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EMILY was worried that Isobel was skipping another meal. She could have just gone to the library tomorrow, Emily thought. In contrast, Laurel appeared to have gotten her appetite back since returning to school.

Everyone had been on edge since the start of Spring term, but after everything that had happened before the Holidays, Emily had expected as much. All that day Isobel had been less distant with Tristan, and Emily hoped that she’d finally begun to forgive him for his hand in Laurel’s charm addiction. Emily and Tristan finished their supper and bid Laurel farewell as she turned to the dungeons for detention with Snape. 

Emily was excited to spend some time alone with Tristan, outside of a few minutes at meals. It had been a week since they’d had the corridor to themselves—and the week was made longer by the fact that he hadn’t written once.

“I’m sorry I haven’t written,” Tristan said, dropping his school bag heavily, once they arrived at their seventh floor hideout.

“I thought mind reading was my job,” Emily joked, and Tristan smiled weakly. There followed an awkward silence. “And speaking of the thestral in the room--”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s like an elephant being in the room, only invisible…”

“Oh, I see what you did there,” Tristan evaded.

“You really should tell them.” Emily knew her eyebrows were arching at the middle beseechingly.

“No,” Tristan said flatly.

“You can’t go on keeping this from your friends!”

“I hate to say this to you,” sighed Tristan. “But you really can’t understand.”

“Because I’m muggle-born?” she asked, defiant.

“Yeah,” Tristan replied without backing down. “They remember the war, they knew people to have died. Reading about it in a book, or hearing about it from other people isn’t the same as having lived it.”

Emily didn’t know what to say to that. 

“Do you wanna blow off homework?” Tristan asked, standing up again. “Let’s just take the night off.”

Emily could tell he would get cagey if they didn’t go on a walk, so she agreed.

They pushed through the oak front doors of the Entrance Hall and Tristan automatically set a course for the lake. It was freezing, but the rain had temporary let up and the worst of of the snow had been carried off with it. The lake was beautiful at night, and the clear sky allowed moonlight to ripple across its inky surface. Tristan lead Emily to a rocky bank where they climbed up onto a wide boulder.

Emily wrapped her cloak tightly around herself and began to shiver, and Tristan responded by summoning a shimmering protective sphere around them to keep the wind and cold out.

“Hey,” Emily began tentatively. “Can we hotbox this bubble?”

“Oh my god I love you yes,” rushed Tristan enthusiastically, who immediately got to work rolling a spliff.

The interior of their bubble soon became thick with smoke, and their eyes grew red as they reached the end of their joint. Emily took a long pull off the spliff, and held the air in her lungs. She turned to Tristan, waving a hand towards herself in the universal symbol for ‘shotgun’-- they had to conserve what little pot they had left. Tristan brought his mouth to hers, their lips only just grazing. Emily blew the smoke into his mouth while he inhaled.

They took turns with this technique until the roach could no longer be held between two fingers, and needed to be stubbed out. Emily never told Isobel or Laurel about her and Tristan’s marijuana-conservation-tactic, knowing the Ravenclaws would read too much into it. But whenever Emily and Tristan were alone and running low on weed, they closed their eyes and brought their lips together. It wasn’t a kiss, but it wasn’t far off either.

LAUREL had her second detention with Snape on Wednesday evening, which was a shame, because it meant she had to miss Astronomy with Isobel. She couldn’t skip any more lessons if she was ever to dig herself out from under the mountain of catching-up that threatened to crush her. Slowly, Laurel was transitioning away from her previous nihilism, and starting to feel real anxiety about her upcoming exams. For the first time that year, the importance of her O.W.L.s was finally hitting her. Laurel knew it was entirely possible that she could fail all of her exams, and be forced to leave Hogwarts without any qualifications. In that event, she wouldn’t even have a choice; her only available career option would be to pursue a life of homelessness and hex-head-dom.

Laurel knocked on Snape’s dungeon door, and briefly considered the possibility that her stunt with the hair growth potion hadn’t been worth it.

No, it definitely was, she corrected herself.

The potions master let her in and glided, robes-a-billow, to his cabinet to retrieve the potions she’d begun re-labeling on Tuesday. It was tedious, and dangerous, work to open the many dusty bottles and take samples to test. Some had labels that were only faded, but still legible, yet Snape insisted she test them too, just to be certain.

“Now there should be thirteen bottles here, and I only count twelve,” Snape frowned to himself. “I have a very strong sedative, incredibly difficult to brew, which I do not see. Have you catalogued it already?”

“What was it called?” asked Laurel, checking the list of potions she'd ticked off.

“Draught of Tranquility,” replied Snape, looking over the tray of phials again. “It takes a deep indigo. Effervescent.”

“I haven’t seen it,” Laurel said too quickly, thinking of the bottle Fred and George had nicked for her birthday; the bottle rolled up in a jumper at the bottom of her trunk.

Laurel had been consumed in her work for an hour before the monotony broke.

There was a bottle labeled with two words, the first letter of which appeared to be an ‘L.’ Laurel glanced down the list of possibilities, and determined ‘Living Death, Draught of’ to be the most likely. Carefully, she uncorked the concoction and removed a sample with an eyedropper, depositing several drops into a test-phial. Next, she tipped crushed porcupine spine into the potion to see if it would react with the asphodel. Just as the sample began to fizz, Laurel saw Squirrel bouncing, in his awkward gait, past the dungeon doors. Laurel heard Snape’s chair screech across the floor behind her.

“Excuse me, I will be back presently,” he said, and he slid out of his office.

It was a moment before Laurel realized that her sample was still emitting a high pitched wail. She stoppered the phial to cut off air and stop the reaction, then glanced around for a blank label for her newly confirmed ‘Living Death, Draught of.’ Not finding any, she leaned her chair far back, the tips of her fingers grasping at the labels on Snape’s desk. 

Her chair lost its balance, and Laurel had to seize the edge of the heavy marble-topped desk to keep from crashing to the ground. The neat little tower of labels scattered into disarray, and an envelope slipped out from beneath the class roster and fluttered to the ground.

Laurel did a double-take: ‘For Tristan R. Bryce.’

The inscription, written in Snape’s spikey hand, stared up at her from the ground. For a wild moment Laurel wondered if it was a love letter, but more reasonable curiosities cast the whimsical thought aside.

Laurel checked the door. Snape’s footsteps were still fading, and she would have time for a peek before he got back. Laurel picked the envelope up gingerly and unsealed it with her wand before dumping out the contents: photographs.

Laurel was bewildered.

The first was of an unfamiliar young woman holding a baby and glowering into the camera. Laurel wondered why on earth Snape would be giving Tristan photographs of random people, and turned over the picture. Belvina and son, 1975 was scrawled on the back. Laurel picked up another photo. This one was a group shot, probably taken around the same time as the first. Several young witches and wizards wearing fine dress robes posed inside a mouldy looking sitting-room. It took only a moment to register a familiar face among the crowd: young Snape. Within seconds, Laurel recognized other familiarities—the young woman from the previous photo, but others as well. Known Death Eaters, many now in Azkaban. Laurel groped for another picture, this one a family portrait with several adult members. The fourth was of a small boy, perhaps four or five, and grubby. The child blinked at her from the photograph, clutching the bars of his playpen like a prisoner. Laurel was struck.

She flipped back to the family photo and found she recognized those round eyes, slight chins, and narrow mouths. Even the expressions on the adult faces betrayed something of Tristan “R” Bryce.

“Miss Braithewaite,” came the cool voice of the potions master from behind her.

EMILY and Tristan gazed out at the lake in silence, the heat from their bodies warming the protective sphere to a pleasant temperature as they enjoyed the silhouette of the castle; a jumble of towers and battlements perched on the high cliff-face above the lake.

They had forty-five minutes until curfew, and Emily could think of no better way to spend the remaining time than to sit with Tristan and watch the candle-light dance behind the castle windows. Tristan finished rolling two fags, and handed one to Emily. He lit hers off the end of his wand before igniting his own.

“I don’t mean to make it small,” Tristan said.

Emily found, even without the psychedelic potion, that she already knew exactly what he meant.

“It’s not just because you’re a muggle-born that you don’t care, it’s because you’re better,” he explained, and confirmed what Emily already knew he meant. “A lot of muggle-borns figure out right away what Slytherins are about, and they aren’t quick to change their minds. When you introduced me to Isobel and Laurel, do you remember how they acted?”

Emily did.

“It would be like that again.”

“But this time they know you,” Emily plead. “And I honestly don’t think anyone, anyone who understood what happened, would think any of it was somehow your fault. You didn’t choose your family. Think about the actual choices you’ve made. It’s your choices that define you.”

“I’ve made big mistakes, Emily,” Tristan said without looking at her, and she wondered if she might see him cry for the very first time. She found herself tearing up instead, tried to blink it away.

“No Tristan, that’s your problem,” she insisted. “You make everything so big, but sometimes it’s ok to make something small.”

“There are some things that don’t deserve that,” Tristan said, meeting Emily’s eyes. “Some things should be given the attention they deserve.”

The conversation was tricky and their language had grown vague, so actual meaning was difficult to squeeze out of their murky half-truths. Emily couldn’t tell if Tristan was pivoting away from a difficult subject out of cowardice, or toward a difficult subject out of courage. He evaded as he breathed.

LAUREL inhaled--sharp and shallow--aware of her own heartbeat.

“This, I believe,” Snape said calmly. “May have been the last straw, Miss Braithwaite.” Snape slowly began collecting the photographs and returning them to their envelope. “I will speak to Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall tomorrow to negotiate the terms of your expulsion.”

“Oh yeah,” Laurel cried--loud, and more confidently than she felt. “Well what if I tell them to check your arms for any tattoos, then?”

“Do not threaten me, Laurel,” Snape's voice was cold and measured. “I have never lied about my past. What’s more, I suspect that if we conducted a search of your dormitory, we might just find the potion that has so suspiciously vanished from my private collection.”

“Then you’ll be ok with it when I tell the whole school how you spent the war?” Laurel shot back, and Snape’s eyes narrowed.

“Out,” he said once, hardly audible. “Out!” he screamed, and Laurel tore from his office.

It was less than an hour to curfew as Laurel raced to Ravenclaw tower taking the stairs two at a time. Isobel was getting dressed for bed when Laurel crashed into their room, but Laurel didn’t spare a moment to explain. Instead, she flung open her trunk and began ripping through its contents. Finally, she found the rolled up jumper, and shoved the lumpy mass down the front of her robes. Laurel shot from the dormitory as quickly as she’d come, leaving the contents of her trunk strewn across the floor, and a confused Isobel in her wake. Laurel didn’t even know whether or not her friend had tried to follow her; her speed toward Cadogan’s Corridor rivaled only her original ascent through the castle.

But Laurel found the corridor empty. She glanced at her watch: forty minutes to curfew. Tristan couldn’t possibly have retired to the Slytherin dungeons so soon.

The lake.

In a matter of seconds Laurel was flying back down the stairs, through the oak doors, and out through the grounds.

EMILY and Tristan looked at each other for a long time, and Emily marveled that the moment had finally arrived. She’d seen it coming for months, and part of her wanted to make it last forever. At the same time, she didn’t want to let it pass without acting. She knew that she’d always liked Tristan, and she knew everyone else could see it too.

Many girls, Emily had found, second guessed boys. They tended to assume that they weren’t liked when they obviously were. This usually resulted in excruciatingly long courtships and coy game-playing. This denial was also how girls justified stringing along blokes that were hopelessly in love with them.

Others suppressed or avoided their attractions. These girls were the types that only go after blokes once they get girlfriends. To these girls, it seemed, that if a boy wasn’t already desired, he might not be worth wanting.

Emily was of neither camp.

It wasn’t for lack of self-awareness that Emily and Tristan’s relationship hadn’t yet turned physical. Their feelings for each other hadn’t actually changed since they were eleven. Rather, they had changed around their feelings. Because they never denied their affection, the reality of their relationship hadn’t yet needed to be addressed. But it was inevitable, everyone knew, and the only question remaining was: when?

Emily had spent a lot of last year thinking about ‘being ready,’ and since last June, she had worked on becoming that.

Emily leaned her head, slowly, toward Tristan, and he followed suit. She let her eyes close and—

“Tristan!” a voice rang out in the distance. “Tristan!”

It was Laurel, speeding toward them. Tristan shot bolt upright, bursting the protective bubble he’d formed around them. All at once the thick haze of smoke dissipated, and the bitter air assaulted Emily’s hands, neck, and face.

Laurel was out of breath by the time she reached the boulder. She pulled a rolled up ball of fabric from inside her robes and stammered, incoherent and frenzied.

“You have to hold on to it, Tristan, the potion the Weasley’s nicked. My room will be raided and I’ll be expelled if they find it.”

“Yeah, ok, calm down. I’ve got it, don’t worry,” Tristan promised.

He should have chucked it in the lake right then.

LAUREL rushed back to the castle, leaving Tristan and Emily at the edge of the lake. She wanted to get back to the common room as quickly as she could. Hopefully Tristan could slip in, undetected, and stash the potion before anyone could determine that she’d passed it off to him. The Slytherin dungeons weren’t far from the Entrance Hall, and Tristan always came back just seconds before curfew anyway. Laurel pushed into the Ravenclaw common room and paced wildly, pressing her hands against either side of her head.

“Laurel?” called Isobel timidly from the top of the stairs.

Isobel had one of Laurel’s pajama shirts in her hand, and appeared to have been restoring the scattered contents of Laurel’s trunk. She cautiously descended the stairs, still gripping the plaid flannel top.

“I’m gonna be expelled, Isobel. They’ll kick me out, and” Laurel suddenly remembered the photos, and how the whole trouble with the potion had begun. Her own fear and self-preservation had temporarily wiped the revelation from her memory. “And I found out something really bad,” Laurel said, clapping her hand over her mouth. “It’s really big.”

Isobel wrapped her arms around Laurel as she broke down into fitful tears. Between her fear that she would be expelled and her shock at the truth about Tristan, Laurel’s mind was ablaze with intense, confused emotions. All she wanted to do was erase them.

“What is it? What’s going on?” asked Isobel, squeezing Laurel tight.

“Snape,” Laurel managed between sobs. “He thinks I stole a potion from him, and he wants to expel me.”

“But you didn’t,” replied Isobel. “Did—”

“Fred and George,” explained Laurel. “My birthday.”

“Fuck,” said Isobel, releasing Laurel.

“But I mean, that’s not grounds for expulsion?”

“After everything else this year, and--” Laurel exploded into another fit of tears. “He’s a Death Eater.”

Isobel looked stunned.

“Well,” she recovered. “That’s… big. But, also, you know, not that surprising.”

“There’s more,” said Laurel, pressing her lips together against her tears.

“What?” asked Isobel.

“Tristan,” started Laurel, before realizing that she couldn’t tell Isobel what she’d discovered—that this was probably a very important, and long protected, secret.

“What about him?” urged Isobel.

“He snogged Emily,” Laurel said, another confused detail floating up to the surface of her mind. Now that the imminent threat of expulsion had subsided, Laurel had the space to process the scene she’d just interrupted.

“Oh fuck,” replied Isobel.

* * *

Laurel was lying next to a sleeping Isobel, awake, and unable to stop the night’s events from stumbling around inside her head. She hated letting Isobel attribute her tears to Tristan kissing Emily--objectively, Laurel would be happy for it--but it was the perfect disguise for her reaction to a much more serious discovery.

After an hour of nothing but Isobel’s rhythmic breathing to distract her from her scared and confused thoughts, Laurel crept carefully out of the bed, carrying her wand with her to the toilets off the dormitory.

* * *

EMILY was smoking out one of the circular windows of the Hufflepuff Basement, her head just above ground level, reading Tristan’s note for about the millionth time.

I’m sorry about tonight. You should probably stop hanging around me. I really am a lot worse than you realize. It’s better nothing happened.

A quiet tear slid down Emily’s cheek as she pushed up the left leg of her pajama shorts, revealing an angry patch of skin—shiny and discolored. A second tear joined the first on Emily’s chin as she took a deep drag of her fag, then pressed the glowing cherry out against her left thigh; the fresh burn joining the scars.

* * *

Emily arrived to breakfast before sunrise on Thursday morning, keen to avoid Tristan and knowing he wouldn’t be up yet. While she munched her Wheetabix, she weighed the pro’s and cons of simply skiving off Divination.

They had been working on dream interpretations for the better part of the term, and Professor Trelawney tended to ask highly personal questions while assisting her students with their readings. Emily was not inclined to share her dream from the previous night, and wanted very much to avoid Trelawney’s probing questions about Emily’s private life. She determined to make something up, ideally something involving the banalities of muggle life, to prevent the old fraud from analyzing too deeply. While Emily considered what she would say, the dawn unfolded in pink and gold above her.

She soon had to shield her eyes against the morning sun blazing from the enchanted ceiling, vaguely annoyed to have such a concern whilst indoors.

Isobel strode into the Great Hall earlier than usual, unaccompanied by Laurel, and without any makeup on. She looked anxious and upset, and Emily instantly assumed the worst. Perhaps Laurel had gotten into trouble after last night’s episode? Or had gone back to self-spelling? Maybe she’d had another hex out? Isobel sat down sideways next to Emily and leaned in confidentially.

“Can you come with me? I need to talk to you,” Isobel said, her eyes wide and her brows knit with concern.

“Is it Laurel?” Emily asked.

“What?” Isobel appeared stunned. “No, she’s fine,” she recovered. “I just… really need to talk to you.”

“Can’t it wait ‘til after breakfast?” Emily begged with a glance at her bowl of cereal, hoping that Isobel might follow her lead and have a decent meal for the first time in weeks.

“No,” Isobel insisted, eyes darting to the doorways.

The cryptic discussion took on a furtive air; Isobel seemed unwilling to be discovered by their friends. She started tugging at Emily, insisting they leave the Great Hall.

Isobel practically dragged Emily out to the grounds, becoming increasingly distressed as each second passed.

“What is it?” Emily demanded, stopping dead, when they were nearly to the lake. Isobel pulled out a roll-up and passed it to Emily, as if she’d rolled it special, in advance of this confrontation.

“It’s about Laurel and Tristan,” Isobel said, biting her lip. “They’ve been, well, getting together.”

“I know,” Emily said, annoyed by her friend’s concerned face. “I’ve known for ages.”

“Do you know about what happened at Laurel’s birthday?” Isobel asked, infuriatingly confident that Emily did not. “Em, they shagged,” she said after a pause.

“I know,” Emily lied. “Blimey Isobel, there’s no need to treat me like I’m some little child that will fall apart if you don’t protect me. No one asked you to get all involved in our lives, so stop acting so put-upon all the time.”

Emily threw the unlit fag back at Isobel and turned on her heel back toward the castle. She had never felt so foolish. Of course she was the last to know, and it would be Isobel—the self-assigned mum—to tell Emily.

Emily: the sweet-but-gormless one of the group.

In less than a year, Laurel had become a mess, Isobel had become a skeleton, and Tristan had become a tosser. It seemed logical that Emily should be allowed to change roles as well.

Emily skipped Care of Magical Creatures, not yet sure how to act when she saw Tristan, and opted to visit the owlery instead. She scrawled down a rambling note and tied it to the leg of an unfamiliar owl, not entirely confident that her letter would make it to its recipient.

Later, Emilytook lunch in the kitchens in order to avoid the lot of her 'friends.' Surely they would discuss everything behind her back. She pictured them sitting around the Hufflepuff table sharing concerned whispers about Emily’s fragile emotions.

Then again, without Emily’s invitation to the table, they probably wouldn’t be sitting together at all. Thinking of this ignited a savage pleasure within Emily, and she smiled to herself. Then she imagined Tristan cut adrift and forced to take his meals with the Slytherins, and burst into tears. Emily hated the idea of causing Tristan torment but found herself enraged by her own continued empathy.

It was Emily’s nature to cry whenever she confronted any strong emotion.

“Miss Emily, why is you so sad? Why is you not eating with your friends?” squeaked a tiny house elf in a crisp little toga.

“Oh Bonky,” Emily cried. “I’m so sorry to bother you like this, I just didn’t know what else to do.”

“Tis no bother,” the little elf insisted. “Bonky is just sorry to see Miss Emily sad.” Bonky gently laid a miniature hand on Emily’s.

Emily was sitting in a far corner of the kitchens and trying to stay out of the elves’ way. She’d told them not to fuss over her, but the elves waited on her nonetheless. Emily felt guilty imposing on their hospitality; they were so busy sending plates up to the Great Hall as it was.

“It’s just,” Emily sniffed, and Bonky stared up at her with massive yellow eyes. “I’m not getting on with my friends at the moment.”

“Sometimes,” Bonky confided, lowering her voice. “ We house elves is not always getting along, so we is needing to find other elves to work with.”

“Does it ever get better?” Emily asked, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “Do you ever start getting on again?”

“Sometimes we is,” Bonky said thoughtfully. “But we is needing to work together, and house elves is good at working together even if we is not wanting to.”

At the house elves’ insistence Emily left the kitchens with enough food to take her supper in the Hufflepuff common room. She sat double Defense with the Gryffindors, but skived off History of Magic where she would have to see Isobel and Laurel. With her O.W.L.s rapidly approaching, Emily knew it was unwise to miss any classes. But Given Binns’ style of lecture, she figured it wasn’t much different simply reading the chapter on her own in the library.

Emily pored through twenty fascinating pages about the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy summit of 1692. She was sure that the ghost’s monotonous droll would have been inadequate to convey the seven week drama that had included delegations of goblins, centaurs, merpeople and giants. Emily thought, with a pang, that perhaps Tristan had the right idea in skipping more history classes than he attended. Her mind drifted painfully to Isobel, who she knew would take issue with A History of Magic’s phrasing.

It’s hardly universally recognized, Emily imagined Isobel saying. A vast number of populations around the globe are fully aware that they live amongst witches, wizards, and magical creatures!

Emily’s eyes began to sting as she pictured the conversation. Tristan would be intrigued by the idea, and manage to transition into a rant about the magical community’s responsibility to share their knowledge with the muggle population, and finally cure muggles of cancer and AIDS. Laurel would make a hilarious joke, or at least she would have, if this imaginary discussion took place before all of her trouble began.

Madame Pince ousted Emily from the library shortly before eight, and she arrived back in her common room--for the first time in a long time--well before curfew.

Emily had quite forgotten what it was like at this hour. First years played gobstones near the fire while fourth years laughed and joked from the squashy armchairs. A group of fellow fifth years were huddled around a table, quizzing each other on charms, and Emily timidly approached them. She was friendly with the others in her House but didn’t mix with them much more than was necessary. It wasn’t out of dislike, but rather a preoccupation with spending time with her other friends. To Emily’s relief they appeared delighted to welcome her into their study group.

“What about Hilaris?” Archie Summerbee asked some twenty minutes later. “Does it have a wand motion or—ow!”

Judging by the way Amisha Singh was glaring, she appeared to have stomped on his foot under the table.

“No,” offered Emily, anxious to appear unfazed. “Strength is determined by intent, and the volume of the incantation.”

Rather than relaxing her fellow Hufflepuffs, Emily’s knowledge of Cheering Charms resulted in an awkward hush.

“So how’s that work nonverbally?” Archie piped up again, and this time it was Gemma Cauldwell to reprimand him with a sharp elbow to the ribs.

“Cheering Charms are highly unpredictable when performed nonverbally,” Emily explained, with as formal language as she could manage. “But I’m not sure about Chilling Charms,” she lied, wanting to change the subject. “How do you control the intensity?”

Emily listened with mock appreciation as Amisha explained the proper ‘swish’ length to chill a cup of tea to a drinkable temperature. The embarrassed atmosphere dissipated as they moved on to the D section in the index of A Standard Book of Spells. By half past ten, the study group had devolved into bewitching various objects into dancing across the table.

“Tarantellegra!” Hypatia Dagworth incanted at her quill, which in turn sprouted stocky little legs and started to lindy-hop. Michael McManus roared with laughter, inspiring a few exasperated seventh years to hush the raucous table.

“Sorry,” Michael called over as his fellow fifth years stifled giggles.

After a few minutes repressed laughter, Amisha began yawning, and packed up her school things. Gemma and Hypatia followed suit, and within a short time they each retired to the dormitories. Emily reflected that Hufflepuffs generally went to bed rather early. Then again, when she wasn’t at school and keeping up with her friends, Emily tended to keep the same early hours. It also occurred to her that she hadn’t had a fag all day.

Emily returned to her bed last, and her heart leapt when she saw the barn owl she’d chosen earlier at the owlery perched atop her four-poster. In her improved spirits, Emily had all but forgotten that she'd written the letter at all . Emily hadn’t had an address, and so had simplymade it out to, N. Tonks, Auror Office, Ministry of Magic, London.

So Tonks had done it, then! She’d made it to Auror training! Emily was overjoyed as she ripped open the parchment envelope.

Wotcher, Em!
I’m so happy you wrote me, please keep it up! Yes, I’m in training now, and I have a mentor. He’s very brilliant, at the top of his field, and quite mad. I’m over the moon.

As for your troubles—I hate to say it, but this kind of stuff happens. Year Five at Hogwarts is rough. From experience, I can tell you absolutely every student freaks out before OWLs, and it’s not just school, it’s life. It’s a hard age.

Stay strong, surround yourself with good people, and keep in mind what’s important. I’m not saying ditch your friends, just that sometimes you just don’t stay close with the kids you met on day one, and that’s OK. There are enough great people in the world, Emily Madley will never be at a loss for allies.

And it might blow over still.

On to the finer point about Tristan—and I know I lectured you about blokes last year, so I’ll be brief: it’s about what you want. Remember that always. It’s not just about him, or his terms, or any other lad’s. I’m actually quite pleased to hear you’ve taken a break from the un-fairer sex, and this whole experience with Tristan proves you were right to take it slow. If Auror training has taught me anything, it’s to follow your instincts. And we Hufflepuffs have the strongest instincts of all. Stay true to yourself, and you won’t cock it up—I promise.

I can’t say how glad I was to hear from you.

Don’t be a stranger!

End Notes:

1. Gemma Cauldwell is a relative of Owen Cauldwell, who was Sorted into Hufflepuff in 1994 (GoF). Hypatia Dagworth is a relative of Hector Dagworth-Granger (OotP), founder of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers. Michael McManus was a beater on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team in 1993 (PoA). Archie Summerbee is the descendent of Felix Summerbee who, ironically, invented the Cheering Charm.

2. The CI text is adapted from Nirvana's "Drain You."

A/N: phew, so a lot went down in that chapter. This is the first time that the POV rotation got significantly disrupted, because everyone’s lives are getting messier and more tangled. The whole story has been setting the stage for the primary conflicts and drama, and this chapter is where that explosion finally happens. The shrapnel flies from here on out.

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