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Dear Mum and Dad and Robin and Finch,

I am sorry that I have not sent a letter home lately. So much has happened, I can hardly all fit it in one letter! And most of the story I shouldn't be sending by owl post anyway. Wouldn't want it intercepted, would I?

Okay, so that one was giving too much away.

Dear Mum and Dad and Robin and Finch,

I am sorry that I have not sent a letter home lately. So much has happened, I have been so busy, and some things I could not figure out how to tell you plainly but politely, as it is of a sensitive nature.

Still giving too much away.

...

Dear Mum and Dad and Robin and Finch,

Goodness, how long has it been since I sent a letter home? Too long. So much has happened. Some of it I don't understand myself! So I can hardly explain it in a letter. Maybe I'll figure it out in time to summarize it in the next one. Anyway, I am keeping your advice in mind and I am following good advice from everyone I know. And I have very good friends. I have two wonderful girlfriends. We will keep each other safe.

I am sorry to report that I have been suspended from my classes here at Hogwarts. Along with all my friends. That was quite the kerfuffle, let me tell you! I shall tell you everything when I see you again. But that will not be soon. The Headmistress is not sending us home. She is keeping us here because she thinks we can teach each other all the O.W.L. spells. I won't say she's wrong, but it is a bit awkward to have no classes.

Let me give you a sense of how that has been going. Violet has been getting hang of a spell called "Ascendio", which lifts the caster high into the air. She has been teaching it to us out of doors because she realized that doing indoors would tend to leave her with a bruised head. She wanted to teach us by the edge of the lake because a water landing is softer than the hard earth, but then she decided that it would be dangerous because it would leave us outdoors and wet and cold. So, we finally remembered that we could do cushioning charms, and over the past few days most of us have had fun tossing ourselves into the air.

Most of us. Cormac always wants to support Violet's efforts these days -- he took up wtth Violet a few days ago, I think, but I think they've been together for a while and didn't know it. Jocasta likes the idea of escaping an enemy by flying high. Miranda likes doing some wandwork that actually works for her for once. But I don't like the idea, and Jill doesn't either. It feels cowardly.

But we're both trying it anyway because Violet got really annoyed at us and said that learning how to run is critical to preserving one's strength for moments of one's choosing and for giving one the mental space to decide if a fight is worth it and anyway it's not necessarily about combat so the fact that Jill and I are assuming it's all about combat feels a little disturbing and it would be helpful for both of us if we had some actual non-combat spells at our disposal so we could relax for once for pity's sake.

She looked real serious. I guess that's her way of making a heartfelt plea. So I've been trying, and I'm improving steadily. Slowly. I didn't want to go very high at first. My head knows what I have to do, my heart knows, my shoulder says no. Because I broke my collarbone a few days ago when the bridge collapsed and I'll explain that later. So Violet had to show me she could do a good Levicorpus spell -- that's the one where you float a person instead of an object -- before I wanted to go any higher. Jill didn't have any trouble but that's because she's used to being way up high on a broom and sometimes falling really far because Quidditch has absolutely dreadful safety standards for the players. I ought to learn Levicorpus myself one of these days.

And Jocasta has been tossing herself higher and higher because she wanted to give herself space to force herself to transfigure because she's been having trouble with that lately because she almost died and boy that's a long story too. I was annoyed that she kept being reckless but I could understand where her frustration was coming from so I didn't object as much as I should have. Violet objected when Jocasta assumed that Violet would catch her. Miranda had to do it and most of what she could do so far was slow someone down so Violet and Jocasta kind of crashed into each other Jocasta kind of crashed into Violet.

That was a bit of a row but Jocasta said she would communicate better about when she was launching herself so after a while she was flying even higher than before and higher and higher. I thought she would be having fun but she kept looking frustrated. The transfiguration thing just wasn't working. She was human on the way up and human all the way down. So she had the bright idea of telling us not to catch her, because she thought being in genuine peril would force herself to transfigure this time, but it still didn't work and everyone tried to cast Levicorpus and missed except for Miranda so Jocasta slowed down just enough to not go completely splat when she hit the shield.

Because of course there would be a shield right? It's kind of automatic by now. Except I'm not sure if I cast it because I didn't actually have my hand on my wand yet because I'd dropped it when my hands were shaking. Maybe I didn't. Anyway Miranda finally managed to get Levicorpus to work when she lifted Jocasta off the shield. So I guess that trick worked for something.

Jocasta looked pretty bad when she got down to the ground. Teeth clenched and everything. I couldn't figure out how she wasn't screaming in pain. I also didn't know why she wasn't glaring at me. Maybe she was busy trying to not scream. Cormac took out his wonderful glass lens thing with the gold band and looked through it and said Jocasta had a fair number of fractures in her ribs and in her wand arm, which was a problem because the only other person who knew any bone-healing spells was Miranda and she definitely didn't want to be screwing up the spell right now. But Jocasta held her hand and said she could do it. So she did and it kind of worked. Jocasta said the intense pain faded to a less intense pain. But she still couldn't move her arm.

So we had to end that lesson for the day and bring Jocasta to the hospital wing. And explain our mistakes to Madames Pomfrey and Abbot. I thought were were going to get yelled at. But they said they were used to seeing worse. Madame Abbot also said Jocasta ought to think about learning healing spells on a more formal basis now with Madame Promfrey and Cormac said he wanted to study healing spells too. I wonder if I should have expectd that of him or not. But he has a long way to go if he wants to catch up to Jocasta. Yet another thing to add to every day's to-do list! I wonder if he can handle it.

So Jocasta's still currently in the hospital wing and I'm not exactly cut off from her but I miss her anyway.

And I miss the Headmistress because she's currently gone on some errand and I have no idea where. She didn't want to tell me what she was doing. I wish she sould send a report to us or something. Any sort of news at all. But there is nothing. No news is good news? I don't know.

And I kind of get the same sense from Jocasta as well because earlier this week she went to a meeting with Professor Longbottom and she took Jill along and she didn't take me. I mean I can guess why, sensitive subject and all, but she didn't give me the chance to politely refuse or anything. Or politely let me know I was being shut out. Humph. She wanted me to be a soft place to land. Maybe I'm still not soft enough for that yet. I wish I could be.

So now we're teaching each other more mundane stuff like colour-changing charms and the difference between a knarl and a hedgehog. Both of which are really easy. BOR. RING.

Although the remainder of the books about magical creatures are more interesting. Apparently bowtruckles look like stick insects. And Hippogriffs are supposed to live all over the continent. But I don't know if this book is up to date because it was wrotten written in 1995. A lot has changed since then! This book is more like a look into the past. It says that Lethifolds only live in the tropical lattitudes HA HA HA NICE WEATHER WE HAVE TODAY EH?

I wanted to ask Miranda if she'd made any progress on her Lycanthropy cure but I'm always busy during the day and I never see her after the sun goes down. Not even in the dungeons where I'd think she would be cooking up something. Nope. Maybe she just retreats to Gryffindor tower. I don't want to ask the Fat Lady to fetch her. So I try to Send for her and she doesn't answer.

Damn and blast, nobody tells me anything! Even my friends! I guess we've all got personal stuff we don't want to speak about.

Anyway, I hope you are doing well, and that you have not been given any trouble because of my hasty actions in the past few months. I am sorry for running my mouth off. Maybe you ought to come here to Hogwarts where it's safer? There's better food here anyway.

Love,

Sparrow

...

Sparrow did not send the letter.

Not at first. She had to clear it with a few different people who were more naturally cynical than her. One of whom was still in the hospital wing.

Jocasta's verdict was that the letter was okay, but that Sparrow ought to remove the bits about transfiguration, as a matter of personal privacy. Jocasta knew she was on the official Animagus registry now, but she wanted to make sure nobody had a reason to look in that direction, not yet. To this Sparrow could agree easily enough, for it was not critical to report.

The details of her suspension, on the other hand, were something her parents had the right to know about, and it was harder to convince Jocasta that such information was worth including. Jocasta noted that Sparrow was typically too honest for this kind of secrecy to begin with; case in point, the fact that Sparrow had let Jocasta judge a letter which contained a personal complaint about relationship issues between the two, apparently without a trace of hesitation.

Sparrow pointed out that such an action could just as easily be a sneaky way of raising the subject without having to say anything face-to-face. Jocasta said that it was possible, but the fact that Sparrow would admit that manner of subterfuge made her look like she had a minimal capacity for subterfuge. Which was why she was consulting Jocasta and Percival in the first place, yes?

Sparrow replied that she might just be doing a very complex obfuscation of her own cleverness. At this, Jocasta laughed aloud, enough to make her ribs hurt again, and Madame Abbot decided that it was time for Sparrow to leave, true love or no.

But Jocasta was able to request one more moment. In that moment, she put her hand over Sparrow's, and said that she ought not to worry about being a soft place to land.

Sparrow was left confused as she was whisked out of the Hospital Wing, and did not think to ask Jocasta what she meant. Was she fulfilling her task properly, then? But she had not done so when it came to catching Jocasta. Should she just not try after all? But why would Jocasta say such a thing? And she ought to keep trying anyway.

She also ought to find Percival.

But he was about as easy to find these days as Wilhelmina Burke. He seemed to be nowhere in the halls these days. Even when she Sent to him, he did not answer or appear -- although Ignotius Nott did appear, and warn Sparrow that she might not want to be broadcasting to everyone and sundry.

Sparrow decided that the best place to hide from her embarassment was the Owl Post Room, because the owls could not laugh at her.

But the owls were also missing that evening. All of them. The caretaker was extremely vexed. He'd never seen them all take off at once before.

So Sparrow had to be content with the second-best place to hid from embarassment, which was by Jill's side, and she had to be content with letting Percival show up when he would. If ever.

 

...

 

And so the week went on, and Sparrow's tension did not disappear. For the children speculated as best they could about what McGonagall might be doing, and what she might be finding, but in spite of Sparrow's desperation for any sort of clear report, none came. McGonagall had not promised any such thing, after all. And she might not want to send an owl if it could be intercepted. So all the children could do was wait and hope for McGonagall to return.

Of course when McGonagall returned she would tell Sparrow everything, right? Perhaps not. Perhaps such matters were well above any student's level of security clearance. Except Jocasta's, if McGonagall was investigating anything in regards to the Carrow manor. Goodness knew the matter of forcing transfiguration on a ten-year-old girl demanded some manner of investigation. So of course such information would be relayed to Jocasta, and Sparrow in turn, yes? Except that was a stupid assumption, because Jocasta had clearly demonstrated her reluctance to discuss such matters, and it would be silly to assume that anyone would freely volunteer such personal details anyway.

On a Thursday morning of rare sunshine, before breakfast, Sparrow stepped into the Hufflepuff Common Room to discover that Jocasta had been released from the hospital wing. She was sitting there, reading the library copy of Granger and Snape Advanced Potioncraft, Volume One. Specifically, she was sitting cross-legged on Jill’s back, rising and falling as Jill did press-ups, not losing her poise or her page.

Sparrow glanced over at the prefect, who was also watching the proceedings, with rapt attention upon Jill. Fair enough.

Sparrow knelt before the pair and made her apology for the assumption.

The response, from Jocasta at least, was surprised laughter.

“My dear,” said Jocasta, “once again you act in a manner quite outside what I am used to.”

“This really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise,” said Jill. “You’re dating Miss Hufflepuff Squared here.”

◊◊ AND YOU KNOW ME WELL ENOUGH BY NOW. ◊◊

“Oh, surely. From you I can’t call it a surprise. But from most? Most are…less willing to admit things they think might be shameful.”

◊◊ LIKE YOU? ◊◊

“Perhaps. Horrifying might be a better descriptor. Yet there is shame. I wonder why. Ah, but I say too much. I ought to continue studying. Although I did want to say – sorry for not telling you I was out of the Hospital Wing.”

◊◊ OH? ◊◊

“We figured a surprise like this would be funnier,” said Jill.

◊◊ HOW DID YOU – NEVER MIND. TALKING OF SHAME, I HAD A QUESTION FOR JOCASTA THAT’S BEEN ON MY MIND FOR SOME TIME. ◊◊

Jocasta raised an eyebrow.

◊◊ NOT THAT I WOULD CALL IT A MATTER OF SHAME DIRECTLY, BUT IN REGARDS TO YOU AND MIRANDA – ◊◊

Jocasta glanced left and right, then thwapped her book shut, jumped off Jill’s back, took Sparrow by the hand and led her up the stairs and into the Dorm Room of Requirement before she could even say goodbye to Jill.

Jocasta shut the door sharply, spun around to face Sparrow, and put on an innocent smile. “Yes?”

◊◊ THEN AGAIN, MAYBE THE MATTER IS TOO SENSITIVE. ◊◊

How could you possibly guess?

◊◊ WELL, IF YOU DON’T TRUST ME WITH EVEN THAT TOPIC – ◊◊

“Oh no you don’t.” Jocasta led Sparrow to the bed and sat down next to her. “No playing on my heartstrings like that, girl. What do you want to know?

◊◊ I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU FEEL. BECAUSE I THINK YOU’VE CAUGHT FEELINGS FOR MIRANDA. AM I CORRECT? ◊◊

An entire boatload.”

◊◊ BUT YOU HAVEN’T SAID ANYTHING ABOUT DATING HER. ◊◊

Jocasta crossed her arms. “Oh, is that what this is about.”

◊◊ I’M JUST SAYING, I KNOW YOU WELL ENOUGH TO THINK IT WOULD BE LIKELY, AND WONDERING WHY YOU HAVEN’T MADE A MOVE YET. MIGHT AS WELL AVOID PINING, RIGHT? ◊◊

Jocasta bit her lip and looked away.

◊◊ WHAT? ◊◊

“Let’s say I will be pining for a while.”

◊◊ SHE’S NOT INTO GIRLS? ◊◊

Jocasta put her face in her palm.

◊◊ WHAT? ◊◊

“You need to ask Miranda about this. It’s not my business to reveal.”

◊◊ OH, WELL – ◊◊

“And I daresay that if that’s how you’re thinking all the time, I have rubbed off on you quite a bit –” she raised her head, as if realizing what she had done, and glared at Sparrow. “Don’t you dare.”

◊◊ WASN’T GONNA. ◊◊ Sparrow put on an innocent smile.

“Right.” Jocasta crossed her arms again. “Well, the situation is more complicated than I find it easy to describe at the moment because it involves something I can’t exactly wrap my head around and god dammit I’ve said too much haven’t I?”

◊◊ DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. ◊◊

“Really.”

Sparrow’s innocent smile had not faded.

But then it did. ◊◊ LOOK – I DON’T NEED TO KNOW ALL THE DETAILS. AS MUCH AS I’M DISAPPOINTED THAT YOU DON’T FEEL ABLE TO TELL ME EVERYTHING, I CAN’T PRY ANYTHING OUT OF YOU. I’M JUST WORRIED THAT THIS SITUATION, WHATEVER IS, WILL BE ANOTHER WEIGHT ON YOUR MIND IF YOU DON’T, YOU KNOW, DEAL WITH IT. ◊◊

“Deal how?”

◊◊ TELL ME. DO YOU LOVE MIRANDA? ◊◊

“Yes? No? I don’t know.”

◊◊ HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW? ◊◊

Jocasta threw her hands in the air. “Because I don’t even know what’s going on with the situation! I don’t know what do make of it! With you it’s easy! We swap massive secrets, we dance, we kiss, we confess our love in the midst of peril, we go home happy – ” Jocasta looked around at the room. “We made this room a home by accident all of a sudden, didn’t we.”

◊◊ FOCUS. WHAT EXACTLY IS CONFUSING ABOUT THE SITUATION? WHAT MAKES HER DIFFERENT THAN ME HERE? ◊◊

“Never mind.”

◊◊ WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NEVER MIND? ◊◊

“I mean I don’t know how to talk about it at all. Imagine being smitten by her mighty shoulders for three years and being thrown for that kind of loop. Sheesh! So go ask her and she can explain it better. I can accept it but I can’t wrap my head around it. Alright?”

◊◊ IF…THAT IS WHAT YOU WISH. IS IT SOMETHING HORRIBLE? ◊◊

“Not in the least.”

◊◊ BUT IT IS A DEALBREAKER. ◊◊

Jocasta nodded.

◊◊ IS IT AN ANIMAL? ◊◊

“What a thing to suggest!”

◊◊ IS IT A VEGETABLE? ◊◊

For Miranda that would be more likely. No, it’s not a mineral either. And I’m not going to answer your 18 remaining questions.” Jocasta fairly leapt off the bed and made for the door.

◊◊ JOCASTA, HANG ON. ◊◊ Sparrow ran up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.

Jocasta whirled around. “What!”

◊◊ SOMETIMES LOVE IS JUST A MATTER OF INTEREST AND ATTRACTION. EVEN IF IT MAKES NO SENSE. ◊◊

“Well that certainly applies here, doesn’t it.”

◊◊ BUT IF YOU WANT IT TO BECOME ANYTHING MORE, YOU HAVE TO EXPRESS IT. I’M GOING TO TAKE A WILD GUESS AND SAY THAT’S WHAT’S GOING ON HERE. YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT’S UP – I CAN GUESS WELL ENOUGH. BUT THE DETAILS AREN’T THE POINT. ◊◊

“So what, exactly, is the point?”

◊◊ THE POINT IS, I’M GOING TO TAKE A WILD GUESS AND SAY SHE LOVES YOU TOO. ◊◊

Jocasta frowned. “Explain.”

◊◊ YOU FUCK UP WITH HER GREENHOUSE TWICE AND SHE DRAGS YOU INTO MAKING UP FOR IT, JUMPS INTO OUR INSANE SCHEME WITH LITTLE PROMPTING, AND LETS YOU KEEP COMING INTO THE GREENHOUSE? AND THEN SHE OFFERS TO DO WHATEVER SHE CAN FOR YOUR MENTAL PAIN, AND THE FIRST TIME HER LEVICORPUS SPELL REALLY WORKS IS WHEN SHE'S FISHING YOU OUT OF THE LAKE? I THINK SHE WANTS TO KEEP YOU AROUND. I THINK THAT’S HOW SHE’S EXPRESSING HER LOVE TO YOU. ALTHOUGH MAYBE SHE DOESN’T KNOW IT. ◊◊

“Oh. Um. I guess I hadn’t thought of the matter that way.”

◊◊ AND I THINK I KNOW HOW YOU CAN EXPRESS YOUR OWN LOVE TO HER, IN A WAY SHE UNDERSTANDS. BECAUSE YOU ALREADY DID. ◊◊

“How?”

◊◊ ENCOURAGE HER EXPERIMENTS – ◊◊

“You mean, the encouragement I gave her for the polyjuice potion?

◊◊ I KNOW IT WAS A TRICK. WAS IT ALSO A LIE? ◊◊

Jocasta cast her eyes downward. “No. It wasn’t. ”

◊◊ AND IN RESPONSE TO POSSIBLY SCREWING UP HER ARM-FIXING POTION, YOU GO SO FAR AS TO CHECK OUT THE GRANGER AND SNAPE POTIONCRAFT BOOK? COME ON. YOU CLEARLY WANT TO MAKE THINGS UP TO HER. WAS IT THAT HARD TO GO TO PROFESSOR LONGBOTTOM AND CONFESS? ◊◊

“Not…quite as much. With Miranda there.”

◊◊ BINGO. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, THEN. ◊◊

“That’s not…oh, for heaven’s sake! I’ve said as much as I will about the topic for the moment. Thank you very much for encouraging me and we will not elaborate on this topic until I know you have got her side of the story.” Jocasta opened the door, stepped into the Slytherin common room, and closed it behind her. When Sparrow opened it it showed only the Hufflepuff common room.

Damn and blast that door.

There was much waiting for return, over the course of the week. At its beginning Sparrow waited for Jocasta's and Percival's return; through the days she waited for McGonagall's return; through the nights she waited for Jill to finally come to bed, for Jill would stand at the window in the false moonlight, as if keeping watch, though the glass would permit no clear viewing. Night by night she would keep this vigil, and each night, the red glow about her was a bit brighter, and would not subside, until Jocasta took her by the hand and led her to bed.

Thereupon the three girls would fall asleep clinging tightly to each other, as if to make up for any waking moments when they had been apart.

 

 

Sparrow had put as much within her letter as she felt was honest. There were events she was honor-bound to explain to her parents, and she also felt honor-bound to let them know about her general state of mind. But there were emotions roiling within her that she could not address easily, let alone summarize.

Firstly, there was the fact that the full moon would occur on the same Sunday as the Valentine’s Day Ball. Sparrow would have to wait for those proceedings to be over, perhaps even endure them personally, before participating in something she actually enjoyed. And, likely as not, the night would be overcast, and Sparrow would have to ask Blaise, once again, to help clear the skies. Sparrow felt a little anxious about getting Blaise involved in this again, as her whole conspiracy was already known by someone who had a half a mind to report it, but Blaise said that, as long as they had a hundred dragons as friends, the Ministry would not be much of a threat. So Sparrow’s anxiety was mostly a matter of sheer anticipation.

Secondly, there was the issue of how to contact Wilhelmina Burke. The Slytherin common room would not let Sparrow in, nor would the door have any ability to retain a message. Nor did Sparrow have a clue where the door was. It fell to Miss Carrow to attempt to contact Miss Burke, and even as such messages were passed to her, they were not answered. Sparrow could only assume that Miss Burke was still annoyed with Sparrow, though the matter of slander had been resolved. She could only hope that Miss Burke would cool off sooner rather than later.

Thirdly, and related, there was Sparrow’s worry for the well-being of Jocasta, when the girl was on her own in the Slytherin common room. The girl had said, specifically, that there were things in that common room that might destroy a girl like Sparrow; if they knew Jocasta was working with her they might not cut the Slytherin girl any slack. All Sparrow could do was ask Maledictus Burke to keep a sharp eye on her. Oh, and let her know where on earth Percival had got to.

Maledictus accepted the first task readily. As for the second task, all he could say was that he only saw Percival now and then. So he would get a message to his brother as soon as he could. Fair enough.

In the meantime, Sparrow spent a portion of her days recollecting all the incidents involving Jocasta. The dung bombs, the Frisbees, the ever-receding galleon. It all seemed so much less amusing now. A bid for power, perhaps, or a desperate search for attention? The girl had been carrying a heavy weight for a long time, and still would not let Sparrow shoulder it. Sparrow wondered if she ought to feel insulted, or if, in fact, she was not the most appropriate person to hear Jocasta’s troubles, regardless of how much affection they held for each other. Jill seemed to be handling that business all on her own.

And yet, there was the other thing. Jill was looking more than a little downtrodden, over the course of the week. In fact she had been looking like that ever since the incident in the dungeons. What had happened down there, the girl would not describe any more than she had, but only said, ††††† DON’T ASK. †††††

Sparrow was beginning to feel as though her very best friends would not trust her with delicate topics. At the same time that the rest of her fellow students had done so without hesitation. Why, only this week poor Petrus Pomeroy had sought her out to ask what he ought to do if a friend had an extremely embarrassing illness they refused to reveal to Madame Pomfrey. Hepzebah Goldstein had asked to talk to her in private about her mother’s constant physical abuse. Clearly Sparrow was considered worthy of trust by most.

Including by Jocasta. Hadn't that girl entrusted a very large secret to her, all the way back in November? And hadn't Jill put her heart in Sparrow's hands before that? So perhaps the silence of both girls was not a judgment of Sparrow's character.

Especially since the full explanation might prove injurious.

It hurt to be loved and yet left out of things. It hurt far worse to be loved and yet be powerless to help one's beloved. Sparrow would do everything she could to be a soft place to land, and yet -- what if that was not enough? It almost sounded as though that was not the problem. The problem was that she was hearing cries of pain from the other side of a locked door and she was being told that opening the door might kill her. She was hearing cries of terror from somewhere down echoing hallways, and being told that she must not seek their source.

What then could she do for them?

...

The report that the children gave Professor Longbottom, on Thursday evening, was brief in comparison to last week’s discussion. The professor was pleased to see that everyone was now attempting to tutor each other, and his only advice, at this point, was to prepare for the written portion of the exam as well as the practical – which would involve certain tedious subjects such as Arithmency, History of Magic, and Ancient Runes. Not that two of these subjects were especially troublesome, and as for the third, well, the Ministry did not expect anyone to know the Ancient Runes beyond a rudimentary level anyway.

Violet had taken great offense to that concept, as well as to the idea that any of the three subjects was tedious. So Professor Longbottom said he was certain Violet would be an excellent tutor in those areas.

And elsewise, there was only the issue of Care of Magical Creatures. But that could wait for the warmer months, when the Knarls would be out from hibernation again.

The children departed, all save one, who paused in the doorway and turned.

Professor Longbottom looked up from his paperwork. “You have more troubles on your mind?”

◊◊ ON MY MIND. BUT NOT IN THEM. COMPARED TO SOME PEOPLE. ◊◊

“Go on.”

Sparrow threw herself into a chair.

◊◊ I SAID I WAS TRYING TO BE PATIENT. BUT I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THAT WHEN I AM SCARED FOR TWO PEOPLE I LOVE DEARLY. ◊◊

“Ah, well.” The Professor put his quill down and folded his hands. “So much like the moment of Jocasta’s peril, eh? No time to think or to hesitate, when you worry that your dear one’s life is on the line. And yet – in this case, the pain in question is not acute, but chronic. Something a person can live with in misery – or perhaps not, if it inspires self-destructive behavior. Is this your concern?”

Sparrow hesitated, not wishing to discuss the details of Jocasta’s personal troubles without her being there. She settled for a small nod.

“And I assume you are feeling guilty for not being able to do all you could to resolve the matter.”

Sparrow nodded harder.

"And you realize that my calling Jocasta in for a metting was a matter of me taking some responsibility for aiding her mental health, to the extent of my meager capabilities, per my advice to delegate things you could not handle yourself."

Sparrow nodded again.

"Yet you remain worried?"

◊◊ I AM MORE WORRIED FOR YOU, IF SUCH COUNSEL INVOLVES YOU BEING INJURED. PERHAPS I SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE JUST IN CASE. ◊◊

The professor laughed. "Oh, Sparrow. Believe me. I have been in greater peril. And furniture can be replaced."

◊◊ TRUE. I GUESS I'M JUST A LITTLE JEALOUS THAT JOCASTA INVITED JILL AND NOT ME. ◊◊

"I did tell Jill to stand outside. Not that Jocasta would have it, but one thing I have picked up on from studying muggle therapy is that counsel is meant to be held in confidence. Which means that I cannot relay any details of our conversation to you, unless Jocasta decides to tell you herself."

◊◊ AND SHE DOESN'T TELL ME MUCH OF ANYTHING. ◊◊

"Indeed not. given the nature of what she described, I would expect she would not. But that is saying too much already."

◊◊ I JUST WISH EITHER OF THEM WOULD TELL ME SO I COULD HELP. ◊◊

"You are used to feeling helpful. Or taking that role upon yourself, as the case might be. I imagine you feel quite distressed to be cut off from that function."

◊◊ ESPECIALLY WHEN IT INVOLVES THE PEOPLE I LOVE MOST. ◊◊

"Then I imagine that, if I continue to counsel patience, you would find such advice difficult to follow."

◊◊ IT IS DIFFICULT TO ENDURE. ◊◊

"And yet you will, if I am not mistaken. For you are Sparrow Jones, and you value endurance as much as you value people being able to make critical decisions for themselves. Jocasta's reticence involves both principles. So you will endure whatever personal pain is involved in letting your loved ones remain reticent."

◊◊ I'LL KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT FOREVER IF IT MEANS THEY DON'T WORRY. ◊◊

"Don't."

◊◊ HOW'S THAT? ◊◊

"First of all, that will only serve to increase your own pain -- "

◊◊ OH. RIGHT. MARTYRING MYSELF AGAIN. ◊◊

"Once again, you take on more pain than you can bear."

◊◊ AND JILL TOLD ME TO STOP DOING THAT. BUT IT'S TEMPTING. IT IS WHAT I AM USED TO. BETTER ME THAN SOMEONE ELSE RIGHT? ◊◊

"I would not describe your actions in this case as taking a blow for someone else. I would describe it as adding pain instead of healing pain through communication."

Sparrow folded her arms. ◊◊ WELL SOMEONE IS NOT COMMUNICATING WITH ME. ◊◊

"And you are returning the favor. So now you are replicating the behavior of your girlfriends, whether it be Jill desperately holding herself together or Jocasta habitually refusing to show pain on her face. If I were to tell you that your relationship is currently unhealthy -- "

◊◊ I WOULD SAY THAT US DECIDING TO BREAK UP WOULD NOT STOP ME FROM WANTING TO HELP THEM. IT WOULD SIMPLY RAISE EXTRA BARRIERS TOWARDS THAT END. ◊◊

"I'm not saying you ought to! I'm just saying that you're allowed to complain. Speaking as your immediate supervisor here -- alright, so that's a bit awkward, I'm trying to be your therapist and your director at the same time."

◊◊ KIND OF LIKE BEING SOMEONE'S GIRLFRIEND AND THERAPIST AT THE SAME TIME. ◊◊

"Right. This is why we don't shoulder all burdens alone. One role interferes with another. So let's pretend I am currently advising your immediate supervisor. I would tell any supervisor that their subordinates absolutely must be allowed to complain, for the same reason that an engine must be allowed to release steam now and then. Otherwise -- "

◊◊ BOOM. ◊◊

"Precisely. As I say, you are allowed to complain about your troubles."

◊◊ I'M COMPLAINING TO YOU. ◊◊

"And that's part of my job. But you are also allowed to complain to your loved ones. Did you think of that?"

◊◊ EVEN IF IT MAKES ME SOUND WHINGY? ◊◊

"Let's say, complain without accusation. Explain your distress with their behavior without making it sound like their behavior is set in stone. 'I wish you would do X' instead of 'you always do Y'. That sort of thing."

◊◊ BUT IF I AM STILL LETTING THEM TAKE THEIR TIME TO TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE GOING THROUGH, THEN I WILL STILL HAVE TO BE PATIENT. ◊◊

"Alas, yes. Patient without being acquiescent. It is a fine line. Can you guess what makes the difference?"

◊◊ YOU ENDURE A LOT FROM SOMEONE BUT...YOU DON’T JUST LET THEM DO THINGS THAT HURT THEM OR YOU. BECAUSE YOU CARE ABOUT THEM AND YOU KNOW THEY CARE ABOUT YOU. ◊◊

"There you go. And I know you do not wish to sound whingy. But better to risk having an argument than let your relational troubles fester. Love endures arguments as it endures all things."

◊◊ THEN THERE ARE SOME THINGS I MUST ENDURE. ◊◊

“Many things, as you grow older. Patience gets easier as you endure your years, day by day.”

◊◊ I WILL KEEP THAT IN MIND. ◊◊

...

Upon the next day's grey afternoon, Sparrow found Jill again sitting alone by the Reflecting Pool.

Whereupon she sat down in Jill's lap and hugged her close.

“Oh!” said Jill, as she embraced Sparrow in return. “What’s the matter? Did something happen?”

◊◊ I’M SCARED. ◊◊

And who scared you?

◊◊ YOU. ◊◊

“How?”

◊◊ BY TRYING NOT TO HURT ME. I’M SCARED FOR YOU. AND I’M SCARED FOR JOCASTA. YOU BOTH TALK LIKE THERE’S REALLY BIG AND PAINFUL STUFF THAT’S HAPPENED TO BOTH OF YOU AND I WANT TO BE ABLE TO COMFORT YOU EVEN IF YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED BECAUSE I DON’T WANT EITHER OF YOU TO EXPLODE AND I DON’T WANT YOU TWO TO BE IN PAIN ANYMORE. I CAN'T STAND SEEING YOU IN PAIN AND I CAN'T LOOK AWAY. ◊◊

“My dear Sparrow.” Jill laid her head on Sparrow’s shoulder. “You have been a comfort to me all these years. I think I have remained sane because you were there for me.”

◊◊ WELL CORMAC DODESN’T LIKE TO BE PASSIVE ABOUT PLAYING THAT ROLE AND NEITHER DO I. ◊◊

“And you would risk my fire?”

◊◊ FOR YOUR SAKE. ◊◊

“Sparrow. I told you not to martyr yourself. This time I am not even half-joking.”

◊◊ HOW DO I KNOW YOU’RE EVEN HALF AS DANGEROUS AS YOU THINK YOU ARE? CAN I NOT AT LEAST TAKE AN INFORMED RISK? CAN I NOT HAVE EVEN A LITTLE HINT? ◊◊

“You had a little hint back in the empty tower!”

◊◊ I MEAN A LITTLE HINT TO HOW YOU’RE FEELING. ◊◊

“You’ve had hints for weeks!”

◊◊ COMPARED TO WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT MELTING THE DUNGEONS IT ALL SOUNDS LIKE LITTLE SMIDGENS OF HINTS. ◊◊

“Ah. I see. That’s a good point. Alright, so a hint smaller than spilling the beans, but bigger than what I’ve given…there is the option I threw out there too lightly. You remember what you saw in my eyes?”

◊◊ I COULD HARDLY FORGET. ◊◊

“You remember how reluctant Jocasta was to do the same with you?”

◊◊ IT DID CONCERN ME. ◊◊

“Are you willing to risk looking into her eyes?”

◊◊ I WILL TELL YOU WHAT I TOLD JOCASTA MANY WEEKS AGO. WHAT SHE HAS PUT ME THROUGH AT THIS SCHOOL CANNOT POSSIBLY COMPARE TO WHAT I HAVE ALREADY BEEN THROUGH. ◊◊

“That does not account for the possibility of gaining new scars.”

◊◊ THEN THERE IS THE CHOICE. RISK NEW SCARS OR REMAIN FOREVER AT A REMOVE, UNABLE TO HELP THE PEOPLE I LOVE. AND THAT WOULD BE NEW PAIN ANYWAY. ◊◊

“No help for it then,” said Jill. “No way out but forward, though it be through flames. Well then. I will warn Jocasta, and you may pick a day when you are ready.”

The two let each other go at last, and stood. Jill took Sparrow by the hand and led her away.

 

 

It was on the next evening in the Hufflepuff common room, just before dinner, that Sparrow made the request she had been waiting to make for a while.

You wish to risk it,” said Jocasta, raising herself from her lazy recline on the setee. “Hm.” She looked to the dormitories. “I daresay we have a secure location available.”

“Not here?” said Sparrow.

“No.” JILL? IT’S TIME.“Come on.” Jocasta was up and leading Sparrow by the hand in the space of a moment.

◊◊ WHAT, ARE YOU EAGER FOR THIS? ◊◊

EAGER TO GET IT OVER WITH. EAGER TO GIVE YOU SOME BETTER HINT OF THE SITUATION YES, I WOULD SAY SO. I WISH I COULD SAY I WAS EAGER TO LOOK INTO YOUR EYES. BUT NOT IF YOU HAVE TO LOOK INTO MINE. YOU SAID WE WERE ALL BROKEN. I DON’T THINK YOU UNDERSTOOD HOW RIGHT YOU WERE.

Here was the door, here was the open door, here was the room bathed in full moonlight as always, though the night beyond the walls was nothing but rain. It felt deceptive, almost cruel, for the window to offer a false view.

The moonlight vanished, to be replaced by the pitch blackness of the rainy night.

“Hey!” said Jocasta.

The darkness vanished, to be replaced by the silvery light of the moon.

“We will have to agree on what we want out of this room,” said Jill, from beside the open doorway. “It will be a little more difficult with three people in this place than two.”

That’s what you get for having two girlfriends,” said Jocasta. “Ah, such is the price of extra kisses. But let us get to business. Unless – Jill, do you think we should do this somewhere more open, like up on the walkways?"

Jill shook her head. "The walls of this room repair themselves more quickly than the masonry does. And the light would probably be noticeable to anyone looking out the window."

"Ah, yes, of course. We also might raise a bit of noise. But surely everyone will be at dinner, and will not notice?"

Jill raised an eyebrow. "Everyone besides us?"

"Oh. Yes. Ahem. It seems I am too eager to get this over with. Wait until after dinner, then? Ah, but then Sparrow might vomit like you did."

"Easy enough to clean up. Sparrow, what say you? Are you willing to wait a little longer?"

◊◊ MIDNIGHT. THE WITCHING HOUR. LET US DO IT THEN. ◊◊

Jocasta looked puzzled. "Isn't every hour around here a Witching Hour?"

◊◊ TECHNICALLY -- YES. BUT MIDNIGHT IS PROPERLY DRAMATIC. ◊◊

"This isn't a situation to be making light of," said Jill. "But you will see for yourself come midnight."

Midnight came.

In the moonlight, in the center of the rug, there knelt Jocasta Carrow, facing Sparrow Jones. Before the door sat Jillian Patil.

“Before we begin,” said Jocasta, “I must warn you, you may experience a great deal of pain.”

◊◊ I HAVE BEEN WARNED. ALTHOUGH I DO NOT RECALL SUCH A THING HAPPENING WHEN I DID THIS WITH JILL. ◊◊

“Indeed not,” said Jill, “And lucky we did it before the mind links awoke. Else you would have had your head still ringing with echoes.”

◊◊ OH. ◊◊

“If you fear to venture this,” said Jocasta, “neither of us will force you to continue.”

◊◊ I SHALL NOT FALTER. ◊◊

“Very well,” said Jocasta. “And I do not need to ask if you are sincere.” She closed her eyes and beckoned Sparrow close, closer, closer, until Sparrow’s face was right before her own, so that if Jocasta had her eyes open, they would be holding each other’s gaze already.

“Now,” said Jocasta. “I’ll give you a glimpse of what’s beyond the door.”

For a moment, nothing happened.

But then, at the lines of her eyelids, green light shone.

And she opened her eyes.

The green of those eyes was, to happy and carefree people, a green that they would have had no chance to become familiar with. It was not the green of leaves, not the green of grass, not the green of a frog or the green of a beetle nor the green of any living thing. No. This close at last, Sparrow recognized it, remembered it from a lesson out of her earliest school days.

It had been a lesson all the children had been eager to attend and also eager to leave. None of them had known exactly what they would be shown that afternoon. They had rumors, they had whispers, they had conjecture, they spoke of dreadful possibilities in hushed whispers but oh, how awful everyone feels when the reality is worse than the worst things that one could imagine.

It had begun with the curse that had the lightest touch, or looked the nicest at any rate, and if the children were astonished to see a mouse run around on the table entrirely according to the commands of the guest Professor, they did not consider it unsettling. After all, dogs did the same thing, did they not? Though the children had begun to sound more confused and even disturbed when the guest Professor had done the same trick with his assistant. It wasn’t a trick after all, was it.

When the guest Professor had cast the next spell at the mouse there was no chance for any of the children to call it a trick, for the squeals of agony and thrashing of limbs admitted no such room for skepticism.

Nor was it any fakery on the Mouse’s part after the bright green flash. The mouse was not moving. That was no lie.

That was the green that Sparrow Jones saw, out of the eyes of Jocasta Carrow.

And then Sparrow began to hear a faint noise, distant, tiny, indistinct, but building by the second.

Screams.

The voices of old men, of young men, of young women and old, of children, of babes in arms, joining one by one, in howls of agony such as Sparrow had never heard on this earth, each second another one added, and so the sound grew, and grew, filling Sparrow’s head with pain such as she had never felt, had never known she could feel at all. It felt almost like the pain of listening to a very loud sound very close, except not so much in her ears as in her brain alone, nor was there any sense of the bone-shuddering vibrations of true sound. Just the pain of decibels. But that was enough.

The true sound that came to her ears was not the sharp sound of screaming, but more jagged sounds of splintering, crumbling, shattering, clattering. Sparrow could not see what was making those sounds. She could not look away. Perhaps the screams held her in place. Or perhaps it was the fact that she had chosen this. Maybe that was how she was surviving. But it had been a stupid choice, hadn’t it? An awful choice, a foolish venture made by a foolhardy, indiscreet, indiscriminate blunderer who led innocent people into situations they could not survive, reckless, inconsiderate, dunderheaded, addle-pated, feckless, gutless, worthless –

Sparrow had not once called herself worthless, in all her years. What was happening now? What could she see in those green eyes? Nothing but green, and yet – the green of those eyes was not uniform. In the center the light shone with a hue just a little more blue than the rest, in a curious shape – the shape of a tall, broad humanoid figure.

Had Sparrow been able to concentrate she might have been able to guess who that figure might be. But there was no chance of concentrating while her head felt like it was splitting in two. This was a stupid idea, really, she was stupid, for even trying this –

Not once had she called herself stupid, in all her years. In fact there was not once in all her years where she had cast so many insults at herself. What on earth was happening here?

She had gotten herself into a worse scrape than she ever had, that was it, worthless girl –

Damn that voice. It wasn’t even her, was it?

Such realization was little consolation, for it did not temper her agony, only gave her the will to continue – but why? Just so Jocasta could look into her own eyes?

But that was enough, was it not?

But it could not be enough, because she had already passed the point where she thought she could endure this any longer.

But she had passed the point. Willingly.

And she was not going to let a little thing like pain stop her. Not now. Not the pain of screams, nor the pain of plaster raining down upon her head. And whatever this horror in Jocasta’s head was, she would find its source and face it, someday. Because she was Sparrow Jones, and she was determined to love. She was Sparrow Jones and she was sworn to defend. If she did neither she would be someone else entirely. And she was not giving in.

Tempting as it was. Tiring as it was. Her eyes began to close of their own accord.

Until a familiar hand held hers, and a new fire filled her heart. She opened her eyes wide, her exhaustion gone.

The green light from Jocasta's eyes faded as a yellow light shone upon her face. From what source, Sparrow could not tell. The screams faded, remaining in their number but not their volume. Sparrow’s head no longer screamed in pain. Whatever those voices were, they could not and would not hurt her.

The plaster raining down on her head might hurt her.

Until even that pain disappeared, replaced by the sound of hail hitting a tin roof.

Now Jocasta's eyes nearly closed. Until they too opened wide.

And at last Sparrow saw something, deep in the dark recesses of Jocasta’s eyes. A figure, smaller, thinner. Just a lighter shadow on darker shadow, and yet it moved. It danced. A lone figure dancing wildly, madly.

At last Sparrow closed her eyes.

And sleep came in that moment.

 

Morning, and utter silence.

Sparrow opened her eyes.

There was a ceiling above her. It was cracked in many places, though as Sparrow watched, the cracks were mending themselves one by one.

She was in a bed. Perhaps not the bed she was used to. It had four posts, but it did not have a canopy.

What did have was a familiar warmth on either side of her.

Now there was a hand in front of her face, counting down from three. Two. One.

There was a kiss on both cheeks at once.

“Morning, Shield Maiden,” said Jocasta.

◊◊ JOCASTA. ◊◊

“Yes?”

◊◊ WHAT THE HELL. ◊◊

“That’s exactly what Jill said.”

◊◊ NO SERIOUSLY. WHAT IN GOD'S NAME WAS THAT. ◊◊

“That was a glimpse beyond the door. Just a peek. Just a crack. Just a look through the keyhole.”

◊◊ AND THE SCREAMING IN YOUR HEAD NEVER STOPS? ◊◊

“It’s always there. In the background. Behind everything else. There are times when it gets louder. And there are times when it quiets down. Like when I’m around you. When I’m around Jill. And…sometimes it disappears entirely.”

◊◊ LIKE WHEN? ◊◊

“Last time we did this,” said Jill. “The roars in my head chased away the screams in hers.”

“Not exactly easy for either of us to sustain,” said Jocasta. “Nor for Sparrow, I would imagine.”

◊◊ BUT OTHERWISE IT'S THERE? ◊◊

“Pretty much.”

Sparrow threw herself over Jocasta and pinned her.

“Oh!” said Jocasta. “Sparrow, please, I am quite alright.”

◊◊ OH NO YOU’RE NOT. MAYBE I WILL NEVER LET YOU GO. ◊◊

“I think you may have to at some point.”

◊◊ AND YOU KNOW HOW I PLEDGED ON MY SACRED HONOR THAT I WOULD NEVER LET ANYONE COME TO HARM ON MY WATCH? ◊◊

“Uh oh.”

◊◊ WHEN WE GET TO YOUR HOUSE I’M GONNA GIVE EVERYONE FAIR WARNING TO LEAVE AND THEN I’M GONNA BURN THE THING TO THE GROUND. ◊◊

“Okay,” said Jill, “first of all, that’s my job.

“Secondly,” said Jocasta. “It’s not you.” She wrapped her arms around Sparrow and hugged her gently. “Do you want to know what I saw in you?”

◊◊ UM. ◊◊

“It was hard to understand at first. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing in the distance. But it looked a lot like the gleam of sunlight on metal. And then…in the distance, I heard a lone trumpet. As if it were at the top of a hill. And then another trumpet. And another. And another. A real fanfare, as if heralding an army that was heading my way. And the trumpets got louder, and louder, until they damn near filled my head. A fanfare with no end. And then…then your eyes shone yellow, yellow like the gleam of sunlight on brass, just like what I had seen before but right in front of me now. I felt like I was looking into the sun itself. Too bright to look into. Blinding. Painful. But I couldn’t look away. I didn’t want to. As long as the trumpets sounded. As long as that was the only sound in my head.”

◊◊ OH WOW. UM. DIDN’T THINK I WAS THAT GRANDIOSE. ◊◊

“I’m sorry that…that I subjected you to the things in my head. I got more out of it than you did. You got the chance to understand a bit more of what’s going on, I guess.”

◊◊ JOCASTA. ◊◊

“What?”

◊◊ I WOULD GLADLY LOOK INTO YOUR HEAD FOR HOURS IF IT MEANT YOU COULD SPEND THOSE HOURS IN PEACE. JILL. I SAY THE SAME FOR YOU. I AM SORRY THAT THE THINGS IN MY HEAD ARE ALSO DIFFICULT TO ENDURE. I WISH IT WERE NOT SO. I WISH I COULD GIVE YOU BOTH BETTER REST. AND I WISH FOR ONE MORE THING. ◊◊

“Oh,” said Jill, “What might that be?”

◊◊ FOR THE SCHOOL TO HIRE A GODDAMN THERAPIST. ◊◊

“Damn straight,” said Jocasta. She lifted Sparrow off of her. Then she rolled out of bed and stretched. “Would have helped me out years ago. Or been someone to talk to, I guess. Not much the poor sod could do about my home life, when we’re talking about a wealthy pureblood family. Connections, and all that. You know how it is. The kind of people who aren’t ruined by losing one house or even two or all of them.”

“Hey,” said Jill, “don’t make me angry while I’m still in bed. I might set the covers on fire.” She rolled out of bed and went over to the trunk in the corner, lifting it up to retrieve the wand she had stored there. She held it tightly in her trembling hand, then closed her eyes, breathed in deeply, then let out a long breath. Her hand stopped trembling.

“You look like you’re getting a handle on that thing,” said Jocasta, as she donned her school robes. “Even without the Fetching Stick.”

Jill tossed her school robes on rather roughly. “Bit by bit, yes.”

◊◊ JOCASTA – I’M SORRY ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED LAST NIGHT. ◊◊

“Goodness,” said Jocasta. “You apologize twice. Surely I was the one who gave you pain?”

◊◊ YOU WARNED ME IT WOULD COME. YOU LET ME BRACE MYSELF. BUT THEN – IN THE VERY ACT OF RESISTING SUCH PAIN, I GAVE YOU PAIN YOU DID NOT EXPECT. I AM SORRY. YOU ASKED ME TO BE A SOFT PLACE TO LAND, AND IN THAT MOMENT I FAILED YOU. ◊◊

“Pain,” said Jocasta. “Hm. You know, I did mention that I was into it.”

◊◊ HEY. I SPECIFICALLY TOLD YOU, NO GETTING KINKY. ◊◊

Mrrowr.

◊◊ STOP THAT! BAD GIRL! ◊◊

“I guess I’m being naughty, aren’t I?”

◊◊ ARGH! ◊◊

Jill chuckled. “Sparrow, think about it this way.”

◊◊ THINK ABOUT IT WHAT WAY! ◊◊

“Jocasta already tossed one of her biggest secrets to you last November, right? And then at the Yule Ball you tossed a big secret to her? Specifically because both of you were apparently so desperate to trust each other that you shoved your hearts into each other’s hands and acted like it was all a cynical ploy so you could pretend either of you knew what you were doing?”

◊◊ UM. ◊◊

“And then Jocasta lets you look at the magical manifestation of her own horrible personal history that she hasn’t ever wanted to explain to anyone besides me?”

◊◊ UM. ◊◊

“What the hell makes you think you’re not a soft place to land?”

◊◊ THE INCREDIBLY LOUD FANFARE AND BRIGHT LIGHT FROM MY EYES THAT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I’M ACTING LIKE SOME WORLD-CONQUERING HERO THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO GET CLOSE TO? ◊◊

“Ah,” said Jocasta. “I can certainly get close to you. More often, if you’d like.”

◊◊ WHEN WOULD I NOT LIKE, IS THE QUESTION. ◊◊

“Well, let me know either way. As it is…Yes, I have felt for quite a while that I had no need to worry about you fulfilling the request I made. I think I made it in the first place because I thought it was something you had already been doing!”

◊◊ ALREADY? ◊◊

“Ever since that Sunday on the walkway. Like Jill said. I tossed my heart to you and you caught it.”

◊◊ OH. YEAH. FUNNY HOW MUCH OF OUR PRESENT LIVES BEGAN FROM THAT LEAP OF FAITH. AND YOU HAD A SOFT LANDING THEN, EH? ◊◊

“Bingo. And then there was the fiasco with the Forbidden Forest, and…and then you gave me a very hard place to land. Ow.”

◊◊ YEAH THAT WAS A DUMB IDEA FOR A LOT OF REASONS. ◊◊

“Well. You can imagine how much I wanted to help you get back to what you had been. So I took the opportunity at the Yule Ball to warn you about the dark road you might go down. And yet…and yet that very evening, you put your heart in my hands.” She waved her wand at her hair, which gathered itself in a bun at the base of her head. Then she knelt upon the bed, and leant forward, lightly resting her forehead on Sparrow’s.

THAT IS WHY YOU ALSO HEARD MY CRY, ON MY EVENING OF GREATEST PERIL.

◊◊ THEN I AM GLAD I CAN BE HERE FOR YOU WHEN YOU NEED ME. ALTHOUGH…AS MUCH AS WE HAVE SPOKEN ABOUT ME BECOMING AN ANIMAGUS…I NEVER ASKED YOU HOW YOU FELT ABOUT YOUR SITUATION, DID I? NEVER TOOK THE TIME. ◊◊

YOU MEAN, BESIDES THE PART WHERE YOU GATHERED EVERYONE INTO A SPACE WHERE THEY FINALLY FELT COMFORTABLE TALKING ABOUT THEIR PAINFUL PERSONAL HISTORIES?

◊◊ YEAH BUT THAT WASN’T…ME AND YOU. CLOSE BUT NOT PERSONAL. ◊◊

FAIR ENOUGH. BUT WE HAVE TIME NOW. PLENTY OF TIME.

◊◊ THE REST OF OUR LIVES? ◊◊

IF YOU WILL IT.

◊◊ I DO. ◊◊

AS DO I.

††††† WAIT, DID YOU TWO JUST MARRY EACH OTHER? †††††

DAMMIT. I MOVE TOO FAST.

◊◊ YEAH, YOU MIGHT WANT TO HOLD OFF UNTIL WE CAN ACTUALLY MAKE IT OFFICIAL AND DELIBERATE AND ALL. ◊◊

AS YOU WISH.

††††† AND LET ME KNOW IF THERE’S ROOM FOR ONE MORE. †††††

◊◊ I DON’T KNOW, JILL, IF YOU WANT TO JUMP IN WE WOULD NEED ROOM FOR TWO MORE. ◊◊

††††† I DO. †††††

Jill clambered onto the bed and draped herself over the two in a big hug, then rolled over, dragging Sparrow and Jocasta with her, so that they wound up splayed over her, and none of them minded it at all.

◊◊ SO YOU BOTH THINK THIS WILL WORK? ◊◊

††††† I THINK WE CAN MAKE IT WORK. †††††

I THINK IT’S CLEAR THAT WE TRUST EACH OTHER ENOUGH TO MAKE IT WORK.

◊◊ THAT SETTLES THAT THEN. I’LL SEE WHERE I CAN FIND SOME PROPER RINGS. ◊◊

“Oh wonderful,” said Jocasta. “Some nice diamond rings.”

“Nope,” said Jill. “In these trying times, we must think of frugality. You get wood.”

Jocasta suddenly had a wicked gleam in her eye. “I have that already, don’t I, in a manner of speaking.”

“What do you – dammit, I set that one up like a bowling pin didn’t I.”

“Not sure what you’re referring to, but yes. Now if you will please excuse me.” She rolled off of Jill and sat up straight. “Sparrow, would you like me to get close to you now?" 

Sparrow nodded.

"Then let us begin today's lesson."

Jocasta’s reputation for lust was well-founded, and yet not quite to the level some people assumed. She would not venture under any bit of cloth, nor over every possible area of the human body, at least in Sparrow’s experience, for, as Jocasta had said, both subjects were part of next year’s curriculum, and Sparrow had not yet passed her oral exam. But of the areas of Sparrow she was willing to go, Sparrow returned each attention in kind, by now having mastered a few subjects, such that in this, at the very least, she could claim to be a model student.

“Pause a moment,” said Jill.

Sparrow and Jocasta paused, and turned to Jill with curious eyes.

"You are disrupting the lesson," said Jocasta.

"I just wanted to give you my extra-credit work, that's all."

"And that would be..."

Jill tapped her lips once, then did the same for Sparrow, then for Jocasta.

Jocasta’s eyes grew wide. She and Sparrow nodded vigorously.

When it came to Jill’s mastery of the current subject, Sparrow presumed that she must have been studying very well indeed, for a kiss from Jill was rather like grading the tests for a first-year herbology class and seeing one sheet filled with a treatise on the proper care of Fanged Geranium. Something to leave you sitting there in a daze.

When Sparrow shook her head and remembered where she was, she saw Jill stepping out the door backwards, a wicked grin on her face.