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It was a pity that Al’s go at defending Score hadn’t gone so well (it had been a rhetorical question! Why had they all decided he was a Death Eater?) but on the bright side, after everyone had left Score had looked at him strangely, said “Thanks, Potter,” and offered him a handshake.

He’d only known Score for a term and they’d already progressed to handshakes! At this rate they’d be best friends by… about the end of fourth year.

Maybe Al should try to speed it up a little.

Still, he thought things were going well, so of course a few days later he opened the Daily Prophet and found a full page of James telling Rita Skeeter and everyone else in the world that Al was literally the reincarnation of Voldemort. 

He didn’t think James knew what ‘literally’ meant, but nobody could believe him, could they? And James saying that Al had turned into a Muggle-hater who was a Disgrace to his Family (with capitals) and that it was all the Slytherins’ fault!

Al had closed his eyes and put his head down on the table, trying to calculate how seriously anyone would take this. He supposed he shouldn’t have expected James or Rosie to support him all the way, not if it could get them into trouble, but James could at least not be actively working against him!

Faith had responded pretty predictably - she’d stormed over to the Gryffindor table where James had been gloating over the newspaper, hauled him off the bench by the collar and yelled at him. James had said “See, that’s why Al shouldn’t be palling around with Malfoys!” and challenged her to a fight to the death in a volcano. Then Faith had tried to drown him in his own cornflakes. The upshot was that James, Louis, Faith and the Gryffindor fourth-year who’d tried to break them up were now all in the Hospital Wing.

Score’s reaction was a bit odder. Of course, James had taken the time to insult Score as well.

“Are you all right?” Al asked Score, who was reading the bit where James told everyone that nobody liked Malfoy or wanted him at Hogwarts and all the Gryffindor first-years thought he was suspiciously friendly and he ought to go home and eat death all by himself. Score’s gaze was fixed on the paper, his fists were clenched and his teeth were almost bared.

“…You look a bit upset,” Al said.

Score whirled on him, ashen with fury, and snarled “I am not angry!”

Al leapt back automatically, at least as far as that was possible sitting on a bench, and cannoned into Kitty who shrieked and knocked her pumpkin juice over.

“Well, I can’t think of any reason to disbelieve you, Malfoy,” Grimalkin said, mopping up Kitty’s pumpkin juice with a wave of his wand while Al apologised to her.

“Wow, Malfoy’s so zen!” Lia said, “Please give us lessons, Malfoy, we want to be zen masters just like you!”

Score glared at them. The prefects smiled big angelic smiles. Score took a deep breath and put his blank face on. “Sorry, Cook. And Potter.”

“…and you’re all right, are you?”

“Absolutely fine,” Score said, staring death at his porridge.

Al had his doubts about that. Score had gone straight back to blank vagueness, though, and it was impossible to get any other response out of him.

The first lesson that day was DADA, so they waited outside the classroom for Faith before they went in - she was still angry, of course, but at least she wasn’t throwing up slugs any more. She grunted to them and kicked the door open, flinging her bag into the corner of the room as she entered. The others followed her, tossing their schoolbags onto the pile.

Professor Brand was sitting on his desk as usual, but reading the paper. Great.

“You’re all six minutes late,” he told them, setting the paper aside. It was open at James’s interview: Al could see the big photo of him grinning wildly up at them. “Why is that?”

“We didn’t want to come in your lesson because we hate you and you’re stupid,” Faith replied grumpily.

Professor Brand apparently decided to ignore that. He was smiling. That was probably not a good sign.

“Today I thought we’d do a practical test-”

That was also not a good sign.

“-and see how much you’ve remembered from last term,” he finished, while Faith looked around suspiciously for a crate of Doxies. “Pulso!”

The impact to his ribs knocked Al straight off his feet and sent him skidding backwards on the floor, wheezing. Kitty shrieked.

“Remember, Potter, ‘constant vigilance’,” Professor Brand quoted cheerfully. “Let’s try that again, and this time try to dodge - Petrificus Totalus!”

Protego!” Faith shouted, throwing herself between them. The Shield Charm wasn’t very good, but at least it deflected the hex into the wall instead. Score hauled Al to his feet.

Steleus!” Faith shouted. Professor Brand leant casually to one side and the hex shot past him.

“Let’s go, Potter,” Score snapped, grabbing his arm, and they all dashed for the door with Faith bringing up the rear and swearing. Once the door had slammed shut behind them they sprinted away up the corridor towards the North Tower, only stopping when they thought they’d put enough distance between them and the DADA classroom.

“Harper,” Score said a little breathlessly, “I was just thinking that you hadn’t assaulted the faculty quite enough this term. It’s good to see you’re on top of that.” Faith made a face. Score shot Al a look that looked sort of like ‘ha, now we’re even’ and started fixing his hair, which had become slightly dishevelled what with all the fleeing.

“Did we just walk out of a DADA lesson?” Al asked. He didn’t think his dad would be very impressed about that.

“‘Ran screaming’ might be a more accurate way of putting it,” Score said. Al didn’t think he’d heard Score say so many words to him at one time before. He kind of sounded like a thesaurus.

“Wait. Cook?” Score raised his voice. “Cook!”

They all looked up and down the corridor. There was no sign of Kitty.

“Holy crap,” Faith said. “We’re rubbish at this.”

Al wilted. “When did she leave?”

Score leant back against the wall and brushed a few unruly strands of hair out of his face. “I think shortly before we did. I thought she was behind us - let’s split up.”

Faith looked at the pair of them, obviously decided that Al was the more likely to just fall down and die if left by himself and announced that she was going with him. The pair of them headed back towards the DADA classroom while Score investigated the rooms around where they’d ended up.

“We left our bags in there again,” Al pointed out, peeking into an empty classroom. “I don’t think we’re very good at running away.”

“So? I’ll get them later,” Faith said, kicking a classroom door open and discovering, as she put it, sod-all. “Potter, what’s with you?”

Al had stopped outside a girls’ bathroom and was eyeing the door uncertainly. “Can you check in there?”

“It’s just a loo, Potter. It’s not, like, full of dancing naked women.”

“Can you check it anyway?”

Faith rolled her eyes and shoved past him into the girls’ bathroom.

“Holy crap!”

“What? What happened?” Al asked, peeking cautiously around the edge of the door.

“There’s a ghost! It’s in the bog!” Faith said, and laughed like a hyena.

“That’s not very nice of you,” the ghost said plaintively. Al apologised to her hastily and got out of there before Faith could start asking awkward questions about why the ghost would want to live in a toilet. She yelled “Oi! Potter, wait up!” and followed him.

They checked a few more classrooms, or more accurately Al checked a few more classrooms while Faith wandered after him and chuntered quietly to herself about the pros and cons of living in a bog. (There were a lot more cons than pros, but on the other hand one of the pros was ‘It’d really freak people out’ which according to Faith made up for an awful lot of stuff.)

They were just turning onto a new corridor and Al was starting to wonder if Kitty had just run all the way back to their common room when James skidded into the corridor at the other end, collided with the wall, bounced off it and fell over.

Faith and Al both just stared as James scrambled to his feet, leaned as nonchalantly as possible against the wall and held a copy of The Adventures of Harpsichord Rowle, Mad Explorer! right up in front of his face. Then he froze.

“Potter, what the hell is he doing?” Faith asked.

James slowly lowered the comic book and attempted to raise one eyebrow.“Harper. So, we meet at last.”

“I’m here too,” Al said.

“We’ve met already, jackass,” Faith said.

Al had more important things to worry about. “James, why did you-”

“Oh! Did you see my article? Wasn’t it great?” 

Al had never really appreciated before how deeply stupid James could be.

“No, it was crap,” Faith said at almost exactly the same time that Fred shouted “No, it was craaaap,” down the hallway and came puffing into sight with Louis sauntering leisurely behind him. “I hate that Ma - oh crap, those two.”

James stuck his comic back into his bag. “Why aren’t you in class? Harper, are you seducing Al into truancy and wickedness?”

“…no,” Faith said.

“Oh.” James stared at the floor for a few seconds, then brightened up. “Al, are you seducing Harper into truancy and wickedness?”

“He’s eleven,” said Fred. “You’re deranged.”

“You’re out of class too,” Al said. “Why did you tell Rita-”

“We’re only missing History of Magic, Binns won’t notice,” James said. “Binns doesn’t notice if you stand behind him and make faces all lesson, we’ve tried it.”

For a second Faith looked like she was thinking that would be a fun game before she went back to thinking about how much she hated James and hoped he would die.

“It’s not important anyway,” Al said. “Why’d you tell Rita Skeeter I was literally the reincarnation of Voldemort?”

“Because you’re acting like the reincarnation of Voldemort?” James said, like it should be obvious. “And you’re embarrassing Dad and Mum and Nana Molly and you’re letting the whole family down. And now you know how stupid it makes you look, so stop doing it!”

“…So this is for Dad’s benefit?” Al repeated incredulously. “You said I was evil! How’s that for Dad’s benefit?”

“Nuh-uh!” James said. “I mean, again your assumptions have misled you, grasshopper. I very specifically said it was all the Slytherins’ and Malfoy’s fault, so there.” He folded his arms and looked smug for about three seconds before Faith lost her temper and hit him in the nose.

“Ow! Furnunculus!”

That turned out to be a bad choice of jinx for retaliation, because being covered in boils in no way prevented Faith from punching James in the gut. Al, Fred and Louis got out of the way extremely quickly. James got Faith with a Trip Jinx but unfortunately took a few seconds to gloat, which meant Faith could drag him down to the floor with her, pin him to the ground and whack him in the face again.

“Argh! Mordeo!”

“Crap! Matikleisto!”

Al, Fred and Louis exchanged awkward glances while Faith and James yelled and flailed ineffectually at each other. Al was pretty sure neither of them could actually see by now, because James’s eyes were sealed shut and Faith’s face was swelling up and going red and shiny.

“Should we, um, intervene?” Al asked.

“No! This is a battle between me and my archnemesis and nobody is allowed to intervAAARGH,” said James as Faith tried to throttle him with his tie and he apparently tried to poke her eyes out with his wand.

“What, like this? Potter! Stop getting beaten up by an eleven-year-old girl!”

“Um…that’s not exactly what I meant,” Al said, interrupted by a yowl from Faith because James had apparently finally jabbed her in the eye. She fell back with her hands over her face. He scrambled back and onto his feet. Faith bounced to her feet and froze.

There was a brief awkward silence.

“Er,” James said. “I think I lost her?” Faith turned sharply in the direction of his voice.

“She’s about four steps behind you,” Fred told him. James took Fred’s advice and ran face-first into the wall.

“Ow! Fred!”

“Maybe we should go to the Hospital Wing,” Al said, gingerly taking hold of Faith’s arm.

“I don’t need to go to the Hospital Wing,” Faith and James said simultaneously, and both glared in completely the wrong directions.

“If you say so,” Al said, trying to haul Faith away. It was sort of like trying to haul Hagrid.

“Stuff this,” Fred said, grabbing James’s collar. “Move or die, Potter!” He stomped off dragging James behind him while James lectured him on disloyalty. Louis gave Al an apologetic shrug and sauntered after them.

“Wuss!” Faith hollered after James, who yelled something back about Slytherins always running away that Al didn’t actually listen to before Fred dragged him out of earshot.

Well at least he was rid of them. Al turned to inspect Faith properly, standing on tiptoe to look into her face.

“I think I won!” Faith said, and grinned from ear to ear (which made a cut on her lower lip reopen). Her whole face had swollen up and gone tight- and shiny-looking, almost like a burn, and her eyes were reduced to puffy slits. Add to that the angry red boils spattered across her nose and forehead and to be honest, the end result wasn’t very pretty.

“’Course you did,” Al agreed, and took her hand. “Hospital wing, right?” Faith grumbled but agreed. The hospital wing wasn’t far from where they were, and luckily there weren’t any stairs between it and them, but Faith still collided with a few walls on the way.

As it turned out, Kitty and Score had both had about the same luck.

“Madam Zell - What happened to you?” Al asked, stunned, as they went in.

“Eh? What happened to who?” Faith asked.

Score was lying down on one of the beds, with his arm across his eyes, but he propped himself up on his elbow and looked at them as they came in. Kitty was perched at the end of his bed absolutely covered in ink, but she jumped up and ran over to them.

“What happened to you?” Al and Kitty said together.

“Somebody tell me what’s going on? Is that Cook?” Faith said.

“What happened to Faith’s face? It’s not contagious, is it?”

“That’s Cook! Where’ve you been?”

“Why are you covered in ink?” Al asked. Kitty looked at the floor and mumbled something about Peeves and falling down the stairs.

“She’s covered in ink?” Faith said as Madam Zeller dashed up to them and said “Hmm, looks bad. Sit there.” and pushed her towards a bed. Al headed over to Score, who had settled back with his arm over his eyes again.

“What happened to you?”

Score’s mouth turned downwards at the corners,  like he was thinking of how exactly he should phrase it.

“He told me he was accosted by a Gryffindor and Ravenclaw in sixth-year who were somewhat perturbed by his cavalier treatment of Professor Longbottom’s family, despite the fact that he personally had never met them,” Kitty quoted carefully, her forehead creased up.

“What? Bastards!” Faith yelped, and made to jump up. Madam Zeller shoved her back onto the bed and started muttering charms over the boils on her forehead.

Al stared at Score. He didn’t look hurt or anything. But Madam Zeller would have fixed that, right? But if he’d been able to get to the Hospital Wing in the first place…”

“I think he means they attacked him-” Kitty worried her lower lip between her teeth. “And I’m not sure whether he’s got his arm like that because the light still hurts or because Madam Zeller hasn’t turned his eyelashes back to normal yet-”

“Who were they?” Faith demanded around Madam Zeller, who said something snippy about not appreciating her patients running off to ambush people.

“I don’t know, Harper, we weren’t exactly formally introduced. Cook, I can hear you fretting,“ Score said, not moving his arm. “Besides, it’s the latter. There’s no serious injury save to my dignity.”

That was pretty much what Al would have said if he was seriously injured, so he nodded gamely and pretended to believe him.

“And that’s not anything you haven’t injured already, right? Stop being a moron, Malfoy! What’d they look like?”

“Cook, if you murder Harper right now I’ll buy you a pony,” Score promised, which at least startled Faith into hysterical laughter. Kitty looked slightly traumatised. Al was sort of annoyed Score had asked Kitty to murder Faith instead of him, because while he wasn’t a great duellist he was at least better at it than Kitty was.

It occurred to him that Slytherin might have warped his mind.

Anyway. That was more worrying than Score was acting like it was, wasn’t it? Al shouldn’t let him go anywhere on his own from then on. He should reread the section on protective custody in the Aurors’ Handbook, too. It’d probably be more helpful if he got Faith to do it, though, which shouldn’t be difficult to arrange.

“There, done,” Madam Zeller said, and Faith immediately bounded to her feet and charged over to the other Slytherins.

“This is all Potter’s fault! We should kill him. Rookwood’ll know a good place to hide the body-”

“As a staff member? Quit killing people,” Madam Zeller said. “Christ, Slytherins.” She hurried back into her office.

“We don’t always suggest killing people,” Al called after her forlornly.

“Well in this case we should!” Faith said. “Let’s beat him to death with a spade!” She energetically mimed a spade-beating and nearly mime-spaded Kitty in the head. “Oops, sorry, Cook.”

“We don’t need to beat anyone with spades,” Al said. “James’ll…um…get his comeuppance. Soon. I swear.”






James’s comeuppance arrived at lunch, actually.

Score was explaining to Avery that he was hardly discomfited at all by being suddenly assaulted in the school corridors and Lia and Grimalkin were trying to figure out who the culprits were and probably not for benevolent reasons.

“Were they all gross and lovey-dovey?” Lia asked, in a tone of scientific interest.

Score hesitated. “There was some…they might have been a couple? I don’t see why you keep acting as if they gave me a detailed summary of their names, addresses and personal history.”

“To be a proper Slytherin you have to know how to read minds,” Grimalkin explained. Al wondered if there really was a spell he could learn to read people’s minds. That would be useful. (But only when used in strict keeping with the rules on respecting civilian privacy in Appendix G of the Auror’s Handbook.)

Then a snowy owl flew shrieking through the upper windows of the Great Hall and dive-bombed the Gryffindor table.

“What’s that?” Faith asked, kneeling up on the bench to get a better view. “Oh hang on - Al, I think it’s for your brother-”

Al put it together, yelped and stuck his fingers in his ears. Faith turned and squinted down at him looking very confused, and her lips moved as if she was saying ‘What’re you-’

“WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!”


The noise was deafening, almost drowning out the cries of shock all across the hall as the students ducked instinctively and clapped their hands over their ears. Plates and cutlery rattled. Faith almost fell off the bench.

 “YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT YOUR BROTHER LIKE THAT TO ANYONE, JAMES!”


Several Hufflepuffs prudently took refuge under their table as dust showered from the ceiling. Al scrambled up onto the bench and tried to catch a glimpse of James, but could only see the top of his head sunk down between Fred and Louis. Fred was banging his head on the table again. Louis had covered his face with his hands.

“YOU KNOW AL’S NOT EVIL, THAT’S A STUPID THING TO SAY-”


Al was going to write to his dad and say thanks just as soon as his eardrums stopped throbbing.

“- TALKING TO BLOODY RITA SKEETER ABOUT YOUR OWN FAMILY, JAMES, THAT’S COMPLETELY DISGUSTING, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’D DO THAT AND IF YOU EVER DO IT AGAIN I-”

The Howler broke off for just a split second. Al guessed because usually when his dad threatened people he was talking to a criminal and it had to be different with James.

“-WILL NOT BE HAPPY!”

The Howler burned up and shrivelled into ashes. Silence reigned again.

“I think,” Lia said carefully, uncurling from where she’d buried her face in Grimalkin’s shoulder and almost died laughing, “I think that deserves a round of applause.”

There was ragged applause from the Slytherins, and scattered laughter from the rest of the Great Hall.

“Oh God, my eardrums,” Score said faintly, face-down on the table. “I think they’ve committed suicide.”

“I’m sorry, he’s very…um…loud when he’s angry,” Al said. His own eardrums were aching. Were they supposed to do that?

“Hey, Potter’s upset,” Faith said, standing up on the bench to look across the Great Hall properly. “Good. I hope he cries. I hope someone has a camera and can take pictures of it for me.”

Al knelt up on the bench again to look across the Hall with her. James had emerged from under the Gryffindor table by this point. He wasn’t crying, but he seemed to be having some sort of bewildered hysterical fit at Louis while Louis rubbed his back soothingly and Fred yelled at them both.

Al tried not to feel sorry for him. The Howler’d made things easier for him, at any rate. Not that everything was magically fixed, but at least it helped…

Speaking of helped. “Were you all planning to go to Charms Club tonight?”
“Yeah, why not,” Faith said, still gazing across the Hall with a look of utmost joy and appreciation while James flailed about in despair.

“Um,” Kitty said, twisting her fingers in her skirt. “Is it okay if I don’t? It’s just, um, I sort of thought I would be less likely to be murdered in our common room.”

“Sweet Jesus, what?!” Lia said. “Why would you think that? Oh my God, Grim, what are we doing wrong?”





Their reception at the Charms Club wasn’t that great, though. Violetta Harbringer looked up already smiling as Al opened the door, and then her whole face seemed to fracture suddenly.

“What are you doing here?”

“We’re here for Charms Club,” Score said.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Violetta said. Behind the first-years, Grim and Lia smiled slow, mad smiles.

“We’re here for Charms Club,” Grim said.

“And to kill people!” Lia chirped. “…wait. Crap. Did I say kill? I meant hug!”

“We’ve come to hug you all,” Grim intoned, completely deadpan.

“Who wants the first hug?” Lia asked brightly, arms flung wide.

Nobody wanted a hug.

“…oh fine, be like that.”

“Why are you actually here?”

Lia flicked her hair and grinned insanely at everyone. “All right. As you all no doubt know, we are the devoted minions of Lord Aldemort-”

“I thought you were Avery’s minions?”

“Don’t bother us with logic,” Grim advised.

“- sworn to keep him safe, and we shall fight to the death to defend him!” Lia announced. “Should any of you misbegotten curs seek to do him harm-”

“Or do any of the ickle firsties harm, really. We aren’t choosy,” Grim put in.

“-then we shall bring down upon thy head such unholy retribuooooh biscuits!” And Grim and Lia both bounced off to the refreshments table.

“…I don’t think I feel very safe,” Al said.

Violetta was looking after them, frowning. “They don’t have any fireworks with them, have they?”

Al was pretty sure they hadn’t. “I don’t think so?”

“Good,” Violetta said, added defensively to a few stunned onlookers “Well, the Charms Club’s policy is to let everybody attend,” and swept away. 

Al went after Grim and Lia, just to make sure they weren’t going to do anything spectacularly evil.

“Hullo?”

“’ullo ‘otter,” Lia said, making silly faces with a whole digestive biscuit in her mouth.

“Are you going to do evil things with fireworks?” Al asked them both. “Violetta’s worried you might.”

“…‘ire‘orks?” Lia repeated, swallowed, and said “Ohhh. Is this about the thing in third year?”

“We seriously weren’t aiming for Flitwick,” Grim assured him. “Nobody ever believes us when we say that, but we weren’t. Besides, he thought it was funny too.”

“Once he’d put the fire out,” Lia said.

Al would have asked for details, but at that point Ann Seancey came up to the refreshments table for a glass of pumpkin juice, humming contentedly to herself.

“Hullo,” Grim said, raising a hand in lazy acknowledgement.

Seancey stared at him, clearly not aware that she was pouring pumpkin juice all over her hand as opposed to into the cup. Lia turned around.

“What’s…oh, hi!”

Seancey screamed, dropped the cup, dashed the length of the classroom and threw herself out of the open window.

Lia looked at Grim.

“…that was odd,” Grim said. “Who was that?”

“Noooo idea,” Lia said.

“Ann Seancey,” Al said, and frowned. “You don’t know her? She’s in your year. Is she all right?”

“Oh, Seancey? She’s on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, she’ll know how to jump out of a window,” Lia said dismissively.  “Hey, Grim, have we done anything to her in particular?”

“There was that incident in Potions?” Grim guessed.

“Which of the incidents in Potions?”

“…any of them, really,” Grim said.

Lia seemed to consider the possibility, and then shrugged. “Who knows?”

It was a relief that Grim and Lia hadn’t actually done anything terrible to Seancey (or at least, nothing more terrible than they would usually do, and Al didn’t think they were actually that malicious.) So he grabbed a custard cream, so he’d have had an excuse to be over at the refreshments table in the first place, and went looking for someone to socialise wi-

“THE HELL DID YOU SAY ABOUT POTTER?”

Maybe in future Al shouldn’t leave Faith unsupervised.

“SAY THAT TO MY FACE, JACKASS!”

Al hurried over to her, with difficulty since a crowd was starting to form. She was glowering up with arms folded at Matthew Kennedy, the sixth-year Ravenclaw. Hopefully she wouldn’t try to start a fight, because he looked a full foot taller than her.

Matthew Kennedy stooped down and said, very loudly and clearly, straight into her face, “I said I was surprised that Potter’d shown his face here. You got a problem with that?”

Faith stared up at him with a sort of the-bigger-they-are expression and then kicked him square in the kneecap. Kennedy yowled and doubled over, brandishing his wand wildly. “Epistaxo!”

Faith’s nose fountained blood, and she yelled, jumped on Kennedy and  and started pummelling him around the shoulders. He caught her wrists.

“Are you insane? What are you going to do, bleed on me?”

Faith headbutted him in the solar plexus.

“Seven Sickles on Harper!” Dan Gunn shouted, shoving to the front of the crowd, and Kennedy swore at the entire universe as Faith called him some terrible names and kicked him in the shin.

“Hi!” Grim said, appearing from nowhere “Harper, stop being crazy, all right? That’s our job. Why’s she all over blood?”

“She attacked me!”

“By covering herself in blood?” Grim said. “Harper, that’s an unsound and implausible strategy.”

“No, but she was kicking me-”

“Hfffff!” Lia appeared on the other side, chirping something through a mouthful of biscuit and grinning maniacally. At this point Kennedy seemed to realise he was surrounded and yanked Faith’s arms out to full length by the wrists. She stamped on his foot.

“Ow! Stop trying to kill me!”

Faith glared up at him. “So you surrender?”

“…fine,” Kennedy said. “Why not.” He let go of her. Faith rubbed some life back into her wrists, scowled and ordered him to apologise to Al.

“Fine. Potter-”

All heads turned to look at Al, who didn’t really appreciate being the centre of attention.

“I’m sorry I thought you might not have wanted to come to Charms Club. Obviously that was stupid of me.”

Faith accepted that because apparently she was impervious to sarcasm and stomped back to Al, still dripping blood. Al took some very quick steps backwards. 

“Wait, who won that?” Dan Gunn said.

“Harper!” Grim stepped in between them, smiling cheerfully, and grabbed her chin. “Episkey!”

The bleeding stopped. Faith sniffed and wiped her hand across her bloody mouth. Score, who’d come up nearby without Al noticing, made a faintly grossed-out noise.

“What?” Faith asked, advancing towards him as Grim let go of her chin.

“Harper, you’re marinading in your own blood,” Score said flatly. “Get away from me.”

Faith thought about that for a second, looked at her bloody hand, and then shoved it into Score’s face with a “Bwaaaaaaaa!”

Score yelped and retreated. Faith laughed like a drain.

"Harper,” Grim said, obviously completely ruining her fun. “Have you noticed that you’re covered in blood?”

Faith plucked absently at her jumper, which was indeed covered in blood. “I guess? It’s fine, I’ll drop it on the laundry heap when I get back.”

“Or, alternatively,” Grim said, “can you think of any ways of dealing with such a situation where you don‘t get injured?"

Faith stared at him in disbelief and said "Are you saying I should have used diplomacy?"

"What? Oh Jesus, no!" Grimalkin said. "What you should do in this situation, Harper, is to destroy him utterly but in a way where no-one can prove it was you and you don’t get dirty." He tweaked her nose, muttered "Diplomacy," and chuckled.

Al was pretty sure that was a joke, so he left them to their evil plans and went looking for Score. Score’d stopped retreating from Faith and settled into talking to someone, which was good, but as usual, a circle of empty space had developed around him with just him and Faith’s Hufflepuff friend Lew Pritchard at the centre, which was bad. Lew was talking animatedly about a rollercoaster he’d been on over the holidays, and judging by Score’s slightly frozen expression of polite interest he didn’t know what a rollercoaster was.

“-four-hundred-feet-tall top hat-”

Score looked somewhat confused.

“-which is freaky as hell on the way up but awesome on the way - what? You look confused. ”

“No, rolling coasters are very interesting to me,” Score assured him, and glanced around, though whether he was casting around for something to say or looking for a distraction Al couldn‘t tell. Lia and Grim were both back at the refreshments table by now, where they’d declared themselves the Biscuit Pirates and were threatening to send anyone who wanted a drink to Davey Jones’s locker. They weren’t likely to be much help.

 “…How exactly do the mugs stay on?”

“…glue,” Lew said, and changed the subject. “Heard you had to go to the Hospital Wing today?”

“Oh, that,” Score said dismissively. “What exactly did you hear?”

“Just that you were in the Hospital Wing for some reason,” Lew said, with a shrug. “What happened?”

“I had an altercation with a pair of Hufflepuffs who were offended by…by my existence, really,” Score said.

Wait, what?

“I expect you don’t know them,” Score added hastily, because Lew had frowned. “It’s certainly not your fault.”

“I did tell them everything in the paper was made up, but they didn’t listen to me,“ Lew said, with another shrug, and added a bit defensively, “What was I supposed to do?”

“I’m sure you did your best,” Score said. Al, hanging back and listening carefully, thought it sounded just a little like a lie.

“Who were they, anyway?”

“No idea. You probably wouldn’t know them,” Score said. Well that was true, seeing as they hadn’t even been Hufflepuffs. “I wasn’t that badly injured, anyway.”

Lew squirmed. Score smiled at him forgivingly. That seemed to make it worse.

“I’ll just go-” They both looked over at the refreshments table. Grim and Lia had flipped it upside-down, levitated it and were sailing over the heads of the crowd demanding pieces of eight.

“I’ll go somewhere else,” Lew said apologetically, and fled, luckily not noticing Al. Al followed him, ducking as Lia and Grim swept by overhead on their table yelling about shiny dubloons yarr, and caught up with him just as Dan Gunn and Matthew Kennedy showed up with another table and declared war on the Biscuit Pirates.

“Hi! You were talking to Score?” Al looked worried. “How is he?”

Lew frowned and ran a hand through his hair. “He said he was fine…a lot…”

“Oh! Good!” Al said. “That’s much better than before!” He smiled brightly and fixedly. “Hey, I don’t suppose you could talk to the Hufflepuffs about it? I mean, it’d be awful if he ended up in the Hospital Wing again.”

Lew squirmed. “I did try…I mean, I told them your brother was making stuff up, but they ignored me so…”

Al’s smile wavered. “So you gave up?”

“…excuse me,” Lew said, and fled for the door. Al watched him go.

Possibly that had been going a bit too far.

“Potter,” Score said. “You aren’t particularly subtle.”

“I’m subtle sometimes!” Al protested, before his brain caught up and he realised what had just happened.

Oops.

Score was standing right there, arms folded, glaring at him.

Ooooops.

“…hi? Stop glaring at me, I was trying to help you anyway.”

“Considering that you’ve just proven yourself to be highly manipulative, I’m not that inclined to believe you,” Score said.

“You’re really paranoid,” Al said, letting his eyes get big and confused.

“I’m not paranoid, I’m appropriately cautious! You’re trying to…lull me into a false sense of security or something,” Score snapped. “Put the puppy-dog eyes away, Potter!”

It figured Score would be one of the few people in the world that didn’t work on.

Score took a few steps backwards, taking a deep breath and making his face go blank again. Al bet he knew how frustrating that was.

“Can you stop doing that whenever I’m trying to talk to you?”

“Doing what?” Score said pleasantly (and blankly.) “Excuse me, but I must be going.” He turned and slid away into the crowds.

Al pushed his hair away from his face and sighed. Dammit. He’d have to try harder next time.

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