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True North

Chapter Text

Laura let herself melt into the unearthly softness of the cushion. Sure, the invisible barrier between platform 9 and 10 definitely got her jaw to drop when she was eleven and the sight of the glistening, red train took her breath away every year, but the thing she loved most about the rides back to school was the incredible level of comfort the compartments provided. The really, really cushy cushions. Betty would tell her it’s something “only Laura Hollis” could appreciate. But that was fine. More cushion for her.

Outside the compartment there was banging and yelling and babble. First years were clamoring into compartments together in the hopes of making friends. The seventh year Slytherins were throwing said first years out of their compartments by the handfuls. Though Laura was an extremely vocal advocate for the nature of Slytherin House being benign as a default, she couldn’t help but scowl at the two boys clad in green and silver scarfs laughing as a small redhead girl was shoved, owl and all, from their compartment.

It was then that the door to her own compartment slid open and she sat up straighter prepared to face off would-be bullies.

“Whoa, at ease,” said a familiar voice and Laura lowered her wand.

Betty clamored into the compartment, sliding the door shut behind her, lugging her carry-on trunk, marked E.S. on the front. In her free hand was a cage, inside Laura recognized Sheridan, her mousy barn owl.

“Sorry,” Laura said. “Some seventh years were taking compartments Manifest Destiny style.”

“Slytherins are a pain in the ass,” she said, opening the cage and offering a wrist which Sheridan gladly took with both feet.

“I didn’t say they were Slytherins,” Laura said.

“Well where they?”

“Well it’s beside the point—“

“Yeah, yeah I get it. Your house does not your future make, Slytherins can be fine individuals, yeah, yeah,” Betty said, stroking Sheridan’s head with a knuckle. “I’d like to see you take on a couple of seventh years in the middle of the train.”

“It was a scare tactic.”

“Scary.”

Betty gave her owl free roam of the seat while she reorganized her trunk and cage on the shelf above her side. Laura twirled her wand aimlessly in her hand. Apple, 11 inches, unicorn hair core. Sure it wasn’t exactly a dueler’s wand but it understood her well enough. A minor charm or two and she could have fended for herself—

A lurch nearly knocked the cage above Betty from its perilous placement but she reached up and caught it just in time. The high pitched whistle and billow of steam outside cued the bystanders to begin waving and yelling and getting tearful. Betty sunk into her seat in an effort to avoid being spotted from the window by her own parents. Laura’s father was already gone, Laura insisting that on her fifth go at this she could manage the train ride in on her own well enough.

“I know my parents are Muggles but if I could get used to this stuff you’d think they could too,” Betty said, cringing was they passed her very vocal and very enamored parents. Her father was snapping pictures left and right on his phone. “They got a letter over the summer about our O.W.L.s this year and I thought they were going to combust.”

Laura shrugged.

“They’re not exposed to it as much as you, even my dad gets that way sometimes.”

“Speaking of which, how’s that bear spray collection coming?”

Laura rolled her eyes and plunged her hand into the backpack next to her. She felt around for and pulled out a gallon sized plastic back filled to the brim with fist sized aerosol containers, labeled with days of the week.

“He does realize there are no bears at the school?”

“If he did we wouldn’t have this lovely care package.”

Laura replaced the embarrassing pile of bear spray back into the bag and turned to look out the window. The train station and city were left behind now. Rolling outside were pure green hills, clustered with trees in some places, in others, completely smooth. The sky was doing its best to be bluer than the ground was green in between giant fluffy clouds. Laura got up and flipped the latches on the window, allowing it to fall. Warm summer air blew lightly into the compartment.

“Are you still wasting your time with Muggle Studies or have you realized how incredibly redundant that elective is?” Betty asked.

“Muggle Studies is very interesting, and besides it’ll make a great resume booster when I apply for jobs. A journalist with a background in Muggle Studies is something the Prophet is sorely lacking,” Laura said.

“And your status as a Muggle-born wasn’t Muggle enough of a background?”

“It’ll be nice for them to see I’m serious about it. It’s better than Arthimancy.”

“It’s very practical.”

“And boring.”

“And so is your history class.”

There was a knock at the glass of the door. Through the window was a redheaded Hufflepuff, clad in robes already. Laura recognized the person knocking immediately as a friend of Perry’s. And, if Laura remembered correctly, this particular friend went by “they” as of recently and Laura made a mental note to remember that and hoped they wouldn’t take offense when Betty, inevitably, forgot.

Laura waved them in.

“Hey, sorry to bother you,” they said. “But it’s you or Karnstein and Luce two compartments down.”

“Dear lord, enter you precious refugee,” Betty said and Laura rolled her eyes knowing she was at least partially serious.

They looked more than grateful and slipped in, sliding the door shut behind them. Laura motioned them over to her bench.

“Hope you don’t mind if we squeeze another in here later? I know prefects make buzzkill friends but…,” they said.

“Not at all.”

Their face lit up.

“Oh. Great. I’m LaFontaine by the way.”

Introductions went around and the compartment got quiet again, the awkward kind between people who didn’t really know each other.

“You’re fifth years right?” LaFontaine said, picking what seemed to be everyone’s go-to topic for conversation recently. They nodded. “Big year. Have any idea what you want to do with the rest of your life?”

They asked it like a joke, because how the hell are 15 year olds expected to have any concept of their rest of their lives? Laura was most certainly going to write at least one column on the need to reform the standardized testing and placement system at Hogwarts. She was blessed with the passion of knowing exactly what she wanted, but she knew plenty of people who weren’t so lucky. One of them was sitting right across from her.

“I want to go into journalism,” Laura said. “There aren’t too many classes at school that favor that—or any, actually I guess.”

She’d have to write an article on that too: more arts at Hogwarts.

“Well it’s certainly a more interesting choice, better than hearing ‘I’m going to be an auror’ for the fifteenth time,” LaFontaine said.

“What about you?” Laura said quickly before they could ask Betty and stress her out.

“Hopefully this time next year I’ll be at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, in a biological role, none of that bureaucratic crap,” they answered. “You might see me around the Care of Magical Creatures classroom a lot this semester. Professor Armitage agreed to let me be an unofficial assistant so I could get extra research in. The headmistress doesn’t know though so…” They placed a finger to their lips and winked.

“I think the school could literally sink into the Black Lake and she wouldn’t notice,” Betty said. “I mean honestly, does anyone ever actually see her beyond the first night feast?”

Laura and LaFontaine both shrugged. Laura took little interest in the lack of headmistress. She knew Hogwarts had some greats like Dumbledore, some awful ones like Umbridge. This particular one, as long as she wasn’t hunting down Muggle-borns like the Carrows had, she’d be fine with a little distance.

“Well you know what they say about the headmistress and her family?” LaFontaine began. “That they’re all a bunch of—“

They were cut off by a tap on the door again, this time from a much taller redhead that Laura recognized immediately and she blushed deeply. Betty’s eyes widened and she smiled like a child gifted a brand new toy as she shot Laura a look of pure triumph and gestured eagerly to the door for Danny Lawrence to enter.

Danny Lawrence. Gryffindor seventh year, star chaser on their quidditch team, shoe-in for captain this year. Not that Laura was paying attention or anything.

“Hey, any chance you got room for one more?” Danny said. “The only other free compartment is the Krampus twins.”

“We seem to have become an anti-Slytherin haven, welcome,” Betty said, moving Sheridan to her knee and patting the seat next to her. She winked and Laura who shot her the quickest death glare she could before Danny officially took a seat and was back in eye line.

“I’m Danny, by the way,” she said.

“Lawrence, yeah? You’re in my Care of Magical Creatures class,” LaFontaine said. Danny nodded in recognition and Laura watched in horror as Betty tapped Danny on the shoulder.

“Have you met my friend Laura?” Betty said, nodding over to Laura who must look like she was doing her best impression of a lobster at this point.

“No, hi,” Danny smiled brightly and offered a hand which Laura took with what could have only been a divinely granted momentary gift of grace because she didn’t slip and fall or something worse.

“You’re an amazing quidditch player,” Laura said and immediately wished she had something more original, thinking of how many times a day she must hear that. But she was gracious about it, for her part, smiling and nodding a thank you. Laura supposed she should just be happy words came out of her mouth correctly at all.

“Laura wants to be a journalist,” Betty said. “She might need some practice on sports articles, you know…”

Laura was going to murder Betty as soon as they got back to their dorm. She was going to murder her and bury her 50 feet under the Black Lake where no one would ever, ever find her. The anger playing out across her own face only seemed to spur Betty on as she barely contained her laughter.

“Actually, Laura is more of a humanities kind of writer,” LaFontaine said, taking pity on the very small, very red, ball of embarrassed fury next to them. “Muggle Studies and History of Magic kind of gal, or so I hear.”

“Really? I love Muggle Studies,” Danny’s face lit up.

And the award for best accidental wingman was going to go to LaFontaine, who couldn’t look prouder of themselves.

“Yeah, I think it’s interesting. I mean I grew up in the muggle world but it’s so fascinating to see it from a wizarding perspective and I think the media in the wizarding world could definitely use more diversity when it comes to magical vs. non-magical backgrounds,” Laura gushed out. And thankfully Danny looked completely engrossed, not bored to tears like the girl next to her.

“That sounds totally awesome,” Danny said.

And then there was a brief pause where everything in the room got quiet and Danny and Laura were just smiling at each other. It was nice. And totally awkward. But Danny was smiling at her and she wasn’t about to look away.

Knock number three.

“Damn, we got popular,” Betty said as all heads turned to the door and in walked Perry, in a very hurried, very animated huff.

“And here I was thinking that my last year at school might start out even remotely good,” Perry said.

She didn’t even look as she dropped roughly in the space between Danny and Betty. Sheridan ruffled his feathers in irritation.

“Welcome to the party car,” Betty mumbled.

“Something you want to share with the group, Perr?” LaFontaine said.

Perry crossed her arms tightly and took a breath.

“Wrangling new prefects and giving them the beginning of term speech might have gone a lot smoother if my Head Boy was there,” she said. “I swear I’m taking 50 points from Slytherin first chance I get.”

“Wait, the Head Boy’s a Slytherin?” Danny said. Perry nodded to her before doing a double take and realizing she didn’t recognize her. “I’m Danny, by the way.” Perry nodded.

“William Luce is the Head Boy.”

“She only gave the badge to one of them? That’s a shocker,” LaFontaine said. “Didn’t the oldest one get Head Girl too? Matska?”

“Yeah and now she’s the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and Head of Slytherin House.”

“Well,” Danny said. “I mean Carmilla gets points docked from Slytherin left and right, even the headmistress can’t cover that one.”

They eventually changed topics and broke off to change into robes as the sky got darker and darker out. Laura gave herself an extra minute to admire just how good she looked in yellow and black and hoping Danny noticed, she dropped the mystery entirely.

--

The welcome back feast was, as usual, everything she dreamt of over the summer when her choices were frozen meals, her dad’s cooking, or take out. Turkey, and chicken, and biscuits, and potatoes served mashed and as French fires and as cakes. Buttery green beans next to ears of golden corn. When desert came out Laura lunged for the cookies while Betty took two massive scoops of ice cream.

The ceiling above them was starry and clear and for once Laura was slightly jealous of the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors whose common rooms were situated high enough to enjoy the night sky. Still, she wasn’t about to complain with the glorious helping of chocolate chip and sugar and snickerdoodle now piled high on her plate.

“And Hollis’ famous cookie binge begins,” Betty said. “How many can she down in five minutes or less?”

“Oh please, I’m bringing them back to the dorm and if you’re nice about it I will share.”

Betty rolled her eyes and popped a spoonful of chocolate ice cream in her mouth.

At the end of the table the new Hufflepuffs were practically gorging themselves on the copious amounts of food. Laura’s eyes scanned the rest of the hall and she spotted Danny laughing with her friends at the Gryffindor table. She must have stared too long or looked a little too much like a sad puppy because Betty kicked her under the table.

“Don’t get drool on my future 3AM cookies,” Betty said. “I think she likes you.”

“Oh please.”

“I mean it, you two weirdly bonded and I didn’t even have to throw you at her or anything.”

“That didn’t keep you from trying and making it totally obvious by the way.”

Betty shrugged and licked her spoon clean before plucking a raspberry tart from the pile in front of her. Laura let her eyes fall on the far table of Slytherins. Her eyes roamed the table but she didn’t find any of them that looked like a pairing of brooding siblings she’d imagined in her head and she was too far away to spot a prefect or Head Boy badge. She let her eyes flitter over to the hour glasses to see if Perry had made good on her threat to start Slytherin off with negative points but from what she could tell everyone was at an even zero.

There was a gentle tapping of glass from the head table but everyone stopped immediately and turned. The headmistress had that effect—

Headmistress Morgan.

“Welcome, dear students, to yet another year at our glorious and astute school,” the headmistress said.

“Well no one ever said she gave the most interesting welcome back speeches,” Betty whispered and it was Laura’s turn to kick her under the table.

“I hope this new term finds you well. For those of you about to embark on your O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s, I wish you the best of luck and the most rigorous determination in your studies,” she said. “For those of you simply here to earn another year in your education and working towards your eventual benchmark years, welcome back and I hope for you the same luck and skill this year. For those among us who are brand new: we bid you a warm welcome.”

She went on like this for a while. It seemed to be simply iterations of the same five wishes: luck, skill, perseverance, determination, good penmanship, the works. She said something about quidditch tryouts and Laura thought of Danny. She said something about clubs and Laura got bored again. She said some words of congratulations to new prefects and the Head Boy and Head Girl and Laura and the other Hufflepuffs gave a tiny cheer and pats on the back to Perry who beamed from her seat.

She gave one last reminder to respect the boundaries at the edge of the Dark Forest, that out after hours was still punishable by deduction of points and detention.

“And, one last thing,” she said when everyone was sure she was done. “As an extension of the rules against entrance into the forest: students are not permitted to communicate or engage with any forest-native creatures they may come across.”

That sent a wave of whispers throughout the hall.

“Weird,” Laura whispered with furrowed brow but Betty rolled her eyes.

“It’s a scare tactic. And now we won’t be seeing Her Most Strictness until Christmas at least,” Betty said as they got up in the clamor of other students.

They walked together behind Perry and LaFontaine and watched as the first years gawked at the moving pictures, at the enormity of the castle, at a ghost or two that passed by. They traveled down steps and turned around a few halls until they reached the familiar barrels that marked the front of their dorm. They waited as Perry explained the entrance procedure, tapping her wand on the barrel to the correct rhythm and the first years gawked as they were all granted access.

Laura was met with the very familiar and very homey sight of the burrow-like common room. A fire was already going and few students had staked claims on couches and arm chairs and talked animatedly while a small radio played in the corner. Laura missed the smell of earth and pine that the room seemed to exude of its own accord and relished in the yellow and black.

“Welcome to the Hufflepuff common room,” Perry announced to the first years and Laura and Betty quickly peeled off to the barrel in the wall that lead to their dormitory.

--

Well after hours, Betty and Laura sat on Laura’s four poster with the curtains drawn, going to town on the cookies from dinner.

“I know there’s a whole deal about house elf labor or whatever, but they make the best cookies on the planet,” Betty said, biting into one to prove her point.

“I mean, they get pay and housing and stuff, I know that whole S.P.EW. club gets riled up about it,” Laura said.

They ate their cookies as quiet as possible. Perry was lenient with the but complaints from each other of their other roommates was only going to end poorly and Laura had yet to actually lose points in five years at the school, even from the most determined prefect.

“We should probably pass out soon,” Laura said. “We’ve got History of Magic, Potions, and Defense Against the Dark Arts tomorrow and I don’t want to think about how much first day homework they’re all going to assign.”

“Fair point.”

They opened the curtain and Betty padded over to her own bed, ignoring a glare from the girl in the bed next to her, clearly still awake.

Within minutes Betty was asleep, if the light sounds of snoring were any indication. But Laura lay awake for an hour or so later and not by choice. She found herself suddenly wide awake and cursed the obnoxious amount of cookies she practically inhaled in the past half hour. She turned over probably five times before she got up and stood on her tip toes to look out the window. The only thing visible from this angle was the moon and it was blocking out any stars that might hang nearby.

“It’s an important year, mom,” Laura whispered. “It’s like the wizarding world’s version of college entrance exams or something like that.”

Laura wanted to say a lot more but she was also certain her mother was already well aware, wherever she was. The first night Laura had done this when she was eleven years old she asked her mother if she was proud of her daughter being a wish or if she thought it was weird. She never got an answer. She thought about the spells and stories and potions she could show her mother, the books they could discuss. That was the one problem with this big world, even with her father, she knew her mother would have loved it so much more, she would have drank it in and relished in it.

Her mother would have loved it.

So Laura was just going to have to love it that much more for both them.

And that started with finding a way to get to be so she got to History of Magic on time.

----

Laura Hollis kept a journal. It wasn’t the “Dear Diary, today I…” type. It was practical. She learned very quickly that she would have a minimal outlet for journalism and writing at school. The wizarding world prized practical careers above others, all the jobs seemed to be have a very concrete purpose: security, government, sales. The arts existed, but Laura was hard pressed to locate them at Hogwarts. And so, she journeyed feverishly about her day, about people she saw, all as objectively as possible.

She was in the middle of copying down the image before her of two Ravenclaws in a heated debate about their chess game when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and looked up and there stood Danny. She’d shed her robe in favor of the warm day and the sleeves of her cardigan were rolled up to the elbow messily.

“I know I keep asking this, but, room for one more?” Danny smiled and Laura laughed and nodded eagerly. Danny went to sit down on the bench next to her when she paused eying the journal. “Unless, you’re doing work, I don’t want to disturb you or anything.”

“Oh no,” Laura said quickly. “This is just—you know.”

She closed the book quickly and tossed it into her bag as nonchalantly as she could manage it. Danny seemed to accept this and made the rest of the journey down and next to Laura, tossing her own bag and robe in a pile on the stone beneath them. And Laura was suddenly very aware that she was still layered up in her cardigan and robe. She wondered if it would look weird she chose now to be the moment she peeled the top layer off.

“How’s your first week going?” Danny asked.

“Three days in and already collectively 20 inches of parchment due next week,” Laura groaned and Danny gave a mock wince.

“My fifth year was that way too, they want to shove as much down your throat as they can before the O.W.L.s,” Danny said. “It’ll calm down though once they realize they’re ten times more stressed out about it than the students.”

“I hope so, at this rate I’m not going to have time for anything besides school.”

“You have any out of school plans in mind?”

The sudden heat in Laura’s cheeks told her that this must be flirting. The question seemed innocent enough but Laura could see Danny’s overcurious expression which she recognized to be fishing for information. This was good though right? That meant she didn’t have to. And it meant Danny was interested. Right? She had no idea.

“Oh, you know…”

She really should have words planned before she opens her mouth and starts talking.

“Well, like, looking into clubs or actually getting to go to Hogsmeade on the weekends or quidditch games.”

She flicked her eyes over to Danny at the last part and hoped she understood that in some fashion. Flirting was not something Laura was skilled in, neither were relationships. In fact, she had zero experience in either and only was certain of her sexuality after being forced out on two dates with a Ravenclaw boy at the end of her third year. And worse, Danny was older, she’d probably have dozens of girlfriends…and boyfriends? She wasn’t sure, but whatever it was Danny had plenty, she was too pretty and popular not to have.

Still, she was choosing to sit here and talk to Laura. And there was no way she was going to lose her chance over nerves.

“You look great on the pitch by the way,” Laura said. Was that smooth? Probably not but it got the job done because Danny was smiling and possibly turning a little pink.

“Thanks, years of practice,” she said. “I would return the compliment but I don’t think I’ve seen you anywhere before the train ride.”

“Yeah, I should probably actually have extracurriculars before talking about how much I want homework to disappear so I have time for them,” Laura said.

“Any excuse for homework to disappear works for me. Maybe you should try out for quidditch, I’m pretty sure Hufflepuff is down a seeker and you’re built for that.”

Was that a compliment? Was being built like a seeker a good thing? Best to press on.

“No one wants me 50 feet off the ground, trust me. I’d never leave the hospital wing.”

Danny laughed at that and nodded and Laura smiled. Okay, so it wasn’t so difficult. The idea of talking to Danny was a lot scarier than actually doing it. In fact, it was kind of easy. Danny was simple to talk to and very quick to smile. Laura hoped that had something to do with her.

“Well, I’m sure you’d look good on the pitch too, Hollis.”

Okay, there was no way that one was not full on flirting right? How was she supposed to respond? She had to bite her tongue to keep it from saying “thanks you too” and completely embarrassing herself. So instead she just smiled and looked down and she prayed that wasn’t the biggest social faux pa of the century. But out of her periphery she spotted a smile on Danny’s face and she relaxed.

“Well, if you’re still hunting for extracurriculars and have nothing to do Friday night, it’s the first meeting this term for the Dueling cCub,” Danny said. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to duel. Most people come to watch and hang out.”

“Yes!” Laura said completely too fast and too loud. “I mean, yeah, that sounds awesome, I’ll definitely be there.” Danny beamed.

“Great! We can meet up at dinner. It starts at 8.”

“Great.”

“Great.”

They ran out of words and spent a few seconds just smiling at each other before the scurry of students around them signaled the end of the free period. They both her in a fit of giggles as they backed up their things in a hurry and rushed into the castle. Laura didn’t catch her breath until she was safely in the herbology greenhouse.

Chapter Text

To say the week was slow was an understatement. Thanks to having something to actually look forward to on Friday night, Laura’s week screeched to a halt, only further derailed by the weight of pages and pages of parchment assignments. And, shockingly, having Thursday free did not help at all when she woke up with absolutely nothing to do and the tiny voice in her head screaming about how much she should be studying already for the O.W.L.s

“We could be napping right now,” Betty said, splayed out like a starfish on the grass.

Laura, who had taken the position leaning against the trunk of the tree to not be blinded by the sun reflecting the white pages of her book right back at her, rolled her eyes at the page, losing her spot.

“You know how crappy winter gets, we should enjoy being able to be outside without having to go to the hospital wing for frostbite,” Laura said, relocating her sentence and going back to reading.

“Not that I’m complaining about having plans,” Betty said, sitting up. “But what exactly landed you on the Dueling Club of all places?”

Laura lost her spot again as her eyes went wide for two seconds before she reeled herself in, aware Betty was eyeing her. Her cheeks were far less cooperative, catching fire quickly and spreading down her neck as.

“I um, you know. Want to get more involved with the student body stuff,” Laura said, flimsily.

“You called the Dueling Club barbaric and ‘a shameless promoter of wizard on wizard violence’ in second year,” Betty said, sitting up entirely and crossing her arms.

“Did I?” Laura said, focusing back on the page.

She heard Betty sigh and the stare remained. She spent ten seconds pretending it didn’t bother her, reading the same exact sentence over again twice before dropping the book and glaring back at Betty. The eyes trained on her narrowed and Laura watched in dread as gears started turning in Betty’s head, one click at a time, until her calculating apprehension turned into a smug grin.

“Betty don’t.”

“Oh my God.”

“Can we drop it please?”

“Danny Lawrence actually got you to go to a Dueling Club meeting?”

“Well I haven’t gone yet.”

A fit of laughter and victorious shouts of “I knew it!” followed as Laura groaned and sunk into the ground, book close to her face. Some students walking by started raising eyebrows and Laura dropped the book completely over her face and Betty only laughed louder.

“Come on,” Laura said, throwing the book at Betty. “Can we get through this without you completely embarrassing me?”

“Only if you let me get all of it out now.”

More groans and more laughs led to more stares from other students. Laura let her go for about 10 minutes before she brushed herself off and stood up, bending down to snap her book away from Betty declaring that she was hungry and lunch should be in the Great Hall soon and started walking off. Betty caught up of course, in about three strides.

“I promise to only help you,” Betty said.

“Please don’t do that,” Laura said.

“Don’t worry, I’ll just be around to make sure you don’t trip on something.”

Laura fought off a grin by biting her lip but a nudge to her shoulder told her that Betty caught in and she gave in, nudging back with a small giggle. They stepped back into the stonewalls of the castle, blinking out the sun in the dark corridors and dodging first years bustling through the halls with maps.

They were stopped outside the Transfiguration room by a Ravenclaw boy begging for directions to the dungeons and his Potions class.

They spent the rest of the walk in slightly more amicable conversations, following the smell of food wafting down the halls until they found there way to the source, tables already filled with students devouring full plates.

They sat down in an open section of the Hufflepuff table next to a large seventh year boy Laura recognized from her History of Magic class.

“Hey, Kirsch right?” Laura said and he looked up with a bright smile.

“Yeah! Hey little nerd!” he said.

Laura raised an eyebrow and for all her staring found absolutely no malice in his smile. Perhaps he thought it sounded like a compliment.

“Laura,” she corrected lightly and he nodded. He turned expectantly to Betty whom Laura had to kick under the table before she turned to him.

“Betty Spielsdorf,” she said, offering a hand.

He shook it with as much enthusiasm as he’d greeted Laura and then took a swig of pumpkin juice.

“Hey wait, you’re on the quidditch team right?” Betty said. He nodded.

“I made captain this year, finally. I’m a chaser.”

After Betty’s half interested hum and return to her food the conversation died fast. Laura did her best to run through topics in her head but she’d barely managed to stay awake during History of Magic (it was first period on a Monday anyway) so she doubted Kirsch, for all his enthusiasm, would be able to retain much from the lectures. And as fascinating as Laura found quidditch the first time she watched a match, she certainly didn’t know enough to strike up a conversation there.

So they ate instead, occasionally asking someone to pass something.

----

Friday night was a welcome arrival after an empty day except for 6th period Defense Against the Dark Arts. Laura did her best to rush back to the dorm room and change clothes, inspecting every bit of her face that she could before Betty arrived and accused her of trying to look good (she would be right but she didn’t need to know that).

Were bowtie cats not a good look for first not a date dates? Maybe she should go with the shark shirt. Whatever. She threw on some button up and walked down into the common room to wait for Betty to get back from her pit stop to talk to their charms professor.

“Hey L,” LaFontaine said, walking through the door lugging some potions equipment and dropping it in a pile in the corner of the room.

“Hey, how was day one as Armitage’s super secret assistant?”

“Pretty hardcore,” they said, flopping down into a chair. “Did you know he’s actually fluent in mermish? What hot date do you kids have planned tonight?”

Laura pretended to be interested in a loose button on the couch while Betty sat up with a barely contained smirk. Well, at least she was getting all this out now when Danny wasn’t around to hear it. Stuff like this is exactly the kind of thing she wanted to avoid Danny hearing. She’s a seventh year and probably way over the whole “so tell me who you like like” stuff people played in their dorm rooms at night.

“We’re checking out the Dueling Club so little Miss Goes For Older Women can have some quality time with you know who,” Betty said.

“Lawrence?”

The way they asked it sounded like a bit of disapproval that Laura didn’t want to chase.

“She invited us—“

“She invited you.”

Laura sighed and sat up, tearing her eyes away from the button and instead turned to look at the door.

“And as a matter of fact, it’s time for us to get going.”

Betty snickered but obeyed. LaFontaine shrugged and turned back to their pile of book son the table. Laura was ducking out of the common room and through the tunnel with Betty on her heels. She tried not to be seen straightening the color on her button up. Though Betty might gripe about the few times they were allowed out of uniforms and robes and Laura chose to button herself up to the neck but hey, Danny could take it or leave it.

(Hopefully take it.)

“You know I’m just kidding right?” Betty said, catching Laura’s small strides quickly.

“I know,” Laura sighed. “And I know the teasing thing comes with crush territory and it’s supposed to be fun but she is older and cooler.”

“Who cares? She clearly doesn’t.”

“You think so?”

“You might not be able to see it from all the way down there, but she’s got eyes for you Hollis, trust me.”

Laura smiled to herself and, for once, enjoyed the faint flush she knew her cheeks tinted with. Crushes were stupid and nerve-wracking, but that was the fun in it right? Purposely taking an extra minute between classes so you could run into your crush coming out of History of Magic or trying not to get caught watching them in the Great Hall.

All sorts of fun her mother might have told her about…

“You’re not going to like, actually duel right?” Betty said, nudging her with her elbow.

Laura had never been so grateful for Betty’s uncanny ability to pull her out of her own thoughts.

“Do you think anyone is really going to let me get up there? Even if they did, I still stand by what I said about it being needlessly violent,” she said.

“What about if Danny gets up there?”

“Then I will keep my opinion but…maybe be not completely down on myself for thinking it’s kind of hot?”

“You are something.”

They met Danny outside the Great Hall. She was dressed sporty but her hair seemed to have been handled with care and there was a tad more makeup on than when last Laura saw her. She tried to convince herself thinking she was dressed to impress was jumping the gun but Betty was bruising her arm with elbow bumps and Laura glared.

“Hey guys,” Danny said, stepping up to them, hands fitting nicely to her hips and she seemed like the front cover of a quidditch magazine.

“Hey,” Laura gave a wave and Betty nodded.

“Hope you don’t mind parking it with Gryffindors,” she said, motioning them to follow her as they walked through the doors and into a vastly reorganized Great Hall.

The tables were gone, pushed to the sides where crowds of students sitting on them or splayed out on top. In the middle of the room a long catwalk stood, steps on either end, and two professors stood talking in the middle.

“We’re going to have to put up with Belmonde,” Danny said, motioning to the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. “Unfortunately she brought a whole herd of Slytherin with her. Bet she gives them like 50 points for participation. It’s such crap.”

Matska Belmonde was a newer professor. She started in Laura’s third year and was the headmistress’s eldest child, which of course led to a lot of comments from Betty about how it was all favoritism and the Morgan household practiced the Dark Arts. Laura, for her part, hadn’t had enough direct interaction with her to form an opinion and always tended to err on the side of respect when it came to professors. Still, there was something overtly smug about her that grated ever so slightly on her nerves.

“She can’t do that though,” Betty said. “That’s totally cheating.”

“When your mom is the headmistress…”

“Who cares?” Laura offered. “Inter-house competitions are kind of crappy anyway. All they do is make drama and everything gets all clique-ish.”

“Ah, Laura Hollis, voice of peace,” Betty said.

“I’m a woman of the people, what can I say?”

Danny snorted and smiled and they all took seats amidst Danny’s Gryffindor friends. They were introduced one by one and it didn’t go unnoticed by Laura that said friends in question shot wiggled eyebrows and winks in Danny’s direction as well. So far, two points for team Hollis. Though the one girl, whom Laura recognized as the Gryffindor team beater was rolling her eyes and mumbling to herself before some hissed chill Mel in her direction.

A few rings of a bell announced the beginning of the meeting and Professor Armitage and Professor Belmonde stood at the center of the catwalk, looking around the room.

“Welcome back, welcome back!” Armitage said, giving a wave and Belmonde crossed her arms, nodding to the far corner of the room where the Slytherins gathered. “Professor Belmonde and I are very excited to see such a turn out.”

“Why do they all have different last names?” Betty said. “Belmonde, Morgan, Luce, Karnstein, it’s hard to keep straight.”

“They’re all adopted,” Danny shrugged. “Guess they wanted to keep their birth names? Who knows?”

Armitage continued with an introduction before announcing the first match between two Ravenclaw girls. Laura watched with mock interest as they girls went three rounds and Danny used it as an opportunity to lean in close and explain the rules about issuing challenges and the use of seconds and the specific rules of Hogwarts duels. That Laura certainly didn’t have to feign interest in.

“Alright, who are our next volunteers?” Armitage asked when the duel ended in a tie.

“Actually,” Belmonde said, stepping forward and ignoring the throngs of hands that went in the air. “I thought we might make it a bit more fun. And old rivalry maybe?”

Belmonde quirked an eyebrow and pushed out her lower lip in a smirk. Armitage’s smile faltered a bit but he regained himself and turned back to the crowd.

“Friendly competition never hurt anyone, eh?” he said.

“Grab yourself one of your brave little lions and we’ll see if I can’t conjure up a snake to match hmm?” she said.

Okay, maybe she was a little bit more annoying outside the classroom.

Armitage gave a nervous smile and turned to the collection of Gryffindors, scanning the raised hands and shouts.

“How about it Lawrence? You’ve impressed before in the club,” he said, looking at Danny.

She turned red and bit her lip as the people around her began banging on the tables and chanting “Lawrence!” over and over. Laura gave her a nudge and joined in a bit before Danny conceded an embarrassed smile and got up to loud cheers from Laura, Betty, and the Gryffindors.

“Your challenger, Matska,” Armitage said, nodding to Belmonde.

She hummed in response, the smirk ever present and turned over to the far side of the room. The Slytherins seemed less inclined to blatant calls to be chosen but they seemed to all collectively lean in like some trained group of assassins ready to serve their emperor or some crazy stuff. Laura hated thinking that way of course, because she knew plenty of Slytherins who were perfectly nice and helpful but man could they slip into stereotypes when they wanted to. What went on in that dungeon dorm room?

Belmonde turned back, looking ever like a snake at Armitage.

“Mircalla?”

A low groan sounded from the fringes of the room and Laura and Betty strained their necks to see across the way and curled up into the windowsill by the fireplace were two bodies. Both still dressed in Slytherin robes. One a boy, the other a girl and Laura knew instantly they were the “Krampus twins” from the train that LaFontaine had complained about. The headmistress’s other children. Which was Karnstein and which was Luce she wondered?

The girl closed her book and shoved it into her brother’s stomach and he gave a hoof of pain as she stood up and took off her robe, throwing that at him too.

The air on the Slytherin side of the room seemed to change. They looked something like predators as they smiled at Danny like they knew something she didn’t. She took her time sauntering across the hall and up the steps onto the platform, pulling out a wand from her waist in the process, twirling it between her fingers. Laura was no good at wandlore, especially from a far, but even she could tell the wand was long, a foot at least, and the wood it came from nearly black, maybe ironwood or something equally solid. It was a dueler's wand for sure.

“Carmilla,” Belmonde said, motioning for her to step forward.

“Must I be?” she yawned.

Was it Mircalla or Carmilla? As if twenty last names wasn’t enough, this one apparently had two first names as well.

Belmonde gave her a bit of a shove and she stepped forward to where Danny dutifully stood, wand held up to her face, waiting. Her smile from earlier was gone. Instead she was very near scowling and concentrated to the point where she might of thought Danny and Mircalla—Carmilla—whatever were the only two people in the room.

“Bow,” Amtiage said.

They dropped their wands at the same time and bowed. And by bowed, apparently the Slytherin girl took it to mean barely nod as Danny bent at the waist almost completely. There were boos from the Gryffindors but Carmilla was already turning and walking her paces away before she could be forced to bow again.

Danny took her position, wand raised and stance square. Carmilla simply stood there, twirling her wand. Danny wasn’t about to be phased, however, it seemed. She simply reshuffled and frowned harder. Laura was sure she thought she heard Carmilla laugh and turned to glare at her herself.

“On three,” Armitage said, eying Carmilla warily. “One…two…three…”

Before Danny could even move to cast her spell she was dragged by her heels into the air in a spell Laura immediately recognized as levicorpus, though no one had uttered a word.

“Oh low blow!” Betty yelled but it was drown out by the eruption of boos and shouts from the Gryffindors and even from the Ravenclaws. “Nonverbal magic is crap!”

Carmilla smirked, arms crossed through the whole thing, and whether she and Belmonde were related or not, the resemblance was there as they mirrored each other. Laura frowned.

“She cheated?” Laura asked Betty.

“Surprise, surprise from a Slytherin,” Betty said. “Nonverbal magic isn’t necessarily cheating but it’s super bad form and most clubs don’t allow it.”

The yells continued as Carmilla let Danny dangle in the air and Laura, confused as she was, began to get mad herself as Carmilla laughed at Danny’s thrashing and attempts to free herself with the counter jinx but was effortlessly kept airborne from the smug face on the opposite end of the catwalk.

“Alright, alright, that’s enough!” Armitage said, stepping between them. “Ms. Karnstein, if you’d please.”

She shrugged and Danny dropped, hard, with a solid thud and for once Armitage looked annoyed over at Carmilla and her sister, struggling to hide her snickers. How very professional of a teacher. Laura was beginning to seethe.

“I’ll remind everyone that nonverbal magic is not permitted during duels,” Armitage said to the room at large.

The Slytherins looked positively beside themselves for the most part. A few were just as unimpressed as the rest of the group. The boy Carmilla had been sitting with, her brother, she supposed, was disinterested in the whole thing and had taken to reading the book she’d left him with.

Back in the dueling ring, Carmilla and Danny repeated their bows and their steps and stood ready again. If Danny looked concentrated before, she was the picture of intensity now to the point where Laura wondered if she’d jump early and momentarily worried for the well being of Carmilla. But the countdown began and Laura leaned forward in a collectively intake of breath along with the rest of the room.

“Three…two…one…”

“Levicorpus!”

Carmilla was faster than imaginable, spring forward before Armitage had even closed his mouth and delivering the curse with a flick of her wand and Danny was back in the air again, thrashing and cursing while Carmilla’s fan group howled with laughter and cheers and the rest of the room booed. Carmilla, for her part, sat back, arms crossed, smug at the scene in front of her.

“Well, that’s embarrassing,” Betty cringed.

Twice with the same spell and Carmilla seemed to be proving a point. A very smug, cocky, and super annoying point. Laura felt her forehead lower and lower until she was scowling in Carmilla’s direction as she gave the counterjinx and allowed Danny to return to the ground in another unceremonious heap. Armitage, reluctantly, declared Carmilla the winner and awarded Slytherin ten points which Belmonde quickly followed with an award of twenty-five.

“Well that’s bullshi—“

Betty cut herself as Belmonde hovered close. She settled for sticking her tongue out while her back was turned and Laura watched Carmilla walk back, wand stowed, as if nothing had happened at all. Laura was sure it was some kind of passive aggressive way of rubbing salt in the wound.

“Do those two have some kind of beef?” Laura asked.

“How should I know? Danny’s your gal pal.”

“Please don’t.”

Betty laughed and bumped Laura’s shoulder as she groaned

----

Danny wasn’t overly happy when she got back, but her mood perked up enough to stay after and talk with Laura while Betty suddenly had an “urgent” thing to see to half way across the room with some Ravenclaws. Carmilla and her siblings vanished and by the end of the night Danny was laughing again and the whole thing forgotten. Well mostly, anyway. Danny still glared occasionally in the direction of where Carmilla had last walked off.

The weekend passed mostly without incident. The first Hogsmeade trip wasn’t planned until October and there wasn’t enough homework to justify spending time in the library, so Laura and Betty passed their time out on the lawn and watching quidditch try outs with LaFontaine.

And the busy Monday schedule lead into Tuesday and sixth period Care of Magical Creatures which Laura found a lot more enjoyable than before now with LaFontaine sitting in with Armitage.

“So, if you look on the diagram on page 39,” they said in a voice of false confidence.

All throughout the class Laura had been sending them multiple thumbs-up and smiles. The nervousness in their voice mostly abated, some eye rolls from other students seemed to occasionally derail them. If nothing else, Laura made sure to raise her hand for every question, though it was starting to become awkward when they called on her the fifth time.

“As you can see, Acromantulas can grow to a leg span over 14 feet,” they said. “Native to Borneo, first discovered in 1794—“

“Isn’t there a nest of them in the Dark Forrest?” a sixth year Ravenclaw said, cutting them off.

Betty was already clapping her arm over Laura who felt ready to launch her book at the offender.

“Uh,” they stammered, face trying to decide whether it wanted to go red or pale.

A few others mumbled in agreement and Armitage stepped up from his desk and tapped on the podium to quiet them down.

“The short answer to your question Mr. Ho is yes,” he said calmly though Laura was sure she saw hints of irritation flittering by. “There is transplanted nest of them in the forest, but as LaFontaine said, the species is native to South Asia.”

“Do we get to see them?” the Ravenclaw said.

“Even if the bans against forest weren’t in effect, the answer to that would still be no. Now, moving on,” he said.

The class quickly fell back into place but Laura frowned. Bans on the forest? Well the forest was always off limits but she also knew sometimes the Care of Magical Creatures classes got special permission to have class on the edge, or even just past the forest line. And it hadn’t been lost on her when LaFontaine complained the other day about not being able to take samples from some fungus they’d been studying with Armitage.

No one else seemed fazed by it as they took notes on LaFontaine’s lecture but Laura nudged Betty (three times) and wrote down in the corner of her paper:

What’s with the Dark Forest?

Betty rolled her eyes and wrote back:

Who knows? It’s creepy anyway

A voice in her head that sounded like Betty told Laura that this was just her journalistic side kicking up again and that she should probably just leave it alone. But something about the headmistress was always off-putting. Betty said it’s how all headmasters and principals were, but Laura wasn’t a fan of secrets. And by the end of the class she was without notes after spending 20 minutes glaring into space trying to think of reasons that chaperoned trips into the forest were suddenly off limits.

As class let out she realized she was going to have to make up something nice to say about the second half of LaFontaine’s lecture and some non-obvious questions about the whole thing.

Chapter Text

In addition to the mystery of the forest, Laura had begun to see Carmilla everywhere. Or maybe she just noticed her more after the night of the dueling club, but either way, the girl managed to insert herself into as many crevices and corners of the school as possible and Laura wasn’t even sure she was taking any classes. Well she must be because she heard Belmonde say her name once in potions last Monday when they had it with the Slytherins. But she hadn’t heard her mutter a word since the single spell last week.

It wasn’t really a mystery considering she was little more than a quiet wallflower with a serious attitude. But she had an aura about her, something like an air of mystery. And Laura wanted so badly to do nothing but watch her—

Not in a creepy way. Or a crush-ish way. But in a, do-you-even-actually-have-any-friends, you-seem-to-be-really-good-at-magic, so-you’re-adopted? kind of way. Which was probably super rude and from a journalistic standpoint, highly unethical. But she was like a bright buzzing light to Laura’s moth-like tendencies. So she watched her whenever she spotted her.

“Yo your essay on the movements of Jupiter is over here,” LaFontaine said, breaking Laura from a record long stare at Carmilla.

“Were you just ogling Karnstein? Of all people?” Betty said, turning her head to follow Laura’s eyeline and raising an eyebrow.

“I was not ogling,” Laura said back countering with an eyeroll. “She’s just—odd. And ever since that duel I feel like I see her everywhere.”

“I’m sure her supermodel exterior had little to do with it,” Betty said, pulling her book back up.

Laura opened her mouth to respond when the bell sounded for the change of classes and Betty practically raced to Transfiguration with a smirk and LaFontaine parted ways with them to help in office hours with Armitage.

They swung close to Carmilla on their pass in the hallway and struggled as she might, Laura couldn’t make eye contact. It was like Carmilla knew she was trying and relishing in the failure. Or at least, she seemed the type, awful as it was to form preconceived notions. But then again she had been rather cruel to Danny during the duel. Maybe she should have more of these internal debates out loud and feel a little less like she was about to explode. Actually that’s the last thing anyone wanted.

She muddled through Transfiguration as she pretended to be overly interested in lecture to keep Betty from whispering in her ear. And over lunch she filled every moment of silence with questions about homework or quidditch while she ignored Betty looking over her head constantly, possibly on the hunt for Karnstein and her brother to have more comments to make.

----

The first quidditch game of the season fell on that Saturday, three weeks into classes. It was a fairly balmy September afternoon and, like every year, the opening match was Gryffindor and Slytherin because apparently generating actual fights on field and causing school-wide riots was something the headmistress enjoyed. Or maybe she did, considering she was never there.

“Every year,” Laura said as she slipped on her shoes. “It’s like she wants to thin us all out by Christmas break.”

“Well, everyone likes a good rivalry, and no one does it quite as violently as those two,” Betty said.

“I feel like it’s encouraging the inter-house fighting though, especially between those two. I mean if you treat their rivalry as a spectacle, then it’s only going to create off pitch fighting—“

“Remind me to get you a flask of firewhiskey for the next game and calm you down.”

Betty was smiling though and nudging Laura’s shoulder as they grabbed sunglasses and a pair of Gryffindor scarfs they’d borrowed from Danny and walked into the common room. LaFontaine was hunched over a mound if notebooks and parchment while Perry was reading in the corner to the sounds of the radio.

“Not going to the game?” Betty asked.

“Armitage just got a grant approved from the Department For the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for research on the benefits of centaur blood,” LaFontaine said, not looking up. “And since someone put a school wide ban on venturing into the forest, I have to basically read every single piece of information ever recorded about centaurs instead.”

“That sounds tiring.”

“Wait what?”

Laura took a seat to the sounds of Betty sighing and muttering something that sounded like there she goes.

“You mean professors aren’t even allowed in the forest?” Laura said. “I thought it was just a student thing.”

“Nope, same deal for professors. Even the caretaker has to stay out. I’m not supposed to know that, but it’s part of the research so try and keep it on the DL Hollis.”

Laura frowned. That didn’t make sense. Did the headmistress even have power like that? Authority over professors was one thing but putting them on the same boundary restrictions as under age wizards?

“That’s really weird,” Laura said.

“I agree, but for right now, gotta make do.”

It was a discussion ending tone and Betty pulled Laura out of the common room with promises from Perry to have brownies ready from the kitchens by the time they got back.

They joined into the large crowd moving making an Exodus out of the castle and onto the bright green of the grounds with the pitch whistling in the wind in the distance, the flags pillowing louder and louder the closer they got. Trash talk was beginning early all around them as Gryffindors tried to teasing nearby Slytherins into picking a fight. Most of the time it didn’t work. Once or twice it ended in a professor appearing out of nowhere to separate them.

“You know sometimes I can’t blame the Slytherins,” Betty said as they watched two 7th year Gryffindors be pulled off a first year Slytherin who had the audacity to talk back to their chanting.

“Not all Gryffindors are like that though,” Laura said.

“Yeah, your girlfriend is lovely, don’t worry,” Betty said.

Laura rolled her eyes as they stepped up into the stands with the rest of the Hufflepuffs, many of which were sporting Gryffindor colors though they were also sporting the most green and silver of the non-Slytherin houses, which Laura couldn’t help but be a bit proud of, even if she was in red and gold.

“Welcome to this year’s first match!” called the announcer, Elsie—Laura thought—a Gryffidnor seventh year who often lost a point or two for colorful game play by play. “Are you ready to meet your competitors?”

A roar sounded and the Gryffindors started some coordinating banging on the boards in their stands as Elsie called out the names of the Gryffindor squad one by one as they all took to the sky. Laura gave a cheer for Danny and Betty joined in. The reception was not as warm for the Slytherins as they flew out one by one to meet in the middle of the pitch. Laura gave them claps however as the captains came forward to shake hands.

“The captains shake on it, though Straka’s grip could have been more firm,” Elsie said to a round of laughs.

Theo Straka, the Slytherin captain, didn’t seem fazed by it as he walked away to mount his broom and wait with the others.

“The teams are in position…the snitch is released…the quaffle is up…and they’re off!”

Quidditch was more a blur than anything else. Elsie’s commentary was helpful and Laura had to wonder how she possibly kept her eyes so keen on the ball as it launched between players who zipped around even faster. Most of the time Laura’s eyes wandered across the closest flier, listening to the play-by-play and cheering in appropriate moments. It was even hard to pick Danny out as they whizzed by, though her head shot in the direction of action anytime Elsie shouted something about Lawrence--which occasionally was to the tune of "who wants her number? I'll give it to the highest bidder.

In the midst of a struggle over the quaffle between two the chasers that ended in a penalty, Laura caught sight of a familiar face across the way. Up in the professors’ stands and next to her sister was Carmilla, out of her robes and leaned back casually with a pair of aviators perched over her eyes. Laura watched her give an exaggerated yawn as her sister nudged her and pointed. Laura followed their eye line and realized their brother was the Slytherin seeker—

And had just spotted the snitch.

He’d taken off at breakneck speed and the penalty in the center of the pitch was old news as the Gryffindor seeker rushed after him until they were shoulder to shoulder. Wild cheers followed as they jockeyed each other, turning on a dime chasing something only they could see, though Laura caught a glint of gold here and there as it passed through the sunlight.

“How do they keep up with it?” Laura said, as she did, every single time.

“If it were easy everyone would be playing. Seekers make a crapton of money,” Betty said.

It was early in the game for a snitch capture and would likely result in a disgruntled crowd if the game ended so early. But early spottings like this were common and often gave way to numerous other moments of chase as they lost sight of the snitch in their heavy pursuit and constant jockeying of each other.

Such was the case here as both seekers slowed, the Gryffindor one yelling heatedly at Will who wasted no time in peeling away to continue his search.

“Looks like the seekers have lost sight of their prize, Luce is off on another hunt,” Elsie announced.

Said Luce swerved by the professors stand where he received a very impolite hand gesture from Carmilla who, in return, got another shove from their sister. He sped away with a shake of his head. Siblings indeed.

The game continued and as fascinated as Laura was by Danny’s graceful moves on the pitch, she could only remain interested in sports for so long before even the prospect of a pretty girl wasn’t enough. And her eyes kept darting to the box that held the black haired Slytherin girl. She wasn’t doing anything special, in fact she might have been sleeping beneath those glasses but something about her was mesmerizing. Logically she knew there was a very real possibility she was objectifying her because she was kind of beautiful. But still…

The snitch was spotted three more times before one final bout landed it in the hand of Will Luce and the game was called with the extra 150 points putting Slytherin ahead of Gryffindor by only 10 points but winning them the match. Even from her seat Laura could see the livid energy practically radiating off of Danny as she started yelling at her seeker about something.

“Could have gone worse,” Betty said. “Not victory kisses for you though.”

“Har. Har.”

There wasn’t much of victory anything actually.

A few minutes after the stands let out Betty and Laura walked right into a wall of students, many of whom were jumping to see over the shoulders of each other and shouting could be heard.

“Well, looks like we’re taking the long way—“

Laura dashed off, ducking under elbows and squeezing between the sides of taller students as she fought her way to the front of whatever this mosh pit had formed around. The closer she got, the more the shouting moved into chanting and a very familiar “fight, fight, fight” registered in her brain.

She cleared into the makeshift fighting arena to find (unsurprisingly) scarlet cloaks and green cloaks faced off against each other, wands raised, though one of the Gryffindor chasers was going at it Muggle style with Straka. Danny was one of the scarlet cloaks pointing a wand alongside some Gryffindor Laura didn’t recognize. Their opponents were Will Luce a few other rat faced players sneering behind him.

She didn’t have to guess who started it.

“Back off Luce,” Danny said.

“I’m just on my way back to the dungeons Lawrence, no need for trouble,” he said.

“Then call off your thugs,” she said, nodding over to the two brawling to the side.

“People can do what they want, not my fault,” he said.

As tough as they all looked, it was clear no one was intending on actually firing off any spells. It was a big showing of puffing our their chests until a professor could show up to break it off. Not to mention the insane amount of docked points if the wrong professor caught them.

“Walk away,” Danny said.

“Or you could move aside, you’re in our way.”

They kept up their eye contact and moved as if they were going to start circling each other when Laura saw it.

From just behind Danny a tussle of black curls appeared, sunglasses stowed for now, and leather sticking out among a sea of painted faces and red and green banners. Her wand was out and pointed directly at Danny’s back.

Laura moved without thinking, her fingers suddenly holding her own wand which had somehow found its way up and in the air. Even more surprisingly than that, an “Expelliarmus!” came out of her mouth and Carmilla’s wand jumped into the air and out of her hand. And just as several faces turned to survey the new addition to the pseudo-fight a whistle went off.

“Break it up!” came a professor’s voice as he barreled into the ring and stepped between where the pointed wands sat only seconds previous as every hurriedly tried to shove them out of site.

“The Slytherin’s started it!” a Gryffindor first year yelled.

“I don’t give an owl’s behind who started it,” he said, ripping the two tussling players away from each other.

When everyone took a collective breath and seemed to calm down, her scanned his eyes across the field of students with a glare.

“Lawrence, Hollis, Luce, Karnstein,” he said. “Detention.”

Several groans ensued follows by several cries of anger on all sides. This is when Betty finally fought her way into the frame and scoffed at the professor.

“Professor that’s bull—That’s not fair!” Betty said.

“Take it up with Miss Karnstein’s wand,” he said.

True enough, Carmilla was bent over, snatching up her wand and rising to glare in the general direction of anyone watching as she threw her sunglasses back over her eyes and moved to walk off.

“Lawrence and Luce, you’re doing detention with me tonight,” he said.

More groans and yells.

“Hollis, Karnstein, you’re tomorrow night, understood?”

Laura pouted to the ground as she nodded, Carmilla made no acknowledgement that she heard him.

“And fifty points from each of you!” he said.

“Oh come on.”

This time it was Will.

“Professor that’s not fair, that’s a hundred points from Slytherin.”

“Two Slytherins fighting, fifty points each. Deal with it Luce.”

As the crowd was dispersing Laura was fairly certain she heard Will mumble something along the lines of “you’ll deal with it” as she stomped off in the direction Carmilla had just exited.

----

“They could have at least put you with Danny,” Betty said, flopped over the couch lazily.

“No, they could have at least not given me freaking detention!” Laura said.

“Getting shrill.”

Laura gave Laf an apologetic look before turning back to glare at her folded hands over the coffee table. She did one reckless thing (this year) and boom, detention. How was she going to explain this to her dad? Would they even tell him? Detentions happened so often, they couldn’t possibly waste parchment and owls on something so frivolous on a daily basis. She’d never so much as gotten sent home with a note before.

“We all get detention at some point,” Laf said.

“Not me!”

“Well, that’s just not true.”

And Betty did have a point. They didn’t have to break them up in a way that would so obviously be irritating to everyone. Danny would probably rather gouge out her eyes than do detention with the very person she was fighting. And whether or not Will and his sister actually got along, chances are they’d rather be with each other.

“I wasn’t even fighting,” she said.

“Well you disarmed Karnstein,” Betty said. “Props by the way.”

“She was about to attack Danny with her back turned, it was self defense,” Laura argued.

“No way to prove that,” Laf said. “But it’ll make a great story one day, a mini-duel with the headmistress’s daughter.”

“It’s not funny LaFontaine,” Perry said sharply from the corner.

Perry had been huffing about it all evening. She was quite sensitive about the deduction in points despite Betty insisting Slytherin had it way worse at the moment. Either way, Ravenclaw had surged ahead in the wake of everyone else’s unfortunate outcome. Laura had never taken Perry for the competitive type but it would be nice to put on a resume that her house won the cup the year she was both prefect and Headgirl.

Either way, Laura spent the night huddled over her homework and wondered how Danny was fairing in her detention. They hadn’t heard anything blow up or crash, so it seemed to be going smoothly. By morning, no one was talking about a midnight duel and all the houses kept a static level on their points. Danny wasn’t at breakfast, some Gryffindor said she was sleeping in. And Laura couldn’t blame her with how tired Will looked across the way.

Next to him sat Laura’s partner in crime for the night, glaring into another book and idly listen to what looked like her brother complaining over his cereal. What fun she was going to have.

She spent her last hours of freedom on the lawn with Betty and Laf, eventually Danny came outside as well, in a better mood. Apparently the detention hadn’t been all that bad and she had hopes that Karnstein would be as mild as her brother had been except for a few quips here and there.

“I did hear a rumor your detention is with Armitage though,” Danny said, laying back and letting the sun hit her full on.

“There ya go L.”

Laura smiled at Laf but still felt the guilty pull at the base of her stomach, not helped by Betty bringing up every few minutes how “badass” it was that she got her first detention for dueling. Danny also didn’t help with the constant thank you’s for having her back. Though Laura didn’t mind those as much.

However, when 8pm rolled around she was back to dreading the thought of not spending the next few hours with Danny. She was convinced A) Carmilla was going to be a completely abysmal detention buddy and B) spending several hours hold up with Danny doing lines had to have counted for at least a quarter of a date, which she was now denied.

On her way out Laf tried to make it seem casual with a call to say hi to Armitage for her and a promise to wait up despite Perry insisting they most certainly were not. Perry still had yet to completely cool over the detention thing.

The walk might as well have been to the gallows with how loud her shoes clicked against the stone. At the very least she was allowed to be out of uniform for all of it. That did help a tiny bit. And Armitage would be nice, if a little disappointed. So she kept her eyes down as she trotted down to his office, not wanting to make eye contact with any knowing person as she went to do her time and not doubt disappoint her mother who was yelling at her from the other side.

That at least, got her to smile.

The sight of Carmilla got her to drop it almost instantly.

She was sitting at a desk in the classroom, black leather boots propped up on the desk across from her. She was sans book this time and made up for it by glaring up at the ceiling while blinking owlishly into the dim candlelight. Her wardrobe wasn’t all that different than the black on black she’d worn to the match. A splash of color could be found in the red flannel she had tied up at her hips.

Laura cleared her throat.

“You waiting for an invitation sweetheart?”

She’d said it without even turning her pensive eyes from the ceiling. Laura pursed her lips.

“Excuse me for not wanting to startle you.”

“I could hear your teeth chattering from a mile away. Relax, it’s not Azkaban.”

It was the most Laura had ever heard her speak. Her voice was low, gravelly, probably on purpose. She spoke in long drawls to remind you she was bored. She also appeared to be sharp on the insults. She’d probably have to keep talking to a minimum altogether to keep from giving her ammo.

“Welcome ladies!” said the chipper voice of Armitage, peaking out from his office.

“Hi professor,” Laura said.

Carmilla’s response was to sight loudly and make a show of kicking her feet off the desk to sit forward. Her face was cynically expectant.

“Tonight won’t be all bad, though I’ll remind you dueling is serious,” he said. “Though I doubt you need much reminder of that considering the main aggressors have already had their share of punishment.”

Carmilla huffed. Laura wanted to punch her. It was possibly the first time she ever wanted to punch another girl.

“You’ll just be helping me catalogue some old files from various field work and then be on your way. We’ll keep it hush-hush if we find ourselves out early, yes?”

Laura nodded enthusiastically. Carmilla gave a mock fist pump into the air and a bored “whoopee”. Armitage didn’t seem to notice as he went back into his office and began bringing out filing boxes, placing them in stacks on the desks in front.

Laura was determined to make this as fast and painless as possible, so when Armitage said have at it, she immediately hauled her first box back and pulled out as many files as she could fit in one handful. Carmilla sluggishly followed suit.

They were quiet for maybe an hour except for the sounds of turning paper and Armitage checking in occasionally and asking them if they wanted tea. Carmilla made a joke under her breath about wanting the tea only if it came with a shot of whiskey. Laura ignored her as she powered through two boxes by the time the clock said 9:30. When she stood up to stretch and rub her eyes, she found Carmilla lazily leafing through her first box still, eyes glazed over.

“We both have to get these boxes done you know,” Laura said.

“And look at the roll we’re on,” she said, pointing to Laura’s done pile.

“I’m not doing this all by myself.”

“You will if you want to get out of here.”

“Oh, and like you want to be here all night?”

“I don’t seem to hate the idea as much as you?”

“Well some of us have friends we want to get back to. Unlike some who are so damaged we don’t care about anything.”

Okay, that came out of left field. And was mean. Like, really mean.

Carmilla stared. Then she got up. She walked to the front of the room. She grabbed another box. She dropped it down next to her desk with a thud. And she dropped her head and got to work.

“For the record. Your big tall Hufflepuff puppy was trying to pull his wand on my brother. I’m here for the same reason you are princess.”

----

Laura felt guilty about it for another hour as she powered through two more boxes and Carmilla seemed to actually be keeping speed with her. Okay so rude, grumpy, but not completely emotionless. She was a raging…bad person. But that didn’t mean Laura had to be one back. Around 10:30 she started workshopping ways she could figure out how to make an apology without completely embarrassing herself or making it worse.

So far she didn’t have much.

“Karnstein I’ll give you ten points back if you tell your mother I really need access to the forest for some research,” Armitage said. “Only a joke.”

He was chuckling.

“In all seriousness though, this ban has set by my study of the properties of centaur blood at least a year. Which is unfortunate,” he said.

“Sorry about that professor,” Laura said with the best sympathetic shrug she could muster. He offered her a smile in return.

“Just as well, it gives me time to go over my abstract and perhaps get a few extra hands in on it,” he said.

“Make it 30 points and I can get you pint of centaur blood,” Carmilla said.

Armitage laughed at the obvious joke but Carmilla’s face betrayed neither humor nor seriousness. It did make Laura wonder…

Around 11 he left them with a promise to bring them back some items from the kitchens. At first it was business as usual, the sound of papers being leafed through and the occasionally sigh as someone finished a particularly large pile. Laura was practically gnawing on her bottom lip trying to think of something to say to get the heavy elephant sitting in the room off her shoulders.

“Can you really get centaur blood?” Laura asked.

“What part of that sentence even sounded plausible to you?” Carmilla said.

“Well your mom is the headmistress so…”

“So you think she gives out black market items as birthday gifts?”

Well. Yeah.

“No,” she said. “And Armitage doesn’t want to sell it, he’s using it for research.”

“And what has you so suddenly ready to play teacher’s pet?”

Carmilla swiveled in her chair to point herself towards Laura. The effect was fast as she felt herself shrink under the coal black gaze and tightly knit (and super well groomed, not that she was looking) brow.

“Well, there is the whole deal with the forest being a no fly zone—“

“Why is everyone obsessed with that?” she huffed, turning back to her desk.

“Um, because it’s weird as hell?” Laura said.

“Shit happens at this school buttercup, deal with it.”

Laura wanted to push. She wanted to ask if it was illegal stuff or black magic stuff or political cabal stuff. But Carmilla could very easily be an edgy loose canon and she’d already insulted her once tonight. Besides, kind as Armitage was, he probably wouldn’t take too kindly in returning to a shouting match between the two of them.

Maybe she was being difficult, maybe she was being too nosey, or maybe she spent too much time with LaF and all their complaining about stalled research. But something was itching about all this in the back of her head. Maybe she could hit the library during her next free period or ask Professor Cochrane to recommend some…well she didn’t even know what she was trying to look for.

Something was fishy though.

They separated as soon as they stepped out the door at 12:45 and Carmilla didn’t even spare a blink back in Laura’s direction as her footsteps faded off towards the dungeons. Okay so there was a slight chance Carmilla actually had feelings under there. Which made sense considering this was the first time Laura had even spoken to her. She didn’t want to be one of those people who gave into hearsay but damn did Carmilla fit into a mold.

Still, Laura had clearly struck some kind of nerve.

She sighed as she stepped in through the barrel and into the common room where Betty was asleep on the couch, book covering her face and muffled snores coming from underneath. LaF was burning the midnight oil at the desk, exactly where Laura left them and Perry was nowhere to be found.

“You survived,” LaF said, yawning.

“More or less with my pride intact,” Laura groaned.

“Atta girl.”

Betty began to stir and mumbled something as Laura giggled and pulled on her wrist to stand and guide her towards the dorms. She heard a slurred question about her night went which Laura chose to ignore, feeling her face go read at the memory of Carmilla’s momentary shocked face. Who would of thought Laura was going to be the rude one?

Then again, Carmilla was pretty damn rude her own self.

Either way, she eventually drifted off to sleep, unaware it would be the last time she would see Betty.

Chapter Text

The train ride was usually synonymous with a nap for Carmilla. The joys of the rolling countryside and the sun were lost on her years ago and she was too susceptible to motion sickness to actually try and get reading done before her time was eaten up by classes. It would be a lot easier to nap, however, if her brother knew how to shut the actual fuck up.

He was laughing obnoxiously at some second year, sticking his head out the compartment window. He threw it closed loudly and dropped onto the seat across from her.

“Last train ride in, Kitty,” he said.

“And you couldn’t possibly let me enjoy sleeping through it?” she said.

“Gotta get the kicks in now before that snooty Hufflepuff prefect crawls up my ass.”

“Shouldn’t you be dislodging her from there right now in the prefect compartment?”

“As if I’m spending my last train ride in getting lectured by curly q.”

“You’re Head Boy dingus.”

He rolled his eyes and cocked a smile. Carmilla threw her legs over the length of the seat, leaning back and pulling shades over her eyes. She crossed her arms in front of her and tried to sigh herself into a sleep. Will quickly made that impossible. He got fidget quick and began rummaging through his bag, leafing through pages of his books loudly, clearing his throat every five seconds. At one point he put the window down and it was in some seriously need of grease. It shrieked right above Carmilla’s ear.

“Pissing me off shortly after I became legal to do magic outside of school isn’t exactly smart, Willy Boy,” she said.

“Don’t get your leather pants in a bunch,” he said, sitting back down.

This time he actually seemed content to be quiet and Carmilla was sure she was about to just nod off into her first dream when he banged the door open for the trolley. He rattled of an obnoxious list of food (all for him), and loudly counted the coinage in his hand before dropping it into her tray. Jesus fucking Christ. And that all before his need to eat everything with his mouth wide open, his jaw flapping shut with pops and clicks as he chewed and swallowed.

“I’m taking a walk.”

She was up in one move. Sunglasses were pushed off her eyes and into her black waves as she opened and closed the door without ceremony. She picked a direction and moved, hands shoved in pockets and avoided eye contact from every compartment she passed. Walking had been a dumb idea. There was literally two directions she could go: left among a sea of robed lackwits and right among a sea of robed lackwits. She should have made Mattie bring her up last week when she apparated into Hogsmeade.

But mother had a thing about favoritism. Even if two of her three children managed to become prefects under her watch. Her nepotism had its limits right at the point of making Carmilla’s life irritating.

She stopped and turned back as the colors faded to more red and gold. That was the last thing she needed. She supposed should could change into robes and manage to make it last as long as humanly possible. Maybe Will would go rekindle his bromance with Theo and the quidditch team could begin their weekly orgies.

Or he could be right there when she got back, still eating.

“I was thinking—“

“Dear lord I hope not.”

“Charming. I was thinking, do you think you could start teaching me next week?”

“At the beginning of term?”

“Well yeah, I know it takes a while. Have to start somewhere, you know?”

“Are you actually going to listen to me or are you going to dick off?”

“Shut up, you know I want to be able to do it too.”

“It just doesn’t happen. You need to actually give a shit.”

“Obviously I will.”

She rolled her eyes and shrugged. He seemed to take it to as close to a yes as he was going to get because he sat back quieter. Maybe his Animgaus form would be a quieter eater. Maybe he’d turn into a deer or something. No, that was too nice for him. He’d probably be a hyena or some kind of sneering monkey. Maybe he’d be a ferret and Mattie could tie him on a string and let her chase him.

She briefly considered trying to pawn his train off on Mattie but she’d demand a d kidney and her first born in exchange. Mother would be even less helpful.

“You know the rules,” she said.

“Yeah,” he said.

“I’m serious, I’m not getting in trouble because you wanted to show off your rat form to your friends.”

“First of all, I’m not going to be a rat, ass. Second, I get it, okay? Mom already gave me the same lecture.”

Despite the fact that Carmilla’s animal form was easily the largest to conceal, it was Mattie who nearly got caught when they were younger. It was a dumb mistake. They were on holiday in New York and presence of a rook in the city, an entire ocean away from its native habitat caused quite the commotion. Mattie still heard about it once every few months at family dinners.

And somehow the responsibility of training Will had fallen to her. It would be annoying. And no way their mother would go easy on them if they got caught by a prefect or professor. But it was all apart of Maman’s weird games. They were learning and passing on a skill set. For what exactly, Carmilla never cared enough to ask.

----

The first dinner’s were always a bore, even with Will demolishing two plates of food and ending up needing a stiff slap on the back when he swallowed a cookie too fast at desert.

“Mother is always so dramatic.”

“It’s part of the job, Kitty. They’re all dramatic.”

“It’s like Lady Macbeth up there.”

“Who?”

“It’s a Muggle thing.”

“Carmilla…”

His face went from red with coughing to pale within seconds. His brown eyes were suddenly filled with dread and his shoulders went rigid. Carmilla refused to shrink under the gaze of her idiot brother, however much he may send warning glares her way.

“I’m allowed to read,” she said.

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” he said, dropping his voice. He leaned in closer to her as the fifth year on his other side challenged a third year to a chugging contest.

“It’s not like it’s her book,” Carmilla said through gritted teeth. “It’s not like every single goddamn nonmagical thing I touch is a way of trying to get back to her.”

“Mother doesn’t care and you know it,” he said. “You know she wants nothing to do—“

“I don’t need a lecture from you Willy Boy. I’m sure I’m going to get one from Belmonde the second you go telling on me.”

He tried to press his lips into a thin line but ended up pouting more than anything else. He shook his head and let out a giant huff. He turned to stare at his plate but suddenly a trio of cupcakes didn’t seem to be doing it for him.

“Are you doing it because of her?” he asked.

“Will—“

“Just between us. Please?”

“Plenty of Muggle writers and thinkers were worth paying attention to.”

That part she meant. Some of the things Muggles thought up in their world without magic was amazing. No wizard would bother asking the meaning of life through writing like Camus. They’ve got seers and prophecies for that. And the way Muggles stare at the sky in wonder without magical scopes. To them everything was beautiful and a miracle. That’s how she’d seen the world.

Every sunny day had been some kind of blessing. She’d drag Carmilla out, even on the chilliest days in winter, just to say look how beautiful the sun looks. And then Carmilla would feed her a line about how it wasn’t as beautiful as her. But she meant it. She made everything beautiful because there wasn’t an ounce of magic in her. She created her own and Carmilla would break her wand in two to catch a bit of it.

Something else broke before she could do that though.

“Forget I said anything, Jesus.”

She got up only seconds before their mother announced it was time to return to the dorms. She strutted down the halls to the clicking of her own shoes on the stone and took sharp turns to beat the first years hurriedly scurrying to be the first to the stone wall entrance. Mattie had slipped Carmilla the password before she left for school. She mumbled “vampire bat” and the door creaked open, stone dust displacing as it swung to let her in.

She was greeted with more stonewalls and arches. The only light was coming from the various lamps and lanterns giving everything a headache inducing greenish hue. There was the echo of dripping water in some far corner and she took a glance at the portraits where windows should be. She hated the dungeon. Grand as her mother may have boasted it was, it was a cold prison. Maman may have gilded the cage with cases of new books the year Carmilla was sorted but she hated every second she was trapped in this hole under the lake.

This left her with two options nightly: do her best to pass out as quickly as possible and vanish out the door early in the morning or traverse her way past prefects and ghosts to the Astronomy Tower after her nagging roommates went to sleep. Maybe this was another test by Maman, an obstacle course in disobedience. And the prize was a few minutes of not hating every second she was here. And a few seconds to look up at the sky and wonder if somewhere she was looking too.

And it was doing it all over again the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. And Mattie wondered why she always frowned.

---

Contrary to her loathing of the Slytherin common room, she did not actively seek outside when daylight was involved. Especially when hoards of screaming idiots were cheering on the idiots who were even dumber, willing to zoom around 50 feet in the air buoyed by the good graces of an enchanted broom.

“Show some support for your brother,” Mattie said.

They dropped into their seats in the staff box and Carmilla flipped her aviators down into her nose and leaned back on her elbows.

“Since when do you care about Will so much?” Carmilla snorted.

“I love my siblings, darling,” she said.

“I distinctly remember you locking him in the cupboard at least three times when you were home on holiday,” Carmilla shot back.

“The older you get, the more important family becomes.”

Something about it felt off. Carmilla chalked it up to her newfound prowess as a professor. Though Mattie had been groaning and begging Maman to let her go for the job she wanted in the Ministry of Magic in Morocco, or even let her do a gap year before dragging her back to school, she took the position of professor with grace only Matska Belmonde could muster. And she looked good doing it. Not that Carmilla would ever come close to stomaching teaching, no matter what their mother wanted, she may have taken a note or two on Mattie’s powerwalk. And the general way she seemed to scare the shit out of everyone.

Not that she’s ever tell her that.

“Mother’s not even here,” Carmilla pointed out, eyeing an empty spot in the headmistress’s box.

“And that’s why we’re here to be supportive,” Mattie said.

Carmilla flopped back and groaned.

“Oh what would you do otherwise? Curl up in some corner and nap?”

“Maybe.”

“You could use some sun.”

“Are you serious right now?”

“Oh hush. You don’t have that much vampire in you.”

“Gee Mattie, announce it to the whole goddamn box please.”

Carmilla wasn’t sure how much of a secret it was to the other teachers. But she very much intended to keep it a secret from the rest of the school, even if Maman was open about it in circles of her choosing. It was contradictory, the Muggle-hating headmistress seeking out half-breeds to make up her flock of children. Carmilla’s own vampire ancestry was about three generations back. Mattie’s even farther, and Will’s great grandparents on both sides had been full blooded.

Pale skin, tendency to burn in the sun, and an aversion to silver jewelry was as far as Carmilla wanted anyone gleaming the information. She wasn’t ashamed, not really. She never knew her birthparents. But being poked and prodded by some curious idiot was not her idea of a good time.

Despite what Ell had been made to believe, she was almost completely human.

The game was boring. A lot of flashes of green and red and boos and cheers. There wasn’t even a fight. She’d have to workshop some ways to get a flask of firewhiskey in here if Mattie made a habit of this. She seemed to find it boring as well, thirty seconds in picking up a different topic of conversation about where they should go for Christmas this year and exactly what time mother expected them for the monthly family dinners.

It was almost entirely a waste of a day. So naturally William had to go and make it interesting by getting into a fight. And as annoying as the brawny mask he wore while in quidditch uniform was, she wasn’t about to let some self-righteous Hufflepuff lapdog curse her brother from behind.

It was just unfortunate Mattie couldn’t swing getting the detention moved to her office.

----

The Hufflepuff fifth year was the most irritating ray of sunshine Carmilla had ever met. She could practically see visions of white knights hiding in the imagination behind those eyes and years and years of good vs. evil Muggle movies filling her head. She was a Muggle-born. That was obvious. Not that Carmilla liked to profile but she could smell the Muggle fabric softener on all her clothes and spotted tiny Doctor Who insignias on her socks. It might have made Carmilla soften towards her if she wasn’t such a know-it-all goody two shoes.

Carmilla thought the girl would go on and on about how awful of a person she was until she was red in the face had she not put an end to it with a simple sentence.

“For the record. Your big tall Hufflepuff puppy was trying to pull his wand on my brother. I’m here for the same reason you are princess.”

Her face did a fascinating thing where it went from red to grey to red again. Her mouth opened and closed like a fish and overall she wore mortification like her Sunday best. Carmilla didn’t get much excitement out of it though as she turned back to stare at the wall. The girl likely felt bad, maybe even felt a twinge of guilt. But at the end of the day saw herself standing on some high off pedestal as Carmilla crouched on the ground, redeemed by one good deed.

It was worse than that though, she started going on and on about the students’ right to know this that and the other. In all honesty, Carmilla could give a shit what her mother was doing in the forest. There was a 90% chance it wasn’t legal and a 100% chance she’d skin Carmilla alive if she went snooping. She was willing to make jokes about it to the professor but not about to go any farther than yawning at the whole thing for the sake of a pretty face.

The girl did have a pretty face.

So naturally Carmilla turned and walked as far away as she could as soon as their paths reached a fork. She wasn’t headed for the dungeons though. She doubled back, took a few turns, and then began the ascent up a familiar set of stairs. At night the torches on the spiraling wall were snuffed out but Carmilla knew her way in the dark. There were some benefits to ancestry that wasn’t entirely human. She did a quick charm on the lock closed the old door behind her in a slight kick of dust.

The Astronomy Tower was a hallow echo, just like Carmilla liked it. She stowed her wand, took off her robe, and dropped on the floor. From her back, she saw everything she’d ever want to see in the guise of tiny fires peppered across the black, not bigger than pinpricks but infinitely more dazzling. She picked out constellations like old friends in a photograph until she fell asleep.

When she dreamed it was of her face.

Chapter Text

When Laura woke up and Betty was already gone, she didn’t think much of it. Usually she waited for Laura but sometimes she was too hungry or too behind on homework due later that day to try and wake her up three times in a row. When she wasn’t at breakfast, Laura still wasn’t incredibly concerned. Sometimes Betty took a piece of toast and sped off to the library to return a late book.

But when she wasn’t in Transfiguration, Laura got concerned.

It was fifteen minutes into class when Laura raised her hand.

“Yes? Miss Hollis?”

“Betty’s not here.”

He paused and looked at the empty seat next to her.

“So it would seem. Did she send you with a reason?”

“I haven’t seen her this morning.”

“Hospital Wing then most likely. As I was saying…”

He shuffled back up to the black board and rambled on about the anatomical effects of becoming an animagus. She raised her hand again and patiently waited until he turned back around. He swallowed, blinked, and nodded to her again.

“Betty is my roommate and she’s never done this before,” she said.

“You can get to the bottom of it after class, Miss Hollis. You can even hand deliver me the excuse note from Madame Pomfrey if you’d like.”

That got a laugh from the Ravenclaw boy in the back. Laura ground her teeth as she lowered her hand and the professor pretended not to notice the laughter from the far side of the room. She crossed her arms in front of her and glared for the next 15 minutes. After that, her face dropped as she felt something tug on the inside of her stomach. This wasn’t normal. Betty had seemed fine yesterday, how could she have gone to the infirmary?

When class ended, Laura bolted out the door and turned left. She’d be late for Defense Against the Dark Arts. But she couldn’t fight the growing feeling that something was wrong. It waxed in her stomach and the longer she walked through the hallway and didn’t see a sign of Betty’s face in passing the heavier the put in her gut got. It turned to a full on lead ball when she peaked her head into the Hospital Wing and saw no sign of Betty anywhere. She groaned and turned to leave just as the bell rang.

Her shoes clicked on the stone of the now deserted hallway as she trudged to Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was possible Betty would be there, make fun of her, and she’d be late to class for the first time in her life for nothing. But something told her that wasn’t the case. And Belmonde would rip her a new one anyway, in front of everyone.

The quiet tapping of her shoes might have been almost therapeutic if it wasn’t interrupted but a second set of taps. These were far less rhythmic, lazy even. Laura looked up to see Carmilla turning into the hallway just ahead of her at a slow waltz. She was yawning with her nose pinned to a book and her wand twirling in the fingers of her freehand. It was incredibly annoying that Laura’s first thought was I’m not the only one in the castle who’s late.

“So what’s your excuse?” Laura said. She spent a few seconds at a trot to catch up to Carmilla.

Somehow the girl didn’t even so much as jump at the second presence. She pretended not to hear the question.

“No wonder you’re a wiz with wandless magic when you never talk."

Still nothing. Carmilla even started whistling. Laura rolled her eyes.

“You know, it occurred to me I never said sorry about the quidditch incident so…sorry.”

That got a jump from a black, sharp eyebrow.

“But for some reason it occurred to you that I wanted one.”

“Who doesn’t want an apology?”

“I don’t care.”

“That sounds like crap, but okay.”

Some sort of twitch caught Carmilla mid-step but she recovered without a second wasted. It was the closest she had come to getting some kind of reaction out of Carmilla. She knew there was something there. Someone truly apathetic wouldn’t bother with risking detention and points to save someone. Then again, Carmilla seemed completely unenthused at the idea of points either way.

Still.

There was something about Carmilla, like the surface of the tide…

Or maybe Laura was hunting for stories where there weren’t any.

“I assume your complete lack of interest in my apology also means you don’t care about why I’m late to class either?” she said.

“You didn’t detach your lips from the ginger giant before the bell?”

“I wasn’t—how do you--?”

Had Carmilla been watching her?

“I’m perceptive and you’re obvious. Don’t invent a conspiracy,” she said, reading Laura’s mind. Carmilla turned a corner and Laura followed, despite her class being in the complete opposite direction. She smirked and cast back a glance that might have been a leash.

“Well one seems to be building up just fine on its own,” Laura said.

“About your girlfriend?”

“She’s not my—no. About the weirdo regulations this year—“

“Oh the forest again, for fuck’s sake.”

“And my roommate has been missing all morning now—“

“A girl is missing?”

Carmilla stopped so completely Laura knocked right into her solid form and bounced back with little grace. She ruffled her hair to distract from her still balancing feet as Carmilla’s black eyes sharpened every second they stared at Laura. Her brows were stiff and her usually pale skin went ashen.

“Uh. Well I don’t know yet. She wasn’t in bed when I got up. Or at breakfast. Or in class.”

It was as if Carmilla ate bad food that was just now disagreeing with her. The smirk and saunter of seconds ago washed away under a frown and more thought that Laura had ever seen her give before. She even bit into her bottom lip as she examined the floor like clues might there.

“Are you okay?” Laura asked. You’re not the one with the missing roommate but you seem to have taken this incredibly personally, whatever.

“You should get to class,” Carmilla finally said. The husk of her voice seemed to have dissolved away into tiredness.

“So should you.”

“I have this period free.”

“Right.”

“What class?”

“Your sis—Belmonde’s.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes and life seemed to return at a slow creep to her cheeks as she shook her head. The ghost of a teasing smile took residence on her face but it was still laden with melancholy as she sighed.

“Well, you’re screwed,” she said.

“Maybe I just shouldn’t go,” Laura said. Now it was her turn to bite her lip.

“And lose all your precious points?”

“I’ll just say I was in the hospital wing.”

“She’s a legimens you know.”

“She can’t use that on students.”

Carmilla cocked her head to one side and raised an eyebrow. Laura sighed and flung her hands in the air.

“Great. I’m roommate-less and will be the bane of my House.”

“Well, I might be able to help with that.”

It was Laura’s turn to raise an eyebrow.

“Seriously? You?”

“I don’t always want to help people who accuse me of things I didn’t do and make assumptions without saying one word to me. But for you, there’s an exception.”

She was teasing her now and Laura was becoming frustrated.

“Which is?”

“I’m willing to accept apologies from pretty faces.”

And with that, she winked and walked off, hands in her pockets. Laura felt her face heat up as she blinked rapidly. Carmilla called down the corridor, asking if she was coming and Laura squeaked out a yes before trotting after her with a dry mouth. Apparently Carmilla was a flirt, and Laura, the 15 year old girl with raging hormones, was highly affected.

But who wouldn’t be? Carmilla was objectively beautiful. She was, however, still a massive ass. And unhelpful, and probably mostly selfish. And seemed to enjoy to mildly bully Laura with teasing for her own entertainment.

Laura’s cheeks cooled quickly.

They got to the door of Belmonde’s dungeon classroom and Laura could already hear her voice inside. She gulped. Carmilla winked again and pushed on the heavy wood. The whole thing groaned in the loudest way possible and Laura wanted to crawl up in a hole and die the second it opened enough to see in. A sea of faces looked back her and Mattie’s judgmental click of the tongue and crossed arms just about made Laura melt on the spot.

“Class started a half hour ago, Miss Hollis,” she said.

This woman exuded death-by-detention. Or death-by-neck-breaking.

“My fault,” Carmilla said before Laura could even think to unhinge her mouth. “We got…busier than we meant to.”

They got…oh god.

Laura was, if possible, even more petrified as she caught onto Carmilla’s smirk and Mattie’s disapproving gaze. Several students grinned and started whispering behind their hands before Mattie told them to be quiet. This couldn’t be happening. There was no way Carmilla actually just insinuated that in front of a room of students and her sister who was a professor. She hadn’t—they weren’t—she wished she could reverse time and just take the points and maybe even an expulsion if she could make this all suddenly go away.

“Payback,” Carmilla hummed in her ear with the edge of a chill and backed away.

With Carmilla slipped off and down the hall there was nothing left for Belmonde and the students to stare at but Laura herself. She swallowed whatever her tacky, dry throat would let before taking a step further in the room and letting the door shut behind her.

“In the interest of this being your first offense,” Belmonde said. “I’ll let you off with 20 points from Hufflepuff. Evidently you utilize detention to get cozy with your cohabitants—so we’ll leave it at that.”

Dear wizard and muggle lord let a meteor just hit her right now. She dragged her leaden feet to the open desk next to some boy she didn’t know and drop down as quietly and miserably as possible. Belmonde went back to talking but Laura felt the hairs on her neck stand up with the eyes washing over her throughout the rest of class.

She couldn’t focus on Carmilla’s pure fear of earlier or the possibility that she had actually done something nice—well half-nice—for her feelings of nausea-inducing embarrassment and the realization that Betty was still nowhere to be found.

--

“This is weird right?”

“Why did some Ravenclaw sixth year tell me you were making out with Karnstein?”

“Oh for the love of—“

They were at dinner that night and Betty still had yet to materialize. In her absence, however, Laura seemed to have become the gossip topic of the school as she felt more and more eyes on her as the day went by. She wasn’t sure why it was such a big deal, Carmilla had a reputation as a womanizer from what she could tell, what was one more conquest—that was incredibly and utterly fabricated, she reminded everyone who asked.

“I was late to Belmonde’s class and that was Carmilla’s excuse,” Laura said, feeling her cheeks warm slightly, or perhaps they’d never cooled in the first place.

“Why was she walking you to Belmonde’s class?”

“She wasn’t—she. I don’t even know why she did it honestly, I guess to mess with me. Payback.”

“For?”

“For being judgmental about her. I wasn’t wrong about her being a raging b—bad person. But she’s definitely got more going on.”

“You fantasize about that a lot?”

No. I investigate,” she said. “Speaking of which, where the hell is Betty?”

“Haven’t seen her, thought she was with you.”

Laura frowned into her food. This was weird. It was wrong. People didn’t disappear at Hogwarts. There was nowhere to step off and get lost for hours on end. Not anywhere safe anyway. Laura’s stomach sank as she thought of the forest and all the ominousness going on around it. But how could possibly get lost there? Maybe she was a sleep walker and no one noticed?

“Earth to Hollis,” LaF said, flipping a pea at her. Perry smacked their arm.

“Sorry. It’s just—this isn’t right,” she said.

“Dinner?”

“Betty. Where the hell is she?”

“It’s possible she took a day to study,” Perry said lightly.

“At the beginning of the semester, how crammed could she be Perr?” LaF asked.

“Not helping,” Perry said sharply.

“So you guys agree it’s weird,” Laura said.

“Well…”

“Hey Laura!”

It was Danny. Bright and hovering Danny who slipped in easily into Betty’s missing spot and looked eagerly at Laura. She wondered if she heard the rumors about earlier. She had to. Gryffindors were the biggest rumor mills of any of the Houses.

“Hey Danny,” Laura said with a smile, taking a bite of her food for the first time.

“How was your day?” she asked.

“Oh, you mean you haven’t heard?”

LaF raised an eyebrow and smirked across the table. Laura felt her face go red as her bulging eyes tried to threaten them as best she could without Danny noticing.

“Heard what?”

“Nothing—“

“Karnstein made Laura late to class.”

Danny’s brows furrowed.

“How?”

“Well that’s the topic of conversation isn’t it—“

“I apologized to her. That’s all.”

LaFontaine was snickering despite Perry’s scoldings and Danny seemed more confused than anything else. At least she hadn’t heard the things Laura overheard. Things people claim she and Carmilla did that would for sure get them both expelled.

Danny started chatting about quidditch and Laura welcomed the distraction from the gnawing at the back of her head. Where was Betty? A few hours gone and it was as if she never existed in the first place. The lack of worry around her made her wonder if she was, indeed, overreacting. But as they retired for the night and she went back to a dorm, one bed empty, she felt something solid form in her stomach in a sickening way.

In the morning, Betty was still gone.

--

After Laura was restless and essentially useless the next day with Betty still gone, LaFontaine and Perry finally admitted something strange was going on. Well, as much as Perry could muster anyway.

“It’s possible she had to take an immediate leave. Maybe a family member died,” she said over dinner that night, now a full 24-hours without Betty.

“Seriously Perr? You’re the prefect and Head Girl,” LaFontaine said. “They would have told you.”

“Are you suggesting it was involuntary?”

“I’m suggesting it’s weird.”

“Thank you!”

Laura took a sip of juice to calm her outburst and glared at her dinner of roasted turkey. It was weird, and stupid, and messed up and she was frustrated. The gawks and teasing whispers that followed her aside, her roommate was missing. Her one real, true friend was missing. Not that LaFontaine and Perry and even Danny weren’t amazing people to be around. But Betty had stood next to her before they were sorted. They’d slept in beds next to each other since they were eleven. They spent summer holiday weekends together when they could.

Betty was her best friend.

And now she was gone.

And not a damn person in the school seemed to care.

She went, several times, to the Headmistress’s door and tried to book an appointment only to get no response. Even when she listed on her info card: “MISSING STUDENT”, she got nothing in response. Perry suggested she go to their Head of House but Cochrane just Laura a shifty glance and mumbled something about looking into it.

And if Laura Hollis knew how to spot anything, it was a conspiracy.

She’d laid it out to Laf earlier in the day: the blatant refusal to acknowledge, Cochrane’s attitude, and even Carmilla’s weird, cryptic knowledge of it all. Something was going on, it had to be. Students didn’t just disappear without staff caring or knowing. The school was in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by enchantments.

“Are we still good for tonight?” Laura whispered to LaFontaine when Perry turned to tell a second year off for trying to charm his pumpkin juice.

“Roger that L,” they said and gave a thumbs up.

Laura nodded and leaned back.

She tried included Danny in the plan but she didn’t want to risk getting suspended from quidditch practice, especially after the fight left several of them benched. She wanted updates though and had that storybook look in her eyes that Laura imagined people might have before taking on a quest. She really was something.

But now was the time to focus.

They got through dinner and made it back to the common room where they feigned doing work for several hours. In fact, Laura got loads of work actually done with LaF’s help while Perry sat in the corner and read. Eventually they had to make up work to do before Perry nodded off in her chair.

“Should we just leave her?” Laura asked, shuffling her things away.

“No way, she’ll pop awake,” LaFontaine said. “I’ll just…ya know.”

“LaFontaine! You can’t!” she hissed.

But they were already walking over, wand out. Laura groaned and looked away as she heard them mutter a few words. She groaned even more when she heard Perry’s familiar snores fill the otherwise silent room and LaFontaine walked back way too proud of themselves.

“All right, let’s dig up some dirt on the missing roommate.”

Their trek to the library involved a lot of stopping and hiding and far too much doubling back. The Slytherin prefects had duty. And while they weren’t Gryffindor and magnets for revenge point-docking, they certainly did like to flex their muscles by picking on the Hufflepuffs. So a trip that should have taken 20 minutes lasted nearly an hour with all their circling and LaF began to get nervous about how long the sleep charm on Perry would last.

When they eventually did enter the library they had to dodge a few ghost meeting for a midnight duel just inside.

“Okay, what are we looking for?” LaFontaine whispered while they pressed themselves flush to a stack in the music history section.

“History. Here’s the list,” Laura said.

She handed them a list of books she’d dug up in the catalogue dealing with Hogwarts history. It wasn’t a guarantee, but it was a start.

“Yeesh. There’s like a million on here.”

“Try eight, but okay.”

“History is that way.”

They carefully stepped across the threshold in the middle of the room where the common reading tables sat. They padded across the stone, carefully not to let their shoes click too loudly on the stone beneath and Laura almost bumped a corner chair once with her hip before LaF quickly pulled her back. Eventually they crossed (with LaF only making one “the floor is lava” joke) and stuck close to the first stack in the history section.

“You take the bottom of the list, and I’ll take the top.”

“I did peg you for a top, cutie.”

Laura spun around so fast she was sure the force of it would knock her into the shelf and the whole thing would come tumbling over. In front of her stood Carmilla, for once dressed down, in a black shirt and dark jeans with her rippling black hair pulled back into a messy bun. Under her arm were several leather bound books and an empty coffee mug off to the side suggested she’d been here a while.

“What the hell?” LaF said.

“What? You’re the only ones who can sneak into the library after hours?” Carmilla said.

“Uh yeah,” Laura said. “I mean—we. We had a plan and everything. You can’t be here.”

“Why? You starting a Fight Club?”

“How do you know about that?”

“Because it’s easy to keep up on the Muggle world when they don’t let go of their trends for at least a decade.”

“Hey—“

“Ladies, please.”

LaFontaine stepped between them and nodded furiously off to the side. Laura followed and when it was clear Carmilla, with raised eyebrow, was not about to abide, she yanked her by the wrist over to the corner.

“Listen, you’re just trying to get some late night studying in and we’re doing the same, we can do this in peace,” they said.

“I do this every night, where have you two been?”

“Looking for my missing roommate!” Laura said louder than she meant to. “Which you conveniently won’t tell me anything about.”

“Why would I have anything to tell you?”

“Because you know something!”

“Where’d you get that idea?”

Laura just about launched herself at Carmilla when LaF caught her and held her back. Carmilla cracked a wicked smile and Laura felt her blood boil a hundred degrees past her breaking point. If she didn’t hit the girl she was going to cry.

“Don’t act like you weren’t rattled yesterday when I told you.”

“Oh, I was rattled for all sorts of reasons.”

Again, LaFontaine held her back as she made a swipe at Carmilla’s angular cheekbones while the girl laughed.

“Not helping,” they hissed in Carmilla’s direction.

“Is there anything I can do for you upstanding students this evening?” she asked, taking a seat on the floor and reopening her book.

“Yeah. Leave,” Laura said, shaking off LaFontaine.

“Well this is my corner of the library.”

“Says who?”

“Says my butt that has sat in this spot almost every night for 7 years.”

Laura sighed and looked over at LaFontaine exasperated. They rolled their eyes and handed Laura the list before plopping down rest next to Carmilla. She went rigid immediately, having someone so close.

“Look, I’m gonna level with you here,” they said.

“I didn’t ask for any leveling,” she said.

“Fact of the matter is, there’s a missing girl from the Hufflepuff dorm. And it’s weird as fuck. You can agree.”

“Actually I—“

“We’re looking up some stuff on the history of the school because it’s a start.”

“Why would the history of the school tell you anything about some girl wandering off?”

Laura knelt down, directly in front of Carmilla, too tired to care about being quiet anymore.

“Why don’t you tell me, Karnstein? Why’d you go all rigid and snow white the second I mentioned it?”

She shut her book with authority and Laura disguised her small jump as a cough. Carmilla shot forward, leaning in only inches from Laura’s face but she held her ground.

“First of all, ‘snow white’ is a cliché, expand your vocabulary,” she said sharply.

“Oh for fuck’s—“

“Second,” she said, cutting off LaFontaine. “Only warning: knock it off. Don’t mess with it. Leave it alone. Sorry about your BFF. But you’ll only make it worse by chasing it. Drop it.”

Laura swallowed thickly and felt Carmilla’s breath right against the skin of her cheek. She didn’t dare feed into the temptation to look anywhere but her coal black eyes.

“You could help, you know,” LaFontaine said.

Carmilla snapped her head in their direction with an elegantly raised eyebrow.

“I know you’re not all Slytherin in there,” they said.

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“I know you were a Hatstall.”

Carmilla went pale and looked like someone had punched her right in the navel. She backed off from Laura immediately and her face fought between a glare and a look of pure shock. Laura, for her part, knew which one she was feeling just then.

A Hatstall? Really? They happened maybe once every 50 years. How long had the hat taken? Which other house was it trying to throw her sleazy, Cheshire grin into? Where else could that attitude of superiority possibly belong? And why was Laura only just hearing about this now?

“What was it? Ravenclaw? Gryffindor? Either way you’ve got a spark of something in there that cares more than about yourself,” they said. “Come on.”

“Fuck off.”
And with that, Carmilla was up, empty mug in hand, and tossing her book loudly onto the nearest hard surface. Laura winced at the echoing thud but watched Carmilla walk off in some kind of pity she couldn’t determine the cause of. LaFontaine looked marginally guilty as they turned to begin looking through the stacks of books for the items on the list.

“Was she really a Hatstall?” Laura asked as she moved to join them.

“Yeah. Armitage mentioned it once,” they said.

They spent the night collecting notes and documenting as much as they coherently could before dawn. They’d make sense of it in the daylight but there was evidence of missing students before. But it was hard for Laura to concentrate with black eyes burning in the back of her mind.

For all Carmilla’s attitude and ember eyes, she knew something. She may not like that she knew it, but she did. And if normal, cordial means of persuasion weren’t going to cut it with her then they were just going to have to come with drastic measures.