's been on her to-do list for... two? years. She certainly has a working list going in one of her own notebooks, but picking ten albums is hard, and it's not a task she takes lightly.

The sharing system has been a great thing, though, allowing them all to hear new music without spending exorbitant amounts of money, for one, and discovering new artists to boot that they likely wouldn't have otherwise. Kim's found some of her favourite music from trying an album out on a whim.

Because the four boys in her year who run it do an 'Album of the Week' bit as well: an overlarge, enchanted page of parchment tacked beside the noticeboard in the common room that has a recommendation from each of them with a little blurb attached. She's tried plenty of records based on their picks alone, or by perusing the Greatest Hits list in the back of the Compendium.

If someone wants to borrow an album they recommend, or any of the others in the collective library, they write on the parchment next to the noticeboard and one of the boys brokers the exchange; simple, easy. And anyone can join in on the whole thing, regardless of if they have a hundred records in their personal collection or zero. All they need is their own gramophone.

It's one of her favourite things about her House.

Kim lets a breath out and glances at her beater wristwatch: it's nearly curfew. And not that she would usually care, but she barely slept last night. Listening to the rest of the album will have to wait until tomorrow.

She gets to her feet and stretches, immediately feeling Ptero move where he's wrapped around her neck, having passed out an hour and a half or so ago following his (very exciting and successful) mouse hunt.

After a moment, a tiny, sleepy hiss reaches her ears in the near-silence of the dungeon, "Bedtime?" he asks, bumping the underside of her jaw with the top of his head.

"Bedtime," she echoes in Parseltongue, yawning.

Kim waves her wand to pack everything up, lazy as an ass but giving zero fucks at all about it with how tired she is. And admittedly, the homework load is manageable, but her being fatigued because of other, mental health-related things is not. It's messing with her work ethic, and though she's doing alright so far, she wonders how long she can keep it up if she continues to feel like this.

"Go back to sleep, love. Not time to wake up yet," she coos softly, running her finger along Ptero's back gently as she picks her gramophone up and shoulders her bag. He's mostly nocturnal, after all, and she wants him to get enough rest.

Sighing contentedly, she murmurs, "Lumos," to push a light spell out of her palm, peers around to make sure she hasn't forgotten anything, and heads for the door.

Ptero makes a little acquiescing noise and snuggles into the dip of her collarbone. "Are you going out later tonight?"

Kim pops her head out of the abandoned classroom slowly. "Not planning on it," she mutters, peering both ways along the dark dungeon corridor before emerging. "Who knows, P, this might be the night I sleep like a log!"

"We can hope! I expect you to be unconscious when I wake up."

She chuckles. "That's the goal. But for now: back to bed, you," she says quietly, reaching up with her finger again to tickle near his belly. "You've already had quite the night! Still got another hour or so of beauty sleep."

"Okay, okay," he hisses, bopping her jaw again and curling around her neck once more.

.

Once Kim's back in her dorm she gently places a half-asleep Ptero in his enclosure and hastily gets ready for bed. Upon crawling under the covers, at long last, she finds her sheets cool in a reflexively satisfying way, activating some latent burrowing instinct along with the overpowering silly urge to smush her face into her pillow like an idiot. And she certainly does do that, snapping her fingers once to draw the green silk curtains of her four-poster bed closed by magic and laying there in dramatic, horizontal bliss for a few moments.

With another deep breath in and out—more relaxed, now—Kim sits up against her headboard to start her weekly letter to her mum. And as she begins to write, she outlines everything that's been going on without feeling the need to sugarcoat in regards to her mood—telling her mum all about the lethargy, the detours into the Depression Zone, and the panic attacks.

Talking about it doesn't feel strange, either, because discussing 'heavier' topics is the main reason her mum instituted this weekly letter arrangement in the first place. It took some time for Kim to get used to sharing things, absolutely, but it's been a good way to practise self-evaluation, if anything. And beyond that, she never could have guessed just how valuable having an open, honest, and unashamed line of communication with a parent could be? or how much more secure she would feel, knowing that a Competent Real Adult was getting her the help she needed and supporting her personally, besides?

Mind, she doesn't tell her mum everything, of course, but in the past year and a half or so the two of them have become exceedingly close. None of this mental health stuff is exactly new—just unfortunate in its prolonged occurrence, given they were hoping that since the summer was going okay on the whole for Kim, coming back to school would continue on the improvement path.

To be sure, she really is improving—it's much, much slower than she would like, but it's something. There are better people around her than there used to be, academically she's on a better track, and her mind is in a healthier place than it was.

Once she's done with the more introspective update, and having sent the past two letters without describing Trini and Zack in the Water Fight Incident, Kim tells her mum all about that in detail too, smiling as she writes.

Because she's already gushed about their first few pick-up games, sure; but Trini and Zack seem to be increasingly everywhere, even in the week and a half since her last letter—what with the five of them as a group already sharing plenty of classes and a free period, Kim finally growing a backbone and starting to sit with Trini in Ancient Runes, and them all playing Quidditch together twice a week now at the least.

So Kim tells her mum all about Zack: about how ridiculous he is, his whirlwind personality, and his fiery heart. And part of her feels a pang of regret as she tries to put him into words, wishing she had met him earlier, and properly. Because he's Jason's roommate, after all; if things were different, if Kim hadn't been such a fuck up in their first two years at Hogwarts, they all might have clicked sooner.

She shakes herself. No matter now.

And she should really try to reel it back with the friendship enthusiasm, because both Trini and Zack already have plenty of people they surround themselves with regularly—it's not like they're looking for more. But she can't help but hope that she comes to know them better with time.

Kim writes about Trini too—writes about how she seems done with life 99% of the time until she isn't, until she says or does something that throws Kim completely, so that she all at once feels outside of herself, like she's in a dream where she's flying but can't get down;

And Kim has to consciously tell herself not to overthink when that happens, to just let herself look out over the world suddenly laid out before her, at all of the possibility and wonder, without trying to figure out why she's flying at all—

(She... doesn't phrase it exactly like that in her letter, though. Gotta draw the privacy line somewhere.)

But her hand flies across the parchment, writing about how fucking smart Trini is, how she's never seen a better Beater at Hogwarts, even at their age. She tries to describe Trini's stupid, smug smirks, the quips that match Kim's shot for shot, all wrapped up and existing within her reserved, scowling personality that, from time to time, will blur into something more open, even if for a moment.

And she doesn't realise how much she's gone on until she stops abruptly, blinking a few times.

Seeing that she's spent a quarter of the letter talking about Zack and half of it talking about Trini, Kim has a few moments where she seriously considers just scrapping all of it before muttering, "Fuck it."

With a content sigh, she folds the letter up and pushes it into an envelope. Writes her mum's name and address then taps it with her finger, sealing it with magic.

Stretching a little, Kim yawns wildly and tips herself over the side of her bed. Pulling the curtain back, she drops the envelope into the drawer of her nightstand, which, when opened, gives off the smooth smell of rich ancient wood. It fills her nose, makes her loath to close it but she does, leaving the letter there to sleep just as she's about to.

Too tired to send it now; a task for tomorrow.

She turns over, pulling her covers up to her chin and beginning her marathon effort of chasing sleep; faintly wondering if she'll dream of flying again tonight.

.

"Kim, what on earth does this say?" Trini mutters, pushing the page across the library table with a puzzled frown on her face, pointing to a spot around the middle.

Giving a little hum in acknowledgement, Kim stretches forward off of her seat to smack it with her whole hand, splaying her fingers out as she slides the parchment across the large table and towards herself. Peering down at it in the general vicinity of where Trini indicated, she runs her hand over the side of her face a bit roughly, sleepy eyes squinting a little at one of the questions Professor Vector set them for next class:

9. By Agrippa's system—

A) Was Merlin's potential for fantastic magical achievement foreseeable?
B) i. Could we have predicted that his successes/achievements would outweigh his failures?
ii. If so, and in light of these, would those predictions have changed as his life went on?
NOTE: Explain your answers in sentences. Submit calculations on a separate page of parchment.

Kim rubs at her temple as she speed-reads her written answer below it, scanning her scratchy writing for anything super jumbled.

QUESTION NINE

A) IF eight is the most unpredictable Number by nature of infinity,
AND we accept that personality type is indicative of success or failure,
THEN Merlin's potential for fantastic magical achievement was predictable from the start.

B) i. IF (tends to positive infinity = success), (tends to negative infinity = failure),
IF the nature of infinity is a predictability paradox, where a divined probability tends to positive infinity and tends to negative infinity,
THEN as per his Character Number of eight, predictability of Merlin's potential for successes would be equal to the predictability of his potential for failures.
THEREFORE Merlin's successes outweighing his failures could not have been divined, as the predictability potential for both his success and failure were EQUAL.
ii. No, given predictions don't change with time as per the Agrippa method. From the start, Merlin's power had a potential for failure that was directly in line with potential for success. Furthermore, with his Character Number of eight—which is indicative of extremes in fate—any prediction would have skewed no more to one particular side or direction regardless of what he did.

She blinks slowly, so used to her cramped handwriting that she's unable to pick out where Trini can't read it. With a lurch she gets up and walks around the table, trainers padding along the floor with measured attempt at lightness as they carry her to Trini's side.

Kim places the parchment back down in front of Trini gently, drums her fingers on it, and leans down. "Okay, my bad. I know it's illegible. Where do you need me to translate?" she asks quietly, her words coming out without much conscious thought, mind more focused on keeping a physical gap of space between them. Trying to make sure Trini's comfortable. And it's proving more difficult than it should be, given Kim's tiredly swaying on her feet a little.

Trini points and Kim nods, beginning to read aloud, "'...outweighing his failures could not have been divined, as the predictability potential—'"

"Divined as the predictability potential," Trini repeats, sighing and tapping her quill on her parchment. She copies the words down and removes her reading glasses, rubbing a bit at her eyes. "I really should've been able to glean that," she mutters, sounding exhausted. They've all been in the library for hours working steadily since their free period began, and are well past supper now.

And admittedly, Kim can see how Trini had trouble reading the answer. Her writing is just shy of atrocious on the best of days, and she was working on these questions last night in low light, which doesn't help.

There's a pause for a beat. When Trini speaks again her voice changes a little, getting lighter as she turns in her seat, putting her glasses back on and pushing them only halfway up her nose so she peers up at Kim in a very Professor McGonagall-ish way. "But maybe I should fix a couple blank pages into my Runes syllabary so you can give me a key, you know?" she chimes, tone helpful, a smirk playing at the corner of her mouth. "So in the future I can read whatever language it is that you're writing in without having to ask."

"Hah, hah, hah," Kim mutters drily, leaving her completed half of the questions with Trini and returning to her seat, dropping into it with a huff and resuming her Charms assignment. As she situates herself again Ptero stirs gently against her chest, fast asleep and safely curled up in the pocket sewn behind the Slytherin crest on her robes. 

"I actually don't mind this stuff," Trini says a minute later, not looking up from copying the rest of Kim's half of the answers down. "As far as telling the future goes, this is by far the only branch of Divination magic I'd ever want to learn about." She taps her parchment lightly. "Merlin being a character eight makes so much sense—the potential for extremes, the volatility."

Kim nods. "The most unpredictable, for sure. Take it from me, I'm a character eight too."

Trini looks at her curiously. "I'm a social eight."

"Heart eight," Zack chimes, giving them both a little half-arsed salute from over his Potions textbook.

"No way eh?" Kim mutters, genuinely surprised. Admittedly, she doesn't put a whole lot of stock in Arithmancy and Numerology, but they've been around as magical areas of study for thousands of years—there's something to be said for that, and she's not going to knock magic that she herself doesn't understand completely.

Jason scoffs good-naturedly from her right. "Okay, executive decision—as the three sides of the Future-Telling Volatility Triangle, you lot are never allowed to be alone unsupervised."

At this, Kim, Zack, and Trini look between each other with sly smiles. Because really, who knew?

And Kim's eyes linger on Trini, because her being a social eight is curious, given that a person's social number relates to how they act. It's the outer personality that they show to the world, the face people see on the regular.

But Trini seems to be on an even keel all of the time, or else is trying very hard to be. And while an eight suggests practicality, commitment, and ambition, it carries the weight of being the most unpredictable number; it always has the potential to go one way or the other, regardless of the situation. Like a coin constantly being flipped, with the previous outcome never having any influence on the next.

It's curious, Trini being a social eight, because it would suggest that underneath that calm, cool exterior, she's much more of a tornado than she appears.

Considering this, Kim realises that Trini's number makes complete sense.

She looks back down at her Charms book and makes a mental note to ask Trini and Zack both about their other numbers, perhaps on a day when she's more awake. Because them all having eights is quite cool, and almost always, each of a person's three numbers will be different—their social number different from both their character number and their heart number, which depict their personality on a general scale, and their inner desires, fears, and the like respectively.

And Kim's come to grip with her character number being such a duality of concept, because it makes sense for her—encompassing her apparent ability to go from good to bad and back again without batting an eye. Though she sincerely hopes in the future that it'll mean something different, maybe foretelling determination in the face of adversity, or soaring successes after crushing failures, or the practised ability to hold different parts of herself inside her mind without them resorting to tearing each other apart.

Eight being Zack's heart number is understandable, too—she pictures his inner self as crackling violent energy and a calming tempering presence existing at once, somehow. A predictability paradox at its most basic yet most complex, tending towards both negative and positive infinity at once.

For the moment, though, Kim stops herself from continuing the conversation and forces herself to finish her homework. There will be a day for more discussion, for getting to know these quirky bits of information about one another, but she needs to get some sleep first. Ideally before she dies from exhaustion, though some shuteye would be welcome in either case.

Chapter Text

Trini loves Hagrid. She really, really does. But Blast-Ended Skrewts? Even for someone like her, there are limits.

Presently hissing in a manner akin to a very upset goose, Trini flaps her arm through the air quickly. The right sleeve of her robes is on fire.

"Aguamenti," comes a calm, clear voice. A jet of water hits her arm with a quick sizzling sound, causing a puff of steam to materialise.

Trini grits her teeth painfully and looks around to see Billy standing beside her, a deeply concerned look on his face. On the cool dry grass a solid ten feet away is Chip, who, grumbling but unharmed, gets up and starts wiping at her face. It doesn't do much to help really, given she's covered head to toe in soot from the Skrewt's crate exploding.

"Thanks. Swear they're in their moody rebellious stage or something," Trini mutters to Billy, bending her arm at an awkward angle to get a better look at the burn damage. Her stomach flips at what she sees so she looks away, pointing her wand at the busted crate with her left hand. "Reparo."

The splintered wood pieces fit back together, enclosing the Skrewt in its crate safely. It's the end of lesson, and her and Chip—along with everyone else—were trying to put theirs to bed. Nicely.

"They do seem more volatile than usual," Billy agrees, stepping forward to peer at her burn.

"Are you okay, mate?" Trini says to Chip, who's come over to stand next to them.

"'M fine," Chip replies, then frowns as she looks at Trini's arm. "Sorry I couldn't put that out for you quicker."

"You were a bit displaced," Trini deadpans, consciously trying to slow her breathing. Her heart's racing from the pain. "No worries."

Summer and Gia come walking over as Billy looks around at the rest of the class, most of whom are beginning to make their way back up to the castle, and nods to himself. "Let me just grab my bag, and we'll go get that looked at," he says, smiling kindly at her.

Trini shakes her head. "I'm good, Billy. Get to supper, I'll sort it out—"

"No thank you," Billy interjects, mimicking Trini by shaking his head in the exact same way, then walking over to where his roommates, Koda Sudarso and Oliver Rivers, are standing next to his bag waiting. Billy talks with them for a moment, then they both smile at him and turn to leave.

"I've always liked him," Chip says quietly, as Billy starts to make his way back over. "Seems like a good bloke."

"And he gives you lip without fear!" Gia chimes, bopping Trini's shoulder.

Summer hums. "Admirable. Though that's probably because he's six feet tall. You barely reach his shins."

Trini reaches over with her good hand and shoves Summer as Billy comes back, his rucksack perched on his shoulders, then gestures to the path that will take them up to the castle. "After you four," he says politely.

They make their way back up through the chilly evening, not dark in the grounds yet but certainly getting there, and all sigh happily once they walk through the oak front doors and into the warm Entrance Hall.

Billy goes to continue forward to the marble staircase, but Trini makes a noise in protest. "I'm not going to the hospital wing," she says gently, and he wheels around to fix her with a questioning look.

"Trini, you need to have that cleaned and bandaged," Billy says, sounding more matter-of-fact than insistent.

Trini nods and starts to walk to the right, towards the door that will take her down to the Hufflepuff common room. "I've a few things in my dorm that'll work." She pauses, grimacing a little. "Honestly, I don't want to get Hagrid in trouble. Not when I can do the same thing myself that Madam Pomfrey will."

Billy seems to find no qualms with her reasoning and sighs. "Okay. Can I patch it up for you, though? It'll be easier if someone else does it."

"Someone else does what?" comes Zack's voice, just as he sails in to stand between Billy and Gia. Jason and Kim come up behind him, blinking a bit at the bright welcoming light streaming out of the Great Hall, given they've been in Snape's dreary dungeon for the last hour and a half.

"Nothing—" Trini starts.

"Trini did the same thing you did, Jason," Billy says at the same time, gesturing to her arm. "I haven't examined it, but she has a burn and, by my estimation, a negligible chance of blunt force trauma."

"Crate exploded," Trini mutters, backing away from everyone slowly, aiming for the door to the basement. She doesn't fancy being the centre of attention like this.

"I've got it," Summer says, smiling genuinely at Billy then pinching at Trini's robes, beginning to unceremoniously drag her toward the basement door. "Be back up in a minute." She jerks her head at Gia and Chip, and they both nod.

Kim frowns and steps forward just once into the empty space in the middle of their little circle, lurching a bit as if to stop herself from following further. "Well, wait — I can do that, Summer. I've a first aid kit in my bag."

Summer whirls around, long blonde hair flying. "Oh do you?" she replies sweetly, meeting Trini's eyes with a look of pure mirth.

Billy hums. "Kim likely has the most healing magic training of anyone here," he explains, looking between Chip and Gia for any disagreement, who both give a little affirmative shrug. "In her hands Trini will be taken care of both well and quickly."

"Well and quick sounds lovely. She's all yours then," Summer says, pushing Trini gently forward in Kim's direction. And at her tone—a clear indication that there's going to be teasing about this later, euphemisms abounds—Trini can feel a blush starting to creep up her neck. Especially given Billy's phrasing on that last bit.

But Kim straightens her spine a little, clearly not sure if Summer's cheeky tone is directed at her or not. Her face gets a bit harder, and she blinks slowly before tipping her head once in a small nod.

No stranger to being cold as a defense mechanism, Summer senses the change and clarifies, "Didn't mean to sound like a git there, Kim. I'm just teasing Trini, here—" Trini shoves her in warning and Summer changes tack beautifully, "...about how accident-prone she is. It's one thing after another, really—"

Gia smirks. "Can't hardly keep up, so you have our thanks in advance for taking care of her quickly," she says, tongue between her teeth and now using her sleeve to try and wipe some of the soot off Chip's face.

"We're planning on child-proofing the dorm at this point," Chip adds, eyes screwed shut as Gia works.

Trini lets out a little breath. Because Summer was certainly about to make a comment with heavy sexual innuendo—which is ridiculous, but typical—and though Trini can certainly take a joke, she doesn't want to risk Kim being made uncomfortable.

Because there's a large part of Trini that's still afraid of being seen as the Predatory Gay kid, which is... unfortunate and completely ridiculous, given queer-related topics as a whole are one of the only areas where the wizarding world is wildly ahead of modern muggle society.

So she certainly knows that kids raised in magical families couldn't care less about her sexuality, but that type of self-conscious internalised shit is hard to shake. And Summer's comment wouldn't have outed her by any means, but until Trini says it to Kim explicitly, she finds herself wanting to steer clear of the subject.

Kim's mask drops as quickly as it lifted into place, and she sends a smile at Summer, Chip, and Gia. "Understandable. I wonder if you could get a hold of one of those tiny, child-size helmets too?"

"I swear to god," Trini mumbles.

"Oh, that's brilliant," Summer chirps, looking over to Gia. "We should add that to the shopping list." Gia gives a little salute, grinning, and Summer strides over to them. "Supper now, then — all this child-rearing's made me hungry."

"It's hard work," Kim says, nodding seriously then turning to Trini with a twinkle in her eye.

Trini just glares back.

"See you two in a moment?" Jason asks, smiling.

And with Jason, Billy, Zack, and Kim all looking at Trini, Summer waves to get her attention and mouths, "Have fun!" behind their backs, looking Kim up and down with suggestive eyes and waggling her eyebrows as she disappears with Gia and Chip into the Great Hall.

Trini pictures jinxing Summer's eyebrows to grow together and feels slightly better.

"Yeah," Kim answers, turning to Jason and smiling softly. With that the boys depart, and Trini and Kim are left there, standing between the doors to the Great Hall and the door to the basement as scattered groups of students make their way in to supper.

"Can't I just do it?" Trini tries. But as soon as Kim looks back at her, eyebrow quirked, she knows she's already lost this one.

"No."

Trini sighs heavily in reply, and Kim starts to lead the way away from supper and across the Entrance Hall. They enter a deserted corridor and walk for a little bit, soon finding themselves in an empty, unused classroom.

Kim waves her wand to ignite the lamps, and Trini looks about curiously—the furniture is arranged in a haphazard way, like it gets moved around and put back often. She's never been in here before, but that's not entirely unusual, even considering all of her time spent at Hogwarts so far. Given the sheer size of the castle, it's safe to say that she hasn't seen the vast majority of the place.

And she's not even counting the dungeons, which are a whole other thing entirely.

Kim swings her rucksack off her back and sits, rifling through it for a moment before producing a little lime green metal box and placing it on the large desk beside her. She turns and looks up at Trini, who's still standing, and gives her a soft smile. "I don't bite, you know."

Trini sighs a little and smiles back, rolling her eyes good-naturedly. "Where do you want me?"

"Next to me."

"Okay."

She sits and Kim scoots her chair right up to her, fitting their knees together, then swings the small wood writing desk up and out from its place beside Trini's armrest so that it separates them. With another warm smile, she gestures for Trini to hold out her arm. "Let's see it, then."

Trini does as Kim asks, holding her arm out gingerly and resting her elbow on the creaky writing desk. Kim peers down at it curiously, not touching it, and hums. "I'm going to have to cut your sleeve away, but we can repair it afterwards, okay?"

"Okay."

Kim nods and looks around the room for a moment, squinting, then seems to find what she's looking for. With a wave of her wand she brings a desk lamp floating over and places it right at the edge of the desk next to them. Once it's ignited it throws Trini's arm into even better light, and seemingly satisfied, Kim taps her wand to her left hand, mutters a spell, then does the same to her right.

"Sterilising them," she explains, when she notices Trini watching.

She starts to work then, and with a gentleness that almost makes Trini blush—the level of consideration Kim's showing feeling intimate, somehow. And it's... not because Trini's touch-starved, she knows. Sincerely.

Because she tends to keep to herself when she doesn't know someone, sure, but when it comes to people she's fond of, Trini's way of expressing affection is almost entirely physical.

So no, that's not it. It's more that Kim's touching her with so much care that Trini wonders if this is normal behaviour for her. She's certainly never seen this side of Kim; it's incredibly endearing.

Kim cuts the sleeve of Trini's robes away and carefully starts to clean the burn with a warm wet cloth that she's smeared with a silvery-green balm. It smells faintly minty, and Trini sighs lightly despite the pain, finding something like a tingling feeling erupting at the back of her head as Kim works.

After a minute experiencing the sensation she's beginning to wonder if she's breathing the smell of the balm in too deeply when Kim starts to hum absentmindedly, voice low, melodic—something that seems to vibrate through Trini's chest. And with only a couple feet of space between them, she could swear it carries right into her bones.

It also intensifies the tingling, like someone's pouring a soft stream of sand from a tiny bottle onto her bare skin, right onto the base of her neck, where it proceeds to trickle down her spine.

And the corner of her mouth ticks up when she recognises the song Kim's humming — she's changed the key, but if Trini's proud of anything, it's her good musical ear. "That song breaks my heart," she breathes, and Kim doesn't look up, but a small smile appears on her face as well.

"Sorry," Kim mutters, blinking a couple times rapidly like she's coming out of a daze. "I know it seems like a downright lie, but I don't realise I'm doing that half the time."

Trini shakes her head. "No, it's... nice. Calming."

"You seem quite calm as it stands."

"Because someone was humming."

Kim smiles and laughs lightly. "Well, I feel self-conscious now."

"You were just doing it a moment ago!" Trini says, voice teasing. "I was here then just as much as I am now."

Kim runs her tongue along one side of her upper teeth, mouth half-open in that slightly-flustered-yet-somehow-charming smile. She continues to tend to Trini's arm in silence for a few more moments then frowns. "Okay, are you super certain you don't want to go to the hospital wing?"

Trini mimics her expression, furrowing her brow. "Why? It's not that bad."

Kim gives her a deadpan kind of look. "Okay, one: you can cool it with being nonchalant, I know it's painful. Two: because parts of your robes—and I have no idea why the school doesn't require them to be fireproof, for fuck's sake—have stuck to your skin in a few places. That can be fixed one of two ways: either by Madam Pomfrey with a couple good painkilling potions thrown in the mix, or by me with no access to that crap."

Trini smiles, hoping her bashfulness at being called out isn't coming through on her face. "Honest, whatever you put on it helped a bit already. As for the nonchalance... I'm trying not to be a baby. It's really not that bad."

Kim hums, still giving her a stern—albeit slightly playful, now—look. "If you're good at blocking it out, lovely. But if you're being a dishonest little shit—"

"Wow, rude," Trini interjects, scoffing.

"...you don't have to pretend with me," Kim continues insistently, voice getting softer. "At least not while we're in this room. Because I need you to tell me what you're feeling — if I do something that hurts I need to know. Deal?"

Trini tips her head forward. "Yeah." She pauses, meeting Kim's eyes. "But are you cool to do this? I'm sure you're hungry and I don't want to pressure you into anything you don't feel comfortable doing—"

"Trini."

Trini blinks. "Er, yes?"

Kim shakes her head, smiling softly. "I volunteered, remember? Though any claim I had to handling this quickly is out the window. If you're alright to have me do it, it's going to take a little while longer."

"I'm okay with that if you are," Trini says quietly.

Kim nods. "Alright. And for the record, it should still heal the same way whether Madam Pomfrey or I do it. It's just the time it'll take to clean it that'll be different."

Trini inclines her head, then tilts it to the side. Regards Kim for a few seconds before she asks, "How did you learn to do this?"

Kim starts to work again, grabbing another cloth from her little first aid kit—which Trini's now heavily suspecting is charmed to be larger on the inside than it seems on the outside—and wetting it by poking it with her wand and muttering a spell. "My mum's a Healer at St. Mungo's," she explains, putting the cloth aside and taking a new, smaller tin out. "She's taught me some basic stuff. Nothing too crazy, but it's handy to know..."

Unscrewing the cap from the tin to reveal a clear potion with the consistency of a fibre paste, Kim takes some on her finger and dabs it onto all the areas where there's still black fabric sticking to Trini's angry-looking, inflamed skin. It takes a couple minutes, and she starts to hum the same song again as she works, much to Trini's delight.

She's learned now, though. No drawing attention to it.

And the burn certainly hurts, a lot, but Kim's still being so gentle that she could very well not be touching it at all. Trini tips her head a little, watching and listening.

She doesn't realise she's smiling until Kim looks up at her and does a double take before she gives a tiny, shy smile back. "What?" she asks, quirking an eyebrow playfully.

"Nothing," Trini mutters, still holding her gaze. After another moment, though, she changes her mind. "Just... thank you for being so gentle. I'm realising this would have been so much more painful if I tried to do it myself."

Kim seems pleasantly surprised. "Yeah, of course." She pauses, taking a deep breath in and out. "Alright — have to leave this stuff on for a few minutes. It'll make it easy for me to remove all the rubbish without hurting your skin."

Trini nods, shifting a bit in her chair and letting her eyes flutter closed. And it feels strange, here with Kim—the lamps around them are giving off a kind of dim light, and it's quiet. Nobody else has entered the corridor outside their classroom since they arrived.

It's not strange in a bad way, though. Just... different. Like being stuck inside during a snowstorm; where everything has ground to a halt outside and time suddenly exists nowhere but where you are.

Like the world's stopped and her and Kim have gotten off the carousel for a moment. Left it paused.

Trini starts humming quietly then, the same song Kim was before—'Silver Springs' by Fleetwood Mac—trying to keep herself awake in the odd kind of daze she's experiencing. And even with her eyes closed, she could swear Kim's smiling when she says, "Wouldn't have guessed, you fancying music like that."

"Music like what?" Trini replies, opening one eye goofily and quirking a brow. "Heartbreaking? Soft and earth-shattering at once?"

Kim tilts her head a little. "...Yes?" she says, squinting. A small grin growing on her face.

Trini laughs quietly. "Right back at you. It's going to be stuck in my head now, so thanks for that."

Kim shrugs. "Not my fault. I'm not even sure how it got into mine, given I haven't heard it in a while." She peers at Trini's arm and regards the formerly clear globs of potion, which have now turned solid white. With a satisfied nod, she gestures to it. "Okay team, we're cooked."

"Lovely," Trini deadpans, bewildered at Kim's choice of words. Observes Kim curiously as she picks up the clean cloth and starts to wipe the potion away. "You're sort of weird, you know that?"

Kim smiles, not looking up from Trini's arm. "So I've been told."

She cleans it, removing the bits of fabric along with the potion and continuing to hum to herself. And when she starts applying an orange paste to it, Trini audibly sighs at how it feels—numbing and cool, counteracting the burn.

"Nearly there," Kim says once she's finished, cleaning off her hands and spelling the cloth clean. "Bandage then we're home free."

"Thank you, Kim."

"Yeah, no problem."

Another minute and there's a bright white bandage covering most of Trini's right forearm. It feels infinitely better, and she smiles as Kim starts to pack her medical supplies up.

.

October continues to pass in a quick fashion, with Trini finding her weeks busier than she's used to, even with the Inter-House Cup not running.

Because she has her Quidditch team and her roommates, who she's around more than anyone else, and she has her classes and homework, but the addition of pick-up Quidditch matches has brought a whole new kind of colour to it all—specifically via the four idiots who she's playing said matches with two or three times a week.

And Trini can't put her finger on why she finds herself glancing at the Gryffindor or Ravenclaw tables at mealtimes, now, searching;

Because try as she might, she can't pin down just what it is about Jason that makes him so much different than some of the other pretty boys she's known, the ones with lazy smiles and hair that seemed to fall perfectly no matter if it was messed up or in place, who could be unkind and careless with their words. Because he doesn't have an aura of threat that swirls around him, unrealised until it isn't — no, his hands are warm, his eyes are soft. His voice is always a question even if his words are not. Is he saying the right thing? Can he do something to be better? Is he making the best decisions for everyone?

He acts in a way that suggests a shift, a wheel that's still spinning with the urgent, frenzied force of something that happened before. An apology, now, for a wrong choice sometime in the past, one that still whispers in his ear, reminds him to stay the course, to pick the right door this time. He is so much, so vast, and maybe it's because there's such a humanity in regret—in the genuine and authentic person that can emerge out of it, so much more willing to skip the bullshit and go straight to the heart of everything—that Trini finds herself drawn to him, so very unexpectedly;

And there is no concrete reason for the fierce kind of kinship she feels with Billy, a fondness there for him that she rarely has for anyone; like listening to someone you love humming a slow song on a quiet autumn night, with a comfortable house around you and cold rain falling gently outside — it's a safety, a wrap-you-up in it kind of warmth that's so inexplicable, and she's known him the longest out of them all but she's only just starting to see glimpses of something dancing and bright.

Because she's beginning to realise there's a latent, Billy-shaped foundation that's built up in her consciousness already; part of a familiarity that comes from knowing someone for years but never going too deep, never befriending them on a level that necessitates time spent beyond a weekly lesson or two sat next to each other. Now, she has an ease with him that feels automatic, so much different yet entirely the same as working next to him every week;

Then there's Kim, who's such a wildcard in all of this. Who causes little flutters of something like happiness in Trini's stomach that she's unable to explain with words, incapable of defining. And she can't seem to figure out why she finds everything Kim does so fascinating, to an almost ludicrous degree, like Trini's on the shore of a new planet with nothing but wonder and discovery on the horizon; and she wants to map it all, draw it all in a wild urge that has her aching to paint something, to make art like she used to in effort not to tame any of it, exactly, but to try and document every single frame, from a silly Quaffle toss Kim makes during a game to that thing she does when she opens her mouth to say something then closes it again. It's all somehow endearing—even that mischievous, annoying twinkle in her eyes that appears when she trades witty banter back and forth with Trini like it's going out of style.

And what are the paint colours she would use, anyway? Could any of them really do Kim justice? Or does Trini need something else—music, maybe, or movement, somehow—to even begin to express it all, to depict every curve and line and shadow? Will she spend her life trying to find something that will help her with all of this, help get Kim out of her mind and away from her senses for just one fucking moment, to a place where Trini can put her down and step back so she can finally think clearly — process things without a stray thought about Kim breezing through her mind and causing her stomach to flip over, a sudden flash of colours that demand to be recognised; everything short-circuiting and starting up again, wiping her progress;

At the base of it all is Zack, of course. That idiot wheedled his way into her heart and mind a long time ago, it seems now, when he was not much more than a familiarity, a neighbour in a hospital wing bed; the both of them acknowledging each other with little nods here and there in the corridors that said, 'I see you' in a mutually respectful (yet cocky, as it always had to be with them) kind of way.

Now, he's the most solid thing in her field of vision through all of this, like something to focus on in the blurring kind of unsteadiness brought about by the lurching bond that's sprung up and growing between the five of them, reaching like vines and sprouting flowers that promise something else, something sweeter if only given time and care.

So no, Trini can't put her finger on any of it. She's in uncharted waters without a paddle, trying to navigate and resist giving in to the familiar urge to jump ship.

At the very least, she owes it to herself to explore a little.