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Seventeen Years

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Darcy pulled on the red pajama top fast, only taking off her bra from underneath it. This whole changing-around-others thing was going to take awhile to get used to. As an only child, her privacy had been normal; as an Omega, her privacy had been protected; and as of six months ago, she’d been expecting to go to the nearest International Baccalaureate school this year, not a boarding school. And certainly not a magical boarding school.

So, she reflected, as she grabbed the black sleep pants off the armchair next to her trunk and tugged them on, she had plenty of reasons to be uncomfortable. Not least of which was that it was a September night in frickin’ Scotland and she was standing on a stone floor, where the hell had her mom packed her slippers?

She glanced as surreptitiously as she could at the other two Omegas of her year, who had both been born into magical families, as she’d learned earlier. The other girl, she couldn’t help noticing, didn’t even need to wear a bra yet, lucky cow. And the boy reminded her of someone, but she couldn't seem to place who for the life of her…. Darcy also saw they were both pulling on socks, not slippers, so she grabbed a pair of her own.

Thus dressed, and having performed her evening bathroom ablutions earlier (while still wearing shoes, again, stone floor, didn’t they have a spell for that?) she followed Nicola and Liam through the door opposite the one they’d entered through. The spiral staircase was wider and the steps more shallow than she had expected. Eventually they ducked through a curtain and into a large, dimly lit room.

Still nervous about what awaited her here, she quickly glanced backward to make sure she’d be able to recognize the door when she needed it again. Thankfully, above the doorway was a sign with large, friendly lettering: “1 - O.” The bright red curtain, discernible even in this light, was no help, of course, as they were all identical.

She took a breath as she turned back to the center of the room, and the sea of black and red pajamas and yellow-gold pillows. It was large, and oblong, with several nooks and crannies on the other side under the windows. The floor was quite squashy and even seemed warm, but that could just be the change from the cold stone floor of the stairs. She pressed down a bit with her toes as an experiment and was pleased to note the gentle give to it. It felt like what she’d heard about nest flooring, which certainly made sense.

Getting used to any new pack was going to be difficult, and she understood why Hogwarts had chosen to cut through the worst of things and enhance packbond from the start with the classic pup-pile method of sleeping. But aside from a handful of sleepovers and one very odd week at sleepaway camp when she was nine (which, looking back, might have been a hint to her magical ability, if she’d been in an imaginative mood at the time) it wasn’t something she had much personal experience with.

At all. Erm.

But the rest of her Housemates - and as of tomorrow, packmates - seemed relaxed enough. She’d been sorted into Gryffindor, after all, she could do this. It wouldn’t be that bad. She knew about the charms in the sleepwear that would keep her from getting too cold, if she went without physical contact; or from embarrassing herself or others, if she did end up cuddled with someone.

Still though, she’d rather not test how warm the pajamas could keep her if she didn’t have to, so she looked around for friendly faces. Nicola and Liam were nice enough, but had beelined right for the Betas of their year, and she’d heard one of those make a snooty comment about Muggleborns earlier. The two first year Alphas had seemed harmless enough, for Alphas, but had been gathered by the younger Prefects and were being given a stern talking to, which looked fairly rehearsed. At least judging by the two redheaded boys, seated not far away, who were mouthing along with it and adding what were probably unnecessary gestures.

Actually they looked rather friendly, and - she gave a quick sniff - at least one of them was also an Omega. The pajamas kept the more… embarrassing… physical reactions from notice, but basic scenting was not so easily outmaneuvered. She grabbed a pillow from the bin in the wall, marched over to the redheaded boys, and bedded down next to them in quick, and she hoped practiced-looking, movements.

It had been an extraordinarily long day, from the station, to the train, to the boats, to the Sorting and the feast, to her changing room, and now this. She blinked out like an electric light almost immediately, just barely catching one of the boys whispering to the other, “Who’s she, then?”

*

When she woke, which must have been hours and hours later, given how wonderfully rested and lazy she felt, despite not having heard the waking bell, she was warm and very comfortable indeed. Her pillow had only gotten warmer in the night, and she blindly snuggled into it for a moment - before it moved and she heard an indrawn breath not her own.

Her eyes snapped open and she saw red. Not anger-red. Pajama-top-red, instead of the yellow-gold she had expected. She was on top of someone. She was on top of a boy. She was on top of an Alpha boy and holy shit, pup-pile or no, her mom was going to kill her if she got a reputation as a cuddleslut her first night in a new school.

“‘Morning,” she heard from above her head. All right, she could do this, she was a Gryffindor. She pushed herself up carefully - noting her hands were on the floor, she’d been wrapped completely around him like an octopus - and looked up.

It was the younger redheaded boy. He didn’t look displeased, but he wasn’t leering either. He had a slightly bemused grin, and she noted his red hair just curled at the ends, before their eyes met.

CLICK. It was like - she would spend years trying to describe what it was like. For the moment she settled on, like an hourglass in her brain turning over, or possibly just an earth-shattering quake through her nervous system. She knew what this was, she’d heard it described in health class last year. They had Matched.

His eyes were a friendly denim blue, like her favorite pair of acid-washed jeans, currently in her trunk upstairs despite her mom’s protests. He had freckles, lots of them, and he looked about as startled as she felt, the grin on his face a pale shadow of what it had been a moment ago.

The waking bell rang. Darcy rolled off him in surprise, but he gently caught one of her wrists as she went, and held it as he sat up. “Charles Weasley. Charlie.” And he let his hand slide down until he was holding hers, as if they’d just met in the hall and were introducing themselves. The rush from the slide of his skin against hers, even just that little bit of skin-to-skin contact, made her blush.

“Darcy Lewis.” She took another breath, and noticed the boy’s - Charlie’s - friend looking at them, confused. “We just… you felt that too, right?”

Charlie smiled, slowly. “Yes, I did. We Matched.”

The older redheaded boy twitched. “You what? Charlie, she’s a first year.”

Charlie didn’t let his eyes leave hers for a moment, and despite the conflicting emotions rushing around in her head, she let herself triumph in that. “It's not like this was planned, Bill.” He cocked his head towards the other Omega, but was obviously speaking to her again. “That’s my brother, Bill, he’s a fourth year & an Omega. My younger siblings aren’t here yet. I’m in second year.”

“Oh. I’m, um, an only child.”

“Not anymore,” Bill snorted. Perhaps not as quietly as he’d thought. She’d think about that later. “C’mon, you Matched, we have to tell the Head. Professor McGonagall. She has no patience for layabouts. Let’s get going.”

Charlie neatly went from sitting, to kneeling, to standing, all while never letting go of her hand. She felt much clumsier for her own part, but to his credit, he didn't seem to notice, lacing their fingers together so their wrist pulse points touched.

And suddenly she was even warmer and blushing again as Charlie pulled a curtain aside for her. She was really going to have to get this under control if they were going to see Professor McGonagall, that lady was scary. She wasn't panicking, exactly, she realized as they walked up innumerable stairs. There were just so many emotions rushing around inside her, she couldn't sort them all out. She'd Matched. At eleven. Which was ridiculous. She could hear her mom laughing at the italics she was using, even in her own brain, but she didn't care. Practically no one Matched at eleven, most people didn't Match for the first time, if at all, until they were adults - 18, or 20, something reasonable like that.

You didn't Match this young unless you were just unbelievably perfect for each other. Just unbelievably… he was still holding her hand. Charlie. Charlie, who was unbelievably…. See, now her blush was just increasing, this was the part of being an Omega she hated. The hormones and the constant swirl of emotions, angst and embarrassment and temper, and she was just barely starting puberty, it was only going to get worse from here on out.

She felt a gentle pressure on her hand, and glanced over to see Charlie, still smiling gently at her. Right, he could probably smell her emotional mess. Bill was a good half-flight ahead of them now. Oh, sod it, they'd Matched, she had an Alpha now, this is what Alphas were for, and it didn't look like he'd mind.

She used their clasped hands to tug him closer, stepped in front of him to wrap her other arm around his shoulder, and dropped her face into the side of his neck, where it met the shoulder, as quickly as she could. Then she took a slow, deep breath in through her nose.

Oh, that was fantastic. No wonder people did this. All the bells and whistles stopped, she could breathe properly again, and every muscle in her body relaxed as she melted into him. It only got better as Charlie wrapped his free arm around her back to put his hand at the nape of her neck and hold her close. Alphas were wonderful. Her Alpha was wonderful. She had an Alpha!

“Oi, you two, we're on a schedule here!” She might have to murder her Alpha's brother, though. Shame.

The look on Charlie's face as she reluctantly pulled away told her he absolutely sympathized, which was a plus, even if she had to stop snuggling him for the moment. His grin was so cute, she couldn't believe how cute her Alpha was, he was just….

He was just squeezing her hand again. Right, stairs, Head of House, yes. She turned and determinedly tugged him up the stairs after her, though he came even with her in a few steps. She realized he didn't seem to talk much. That was alright, he'd find out soon enough she could talk enough for both of them, easily.

When they finally reached Professor McGonagall's office, she gave the three of them a brisk once over before enquiring of Bill, “Well, Mr. Weasley, what brings you here so early, without an appointment?”

He told her. She sat down, rather hard, in her desk chair.

After a moment, she said, as though to herself, “Seventeen years without a first year Matching. Hufflepuff, quite their line, really. Even that was halfway through the term, the Headmaster said. But on the first night?”

Charlie cleared his throat a bit. “Technically, it was this morning, ma'am.”

“This morning, yes.” She seemed to get ahold of herself. “Well, it's been several months since I've had this talk, and then it was with a couple quite a bit older than you. You had both better sit down, I'll order us some breakfast as you're not going to make it to the Great Hall in time. Thank you, Mr. Weasley,” she said to Bill, “you may go. Now, where did I put those pamphlets?”

Bill left. They were lectured at, pointedly, if not unkindly. There were indeed pamphlets, many of them, and quite a lot of new rules as well.

Charlie, somehow, never once let go of her hand. Darcy felt she would have been so much more at sea if he had.

Eventually they were let go, with their class schedules and a handful of pamphlets each. Their parents would be notified and would likely send them each letters soon. Professor McGonagall then gave them strict instructions to dress and head for their first class, which they should reach in time provided they didn't lollygag too much.

Darcy would have paused in wonder at the idea of an adult using the word “lollygag” in that serious of a tone, but they evidently didn't have time for that. They paused briefly where the three changing room corridors met, as Charlie would go down one and Darcy another.

Charlie squeezed her hand again. “I'll - I'll see you at lunch, yeah?”

“Yes! Yes. Of course.” Darcy hadn't meant for her voice to squeak like that, but the uncertainty in Charlie's voice had thrown her a bit. They'd barely known each other ninety minutes, but she'd never seen a hint of uncertainty in him in that time.

But now that warm smile was back. “Great. I'll see you then.” He squeezed her hand once more, and then loosened his grip - but she hung on just a moment longer. When she did let go, he raised a single fingertip to trace her jawline. “Darcy,” he whispered, “may I?”

Instead of answering with words, she took a half step toward him and raised her face to his. Her eyes fluttered shut as his lips brushed hers, once, then again. His lips were warm and a little chapped, and somehow she knew he only allowed himself a hint of what he wanted - she was in the same place herself.

But, oh, she could not wait to do that again.

*

Moments later, at her trunk, she was stuffing the pamphlets into her backpack to peruse later when she saw her schedule and realized - her first class that morning was Transfiguration, with Professor McGonagall. Who had already warned her not to be late. And she still needed to shower. “Oh, Merlin,” she muttered to herself as she dashed for the (thankfully empty) showers. How was she going to manage this?

Just less than half an hour later, bag in some disarray, hair shoved into a wet bun, and a tie she was almost certain she had somehow knotted wrong, she stumbled into the Transfiguration classroom just as the bell rang. She might be the last student in, but she was on time, and Professor McGonagall's brief glance didn't quite merit the description of disapproving, so she counted this a victory.

Mercifully, today's class was apparently just lecture, on the dangers and difficulties of Transfiguration. She took notes as best she could, as quill and parchment were clearly going to take some getting used to. She could feel the glances and outright stares of her packmates, and eventually the Ravenclaws as well. Various scraps of paper were traded around the room when the Professor wasn't looking, but none of them came to her. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw Nicola mouth the word, “Matched!” to one of the Ravenclaws, though her approving grin at Darcy a moment later was more than welcome.

The sneer on the face of the snooty Beta she'd noted yesterday - Ditterly? Dittings? Wilberforce? - as he mouthed, “A Weasley,” to his seatmate, was less welcome. But then, if - Dithering! that was it - disapproved, that could only speak well of Charlie. Nothing, certainly not a snooty Beta, could ruin her good mood today.

She concentrated as much as she could on her note taking, and given the life-or-death subject matter she mostly did pretty well. There was the starting realization toward the middle of class when she finally realized who Liam reminded her of - he could easily be Lisa Bonet's little brother. And on that note Beth, who lived across the street from her parents, had better keep her promise to keep her up to date on the Cosby Show. The Brit found the Americans fascinating, but for Darcy, it was a touch of home she knew she would miss dearly while at Hogwarts.

By the end of class, she was thoroughly convinced of the dangers of Transfiguration, and feeling a bit less discombobulated. She grinned as Nicola, Liam, and both of the Gryffindor Alphas gathered around her.

“You really Matched?”

“This morning?”

“With Bill Weasley's brother?”

“Did Professor McGonagall threaten to expel you?” A burst of giggles followed that one.

“Yes, yes, his name is Charlie, and no! We just got a bunch of pamphlets and a lecture on the rules for Matched students.” Darcy could see the Gryffindor Betas standing in a clump nearby, clearly trying to hear the gossip, but also doing their best to assume an unaffected air. Her sense of euphoria still strong, Darcy felt a little sorry for them. Sure, they didn't have to deal with the hills and valleys of Alpha and Omega biology, but they'd never get to know what it felt like to Match, either.

The Ravenclaws, predictably, had already left, despite having the same half hour the Gryffindors did to get to Greenhouse 1 for Herbology.

“Say, are you really from America?”

Well, it wasn't as though her attempts to gain a British lilt had ever worked. “Yes, we moved here a year ago for my mother's work.”

“Is the school going tell your parents?”

“Yes, Professor McGonagall's going to write them.” There were a few more questions and then the Alphas moved off, grinning at each other. The Betas left ahead of them.

Nicola and Liam stayed with her, Nicola taking her arm. She leaned in. “Is it just wonderful?,” Nicola whispered, and it was Darcy's turn to giggle as she nodded. Liam pushed in close on the other side as they exited the classroom together.

Maybe it would be nice to have a bigger pack, after all.

*

Ninety minutes later, she was scrubbing at a stain in her new robes that bothered her, even if the dirt on the black fabric wasn't too visible. She silently cursed Dithering's clumsiness, and wondered if it was natural or intended. Whose brilliant idea was it to cram all the first year students into one greenhouse at the same time? She would see Charlie again in a few minutes and her hair was already a mess, she didn't need to be a total wreck. Nicola was standing a few feet away, talking with a Ravenclaw Omega. Maybe she….

“Here,” said a voice from behind her, and she turned to see Liam, holding a small vial. “Stain removal potion. My father's secret recipe. It'll take care of it.” He offered her the vial.

“Oh thank you! That's so nice of you!”

He shrugged as she carefully applied a few drops, surprised at how quickly it separated the dirt from the fabric and let it fall away. “Omegas stick together. I saw you trip, I dunno if Dithering did it on purpose, but he might've. His family doesn't like Muggleborns, and they're all Betas to boot.”

She gave him back the potion vial and he tucked it into a pocket. “Yeah, my parents are Betas, they try to understand, but I don't think they really do. But you said, he doesn't like Muggleborns?”

“His family is Pureblood Betas, far back as anyone can remember. He's been raised that way. Father says people raised in prejudice can only escape it when they learn better. Circe knows few enough do, even if it is 1985.”

Her parents had asked about prejudice in the magical world when Professor Babbling had visited after her letter's arrival. They had been concerned about antisemitism and sexism. She'd assured them that prejudice based on religion, race, or gender was practically nonexistent in the magical world. But the Professor had also acknowledged that some Betas, just like in the Muggle world, viewed themselves as superior to Alphas and Omegas. She remembered one of the pamphlets, which she'd taken a moment to glance at before Herbology started, had included instructions on what to do if a Beta gave her a hard time because of her Match. She'd have to see if it had anything that would be useful with Dithering.

But no one had mentioned prejudice against Muggleborns before that comment Dithering had made last night. She thought for a few moments as they walked back to Gryffindor Tower, to exchange their textbooks for the ones they'd need for the afternoon before lunch. Why wouldn't Professor Babbling have mentioned that prejudice when she visited?

She realized that was a good question, so she asked Liam, who made a face. “Right, no, of course they didn't tell you. So. A few years ago, in magical Britain, there was a war.”

“There was a what?!”

Liam sighed. “It didn't really spill over into the Muggle world, aside from a few… incidents. But anti-Muggle prejudice was a big part of it. A lot of people died. A lot more people lost someone. And it's still pretty recent, so no one wants to talk about it. Your Match lost two uncles, I've heard. And Nicola's mother died in it, so for goodness’ sake, don't bring it up with her.”

Darcy stumbled slightly on a stair. Her mom annoyed her, sure, and didn't really understand what it meant to be an Omega, but the idea of losing her was terrifying. Poor Nicola.

It occurred to her to ask. “I'm sorry, did you…?”

It took Liam a moment to realize what she was asking. “Oh! No. My mother's family is all in Jamaica, and my father's rather older. We lived there until about three years ago, when mother got offered a job in the International Office of the Ministry here. So father putters around with his potions at home, and I'm coming to school here instead of there. Mind you, mother thought that was a good thing. Apparently the school there is dreadfully overcrowded.”

They switched out their textbooks quickly, the jumble at Nicola's trunk showing she had already been & gone. Darcy glanced at her schedule again to make sure she has the right books, and her eyes feel once again on the pamphlets.

Your Alpha and You

Healthy Relationships Start Right!

Matched Student Couple Rules & Regulations on School Grounds (with a large subtitle on the back saying Pack Nest Rules that made her blush)

Dynamic Prejudice in Student Life

When would she have time to read them? It was the first day and she already had homework.

She noticed Liam was ready to go and had paused, waiting for her, so she closed her bag and hefted it quickly. She realized as they left that she was about to see Charlie again, and she'd completely forgotten to look at a mirror like she'd meant to, to see if her bun was holding up. She patted distractedly at her hair, hoping she was presentable.

She saw Liam grin. “What?”

He only grinned wider. “Didn't you two Match as you woke up this morning? Little late to be worrying about your hair now, Darce. He's seen it worse.”

“Shut it, you!” She punched him lightly in the shoulder. But even if she didn't say it out loud, his words calmed her a bit. He was right, they were Matched. She didn't need to win him over or impress him. She just needed to be her truest self with him. That would be how they'd find out if they were one of the Matches that would last, all the way through to the Bond.

Oof. She was not ready to think about that yet. Besides, they had years to go first - students weren't allowed to Bond, you had to wait until after leaving school. Better to think of seeing Charlie again.

And there he was, standing at the door of the Great Hall, clearly waiting for her. She nodded at Liam to go ahead without her, and made straight for Charlie. As soon as she reached him he laced their fingers and pressed their wrists together again, just as they had spent most of the early morning. After a moment, he grinned, and tugged gently on her tie. “May I help you with that?”

Darcy sighed and nodded. “I did it wrong, didn't I. I was in such a rush this morning.”

“You got it pretty close, just missed a loop, I think,” he said as he quickly undid the knot and redid it. “Honestly I just keep them all tied in my trunk all the time, with the neckloop nice and loose, and throw them on in the morning. Much easier.” He finished what he was doing and gently traced her jaw with a fingertip, and Darcy smiled.

“Knotting her already, Weasley? Little early for that, don't you think?,” a tall Slytherin wearing a Prefect's badge sneered. His friends walking with him laughed.

Darcy flushed hot with anger, but Charlie immediately threw an arm around her shoulders, turning to face the Prefect. “Trying to scare me away from Quidditch tryouts, Rosier? Little early for that, don't you think? Also, it won't work.” His voice was confident, but she could feel the tension in his shoulders, and she realized that it was Charlie's left arm that was around her, and his right was his wand arm.

“Why would I care you tried out, Weasley? It's not like you'll make the team.” Rosier and his friends moved off, into the Great Hall. Darcy took a deep breath.

“We'll see about that,” Charlie muttered. He turned to her. “Rosier's a windbag, and exactly the kind of Alpha I never want to be, but he's a coward, too. Don't worry about him.”

Darcy figured it was a little early to make that decision, but there wasn't any point in discussing it now. “I'm glad you know how to keep your temper.”

“Mum always says it's the most important skill an Alpha can have. Besides, I have too many younger siblings. I haven't been allowed to lose my temper since I was eight.” He shrugged.

“Just how many brothers and sisters do you have?”

“Six, all together. All brothers but the youngest, Ginny's the baby, and all younger than me but Bill.”

Darcy raised an eyebrow. “I'm guessing one of your parents is an Omega?”

“Dad, yup, how'd you know?” He winked. Seven kids was still on the high end of normal even with an Omega parent, but Betas very rarely had more than three. And while it was the eighties and a lot of things had changed in the world, most marriages were still Beta-Beta or Alpha-Omega. But any parent could have any kind of child, so the half-Beta, half-Dynamic balance held.

And the shelters for Alpha and Omega kids kicked out by Beta parents when they manifested, generally at about 9, were in much better shape than they had been a few decades ago. So.

She decided to change the subject before her mind went anywhere more depressing. “They must be very patient. So, you're trying out for Quidditch?”

Charlie grinned. “You can't be on the team until second year, so I had to wait. But I'm going to be the best Seeker Gryffindor's ever seen!”

She grinned back. His excitement was infectious. “I can't wait to see you play.” Professor Babbling had explained a little about the sport on her visit. Darcy figured she was either going to love or hate flying on a broom, she wasn't sure which yet, but either way Quidditch sounded like a great sport to watch.

He took her hand again and tilted his head toward the Hall, and she nodded. They walked in together, careful that the crowd didn't jostle their joined hands.

It was Darcy's first time here since the Sorting Feast, and she'd been distracted, and tired, then. She couldn't help but stare at the sky on the ceiling, the floating candles (extinguished now, with the bright light of a cloudless day from the ceiling), and the Head Table. Charlie kept hold of her hand and steered them through the crowds to the Gryffindor table, as she looked around. After a minute of walking between the tables she spotted Nicola & Liam, who waved, so she waved back.

Charlie noticed, and grinned. “Some of my friends are just the other side of them, want to sit there?” She nodded, and they quickly settled between the first and second years, Nicola across from Darcy and Liam on her left. She and Charlie had to release their hands to eat, but she found they were sitting close enough that their arms brushed, so she didn't mind. Much.

Once they'd sorted out whose goblet was whose, and where the pumpkin juice pitcher had gone (the second years had it, but gave it back after a little banter), she introduced Charlie to the two Omegas. He was offering a pleasant greeting while assembling what was clearly going to be a gigantic sandwich, when Nicola surprised them both.

Nicola was usually the least intimidating witch you'd ever see. Quite short, a bit on the plump side, masses of honey blonde hair, and a round, smiling face. But now, her face grew determined and her eyes heated, and she stared Charlie down with the same ferocity Darcy had once seen in her mom, when she had defended her to a teacher who suspected her of cheating.

When she spoke, Nicola's voice held confidence and strength. “I hope you know Darcy's not alone here, Charlie. She has friends, and if we ever think she's not receiving the respect she deserves, you'll know it. Quickly.”

A couple of the second years nearby snickered. A few others looked impressed. Charlie put down the plate of cold cuts he'd been selecting from and gave Nicola his full attention. “Good, I'm glad to hear it. And if my relationship with Darcy ever worried you, I'd want you to tell me. I can promise you I will always do my best for her, but it's not like I've ever done this before, so my best may not be good enough.”

Nicola stared at him another moment, and then nodded. Charlie went back to the cold cuts. But Darcy couldn't tear her eyes from Nicola.

Nicola noticed, and she shrugged, back to her usual, not scary in the least, self. “We're pack now, Darcy. This is what that means. You're not alone.”

Darcy couldn't help but remember what Liam has said about Nicola's mother, dead in a war Darcy knew almost nothing about. She hoped someone had been there for Nicola, when her mom had died.

“Thank you, Nicola. And, neither are you.” Her voice sounded a little rusty. “Omegas stick together, right?” Nicola grinned, bright and cheerful, and nodded with enthusiasm before digging in to the enormous salad on her plate. Darcy went back to assembling her own lunch.

Charlie introduced her to his friends, including another Omega, Ruth, who was apparently almost as interested in magical creatures as Charlie was- according to Charlie. Ruth claimed it was the other way around. There was lots of lively banter as they ate.

When most of them were finished eating, Charlie's head bounced forward and Darcy heard, “Wotcher, Weasley!,” from behind them. She turned to see a Hufflepuff Beta girl, who has apparently just smacked Charlie in the back of the head. She also appeared to have- was her hair metallic violet?

Charlie laughed and introduced her to Tonks, “don't ask about her first name, bad plan, she's the best prankster in my year, it will not end well for you.”

Darcy grinned. “That is some fantastic hair dye, Tonks, where'd you get it?”

“Oh, it's not dye, we aren't allowed dyed hair on school grounds.” She paused, and her hair changed from violet to a deep emerald green. Darcy gasped. “I'm a Metamorphmagus. I can change my appearance at will. Bone fide rarity, I am.”

Darcy heard Liam give a low whistle behind her. “That's wicked.”

Tonks’ grin was enormous. ‘I know, right?!”

“Wait, so no dyed hair, but you're allowed to change your hair color?”

Tonks shrugged. “It's a magical ability. They actually want me to practice it. But there are rules- I have to stay visibly myself, so I can't pretend to be someone else, and I can only change a couple things at a time. Sometimes my hair, or eyes, or nose. Last year I was an inch taller for a week, but my uniform didn't sit right at all.” They chatted a while longer.

After a bit, Darcy saw Ruth get up, and saw a glint of gold at her neck as she stood. It was worth a try. She tapped Charlie on the shoulder to say she'd be right back, and chased Ruth down. “Ruth? Ruth!”

Ruth turned. “Oh. Hey, Darcy.”

“Hi. Um, Ruth, are you Jewish?”

Ruth held her breath a second. “Yes, why?” She paused, and something changed in her face. “Oh! You, too?”

Darcy nodded, relieved. “Is there a group here, or anything?”

Ruth smiled. “Sure. We don't do everything, but we can make sure you get home for Yom Kippur okay, and we do Hanukkah and Purim, and sometimes a bat mitzvah girl will sing Shabbat. We don't have our first meeting set yet, but I'll let you know, all right?”

“Great, thanks! My family's not the most observant in the world, but, well….”

Ruth touched her arm. “I know. Mine too. But, pack is pack is pack, right?”

Darcy laughed. “Yeah, thanks.” Ruth waved goodbye, and Darcy went back to Charlie.

After lunch, she and Charlie agreed to meet in their common room after classes. The rest of the afternoon was a whirl. Charms was excellent, Darcy thought it might become her favorite class of the year. Professor Flitwick was entertaining and informative, and had a knack for illustrating and demonstrating wand movements clearly.

Defense Against the Dark Arts was… odd. The textbook seemed really good, as far as she could tell, but the professor seemed to be constantly distracted, and when Dithering dropped a book, she jumped three feet straight into the air. Which seemed strange to Darcy, for someone teaching this subject.

History of Magic, which Darcy had been looking forward to most of all - she'd always loved learning about history, and had already devoured most of the textbook before arriving at school - was an enormous disappointment. While Professor Binns’ entry through the blackboard was an exciting way to start the class, it was the last exciting thing that happened. He rarely looked away from the chalkboard, often spoke so quietly as to be impossible to understand, and ignored any and all raised hands.

Darcy was determined she was going to keep raising her hand anyway.

At least he had excellent penmanship, and the assignment for the week was up on the board at the start of class. So assuming he could at least grade properly - would they let him teach if he couldn't? - her homework grades would be all right.

She was still a little let down when she went to look for Charlie in the common room, but the cheerful, homey atmosphere helped a great deal. She was glad she had an armchair of her own in her changing room - it faced a window and had a bright lamp for reading - as she knew she was used to a certain amount of alone time daily, and she wouldn't get that in the common room or the pack nest. But the common room, filled with students studying, chatting, or playing games she wasn't sure she recognized, seemed like it would be a perfect place to wind down with friends. And the enormous fireplace, with firelight flickering from it, gave everyone a warm glow.

Charlie apparently hadn't arrived yet, so Darcy found a loveseat off in its own little corner, dropped her textbooks on one cushion, and sat on the other. She busied herself trying to sort out her homework assignments. At least her classes so far had assigned things on a weekly basis, she thought it might take awhile to get used to the irregular schedule.

“Hey there, is this seat taken?”

Hearing his voice was like having ten pounds lifted from her shoulders. “Charlie!” It seemed only natural to jump up and hug him - halfway through she checked her movement, afraid it was too much, but he was already moving in for the hug, so she dropped into his arms with relief. It had seemed like the day would never end, and they hadn't even made it to supper yet. But, just like when they embraced before, this just felt so right, and natural, that most of her stress melted away.

Not quite all of it though. After a few seconds, she pulled back. “Here, let me get these out of the way so you can sit down.” She picked up her books and stacked them carefully on the wide arm of the loveseat instead, which seemed sturdy enough. Charlie put down his bag and they sat together.

“Are you all right, Darcy? You seem nervous.” Charlie picked up her hand, but instead of lacing their fingers together, he cradled her hand in one of his, and stroked it gently. She stared at the movement of his fingers for a few moments, and noticed her breathing had slowed to match their rhythm.

“You're really good at this.” She looked up, into his eyes. “How are you so good at this?”

His lips quirked into half a grin. “Like I said, Mum’s very insistent about the type of Alpha I'll be. ‘We stay grounded,’ she says, ‘so they can fly. We're their anchor, they're our hot air balloon.’ That one’s my favorite, but she has a thousand sayings like that.”

Her eyes dropped to their joined hands again. “I like that one, too.”

Are you all right, Darcy?”

“Yes. Mostly,” she added as she looked into his eyes again, “I think. I just realized earlier, at lunch, that we don't know each other very well. That there are things you don't know about me.”

Charlie opened his mouth to reply, saw the look on her face, and closed it again. After a few moments, he spoke. “I'm looking forward to getting to know you, Darcy. As a person, not only as an Omega, or as my Match. I'm happy to listen to anything you want to tell me.”

Darcy had at least figured out where to start. “Well, I'm guessing you've realized I'm not from Great Britain.”

His lips quirked into that half grin again. She was starting to get very fond of it. “I had noticed, yeah. There are a few others here who aren't. I think your friend Liam?”

“Right, he's from Jamaica. I'm from America, from near the city of Chicago. We moved here for my mom's work, a year ago.”

“What does your mom do?” He was still stroking her hand. Wow, he was really good at this. She took a deep breath.

“Well, that's connected to the second thing I need to tell you. My parents are - they're Muggles. I'm, I think the word is Muggleborn?”

He never stopped stroking her hand. “Right. I heard that.”

“Wait, you knew? How?”

“Word gets around fast. I've had people talking to me about you all day. Mostly I've been telling them to shut it, because honestly I don't know what's true or what they've imagined. But Muggleborn came up more than once, so I figured that was likely.”

“Oh. Well, my mother's in education, she's here working with the Muggle British government, seeing what the American and British school systems can learn from each other. My dad writes mystery novels, so he works from home.” Her brain twigged on what Charlie had just said. “Hang on, you said there are rumors about me? What kind of rumors?”

Charlie grinned. “Oh, you know, the usual. You're secretly a bank robber. You know the recording secretary of the Wizengamot personally. One of your parents is an unregistered Animagus - clearly not true, but I had thought the duck-billed platypus bit sounded unlikely. You have tickets to the next Weird Sisters concert and will be holding a contest for the best flyer to go with you - if that one is true, I hope you realize I'm going to win, of course. You--”

Darcy didn't know what half of that meant, but she got the gist enough to punch him in the shoulder. He stopped, and grinned when she started giggling. “You are ridiculous.”

“Anytime that's what you need, then yes, absolutely. Though for the record I only made one of those up.”

She gave him a look that said she doubted that. “What do your parents do?”

“My dad works for the Ministry, the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office. He's going to be thrilled to meet you, by the way, he'll have endless questions. Mum mostly tries to keep my brothers from killing themselves. Or each other. Or anyone who happens to wander onto the property. But before she had all of us she had a catering business, I wouldn't be surprised if she takes that back up again eventually, she's an excellent cook. She's going to love you too, by the way, though that may have more to do with having been wildly outnumbered by men for the last several years. Since the Professor will have notified her, I'm certain I'll get an owl in the morning, and it's sure to contain an invitation to come for Christmas.”

Darcy tensed up again. “And that's related to another thing I have to tell you, Charlie. I - my family, we don't celebrate Christmas. I'm Jewish.”

Charlie paused a moment at that, but he still hadn't stopped stroking her hand. “All right. Like Ruth? Oh, that's why you talked to her today?”

“Yeah, I saw her necklace, and asked her if there was a group for Jewish students here.”

“Right. Well, my family celebrates Christmas, but we're not religious, it's just tradition, and Mum will take any excuse to make a good meal. I don't really know much about what it means to be Jewish, other that what Ruth has mentioned, but like I said, I'm happy to learn about anything that's important to you.” Charlie squeezed her hand.

“Good. Great.” She was surprised by the sudden pricking of tears in her eyes, and blinked them away. Apparently she had been more worried about that than she'd realized.

“Any other big reveals I should hear on the first day?” Charlie grinned.

Darcy tilted her head and pretended to think about it. “Well, my parents are Betas. And, please don't tell anyone, but…,” she lowered her voice and leaned into him a little, “I hate tripe.” Charlie threw his head back and laughed. She liked his laugh, it was warm and friendly, like him. “How about you?”

Charlie shrugged. “Mum has a cousin who's an accountant, he doesn't like us much. And two of my brothers are twins, I don't know what they're going to do for a living when, or if, they grow up, but at this rate criminal activity has not been ruled out.”

Darcy just barely managed not to snort. “I'll keep that in mind.”

They say quietly for a minute, Charlie still holding her hand. “Look,” he said, “it's been a big day, and I know we both have homework, but the bell for supper will ring in a few minutes, so there's not much point in trying to get started now. Could we just sit here for a bit, together?”

“Oh yes, perfect.” He let go of her hand and leaned back, stretching one arm out along the back of the loveseat. For a moment she wanted to dive forward and bury her nose in his throat again, like she had on the stairs. But they were in a public place, so instead she turned and leaned back against his shoulder, under his outstretched arm. As she did, she found herself letting out a long breath, that somehow felt like she'd been holding it a long time. “I'm not usually… like this, you know. I'm usually much steadier. I'm not at all the weepy Omega stereotype. There's just been a lot going on, the last few days.”

Charlie turned his head so his mouth was right by her ear, and when he spoke, she couldn't help it, her eyes fluttered closed. “Darcy, I have thought a lot about you in the last several hours. But not once have I thought you're a stereotype.”

Beth had romance novels where the hero was not this smooth. Most of them weren't. “I am so glad we Matched.”

“Yeah? Well, I'm more glad.” She could hear the smirk in his voice, as his arm slowly lowered around her shoulders.

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

Great, so they were both competitive, too. Hopefully this wouldn't end like it had with that jerk Alpha in her parents’ block, with too many paper cuts and an empty jug of lemonade. “It's- we're going to be okay, aren't we?” She took Charlie's free hand and cradled it gently between hers.

She could feel him taking a deep breath. “Yes, Darcy, we are.”