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◊◊ HURRY IT UP AND GET BACK ON THE BRIDGE. ◊◊

It was a rare clear night, this Saturday in early February. The moon, a mere waxing crescent, shone weakly upon the empty tower. Someone, whoever it was, perhaps McGonagall, had managed to repair the thing very quickly indeed.

The bridge, on this night, was still attached to the rock upon which the tower had stood. Violet had said that the next time the bridge would move was tomorrow. So, with three of Sparrow’s friends still occupied, Headmistress McGonagall away, Professors Clearwater and Slughorn currently supervising a more dangerous matter than mundane matters of broomsticks, and Professor Longbottom unable to stay awake this late, it was left to Sparrow, Jill, and Jocasta to handle the gathering of dew.

Jill and Jocasta were on the prototype longbroom, the one that only moved when four hands held it. Jill had wanted to be on her own broom, but as Miranda was now out of the picture, she had decided that it was up to her to make sure Jocasta had a steady platform. No sudden movements or slips. No sense dropping the bottle, eh?

As for Sparrow, she was standing right above them on the bridge, gathering what she could from the undersides of the railing, and keeping an eye on the two.

She was keeping her other eye on the sky, just in case Professor Clearwater appeared somewhere.

Currently Jocasta was standing on the end of the broom, so as to get at a particular patch on the side, which was vexing enough, moreso because Jill was letting it happen.

◊◊ JOCASTA! WILL YOU SIT YOUR ARSE DOWN! ◊◊

Jocasta smirked. “Yes, mistress.”

“Relax,” said Jill. “If she falls, I catch her. I know Levicorpus well enough.”

◊◊ WELL I CAN’T DECIDE WHAT PERIL WE MIGHT BE IN, BUT YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T BE TAKING CHANCES HERE. ◊◊

“I’ll be fine,” said Jocasta.

No sooner did she speak these words than the bridge began to move. Jocasta yelped, and, in attempting to sit down quickly, overbalanced and fell.

She was caught in a moment by Jill’s quick wandwork. But as her wand hand was thus occupied, and Jocasta's hands were nowhere near the broom, it was impossible for Jill to shift the broom away from the path of the approaching bridge.

Which is not to say she gave up trying. And indeed, as Jill pulled upward on the stick with all her might, the broom was rising millimeter by millimeter.

Unfortunately, this was not enough time to get clear, and now the bridge was sweeping the broom towards the cliff.

In that moment, Sparrow could not think what to do, save for tossing the Fetching Stick into the air once more and sending it off to get help. Who knew what sort of help would come in time? Meanwhile her girlfriends would either fall or be squashed if she couldn’t some up with something, and no matter what sort of shield she cast, it found no purchase on thin air.

And Jill had been able to catch Jocasta, certainly, but had not managed to develop any fine control over the spell, and the most she had been able to do was slowly draw Jocasta up to the broom itself, so that the girl could hang onto the end. This solved one problem, but until the girl was back on the broom, it couldn’t escape the closing trap. And Sparrow couldn’t buy them any more time.

Unless a shield which found no purchase on air could find purchase on itself.

Sparrow pointed her wand at the inside of the angle where the bridge was swinging toward the cliff, and cast the shield once more.

This time it was not a flat plane, nor a dome. It was a bubble, hanging in the air to the side of the bridge, swiftly caught by the closing angle and holding, sending the bridge to a shuddering halt –

As long as Sparrow herself could hold out. There was such a thing as jamming a door to keep it from closing, sure, but most people jammed the end with the lock, not the one with the hinge. That end tended to break whatever it caught, or at least mangle it. The shield charm was only holding for more than a fraction of a second because it was cast by Sparrow Jones. .

Yet even the Shield Maiden of Hogwarts would not last very long against the weight of an entire bridge. Her mind was already breaking from the strain. She shut her eyes, in a futile effort to ease her splitting headache.

By all that was holy, this bridge would not beat her. This was the life of her friends at stake. She was not going to lose any of them ever again. She would rather see this blasted bridge turned to splinters.

And maybe it would turn to splinters if she held on long enough. It sounded like it was cracking.

††††† OPEN YOUR EYES! †††††

◊◊ JILL? ◊◊

††††† I SAID OPEN YOUR EYES, DAMMIT! †††††

Sparrow opened her eyes.

The pain in her head was gone. Jocasta was back on the broom. Jill was pointing the grey wand at the same place Sparrow’s shield was holding. Her eyes were glowing red.

“I’ve got an idea,” said Jocasta. “Jill, hand me your main wand if you please?”

††††† BIT BUSY! SORRY! †††††

“Then I shall have to risk getting burned,” said Jocasta, and she had Jill’s wand out of the girl's pocket in a moment. She held it next to the bridge. “Sparrow, if you could toss your own wand my way?”

◊◊ AND LOSE THE SHIELD? ◊◊

“Trust me.”

Sparrow tossed her wand out of her hand. It flew over the bridge and down to its place right beside Jill’s wand.

The glow from Jill’s eyes faded. All of a sudden she looked exhausted and confused. She shook her head rapidly and blinked. “Alright,” she said, “now what?”

“We fly this thing out of the way,” said Jocasta. “And then retrieve your wand.”

“Wonderful,” said Jill. “Sparrow threw away the only easy method of separating those things, and I am in no position to meditate.”

You can certainly try it!” said Jocasta.

Jill and Jocasta swung the broom around so that Jill had a hand on the wand, while Sparrow had a hand on her part of it, so that, when the wands came apart, they would not fall into the gorge and be lost. Jill closed her eyes and breathed slowly in and out, as she had practiced.

Perhaps it was a matter of the bridge being held in its halfway position for far too long, hanging with one end attached to nothing, such that when the wands separated, the bridge lost the only source of friction holding it up. Or, perhaps, it was simply that the bridge truly wanted to kill the children. Either way, Sparrow suddenly found herself accelerating downward along with the bridge, and in that very moment –

Perhaps it was that Sparrow had cast the spell alone, or perhaps it was Jill who had cast the spell along with her, if the results were any indication. Yet all Sparrow knew in that moment was that she, at least, had cast the one spell that had never failed her, the one she could cast nearly on instinct these days, almost as a reaction, a reflex – whatever it was, the bubble that appeared beneath the falling bridge expanded rapidly enough that it shattered the bridge beneath where Sparrow was standing, and sent her flying away from her friends.

It was somewhat pleasant to be soaring through the night sky. Less so to be falling while doing it. Oh well, maybe it would be nice to be a ghost. Maybe she could haunt the Minister of Magic to death. Or maybe she could haunt the disused courtyard. Or the tower. Not that anyone could get to it. Ah, and there was the massive crash of the bridge meeting the earth at last. She would not sound nearly as loud when she struck the earth, but the consequences would be far worse. Her shield spell could not save her now – It could stop a spell, it could stop a rock, but if it tried to stop the ground, the sudden stop from a fall this high would be the end of her anyway. What a pity, what a pity. The Shield Maiden of Hogwarts had discovered something her one mighty talent couldn’t save her from. So sad. It would be nice to be a ghost.

What was that red and green glow in the distance, and why was it getting close so quickly? Was there a meteor bearing down upon her, after everything else that happened?

Not quite. Jillian Patil and Jocasta Carrow came rocketing out of the darkness, one bathed in a red glow, the other glowing green, the end of their broom a roaring inferno. Jocasta put out her arms and snatched Sparrow right out of the air

Which is to say, two girls crashed into a third at high speed, leaving the momentum of the three girls now much less than the broom itself, which shot out from under them and off into the distance, leaving three Wizards in midair with nothing but their wands to save them.

Sparrow thought it was a pleasant thing to be here in midair with the people she loved. Would have been nicer if they’d been on a broom, or maybe a bridge or a rock or something, midair was frightfully cold. Goodness, it was windy too. Where was that wind coming from? It was coming from below. Why was it coming from below?

And why was it stopping? And who was shouting at her? Didn’t sound like Jill. Levi-something? Well that was a new one to her, no wait, she’d just been thinking of casting it tonight when –

The full weight of the situation came back to Sparrow when she touched lightly down upon the earth and discovered that she was in a position which made it very clear that there was something very wrong with her shoulder.

Which is to say, her mind was filled with a silent scream.

“Ow!” said Violet's voice. “Goodness, I can barely cast a spell with that noise ringing between my ears.”

◊◊ VIOLET? ◊◊

“Surprise.”

There before her stood Violet and Cormac, both looking like a great wind had mussed their hair. Which it probably had, since they were both holding brooms.

◊◊ HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO FIND US OUT HERE? ◊◊

Violet grinned. “The Fetching Stick knows what it’s about. A very good dog indeed. Too bad I can’t give it a scratch behind the ears, but maybe it enjoys being thrown.”

“She’s in pain,” said Cormac. “Please be serious.”

“What, is it that bad? It doesn’t look bad.”

“Hardly for you to judge! It’s not your collarbone.” He fished in his pocket. “Also you can’t see what happened under the skin there but when Jill and Jocasta caught her – you two aren’t screaming in pain so I’ll get to you next – what on earth were you thinking anyway?”

“Catch Sparrow,” said Jill.

“More painful than we expected,” said Jocasta.

Cormac took a disc of glass out of his pocket. Its outer rim was wrapped in gold, and the metal was etched with tiny runes. “Catch Sparrow. At high speed without even trying to slow down. Or casting a cushioning charm in the first place.” He peered through the disc at Sparrow’s shoulder. “Hrm, yep. Broken collarbone. Cracked in a few places but not – oh goodness, this one is broken clean through. Violet, go and fetch Madame Abbot on the double.”

Professor Clearwater’s feet thumped heavily as she landed on the earth right next to Cormac, who jumped, and dropped his glass disc.

Unfortunately Sparrow was startled as well, and her sudden movement caused her a fresh wave of pain, which had everyone clapping their hands over their ears in a futile effort to block their headaches. That is, until Jocasta pointed her wand at Sparrow’s shoulder and said, “Ossium Emendo!”

The pain vanished, along with the screaming, leaving only faint echoes in Sparrow's mind.

She lay on Jocasta’s lap and and looked up at the sky, preferring to let the sound of her companions drown the echoes out.

“I imagine,” said Professor Clearwater, “That you are not relishing the idea of having to explain these injuries to the Hospital Wing, nor having to explain why you use such a tricky healing spell when Brackium Emendo works as well.”

Jocasta shook her head. “I would rather keep my mouth shut about both things. But as for the risky choice, I prefer something that works in moments rather than hours. Cormac, what are you doing with that glass? I don’t need any mending myself. Go check on Jill.”

“You sure don’t,” said Cormac. “How on earth did you avoid breaking any bones?”

I didn’t. Will you please check on Jill?”

“Of course, of course.”

“My injury isn’t that bad,” said Jill. “I just can’t move my arm. And it hurts, quite a bit. Ow. But for a Quidditch player who has Bludgers flying at them all the time, this is hardly a new experience. I can bear the pain.”

“Let me see,” said Cormac, “let me see. Ah, multiple fractures as well, in the upper arm. Easier to deal with than the collarbone, I suppose, but still a problem. Not something you should ignore, Tough Girl.”

“I’m not dumb enough to ignore it, it’s just that Sparrow and Jocasta here had the worst of it because of my panic. So maybe I’m more concerned about the well-being of my girlfriends because I need to be.”

Enough of tearing yourself down,” said Jocasta. “Let me see your arm, please. Thank you. Ossium Emendo!”

Within a few seconds Jill could move her arm as well as she ever could. She swung it around a few times just to be sure, ignoring Jocasta’s protests. “It’s fine,” said Jill. “You’re really good at this.”

“Yeah,” said Cormac. “About that. Isn’t bone-healing N.E.W.T.-level magic?”

“It most certainly is,” said Professor Clearwater. “I am most curious as to how you have mastered it already.”

“I’ve had practice,” said Jocasta.

“And you’ve had practice keeping your mouth shut while your bones are broken?”

“Plenty of practice with that.”

“That spell you used,” said Violet. “They only use it at Saint Mungo’s when they have no time for something slower and safer. It’s way too easy to mist-cast and cause too much bone to grow. How on earth did you hear about it?”

“Now there’s a good question,” said Miranda, as she hopped off her broom. “Let us say, we are all terribly precocious.”

“You!” said Jocasta. “You are supposed to be brewing a potion!”

“So am I,” said Cormac. “And so is Violet here.”

“Oh wonderful,” said Professor Clearwater. “You’re all here. I shall go and inform the others where you are.” She climbed onto her broom.

“Wait,” said Jocasta.

“Hm?”

“If you knew the bridge was dangerous, why couldn’t you watch us?”

Two visions,” said Professor Clearwater. “One of a collapsing bridge, one of an exploding potion. Hard choice of priorities. I had to trust that you three wouldn’t be quite so reckless. Maybe I ought to insist on that more often. At the very least, I do insist on you sticking together, so as to save me from further headaches. And then maybe we can send that wonderful stick of yours towards someone else who can help, not just me.” She took off without another word.

Sparrow watched her go, feeling very much like a teacher who had been reprimanded for the actions of the students under her charge.

“Catch,” said Miranda.

The Fetching Stick flew into Sparrow’s hand, shaking her out of her reverie.

“Potion,” said Jocasta. “Where is it. Did it work.”

Miranda took a glass bottle out of her pocket, filled with a golden liquid that glowed. “Finished, not sure if it worked yet. Maybe we have to wait. My arm feels a little better.”

“You had enough time to make it after all. Thank goodness.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Cormac.

“Explain.”

“By the time Professor Clearwater came running in the potion was as golden as Miranda wanted, but we couldn’t put the finishing the touches in that Slughorn recommended. Maybe that ruined it? No way to tell yet.”

Jocasta rested her face in her palm. “Great.”

“It is not as though you needed me that much,” said Miranda. “As far as I can tell, you mastered that particular bone-healing spell over a month ago.”

“Oh,” said Cormac. “You knew about this, then.”

“I suggested it to her in the first place. I have been practicing the slower version for quite some time – ”

“What!”

“ – to heal the mice I rescue from traps now and then. Or trying to practice, it's delicate wandwork and I couldn't get it any better than I can do anything else with the wand, but, you know, the mouse will die if I do nothing, so I keep trying and getting nowhere, and then Jocasta helps me figure out what I'm doing wrong, so then I asked her if she could do it faster and...I am rambling. My apologies."

“And you mastered it in that space of time?" said Cormac.

Miranda shook her head. "Jocasta did. I did not. It works half the time for me. I don't dare try it on any creature that can speak."

"My my my," said Violet. "How long have you two known each other?"

Jocasta shrugged. "Couple months, why?"

"You mastered a spell like that in a couple months. Good heavens. Why have you not mastered every spell in the book by now?"

"Because have been practicing that specific subject for many years, and only that specific subject, and don’t ask me why, thank you very much.” 

“But where – ”

Jocasta's eyes flashed green. DON’T EVER ASK. YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE ANSWER.

“Try me.”

“Not a chance,” said Jocasta. “Miranda – ”

You didn’t cause me any trouble tonight,” said Miranda. “I am sorry that I pushed you away earlier.” Miranda glanced at Cormac, who was giving her an expectant look. “That was deliberate. I didn’t want you to worry about me. Clearly that was a miscalculation on my part.”

“It’s fine,” said Jocasta. She looked away.

“Is it?”

Jocasta said nothing.

“I am sorry that I could not be here for you tonight.”

“Hard to be here for me when you needed to make that potion,” said Jocasta. “For what it’s worth – I can’t hate you, Miranda. Certainly not after how you and Jill saved me. And I have my loved ones here, and that is enough. I’m safe, Jill is safe, Sparrow is – Sparrow? Oh dear.”

Goodness, the stars were getting wavy and watery.

Jocasta helped Sparrow back to a sitting position. “Don’t want to be crying while you’re laying back, girl. You might choke on snot there. Are you alright?”

◊◊ ALRIGHT? HOW COULD I POSSIBLY BE ALRIGHT? IT HAS BEEN AN AWFUL DAY. I ALMOST LOST YOU. AGAIN. ◊◊

YOU ALMOST LOST YOUR COLLARBONE. I THINK THAT’S MORE IMPORTANT HERE.

◊◊ DON’T SAY THAT! DON’T YOU EVER SAY THAT! I CAN REPLACE A GODDAMN COLLARBONE! I CAN’T REPLACE YOU! ◊◊

I – SPARROW, I’M SORRY.

◊◊ WHY ARE YOU SO RECKLESS? DO YOU CARE ABOUT YOUR LIFE? ◊◊

I DON’T KNOW.

◊◊ WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW? ◊◊

I JUST DON’T, OKAY? IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL.

◊◊ HOW COULD IT POSSIBLY NOT BE A BIG DEAL? YOU ALMOST DIED. ◊◊

AND I ALMOST GOT YOU KILLED, BACK IN DECEMBER. FAIR’S FAIR, RIGHT?

◊◊ NO! NEITHER OF THOSE ARE FAIR! I DON’T WANT TO LOSE YOU! DON’T YOU GET IT? I COULD HAVE CALLED YOU A SWORN ENEMY FOR THE WAY YOU GOT ME STUCK IN THE FORBIDDEN FOREST BUT I DIDN’T BECAUSE I WANT TO HAVE YOU AROUND! I LIKE HAVING YOU BY MY SIDE! I LIKE BEING BY YOUR SIDE! ◊◊

I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY. •

◊◊ YOU KNOW WHY. I TOLD YOU ALREADY. ◊◊

OH, FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR GRAND QUEST?

◊◊ NO. BECAUSE YOU TRUST ME. BECAUSE YOU LOVE ME. AND YOU LOVE JILL. YOU KEEP BOTH OF US ON EARTH. SO WHY – ◊◊

SOMETIMES THERE’S NO GOOD ANSWER, SPARROW. SOMETIMES THERE’S ONLY BAD ONES. ONE OF THE BAD ANSWERS CAUGHT UP WITH ME TONIGHT, IN A BAD PLACE. I STOPPED CARING FOR JUST LONG ENOUGH THAT I COULDN’T SAVE MYSELF.

◊◊ THIS ALL SOUNDS LIKE A BIG DEAL. ◊◊

YEAH, WELL, NOW THAT I DESCRIBE IT LIKE THAT, IT SOUNDS BAD. BUT HEY, I’VE SURVIVED THIS LONG!•

◊◊ BUT WILL YOU? ◊◊

AS LONG AS YOU’RE AROUND, MAYBE. CLEARLY YOU WON’T LET ME DIE.

Jill had not spoken as she rose, nor as she had dusted herself off. She did not speak as she gathered both Sparrow and Jocasta into a fierce embrace. Perhaps she did not need to. Nor did Cormac or Violet, when they joined the hug, nor did Miranda when she put an arm around them all.

At least not until Violet said, “Were were not supposed to hear that conversation?”

“Nope,” said Jocasta, as they all separated.

“Well,” said Violet, “maybe if we figure out this Sending thing we can figure out how to make that reliable. I am assuming you don’t want any commentary then.”

Jocasta shook her head.

“I have but one question,” said Miranda. “Jocasta, remind me how well you do in Care of Magical Creatures?”

“Not very well.”

“And why?” Miranda gave her a searching look, as if to imply she knew the answer.

“That’s two questions.” • I MISTREAT THE ANIMALS SO THEY’LL BITE ME SO THAT I CAN GET A HORRIBLE INFECTION AND – • “Stop that!”

“Hm. I thought as much. I really should have seen this sooner.”

“Seen what!”

Suicidal ideations. This is a job for Madame Pomfrey. Or…maybe Slughorn, depending. Or both, probably. If you wish to take the Draught of Peace, it will take both of them to make a proper dosage.”

“Oh what,” said Jocasta, “You’re going to try to fix me, is that it?”

Miranda’s eyes flashed blue.

°°° JOCASTA, MY DEAR GIRL. I HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO OVERT OFFERS TO FIX ME PLENTY OF TIMES. WE HAVE DISCUSSED THIS. YOU OUGHT TO EXPECT I WOULD AVOID SUBJECTING YOU TO ANYTHING WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT. I APOLOGIZE FOR INSINUATING THAT I WOULD OVERRIDE YOUR WILL. DO YOU TRUST ME? °°°

ALWAYS.

°°° ARE YOU WILLING TO ACCEPT MY AID? °°°

I WOULD HAVE TO BELIEVE THERE’S ACTUALLY A PROBLEM HERE. SO, MAYBE.

Miranda let out a deep breath. “Let us figure out a way into the castle, then, and get back to bed. There has been quite enough excitement for one day, thank you very much.”

“And let us remember,” said Cormac, “that we are here for each other. Jocasta, if you do wish to talk about what you’re going through, please feel free.”

Jocasta glanced at Jill, then at Sparrow, before fixing Cormac with a steady gaze. "There is only so much I would tell you. But I can offer scant details tomorrow during library time. As for now, now is bedtime."

◊◊ I THINK WE’RE GOING TO BE BUSY BEFORE BEDTIME JUST A BIT LONGER. ◊◊

For a great portion of the castle was also out of bed, visible in lit windows and on battlements, having heard the almighty crash of hundreds of tons of metal and wood. And a fair few of those people had by now managed to reach Sparrow and her friends. First of all came Hagrid, who had seen the whole mess happening in front of him and had been running to the place he saw the red and green lights fall to earth. For a great portion of the castle was also out of bed, visible in lit windows and on battlements, having heard the almighty crash of hundreds of tons of metal and wood. And a fair few of those people had by now managed to reach Sparrow and her friends. Close behind him came Professor Budge, followed by Madame Abbot, Professor Longbottom, and Professor Clearwater.

 

Everyone was relieved to discover that the children were alright. It took some time to explain that the whole thing had happened because Jill and Sparrow forgot how powerful a spell they cast together could be, and that they had been very lucky for having Professor Clearwater to keep an eye on things, but besides Sparrow’s broken finger there had not been a great deal of damage to anyone, and anyway Jocasta had healed that quite nicely, no trouble at all, thank you, just some scrapes and bruises to show for it, sorry to cause such a disturbance, someone should really have considered fixing that awful bridge to a more sensible time schedule.

All of the children got some Pepper-up Potion from Madame Abbot, for they were all cold and wet. Jocasta got a scolding from Madame Abbot for even thinking of trying to heal a bone fracture at her age, and some grudging praise for managing it without causing greater injury. Likewise Jill and Sparrow got a hundred fifty house points taken away from Hufflepuff for destroying a portion of the castle. Sparrow earned one hundred points for managing to briefly halt an entire swinging bridge with a simple shield spell.

If anyone wondered why Sparrow’s cries of pain sounded quite a bit louder than they should have for a broken finger, well, nobody said anything. They were just relieved to see that everyone was alive. Annoyed, exasperated, yes, but relieved.

If Professor Clearwater took offense to the little white lie about how much damage Sparrow had actually suffered, she did not show it.

And so the children were led back to the castle, adults close at their side, and all the castle went back to their rooms to have whatever peace was left to them this night.

...

 

That night in the Sixth girls dormitory, there were three girls to a bed. Admittedly the room only had one bed, but if there had been twenty, the three would have been in one anyway. Two objecting to the protests of one, who was now between them, the two with their arms draped over her as if to keep her there forever.

Yet, at a certain point in the evening, Jocasta shrugged their arms off anyway, and strode to the door.

The remaining two girls noticed at the same time. Sparrow dashed to the door and stood in front of it.

“Let me go,” said Jocasta, glaring down at Sparrow.

Jill came up behind her. “I wouldn’t object, as long as I was permitted to go with you. Will you let me?”

Jocasta turned and glared at Jill. “Leave me be.”

“Why?”

“Because. Just forget it, okay? I’m fine.”

“After all we’ve talked about, after all that’s happened this evening, after all that’s happened today, you think you’re fine?”

“Well…no. But I’m fine right now.”

“I doubt even that. What’s got into you?”

“Nothing!” Jocasta folded her arms. “Everything is fine. I’m just an idiot who ruined a healing potion of someone I care about.”

“You kinds of sound like you’re in a position to let yourself get nudged over the edge again.”

“Not like I could. Although if I did, I suppose I would go splat after all.”

“You wouldn’t transfigure yourself to safety?”

“Can’t."

"How is that possible?"

"I don't know. Maybe can't is won't. I don't want to transfigure myself anymore. Ever since that business with the spider. I don’t…even know what I am anymore. You know? Transfiguration was everything to me and in a little moment I ruined it.”

◊◊ WHAT, DID YOU GO IN THERE HOPING TO GET CAUGHT? ◊◊

“No I didn’t, I just – ” YES.

◊◊ I DID WONDER WHY A GIRL WHO HAD SURVIVED FOR FOUR-ODD YEARS AS A FRAGILE INSECT WOULD SUDDENLY BE LAID LOW BY A THING SHE KNEW WAS DANGEROUS. ◊◊

“What’s it to you?”

◊◊ EVERYTHING. ◊◊

††††† EVERYTHING. †††††

“Well, I’m nothing now.”

“Excuse me?” said Jill. “The girl who masters a bone-mending spell at age 14 is nothing?”

“I don’t even count that one.”

“Why would you not – ”

“Because you know exactly where all my practice for that sort of spell came from, Jill, and if I was going to call that a matter of pride I’d think I was forgiving – never mind. Look, all I want to do is take a walk through the halls in darkness and clear my head.”

“And possibly fall over a staircase railing?”

“No!” MAYBE.

“Maybe I should come with you.”

Jocasta shook her head.

“Then maybe you should stay here.”

Jocasta shook her head again.

“Look, last time you wandered around the school at night you almost died and tonight you almost died again. I’m not going to let that happen a third time. If you believe at all that it was right for me to save you either time, you will let me come with you.”

Jocasta huffed. “You’re being overdramatic here.”

“I have every right to be! What do I have to do to keep you by my side? French kiss you for twenty minutes? Hug you and never let go?”

“You wouldn’t be hugging anything, would you? I’m nothing.”

◊◊ YOU ARE DISCOUNTING YOURSELF MORE THAN YOU REALIZE, MY DEAR. ◊◊

“How do you mean?”

◊◊ ARE YOU NOT ONE OF THE TWO TOP DUELISTS IN THE ENTIRE SCHOOL? ◊◊

“That comes from a bad place too.”

◊◊ AND IT IS ALSO HOW YOU MET JILL. IT BECAME A GOOD THING AFTER ALL. AND THINK OF IT – YOUR TRANSFIGURATION SKILL CAME FROM YOUR FATHER, AND LIKEWISE IT BECAME A GOOD THING. I AM TAKING A WILD GUESS THAT THE BUSINESS WITH BONES CAME FROM THE SAME PLACE – ◊◊

Do NOT go there.”

◊◊ —AND IT ALSO BECAME A GOOD THING. THESE GREAT SKILLS – ◊◊

I SAID DON’T GO THERE!

For a moment there was only silence.

I’M SORRY.

◊◊ I THINK MY TRANSGRESSION HERE IS GREATER THAN YOURS. ◊◊

YOU SEE THE LINE I TOLD YOU NOT TO CROSS?

◊◊ MORE CLEARLY THAN BEFORE. WHAT HAPPENS IF I CROSS THAT LINE? ◊◊

I WEEP FOR YOUR PAIN, WHEN YOU SEE WHAT HORROR LURKS WITHIN MY MEMORY.

◊◊ JOCASTA, WHAT THE HELL DID YOUR FATHER DO TO YOU? ◊◊

Jocasta sighed. She shook her head, then linked arms with Jill and nodded to the door.

Sparrow stepped away at last.

The space that showed through the doorway was the Hufflepuff common room. No reason to expect anything else, yes? But as Jill saw fit to lead the way, she vanished in the moment that she was over the threshold, before Jocasta had crossed it – for the Hufflepuff common room was replaced by the Slytherin common room.

Sparrow peered through the doorway into the sudden gloom of a room she had never seen and had never been allowed to see. It was a curious contrast to the Hufflepuff common room – where hers contained many silver fixtures that caught even the slightest bit of starlight, lending an air of home and comfort to all but the darkest nights, the Slytherin common room saw fit to have a hearth fire burning all night – surely a touch of home in its own way? And yet, with no other light in the room, with the firelight playing over the silver fixtures, with their shadows dancing upon the walls, it all looked sinister enough.

To the tall blonde lass sitting before the fire, the place must have felt like home. What could she think, then, when a sudden silver light shone upon the masonry above the fireplace, pouring out from a door that she had never seen before? Perhaps it was as sinister to her as the hearth fire was to Sparrow.

And the fact that two people were standing in that doorway – what could she think of that? And that one of them was whispering furiously to the open air?

And if the poor girl before the fireplace could hear just what Jocasta whispered, she would be even more confused. “You will let me through,” whispered the mysterious girl in the doorway. What on earth could that mean? The doorway was open, surely? How on earth were these sinister figures blocked? Had they opened up a door hoping for passage to one place, and got another, after all? Or was she speaking to the person she could see in the room, the girl who was before the fire, clearly visible? Asking to be let through – as if blocked by some castle ward, and only needed to be invited in – was she a vampire? The girl by the hearth fire was frozen in place, not daring to move.

Did the eyes of vampires glow green? No, they glowed red, right? Whatever this apparition was – wait, what was she saying? “You will let me through to the Hufflepuff Common Room or I will tell the school administration that this doorway exists.”

In that instant, from Sparrow’s perspective, the Slytherin Common Room was replaced by the sight of Jillian Patil, eyes glowing red as brightly as Jocasta’s glowed green. Perhaps from the perspective of the girl in the Slytherin common room, her fright had been replaced by confusion as the door vanished.

And as for anyone in the Hufflepuff Common room – Thank goodness there was none but Jill, nobody else to wonder what on earth a girl was doing, appearing out of the wall and then turning back to whisper furious curses at it.

Jill’s eyes ceased glowing at the sight of Jocasta. She grabbed the Slytherin girl – the proper one, her Slytherin girl this time – and dragged her through the doorway before it could change its infernal mind.

Leaving Sparrow behind once again.

She flopped onto the bed and thought of nothing except grumbling, for a while. Then she settled herself under the covers and thought of grumbling at Jocasta when she returned.

But as she relaxed, and considered the horrible day, she felt grateful to have magic around. If there was no such thing, why then, Jocasta would have died long ago, and Miranda would have died today. Surely letting everyone have some would save more lives. Then again, considering how foolish she had been today – she and Jill and Jocasta together – perhaps letting nitwits like her have access to magic was a bad idea after all. The day’s events would not have happened without them – not the transfigured villagers, not the decaying shoulder, not the moving bridge, not the broken bridge, not the broken collarbone. None of it.

And yet. If for whatever reason Jocasta had been on a bridge anyway, she may very well have stumbled off it for lack of care, magic or no magic, and then – there would have been no catching her at all.

Might as well look on the positive side of this whole business, then, and think about how to educate people in it, as a body of students far larger than anything Hogwarts ever handled. Ah, but that was a question for the coming years. For now, the first thing to do was survey everyone.

As in, everyone in the entire world.

Without being caught.

What a goal to set, eh?

Ah, but that was later and away. In the here and now, her girlfriends – plural? Yes? – were out for a long time. Sparrow began to wonder what was taking them. She began to worry. She should not have let them go after all. Jocasta must have gotten herself in trouble again. But why did no silent scream come to her mind, from either girl? Did both girls get themselves killed in a moment? Would they come to her side as ghosts?

Sparrow was about to throw the covers off and dash out the door when it opened. Here came Jocasta and Jill, arms linked as they had been, faces no longer lined with worry, eyes no longer glowing. Jocasta settled herself under the covers and snuggled up next to Sparrow. Jill went to the window and sat upon the windowsill, looking out upon – nothing, perhaps. The windowpane still did not permit real viewing. Sparrow wondered what it would, if it could. Perhaps it could not.

At long last Jill came back to bed, and settled herself under the covers, on Jocasta’s other side, and snuggled up close to her.

And Sparrow began to drift off to sleep again.

But Jocasta had one last thing to say.

SPARROW?

◊◊ HM? ◊◊

DO YOU THINK I NEED FIXING?

◊◊ OH, GOODNESS. PERHAPS WE ALL DO. MAYBE EVEN CORMAC. HE DID THE EYE THING TOO, DIDN’T HE. ALRIGHT, THAT’S FIVE FOR THE REPAIR SHOP. ◊◊

††††† HEY. †††††

◊◊ WHAT. ◊◊

††††† HEALING. NOT FIXING. WE’RE HUMAN BEINGS. NOT LAMP STANDS. AND NOBODY CAN FORCE A HEART INTO BEING HEALED. MY FATHER ALWAYS TOLD ME THAT YOU CAN’T GIVE SOMEONE THERAPY WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT. †††††

WHAT, IS IT ILLEGAL?

††††† I MEAN IT’S IMPOSSIBLE. †††††

◊◊ A MATTER OF CHOICE, YOU MEAN. ◊◊

††††† BINGO. †††††

◊◊ AND JOCASTA, I IMAGINE THAT YOUR OWN HEART BROKE BECAUSE CHOICE WAS TAKEN FROM YOU AT A TENDER AGE. ◊◊

IF THAT WAS ALL, EVERY CHILD WOULD HAVE A BROKEN HEART.

◊◊ WHAT THEN? ◊◊

AHEM.

◊◊ RIGHT. LOCKED DOOR. VERY WELL. TELL ME IF AND WHEN YOU WANT TO OPEN IT. IN THE MEANTIME – WE WILL ALL HAVE TO DO WHAT WE CAN FOR EACH OTHER. WHATEVER WE CAN. ◊◊

YOU BOTH DO MUCH FOR ME. MORE THAN I DESERVE. AFTER WHAT I DID TO MIRANDA –

††††† HEY. †††††

WHAT?•

††††† YOU REMEMBER KISSING PRACTICE WITH SPARROW IN THE DUNGEONS, RIGHT? †††††

HOW COULD I FORGET.

††††† AND WHAT DID SPARROW SAY ABOUT DESERVING? ††††††

I HARDLY RECALL.

◊◊ I SAID, WHO WOULD EITHER OF US BE IF WE SAW FIT TO DECIDE WHAT YOU DID AND DIDN’T DESERVE? WE’D BE JUST AS AWFUL AS THAT PERSON I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO MEET. ◊◊

††††† THERE ARE TIMES WHEN SUCH JUDGMENTS HAVE TO BE MADE. BUT LOVE TENDS TO TOSS THAT QUESTION OUT THE WINDOW. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S A MATTER OF SOMEONE’S SURVIVAL. †††††

I FIND THAT HARD TO UNDERSTAND.

††††† THINK OF IT THIS WAY: DO YOU LOVE ME? †††††

YOU KNOW IT.

††††† AND DO YOU LOVE SPARROW? †††††

YES.

††††† AND WE BOTH LOVE YOU AS MUCH AS WE LOVE EACH OTHER. WHAT DO YOU THINK I WOULD DO IF YOU OR SPARROW WERE TO DIE? †††††

BLOW EVERYTHING INTO TINY PIECES?

††††† I WOULD SPARE THE SCHOOL AT LEAST. NOW, WHAT DO YOU THINK SPARROW WOULD DO IF YOU OR I DIED? †††††

◊◊ TURN INTO A LITTLE BIRD FOREVER, AND FLY AWAY TO THE STARS. ◊◊

EQUALLY TRAGIC OPTIONS. WHAT ARE YOU GETTING AT?

◊◊ IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE YOU HELP THEM SURVIVE. NO CONDITION, NO BARGAINING, NO MEASUREMENT OF DESERVING. NOT OUT OF RIGHT OR WRONG. NOT OUT OF OBLIGATION. JUST OUT OF ATTACHMENT. AND THAT’S ENOUGH. ◊◊

BUT IF I’M A HORRIBLE PERSON –

††††† THEN MAYBE WE CAN BE HORRIBLE TOGETHER. †††††

I COULDN’T DO THAT TO YOU.

††††† COULD YOU STOP US? †††††

WELL NOW YOU’RE JUST BEING PUSHY.

††††† ANSWER THE QUESTION. COULD YOU STOP US FROM LOVING YOU? †††††

YOU’RE MAKING THIS SOUND LIKE THE KIND OF ROMANCE WHERE SOME TWERP DOESN’T STOP SENDING YOU LOVE LETTERS.

††††† FAIR POINT. BUT YOU KNOW SPARROW HATES ROMANCE. †††††

◊◊ SAPPY NONSENSE POORLY COMMUNICATED UNTIL YOU SEND SOMEONE A DOZEN FLOWERS THAT THEY DIDN’T WANT. ◊◊

DIDN’T YOU BREAK UP WITH COLIN RUSKIN OVER THAT?

◊◊ HE COULDN’T UNDERSTAND WHY I WAS MAD AT HIM. SO I KNEW THAT HE WAS LOVESTRUCK AND NOT THINKING STRAIGHT. ◊◊

YEAH, AND THEN YOU TURNED DOWN FELICITY CHO LAST YEAR –

◊◊ SHE WAS BLAMING ME FOR THE FACT THAT SHE FELL IN LOVE. ◊◊

OH, IS THAT WAS IT WAS. YOU LEFT ME WONDERING IF I HAD A CHANCE AT ALL.

◊◊ IS THAT WHY YOU DRAGGED ME INTO AN ALCOVE AND KISSED ME WITHOUT ASKING? JUST TO GET OVER YOUR CONFUSION? ◊◊

AMONG OTHER REASONS. I THINK YOU WERE LEADING ME ON SINCE OCTOBER.

◊◊ NO, SEE, NOW YOU’RE BLAMING ME FOR YOUR OWN FEELINGS LIKE FELICITY DID. WHAT I’M TRYING TO GET AT IS – IF SOMEONE LOVES YOU IT’S THEIR RESPONSIBILITY. THEIR FEELINGS TO DEAL WITH. RIGHT? ◊◊

FINE. SO WHAT?

◊◊ SO – SO – SO I DON’T KNOW. I’M FALLING ASLEEP. ◊◊

YOU’RE LEAVING ME HANGING HERE.

◊◊ DON’T EVEN JOKE ABOUT THAT. ◊◊

††††† JOCASTA – DO YOU LOVE ME? †††††

FROM NOW UNTIL THE END OF ALL THINGS.

††††† BUT I’M ALSO A HORRIBLE PERSON. †††††

SO?

††††† SO, THERE YOU GO. I MEAN – †††††

◊◊ YOU DON’T HAVE TO EARN LOVE. ◊◊

WHAT!?

◊◊ LOVE ISN’T SOMETHING YOU CAN EARN. ◊◊

THEN WHAT IS IT?

◊◊ A GIFT. GIVEN FREELY. ◊◊

††††† TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. †††††

I TAKE. AND I GIVE YOU MY OWN.

◊◊ THEN, IF YOU ARE HORRIBLE AS YOU SAY, THEN LET US BE HORRIBLE TOGETHER. ◊◊

AS YOU WISH, MY DEARS. AS YOU WISH.

Sleep came at last, and a peaceful end to an awful day.

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