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“Okay, so how formal is this thing?” I asked my friends as we trudged down the colorful streets of Diagon Alley. Delilah flashed a happy grin at me.

“Semi-formal, I think,” she said, nearly skipping with excitement. “I’m going with Lance!”

“Congrats!”

“That’s awesome!”

“Thanks, guys,” Delilah said, blushing. I laughed. Everyone was so happy today. The dream wasn’t bothering me at all, not when me and my friends had hooked up with our crushes.

“Here we are,” said Jen, pointing to a fancy-smancy looking boutique. I looked up to see a twirling, sequined dress morph into pink curlicue letters in a cloud of white mist. Lavender Brown Apparel, the sign read. Through the window stood various gowns and robes and even a few Muggle sweaters, vests, and jeans, apparently “For your undercover needs.”

“Isn’t she, like, the most famous designer in England?” I asked, recognition dawning upon me – along with the fact that there was no frickin’ way I could afford anything from here.

“Yeah,” Jen said offhandedly, as if this didn’t matter.

“How are you going to pay for her stuff, then?”

Delilah and Jen both looked uncomfortable. “My parents have money,” they finally answered at the same time. My jaw dropped.

“You’re rich and you didn’t tell me?”

“Yeah,” muttered Delilah. “My dad’s an oil tycoon in the Muggle world.”

“My mum’s the Wizengamot Co-chair, with Hermione Granger,” Jen grumbled. I stared at them in shock.

“Are you guys kidding me?”

“We’re still the same people,” Delilah reassured me. “Just with different parents.”

“Well,” I snapped, “maybe you rich folk can buy something from Lavender Brown, but I definitely can’t.”

Delilah and Jen exchanged a glance. “You could borrow money from us.”

“I don’t take charity.”

“Not charity. You’d pay it back with, I don’t know, tutoring and jobs and stuff,” said Jen, looking at me unsurely.

“No thanks. It’s my policy not to spend money I don’t have,” I said coolly. Jen looked away, crestfallen. I sighed; I didn’t mean to hurt her feelings.

“Can we at least take a look?” pleaded Delilah.

“Fine.” Knowing that I would regret it, I walked with them into the shop. As soon as I set feet in the place, I had a strange feeling of being right at home. I frowned. My parents didn’t exactly have money.

“Hello,” said an ultra thin, super skinny woman. God, I hated her on sight. She had the most beautiful gold-red hair, perfect sky blue eyes, and pronounced hourglass shape I’d ever seen. She was so gorgeous it was absurd.

Behind me, Delilah and Jen’s mouths had dropped open.

“You’re Victoire Weasley!” they shrieked in unison. The woman nodded at them while winking at me. I was gaping like a fish. Victoire Weasley was winking at me! She was looking at me!

Victoire Weasley was, like her cousins, both attractive – uber attractive – and smart. The Weasley women were all women of substance. It wasn’t fair, how they were flawless in every way.

Anyhow, she was the living image of what a Weasley did after graduation. At the merry age of twenty-five, she was happily engaged to the handsome Teddy Lupin. Being famous in her own right as the most beautiful witch in the world and related to Harry Potter, she was under a lot of media scrutiny. She had everything: money, looks, and love. Damn her.

I self consciously smoothed my robes and mustered up the courage to give her a small smile.

“I’m Lizzi,” I stammered.

“Victoire Weasley,” she introduced herself, holding out her hand. I shook it. Ohmygod. This was so not real. I was SHAKING VICTOIRE WEASLEY’S HAND! “Call me Victoire, please.”

“I love your photo shoots,” Jen gushed. Victoire smiled politely at her.

“Thank you.”

“I’m Delilah Patil, and this is Jennifer Wells,” Delilah said loudly. I groaned. Rich or not, they had no idea how to act around famous people.

And you do? snickered a particularly cynical piece of me. I ignored it, pushing the snide comment aside.

“Um,” I began, unable to speak. “Um...” Slowly, I focused on breathing.

One...two...three...four...I counted, meditating. Okay, Lizzi. You’re not Lizzi, but Alyssa. You’re beautiful, rich, and fabulous, and you are going to speak to her as an equal.

“Victoire,” I said, taking in the scene again with my best fake-genuine smile and my most impressive snob imitation, “we’re here to shop for the Opening Gala at Hogwarts...”

“Oh! That’s so exciting. Are you all seventh years?” she exclaimed, hand already twitching towards the racks. I grinned.

“Yeah,” Delilah chimed in, more naturally this time. Jen relaxed a bit and smiled too. “We’re all shopping for outfits. This is a big deal, since we’re seventh years, and we get our private dance...”

“You never told me that!” I accused her, whirling around.

“Sorry,” she said offhandedly before turning back to Victoire. She leaned in close and whispered something in Victoire’s ear as if they were best friends. Victoire giggled and snuck a peek at me. Why did I have the feeling I was involved in whatever they were saying?

“Come here,” Victoire said, her long hair swishing as she suddenly stood up, businesslike. We did as we were told. She examined us. “You first,” she said, pointing at me. I gulped and turned red.

“Delilah told me you didn’t like dressing up,” she said by way of explanation. “So I’m going to work with you first. Why don’t we go to the back, and leave your friends there?”

“Uh – “ I managed to get out before I was being bodily dragged into the fitting room. She looked at me with a critical eye.

“Here, put this on,” she said, throwing a simple light colored tee-shirt and leggings at me and exiting the room. “I’ll need to take some measurements, of course.” She was out before I could protest. Not having any other choice, I slid the form-fitting garment on.

She was back in a minute. “Good. Let’s see...petite, you lucky girl. You have great coloring; I know at least a hundred people who could kill for that hair and eyes. Nice features, thin waist and long legs, plenty of curves. You know, Lizzi, I’m starting to feel jealous.”

I gaped at her. Victoire Weasley, jealous of me? No way. She was just saying that to make me feel better. Besides, what she said wasn’t exactly true.

“You can wear pretty much anything, but I recommend showing off that twenty inch waist,” she suggested to me. She was about to hurry off to grab some dresses when I spoke.

“Wait,” I said, steeling myself for her reaction. “Look, Miss Weasley – Victoire – I don’t think I can actually pay for these dresses.”

She stared at me for a moment, and I waited for her to tell me to get out of the shop and stop wasting her valuable time. Instead, she gave me a small smile.

“Thanks for being honest with me, Lizzi. But I think – let me go check something.”

I waited nervously, sitting cross legged on the wooden stool. My hands felt all clammy.

Victoire reentered the room with a cheerful smile on her face. “You’re all set, Lizzi. Your mother deposited five thousand galleons into a charge account for you. I thought you looked familiar...that’s why.”

“Are you sure?” There was no freaking way my mom had five thousand galleons. Victoire frowned at me.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Can I see the charge account?”

“Of course.” She handed me the receipt book.

In thin, curly handwriting were the words:

Deposit: 5,000 galleons

To be used by my daughter, Alyssa Faye Leilani, as she pleases.

~Emily Leilani

My mother’s calligraphic signature was unmistakable. I felt a little dizzy, a bit queer. Why would my mum give me five thousand galleons to be spent on anything I wanted? It was strange – as far as I knew, my single mom who wasn’t even married was not exactly “well-off.” But maybe I was wrong. I couldn’t remember ever discussing money with her.

“Thanks,” I said, giving the pad back to Victoire. She nodded before proceeding to hand me a long, rose colored dress.

“Try this on,” she said. “Now, do you have any gossip about Hogwarts – my cousins, in particular? How’s little Al doing?”

I was sliding into the garment when she called him “little Al.” I smirked; it suited him. Or didn’t suit him so much that I liked it. The guy needed to be taken down a notch.

“Not in particular,” I said casually. “Rose is the golden girl, Malfoy is being...Malfoy, and your sister is snogging Phillip Wood. Oh, and ’Little Al’ is annoying the hell out of everyone, as always.”

Victoire coughed, but it sounded suspiciously like a laugh. She raised an eyebrow at me. “Al’s annoying the hell out of you? I thought he was quite the charmer.”

To my disgust, I blushed furiously. Victoire shot me a knowing look out of those clear blue eyes. I went even redder; I was sure I resembled a tomato.

“He’s a jerk.”

“He can be,” Victoire said thoughtfully. She changed the subject. Well, at least someone had a bit of tact. “Here, this one might be nice.”

I changed into the next gown.

 


Three hours later, I was relieved to have finally been allowed to go. Victoire was great company, but it was more the moral of the story: I was still trying on dresses, for heaven’s sake! I also knew a lot more about the people of Hogwarts. Especially Potter. For some reason, Victoire kept going on about him. Like how his favorite color was green, and how he loved to read when he was a little kid. It was all random, yet touching all the same. I actually almost thought he was a person now.

Never mind. Scratch that. I would never think that, not even if you paid me a million Galleons. Or maybe I would once. But apart from that, nope.

I looked at Victoire’s address, which she’d written on a miniscule scrap of paper and given to me. “Call me sometime, and we can go out for a girls’ night,” she’d said before I left. I’d managed to give her a grateful smile for insisting that the dress was perfect to Jen and Delilah, who weren’t letting up.

“Ohmigod!” Delilah pointed to a small, sensible looking shop in a corner of Diagon Alley. “It’s a Granger!”

“WHAT? Where?” yelled Jen, looking around wildly. I groaned.

“What’s a Granger?” I asked at the risk of seeming like an idiot. However, they were so excited...

“It’s only, like, the rarest dress shop there is. It’s totally classy, and there’s only one in the world at any given time. They keep moving between locations. Everything there is really expensive, but amazing. I can’t believe we saw one!” She began pulling me in the direction of the store.

God, please no. Not more dresses. I forced a smile. “You guys go ahead,” I said, digging in my heels – literally. “I think I’ll take a quick look around for some Quidditch stuff instead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Okay, let’s go, then! We’ve gotta get inside before it vanishes!” shrieked Delilah, and they raced off toward the glass door, completely abandoning me. Wow. I love how my friends are always thinking of me. But...this meant I didn’t have to go with them.

Absently, I started walking around and looking for the nearest Quidditch store. I needed to get a replacement for that school broom I’d claimed, and this was certainly an opportune moment to do so. A Cleansweep would do fine; Coach Wood couldn’t complain for sure. What preoccupied me most was what Victoire had told me about Albus. It was funny, but he’d sounded so...utterly, ridiculously vulnerable as a child. So normal.

Like everyone else, he’d had a mother bake him gingerbread cookies, got teased by his older brother, and was stuck with babysitting duty for Lily at least once a month. He’d had a dad who’d hung out and played Quidditch with him, a crazy, wild, and tight-knit assortment of aunts and uncles and cousins. He’d drawn with crayons and had a toy broomstick.

Where had he changed? Why had he turned...well, hard?

Victoire had made him out to be idealistic and naïve. It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that they were the same person and near impossible to reconcile the two: the playful boy and the cynical, life-can-do-whatever-it-wants teenager he’d become.

I was so absorbed in my thoughts that it was a while before I realized I was still walking. I reassessed my location. I’d gone quite a distance, taking twists and turns, and it was about half an hour later that the creeping tendrils of worry began to find their way into my mind. I was more likely than not lost.

For the first time, I saw that the alley was significantly darker than it had been only a few minutes ago. Grime and dust coated the smooth walls. Shaken, I tapped a witch on the back.

“Excuse me, but where am I?”

She whipped around, her wand flying out the same time as her wispy silver hair escaped from her hood. Bulging eyes and no teeth were her most characteristic features. Her mouth was contorted into a black scowl.

“Knockturn Alley, you mangy cat,” she snapped at me. Under normal circumstances, I would have laughed, but this time I was only frightened. I hesitantly began to back away. I had to get out of here.

As my feet stepped behind me, strong arms suddenly grabbed my biceps. I twisted.

“Well, isn’t this a pretty little thing.” The voice was scratchy, hoarse, mocking. I was one hundred percent sure that it was male.

“Let me go!”

“I don’t think I will.” His free hand began to twitch downwards, moving towards my collarbone.

Okay, that was it. This was assault, for God’s sake. I could feel the grip, and I knew it was going to leave bruises.

“Get the bloody hell away from me!” I spat, trying to yank my arm away. He squeezed tighter. I gasped as I felt my blood circulation cut off.

“Watch it, girl,” he hissed. His other arm, the one that wasn’t holding me captive, began to wrap itself around my waist. I squirmed against his touch. He drew me closer, and his face loomed closer and closer.

Time for some desperate action.

“What do you think you’re doing?” growled a familiar voice that was icy as hell – or actually, icy as a glacier, because hell is not icy. I never thought I’d say this, but, in the middle of kneeing some random pervert’s privates, I was actually glad to hear Albus Potter. Although I’d die before I showed it.

The man’s squeeze on my arm didn’t loosen a notch.

“What’s it to you, rich boy?” he hissed, the stench of his rotten breath wiggling its way into my nostrils and inducing mind-boggling nausea. I was a second away from puking.

“To me, it looks like you’re kidnapping and half throttling some poor girl,” Albus said coolly. I was awestruck by the controlled, calm, and intensely infuriating way he said it. Damn, but that boy was good.

“None of your business, that,” said the freak. His fingers clenched even harder, and I knew my bone was only a second away from snapping.

It was the most stupid, reckless, and totally satisfying thing to possibly do. And it was worth it for the rush of giddy happiness that filled me on completion of my previous maneuver.

I quickly broke free. His fat hands had moved to grasp the area between his legs, giving me ample opportunity to escape. A look of complete shock was frozen on his ugly face.

“Impedimenta!” shouted Albus, and a jet of red light flashed and hit the man with enough force to knock him flat. I looked at him with appreciation on my face.

“Nice one, Potter.”

He was far from amused. His enthralling eyes were murderous, his jaw was stiff and tight, and his hands were shaped into two hard fists.

“What on earth are you doing in Knockturn Alley, Lizzi?” he finally said, breaking the fragile silence between us. My eyes darted around, looking for a way to escape, but there wasn’t one. I sighed.

“I was...looking for herbs.”

“Liar,” he accused, moving in closer.

“Fine,” I snapped, “I got lost.”

“You got lost and then decided to enter some random area full of obviously Dark witches and wizards?” he exploded. I stared at his beautiful face, willing myself to stay calm. It wasn’t working. I was, after, thinking about him when I walked in. It was technically his fault I was lost! But I couldn’t tell him that.

“Why are you here then?” I challenged him, taking a step in to get in front of his face.

“I’m here because I heard you scream from two blocks away!” That was possible...it was a very loud scream.

“And how did you get here so fast, then?”

“I Apparated!” He raked a hand through his messy black hair in adorable exasperation. “Alyssa, if you’d just think before doing, you wouldn’t be in these messes.”

“You think? You think?” I shouted, itching to slap that knowing expression off his face. “I think all the time. I was thinking about you when I was wandering around, you bastard!”

Oh my god. I cannot believe I just said that. And evidently, he couldn’t believe it either.

“You were thinking about me?” His voice had suddenly become very soft, almost tender.

Crap. I could deal with him being angry and mean. I couldn’t deal with him being nice.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Lizzi,” he said, amusement reflected in every line of his face and every vibration of his voice. “You did.”

Slowly, he reached up and touched the side of my cheek, and my heart went bonkers as he did at the simple contact, the joy of touching him. I reached out impulsively and held his other hand, and we glided together, melting and mixing, and solemnly, he kissed me.

Fireworks exploded in my head and I was kissing him back like there was no tomorrow.

 

 

A line of green light missed me by inches, and I broke apart from the kiss. Even befuddled and disoriented, my reflexes could kick in. I let my subconscious take over, and whipped out my wand, because it was very possible there really would be no tomorrow.

Without speaking, we moved in perfect sync. I was strangely whole, not halved. He defended, focusing on Shielding us and dropping the charm at just the right time so that I could attack. I slammed a nonverbal Stunner into the side of a black robed figure and blasted another into the wall so hard that the stone cracked.

I took a rough overview of the situation, knowing exactly what to do. There were about ten figures left, all adults or at least people in their late teens. Strangely, I didn’t find it disconcerting that someone was trying to kill me. It was almost as if I was used to it.

A green jet nearly grazed my side, sliding clean through the Shield. I swore and sent a particularly nasty hex in the vague direction that the Killing Curse had come from. A thud greeted my spell, and I grinned triumphantly. Albus dropped the Shield Charm and we simultaneously began attacking in earnest, rolling and ducking. In what appeared like an eternity but was probably only a minute or two, all of the attackers were down.

I looked at Albus, unruffled by our dueling abilities this time. I didn’t quite feel like me; I was in a dreamlike state, where Potter was Albus and I was a butt-kicking heroine.

“I counted twelve,” I said briskly, my voice all business. Woah, said the disjointed me. I didn’t know you – I – was a professional. “They all look young or in their prime; early twenties to thirties. Roughly reminiscent of what the Death Eaters wore in the 90’s.” I lifted the sleeve of a fallen figure. “No Dark Mark, so probably an independent group; even the wannabes have some kind of insignia.”

Albus stared at me. “Who are you?” he asked quietly, leaning in as if seeing me for the first time. I shrugged, the last bits of the intoxicating blend of unreserved freedom and my subconscious mind still fizzing in my system.

“Problem is, I really don’t know myself.”

 

 

Albus apparently knew a 911-emergency contact number for the Aurors, because within the next five seconds, green-robed men from the Ministry began appearing with a series of pops. A serious looking, bespectacled man walked towards Albus. My adrenaline rush was gone by now, and I was more than content in letting Albus handle the proceedings.

It was a funny thing, but being attacked by pseudo Death Eaters did put a certain perspective on things, like how you and the person saving your life should probably be on first name basis. Especially if you had a snogging session that just about blew your brains out twice already. I don’t think I need to repeat the many things wrong with that bit about me and Albus, though.

“Hello, Mr. Robards,” said Albus, nodding towards the Auror.

“You have an incident to report?” The dark haired man took the scene in stride, not missing a step.

“Twelve wizards. They attacked us...”

“About three minutes ago,” I interjected almost shyly. The man gave me a small smile.

“And you are?”

“Alyssa Leilani, sir.”

“Thank you, Alyssa. Now, the two of you incapacitated all twelve of your attackers?”

A pompous, brown-haired young man stepped out of the neat Auror ranks, his expression condescending. “Sir, this is ridiculous. A pair of teenagers can’t possibly stun twelve adults who attacked them by surprise.”

I bristled, but Al shot me a glance that told me to calm down.

Robards raised his eyebrows.

“Mr. Tenningson, I’m positive that Mr. Potter is capable of such a feat.”

The man’s eyes widened at the use of the absurdly famous surname. Oh, right. It was his boss’s son, too. “Albus P-Potter?” he stammered. I had to hold back a smirk.

“Pleased to meet you too,” said Al, holding out a hand. The man didn’t take it and instead moved back to hide among his colleagues, red-faced. What a wimp.

“Thank you for your report,” said Robards, jotting everything down on a yellow notepad. He nodded to his Aurors, who swiftly grabbed the witches and wizards in unison. With a crack, they Disapparated. For some reason, I thought I saw a purple glow emit from one of the fallen wizards as they vanished. My eyesight was all screwed up, and I shook my head.

“Friends inside the office?” I asked the minute I was sure they were gone. Albus gave me a lopsided smile.

“If you call it that. Walk with me, Leilani?”

A part of me was screaming: you already have a date for the dance tonight! and this is Jen’s ex! However, against my better judgment, I said, “I’m game, Potter.”

We left Knockturn Alley in veritable silence, not sure what to say. It was a little awkward, the situation. My friends pretty much hated Albus Potter, and vice versa. His family pretty much hated me, too.

“Alyssa,” he said, and I couldn’t help loving the way he said my full name, even though it usually drove me bonkers. “Alyssa, you were amazing out there.”

“You were better,” I replied honestly. “I mean, you probably saved my life at least five times.”

“You saved mine at least ten,” he countered. I shook my head.

“No way. You know, Al, the funny thing is, I don’t even remember learning to duel – “

He was looking at me with a combination of surprise and amusement.

“What?”

“You called me Al.”

“Oh,” I said, blushing furiously. “I’m sorry about that whole ‘Potter’ business. I was a little put off with you for a while.”

“I was a right git, wasn’t I?” he asked, shaking his head. “Wait, don’t answer that.”

I laughed. “You were,” I said, giving him a playful push. He rubbed his arm and shoved back. I flinched imperceptibly as the impact hit my fresh bruises.

“Sorry,” he said, seeming rather worried. I guess my twitch wasn’t that imperceptible after all. “May I see it?”

I nodded, pushing the sleeve up. His face whitened slightly. I looked down; a nasty network of hand shaped bruises and lacerations coated my arm.

“Drat,” I muttered. “I won’t be able to wear my dress now.”

Albus gave a short bark of decidedly humorless laughter. “Your arm’s practically black and shredded to pieces, and you’re worried about your dress for the Opening Gala tonight?”

“It’s a really nice dress, and I want to impressive my date,” I bit back defensively.

“You have a date?”

“No need to sound so surprised. You know, I am a girl,” I retorted, gritting my teeth. A fresh wave of pain rocketed through my body.

“Episky.” My flesh tingled as the skin resealed and the bruises vanished, and I nodded appreciatively.

“You know, Leilani, I don’t get you,” Albus said, frowning. He sounded nonchalant, and I would have believed it, if he wasn’t clutching his wand so hard his knuckles were snow white. “First you snog the daylights out of me, then you tell me you have a boyfriend.”

“He’s not a boyfriend.”

“Then what is he?” he challenged. I goggled at him. Was he actually romantically interested in me? No way. He was gorgeous, rich, and brilliant Albus Potter, and I was...well, me.

“He’s – I don’t know. It’s a one time thing. It isn’t like anyone else asked me.”

“So you’re essentially single, then.”

“Yes,” I confirmed, wondering where he was going with this. A bulb seemed to flash in his head as Albus grinned mischievously at me, his handsome face lighting up.

“Good. That means I can ask you out, right?”

“What?”

He rolled his eyes.

“Will. You. Go. Out. With. Me?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Albus frickin’ Potter was asking me out! I swear I started hyperventilating. My heart was pounding Al-bus, Al-bus, and I was hopelessly dizzy with joy.

Look, it’s all hormones. Hormones. They’re the best possible thing to blame irresponsible actions on. And I’m going to blame my irresponsible, crazy, absolutely insane action on the hormones and Albus Potter’s proximity as well, because my mouth was shaping a word and my throat vibrating before I knew it.

“Yes.” With that, my fate was sealed.

 

Author's Note:

Okay, before you brush this off as some more meaningless junk from me, PLEASE READ.

It wasn't until this morning that, when rereading the stuff I've already written, I realized I made a gaping plot error that I'm not going to specify, probably due to the fact it becomes a spoiler if you notice it too much. So, I'm resubmitting said chaper a.s.a.p. Hope you don't hold it against me.

Whew. That's done...you can read or skip this part, your choice. :D I would like to apologize for the long time in between this chapter and the last, got caught up with tests and projects being due. Thanks for reading!

*Note: To all the people who actually care, a Granger store is a clothing line founded by Hermione's mum, not her. I'm not going write Hermione so out of character as to have her in a fashion competition with Lavender Brown.

Love,

Sola Grey

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