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Strawberry Panic - Next Generation

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The brunette girl shielded her eyes from the sunlight, as she walked up the hill. Her curiousity almost got the better of her and she used all of her self-restraint to not break into a dead run. Today was her first day at Astrea Hill and an official student of St.Miator Girls Academy. As a director of several hospitals all over Japan, her father wanted his daughter to recieve only the best education and had deemed Miator the perfect place for her to recieve it.

Her...the 14-year-old Sakuragi Hinata.

Hinata still could not rid herself of the thought that this was not the reason, her father had sent her to Miator. At least not completely...on instinct her hand went to the pink ribbon which was neatly tied into her hair. Her father had told Hinata that this ribbon had once belonged to her sickly aunt Kaori who had gone to Miator as well, before she had passed away at the same age, Hinata was now. The thought was a bit frightening, especially considering the fact that her father and many relatives had often to told her that she bore a striking resemblance to the late young girl.
No...she was not going to go any deeper into this. She did not believe in that kind of stuff. She did not believe in mystical curses or anything like that. She was most certainly NOT plagued by the same illness that had stolen away her aunt's life so early and she was most certainly not going to fall to some curse, just because she and her aunt bore some similarities.
Rushed footsteps pulled Hinata out of her thoughts. A girl who seemed a bit older than her and was wearing the uniform of Miator was dashing at her at full speed.

"Hide me please!", she almost seemed to beg.

Hinata had no idea what was going on. To this girl she must've seemed like a random passerby, as she was not even wearing her Miator Uniform yet. She was clothed in the uniform of her former middle school. Before she had any chance to ask questions though, the older girl grabbed her by the hand and pulled her into the bushes. Hinatas captor did not slow down though. Quite the opposite acutally...she seemed to put on more and more speed.

"What is that all about?", Hinata demanded to know.

The girl seemed to have the intention of slowing down and explaining things, but she never got the chance to as she tripped over a root and pulled Hinata down with her, while she fell. Not only that, but they also fell a long way downwards and it was about as comfortable as a fall down a beaten path could get...it was not comfortable at all. Suddenly the girls came to a halt though and Hinata was crushed into the silverettes embrace. Apperantly the girl had made sure that she was the one hitting the cold hard ground, instead of Hinata. For a moment Hinata lingered...it was actually nice like that. A warm fluffy wave crashed trough Hinatas chest. Unfortunately the moment ended too soon, as the older girl tapped her shoulder.

"You okay?", she asked and Hinata was quick to roll off of her.

"Why did you do that?", Hinata demanded to know from the girl.

The elder one pouted at that energetic response.

"Ya know kitten, even if it was never my intention to toss us down that path, I was the one who had it worse. Normally you would at least say thank you!", she argued back.

"I...must seem ungrateful. I apologize for that...nothing could be further from the truth.", Hinata replied, feeling bad for how she responded to the rescue attempt.

"But why kitten?", the Sakuragi daughter asked more calmly.

"I don't know your name.", the silverette returned her comment, as if it was all there was to it and she sounded like she wanted to ask "Isn't that obvious?".

"Oh...sorry. I'm Sakuragi Hinata.", Hinata introduced herself and attempted to get up.

Unfortunately that attempt was cut short, as the younger girl had skinned her knee during the fall. The expression of the older girl switched from a pout to genuine concern and guilt, as she had never intended to drag the 14-year-old into this and by making herself hit the ground first, she had actually intended to prevent this from happening.

"Oh dear...", the girl whispered and stepped towards Hinata.

She had a hankerchief in her left hand and inspected the wound...after plucking out little twig pieces, she tied said hankerchief around the wound.

"I never intended for this to happen...oh...by the way my name is Hanazono Naho. I'm in my fifth year at Miator.", the girl finally introduced herself.

Naho got up and brushed of imaginary dirt from her uniform. Afterwards she reached out to pull up Hinata. The younger girls step was a little bit quaky. Naho tried to get her up the path they fell down from, but after 3 tries she gave up.

"It's no use. There is no way you can walk like this.", Naho sighed.

"Hanazono-sama...I'll...", Hinata began to stutter.

"Just call me Naho kitten. This formal business is just so stiff and after that...well...ya know...", the fifth year shrugged.

The daughter of the Sakuragi clan was deeply moved at the older girls actions, because there wasn't just someone arrogant and reckless in front of her right now. The Miator fifth year seemed to be caring, nurturing, compassionate and quite chivalrous too. She did not know what to say.

"So be it...", the fifth year resigned, before she simply swiped up Hinata in a princess-carry.

The brunette was quite surprised at the turn of events and blushed at the thought of being seen like that. Naho did not seem to mind though as she confidently walked onward with Hinata in her arms. Soon they were out of the woods and close to other students of Astrea Hill. Girls of Miator, Spica and Lulim saw Naho carrying Hinata and it caused quite the commotion. Girls began to whisper and point at the scene. Some of them were even taking photographs. Even if the attention was not malicious, Hinata did NOT enjoy that.

"The look on her face is just priceless.", one girl began to gush.

"Yeah right?", another gushed.

"I wonder who she is.", a Spica fourth year asked.

"I've never seen someone so in love before.", a second year from the same school dropped the bomb.

Hinata blushed madly after this one sentence and wondered when her skin would be of the same color as an overcooked lobster. The warm and fuzzy feeling she had when lying on top over Naho after their fall was back at full force, but it was mixed with embarassment this time. Tenderly she tugged at the black dress that was Miators uniform, which Naho was wearing.

"Naho-sama...they're all staring at us.", Hinata whispered.

"Hmph...let them stare.", the silverette huffed.

Without any hesitation she carried Hinata all the way to the building that looked more like a convent than a school. Apperantly this was the school building of Miator.

"Welcome to Miator my lady.", Naho whispered, but she made no attempt of putting her down.

No...actually she carried her all the way to the tailors, where she was supposed to recieve her uniform. The woman working there and accepting requests for new school clothing, apperantly a teacher, greeted the pair with an annoyed expression.

"What did you do this time Hanazono-san?", she groaned.

Nahos face fell into the same pout again, as she let Hinata down and helped her limp over to the counter, where the teacher was sitting at.

"What do you want? People around here always call me reckless and irresponsible...it was my fault she got hurt and this is me taking responisibility.", the fifth year griped back.

The teacher choked back a giggle, before she went through her papers and looked around for the names of students who had yet to recieve their uniforms.

"Ah...there. Sakuragi Hinata-san, the student transferring into the fourth year of Miator.", the women said and then told Hinata to come with her.

"May we meet again.", the elder girl whispered and turned to leave, but Hinata held her back.

"Your hankerchief...", she exclaimed, but Naho only raised her eyebrows.

"Oh...you can keep it kitten. I have another one.", was all Naho said afterwards.

After this, she was gone and Hinata followed after the teacher who fondly shook her head at the scene that had just played out before her.

 

With a gentle smile, Hinata brushed over the black dress for what seemed like the twelvth time. She was wandering the hall of Miator, clutching the hankerchief, that had been tied around her skinned knee before, in one hand. It was of course covered in dried blood now, so the brunette planned to wash it, before returning it to the seemingly really popular upperclasswoman. She was only ripped out of her thoughts, after being approached by a blackheaded girl who was about her age.

"Excuse me? You are Sakuragi Hinata-san right?", the girl asked.

"Yes.", the brunette confirmed and watched, as the face of the other girl lit up.

"Well then...it is nice to meet you. I have been told that a new girl transferred into the fourth year...a girl named Sakuragi Hinata. My name is Rokujou Ayame by the way.", Hinatas apparent new roommate introduced herself with a happy smile, before holding out her hand for Hinata to shake.

"It is a pleasure. I hope we have good year together.", Hinata returned the greeting with a smile and shook Ayames hand.

"Let us proceed to the auditorium. The opening ceremony is about to begin.", Ayame suggested haste, after checking her pocket watch.

Hinata bit back a giggle. What an old-fashioned girl, but with the way she held herself, it seemed like her upbringing had been anything but humble. Many people had already come togehter at the auditorium, as the two fourth years reached the place. Ayame turned to Hinata again, after their arrival.

"I am a member of the student council, so I must be on stage during the ceremony. Please take a seat, before the president arrives.", she explained to her.

Was it just Hinata or did the voice of her roommate almost sound begrudging? As if she did not want to be on the stage during the ceremony. She lacked the time to ask Ayame about it though, as the blackhead had already left to go to the student council of Miator. It did not take long for her to find a seat...soon after that an elegant and aloof looking girl had mounted the stage. Apperantly she was the student council president of Miator, who seemingly had made it her goal to make the students snooze of, rather than inspire them. The first years were sitting right in front of the stage, two of them were already snuggled together sleeping and Hinata probably would've joined them, despite her best efforts, if it had not been for the elbow which was shoved into her side.

"Did I tell you kitten? This year my little sister starts too. She's the little redheaded snoozer over there...Hanazono Anyu.", Naho explained, while pointing at one of the snoozing first years.

They looked nothing alike though. She had barely even seen Naho sitting down next to her. For a moment Hinata said nothing, but then she reconized the intense stare, Naho was giving the studentcouncil president of Miator. It wasn't a fond look though.

"You would be wise to heed this warning, if you want to survive here at Miator: If you ever fall in love you wanna watch out for Suzumi Tsukiko. I have no idea what happened, but apperantly she has been known to crush so many budding romances here at Astrea Hill...for some reason the Miator girls are not allowed to fall in love in her eyes.", the silverette explained.

The girl with the pink ribbon flinched at the serious tone of her senpai. Only then did she figure out that the intense gaze was returned by the purpleheaded student council president of Miator.

"It seems like she has a problem with me in particular.", Naho added and laughed about it.

How could she though? Wasn't the student council supposed to be respected? Naho must've noticed her worried gaze, since she laughed some more.

"Don't worry about me though kitten. Suzumi can not harm me.", Naho whispered and tapped the pendant with a blue stone, she was wearing. Hinata gasped quietly as she knew the meaning of this pendant and suddenly she understood why Hanazono Naho was so popular with everyone at Astrea Hill. This girl was the figurehead of Astrea Hill as her late aunt had been back in the day. The one girl everyone looked up to. The Étoile. On second thought though...wasn't there supposed to be a significant other? A wearer of the red pendant? Hinata had not seen any girl wear it though. She decided to save that question for later. The ceremony was coming to an end and as soon as the first students rose, Naho did so too and held out her hand for Hinata to take.

"I still have some time left, before I have to greet the first years at the Strawberry dorms. So...will you let me be the one to show you around? You seem know your way around Miator, but there is still much left to see.", Naho offered.

A part of Hinata wanted to refuse and politely tell the Étoile that she would find her way around by herself. Another part of her asked her, why she would do that. Was she intimidated by the fact that Naho was the Étoile? Maybe...it seemed almost like blasphemy to talk so casually to the figurehead of all three schools. Still...she wanted to spend time with Hanazono Naho. There were so many things she wanted to say and she was kindly offering to show her around Astrea Hill.

"Alright...", Hinata croaked then and accepted the hand offered to her.

She was lead out of the auditorium by Naho, who did not let go off her hand until after they had left the schoolbuilding. Naho had said said that this had been necessary to stop Hinata from getting lost in the crowd of black dresses. While she was shown around, she learned about most of the rules of the Strawberry Dorm and Astrea Hill in general, including the fact that Astrea Hill was sacred land and thus the entrance of men there was prohibited. She could not understand it, as that would give radical man-hating girls, yes she knew that those girls often existed at catholic girls schools, more canon-fodder. Was that supposed to mean that girls were pure and innocent and sullied by the male gender?

Naho ended her tour at the library of Astrea Hills, but as it was the place of many romantic encounters, which were better kept secret, the place was called "The Secret Garden" by the students. Apperantly mystical titles were really a big deal here. Strawberry Dorm, the official name was Astrea Dorm, sounded cute and Secret Garden had something mystical, secluded and safe to it.

"And this concludes our tour. I can not believe it took that small ammount of time.", Naho laughed.

Hinata wanted to kick herself. She had barely said anything and let Naho take the lead. It had not taken Naho that long to show Hinata around though...now they were sitting outside the library.

"Naho-sama...why...you said your sister was starting and...", Hinata began.

"And you wanna know, why we look nothing alike right? It is because...we have birth different mothers. We live with two women we both consider our mothers. Each birthed one of us.", Naho explained.

"My mothers met here at Miator. It is one reason Anyu and I ended up here kitten.", the fifth year went on, before letting out a sigh.

"It was really a mess when my birth mother brought her girlfriend home for the first time. The Hanazono family is quite wealthy ya know and mostly cling to certain standarts, including the whole "same-sex-until-graduation"-thing. In Japans High-Society you end up at places, like Miator, quite often, when you're still a young girl...and everything romantic between girls is something strictly bound to school days. It's accepted, but taken no further. You're counted as a fool, if you hope for more. You learn not to...", she sighed.

"What happened in the end?", Hinata asked.

"You don't know my mother.", Naho chuckled.

"At the end of the day...she wanted to reveal all of the dirty little secrets of the Hanazono line to the press. You wouldn't believe the scandal some of those secrets would cause. It was easier to just let her do as she pleased."

It was not so different from the Sakuragi family. Her parents were the best example...the marriage had been arranged for them...nevermind that they seemed to loathe each other. Hinata had no idea which one of her parents should have had the strength to do as Naho's birth mother did...she knew that she never could do that.

"Oh really? That looked different a few moments ago...", the girl beside her chuckled and Hinata blushed as she realized that she had said that last part out loud.

Hinatas blush deepened. This girl really was impossible! Said person rose the next moment and brushed dust off her skirt. It seemed to be a habit.

"I must prepare to greet the first years now. You should return to the Strawberry Dorms as well. But...one last thing: Don't let yourself be shuffled around by Rokujou Ayame too badly, or the crybaby is going to misunderstand that.", Naho said and then the Étoile was gone.

Hinata rose herself and stared into the sky. She understood the tense relationship between Suzumi Tsukiko and Hanazono Naho, not completely but at least to some extent, but at least to some extent. Still...she could not understand the far from kind words Naho had uttered about Rokujou Ayame. She was brought out of her deep thinking, as her head made contact with rock.

"Ouch.", she muttered.

Without noticing it, she had walked all the way to the Strawberry Dorms. She quietly slipped inside. Many students had already come. While some were keeping themselves busy with unpacking their stuff, others were talking and catching up about the summer with friends.
Hinata took notice of a few certain special girls, but she quickly reconized Hanazono Anyu, who was with two other Miator girls. Those girls were chatting excitedly about the greeting of the Étoile. Was it already over or had it yet to take place? Another girl she took notice of was a Spica student who seemed to be about the same age as her. Blond curly hair and surrounded by a cluster of admirerers, but the blond girl seemed to be quite uncomfortable in her position.
Another few she noticed were a group of three who apperantly went to Lulim. One seemed to be about Naho's age, while the others were younger. The fifth year told them to drop the "sama" in the same way Naho had told her to do. The fifth year seemed to be some sort of popular star at her school, as the Lulim girls voices were dropping to whispers as she passed by with her two young protegés.
It took her a while to get up to the room, which she was supposed to share with Rokujou Ayame. As she opened the door, her roommate was already there, getting her stuff in. It did not take long for the student council member to take notice of her.

"Oh...welcome back.", Ayame greeted her.

"I am back.", Hinata returned the greeting politely and stepped into the room.

"Your old clothes ended up here, a few minutes after I came. I took the liberty of placing them on your bed.", her roommate said and pointed to the empty bed.

"Thank you.", Hinata replied, before going for her own moving boxes.

After a few minutes of work Ayame spoke up again.

"You know...I can barely contain my excitement.", she laughed quietly.

"Rokujou-san...", she whispered.

"Just call me Ayame. We are roommates, so it is only appropriate that we call each other by our first names. We will be spending a long time together after all.", the blackhead replied.

"Were you...on your own, before I came?", Hinata tried to start a conversation.

"I was, but it was by choice. You see, if there is an uneven ammount of students, one ends up being on her own, if she wants to, but if this is not the case, she is normally squared away with older or younger girls, who are in the same position. You can choose, if you want to take this opportunity or stay on your own, until a transfer student comes. Still...the second method is greatly encouraged due to...certain incidents.", her roommate explained her situation.

"Not that I do not want you here...I am happy to finally have a roommate. It gets rather lonely...", Ayame began to stutter then.

"I did not think that way, I promise.", Hinata tried to calm the flustered girl down.

"But...certain incidents?", she asked then and tried to steer the subject away from the awkwardness that had come up.

"I don't know. My mother and other friends of the family called it a dark stain on the history of Astrea Hill. I tried to ask for specifics, but all my mother said that this was before my time.", the daughter of the Rokujou family explained.

"Okay...well...the president of the student council...", Hinata began, but Ayame raised her hand to stop her, before she could get any further.

"Please do not get me started on her. She is of course respected as the student council president, but no one at Miator or all of Astrea Hill is particularily fond of her, myself included.", Ayame mumbled.

"Some people even say that the incidents that make people encourage the girls, who winded up alone when it came to dorm rooms, somehow tie in with the president, but that was so long ago. Before she even ended up at Miator or before she was even born.", she added then.

Hinata could only nod at that. She was put off at getting herself involved into this any further, but if she were to fall in love here, it was not avoidable and a small part of her was even curious about the incidents. Maybe it could even be tied in with the poor relationship the resident Étoile had with the president of the student council. Unnoticed by Ayame, Hinata slapped her cheeks to get herself back into reality. Snooping around would not be good for her in the long run and on top of it all she had almost tripped over a book on the floor, due to the fact that she was so lost in thought.
She instantly regretted picking up the book though, as the cover showed two half-naked men and their position was everything if not compromising.

"Ummm...Ayame-chan, is that yours?", Hinata asked carefully.

Only now her roommate seemed to realize what Hinata was holding there and began to blush madly.

"Ahh...give that here!", she screamed and snatched the book from her roommate's hands, clutching it to her chest, while looking at Hinata in embarassed anger.