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She took the morning off from her workouts, probably a bad idea, she thought as she lay nestled in her bed, her cat Loki snoring softly beside her. Her eyes hurt from crying when everyone else had fallen asleep, her heart ached to hear good news from her parents. She heaved a sigh, rubbed at her tired swollen eyes, squeezed the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger to ease the headache that she always got after a crying jag. She heard Lily roll over in her bed, across the way her fellow friend Penny Romanov tossed and turned as she tried to find a warm spot again. The room was chilly, a welcome feeling to Ripley, but she knew her mates didn't enjoy it.

 The Gryffindor slid out of bed and padded on bare feet to stoke the pot belly stove, she stayed beside it as the coals burst into flame at the fresh fuel. Some days she felt as if too much was on her shoulders. But then she reminded herself that she had been the one to put it there. No one was forcing her to work out every day, no one forced her into the Auror Academy. She rubbed at the nape of her neck, tried to knead away the knots. 

 

“Rip?” Penny was sitting up, her fleece throw wrapped around her shoulders, her cheeks flushed with sleep. “Y’alright?”

 

“Grand,” Ripley flashed a quick smile. “Just grand.” Her morning reverie was over, she gathered her hygiene items and muggle clothes for the days adventures before departing. Penny sat for a moment considered, and then tossed her slipper at Lily. The redhead grunted in response.

 

“What’s up with her?”

 

“Family stuff,” groaned Lily as she turned on her side. “Home stuff, y’know.”

 

“Does she at least have someone to talk to?”

 

“Oh yes.” Lily scrubbed her hands over her face. “She has me and James, Sirius and Remus are doing what they can, I’m sure she’ll tell you in her own time.”

 

Penny nodded. “I know how she works. Are you and James finally together?”

 

Lily grinned widely and did a little butt wiggle beneath the sheets. “We are.”

 

“About bloody time.” 

 

“I know,” Lily rolled her eyes. “But I wanted to be sure.”

 

“Is Rip still with that Hufflepuff guy?”

 

“Merlin no! He cheated on her, you didn’t hear?”

 

Penny scowled at her canopy. “No, I’ve been buried in books all summer. When did it happen?”

 

“Last spring, right before summer.”

 

“What a lousy git.”  Penny slid reluctantly out of bed and gathered her clothes to warm them by the stove. “I suppose he’s ruined everyone else's chances?”

 

Lily smiled secretively. “I wouldn’t say that.”

 

“Say what?” Ripley asked as she entered the room. 

 

“Nothing,” the two responded in unison. Ripley narrowed her eyes, but let it go as she went to her dresser. She observed her face, her damp hair, sighed. Using her wand she used a glamour spell, dried her hair and after considering her options opted for a spell to flat iron her hair into submission. Lily, dressed and with her auburn locks in ringlets sat on the edge of her best friend's bed as Penny and the two other girls left for the showers.

 

“Good?” Ripley asked as she tousled her hair into a more informal look. 

 

“Always,” assured Lily. “Are you OK?” Her concern was clear on her face. 

 

“Always,” replied Ripley with a quick smile. “Debating cutting my hair is all.”

 

Her best friend's face automatically brightened.  “We could get it done in Hogsmeade?” 

 

Ripley looked at her reflection in the mirror, her hair brushing the tops of her breasts. It would grow back, she knew, but she had kept the same length, the same style for the seven years at Hogwarts. And that, she thought with a wicked smile, was the answer.

0-0-0

Sirius was in the midst of a wrestling match when Ripley and Lily emerged from the castle. “Bloody Hell,” muttered Lily as James straddled Sirius’ back, and pretended to ride him like a bucking horse. Peter cheered them on, while Remus merely sat, and watched with a baleful expression.  Ripley strolled over to the tangle of men, debated her options. With a little sigh, she nudged Sirius in the side with her foot. 

 

“Leave off!” He shouted ferociously as James all but strangled him. 

 

“Mr. Black,” Ripley began in her best McGonagall accent, the boys froze, bounced to their feet.  “Can we go now?” The Irish brogue returned with a grin. 

 

Sirius narrowed his eyes, pointed a finger at her. “You’re good, Todd...maybe too good.” She grinned and sauntered away to chat with one of her friends from Ravenclaw. He watched her long enough that Lily cleared her throat.

 

“Do you mind?” She asked dryly even as James took her into his arms.

 

Sirius grinned. “Not a’tall.” 

 

“Seems our dear Ripley doesn’t realize the allure she’s gotten over the years.” Remus observed. Sirius scowled and followed his best friend's gaze. A Hufflepuff had joined the band and was casually leaning onto the column beside Ripley, as he combed his fingers through his thick auburn hair.  He watched her, the careful shift of her body when the boy who he had now realized was the pudgy Seamus Foster all grown up. Seamus reached out to touch Ripley’s arm. Said hand was caught midair by Ripley, she shook her head, and said something that had Seamus frowning. She made her goodbyes and walked back toward the group, her mouth in a thin line.

 

“Rip…”

 

“Carriages are here,” was her brusque reply as she didn’t pause in her stride toward said carriages. “Are we squeezing in?” 

 

“We’ll make it work,” said Lily easily as she clambered in, James behind her. Remus and Peter peeked in, debated their options as Ripley and Sirius slid in. 

 

“We’ll take the one behind you guys,” said Peter. “Sephie went into that one…”

 

Ripley snorted. “We’ll meet you guys at the square.” She smiled at Remus in farewell and closed the door. 

 

“What did Seamus want?” Sirius asked as the carriage jolted forward. Ripley wrinkled her nose, and settled into her seat. “Ripley.”

 

“He’s being a wanker that’s all.” She jerked a shoulder in a shrug, his eyes narrowed slightly. “Leave off Sirius.”

 

“Yes, how dare I show concern,” the boy griped irritably and turned from her to face the other way. 

 

“Now children,” James chided. “Let’s behave, and all get along.”

 

“Maybe if Madam ‘let me take care of myself’ realized that she isn’t all alone in life--”

 

The noise Ripley made was somewhere between fury and scorn. “Maybe if Mister “I’ll feck--”

 

“And we’re done,” Lily ordered with a wave of her arms. “We’re done. Ripley didn’t sleep well. And Sirius, you’re jealous.”

 

“Jealous!?” Sirius gaped at her while Ripley laughed bitterly. 

 

“Jealous,” Lily sniffed and turned her head toward Ripley. “And you--”

 

“Is this what we’re going to do today?” Ripley asked, baring her teeth in a snarl.. “We’re gonna fight?”

 

“Not everything has to be a fight, my love.” Lily informed her wisely. “I think that you try too hard to be tough, and that you’re prideful, stubborn, annoyingly bitter, and can be so pig headed that you put the hogs to shame.” 

 

Ripley pursed her lips, nodded slowly as she let the words sink in. “So, fight it is.”

 

“No,  you bloody fool,” Sirius rolled his eyes at her. “She’s saying you have friends, you think you’re above us because you don’t rely on us like we do on you. It’s time to get off that high horse.”

 

“He asked me to meet him in the broom closet on the fifth floor.”

 

“That little slimy git!” Sirius roared.

 

“See?” Ripley waved her hand as Sirius continued swearing, and hurling threats into the air. “‘But nooooo, Ripley is being stubborn, pig headed, prideful’. No, Ripley is being smart because now Sirius feels the need to have a pissing contest with a bloody Hufflepuff.” 

Silence fell over the carriage with Sirius muttering occasionally under his breath and Ripley staring out the window. Lily gave a sidelong look to James who merely shrugged in a helpless gesture. 

 

“And….?” Lily spoke quietly. Ripley rolled her eyes. “And what did we say?”

 

“We told him kindly, but firmly to go fuck himself.” Ripley answered and crossed her arms, finally facing her friends. “Happy?”

 

“You can do whatever you want.” Sirius said grimly. “Same goes for everyone else in this carriage.” The carriage that he spoke of halted at the top of the hill leading down to Hogsmeade. 

 

“So much for your streak of not being a man whore then.” Ripley said sweetly, and shoved the door open. 

 

“Sirius.”

 

“I know, I know,” The boy muttered as he went after her. He nearly swore when he had to jog after her. Gods knew she had the legs to move fast, but Christ.  “Todd.”

 

“Feck off.”

 

“Ripley.” Sirius didn’t grab her, knew better not to. Instead he met her stride for angry stride. “Teenage hormones aside, listen to me.”

“According to everyone else in that carriage I’m pigheaded, stubborn, bitter--”

 

“You are all those things and more, yet we’re still your friends. So,” He did stop her now, grabbing her hand in his. She faced him, and he saw--terrifyingly so--the tears that had welled into her eyes. “We care about you.” He said softly, cupped her face in his hands. “So much more than you could ever know. So, yes, when you take on the ‘I’ve got this handled fuck everyone else’ it hurts us, us your friends.”

 

“I don’t mean to,” she whispered huskily, rolled her eyes and squeezed them shut against the tears that snuck out. He brushed at them with the sleeve of his jumper. 

 

“I know you don’t,” Sirius pulled her into a tight hug, feeling her hesitation. Willed her to give in, even for a second. She softened ever so slightly, and her arms came around him, banded hard as steel in a hug. “There she is.” He murmured in her ear even as fellow students walked by with curious glances. “It’s not easy is it, love?” He cast a glance toward their friends, shook his head slightly when Lily stepped forward. She looked torn for a moment, she had always been the one to comfort Ripley and now--now it seemed someone else could. James wrapped an arm around her shoulders, kissed her temple. 

 

“Nothing in life is easy,” Ripley said darkly, sniffled. 

 

“You know what you need?”

 

“What?” She stepped back, did a glamour quickly. 

 

“A drunken night in the common room.”

 

  She gave a watery laugh, swiped at the loose tear, nodded. “You may be right.” 

 

“I’ll acquire a bottle for the group then.” He brushed his knuckles across her cheekbone. “Y’alright?”

 

“I will be,” she lifted her head, squared her shoulders. Sirius gave a little sad smile, and there she was he thought. A queen straightening her crown, and carrying on with her day. “Thank you.” She said softly.

 

“To Hogsmeade.” He offered his arm as their friends encroached.

She grinned, took his arm. “To Hogsmeade.”

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