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Tell me, Atlas

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            King’s Cross bustled with all the usual activity of its bursting terminals.  People sprinted to catch trains going everywhere throughout Britain and across the Channel into Europe.  Couples and families reunited.  Lovers and friends parted.  A sizeable number of witches and wizards tried to blend in as they made their way to the hidden Platform 9 ¾.

            Rey Niima faced the bold red steam engine and hung back from the crowd of students bidding goodbye to their families or jumping onto and from the train.  She had navigated the crowds and hidden entrance alone with her trolley.  Her owl, BB, preened his orange and white feathers and hooted happily at her.  She liked to think he recognized the train.  She grinned down at her owl and started towards the steam engine. 

            Rey had just begun to pull her trunk into one of the carriages when a strong hand caught the other side and lifted it easily.  She looked over its top and into Finn’s wide grin.

            “I can get it myself, Finn,” she protested but found herself smiling too.

            “Still haven’t learned to take help, have you, Rey?” he asked and hauled it up into the train.  Rey huffed at him but soon relented and threw her arms around him laughing.  “Come on, girl.  Poe and Rose have a compartment already.  They let me get the luggage.  So generous.”

            Rey tugged her trunk and BB down the car and into the compartment Finn indicated.  She slid open the door and was greeted immediately by loud shouts.  Rose and Poe had not even sat down yet.  They turned as one to face the door.

            “Rey!” Rose called and threw her arms around her.  Her friend held Rey back at arm’s length and looked her over from head to toe.  The smile on her face faltered as she took in the holes at the knees of her jeans and the feel of her bones under her skin.  Poe distracted her by clapping Rey on the shoulder.

            “Missed you, Rey,” he said.  “Give me your trunk.”  He hoisted it up onto the rack above the seats.  “And there’s BB! How’s my boy?”

            BB hooted happily, and Poe pulled an owl treat from his pocket.  “I think you like my owl more than me.”  Poe had gifted BB to her two years before for her fifteenth birthday, ostensibly so they could keep in contact over the summer.  Finn was still bitter about the present that couldn’t be topped, as he called it.  He muttered something under his breath as he shoved his way into the crowded compartment.  Although only four of them filled the six available seats, it felt ready to burst.  Her face was close to splitting from her grin.

            “Can you people move so I can actually get inside?” Finn grumbled.  Rose laughed and pulled Rey down onto the seat.

            “How was your summer?” Rose asked her excitedly as the boys shoved Poe’s expansive trunk into the luggage rack.  Poe Dameron had more luggage than she thought anyone would ever need.  Finn had stolen one of his worn leather jackets in third year and he hadn’t even cared.  He had at least four others.  But she suspected that half his trunk was filled with hair gel.

            “Fine,” Rey answered her friend.  She didn’t elaborate.  Summers at the Platt Orphanage were never fun.  Since she was fourteen, she’d worked all summer as a shop girl, but the Platts had taken most of her money.  The rest had gone to new secondhand robes, since she’d outgrown her last ones by several inches.  “I’m glad to be back.  How was yours?”

            Rose launched into a detailed account of her trip to Vietnam and Rey hung on every word, even as Finn and Poe began to get bored.  Rey had never even been out of Britain.  The farthest she’d been from London was to Hogwarts itself in Scotland.  Rose’s mother was part of the old Prewett wizarding clan, but she had shocked everyone by marrying a foreign, half-blooded wizard.  They went back to visit her father’s family in Vietnam regularly.  From what Rey had gathered, the extensive Tico family was prominent there.

            Poe lounged on the seat across from her.  Finn shoved his knee to get him to move over.  She knew Finn had spent the last month of his summer with Poe’s family after his parents had finally kicked him out.  A certain sadness hung on her friend’s face now.  Rey had glimpsed Shara and Kes Dameron waving them and Poe’s older brother, Kes, goodbye.  Shara’s little daughter, Mara, clung to her mother’s leg in tears.  She would start Hogwarts next year.

            The train lurched into motion.  Poe and Finn leaned out the window for a final goodbye.  Rose shoved them aside to wave to her own parents.  Rey had no one to wave to, but she watched her friends with a smile.  They finally collapsed back on the seat when the platform receded from view.  Almost as soon as they did, the compartment door slid open.

            “This one’s full too.  Merlin’s balls!” A girl with brown hair pulled into a messy, low bun and bright green eyes cursed.  The boys stood behind her, each taller than the last and towering over her slight form.  Except Jyn Erso never struck anyone as slight.  Everywhere she went, her ferocity filled the room.

            “Charming as ever, Jyn.” Poe winked at her.

            Jyn sent him a vulgar gesture.  A tall, gangly boy leaned into the compartment.  “I don’t think that’s how you make friends, Jyn.”

            She turned her vulgar gesture on the tall Ravenclaw.  Kay Esso’s face did not change at all.  Beside her, Cassian and Bodhi rolled their eyes.  “Nonsense.  Poe and I are great friends.  Come on, we’ll keep looking.  This lot won’t budge.”

            She slid the compartment closed again with a snap.  Finn leaned his head back on the seat.  “How long until we have to go to the Prefect meeting?  I fancy a nap.”

            Rey groaned.  She’d almost forgotten about the Prefect meeting.  Not long, she was sure, which meant they had to change.  She huffed and snatched her secondhand robes from her trunk to find the loo before it got too crowded. 

            Rey stepped out of the closet-like room without looking and adjusted her yellow and black tie.  She almost ran straight into a ginger-haired boy with an unpleasantly rat-like face.  He sneered when he sidestepped her.

            “I see no one could buy you new robes this year, mudblood,” Hux snarled.  She felt the hole at her elbow acutely.  She had tried her best to patch it, but Rey was not the finest at housekeeping spells.

            “It’s a shame all your money couldn’t buy you a less rat-like face,” Rey snapped.  “Or maybe it was perfectly fine before you went and soiled it.”  She turned on her heel and marched off before he could say anything else.

            She was still fuming when she returned to their compartment.  Poe took one look at her expression and asked, “what happened?  I thought you just went to the loo.”

            Rey tucked her wand behind her ear to shove her clothes back into her trunk.  It felt great to have it back and free.  She could do magic any time she wanted now, not just practice it in the dead of night, she reminded herself.  That thought was almost enough to outweigh her anger at the smarmy redhead.  “Hux,” she snapped.

            “You should have cursed him into next century,” Poe growled.

            “And get in trouble with Professor Kenobi right off the train?  That’s a great start to the semester for a prefect.  Negative ten points for Hufflepuff!” she scoffed.  Hux had known she wouldn’t dare curse him on the train.  Not that he ever passed up a chance to mock her.

            “Then, I’ll curse him into next century,” Poe said and whipped out his wand for effect.  Rey rolled her eyes.  He would too, if she gave him the opportunity.  They’d be at each other’s throats again soon enough without her help.  In all honesty, she’d probably help if he called her a mudblood again.

            The appearance of Hux had reminded her of another unfortunate product of the prefect meeting: Ben Solo.  She’d been shocked to find out he’d made prefect last year, although she shouldn’t have been with his pedigree.  Tarkin always favored the purebloods.  But who else were they going to pick?  Hux?  No, of course, they’d picked the Slytherin Golden Boy with his stupid hair and sneer.  She was not looking forward to this meeting.  The last time she’d seen him, she’d cursed him.  And for good reason.  Even Professor Skywalker had agreed with her.  Although, he wasn’t particularly fond of his nephew.

            “Chocolate frog?” Poe offered, and the chocolate took her mind off the infuriating Ben Solo and the even more repugnant Armitage Hux for a few minutes.

            It was late afternoon when someone banged on their compartment door.  Paige Tico slid it open, looking bored.  Rey rarely saw her look anything other than bored except with a book or one too many drinks in her hand.  She also looked remarkably like her younger sister, who sat beside Rey, though the tie she wore was blue instead of yellow.

            “Come on, let’s get this over with,” she said with a jerk of her head.  “Hey, Rose,” she added as an afterthought.

            Paige Tico was Head Girl and shared her unfortunate duties with the Gryffindor Bodhi Rook, as rumor had it.  She’d expected Kay, but they didn’t usually appoint both heads from the same house, and she was glad.  Kay was too stiff and sarcastic for first-years.  Paige had been the obvious choice for Head Girl, but that didn’t mean she had to enjoy it.

            Finn and Rey followed Paige into the large, crowded compartment built for this purpose.  Tension, as always, bubbled in the air, but excitement too.  A new class of prefects sat nervously crushed against the wall as the veterans filed in.  Finn and Rey smashed into one of the last remaining seats, their legs tanged together.  She spotted Gwen Phasma’s white-blonde hair towering over everyone else, but Solo hadn’t arrived.  She breathed a sigh of relief.  Maybe Professor Skywalker had seen sense and replaced him.  No luck.  Just as Paige and Bodhi began the meeting, the compartment door slid open.

            The first thing she noticed was that Ben Solo had gotten taller.  His dark mane of hair had also been allowed to grow past his ears to dust the edge of his collar.  He smirked at the glowering Paige and slid the door closed before leaning against it in that infuriating, cocky way.  Arrogant prick.

            “You’re late, Solo,” Paige snapped and continued the meeting without giving him room to respond.  “Alright.  Welcome new prefects.  I hope you read the packet sent out this summer.  I’m not going to repeat all of it.  I also hope you have finally memorized the way to your Common Room, because that’s the first task.”  She earned a few chuckles from the less nervous veterans.

            “Bodhi has the passwords,” she continued, and the Head Boy handed out slips of parchment.  “Hufflepuff, you still have a password this year.  As for Ravenclaws…good luck.”  More laughter and a few groans.  “One prefect stands at the end of each table during sorting and greets new first-years as they’re sorted.  Once the feast is over, you’ll all lead the firsties to your common rooms and show them around and to their dorms.  ALL prefects,” she said pointedly and glared at the Slytherin prefects.  Rey had almost forgotten about the drama that had ensued the previous year after the Slytherin prefects had supposedly left their first-years in the Great Hall to find their own way.

            Rey glanced up at Solo, but his face was inscrutable.  Rumor had it that he had been the one to bully Phasma into leading the firsties to their Common Room and dorms with him.  He’d gotten a pitcher of pumpkin juice levitated over his head for his trouble, and Krennic hadn’t spoken to him for a week after.  Not that Rey thought being ignored by Krennic would be a bad thing.  One of the seventh-year prefects shot both him and Paige dirty looks now.  So much for house unity.

            “Anyway,” Paige said and glanced down at the list on her clipboard.  “Prefects stationed at the tables will be Finn for Gryffindor, Rey for Hufflepuff.  Connix, you’re up for Ravenclaw, and Solo, you’re the only one I can trust with Slytherin firsties, shocking as that is.”

            Paige’s logic was sound, Rey thought.  All sixth-year veterans who would be friendly faces to welcome first-years, except maybe Solo.  The best he could manage was to be the least scowl-y member of the Slytherin cohort, which wasn’t saying much.  Rey and Finn nodded.

            “Great and then everyone leads to Common Rooms.  Make sure they know their way around and understand all the rules.  You know the drill.  Make sure they don’t get lost on the way to their beds.  Right, so, regular rotations start this week.  Everyone does rounds after hours once a week and every other weekend.  Remember, weekend rounds are longer because you have to do half the castle instead of a third, but they’re every other week.  For Hogsmeade weekends, one prefect per house per weekend stays back.  We’ll work out that schedule later.  You’ll each have a rounds partner which will not change, so play nice.”

            Rey had been dreading round assignments.  Last year, she’d been fortunate enough to draw Bodhi and had proved a good partner to his gentleness and non-confrontational attitude.  She glanced around the fifth-year prefects.  She recognized most of them but knew few.  Stephen, the new Hufflepuff prefect, was out because Paige wouldn’t pair prefects from the same house as a rule.  Plus, it had to be a male-female pair.  That left three new prospects.  She had proved herself capable enough to help a new prefect learn the ropes.  Paige handed the schedules to Bodhi, and he began to pass them around.  Rey accepted hers from him with a smile.

            She glanced over Paige’s neat schedule.  Finn had drawn Tuesdays and one of the new prefects.  That wasn’t much of a surprise or disappointment.  Rey knew Paige wouldn’t pair her with Finn either.  She finally found her own name printed under Thursday, which suited her fine.  And next to her name…Rey froze.

            Ben Solo.

            She looked up and into his dark eyes, drawn with shock.

            Shit.

Chapter Text

            Rey barely listened as Paige finished up their meeting and floated plans for the yearly prefect Halloween party.  What was Paige playing at?  Pairing her with Ben Solo?  She couldn’t process it.  There must be a better way.  Couldn’t Phasma and Ben just be together in a posse of horror?  Concentrate it all on one night of the week when no one would go out?  She could answer that question for herself.  The Slytherins would run wild once a week.  The door slammed open and shook her from her reverie.  In an instant, Solo bolted from the compartment.  Whatever.  She didn’t want to talk to him anyway.  Finn had risen to introduce himself to the shy Ravenclaw girl he’d been paired with.

            Rey caught Paige before she could escape.  Sure, maybe somewhere in Rey’s mind she knew this might be the best plan, but she wasn’t about to go down without a fight.  Paige turned to face her and sighed.

            “Look, Rey, I know what you’re going to say, but you were the only one I thought could handle him.  I’m paired with Krennic myself, so it could be worse.”  Paige sighed again and pushed her hair out of her face.

            Rey glanced over at Krennic’s retreating back and acknowledged the truth of her words.  Krennic was undoubtedly worse than Ben Solo.  It was a little flattering that Paige had so much faith in her.  Flattering and now utterly frustrating.  “He hates me,” she muttered half to herself.

            Paige put a friendly hand on her shoulder.  “If anyone can get through to him, you can.”

            The Head Girl turned away to address other concerns.  Finn still held his conversation with the fifth-year Ravenclaw, who grew more starry-eyed every second, so Rey decided to meet him back in their compartment.  The prefects’ compartment had grown too stifling for her taste.  She took a deep breath of the relatively clear air of the hallway.  She only made it a few steps before she was cornered by none other than Ben Solo.

            He towered over her—he really had grown much taller—probably in an attempt to appear menacing.  “Save it, Solo,” she hissed, trying to sidestep him.

            “Did you ask Tico if anything could be done?” he asked without preamble.  Well, he should at least have the decency to pretend this could work out.  Prick.

            “I did,” she snapped.  “Not that you helped.  You left so fast I thought Phasma bit you.”

            His face didn’t change.  “And?  Did she place you with a newbie like I’m sure you wanted?”  One track mind, this one.

            “No.”  Her temper quickly wore thin with Solo and his interrogation.  “Apparently no one else wants to bother with you, so I’m stuck with the job.  Can’t imagine why.”

            Rey shoved him away from her and actually succeeded in moving him enough to get passed, though it felt like hitting a brick wall.  “I thought you’d appreciate me as a partner,” he said to her back as she passed.  “I’m a step up from that blood traitor.  Several steps, I’d say.”

            Rey sent a vulgar gesture back at him in place of a curse and heard him chuckle.  Fine, then.  If he wanted it to be like that, she’d meet him blow for blow.  She stormed back to her compartment and closed the door with a slam.  Finn opened it a second later, looking alarmed.

            “What happened, Rey?” Rose asked.

            “Ben Bloody Solo,” she yelled and threw herself down into her seat.

            Rose and Poe exchanged glances.  “What about him?  I mean, not that he’s short on reasons…”

            “He’s a pompous prick who thinks too much of himself and has no consideration for others,” she fired back.

            “…something new?” Poe ventured.

            Rey sighed.  “And he’s my rounds partner for the year.”  It made her blood boil just to consider it.  “I get to spend every fucking Thursday with Ben bloody Solo.”

            “I’m going to kill Paige,” Rose said.  “She’ll change it if…”

            “Don’t bother,” Rey huffed.  “I already asked.”

            “I guess we’ll hear even more about Solo this year.  Lucky us,” Finn said with a twisted grin.  Poe snorted.

            Rey’s mouth dropped open.  “I don’t talk about Solo that much,” she protested.

            Finn raised his voice in some terrible approximation of her own.  “Solo almost hit me with a quaffle in Quidditch again.  The idiot.”

            “The prick almost ruined our potion today,” Poe added with a moderately better mimicry.  “I don’t know how he’s top of the class.”

            “Solo had the audacity to beat me on a Runes test by one point!” Rose’s imitation of her was by far the best, she had to admit.

            Rey rolled her eyes, but felt a smile pull at her cheeks anyway.  She didn’t have much of a defense against their accusations and she knew it.  Solo did infuriate her.  And for good reason.  She stole a chocolate frog from Poe and slapped his hand away when he tried to take it back.  “Well, at least he’s not bad to look at,” Rose remarked.  Finn looked like he was about to be sick.  Poe choked.  “What?  Boy got tall.”

            “Merlin’s beard, Rose, can we not talk about Ben Solo like that?  I mean, really,” Rey complained.  Poe and Finn seconded that statement.  Rose shrugged, unconcerned, and continued making headway in her pile of candy.  Rey stole some for the simple injustice that she’d missed the food trolley.

            “What about your rounds partner, Finn?” Rose asked.  “Who’d you draw?  I’m guessing not one of the Slytherins or you’d be complaining too.”

            “Nah,” he shrugged.  “A fifth-year Ravenclaw named Tracy Clearwater.  Seems nice enough.  A little quiet.”

            “And completely smitten with you,” Rey added.  “I bet she’s had a crush on the Gryffindor Hero since she found out you ditched your relatives in Slytherin.”

            Both Poe and Rose looked less than happy with that information.  “Why is he the Gryffindor Hero?” Poe protested.  “What has he done?”

            “What have you done?” Finn fired back at him.  “At least I left my death eater family.  That was brave.  You’re just stupid.”

            Rey and Rose laughed as the two devolved into arguing and rattling off their Quidditch records.  The four friends chatted about summer and new developments in their lives and the news that Rey had missed in her months without the Daily Prophet.  She couldn’t afford a subscription for herself, but she reliably bummed a copy off her friends every day. 

            Rey mostly listened and watched for Hogwarts to appear out of the window, though it was still light and far too soon.  She didn’t talk about her summer as a rule, though one of them always ventured to ask.  This year, it was Finn.

            “How was your summer, Rey?” he asked and turned towards her.

            “Oh, you know,” she shrugged.  “Full of muggles.”

            That reminded her.  She pulled out the damage-proof Nokia that she’d used all summer and turned it off.  It didn’t work at Hogwarts anyway, though she always turned it on when she went to Hogsmeade, where there was less magical interference, to see if she’d gotten any texts from the others at the Platt Orphanage. 

            With its annoying dingly notification turned off, her last connection to the muggle world dropped away.  Forever, she reminded herself, for she planned to never allow herself to return to the Platt Orphanage—or the muggle world—again, if she could help it.  In four months, she’d be a full, legal adult in the wizarding world.  She had two years left at Hogwarts, sure, but she’d make it work.  Professors Skywalker and Organa liked her and seemed to know everyone.  She’d work in a shop in Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, rent a room, and finally be free.  Free to get sweets from Honeydukes and read every book in Flourish and Blotts and send owls to Poe and Finn and Rose whenever she wanted, even visit them if she could manage a room connected to the Floo Network.  Maybe Finn would do the same and be her roommate.  They’d get along well as flatmates…

            The appearance of Hogwarts across the like shining with moonlight shook Rey from her dreams of the future.  The train chugged into Hogsmeade station and wheezed to a stop.  Rey jumped to her feet and had grabbed her satchel before Poe or Finn could offer to help.

            “You’re excited,” Poe observed. 

            “She’s always excited,” Rose reminded him.

            Rey grinned.  “It’s Hogwarts!  What’s not to be excited about?”

            Sixth year.  Only two years left, and she would revel in every minute of it.  She bounded off the train and bounced on the balls of her feet as she waited for her friends to follow.  They left their luggage on the train, though she loathed to leave BB behind.  He would be well taken care of in the owlery.

            The four of them headed to the line of carriages waiting to take them up to the school.  She spotted Solo with a group of Slytherins climbing into a carriage ahead of them, but only recognized him by Phasma’s white-blonde hair glinting in the moonlight.  That and Solo had frozen with one foot in the carriage, his eyes fixed on the place where empty space stood instead of horses.  Phasma tugged on his sleeve.  “Get in, Solo.  You’re holding up the line.”

            He shook his head, climbed inside, shut the door, and was gone.  Rey forgot Solo and his odd behavior as they climbed into their own carriage.  She practically pressed her face to the glass to see the lights of Hogwarts looming closer.  It always reminded her of that first wondrous journey across the lake in the boats.

            She’d met Rose on the train, sitting in the first open compartment she’d found.  Unlike her, Rose knew what was going on, though she’d folded herself into the far corner and sniffled because Paige had left her to sit with her friends.  So, Rey had taken that seat and listened to her talk about Paige forgetting about her and how afraid she was that she’d end up in Slytherin.  Rey didn’t even know what Slytherin was, but she’d decided then and there that if sweet Rose didn’t want to be in Slytherin, she didn’t either.  They had followed each other into a boat with small hands gripped tight.

            And promptly ran into Poe and Finn.  Literally.  They’d crashed into the boat so hard that it had almost capsized.  Like Rose, Poe and Finn knew what to expect, and Poe started rattling off about the Sorting Ceremony and the merits of Gryffindor, which was much better than all the other houses combined, to hear him tell it.  But she recognized that same look in Finn’s eyes.  She was sure it was mirrored in her own gaze on Rose.  Like this other person was a lifeboat and he’d been drowning his whole life.  Rey still thought Finn could have ended up in Hufflepuff with them, but it was no surprise when he followed Poe into Gryffindor.

            “Rey!  Earth to Rey!” Poe snapped his fingers in her face, and she snapped her teeth at them.  “I said, how many firsties do you think we’ll have this year?  Did they tell you in your stuffy boring meeting?”

            “There were so few last year,” Rose muttered.  She was right.  The smallest class yet, the children of the last war.  Rey didn’t want to think about that now with the threat of Snoke and his new world order hanging over them.  Finn’s face had drawn closed.  His parents believed in Snoke’s nonsense, and he’d fled their home because of it.  He’d tried to make it sound tame, but Poe had written to her in horror of what they’d done to their own son.  Now Finn wore the new scar above his eye and the title ‘Blood Traitor’ sneered at him in the halls like badges of honor.

            “I hope they’ll have pudding at the feast,” Poe said, and the heavy mood evaporated.

            Rose rolled her eyes.  “There’s always pudding.”

            The haunted look didn’t leave Finn’s eyes until Rey shouted and pointed out the glittering lights of Hogwarts.

            They were home.

Chapter Text

Rose and Rey had to separate from Finn and Poe when they reached the Great Hall.  The boys sat at the table beside theirs, cloaked already in red and gold.  They didn’t go far.  Rey and Rose sat at the end of the long table closest to the Headmaster’s table, so she could easily stand to greet new Hufflepuffs.  She could turn around and jab Poe’s back with a fork if she leaned.  Naturally, she took full advantage of that.

            “Merlin, Rey,” he cursed when he finally figured out where the jabs came from.

            Anything else he’d planned to say was cut off by the girl beside him, who chose that moment to strike up a conversation.  Rey leaned back into her own table and greeted Henry McLaggen, the fourth-year who’d sat down across from them.  They exchanged small talk about their summers, and Rey leaned around Rose to greet Hannah Kent, their fellow sixth-year and roommate.  She paid almost no heed to their hellos and launched straight into her latest crusade.

            “Can you believe that Muggles don’t even have reliable access to birth control?” Hannah always had a crusade and usually Rey was more than happy to listen, but not at the Welcome Feast.  “I was just reading in my Muggle Studies book on the train.”

            “I was raised by Muggles,” Rey reminded her at the same time as Rose said, “what’s birth control?”

            “Like a contraception spell,” Hannah said.

            “Well, of course not.  They don’t even know about magic,” Rose answered.

            Hannah opened her mouth, probably to educate her on muggle forms of birth control and their various merits, but Rey spoke first.  “Can’t we just catch up first?  We can talk about birth control all night if you want Hannah, but later?  After the Welcome Feast?”

            Hannah nodded and was distracted by the arrival of their other friend.

            Eliza Mohapatra and Hannah Kent were as different as two people could be.  Hannah had her head in the clouds, tirelessly working towards whatever cause she’d adopted at that time, full of wild ideas and things to try.  Eliza was the practical one, always advising Hannah about how she should go about things, but she had a breezy, carefree side too.  They were also fast friends.

            “Did you read the Quibbler on the way up?  Did you know Lovegood is coming to Hogwarts later this semester?” she asked as she sat down.  “Oh, hello, Henry.  Yellow looks good on you.”

            Rey’s greeting to her friend was interrupted by the Headmaster’s appearance at the podium.  The room fell silent at once, though he had said nothing yet. 

            Luke Skywalker was famous amongst wizards.  He had defeated the Dark Lord, Darth Vader, his own father, when he had barely left Hogwarts and had fought in the war that delayed the rise of Snoke.  There were whispers that Snoke had gone into hiding and now planned his second rise.  Like Skywalker had been an Auror and had taught Defense Against the Dark Arts before becoming headmaster.

            The current professor of Defense was none other than his twin sister, Leia Organa.  She had fought in every war alongside her brother and made a career in the ministry before he convinced her to join the staff at Hogwarts.  Everyone knew that it was she who had marshalled their wizarding forces against Vader and again in the brief war against Snoke.  She commanded troops as easily as she breathed.

            That stately witch breezed into the Great Hall followed by a crowd of first years.  Rey felt Rose shift beside her.  “There are so few of them.”

            There were.  Fewer than forty.  Not like the old classes of hundreds that had graced these halls before Snoke’s rise.  Professor Skywalker yielded the podium to his sister.  Professor Organa, Rey thought, looked equally at home behind a podium and on a battlefield.  She gave a motherly smile to the crowd and to the new first-years in particular. 

            “Welcome back to Hogwarts,” she said and a few cheered.  “And welcome to our new class of young witches and wizards.”  She looked off to the side and motioned to a small woman who carried a hat almost as large as herself.  The hat had seen better days.  It was creased with dirt and years and didn’t look like anything special, but everyone in the hall leaned closer.  Professor Kanata, the impossibly small Divination professor, set the hat on a stool.  “When I call your name, come forward, and I will place the hat on your head.”

            Rey could see the first years trembling.  They were barely three feet from her and all looked so small.  They looked smaller every year.  Professor Organa cleared her throat and unrolled a very official-looking scroll.  “Tracy Abbott.”

            As the first student stepped up to the hat on trembling legs, Rey stood beside the head of her table and tried to make her face look welcoming.  She saw Finn and Paige do the same on either side of her.  On the other side of the hall, she hoped Ben at least tried to smile.  Tracy Abbott was sorted into Gryffindor, and Finn crouched to shake her hand and lead her beaming face to a spot at his table, where she was greeted eagerly by the elder Gryffindors, including Bodhi and Jyn.

            Steve Anderson went to Ravenclaw, and Paige ushered him down to a spot.  Orion Black went to Slytherin to no one’s surprise at all.  The Black family had long been a bastion of Slytherin House.  She glanced at Finn’s dark face.  His family was distantly related to the Blacks, as many old wizarding families were.  They intermarried too much for Rey’s comfort.  She watched the black-haired boy run towards the cheering table of Slytherins.  To her surprise, Solo knelt to greet him with a smile that she’d never seen on his face.  Well, at least one Slytherin could control his nasty self for a few moments.  Perhaps that was why Professor Tarkin had made him a prefect, although she didn’t put much stock in that man’s judgement.  She’d always thought it had more to do with him being Professor Organa’s son.  Tarkin stretched one of his eerie grins at the new member of Slytherin house.

            It wasn’t until Greta Finch that Hufflepuff got its first new member.  After that, they got three in quick succession.  Rey greeted all of them by name and led them through the ranks of cheering Hufflepuffs.  All four of their new members beamed at their new housemates.  The sorting continued, and the students were divided almost equally between the houses.  One, Brett McCormick, was a hatstall.  The Sorting Hat sat for a full six minutes before declaring her a Ravenclaw.  The table bathed in blue cheered extra loud for winning whatever tie had been occurring over this girl’s mind.

            Rey remembered her own sorting.  She didn’t know what the houses meant, but Professor Organa explained briefly beforehand what their significance was.  It seemed like such a daunting choice to have to make right at the beginning.  And worse, she couldn’t even follow Rose, since she would be sorted after her.  Poe was one of the first and the hat had barely touched his gelled hair before it cried Gryffindor.  Rey had climbed the steps to the Hat on trembling legs.

            “Ooo,” the hat had said in her ear.  “A blank slate.  You don’t know anything about any of them, do you?”  She sat rigid with fear.  “Bravery, yes, and loyalty.  You would do well in Gryffindor.  Not a bad mind, either, and a thirst for your studies.  Ambition here too.  Ah, but that’s all an escape, isn’t it?  Yes, I see what you want most.”  Rey had hoped desperately that no one else could hear this dialogue in her ear.  “Belonging.  You want to find your place.  Well, I know just what to do with you….Hufflepuff!

            Yes, Rey remembered her own sorting as if it were yesterday.  She had joined the cheering Hufflepuff table and met Eliza and Hannah at once.  They had both been sorted moments before her.  And a few minutes later, Rose had joined them.  Finn Zabini had been the very last one sorted and most of the room had moved on.  A Zabini.  He’d be in Slytherin.  Except the Hat had sat on his head for six whole seconds before declaring him a Gryffindor.  She still remembered the otherworldly hissing that had come from the Slytherin table, though she hadn’t understood why at the time.

            When Professor Organa removed the hat again, Hufflepuff had gained nine new members.  Finn shot her a glare.  Gryffindor had come up short with only seven.  Professor Skywalker stepped up to the podium and beamed out at them.  “This is my favorite part of every year.  Welcome to our new students and welcome back to our esteemed veterans,” the Headmaster said.  His eyes grazed over the front row where many of the prefects sat.  “I will not delay our feast long.  Just a few rules.

            “I remind you all that the Forbidden Forest is strictly off-limits to all students.”  His eyes lighted on Poe and glittered with amusement.  “It is for your protection that it is closed off and the Whomping Willow with it.  This year, the Astronomy Tower will also be closed at all times except when class is in session.  Boring points aside, let us eat.”

            With a wave of his hand, food weighed down the tables until they groaned.  Every kind of dish and delicacy populated the tables.  Everything anyone there could ever want.  The house elves had really outdone themselves this year.  Rey would be sure to tell them and thank them.  She reached for the first spoon she could find and began to ladle food onto her plate.  Always the Welcome Feast felt like a saving grace to the gnawing in her stomach.  On her first day of Hogwarts, Rey had thought she’d never seen so much food in her whole life.  Only when Rose had asked her why she ate so little did she realize that she was allowed to have as much as she wanted.

            “I started painting this year,” Eliza told Hannah as she shoveled potatoes onto her plate.  “Mum took my wand away, so I couldn’t enchant the paint anymore.”

            “Your mum’s strict,” Rose said between mouthfuls.  “What’s the harm in enchanting a bit of paint?”

            “Well, I did set it on fire a few times.”  Eliza shrugged.

            Rose and Rey exchanged glances and dropped their eyes to their plates before they could laugh.  Eliza engaged in so many experiments that they wondered how she’d ended up in Hufflepuff instead of Ravenclaw.  Six years on and no one had come up with a good answer.

            “Are you trying out for the Quidditch team this year, Hannah?” Rose asked.  That caught Rey’s attention.  Hannah had been toying with the idea for years.  She could fly well and occasionally dabbled in their inter-house Quidditch league as a Beater. 

            “I don’t know,” she mused.  A wicked smile crossed her face.  “Maybe I’ll go out for Seeker.”

            Rose snorted her butterbeer and started choking.  All eyes turned to Rey, who clapped her friend on the back.  She shrugged.  “Be my guest.  It’d be nice to have some competition this year.”

            Hannah wouldn’t do it, and they both knew it, if only because she didn’t have a Seeker’s build in the least.  Rey had held that position since her second year.  When Professor Kenobi had called her into his office after seeing her dodge a Slytherin twice her size and snatch his wand out of the air, she’d thought she was done for.  Instead, he’d given her the best school broom and handed her over to the seventh-year Quidditch captain.  Only in her third year did she join the starting roster after a year playing back up Seeker to a seventh-year.

            “You should go out for the team,” she urged Hannah.  “You could do it and we need lots of players this year.  Half our team graduated.  We can’t lose to Gryffindor again.  I’ll never hear the end of it.”

            Hannah nodded and seemed convinced, if only to beat Gryffindor.

            Rey finished her pudding and threw her fork down onto her plate with a contented sigh. 

            “You’re going to have to roll me to the common room,” Rose complained.  Rey smiled and tilted her face to the cloudless, starry sky overhead.  She loved the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall and the floating candles overhead.  It reminded her of the nicer parts of her childhood, lying on the roof of the orphanage with one of the little ones by her side.

            Rey got up from the table as Professor Skywalker declared the Welcome Feast over.  She strode down the aisle between the tables.  “Hufflepuffs, this way, please,” her voice rang out over the excited murmurs of her house’s table.  “First years at the front, please.”

            She reached the end of the long table and waited for the tiny first years to push their way to the front.  The other prefects joined her.  Harry Gaskell sauntered up beside her with that same stupid grin on his face.  He was the other sixth-year prefect, but she’d learned to loathe him last year when he hadn’t helped her at all.  It didn’t help his case that he’d asked her to the Yule Ball four times even after she’d said no.

            “I see you got paired with Solo,” he said by way of greeting.

            “Not now, Gaskell,” she said and turned to greet the seventh-year prefect, Ruescott Melshi, a quiet, tall boy who had always gotten on well with Rey.

            “Alright,” she announced.  “Follow me.”  The first-years stuck close to their prefects, and the rest of the house generally followed behind in a loose mass, since none of them knew the new password.  “The Hufflepuff common room is located on the bottom floor of the school.”

            “Which means we don’t have to climb all those bloody stairs like those Gryffindor and Ravenclaw pricks,” the seventh-year prefect, Joanna Weasley, chimed in with a flip of her long, red hair.  Her comment earned a smattering of appreciative laughter.

            “And that means we’re always first to dinner,” Rey added.  “Mind you, the staircases like to change.  This is the most direct route to the Common Room.”

            The portraits sprinted between the frames and waved to them as they passed.  Dumbfounded, the first years waved back.  The crowd of Hufflepuffs trotted passed an enormous painting of a cluster of pears.  Rey pointed this out to them as the entrance to the Hogwarts kitchens but didn’t tell them how to get in.  If they wanted to know, she thought, they’d figure it out or ask someone who already knew.  It was only a little farther down the hall to the Hufflepuff dormitories.  She stopped before an unobtrusive pile of barrels set inside a stone recess that looked entirely ordinary in the hall along the kitchens.  The prefects all checked that no one from any other house lurked in the halls before Rey turned back to the barrels.

            “Two from the bottom, middle of the second row,” she said and pointed out the barrel to the first-years.  “Tap to the rhythm of Hel-ga Huff-le-puff.”  She demonstrated on the selected barrel and the entire collection pressed backwards and vanished to reveal a corridor.  “If you tap on the wrong barrel or get the rhythm wrong, you’ll get sprayed with vinegar, so be careful.  There’s one more thing too.  The password is ‘Unicorn Hair’ after Helga Hufflepuff’s wand.”  The shimmering golden barrier disappeared to allow them passage into the common room.  “We added that after an incident last year with a Gryffindor prank.  It changes every week or so.”

            Rey led them up the sloping path into the common room.  The light all but vanished for the barest second before they emerged in a bright room.  And Rey was home. 

            The Hufflepuff common room was a low, circular space lit by a cheery fire framed by the warm wood of the badger-carved hearth and the paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling.  Its circular windows sat high up on the wall and looked out on the Hogwarts grounds blanched white tonight by the moon and stars.  The swaying grasses just visible through the windows reminded them that they were halfway underground. 

            The room had long been furnished with comfortable furniture in honey-colored wood and upholstered in their signature cheery yellow and black and the occasional light green.  They had armchairs pulled close by the fire and long couches scattered throughout the room.  One of the common favorites was the circular alcove taken up completely by a round couch covered in pillows.  A few of the fourth years broke free of the pack and claimed it for themselves already.  Other tables held games and cards for them to share and bookcases covered an entire wall.  The elder Hufflepuffs who could afford it left their old textbooks there for the next generation. 

            Small, circular shelves pressed into the smoothed stone walls held various plants.  The cacti waved at the new first years and danced in their pots.  Greenery hung close to the ceiling and tendrils spilled over and dangled to face level, brushing them slightly as they passed beneath them.  Rey waved to the toasting portrait of Helga Hufflepuff displayed over the hearth, who greeted her new house members with a wide smile.

            “Welcome to your common room,” Rey said and gestured to the warm room behind her.  “This space, as you might imagine, is common to everyone in Hufflepuff house.  You may bring friends here from other houses but take care that they do not know how to enter without you, and they will need to return before curfew, which is at ten on weekdays, midnight on weekends.”  She glanced around and wondered how many of these first-years would try to stay up until midnight tonight and fail within the hour.  “Curfew is monitored by prefects and the head students, so don’t be caught out late.”

            She continued along the normal speech given to new first-years.  “While you’re here, your house will be like your family.  If you need help in anything, don’t hesitate to ask a prefect or another student.  Positive actions in the school, like answering questions in class or winning Quidditch matches, will earn our house points.  Disciplinary actions will lose us points.  At the end of the year, whichever house has the most points wins the House Cup.”  She bit her lip and tried to remember what else she needed to tell them.  “Schedules of classes will be handed out tomorrow at breakfast.”  That was news to some older Hufflepuffs as well.  “As first years, your classes are chosen for you, so don’t worry about that.”

            “Quidditch tryouts are next week, but first-years can’t join the team,” Shar Malbus, the seventh-year Quidditch captain drawled from where he’d sprawled out on a couch.  “The rest of you lot, though.  Unless you want to go out for Seeker, then don’t bother.”  Rey winced.  “I’m just kidding.  I need a back-up in case Niima gets hit by a bludger again.”

            “For Merlin’s sake, Malbus.  Shut it.  We can talk about Quidditch practice tomorrow,” she snapped.  Shar Malbus lived and breathed Quidditch.  His cousin, Baze, had been a decent Beater in his time at Hogwarts too and had even had a good run on Puddlemere United.  He ran the Hogshead now.  “Did I get everything important?” she asked Melshi, because he was the only one who could really be trusted.

            He thought for a moment.  “Don’t go into the Forbidden Forest.  Don’t let us lose the House Cup to Gryffindor again.  Um, all your owls are in the owlery.  All your sh…I mean, trunks are in your rooms.”

            “Right, yeah.  We’ll show you to your dormitories now,” she said.  “If there’s anything else…oh, Professor Kenobi’s here.”  The genial old man emerged from the earthen tunnel and beamed at the new Hufflepuffs.  “Right, everyone, this is your Head of House.”

            “So many new faces,” he said and grinned over his white beard.  His sharp eyes darted over Rey and slid to the other prefects.  “I see you’re getting a proper introduction.  Welcome to the esteemed Hufflepuff House.  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s anything besides esteemed.  Helga Hufflepuff was the best of us.  Here, we work hard, treat others fairly, and tolerate differences.  We are an example to our other schoolmates in these divisive and difficult times.  Here, you’ll find family and true friends.”

            The first-years gazed up at him with wide eyes.  Ben Kenobi had fame in his own right.  He had fought alongside Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa in the first war and had trained them in their own magic.  Outside Hogwarts’ hallowed halls, he was a bit of a legend.  He almost never left the school anymore, rumor had it, even in the summer.  Some said he stayed all summer to take care of his greenhouses, some said he protected the school itself.  She had never asked him which it was, if either.

            “I see I’ve interrupted the great tour of the dormitories.  Lead on, Ms. Niima.  Lead on.”  He gave her a wide smile.  He’d confided in her years ago that the Welcome Feast was his favorite day of the year.

            “Right.  Well, girls, follow me.  Boys will go with Melshi to see your dormitories,” she said.  The four first-year girls herded close to her, although they already seemed to gravitate around one with taut, long braids.  Two earthen halls branched off the common room like a warren, and Rey led them towards the one on the left.  It sloped ever so slightly upwards.  Round doors embedded in the walls led to each dorm.  Theirs was only the second one along the hall, the one that had belonged to last year’s seventh years.  She missed them already.  These doors—well, the whole common room, really—always reminded her of what she imagined a hobbit hole looked like.

            “Here’s your dorm.  You’ll find all of your things already inside,” Rey said and opened the door to reveal four four-poster beds complete with patchwork quilts and circular windows between each of them.  Nothing hung on the walls, although a few plants sat on various shelves.  It was odd to see the room so bare when just a few months ago it had been covered in pictures and posters from the seventh-years.  Four trunks sat neatly at the ends of the beds.  “You can swap around if you want.  No one cares.”

            The girls entered their new room in a daze.  Some of them had probably never had so much space to themselves.  Yellow hangings poured from the corners of the beds that could be drawn closed at night.

            “Have everything you need?” Rey asked when none of them said anything.  All four huddled near the center of the room. 

The small, dark girl with all the braids was the first to move.  She climbed up a trunk and onto the bed.  Theodosia, that was her name.  Theodosia Nott.  Usually a Slytherin family, although this girl didn’t seem to care.  “This one’s mine,” she declared.  Indeed, a trunk emblazoned T.A.N. stood at its end.  “Well, come on, then.  Thanks, miss, we’ve got everythin’ now.”

“It’s Rey,” she answered with a smile.  “I’m at the top of the hall if you need anything.  It’s getting close to ten so stay in the common room tonight.”

She glanced over her shoulder once more as she closed the door behind her.  All four girls had claimed their beds, although two had swapped theirs and were dragging their trunks to their new places.  They’ll do okay, she thought, with a girl like Theodosia at their head.  At least the room didn’t look too small with only four beds.  The last group had been eight strong.

Rey wondered if one day there wouldn’t be any at all.

Chapter Text

            The sun rose early over Hogwarts, but Rey had already awoken.  Excitement bubbled in her stomach as she laced her beat-up Converse.  Freedom.  Hogwarts buzzed with the sense of freedom.  Rose and her other roommates slept on in the half-light of dawn as Rey snatched up her broomstick and slipped out.  No one stirred in the common room either.  Classes didn’t start until tomorrow and none of the students bothered to get up before breakfast when there was nothing to do.

            Rey shoved her way out of the main doors of the school and a breeze ruffled her messy hair.  She’d be back before breakfast to help Professor Kenobi distribute schedules, but she had hours before then.  As soon as her feet crunched on the pavement around the school, she threw her leg over her broom and shot into the air.

            The wind sang in her ears.  The ground fell away with the lift in her chest that brushed off the last weight of the summer.  Her poor broom had been locked away in a cupboard at Hogwarts and protected with charms after an agreement between Professors Skywalker, Organa, and Kenobi, since she had nowhere to store it in the orphanage, and it would have been difficult to explain why she’d hidden a broom so obviously not for sweeping.  She ran her hands along its smooth surface.  She wouldn’t have had her Millennium VII at all if it wasn’t for Professor Kenobi, who really had a very competitive streak when it came to Quidditch.  Of course, he’d never owned up to giving her such a thing.  It would be too blatant an act of favoritism. 

             Rey circled around the Gryffindor Tower and admired the way the colors of the sunrise glanced over the Black Lake.  Hogwarts was the most picturesque place she’d ever seen.  For good measure, she circled around the Ravenclaw Tower too.  She stopped her broom in midair to adjust her sweater around her neck against the chill of the morning.  The winter promised to be a brutal one if it was already this cold in September.  Pure joy flooded through her at the exhilaration of flying again. 

            The Quidditch Pitch.  That’s where she’d go, since she’d already gotten the wonderful feeling of the wind against her face out of her system.  She needed the practice of flying and dodging around the stands.  Almost everyone else on the four house teams came from wizarding families, at least half-blooded if not full, and had probably spent all summer flying.  There was no way she’d be outdone by some pureblooded wizard with his head up his ass.

            She steered herself towards the Quidditch Pitch and pressed her body nearly horizontal until she could fit cleanly through one of the hoops.  Up, up, up and around the stands fluttering with the faded fabric of last year’s season she flew.  Rey always flew close to the loose sheets to practice dodging through them in the wind.  Somehow, the snitch seemed to always end up among them at a crucial moment of the match.  Plus, she liked the feeling of banking close to stands.  Up to the very top of the stands and then down until she almost plowed straight into the ground.  She pulled up just before the crash and sped upwards to try that move again.

            A hot flash of light whizzed in her peripheral vision and her cheek burned.  She rolled to avoid the next one and spotted the source on the ground.  Slytherins.  Her wand was in her hand before she knew to reach for it.  She cast a shield charm around herself to deflect any more of their attacks and dropped lower so she could spot who had decided to disturb her morning.

            “Get off the pitch, mudblood,” one of them spat at her.  Krennic.  The worst of the Slytherins.  Only in Slytherin could he be mistaken for someone worthy of the prefect position.  And Quidditch captain on top of that.  She slowed her broom to a stop and hovered about ten feet over their heads.  Krennic, Sloane, and Solo stood on the previously empty pitch, brooms in hand.

            “I didn’t know you’d reserved it,” she mused.  Sloane shot a messy curse at her, which would have missed her anyway but rebounded off her shield. 

            “We don’t have to reserve it.  There are three of us and one of you.  Scum like you doesn’t belong in Quidditch anyway—or at Hogwarts for that matter.”  It seemed they were going to let Krennic do the talking.  The burn on her cheek smarted.

            Rey shrugged and did a lazy roll on her broom just to irritate them.  Solo still hadn’t said anything.  What a great year this was going to be.  “It’s cute that you think you’re going to win the Quidditch Cup this year.  Especially with that lump on your team.” 

            She eyed Sloane with obvious disgust, and the girl gripped her wand so hard it almost snapped.  “What do you know about it, mudblood?  Like Hufflepuff knows what a win feels like.  What did we beat you by last year…sixty points?”  Krennic spat.

            She wouldn’t let him get to her and boil her blood.  She grinned at him.  “And what did Gryffindor beat you by?  A hundred?  Oh, no, that’s right.  A hundred and twenty.”

            “Maybe they’ll do half as well this year.  That is, if their captain can ever pull himself away from a mirror,” Solo spoke up for the first time. 

            “You’re one to talk, Solo.  Between you and your dear Hux, I think you go through a bottle of gel a day.”  He grimaced at her.  “Lucky for you, I’m just going to breakfast.  Enjoy the pitch.  You know, if Slone can even get off the ground today.”

            Rey shot off towards the castle before any of them could think about sending too many curses her way.  First day back at Hogwarts and already those bloody Slytherins wouldn’t leave her be.  Her eyes stung with tears as she landed and dragged her broom back to her dorm.  The other girls had left by that point, except for Sandra, who was still buried up to her forehead in her quilt.  She went to meet them in the Great Hall.

            “Bloody hell, what happened to your face?” Finn asked.  Poe dropped his toast at the sight of her. 

            “Slytherins,” she groused.  “Finn, you got something for this?”

            “Hold still,” he said and grabbed her chin to keep her from moving.  He cast a spell on her face, which would have really caused her to balk three years ago, but Finn had been training to become an auror and practiced a lot of field medicine.  A cooling, tingling sensation spread across her face.  Rose handed her a compact mirror, and she saw that the angry, blistered skin had faded to a dull red.

            “And what are you wearing?” Rose asked, picking at a hole in the bumblebee-colored sweater she wore over her tight Quidditch pants.  Rey looked down at it and frowned.

            “What’s wrong with it?”

            “Rey,” Finn said gently.  “It’s got holes all in it.”

            She shrugged.  It hadn’t occurred to her to change before heading to breakfast.  It wasn’t as if she was going to class in her holey sweater.  “I went out on my broom.  I wasn’t going to wear my nice sweater.  That’s for real Quidditch.”

            Rose rolled her eyes and shrugged.  None of her friends had bothered with school robes that morning either, just as most of the other students hadn’t.  Except first years.  She should have mentioned that they didn’t have to wear their school robes at all times on Hogwarts grounds.  Poor kids probably slept in them.

            Rey dished several crumpets onto her plate.  Poe and Finn had already gone through a full plate of eggs and bacon each and helped themselves to another.  Her stomach growled after her morning flight.  She’d have to start running again and soon, to get in shape for Quidditch season.  Rose shot her glances out of the corner of her eye.  She knew she looked a mess with the half-healed blistered burn on her cheek and her hair sticking up in all directions but couldn’t bring herself to care. 

            “Ms. Niima,” Professor Kenobi said from behind her.  She spun around with a mouthful of crumpet and wiped the jam from her lips hurriedly.  “Would you mind helping me pass out class schedules?”

            She swallowed too early and winced.  “Of course, professor.”

            “Oh dear, what happened to your face?”

            “It’s nothing, professor,” she answered hurriedly and half-hoped he would take her word for it.  No such luck.  He eyed the mark on her cheek.

            “Really?  It looks like a Blister Hex.”  He raised his eyebrows.

            “Just a misunderstanding over the Quidditch Pitch.  You know how people get.  The schedules, sir?”  She held out her hand and hoped he would take the hint and move on.

            He gave her another long look before separating out a few stacks.  “First-years, sixth-years, and seventh-years.  I trust you can see those home safely.  Do take care of yourself now, Ms. Niima.  We’ll need you on the Quidditch Pitch soon.”

            “Why didn’t you tell him who cursed you?” Rose asked as their Head of House walked back down the aisle.  How he’d spotted her in the crowd, she didn’t know, since she’d sat down at the Gryffindor table for breakfast.  Although the bright yellow sweater may have had something to do with it.

            “If I’m going to be working with Solo this year, there’s no sense in losing him house points to start with,” she reasoned.

            “So, it was Solo who cursed you.  That bloody bastard, I’ll…” Poe started, but Rey cut him off.

            “I can handle him myself, thanks.  And no, it wasn’t Solo.  I couldn’t really say if it was Krennic or Sloane, since I didn’t see who fired the curse.  Sloane was a little trigger happy this morning, but Krennic was positively frothing.”  She almost laughed at the memory.  He tended to spit when he got angry.

            “Are you sure it wasn’t Solo?” Poe asked.  Rey thought he just wanted a reason to get into a duel with the Slytherin.  Not that she was objecting.  It would be a rocky start to their semester if he thought she’d put Poe up to it though.

            “I’m sure.  Solo was the only one who didn’t draw his wand,” she said, distracted by sorting through the schedules.  She put hers and Rose’s at the end of the stack.  “I’ll save these for later.  I want to look at them together.  You two can’t look at yours!”

            Rose frowned at her and tried to snatch the schedule out of her hands, but she moved down the table, laughing.  The first-years were easy to find, all huddled up together at the Hufflepuff table.  She handed them each their schedules and promised to help them find their classes once they’d looked them all over.  Only about half of the sixth-years were there at all.  Most of them only glanced at their schedules before shoving them in their pockets and returning to breakfast.  She hoped they would at least keep them.  The seventh-years were only slightly more enthused, but that seemed to be over the idea that this was their last schedule ever.

            “Here, Rose,” she handed her eager friend her schedule and sat down to look at hers too. 

            “Poe looked at his,” Finn said as soon as she sat down.  Poe kicked him under the table and made Finn swear so loudly that Professor Organa frowned at him from the Headmasters’ table. 

            “Whatever.  I don’t care what classes he has anyway,” Rey said as she looked over hers.  Rose shifted between reading over her shoulder and matching it up with her own schedule.  “Rose, you know we’ll have the main classes together.”

            “You’re still taking Ancient Runes?” Finn groaned.  “Gross.”

            Rey rolled her eyes.  “You know I’m taking Ancient Runes.  I have to do NEWTS in it.”

            “Yeah but…gross.  Hey, we have Herbology together,” he pointed to the spot on her schedule.  Herbology was still a popular class for NEWT levels and she wasn’t sure they would have the same class.  It also wasn’t mandatory to become a Cursebreaker, but Rey thought there was something to herbal solutions, especially if she entered the field of Cursebreaking that dealt with complex curses placed on living things.

            Rose wrinkled her nose.  “I’m not taking Herbology anymore.”

            “Merlin’s beard, Rose, what are you taking?” Rey asked.

            “Defense, Charms, Transfiguration,” she listed off at once.  “Umm…shit.  Potions.  I hate Potions.  Alchemy…”

            “They’re offering Alchemy this year?” Poe asked and leaned across the table to catch sight of her schedule.  “I want to take that.”

            “Don’t you have enough to take for Auror training, Poe?” Rey asked.

            “Well, yeah, but Alchemy…”

            Rose ignored him.  “And Muggle Studies.”

            “Why are you taking Muggle Studies?” Finn asked her.

            Rose shrugged.  “Professor Kenobi recommended it for me since Metal-Charmers have to work with Muggle artifacts sometimes and consult with the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office.”

            “So, we’ll have…” Finn thought it out.  “Defense, Potions, Charms, and Transfiguration all together?”

            Rey consulted his schedule over his shoulder and compared it with hers.  Like Poe, Finn had begun working on his abilities for his Auror application, although he had made significantly more progress in his skills than Poe, who seemed determined to rely on his father’s name to get in.  “We all have Potions together.  Probably not enough to make two classes for NEWTS.  Shit, that’ll mean the Slytherins too,” she said.  “Yep, we have Defense with all houses.  Charms with the Ravenclaws, though.  And Transfiguration with the Slytherins.”

            “Only two classes all together,” Poe complained.  “That sucks bloody balls.”

            “Language, please, Mr. Dameron,” Professor Organa said as she passed behind them.  Poe turned to greet her with a wide smile.  “We couldn’t very well put the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors together for every class.”

            “Good morning, Professor Organa,” Rey said.

            “And a fine day to you too, Ms. Niima.  Enjoy your Sunday off.”  She nodded to the other students around them and walked off.

            “What else do you have, Rey?” Finn asked when Professor Organa had moved on down the table.

            She consulted her schedule again.  It always took her a few tries to memorize it.  “Defense, Herbology, Potions, Transfiguration, Charms, and Ancient Runes.  I think that’s all this year.  I’ll have Quidditch and Professor Kenobi has promised me some dueling lessons if he has time.”

            “Dueling with Professor Kenobi?” Poe dropped his schedule to listen.  “Can we join in on that?  Mum says he was the best in his day.”

            “You’ll have to ask him yourself, nosy.  Don’t ruin it for me, though,” Rey answered.  “Who knows if he’ll even have time?”

            “We’re never going to have any time together this year,” Rose complained.  Hannah and Eliza joined them and slid into seats beside Rose, bringing their new schedules with them.  Rose was distracted by comparing their classes.

            “I need to schedule Quidditch tryouts,” Poe muttered to Finn.  Rey propped her chin on her hand and leaned in to listen.

            “Oh, really, Dameron?  And when will that be?” she asked.

            He glared at her.  “Don’t even think about it, Niima.  I’ll hex you from my broom.”

            Rey snorted.  “Like you’d hit me.”  Poe would be too distracted by Quidditch to give a single thought to who was in the stands.  Luckily for the Gryffindor Quidditch Team, Jyn was much more attentive and had an effective hex for any student from another house who tried to spy on their new recruits.  Despite this, at least one other house would try.  She had her money on the Ravenclaws this year.

            Rey wouldn’t try, though.  There was little advantage in spying on the Gryffindor Quidditch tryouts, since Poe would be sure to gush about his new recruits later and she knew virtually every Quidditch player in Hogwarts from their illicit inter-house league.  She didn’t need to spy on him when he’d just blurt everything out willingly.  Poe remained blissfully unaware of her plan. 

            “Change that sweater and we’ll go down to the lake,” Rose urged.  “You too,” she shot at Finn and Poe. 

            Rey couldn’t disagree with that.  Hannah and Eliza waved goodbye to them and tucked into their respective breakfasts.  In only a few minutes, Rey and her friends strolled out through the front doors and into the sunlight.  And straight into the glares of her three Slytherin friends.  All three sneered at the Muggle t-shirt and jeans she’d changed into and her friends around her.

            “Nice face, Mudblood,” Sloane snarled.  Rey nudged Finn and Poe, so they would keep moving and not do something reckless with their drawn wands.

            “I’d say jealousy doesn’t suit you, Sloane, but I’d be lying,” she answered with a sweet smile.  She gave Poe and Finn’s stationary backs a none too gentle shove and passed by the sweaty Slytherins.  Her friends only relaxed when they got down to the lake, as if they’d worried that the snakes would chase them down.  “Oh, sit down, Poe.”  She tugged on the cuff of his pants.  “They’re gone.”

            “I’ll hex his smug face off,” Poe growled but did sit down in the grass.

            Rey’s brow creased.  “Whose face?”

            “Solo’s,” he snapped.  She rolled her eyes.  Poe and Ben Solo had been at each other’s throats since day one, when Poe had discovered that the new, quiet Slytherin could fly as well or better than him.  Solo had quickly demonstrated how vocal he could be about his new rival.  Better and better, this year.

            “He didn’t even say anything, Poe,” Finn said.  “Sloane’s the loud mouth.  Always is.”

            He wasn’t wrong.  Sloane ran her mouth almost as much as Krennic did his wand.  It didn’t help that Finn’s aunt had married Sloane’s father and that he was a common target of his cousin’s vitriol.  She wasn’t overly creative in her insults, not like Phasma who could hit bone in a split second.  As a result, Rey respected Phasma more than Rachel Sloane.  At least she could keep up.

            “Can we just forget about Slytherins?” Rose huffed and flopped back onto the grass.  Rey agreed with her whole heart.  Why think about rotten Slytherins and stupid rounds partners when the sun was so warm on her face and the lake lapped so nicely on the shore?  The whole of the Hogwarts grounds opened around them.

            “When are you holding Quidditch tryouts?” Poe asked her instead and Rose groaned.  Rey bantered with them about teams and players and who was going to win the Quidditch Cup this year (Hufflepuff).

            “Rose might hex us,” Finn said with a grin.  “When are we reviving the League?”

            The Inter-house Quidditch League.  One of the best ideas they’d ever had.  It had been Finn’s idea at first, but Poe had run away with it.  Most of the half- or pure-blooded students had grown up playing Quidditch, but only seven from each house could play on the official teams.  And so, the Inter-house League was born.  Anyone could play and teams from mixed houses were all but mandatory.

            “We’ve had some interest in Hufflepuff already,” Rey said.  At least four of last year’s members had pulled her aside to ask about it.  “Will the Gryffindors come back this year?”

            Poe nodded.  “Jyn already threatened me over it.”

            Rey wrinkled her nose.  Jyn and the team Bodhi had dubbed ‘Rogue One’ had narrowly beaten their team last year in the mock final.  She was still bitter over it.  Most of Rogue One didn’t even play on house teams, but they worked together so well that they were almost unstoppable. 

            “Do we have a keeper this year?” she asked instead.  They’d lost theirs last year to an injury in an actual Quidditch game, and their replacement had cost them the final.

            Poe frowned.  “Busby’s volunteered again.”  Finn and Rey began to protest at once.  “I shut that down already.  He lost us one final too many.  I’ll see who I can recruit.  You’re up for Chaser again, right?”

            Rey nodded.  Their inter-house league played without snitches because they always played at night, so they could at least pretend the professors didn’t know about it.  They’d played the first matches with snitches and seekers until one of the second-years chased a wayward snitch into the Forbidden Forest and they’d all had to go in wands drawn to get him back.  After that, they played six per team and set either a point cap or time limit as the mood struck them.  So, Rey gave up her usual role of Seeker to play Chaser alongside Finn and Poe.  Cassian Andor, the Slytherin seeker, did the same on Rogue One.

            “I’ll convince Hannah to play Beater,” she said.

            “Paige might play the other Beater,” Rose offered.  “She’ll need to work off some frustration this year.”

            “It’ll be weird next year without Jyn and Cassian and Bodhi and Paige,” Rey mused, cushioning her head on her hands and watching the clouds drift across the clear sky.

            Poe groaned.  “You can’t get sentimental yet.  It’s not even January.  We have a whole year until then,” Poe complained.  She knew it was only because he didn’t want to think about it yet.  His elder brother, Kes Dameron, was a seventh-year Hufflepuff and would also graduate.

            “When’s the first Hogsmeade weekend?” Rose changed the subject.  “I can’t wait.”

            “Last weekend of September,” Rey and Finn answered at the same time.

            “Damn.  I want more butterbeer already,” Rose muttered.  They nodded in agreement.

            “I have Firewhiskey,” Poe offered.

            Rey rolled her eyes at her friend.  “We have classes tomorrow,” she reminded them.  “And it’s not even Quidditch yet.”

            “Spoil sport,” Poe said.

            “Goody two shoes,” Rose added.

            “Save it ‘til Thursday,” she continued.  “I’ll need it after rounds with Solo.”

            “But we have classes on Friday,” Finn said in a terrible approximation of her voice.

            “Double Potions with Tarkin and the Slytherins.  Yeah, I’ll take the Firewhiskey,” she answered.

            “Ooo, look at our little prefect breaking the rules,” Poe said and jabbed her in the side.  They broke down laughing in the grass under the bright morning sun.

Chapter Text

            “Okay,” Rey said with her hands on her hips once they’d finally managed to wrangle all the first-years with their robes and all their materials.  It was the first official day of classes and the first-years shifted nervously around her.  “Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Pay attention because I’m not doing this all year.”

            She led them out of the Hufflepuff common room.  The hallways were crammed with students of all houses running from breakfast to their first classes.  First-years wandered through the practiced crowd of older students with wide, panicked eyes.  Rey snatched up any first-year Ravenclaws she spotted and, by the time she reached the DADA classroom, had a sizeable crowd behind her.  Leave it to the rest of the houses to abandon their firsties to navigate the castle alone.  Finn and Poe had probably gotten up late and forgotten.

            Professor Organa waved to her as she propped open the door and shepherded in most of her class.

            “Ten points to Hufflepuff!” she called, and Rey beamed. 

            “Mudbloods really do reproduce fast, don’t they?  Like bunnies,” someone mocked.  She let the door fall shut and her smile died as she turned to face Solo’s sneer.

            “A little far out of your hole, aren’t you?” she snapped and turned on her heel to stalk away from him.  He kept up with her easily with his long stride.  “Don’t you have anyone else to bother?”

            “As it happens,” Solo answered smoothly, unruffled by her irritation.  “I don’t.  See, no one worthwhile is in Ancient Runes.”  She cursed.  She’d forgotten he had that class with her.  Though how she could have forgotten his pestering from last year, she didn’t know.  “Now, now, princess, watch your language.  Those kinds of words don’t suit Hufflepuff’s Golden Girl.”

            She made a gesture that showed him exactly what she thought of that.  “Fuck off, Solo.”

            “I thought you’d try to be more civil this year, considering we’re rounds partners,” he answered, undaunted by her spite.

            “I’m so glad you think so.  You can start by not calling me ‘Mudblood’.  I have a few other suggestions too.  I’m so glad you’re turning over a new leaf,” Rey said brightly.

            He frowned as if this conversation had not gone the way he’d planned.  “But you are a Mudblood.  You can’t fault me for pointing out the truth.”

            Well, at least he was consistent.  “And you’re an arrogant prick who doesn’t care about anyone but yourself.  But hey, at least I can’t change my dirty blood.  You can’t fault me for telling the truth,” she finished with acid sweetness in her voice.

            “So, you acknowledge your blood status,” he pressed.

            She actually laughed.  Of course, he fixated on that.  “Well, sure, I have Muggle parents.  Sue me.”

            They reached the Ancient Runes classroom and whatever response he had died into silence upon their arrival.  Thankfully.  Rey sent him one last withering glare and went to sit by Paige.  The Ancient Runes class was small, and they’d combined the sixth- and seventh-year classes because of it.  Professor Kenobi smiled at her as she took her seat.  Solo saw away from everyone else.  Shocking.  None of his stupid Slytherin cronies had made it into the NEWT level it seemed.

            Paige leaned over as she pulled out her book.  “Are you and Solo actually getting on now?”

            Rey snorted.  “Hardly.  He followed me from the Defense classroom.  Merlin knows why.  Just to bother me, I think.”

            Paige gave her a sympathetic look.  “I’m sorry you’re stuck with him.  Really.”

            She shrugged.  She understood Paige’s logic.  “Krennic is worse,” she said, her mind sliding back to yesterday.  Her cheek still bore an angry red mark.

            Professor Kenobi stood and they both fell silent to listen to his introduction.  Solo slouched in his chair.  She half-hoped he wouldn’t pay attention and would fail out by Christmas Break.  There wasn’t much hope for that.  They’d competed all last semester for the top grade, and Rey had solidly been him in their OWLs, which could explain why he had redoubled his efforts to humiliate her.  She tried to focus on Professor Kenobi and pushed Solo out of her mind.  What did he matter anyway?

            “You’ll have no problem in your NEWTs if we’re doing all that this year,” Paige said as they left.  Solo breezed passed her and knocked her shoulder with his.

            “Prick,” she hissed.  “Yeah, I almost wish I could take the NEWTs this year.  One less for next year.  But Kenobi said I can’t.”  Professor Kenobi had given them a stack of runes to decipher for Wednesday’s class.  “Catch you later, Paige.”

            Back up to Defense.  At least she shared that class with her friends.  And bloody Solo again.  But he had swept down the hall ahead of her with his robes billowing out behind him. 

            Not that she kept track of Solo.  But if she did, it was only for her own protection.  He had, on occasion, tried to hex her.

            Rey slid into the free desk beside Poe, with Rose and Finn in the set of desks on her other side.  Impatient, she swept the hair back from her eyes.  Solo had, of course, beaten her to the classroom and sat with Phasma.  She was glad that Hux either hadn’t made it into Professor Organa’s NEWT class or had chosen not to take it.  Solo had his textbook out on his desk already and had opened it to the first chapter.  Bloody prick was just trying to show off in his mum’s class.  But Rey would not be outdone.  Not by the likes of Ben Bloody Solo.

            Beside her, Poe jiggled his leg and watched the door that led through to Professor Organa’s office.  Defense was without a doubt his favorite class and the only one in which Rey could honestly say that he tried.

            “How was Care of Magical Creatures?” she asked him.  He, Finn, and Rose had all chosen to take it despite not needing it for any career options simply because of Professor Chewbacca, affectionately called Chewie by students and professors alike.  In fact, Rey had never heard anyone call the enormous, hairy man anything besides Chewie.  She didn’t even know his first name or if he had one.

            “Oh!” Poe’s face brightened.  “It was great.  We’re studying hippogriffs first.  Chewie was sad that you’re not taking his class, but I explained to him that it conflicted with Ancient Runes.  He said to come by for tea and to tell you hullo.” 

            Rey smiled to herself.  She met Chewie when she ran into him on her way to the boats with the other first-years.  Literally, ran into him and would have toppled over backwards if he hadn’t caught her shoulders.  They’d been friends ever since.

            “We’ll all have to go this weekend,” she said.  “I’m sure he’ll want to hear about our summers all together.”

            “What do you think we’ll be learning in Defense this year?” Poe asked her with shining eyes.  Professor Organa was Poe’s favorite teacher.  Sure, Rey looked up to the cunning witch, but Poe idolized her.  Although, he’d decided to apply to the Auror office instead of into another department of the Ministry of Magic.  Maybe he’d eventually run for office too.

            Rey shrugged.  She hadn’t given their syllabus much thought.  Professor Organa always taught interesting classes.  “Patronuses?” she guessed.

            If possible, Poe’s face lit up even more.  “You really think so?  That’s really advanced magic.  I guess we do have to learn it for NEWTs, but I didn’t know if we’d get to it this year or start next year.  What do you think yours will be?  What about mine?  I hope it’s a lion…”

            He rambled on about Patronuses for a while, and Rey tried to listen, she really did.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t interested in Patronuses.  She was.  Very much so.  She wanted to know what form hers would take and had already decided to start practicing early if it really was on the curriculum for this year. 

            Poe only fell silent when Professor Organa flung open the door to her office and marched down to her desk.  The entire room fell silent, even the Slytherins.  All students stared up at their professor expectantly.

            Professor Organa was not only a famous witch, she was also known around Hogwarts for teaching one of the best classes in the school.  The Headmaster himself had previously held her position, but it was rumored that even he admitted she taught a better class.  All students had to take DADA until their fifth year, but Professor Organa was selective about the students she let into her NEWT class, which resulted in the smattering of sixth-years from all houses seated before her.  Rey was just glad that she and her three friends had made the cut.

            “Good morning, class,” her voice rang out across the stone room.  Although she was a small woman, Professor Organa cut an imposing figure at the head of the class.  “Welcome to NEWT-level Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Congratulations to you all for your excellent performances on the OWLs.  I am very proud of all of my students.”

            She looked out at them with a stately smile.  “You probably think yourselves experts in Defense Against the Dark Arts by now.  I’m here to tell you that you are nowhere near it.  Your OWL-levels were mere primers.  You all have a lot to learn if you are to be successful in this field.  Now,” she waved her wand and pieces of parchment landed neatly before each student.  “Let us review our course of study for the semester.  I want to evaluate where you all are and see how we progress before I decide on our studies for the spring.

            “The most important thing we will be learning this year is how to cast silent spells.  Silent spells will be used in all of your classes that require the use of magic and spellwork and will probably be reviewed most completely in Charms.  However,” she continued, pacing back and forth at the front of the room with her hands clasped behind her back.  “They are the most important in this class.  Can anyone tell me why?”

            A few hands shot up, including Rey’s.  Professor Organa called on Connix in the first row.  “Because when facing an opponent, the element of surprise can make all the difference.”

            “Excellent.  Two points to Ravenclaw,” Professor Organa said.  “Miss Connix is correct.  When facing an opponent, especially in a combat situation, a silent spell can mean the difference between life and death.  Since this is the case, we will be beginning with silent Shielding Charms and moving on to silent Disarming spells, after a brief review of your offensive and defensive magical skills from your OWL-levels.  This term, we will also be covering more dark creatures like Inferi, Dementors, and Banshees as well as how to defend against them.  We will also be learning some new spells, like the Patronus Charm.”

            Gasps echoed around the room, and Professor Organa waited for the chattering to subside with some amusement.  Poe turned to Rey with a wide smile on his face and she couldn’t help but grin back.  “Quiet, please.”  The room fell silent once again, but expectation hung in the air.  “Since you are preparing for your NEWT exam, we will also be delving into the world of Unforgivable Curses.  Don’t get ahead of yourselves, though.  No student at Hogwarts is ever to cast an Unforgivable Curse on castle grounds.  Ever.”  She glared out at her students and dared them to challenge her.  Rey wasn’t sure, but she thought her eyes lingered on her son amongst the Slytherins a moment longer than necessary.  “These are the most dangerous curses available to wizards and are not to be taken lightly.”

            “But, enough of that for now.  Stow your books and parchment in your bags, wands out, and up, up!”  The class scrambled to do as she said and stood from their desks.  With a wave of her want, Professor Organa scattered the desks and their things to the sides of the room.  “I imagine you’ll hear a lot of talking this week and not get to do much at all.  So, pair up.  Take out your wands.  One row on this side of the classroom, one on the other.”  She indicated where on the floor with glowing golden lines.  “Practice disarming spells.  Disarming only.  Don’t shield for now, just get back into the rhythm.”

            Rey and Poe paired up since they’d been sitting together anyway.  Rose stood beside her with Finn on the other side.  A ways down the line, she spotted Connix across from Hannah Kent and Solo paired with Phasma.  Rey readied her wand.

            “Begin when ready.  Do take care not to step on any wands that may find their way to the floor,” Professor Organa announced from the front of the room.

            For a moment, no one moved.  Everyone waited for someone to be brave enough to cast the first spell.  Finally, Connix called Expelliarmus! and Hannah’s wand flew out of her hand.  Her fellow Hufflepuff laughed and reached down to scoop it up.  Once the first spell was cast, jets of red light flew across the room with abandon.  Rey disarmed Poe before he could call out his own spell first.  He pulled a face at her and knelt to pick up his wand.

            “Armstrong,” Professor Organa’s voice rang out over their heads.  “I said disarm only.  That was not an Expelliarmus.”

            Everyone paused to look at the Ravenclaw Armstrong, who flushed profusely and muttered apologies to his Head of House, before returning to their mock-duel.  Just when Rey was beginning to get bored of shooting disarming spells back and forth and had begun to attempt to cast one silently, Professor Organa instructed them to add shielding spells as well.  At least she wouldn’t have to keep crouching to pick up her fallen wand.

            “Protego!” she called as Poe cast an unexpected disarming spell at her.  His red jet of light rebounded harmlessly off her shield.

            “Excellent Shield Charm, Miss Niima,” Professor Organa said as she passed behind her.  She had taken to walking behind her students and observing their progress.  “And a superb Expelliarmus, Mr. Dameron.”

            Rey beamed at her mentor’s praise and fired her own disarming spell back at Poe.  He was too distracted by Professor Organa’s praise to block in time and his wand went careening into Finn’s head beside him.  Finn frowned at Poe and therefore missed Rose’s Expelliarmus and lost his own wand.  Rey laughed and high-fived her friend. 

            They left class when the bells tolled across Hogwarts.  Rey threw her messenger bag over one shoulder and fell into step beside Finn.  He and Poe were still bickering about Poe’s wand hitting him in the head.  Rey tucked her own wand behind her ear and quickened her steps to keep up with her friends.

            The Great Hall had begun to fill with students fresh from class when they arrived.  They were too hungry to bother with dropping their things off in their dorms before class.  Rey consulted her schedule and saw that she had double Herbology in the afternoon with Poe and Finn also.  She hadn’t realized that she would have Professor Kenobi twice in one day before now. 

            She had begun to dish food onto her plate and ignore her friends’ ongoing bickering when a screech from above made her pause.  Sunlight streamed in through the wide windows that soared along the wall of the Great Hall, so she had to squint to see.  A legion of owls came swooping in and landed along the tables. 

            “That’s odd,” she said as her friends looked up too.  “The post came this morning, didn’t it?”  All the owls seemed to be carrying a rolled-up newspaper.  “And the Prophet?”

            Poe and Rose confirmed that they had each gotten a copy of the Prophet that morning.  Nevertheless, an unfamiliar owl dropped down before her two friends and they eagerly unwound a thin copy of the Prophet from it.  Rey looked over Rose’s shoulder to read the front page and she saw Finn across the table do the same with Poe.  She couldn’t afford a subscription to the Prophet and neither could Finn, since his parents had cut him off when they’d kicked him out.  The Damerons surely would have paid for him to get a subscription too, but if she knew Finn at all, she would swear that he had insisted he could just share one with Poe.

            MUGGLE FAMILY KILLED, SNOKE SUSPECTED was blazoned across the top in black and white.  Rey felt her insides grow cold.  Beneath the headline was an unmoving picture of a normal-looking Muggle family smiling at the camera and a moving picture of men carrying four bodies out of a ruined home on stretchers.  She had almost pushed Snoke and his fanatics out of her mind over the summer in the Muggle world.  Fear returned full-force in her mind and in the Great Hall around her as other students accepted their Prophets and read the urgent headline.

            “They must have found the bodies this morning after the Prophet had gone to press,” Rose said quietly, staring down at the Muggle family like she’d never forget their faces.  Across the table, Finn had gone silent and pale.  He pushed his full plate away.  She wondered if his parents and elder sister had been involved.  He seemed to wonder the same thing.  Poe’s face was a mask of fury.

            Rey skimmed a few lines of the article, but her brain only processed snatches.  No marks…all four members and family cat killed…Avada Kedavra suspected spell…  She swallowed the bile that rose in her throat.  Would it be one of her friends’ families next time?

            When she’d first started Hogwarts, the rumors about Snoke had been all in the past.  They learned about his first uprising in History of Magic, his “new world order” cut short by none other than Luke Skywalker.  And she had felt no fear, even as she learned that the children of his supporters still walked the halls of Hogwarts with her.  Professor Skywalker was Headmaster, he would protect them.  She had nothing to fear.

            Until third year, when the whispers returned, this time of disappearances and strange coincidences and old wizarding families woken from their quiet obscurity.  The worst of the Slytherins grew bolder.  She heard sneers of Mudblood called after her in the halls and Blood Traitor snarled at her friends.  Rey gripped her wand tighter when she went out after dark and slept with it close by.  Now, few could deny that Snoke was on the rise and not nearly as dead as everyone had thought after Skywalker’s victory, although some still tried to ignore his ever-growing presence. 

            Rose looked up at her and Rey could see her fear echoed in the eyes of her friend.  There had been other curious Muggle deaths, but the Prophet had always reported them on the second page.  This was serious if they had sent a special issue to press just for it.  The suspected part of Snoke’s involvement looked more and more hazy.

            On some buried instinct, she glanced over at the Slytherin table.  Most had set their paper aside and gone back to a carefree lunch.  Solo and Phasma had their head bent over one paper, their eyebrows scrunched together.  A few seats down, Krennic laughed and talked with Sloane and his other Slytherin buddies like it was Christmas.  Anger boiled in her stomach.  She’d hex him.  If Krennic sneered something at her in the hall, she’d hex him just for his carelessness.  She looked around for Cassian and found him with an arm around Jyn’s hunched shoulders at the Gryffindor table.  The rest of Rogue One sat around in silence with their heads bent over their plates.

            Rey looked back down at the paper Rose had spread flat before them. 

            MUGGLE FAMILY KILLED, SNOKE SUSPECTED

            The first day of classes didn’t seem all that exciting anymore.

Chapter Text

            “It’s only Thursday and we have so much Potions homework already.  Damn Tarkin and his obsession with Bezoars,” Rose muttered.  “We get it.  They’ll save someone from any poison.  Do we have to write twenty inches on it?”

            Rey looked over her quill and finished parchment at her friend.  “You’re almost done, Rose.”

            “I have fifteen inches and nothing else to say,” she complained and tugged the book from under Rey’s elbow.  Rey rubbed at the bruise that resulted.

            “But you’re done,” Poe said and tried to look at Rey’s parchment.  She shot a lazy hex at him and he flinched as it singed the back of his hand.  “No fair, Rey.  You’ve finished already,” he protested, rubbing the angry red mark on the back of his hand.

            Rey didn’t even glance up at his complaints.  She tapped a word on her parchment with her wand to erase it and fixed the spelling.  “If you’d started yesterday like I told you to, you’d be done now too.”  She glanced up at the clock and sighed.  “You two had better get back to your common room if you want to make curfew.”

            “Yes, mum,” Poe groaned.  She shot him a glare as he shoved his parchment messily into his bag.  She would have bet Rose a galleon that Tarkin would take points off his essay for the crinkles. 

            “You know full well that Solo will take off extra points if he catches you out and I can’t do anything about that,” she reminded them.

            Finn squeezed her shoulder as he tossed his bag over his shoulder.  “Thanks, Rey.”

            The Gryffindors exited the common room, and she left Rose agonizing over the Potions essay to stash her own work far from prying eyes.  She returned in her school robes again with her wand tucked in easy reach and her prefect badge pinned to her chest.

            Rose glanced up.  “Look at you, all official.  Don’t murder Solo.”

            “No promises,” Rey answered.  She tied her sneakers and exited the common room to make the gloomy walk to the Slytherin common room in the dungeons.  Surely Solo wouldn’t deign to walk to the Hufflepuff common room.  But she exited through the barrels and stopped.

            Solo lounged against the cool wall.  When he spotted her, he sneered.  “Fitting you mudbloods live in barrels.  Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?  I thought the Hufflepuff Golden Girl was always on time.”

            She glanced at her watch to confirm.  Yep, he had come to lounge outside of her common room just to irritate her.  And perhaps to scare the pants off Hufflepuffs just barely making curfew.  “It’s quarter to.”

            He shrugged.  “Well, you badgers never were known for your punctuality.”

            Why did he always try to make her feel so small?  “Snakes are nocturnal, I hear.  Must be why you’re lurking.  But I’m on time.”

            He pushed off the wall and moved to stand right in front of her.  Probably thought his height would intimidate her or something.  She clutched the wand in her pocket but fought to show no fear.  Not that she feared him at all.  She just wanted to smack that permanent smirk off his face.

            “You don’t understand personal space, do you?” she snapped.

            She was spared from this nightmare by the chiming of the clock.  Solo turned abruptly on his heel and stalked passed her.

            Rey caught up with him, although she was convinced he was trying to leave her behind.  Arrogant, brooding prick.  Rey waved her want and a broom closet banged open.  Empty.  Solo flicked his wand and checked a dark classroom.  At least he didn’t plan to leave all the work to her.  She couldn’t decide if his heavy silence was better than his snide remarks.

            “What does a mudblood like you even do over the summer?” Solo asked as if reading her thoughts.  Silence was better.  Definitely.  She would have gladly taken his absence too.

            Rey checked another closet and a couple tumbled out.  She frowned at them.  “Five points from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw.  Really, Stilinski?  Already?  Go to your common rooms now.”  They scurried away from her severe gaze and Solo’s knowing smirk.  The prefects continued on.  “I worked all summer,” she answered him.  “That must be so offensive to your silver spoon.”

            He snorted.  “Muggles can be rich and selfish too.  Most are.”

            “Maybe the famous ones, but most Muggles aren’t rich,” she informed him.  “In fact, they’re hardly different from wizards.”  She couldn’t believe she was having this conversation with Solo.  It would only end up angering one or both of them.  She knew what he thought of Muggles.

            He frowned.  “Muggles aren’t anything like wizards.  You’re a fool if you think so, though I’m not surprised you would.”

            “You don’t know the first thing about Muggles,” Rey accused.  “They have many of the same problems as wizards.  They just have to solve them without magic.”

            Solo scoffed and flicked open a few more doors.  “Muggles aren’t even on the same level as wizards.  It was for their protection that we had to go into hiding.  Foolish decision.”

            Rey saw red.  She’d lived her whole life with one foot in the Muggle world.  And sure, maybe it was hell for her, but she wasn’t exactly representative of the whole.  “And I suppose you think Muggleborns are lesser too?”

            He glanced at her dispassionately.  That’s what irritated her about him the most.  He didn’t even care to get upset about this.  He just dismissed her.  “Mudbloods aren’t true wizards.  They’re bastards, hybrids.  So, yes, inferior.”

            Fury boiled inside her, but it wouldn’t do any good to curse him within an inch of his life.  Although that may show him that she could do magic just as well as he could.  Of course, if the last several terms hadn’t proved that to him, a well-placed Bat-Bogey Hex wouldn’t.  “You should be grateful,” she said instead.  He seemed surprised by her calm.  “We keep you Pureblood pricks from becoming too inbred.”

            “Our pure blood makes us stronger,” he said.  And he wasn’t nearly as dispassionate now.  “Our legacies are proud.”

            “And full of incest.  No wonder so many of you go mad.  It’s really a wonder any of the Blacks can function at all,” she said and smirked at the redness creeping up his face.

            “The Black family is an old wizarding family with noble…” he snarled.

            “Insanity problems,” she finished for him.  “You know, this is all because wizards don’t really do science.  If you did, then you’d know what generations of inbreeding does to a population.  I mean, honestly, that’s probably why so many of you think Snoke is…”

            He rounded on her.  “You have no right to speak of the Supreme Leader, Mudblood.”

            Rey smirked into his furious face, though he gripped his wand tight in his left hand.  It was a little too easy to irritate him.  “Why?” she asked innocently.  “Did you take his mark already or are you waiting for that special day?”

            He blinked at her.  “What?”

            She waved her hand.  “I figured you were enamored with him ever since you started insulting me.  Thought it was only a matter of time.”

            The anger returned to his face.  “You started insulting me,” he spat at her.  “You just looked down your dirty nose at me once you realized you could beat me in some classes.”

            A drenching sadness dampened her anger.  He remembered those early years so differently.  When she spoke again, her voice was so quiet it took him off-guard.  “I always respected you, Ben.  You never let me get away with anything less than my best.  I even thought we could maybe be friends if you didn’t sit with the Slytherins constantly.  But in third year, you threw ‘mudblood’ at me like I was nothing.”

            “You are a mudblood,” he said, but there was no fire behind it, as if he’d said it automatically.

            “Yeah,” she sighed.  “I guess I am.  I never get to forget it either.  Do you think everyone will forget once I leave Hogwarts or will that slur follow me for the rest of my life?”

            He didn’t say anything more.  Neither did she until they finished their rounds and she bid him a good night.

Chapter Text

            Finn dropped another stack of books on the table.  “I think Tarkin’s trying to kill us,” he hissed at his friends.

            “Will we even have time for Quidditch this year?” Poe complained and sent a gaze full of longing out the window.

            “You always make time for Quidditch,” Rey reminded him.  She sat with her sneakers propped up on the table and her own heavy volume in her lap.  She scratched another note on her parchment with her quill and went back to her reading.  The boys could complain as much as they wanted, but she was going to get this essay done today.

            “What I wouldn’t give to go fly today,” Poe wished.  It was really a beautiful day out.  Sunshine drenched the lawn and glittered across the Black Lake.  They glanced enviously at the first- and second-years lounging in the sun by the lake.  They hadn’t yet learned how much homework they’d have at Hogwarts.  “Lucky bastards,” Poe muttered.

            “I even want to go flying today,” Rose said, pillowing her head on her arms.  They all stared at her.  “What?”

            “Rose, you don’t like flying,” Finn said gently.

            “Rose, you suck balls at flying,” Poe said at the same time much less gently.  “You don’t even have a broom.”

            “I could fly with Finn.”  She pouted.  Rey and Finn exchanged glances.  Poe and Rey flew too daringly for her to tolerate, so Finn was the best option, but that was less than fun for him.  It meant he couldn’t even do a barrel roll without risking Rose screaming bloody murder or falling off.

            “We’re not going to go flying today anyway,” Rey said so no one had to set Rose straight about how fun it was to fly with her.  “We’re spending the day in the library until we finish these Potions essays.”

            “You’re a slave driver, Rey,” Poe complained.

            “You can do whatever you want, Poe, but you’re not copying off mine on Monday.”

            He huffed and grabbed one of the heavy volumes.  Their table lapsed into silence again.  For a while, Rey heard nothing besides the turning of ancient pages and the scratching of quills.  Rey finished her notetaking and pulled out a fresh piece of parchment to start her essay.  A headache was starting to pull at her temples, but she stubbornly continued.  Poe huffed every few minutes.  She was sure, if left to himself, he’d never do his homework.  Except for Defense.  It had been even worse to force him to study for OWLs last year.  Which was probably why she’d scored higher than him on everything but Defense and in that they’d tied.  Finn and Rose were much better at focusing.

            Rey looked up as someone stopped before their table and met the double gaze of Solo and Phasma.  She expected him to say something snide or scoff, but he just turned Phasma by her sleeve and talked off to find another table.  Rey watched him go with no small amount of surprise.

            “Bloody bastard,” Poe muttered.

            “Poe, he didn’t even say anything,” Rose reasoned.

            “Probably thought he couldn’t take all four of us, bloody coward,” Finn said.

            Rey rolled her eyes.  “Oh, stop it,” she hissed.  “Solo can be civil occasionally without you analyzing his motives.”

            They all stared at her.  “Who are you and what have you done with Rey?” Poe asked.

            She shook her head at them.  “You forget, I have to be semi-civil to him once a week.  I can’t very well hex him every five feet down the hallway.”

            “Sounds good to me,” Finn said.  Poe nodded along.

            “I don’t know how you put up with him, Rey,” Rose said in sympathy.

            Rey shrugged.  It had been two weeks of rounds with Solo and so far, it hadn’t been as bad as they thought.  Sure, he called her mudblood at every turn and they’d argued about Ancient Runes, but that had been sort of fun, really, and she’d gotten used to the slur years ago.  Solo was still undoubtedly a prick, but she could tolerate him.  All around, the first two weeks had gone better than she’d expected.

            Rey said none of this.  Poe and Finn would most likely vomit if she said anything that could be construed as nice about Solo.  Rose would think she had gone mad and then Poe would hex Solo just for the fun of it and they’d start a duel in the library… No, better to spare the priceless books their petty house squabbles.

            They left the library hours later massaging the cricks from their necks.  Poe had complained for a solid half-hour that he wanted dinner.  They had finally given in and went with bulging bags to the Great Hall.  Rey slid into a seat at the Gryffindor table.  The empty spot beside her was immediately apprehended by Hannah.  Eliza trailed after her, and Rey greeted her other roommate.  Although it was Friday and they had only gotten out of class a few hours before, Eliza wore a pale pink dress in place of her school robes and had a thin ribbon as a necklace around her tan throat.

            “Do you have any advice for Quidditch tryouts tomorrow?” Hannah asked in a rush.  She shredded a napkin in her lap until Eliza placed a calming hand over hers.

            Rey turned towards her, all thoughts of hunger gone.  “You’ll be fine, Hannah.  You can fly better than any of them,” she said, ignoring Poe and Finn’s protests.  “Are you really going out for the team?”

            Hannah nodded, her eyes wide.  She still wore her tight pants and sweater from flying.  “I’ve been practicing all day.  But do you have any advice?  What does Malbus look for a in a Beater?”

            “You, Hannah.  You’re perfect for it.  Just don’t hit one of us with a Bludger and you’ll make the team tomorrow.”

            Saturday dawned sunny but windy.  Rey stood beside Malbus on the Quidditch Pitch and stared down the Hufflepuffs who’d come to go out for the team.  The Quidditch captain was tall, dark, and muscled like his cousin, Baze, who was so large Rey wondered how a broom held him.  Unlike his cousin, though, he played Chaser instead of Beater and was effective at running interference against the other Chasers who tried to unseat smaller team members.  A few Hufflepuffs sat in the stands for solidarity or as first-years aching to try out.  A scattered few second- and third-years had dared to show up, but most were fourth-year or above.  Rose sat in the stands beside Eliza and hexed anyone from another house who tried to watch the tryouts.  Rey had seen her land a good hex on Poe a minute before.  Professor Kenobi sat a few rows below her friend and studiously ignored Poe’s cries of pain.

            Wind tore at her hair and practice robes.  Malbus had named her his assistant, which meant that her position on the team was probably safe.  A few other veterans stood amongst the crowd of hopefuls, alternately disgruntled that they had to try out again and excited to return.  It was a good day for tryouts, she thought, with the wind howling around them.  They’d be able to see how they flew in less than ideal conditions, especially since a storm seemed to be on its way.  Rain was an even better way to weed them out.

            “Alright,” Malbus called to get their attention.  The Hufflepuffs quieted and shuffled under his gaze.  Rey spotted Hannah among them and gave her an encouraging smile.  Poe’s older brother, Kes Dameron, was there too and another prefect, Joanna Weasley.  She’d been second-string last year and hoped to make first.  “Rey, there aren’t any firsties here, right?”  She confirmed it.  “Alright, let’s get started.  Remember, just because you made the team last year doesn’t mean you will this year.”

            “Unless you’re Rey Niima,” Dameron muttered.  Rey sent him a vulgar gesture.  He grinned at her and winked.

            “If you’d like to challenge me for Seeker, Dameron, be my guest.  I’ll leave you on your ass in the mud,” she said.

            “I have more of a Beater’s build myself,” he said.  Cocky bastard.  Beside him, Hannah paled.

            “Alright, you two, enough.  If anyone wants to challenge Niima, be my guest, but good luck with that.  This is her fourth year running as Seeker.  And Merlin’s Beard, I’ll be glad if we have no Seeker tryouts this year.”  Malbus crossed his arms.  “Right, so, some drills to start.  Niima will be running speed drills.”

            Throwing her leg over her broom, she shot off into the air and performed a lazy figure eight before hovering thirty feet above the ground.  The Quidditch hopefuls did the same.  She could already pinpoint a few that wouldn’t make it through drills.  They were just too shaky on their brooms.

            “Here’s the drill,” she called over the wind.  “We’ll fly to the end of the pitch, turn ‘round the hoops, fly back, turn again, fly back, pinpoint turn as narrow as you can.”

            Not a tough drill by any means, but she didn’t want the young ones to get hurt.  She led the charge and did a banking turn around the hoops and back and again.  Her pinpoint turn was on a dime.  Malbus stayed in the middle to observe.  Several of them, including Dameron and Hannah, executed the turn almost as well as she did.

            Rey pulled them to a stop in the middle, hovering above the field.  She and the captain conferred silently, a benefit of their long stint on the team together.  Even from a distance, she could tell he agreed with her.  Rey indicated a handful of flyers, mostly young ones, who could barely stay on their brooms.

            “Not this year,” she told them gently.  “Keep practicing with the school equipment and try again next year.  Get those turns clean.”

            That first group went off without much angst.  They had come for fun and didn’t expect to make the team.  Malbus had allowed her to dismiss the first few groups.  He was more likely to tell them they couldn’t fly worth half of Merlin’s ass.  But Rey didn’t envy him the nasty job of weeding out the top contenders, although he would undoubtedly consult her.

            More drills, harder ones this time, and another group dismissed.  The potentials dwindled to manageable levels.  It had felt as if their whole house was on the pitch or in the stands.  She was surprised to see one second-year girl hanging among them.  Nina Carlissian, a half-blood witch with a famous uncle and part of Rey’s first class of girls as a prefect.  She was a little small to make the team this year—the Slytherins would destroy her as a Chaser—but Rey would convince Malbus to take her on as second-string upcoming talent.  At least she could participate in some practices and learn their tricks.  She reminded Rey of herself at that age a bit. 

            “Alright,” Malbus said, finally retaking the lead of the tryouts.  Rey joined the crowd of Hufflepuffs and gave Hannah an encouraging pat.  Her friend stood a little taller now that she’d made it through the first few rounds of cuts.  Rey would participate in the rest of tryouts, though he had all but guaranteed her spot as Seeker.  “If you want to tryout for Beater, over here; Chaser, here; Keeper, here; and Seeker.  If you want to go out for multiple spots, go to your primary first.”

            Rey moved to the place he had indicated for Seeker, but she was the only one who did.  As usual, the largest crowd gathered for Chaser, including Nina and Melshi, though there were only two spots this year since Malbus occupied one.  Hannah and Dameron both stood for Beater.  They had a lot of rebuilding to do.  Many had graduated, and she missed those who had made up her original team.  She crossed her arms.

            “You know, you can try out for Seeker,” she said.  It was true that two seventh-years had gone against her for Seeker last year.  She had left one crashed in the mud when he couldn’t pull up in time.  The other had gone to the Hospital Wing after he crashed into the stands.  The rest of her team had sat back and cackled. 

            “You put two seventh-years in the Hospital Wing last year, Rey,” Dameron pointed out.  “You can’t blame them for not daring.”  A few shuffled uncomfortably.  “And you fly like a bat out of hell.”  A few others nodded at that.

            Malbus rolled his eyes.  “If you want to go out for second-string Seeker after your own try out, we’ll do that last.  You don’t have to race Rey.”  He clapped his hands.  “Alright, let’s go.  Chasers first.  Beaters, grab clubs and get in the air.  Brown and Weasley, one in each set of hoops.  If you other Keepers want to try out for Chaser, get in line.”

            Dameron shoved Hannah and she pushed him back, making him stumble as she snatched up the first club.  Oh yes, she’d do nicely for Beater.  Rey always liked tryouts.  She liked to see her new team form around her and fill in the gaps that others had left behind.  The Hufflepuff Quidditch team was a new monster every year.  Rey kicked into the air.  She hoped Malbus would release a practice snitch for her, so she could chase it around the pitch and get in everyone’s way.  They couldn’t join the team if they couldn’t stay out of Rey’s way.

            She flew a lazy lap around the field and waved to Rose and Eliza while Malbus got the first contenders ready.  She paused in the air beside where Joanna hovered.  “What do you think, Weasley?  Make the team this year?”

            “Piss off, Rey,” the feisty redhead answered.  “You know I will.”

            Rey grinned and flew back around towards the center.  She wanted Jo to make the team.  They’d always gotten on well and it was her last chance to make the starting line-up before she graduated.  Rey surveyed the Chasers, six of them, readying to face off.  Malbus wasn’t flying with them yet.  He wanted to survey the new recruits.  Melshi was there, though, and she was almost sure he would get a spot again.  He was on the team last year too.  There was a fifth-year girl too, Olivia Wood, who had flown well in drills.  There were a lot of them to go out for, optimistically, one Chaser spot.  A few seventh-years were good enough to maybe fill it, including Steven Sharp.  Her stupid prefect partner was there too, but she desperately hoped Malbus wouldn’t curse her Quidditch game with him.  Bloody Gaskell.  That was all she needed this term.

            “Rey,” Malbus called.  “I’m releasing a snitch.  Don’t get too wrapped up, though.”  He flicked open the chest of Quidditch balls and released the small golden one.  She watched it flit away and out of sight but didn’t try to follow it yet.  It was more fun to practice if she had to search for a while.  “Bludgers live!” he called and released the snarling balls.  The Beaters readied their bats just in case.  “Chasers ready!  Quaffle!”

            He threw the large red ball into the air and chaos ensued.  The Chasers scrabbled for purchase on it, until Melshi snuck through them and plucked it up easily.  He and Malbus worked together well.  Shar Malbus didn’t tend to actually have the Quaffle very often, though he was skilled at scoring, but he fended off other Chasers and Melshi could always reliably get his hands on the Quaffle.  She didn’t know how he did it.

            As Hannah smacked a Bludger away from one of her designated three Chasers, Rey decided it was time for her to complicate things a little.  She dove in the midst of the flurry of Chasers and sped around Dameron, who laughed as she did.  All the way, her eyes hunted for a hint of gold.  She remembered how difficult it had been in the beginning to pick out that small speck of color in the midst of their golden robes, but she had learned to differentiate them long ago.  She dropped down beside the stands where she knew the practice snitch liked to hang out.

            Dark clouds rolled in above them and the wind tore at her face.  The smell of rain rode along on the breeze.  Soon, she thought, soon the rain would begin to pour and then they’d really see who the Chasers were.  Lightning flashed between the clouds.  This would be a good test for her too.  She hadn’t had to chase a snitch in the rain for months. 

            “Um, are we going to stop when the rain rolls in?” one boy asked Malbus and Rey winced for him. 

            “You’re out,” Shar said and gestured off the field.  His spot was immediately taken by another.  Malbus kicked a few more people off the pitch when it became clear that they couldn’t deal with the flurry of movement around the Quaffle.  Meanwhile, Jo blocked several good shots on the goal.  One of the Beaters swung at a Bludger, but sent it flying straight for Joanna Weasley.  Hannah intercepted it and hit it back out of range before it could do any damage.  Malbus kicked that Beater off the pitch and replaced him with another.

            Rey spotted a glimmer of gold across the field and dove for it, narrowly missing a Bludger that soared passed her head.  Distantly, she heard Malbus yelling at the Beaters to always look out for the Seeker, but her world had narrowed to a pinpoint.  She hoped that Hannah wasn’t the one who hit the Bludger.  Yes, it was the snitch, speeding away from her and towards the ground.  She heard gasps from above as she turned into a daring dive.  Someone, maybe Rose, called out to her as she plummeted towards the sand below.  This was the move that had left one competitor in the mud last year at tryouts.  She pulled up just before she crashed into the sand and her toes skimmed the ground.  But the snitch was right in front of her.  Just…right…there!  She pulled up suddenly, the golden ball clutched in her hand, and the Hufflepuffs cheered.  She felt the swoop of elation in her heart, same as when she caught the snitch in a real game.

            “Keep your eye on the Quaffle!” Malbus yelled and kicked another two Chasers and a Keeper out who had been too preoccupied with her performance to focus.  They were down to two Keepers, four Beaters, and six Chasers.  Finally, she thought, as she made her lazy way back up with the snitch still in her hand.  Jo, Hannah, Melshi, and Dameron were still there.  So was Nina, Olivia Wood, Steven Sharp, stupid Gaskell, and a seventh-year named Maroney.  Just then, Malbus kicked another Chaser off the field and filled the spot himself.  Rey flew around the pitch for her own entertainment, still trying to pretend that she was hunting the snitch for the sake of simulating a real Quidditch game. 

            Malbus wouldn’t let up.  They flew for ages, just to see who would get too tired and drop out, even after the rain started.  Rey felt the cold water drip down her spine and knew that she was hopelessly soaked.  Rose, Eliza, and Theodosia Nott were the only ones left in the stands.  The two sixth-years had conjured a warm and dry bubble around them and invited the first-year into it.  Rey envied them.  She shivered as another icy tendril of water made its way into her shirt.  Would Malbus just hurry up and pick already?

            He motioned for them all to touch down and dragged her off to the side.  “What do you think, Niima?  You know this team as well as I do.”

            They conferred for a few minutes and argued over the placements.  Rey wouldn’t let up even in the face of Malbus’ frown.  Finally, he nodded, and they returned to the anxious Hufflepuffs.

            “Alright,” he braced his hands on his hips.  “I’ve made my decisions.”

            “You all had great runs,” Rey added because she knew he wouldn’t.  In fact, he grumbled at her.  “But we only have a few spots open.  But you were all great.”

            “Right, so, spots.  Niima’s going to be Seeker.”  All of them groaned and grumbled at him for announcing that one first.  “Alright, alright.  Chasers.”  They held their breaths and Rey couldn’t help but smile.  “First-string will be me, Melshi, and Olivia Wood.”  Both Gaskell and Maroney looked on the verge of protesting, but Malbus talked over them.  “Nina, good job, you’ll be second string this year and maybe move up next year.”  She beamed.  “Maroney, you’ll be second string too.  That’s all.” 

            It was highly unlikely that they’d need more than one sub for the Chasers and Nina could hang in for a game or two anyway.  Gaskell did not agree.  His face turned beet red and he started yelling at Olivia that she didn’t deserve the spot.  Rey pulled her wand out and advanced on him.

            “If you don’t bloody well shut up and move on your way, I’ll hex you into next year,” she warned him.  “You’re acting like a child.”

            He glared down at her.  “You wouldn’t dare.  I’ll tell Professor Kenobi and…”

            “And what?” Dameron snorted.  “You really think he’s going to give her detention?  It’s your word against ours and we’re all backing Rey.  Plus, she’s his favorite.”

            Gaskell grumbled and looked ready to argue, but he just turned and stalked off the pitch, dragging his broom with him.  Rey winced as it bumped over every stone and divot in the ground.  No matter who it’s owner was, no broom deserved to be treated that way.  When she returned to Malbus’ side, Olivia gave her a small smile, and Rey nodded to her.

            “Alright, now that he’s out of the way.  Sharp, where do you think you’re going?  Yeah, alright, we didn’t pick you for Chaser, but we’ve got you down for backup Seeker, alright?”  He brightened considerably at that.  “Rey didn’t even have to beat you down for it.  Moving on.  Keeper’s Weasley, backup is Fetter.  Beaters are Kent and Dameron, backup Thornton.  Congrats everyone.  I’ll let you know practice schedules as soon as I can get them booked.”

            Hannah’s face broke out in an enormous smile, and she turned to congratulate Dameron and Jo.  Rey gave her a moment before she walked up and threw her arm over her friend’s shoulders.  “Congratulations!  See?  What’d I tell you?”

            “I know, I know, you were right,” Hannah admitted.  Rose and Eliza ran down from the stands and joined them.  Eliza threw her arms around Hannah even though she was drenched from head to toe. 

            “Hufflepuff supper!” Dameron called.  “I’m starving.”

            Laughing, Rey and her three friends started up towards the castle with the rest of the Hufflepuffs.  The rain still continued to pour, but none of them paid it much mind, other than to throw up a few moving shields against it.  Rey always loved the look of these invisible umbrellas, with the rain bouncing off its clear surface and rolling down around her. 

            When they reached the warm interior of Hogwarts, they waved their wands and dried off their clothes. 

            And the new Hufflepuff Quidditch team went to supper, brooms and all.

Chapter Text

            At precisely 9:15, Rey slung her messenger bag over her shoulder and left the library where she’d been studying, for once, alone.  It was a quiet night at Hogwarts and the library had been quiet too.  Rain pounded against the glass of the elaborate windows and the figures in the portraits dozed against one another.  A Thursday night, when few students had even bothered to leave their common rooms.  Her friends had not bothered to leave their common rooms either, and Poe had looked at her like she was insane when she told him that she was planning to spend her evening holed up in the library.

            She tapped her way through the barrels and entered the common room.  Rose dozed by the fire with her head pillowed on her arms, and Rey stopped to shake her awake before she went upstairs.  Her friend came awake slowly, blinking and stretching her arms over her head.

            “What time is it?” Rose muttered.

            “9:30,” Rey answered.  “Tired night?”

            “It’s just the rain,” Rose said as she rubbed sleep out of her eyes.  “Makes me sleepy and you weren’t here to keep me awake.”

            It wasn’t that Rey had an overload of homework yet, but she wanted to have her Saturday free for Quidditch practice in the morning and time with her friends in the afternoon.  So, she had gone to the library determined to finish her Ancient Runes homework.  Tomorrow, she thought, during her free period, she’d draft some of her friends and start practicing silent spellwork.  She couldn’t escape it anymore.  In Defense, with Professor Imwe in Transfiguration, and especially Professor Holdo in Charms, that was all they ever did anymore.

            “Sorry, I had to get a few things done.”  Rose followed her to their dormitory, where Hannah and Eliza both looked up to greet them. 

            “Rounds with Solo again?” Hannah looked up from her book to ask.

            “That sounds like a terrible show on the telly,” Eliza said.  She was a half-blood, and Rey had gathered that her dad brought Muggle things into their home too.

            Hannah crinkled her nose.  “What’s a telly?”

            “Television,” Eliza told her blandly.

            “The thing with the moving pictures that talks?” Hannah asked, and Rey nodded.

            “It’s probably about as bad,” Rose said from where she’d planted herself on her patchwork quilt.  “All bickering and wisecracks.” 

            Rey rolled her eyes and straightened her appearance before she pinned her prefect badge to her chest.  She didn’t much like wearing it, but it was mandatory for rounds, just in case one of the professors caught them out after curfew and didn’t recognize two prefects, which was unlikely.

            She bid her friends a goodnight and left the dormitory.  Rey had decided after last week that she would beat Solo and wait for him at the Slytherin common room.  Then, at least, he couldn’t say that she was running late.

            The dungeons were always her least favorite place in the castle, mostly because she only ever descended into their depths to go to Potions and she wasn’t overly fond of Tarkin and his unfortunately necessary class.  But now she took the stairs two at a time and found herself in the hall outside of the Slytherin common room with twenty minutes to spare.

            Rey ran her hand along the rough stone wall until it gave way beneath her fingertips.  She knew the secret entrance to the Slytherin common room was behind it, though she didn’t try to enter.  She didn’t know the password to the twirling door of iron anyway.  Instead, she leaned against the wall just outside of it.

            As she stood there and waited for Solo, several misgivings occurred to her at once.  One, he could have already left the common room to meet her outside Hufflepuff’s like they usually did, and she could have missed him on the way down, though her path was certainly the fastest between them.  Two, he could have been out already and planned to go straight there.  Three, Hux or Phasma or, Godric forbid, Krennic could come down the hall at any minute and find her loitering there.  She had her wand, but against multiple Slytherins she would be at a disadvantage.

            Her fears were assuaged a moment later when she heard the door open and Solo appeared through the trick wall.  He stopped when he spotted her leaning against the stone wall twirling her wand between her fingers like she always lounged in the dungeons.  The look on his face was worth it.

            “What are you doing here?” he snapped.

            She raised an eyebrow at him.  “It’s time for rounds.  Cutting it a bit close, aren’t you, Solo?”  She smirked into his stunned face.

            “I’m sure you wouldn’t be so jovial if Hux came around the corner and hexed your face off,” he grumbled.  She pushed off the wall to match his stride and processed what he’d said.  It occurred to her that perhaps he had always come to her common room to keep her from running into any other Slytherins alone.  She scoffed internally at the idea.  “How did you know where the common room is?”

            “I’m friends with Poe and Finn, remember?  Do you really think they’ve made it to sixth year without finding all the common rooms?”  She snorted at the idea.  Finn had known where the Slytherin common room was from the start, of course, but had made Poe find it on his own.  Which he did.  Second year.  In fairness, Rey had found it before him but that was more because of Cassian than her own ingenuity.  She didn’t much care where the common rooms were.

            Solo led them to the end of the hall where the dungeons met the stairs and stopped.  It wasn’t yet ten, since he had left early and found her there already.  They had to check part of the dungeons anyway.  A Slytherin girl Rey didn’t recognize rushed down the stairs and passed them to get to her common room.

            “Figure out the Ancient Runes homework yet?” she asked by way of conversation, because standing in the hall in silence was just too awkward, even with Solo.  The muffled rain and the sharp green of the flourishing grass had put her in a good mood.

            He glanced down at her, his brows knitted together.  “It’s only Thursday.”

            “I know.” She shrugged.

            He looked away again.  “I finished half.”

            A small smile tugged at her lips.  Since he knew now that she’d finished it, he would probably have it done tomorrow.  Solo was nothing if not predictable and competitive.  She kind of liked that about him.  Wait…did she just think that she liked something about Ben Solo?  This rain must have gotten to her more than she thought.

            The bells chimed over Hogwarts, and they strode off down the hall to check the dungeons.  All clear.  Solo was silent beside her, not even an attempt at conversation.  She was glad for that.  At least he wouldn’t deflate her good mood.  His face was unreadable.  Always was, unless he had given himself over to his notorious temper.  Something about him made her want to push and push until she reached what was underneath all that black and Slytherin green.

            “I’ve been thinking,” he said and paused.  She cocked her head to show that she was listening.  How could she not be?  He sounded so unsure, and she wanted to know what rattled around in Solo’s head that he’d finally decided to voice for her.  “I think we should attempt to be civil to each other.”

            Rey didn’t know how to respond to that.  He’d said it to her before, only to turn around and mock her.  Was this another dig at her tolerant nature?  “You do?” she ventured.

            “Yes,” he said and flicked his wand to check an empty classroom.

            She weighed her next words carefully.  Solo glared out at the world beneath dark brows, but she knew he could also be like a wounded animal, liable to bite at a poorly placed jab.  “What brought this on?”

            He glanced down at her with impatience, as if he hadn’t expected her to question his motives.  Or maybe it was surprise.  “Well, we’re rounds partners, aren’t we?  We may not see eye to eye, but we can at least get along for an hour a week.”

            Rey blinked up at him.  She never expected him to say something like that.  She waited for him to sneer and call her a filthy mudblood, but he continued to meet her stare resolutely.  “Alright, we should.  Where do we start?”

            He swallowed once.  “I won’t call you a mudblood,” he offered.

            She nodded.  “That’s a good start.  I’ll try to avoid calling you a prick.”

            Solo looked down at her, and she offered him a small, wry smile.  The corners of his mouth flicked up.  If he really was going to attempt some sort of equilibrium, she decided to make it her goal to get him to smile just once.  A real smile.

            “That seems fair.  I’ll try to avoid cracks about mud…I mean, muggleborns and Muggles,” he allowed.

            “And I’ll attempt to not tell you how inbred purebloods are,” she conceded.  “I think that’s good for now.  I don’t know if I can handle you being too nice to me so soon.”

            This time, the small smile that flitted across his face was unmistakable.  They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.  Without their insults, what was she supposed to say to him?  She was so used to him initiating a battle and snarking at her.  She flicked her wand and checked a few rooms.

            “So…what’s the Slytherin common room like?” she asked because she was genuinely curious.  Cassian was her only real friend in Slytherin, and they had never been close enough for him to take her on a tour.  Not that he spent much time in his common room.  He seemed to always be in Gryffindor with Jyn and Bodhi or occasionally in Ravenclaw’s with Kay.  He shot her a half-amused smile.  “What?  Is ‘civil’ code for ‘maybe Rey will shut up and not talk to me’?”

            A low chuckle rumbled out of his chest, but no true smile accompanied it.  Did he ever smile?  She guessed sometimes, just not around her.  “You probably wouldn’t like it.  I’m sure it’s not like the Hufflepuff common room at all.”

            She crossed her arms in a challenge.  “Try me.”

            He smirked.  “It’s tall and made of rough carved stone and under the Black Lake.  The light’s sort of greenish.”

            She shook her head.  “You’re terrible at this.  That’s the worst description.”

            “How would you know?  You’ve never been there,” he challenged.

            “Oh, I’m sure you’re not lying to me.  I just think you’re not doing it justice at all.  None of the common rooms are that bland,” she argued, crossing her arms over her chest.

            He shook his head, blowing the air from his lungs in a rough exhale.  “What about yours then?”

            “Oh, you know, it’s circular and low and made of wood and it’s got plants everywhere.”

            He snorted, and a small smile flitted across his face like she’d actually managed to amuse him.  It felt weird.  Bickering with Solo was normal, but bantering?  This would take some getting used to.  “Point taken,” he said.

            “What?  Is there some Slytherin rule that you can’t tell outsiders about your common room or something?” she asked.

            “Something like that,” he admitted.

            “Alright, fine.  What did you do with your summer?” she changed tactics.

            “I thought we were being civil.  I didn’t realize that would require me to divulge personal information,” he snapped.  Something almost like regret flitted across his face.

            To her surprise, his tone didn’t hurt her.  She harbored no illusions about getting Solo to open up to her.  “Would you rather sit in brooding silence?  That seems like your style.”

            Godric, did she just tease Ben Solo?  His expression didn’t change.  “That sounds like a boring way to pass rounds,” he answered.

            “What would you like to talk about, then?” she offered.

            He thought for a moment in silence.  “What did you think about Ancient Runes this week?” he asked finally.

            Rey tried to tamp down her rising disappointment.  Ancient Runes was a safe topic.  Even if they ended up arguing about it like last week, they were unlikely to get nasty over it.  She swallowed her disappointment and decided that she would take a civil Ben Solo for a rounds partner.  It could be much worse.

 

            Rey walked into Potions the next morning just before the bells tolled to signal the start of class and rubbed sleep from her eyes.  Tarkin shot her a look but said nothing as she joined Finn in the open spot beside his cauldron.  She set her own on the stand and tried to pay attention to the instructions Tarkin wrote on the chalkboard. 

            “Hiccoughing Solution today?” she asked him without expecting a real answer.

            “Merlin, Rey, you look like hell,” was his answer.  “Did Solo hex you or something?”

            “No,” she said, rubbing sleep from her eyes.  Where had he even gotten that idea?  “No, of course not.”

            He gave her a doubtful look.  “You say that like he’s never hexed you before.”

            She nudged him in the side as Tarkin turned back around and surveyed the class to find anyone carrying on a conversation.  Why did they have to have double Potions on a Friday morning?  Did Professor Skywalker just want to kill every sixth-year?  Or maybe Tarkin had requested it as his usual vindictive self.

            Rey started her potion, though her mind felt sluggish and uncoordinated.  She glanced over to the table that Solo shared with Hux and Phasma.  Just then, Hux leaned over their cauldrons and said something that very obviously ended in mudbloods.  She expected Solo to laugh along with them or even show some sort of emotion, but he just shrugged at his laughing friends and went back to his potion.  Odd.  He glanced in her direction, and she dropped her head back to her cauldron.

            “Solo didn’t hex me,” she said as Tarkin moved to another part of the room.  “In fact, he was civil yesterday.”

            Finn snorted.  “Solo?  Civil?  Are you sure you’re not confusing him for someone else?  Did you hex him?”

            “No one hexed anyone, Finn,” she said, too tired to argue with him or join him in his amusement.  Solo had surprised her during rounds and it was no wonder that Finn didn’t believe her.  Until last night, she would also have said that he was more likely to hex and obliviate her than act civil to her.

            She kept all of her attention on her potion and the instructions Tarkin had written on the board.  By the end of class, she had a passable Hiccoughing Solution that didn’t merit one of Tarkin’s rare compliments but did at least get a decent mark.  Solo, of course, had finished it perfectly, much to their professor’s delight.

            And by Friday afternoon, she didn’t know how to feel about Ben Solo.

Chapter Text

            They held the first meeting of the Inter-house Quidditch League or the IQL, as Poe liked to call it, so they sounded semi-official, on the fourth Sunday of term, two days after her strange interaction with Solo.  She hadn’t seen him since Potions on Friday and didn’t really want to.  She imagined that his civility could only last for so long. 

            They convened in an empty classroom on the fourth floor.  In an attempt to keep things somewhat secret, they had enchanted a set of small mirrors to broadcast the time and place of the next meeting or match when she or Poe wrote on theirs.  But for the first meeting, the news had traveled by word of mouth. 

            A sizeable crowd of students sat crowded together on tables and mismatched chairs that they had dragged around the classroom.  Night had already fallen outside, though it was significantly before curfew, since both Bodhi and Paige were attending, and they had rounds that night.  The assembled students ranged from first-years, who shuffled nervously and huddled with their friends, to veteran seventh-years like Jyn and Cassian who had flown every year the IQL had been in existence.  They covered all houses too, though only a few Slytherins joined. 

            Rey sat in the front of the room on the teacher’s desk, swinging her legs and tugging her oversized sweater to cover her chilled hands.  Poe and Finn stood on either side of her.  Rose sat in a chair behind her and read.  She had chosen to come even though she would never even consider flying for a team because, as she put it, all her friends were here anyway.  She ignored them, and the mass of students gathered in the classroom.  The bells overhead chimed eight, and Poe looked at her.  She nodded for him to start the meeting.

            “Alright,” Poe said and clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention.  Jyn wolf-whistled at him, and he flipped her off.  “Welcome to the…what’s this?  The fourth year of the Inter-house Quidditch League.  Everyone’s welcome, no matter what your skill level is.  Let’s go over the breakdown for our newbies.  We might have some stragglers too.”

            Rey only half-listened as Poe outlined the structure of the league.  She saw Jyn’s head lull onto Cassian’s shoulder from boredom.  They had decided early to divide the league into first through fourth years and fifth and above for the sake of the players.  A few players crossed over with their friends, but most teams stuck to that.  They played six to a team without Seekers, to Rey’s constant disappointment, but she understood why. 

            Twenty minutes in, Poe had beat his description of the teams to death and a few latecomers had trickled in.  Rey pushed herself off the table and put a hand on Poe’s arm before everyone fell asleep.

            “I think they get it, Poe,” she said so only he could hear.  She didn’t want to embarrass him in front of everyone or he’d probably keep them there for hours out of spite.  “Think we can get to teams now?”

            He nodded and clapped his hands once.  A few third-years jumped.  “Alright, so let’s get to teams.  If you have a full team selected already, group up.  If not, don’t worry, we’ll find a team for you.”

            There was a sudden shuffling as everyone roused themselves and started to cling in clusters to their friends.   Jyn and the rest of Rogue One had already been roughly seated together.  They latched onto one another and moved off to the side to lounge against the stone wall.  Rey bit her lip to keep from glaring at them.  She liked everyone on the team—how could she not, two of them were on her house team—but she was still bitter over last year’s loss.  Jyn grinned at her.  How she and Cassian had managed to put a decent team out of mostly Chasers and Bodhi and Kay who didn’t play Quidditch for a house team at all, Rey still didn’t know.

            Rey leaned back against the table and let her team come to her.  She, Poe, and Finn were already there, of course, as the three Chasers, but were quickly joined by Hannah and Paige, whom they’d convinced to play their Beaters.  Their final member was less than ideal.  Jo Weasley played for a different team and no amount of bribery on Rey’s part could convince her to part with it.  Poe had convinced Gryffindor’s second-string Keeper to join them, although Rey suspected that was only accomplished by threatening to kick him out of his house spot if he didn’t.

            It took a good bit of shifting and scraping to get everyone sorted into their preliminary teams.  Rey pulled out a lengthy piece of parchment and started jotting down their compositions.  Hers was listed at the top.

            Team: Pretty Fly for a Jedi

            Chasers: Poe, Rey, Finn

            Beaters: Hannah, Paige

            Keeper: Sarkeesian

            Then, just after them, because they were immediately assaulted by Jyn:

            Team: Rogue One

            Chasers: Erso, Andor, Rook

            Beaters: Malbus, Melshi

            Keeper: Esso

            And the list went on and on.  More teams came up to join the list and Rey scribbled them all down frantically to keep up.  Rose looked up once but didn’t offer to help.  She had to flip between the two sheets of parchment where she’d listed the lower classmen and upper.  By the time they reached the end of the decided teams, her hand was cramping.

            “Alright,” Poe said.  “Start practicing with your team whenever you can get the pitch, but don’t interrupt actual Quidditch practices.”  He glared out at the gathered students.  “We don’t want another incident like last year.  That was a near miss with Tarkin.”

            They nodded reluctantly, and Poe glared at Jyn and Bodhi until they nodded too.  Cassian had barely saved them when Jyn had tried to “borrow” the pitch while the Slytherin team practiced for an upcoming game.

            Poe nodded with finality.  “Right.  If you’ve signed the list, you can go.  We’ll send out the first games when we can get all the brackets figured out.”

            Most of the room filed out, leaving the half-filled teams of mostly younger students behind.  Rey and Finn worked through them, pairing players with open slots until they had all the teams filled.  Only for one spot did two people have to share.  They signed the parchment and the classroom finally emptied.

            Rey slung her bag over her shoulder and tucked the parchments neatly inside.  Rose stretched as she rose from her chair.  The rest of their team had departed too.

            “What do you think of Sarkeesian?” Poe asked her as they exited the classroom into the empty hallway. 

            Rey frowned.  She’d only seen the boy play in one game and she hadn’t been paying very close attention, since it was a match against her own house team.  All she knew was that Hufflepuff had slaughtered the Gryffindor team.  Poe and Finn wouldn’t speak to her for a week after.  It didn’t seem prudent to bring that up now.

            “We’ll give him a shot,” she said.  “I don’t know if he’ll be any good, but we don’t have any other options right now.”

            Finn looked doubtful, like he too was remembering that disastrous game.  “Are you sure you can’t convince Jo to join us?”

            “She’s already signed on to another team with her friends, Finn,” Rey reminded him.  She had Jo’s name printed neatly beside Olivia Wood and a few others she knew.  “Would someone else be able to convince you to switch teams?”

            “Of course not!”  He looked appalled at the very thought.  Rey gave him a pointed look.  “Alright,” he conceded.  “I get it.”

            Rose skipped beside them and turned a bright grin on Poe and Finn.  “I’ll play Keeper.”

            Poe choked.  Rey laughed at his wide-eyed look.

            They went back to the Gryffindor Common Room.  Poe kicked a few first-years out of the comfortable chairs by the fire and claimed them for them.  Rey thought about protesting, but the castle had grown chilly in the last week and the fire was so wonderfully warm.  And the Gryffindor Tower really did have the most comfortable chairs.

            Her sense of peace was immediately shattered by Jyn, who crossed the room and threw herself onto the arm of Poe’s chair.  Cassian and Bodhi followed, albeit reluctantly.  Kay didn’t bother to get up at all.

            “Ready to get your asses kicked again this year?” she asked, flashing them a feral grin.

            Poe propped his arms up on her leg.  “It’s ok, Jyn.  I know you have a fascination with my ass.  It’s understandable.”

            She sent him a vulgar gesture.  Behind her, Cassian looked down at his shoes.  “That’s what you think, Dameron.  I’m more interested in how many points we can beat you by.”

            Rey called to Cassian over the back of the armchair and both their heads, “did you have tryouts yet, Cass?  Going up against me as Seeker again, are you?”

            He flashed her one of his small grins, and she noted that Jyn paused her conversation with Poe to listen.  His voice was quiet but reached her ears without difficulty.  “Wouldn’t you like to know, Niima?  Scoping out our weaknesses already?”

            She shrugged.  “You know I can’t resist.  I’d never hear the end of it if we lost to you lot.”  She wrinkled her nose at the thought.

            “You have no pity for me.  Jyn took the piss for a week after you caught the snitch first last year,” he answered.

            Rey’s mischievous grin matched Jyn’s.  Bodhi crept around Cassian to lean against the backs of their chairs.  He struck up a conversation with Rose, who only cared about Quidditch because they played and was thoroughly sick of how much they’d gone on about it so far this term.  Cassian sat on the ground at her feet and leaned against the plush chair.

            “Still taking Ancient Runes?” he asked.

            “Of course,” Rey said and threw her legs over the arm of her chair to give him more room.  Finn had stopped paying attention to their conversation at the first mention of Ancient Runes and turned to join Rose and Bodhi’s.  “What are you doing after Hogwarts anyway?”

            Cassian shrugged lightly, but she watched his gaze track to the green-eyed brunette chatting with Poe.  “Jyn wants to join the Aurors.  I suppose that works fine for me.  Always thought I’d end up in something like that.”  He looked back up at her.  “Still going for Cursebreaking?”

            She nodded.  “Professor Organa said she knows some people and might be able to get me an interview at least.  Muggle name doesn’t go far, you know.”

            Cassian understood.  At least he’d inherited a recognizable name from his father, but he’d grown up a half-blooded orphan after both his parents were killed in Snoke’s last uprising.  She couldn’t imagine being sorted into Slytherin with that weighing on his shoulders.  The Ersos had all but taken him in.  Rumor had it he lived with them over summer break.  She asked him about his break instead.

            “It was good,” he said with a small smile.  “Lyra kept trying to buy me things.  I picked up some shifts at the Leaky Cauldron.  You should’ve come by.”

            She should have, but it was difficult for her to get away from the orphanage for anything but work.  The owl had been hard enough to explain.  Poe had offered to take him for the summer, but she couldn’t bear parting with BB, her only connection to the wizarding world.

            “Think you can get me a job?” she teased.

            He cocked his head at her.  “Didn’t have you down as a bartender.”

            Rey laughed.  “Yeah, I guess I’m not.  Gotta do something for the summer though.”

            Cassian nodded sympathetically.  “Talk to Professor Organa.  I know Solo owns shops in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.  I hear he’s looking for some help this summer.”

            She nodded.  Rey had met Han Solo several times when he’d come around Hogwarts and at his pub in Hogsmeade.  But when Cassian had first called him Solo, her mind had gone to his son instead.  She would look into that, though.  That would make for a fun summer.

            “Are any of you planning on returning?” Kay drawled, his long, lanky form flickering in the firelight.

            “You could have come with us,” Cassian fired back.

            Jyn tipped her head back and gave him a sarcastic smile.  “He’s too much of a stick in the mud to have fun.”

            Kay’s dispassionate eyes slid to her and he quirked an eyebrow.  “There’s a forty percent chance you fall off that chair and injure yourself, Erso.”

            “Forty percent?” Jyn laughed.  “Did you do the math on that yourself?”

            Kay’s face didn’t change.  It was almost frightening how little emotion he showed.  “The odds increased by twenty percent because you’re sitting on Poe’s armrest.  He’s far more likely to push you off.”

            Jyn turned back to Cassian.  “I think he missed me.”

            Kay pushed her off and said, “one hundred percent chance.”

Chapter Text

            Rey woke up to absolute mayhem.  This was not the norm in the Hufflepuff dormitories.  For a brief moment, she wondered if she’d fallen asleep in the Gryffindor common room after studying so late last night.  But then someone wrenched open the circular door and roused all the sixth-year girls from sleep.  Jo Weasley ignored their protests and marched up to Rey’s bed.  She shook her by the arm even though she was already awake.

            “I’m awake.  For Merlin’s…what, Jo?!” she snapped.  Only the thinnest ray of sunlight filtered in through the round windows.

            “I don’t know.”  The redhead’s voice shook.  “You’d better come quick.”

            Rey came fully awake at that.  Jo had never looked so shaken, her face pale and bloodless lips trembling.  She launched herself out of bed and followed the seventh-year prefect back to her dormitory.  Three of the other girls who inhabited the room were up too, crouched over the slumped form of their fifth roommate. 

            Rey pushed through the crowd to get to her.  “Don’t touch her, Rey,” one of them warned.  She didn’t but crouched over her to get a better look.  It was Maisey Strickland, a usually chipper and sweet seventh-year Hufflepuff.  But now a flush covered her face beneath a tangled mess of blonde hair and a furious rash spread over her arms from fingertip to shoulder.  She was unconscious but twitched every few seconds.  Rey held out her arms and pressed the other girls back.

            “Jo, go get Eliza.  Tell her to bring her potions kit.  Sarah, find Professor Kenobi and tell him what’s happened.  He should be in his office this time of day.  Everyone else go to the common room,” Rey said.  The girls moved to obey her at once.

            In an instant, Eliza appeared at her side.  She carried a worn leather case that contained her supply of healing potions.  Eliza had been prepping to be a Mediwitch for three years and Healer Cash Zarrin had complimented her potions.  The witch, although usually cool and collected, stared at Maisey’s prone form with wide eyes.

            “Do you know what it is?” Rey asked her.  Wordlessly, she shook her head.  Rey had to snap her fingers in front of her face to regain her attention.  “Eliza, she needs help.”

            “Right.”  Eliza blinked and returned to herself.  She opened the case and started rifling through the potions within.  Her eyes darted back and forth between Maisey and the potions she had with her.  “I don’t want to do anything that could make her worse.” 

            Eliza waved her wand and muttered an incantation.  “She has a fever,” the witch muttered.  “A high one.  Have you ever seen anything like this?”  Rey shook her head.  “And this rash.”

            When she waved her wand again, Rey recognized the cooling spell she cast over her.  She pulled a small potion’s vial from her case, slipped on a pair of dragon hide gloves, and dropped a few drops of a clear potion into Maisey’s mouth.  The redness seemed to fade from her cheeks a little.  Eliza cast the same spell, which Rey guessed checked her vitals, over the prone figure and muttered to herself.

            “I think she’s stabilized for now,” Eliza said, conjuring a cool cloth and placing it on her forehead.  “I can’t do much else.  This rash is unusual.  I’ve never read of anything like it.  And it could react with any other potions I give her.  Did you send someone for Healer Zarrin?”

            “Jo went to find Professor Kenobi.  If she can get the story out, he’ll get Healer Zarrin,” Rey told her, and Eliza nodded, satisfied.  “I don’t understand.  I saw Maisey yesterday.  She seemed her usual self.”

            “She’s curious,” Eliza offered.  “Maybe she got into something?  Maybe it was just an accident.  She’s taking NEWT-level Potions, isn’t she?  Those can have a bad reaction sometimes.”

            Rey nodded but didn’t know what to make of this.  It was relatively rare for anyone at Hogwarts to have anything more than a brief cold or headache.  Zarrin’s potions usually did the trick, and the house elves enchanted the food to keep sickness at bay.  Certainly, nothing so extreme as Maisey’s condition had ever occurred.

            Her thoughts and Eliza’s continued attentions were interrupted by the entrance of Professor Kenobi and Healer Zarrin.  Both men looked uncharacteristically grave.  Rey yielded her position to the healer and stepped back a few paces to confer with Professor Kenobi as Zarrin worked.

            “What happened, Rey?” he asked her.  “How’s Ms. Strickland?”

            “It’s hard to say, professor,” Rey answered him, but she couldn’t keep her eyes off Maisey’s prone form.  “Eliza’s been doing her best, but she hasn’t woken up.  I don’t know what happened.  I saw her yesterday and she was fine.”

            “You did well in stabilizing her,” Healer Zarrin told Eliza.  “This rash is strange.”

            “Will you speak to the other girls?  Ms. Weasley has had a fright.  We need to know what happened here, if they saw anything at all.”

            Rey nodded.  “You’ll let me know how she is?”

            Professor Kenobi turned his warm eyes on her with the barest sad smile.  “Of course.”

            Rey accepted his answer and left the dormitory.  She found the rest of the seventh-year girls in the common room.  A larger crowd had gathered from the rest of the house, including her sixth-year roommates, as the word spread about Maisey’s condition.  They sat huddled together in the round common room, robes and blankets wrapped around their shoulders to fend off the morning chill.  They all looked up at her expectantly when she entered, hope and fear on their faces. 

            Rey felt wholly inadequate to help them through this, but they all looked to her, even Jo.  She stopped and cleared her throat.  “Will the seventh-year girls please come with me?  Everyone else, stay here.”  She could feel their fear like a palpable presence in the air.  “I don’t know anything yet.  Maisey’s stable, and Healer Zarrin is taking care of her.  When I find something out, I’ll tell you.”

            They seemed to accept that explanation.  The four other seventh-year girls followed her back into the hallway.  She led them not into their own room but into hers, which was empty now that its occupants had vacated it for the common room.  She took a deep breath and turned to face them.

            “I need to know if you saw anything, heard anything.  If Maisey’s been acting odd the last few days or if she mentioned anything out of the ordinary.  Just anything you think might help,” she said.  Four sets of wide eyes stared back at her.

            “Does that mean Healer Zarrin doesn’t know what’s wrong with her?” one of the girls choked, a small, slender girl who Rey knew was friends with Maisey.  Jo wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

            “Not yet, but it’s early.  He’ll find out, I’m sure of it.  But he needs any information you can give him,” Rey said.

            “She was fine yesterday,” one whispered.

            “Excited about her classes,” said another.

            Jo’s eyebrows scrunched.  “She’s been going on about something she found.  She wanted to show us, but I don’t know what it was.  I thought it was one of her usual things, just some illustration in a book.”

            The short girl’s face crumpled, and she leaned into the comforting presence of Jo beside her.  “She told me about that too and I brushed her off.  Maybe if I had just listened, she wouldn’t be like this now.”

            “It’s not your fault.”  Rey reached out to comfort her.  “It may be nothing.  We don’t know if that’s related.  Is there anything else?” she asked gently.

            “Everything else about her was normal,” Jo said.  “She didn’t eat much yesterday and complained of a headache, but I thought nothing of it.”

            “Come to think of it,” the short girl said.  Rebecca, that was her name.  “I didn’t see her at all on Tuesday.”

            Rey’s brow creased.  “At all?  You share a room.”

            Rebecca nodded, equally confused.  “I know.  I think I saw her for breakfast, but we don’t have classes together on Tuesday and I didn’t see her at all in the evening.  But she was there in the morning, sleeping like the dead.”

            “I didn’t see her either,” Jo added.  “I thought it was odd too.  Maisey never misses lunch with us.  I didn’t get a chance to ask her where she was, either.”

            Rey nodded.  It was all so puzzling.  Maisey didn’t disappear often.  In fact, Rey usually saw her in the common room no matter what time of day.  She always gave her such a wide smile, blonde curls bouncing.  Where had she gone?  Did that have anything to do with her mysterious illness?

            Rey thanked them and led them back into the common room.  She went back to the seventh-year dormitory to see how Maisey was doing.  To her surprise, Healer Zarrin had conjured a floating stretcher in her absence and lifted Maisey onto it.  Professor Kenobi stood off to one side with concern on his face.

            She entered right as Healer Zarrin enchanted the stretcher to float behind him and turned to Professor Kenobi.  “I’ll see what I can do.  The girls can come back in here, but they shouldn’t touch her things until Leia can get in here and do a sweep for dark magic.  Just in case.  I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with here, but you can never be too sure in these times.”

            He gave them all a reassuring smile and left with Maisey.  Professor Kenobi followed him out to keep the Hufflepuffs away from the stretcher.  Eliza and Rey trailed after them, unsure.  If possible, the Hufflepuffs huddled together tighter as Healer Zarrin left.  As the barrels closed behind him, they all started talking at once.

            Professor Kenobi held a hand up for silence.  “Ms. Strickland will be just fine.  Healer Zarrin is unsure of the cause of her condition, but, rest assured, she is in excellent hands.  We must continue about our days as usual, but I will make sure the prefects are informed of Ms. Strickland’s condition at every update.  You may see them for information.”

            Muttering broke out amongst the Hufflepuffs, but there were no questions left to ask Professor Kenobi that he had the answers to.  He informed the seventh-years that they could return to their dormitories for their things but warned them strictly not to touch any of Maisey’s things until the cause of her illness had been identified.  He called Rey over to him and took her aside out of earshot from the crowd.

            “I don’t want this to be common knowledge, but Healer Zarrin is concerned about her condition.  He has never seen such a reaction to anything.  If necessary, she will be transported to St. Mungo’s, but it does not seem that extreme yet.  Take care of our house, Ms. Niima.  If anyone needs to take the day off from class, feel free to issue excuses to them.”

            Leaving Hufflepuff House in her care, Professor Kenobi left.  Even Helga Hufflepuff’s picture over the fireplace looked concerned.

            Maisey and her mysterious condition distracted Rey for the rest of the day.  She focused as best as she could in her lessons but found her notes less than perfect.  Poe, Finn, and Rose shot her concerned glances throughout the day.  Against her better judgement, she felt like she had somehow failed Maisey, though she couldn’t be expected to watch over everyone all the time.

            At every interval between classes and all evening, the Hufflepuffs bombarded her for updates on Maisey’s condition.  She gave them as best as she could, though little had changed over the course of the day.  She still had not woken up.  Her rash remained unaffected.  She was stable.  Healer Zarrin was doing his best.  She had instructed everyone to leave Jo alone about it.  The event weighed the prefect’s shoulders down enough as it was.  Rey navigated their fears and concerns, soothing where she could.

            By the end of the day, she was exhausted and so distracted that she nearly forgot her rounds with Solo.  That prospect seemed less than appealing to her just then.  Sure, he had agreed to be civil with her and their few interactions over the course of the week hadn’t been so terrible, but she didn’t know if she could bear his sarcasm tonight.  But she was satisfied to find the common room empty and everyone at least mostly calm when she left for her rounds.

            Solo frowned at her from his perch against the stone wall when she exited the common room.  “You look awful,” he told her bluntly.

            “Thanks,” she muttered.  “Charming as ever, Solo.”

            His frown deepened as the bells chimed overhead.  “Cutting it close, aren’t we, Niima?”

            It was his usual line, no matter what time she joined him.  But this week she felt exhaustion dragging on her eyes.  “Yep,” was all she answered. 

            He fell into step beside her, matching his long stride to hers.  For a while, he didn’t say anything more, just flicked his wand to check empty classrooms.  She copied his movements with less than the usual energy.

            “Saw your team roster,” he said.  Quidditch, she thought.  He was talking about Quidditch.  She could do that, sure.  “I thought you Hufflepuffs were actually going out for the cup this year.”

            “We go out for the cup every year,” she said.

            He frowned at her again, but she paid him no mind.  “Could have fooled me.  You’ll need a stronger showing than that.  Or were you planning on finding yourself in the mud again this year?”

            “Cassian didn’t put me in the mud last year,” she reminded him.

            Suddenly, he wheeled around and stopped just in front of her, blocking her path.  She blinked up at him.  “What’s wrong with you?” he demanded.

            “I’m tired, Solo,” she said and tried to sidestep him, but he just stepped in front of her again, that infuriating frown still in place.  “Stop.  I’m not in the mood tonight.”

            She expected him to make a quip about that, but he just leveled that dark stare on her.  “You’re more than tired.”

            “What do you want from me?  I’m doing rounds, aren’t I?” she protested.  She thought about trying to sidestep him again but knew it would be a futile effort.

            “I don’t give a shit about rounds, Rey.  Say something.  You’re never this bland.  Tell me Sloane’s lucky to get her ass in the air on her broom.  You never let me get away with saying shit like that.”

            “I didn’t know you cared about me or my snark, Solo.”  She was too tired for quips, too tired for sass and snark.  He could take all of that and shove it up his entitled ass.  He continued to stare her down. 

            “What happened?” he asked.

            Rey squinted up at him.  Was he really so dense?  “Maisey fell ill this morning.  She’s a seventh-year Hufflepuff,” she added because she doubted he kept track of any member of her house that wasn’t on the Quidditch team or somehow relevant in his classes.  “Healer Zarrin hasn’t been able to figure out what caused it or even what her illness is.  I’m worried about her.”

            Solo’s eyebrows crinkled.  “Surely, Healer Zarrin will be capable of finding answers to her predicament.  His skill has been sufficient enough to treat all other incidents at Hogwarts.”

            Rey sighed.  Of course, he wouldn’t understand.  “Yes, but she’s my friend and my responsibility and I’m concerned about her.  Besides, this could just be the start of something spreading throughout the school and, if we don’t know what it is, how can it be treated?”  She shook her head.  “Everyone’s been coming to me for answers all day and I haven’t been able to give them any.”

            “I see,” Solo said finally.  “I’m sorry about your friend.  I realize it must be hard to not be able to do anything to help her.”

            Rey looked at him in surprise.  That was, by far, the nicest thing Solo had said to her in recent memory, maybe ever.  The only other time she could think of something nice he’d said to her was back in fourth year, when he’d told her she was the best in Charms by far.  She didn’t know what to make of this semi-nice Ben Solo.

            “Thank you,” she managed.  They continued along their route as if nothing had happened.  Rey was again startled to discover that she felt a little better.

            After several minutes of silence, Solo spoke again, “you could look into the matter yourself, if you believe they will not be able to learn the cause of it.”

            Rey had considered it but only briefly.  Maisey’s condition had not gotten so bad as to merit an unauthorized search of the castle for dangerous things.  She could end up doing more harm than good.  “Why would I be able to discover something that they could not?”

            “Because you’re capable and intelligent in your own right.”  Rey almost stopped walking.  She should really be asking after his health, if he was going to keep giving her unsolicited compliments.  “There are things in this castle that no one has seen for centuries.  Some of them, only students care to try to find.”

            A prickling sensation crawled up her spine.  “Do you know something about this?”

            Solo gave her a hard look and she regretted the question.  Of course, he didn’t.  She may believe many terrible things about Ben Solo, but potentially unleashing an unknown decease upon Hogwarts was not one of them.  “No.  But I’ve heard rumors about the things hidden in the castle.  I haven’t gone looking for many of them myself, but others have.”

            “Like Poe.”  Rey sighed again.  “If there’s something dangerous in the castle, I’d be surprised if Poe hasn’t already found it.”

            A ghost of a smile flickered across Solo’s face.  “The obvious ones, maybe, but Dameron doesn’t have the intelligence to find ancient hiding places guarded by layers of spells.”

            Dig against Poe aside, Rey wasn’t sure if Solo even knew what he’d just implied.  That while Dameron may not possess the wits necessary to unravel some mysteries within Hogwarts, Rey did.  She couldn’t help but feel a little flattered at the compliment.  Solo possessed no small intellect himself. 

            “You think something hidden inside the castle could have caused this?” she asked.  “Something ancient that no one has seen for a long time?  Do you think it’s dark magic?”

            Solo shrugged.  “I’m only guessing.  Give it some time.  If no one can figure out what’s wrong with her, perhaps there is cause to wonder if she stumbled upon something meant to remain a secret.  I can’t say if it is what you’d call dark magic.  What most wizards call dark magic is merely misunderstood.”

            “Misunderstood, maybe, but used for the wrong purpose,” she pointed out.

            He shot her a glare.  “Do you really want to have a debate over dark magic now?”  She shook her head.  “Neither do I.  In this case, though, it could be something as simple as a defensive spell gone awry.  It’s hard to tell.”

            She shook her head to chase away thoughts of ancient magic slumbering inside the castle walls.  “Healer Zarrin will probably have it solved in a few days anyway.”

Chapter Text

            Two days later, the Hufflepuffs had gotten no new information, and Healer Zarrin was no closer to discovering the cause of Maisey’s mysterious illness.  Thankfully, Rey and everyone else had something to distract them from their worries, even for just a few hours.  The first Hogsmeade weekend of the year was upon them.

            Rey rounded up the third-year students, who couldn’t contain their excitement, and led them to the grand entrance of Hogwarts, where Professor Organa stood to collect their signed permission slips.  She could hardly contain her excitement better than the young students about to embark on their first trip into Hogsmeade.  Rose bounded along beside her like a child on Christmas.

            “Where should we go first?” her friend asked.  “It’s morning still.  Zonko’s?  We’ve got to go to the Shrieking Shack on the first visit of the year.”

            “We’re not going to the Shrieking Shack this time, Rose,” Rey insisted, eyeing the way the third-years’ faces lit up when she’d mentioned it.  “It’ll be too crowded and then it’s not spooky at all.  We’ll go for Halloween, maybe, or in November.”

            “Fine,” Rose conceded.  “I need a new quill, though.  And we should check the new stock at Dervish and Banges.”

            Rey nodded along, but her thoughts drifted back to Maisey and the conundrum of her illness.  Two days and no progress at all.  Healer Zarrin was an excellent mediwizard, a veteran of the highest ranks at St. Mungo’s.  In all six of her years at Hogwarts, he had never failed to diagnose and treat every student that came through the Hospital Wing, including the time in her fourth year when half the castle came down with Dragon Pox.

            Rey smiled at Professor Organa and handed her an alphabetized stack of permission slips for the third-year students trailing behind her.  The silver-haired professor matched every slip of parchment to the corresponding student and ushered the Hufflepuffs into the Saturday morning light.  She gave Rey and Rose an affectionate smile.

            “Enjoy your time at Hogsmeade, ladies.”  She glanced out at the crowd of third-years skipping towards the little town.  “I do hope they don’t get into too much trouble.”

            Rey laughed.  “I’d worry more about the Gryffindors, professor.”

            Professor Organa cast her eyes towards the sky.  “I always worry about the Gryffindors.”

            Rey and Rose met Poe and Finn just outside the enormous doors of Hogwarts.  Poe had his face tipped back into the wavering September sun.  With October rapidly approaching, a slight chill rode on the breeze that ghosted their faces.  Rey had opted for a jumper and simple jeans in place of her school robes.  She hated wearing her school robes and avoided it whenever she could.  Both she and Rose had each wrapped one of their house scarves around their necks.  Finn, she noticed, had either borrowed or stolen one of Poe’s brown leather jackets.

            “Stop sunbathing,” she called to Poe.  “You’re holding us back.”

            He grinned and pushed off the wall, taking Finn with him.  “Bout time you got down here.  We were ready to leave without you.”

            “No, we weren’t,” Finn said.

            “Spoil sport,” Poe chided him, but the smile didn’t leave his face.

            It was a beautiful day for Hogsmeade.  The clouds that had plagued them all week and made their Quidditch practices a soggy mess had parted to reveal a clear blue sky.  Rey tucked her scarf and jumper up closer around her neck and shivered.  It should have been warmer for how beautiful it was out. 

            The four friends walked the path to Hogsmeade in easy companionship.  Rose and Poe bickered all the way about where they should go first, while Rey and Finn only occasionally chimed in with their own thoughts.  Everyone agreed that they had to visit Zonko’s, Honeydukes, The Three Broomsticks, and Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop, since Rose insisted that she needed a new one.  Rey reached into her pocket and felt the few coins she’d saved up just for this occasion. 

            The rest of Hogwarts—or, at least, everyone third year and up—drifted down to Hogsmeade around them.  The younger students ran towards the village and dodged between clusters of their elders.  The veterans took their time heading down.  Hogsmeade, although it no longer held the thrill and novelty that it had in younger years, was still a treat, no matter how old they got.  It felt nice to be out of the castle and free to roam and do whatever they wished.  Rey wrapped Finn’s arm in her own.

            “So, how’s Quidditch going?” she asked him.  On her other side, she felt more than saw Poe prick up his ears at the mention of Quidditch.

            “I know what you’re doing, Rey.  You can’t weasel information out of me like that.  Try Poe.  You know he’ll get talking about Quidditch and tell you too much.”

            Rey gave him an innocent look.  “Can’t I just ask my best friend about one of his favorite pastimes?”

            Finn rolled his eyes at her, and she gave up for the moment.  He was right.  She’d be able to weasel something out of Poe.  New Quidditch captain or not, she doubted he had suddenly grown a compacity for keeping secrets over the summer.  The official start of Quidditch season was rapidly approaching, though the first match was not until the second weekend of November, but Slytherin was set to play Gryffindor first.

            Poe leaned around Rose to join their conversation.  “If you beat us at Quidditch, Rey, I’ll never speak to you again.”

            Rey scoffed.  “I will beat you at Quidditch, Poe.  You said that last year and yet here we are.  I don’t think this year will be any different.”

            “It will,” Finn said.  “We’ll win and then Poe won’t have to make good on his threat.”

            “And what will you do?” she asked, elbowing her friend in the side.  “Will our friendship cease too?”

            Finn gasped at her in mock horror.  “Rey, I can’t believe you would think so low of me.  I’d have to at least speak to you come spring.”

            She laughed and turned her sights towards Hogsmeade.  They caught up with Jyn and her rowdy group of friends.  Bodhi and Kay had dissolved into an argument that was mostly held on the tall Ravenclaw’s side.  The Head Boy seemed to disagree with him but listened in silence to what Kay had to say.  Poe picked up a stick and poked Jyn from behind.

            “Stop it,” she snapped and snatched his twig, breaking it in half.  “I’m still sore from your damned Quidditch practice yesterday.”

            “Jyn!” Poe scolded.  “There are enemies present!  Remember what we said.”

            The Gryffindor rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, yeah, whatever, I’m not supposed to tell Cassian anything that happens in Quidditch practice.”

            “Not that she ever does,” Cassian muttered.  “She just complains.”

            Poe pointed between them.  “That’s what I’m talking about!  You’ll let something slip.”

            Jyn turned and elbowed him in the stomach hard.  “Shut up, Dameron.  You may be Quidditch captain, but I don’t have to listen to you.  You’re the one always running your mouth.  I bet Niima knows more about our strategy than I do.”

            “To be fair,” Finn interjected.  “He hasn’t told Rey anything yet.  I don’t think.”

            Rey gave them all an enigmatic smile and refused to confirm Finn’s statement.  Kay and Bodhi had stopped their own conversation along the way.  “Are we going to hear anything today besides Quidditch talk?” came Kay’s flat voice.

            “Thank you!” Rose said, pointing to the Ravenclaw.  “I’m not the only one!  I also can’t believe I’m agreeing with Kay.”

            “Where are you headed in Hogsmeade?” Finn asked instead.

            Jyn grinned widely.  “The Three Broomsticks right off.  Han promised me some Firewhiskey to smuggle back into the school.”

            Poe’s ears perked up again at the mention of Firewhiskey.  “Oh!  Will he give me some too?  My store is a little low.”

            Jyn shrugged.  “If you get there before the professors, probably.  Organa will skin him alive if she finds out he’s selling illusion-charmed Firewhiskey to students again, so don’t be the one to get us caught, Dameron.”

            Poe shrugged.  “If they’re checking, I’ll have Rey stash it in her bag.  Professor Organa never questions her.”  Jyn seemed to accept that solution.  “We have to start building our stores for Quidditch season early.  Won’t be a Gryffindor party if the Firewhiskey runs dry.”

            Jyn just shrugged.  “If we win, I’ll go through the secret passage and get some Butterbeer and Firewhiskey for the party.”  She turned her eyes on the three prefects and one Head Boy present among them.  “If anyone rats me out…”

            Bodhi’s eyes grew as wide as saucers.  Rey laughed.  “Erso, you’ve been going down that passage for years and none of us have ratted you out.”

            Jyn’s face twitched into a smile.  “But what if Hufflepuff loses?”

            Rey’s smile widened.  “Then, you’d better be extra careful which passage you choose.”

            They reached the town of Hogsmeade.  The close-set buildings had a certain old charm to them in the morning light.  If she turned around, she could see the towers and spires of Hogwarts looming over the only entirely magical town in Britain.  The townspeople were out in full force today too, greeting the students variously with smiles and grumbles.  After many pleading looks from Poe, they went straight to the Three Broomsticks and hoped that the third-years didn’t crave Butterbeer too early. 

            Han Solo leaned against the counter and served a large mug of frothing Butterbeer to a student who looked too small to carry it.  He lifted it with wide eyes and tottered back to his table with other third-year students.  That was the only table occupied in the place.  The professors were still busy checking permission slips and shepherding students from the school.  And ten in the morning was a little early for the Three Broomsticks for anyone except the overly excited children.

            Han greeted them with his characteristic slanted smile and braced his hands on the bar.  Even aging as he was, with gray hair and a lined face, he had a certain devilish roguishness to him.  He’d owned a bar in London that he purchased with his meager inheritance since graduating from Hogwarts.  That business had been only a front, though.  It was now well-known in the wizarding world that Han Solo was a smuggler, but his black-market dealings had been a lifesaver for the Rebellion under Leia Organa.  He’d funneled all of their supplies to them and fought alongside Luke Skywalker and his sister.

            The Three Broomsticks had come later.  Not the institution, no.  The famed Hogsmeade bar had a long history of catering to students and locals alike.  Han had purchased it from the family of the previous owner after he died and had kept the tradition alive.  The warm wood that paneled the interior always reminded Rey of the Hufflepuff Common Room, if with a little more alcohol and a lot more noise.

            “What can I do you for?” he asked, surveying their large group.  “Bit early for you lot to be here, isn’t it?”

            “Hey, Han,” Jyn greeted him and slid onto one of the bar stools.  Rey noted that she’d casually put a thick wooden beam between her and the sight of the third-years.  “How’s the summer been?”

            He nodded.  “Good, good.  Slow without you lot, of course, but steady.”  His eyes flickered to Rey.  “How’s the Hufflepuff team looking this year, Rey?”

            Rey grinned and slid onto the stool beside Jyn.  Han had been a star player in his day.  A Seeker, like Rey.  Once he found out that she was Hufflepuff’s standing Seeker, he’d given her a goldmine of pointers.  “Good, as always, Han.  I’ll tell you about it when these spies aren’t listening over my shoulder.”

            “We’ve got to beat Gryffindor and Ravenclaw this year, Rey,” he said as if members of both houses weren’t standing around the bar.  “Slytherin too, sure.  But if we don’t beat Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, I’ll never hear the end of it from Luke and Leia.  We’ve got a bet going.”

            Rey winked at him.  “We’ll beat them.”

            He leaned back and nodded, satisfied, even as several of his customers made indignant protests.  “What are you actually doing here?”

            “Firewhiskey,” Jyn said.  “We’re gonna need it for when Gryffindor beats the snot out of Hufflepuff later this season.”

            “Better watch yourself,” Han muttered.  “How many bottles?”  Jyn and Poe requested five each, Cassian and Kay two each.  Rey, Bodhi, and Rose rolled their eyes.  Han clapped them down on the bar, but what he set down were not Firewhiskey bottles.  Instead, it was an assortment of Honeydukes candy, broken and mended quills, and a few rolls of parchment.  “Make sure you keep these separate from anything else you buy.  Not my problem if you get back with ten rolls of parchment and can’t remember which ones are Firewhiskey.”

            Jyn scooped five of them into her bag with an excited look that made Rey question her decision to look the other way.  “How do we know they’re actually Firewhiskey?” Jyn asked.

            Han gave her a look.  “Watch yourself,” he repeated.  “You know damn well they are.  If Leia catches you, don’t drag my name through the mud.”  They all stashed their newly acquired Firewhiskey, paid, and told Han they’d be back later for Butterbeer.  Or, in Jyn’s case, shots of Firewhiskey.  “Rey, listen to me, kid.  Make them pay for all their big talk.  Smash ‘em into the ground if you have to.”

            She set Han another grin.  “Don’t worry, you can count on me.”

            When they left the Three Broomsticks, the streets of Hogsmeade were bustling with students.  Most of the older students had made their slow way from Hogwarts and trailed between their favorite shops while the younger students scurried between them.  Rey and her friends parted from Jyn and the others to duck into Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop to fulfill Rose’s request for a new quill.  In the end, they all decided they needed new quills and Finn bought Rey one because he insisted her last one was shot, despite her protests. 

            They ran into Jyn’s crew again in Zonko’s, where she had a bulging bag of tricks from the shop.  Rey didn’t want to look inside to see what pranks and tricks would soon be unleashed on Hogwarts.  At least most of their pranks were confined to the Gryffindor dormitories.  Poe was bad enough when he got an idea in his head.

            Her friend braced his hands on his hips.  “Alright,” he announced to them.  “We need to stock up.”

            “Don’t look at me,” Rey answered.  “You used some of this stuff on the Hufflepuff Common Room last year.  I’m not helping you.”

            Poe’s face fell, and he turned to plead with her.  “Come on, Rey.  You said you forgave me after that.  I didn’t do any harm.”

            Rey crossed her arms.  “Seven first- and second-years had to go to the hospital wing with boils on their faces, Poe.”

            “Rey’s right,” Rose chimed in and shook her head.  “You’re the reason why I have to memorize a password every week.”

            “And this week’s is…” Poe prompted.  Both girls hit him.  “But…but look at this stuff!  Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, that’s new!  Imagine the possibilities.”

            “I’ll help you as long as you’re not pranking my Hufflepuffs this time,” Rey compromised.

            Poe bit the inside of his cheek.  She could tell that the decision was a hard one.  On the one hand, Rey and Finn jointly made sure his plans didn’t go awry or backfire on him and Rey knew many more useful spells than he did.  On the other hand, that was a quarter of the school he couldn’t directly target.  “But if they’re in a crowded space, say the Great Hall, I can still prank them?”

            “If it’s multiple houses together,” she allowed.  “Not just the Hufflepuff table.”

            Poe nodded with finality.  “Deal.  Come on!  Pranks await!”

            They spent so much time in Zonko’s that even Finn was complaining by the time Poe brought his many purchases to the counter.  Rey had talked him out of a few ludicrously expensive gadgets that wouldn’t have worked the way he wanted anyway.  His bag still rang up to more galleons than she had for the whole year.

            The crew made another stop in Honeydukes, where they ran into Hannah and Eliza.  The pair joined Rey and her friends for another stop at the Three Broomsticks.  Poe, Finn, and Rose each bought a bulging bag of candy from Honeydukes and all three swore up and down that they’d share with Rey.  They passed by Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop on their way to the Three Broomsticks and wrinkled their noses at the couples pressed close together.

            Finn cursed and looked at his watch.  “I forgot!  I can’t get Butterbeers with you.  I’m supposed to meet Daisy Abbott there in five minutes.”

            Poe turned with a crease between his eyebrows.  “Daisy Abbott?  Whatever for?”

            Rey seized her friend’s arm.  “Ooo, Finn, do you have a date?”

            Finn turned a little red around the ears and missed the faltering of Poe’s face, but Rey did not.  “Maybe.  I just asked her for a drink at the Three Broomsticks.”

            “Well,” Poe said and swallowed hard.  “Better not be late for your big date.”  He brushed some dust from Finn’s jacket and straightened it.  “Go get her, tiger.”

            Finn gave Poe an odd look before bidding them goodbye and heading towards the Three Broomsticks.  Rose twined her arm through Rey’s and raised her eyebrows in Poe’s direction.  He didn’t notice, too busy staring after Finn’s retreating back.  Rey had to shake her friend out of his stupor and drag them all to the Three Broomsticks for their own Butterbeers.  She purposely made sure that Poe was sitting with his back to Finn and Daisy’s table and hoped he wouldn’t turn around too many times to look at them. 

            Hannah glanced between Poe and Rey.  “So, rumor has it that Professor Imwe is leaving after this year.”

            That got Poe’s attention as well as everyone else’s at the table.  “It can’t be,” Rose said.  “He’s been at Hogwarts for years.  What else will he do?”

            Hannah shrugged.  “The Leaky Cauldron’s been profitable enough that he could just work that with Baze, I guess.”

            “I can’t imagine Professor Imwe leaving,” Rey said.  “He’s been our Transfiguration teacher the whole time.”

            Poe rolled his eyes.  “Last year, everyone said Tarkin was leaving.  The year before, it was Chewie.  Now, it’s Imwe.  There are always rumors, but he hasn’t said anything yet, and I don’t believe it.”

            Rey took a deep sip of her Butterbeer and earned a foam moustache, grateful that Hannah had successfully distracted Poe and redirected their conversation.  When she got to the bottom quarter of her glass, the conversation took a turn back to the darkness she had momentarily been free of.

            “Is there any word on Maisey?” Eliza asked.

            All faces at the table fell.  “Nothing new,” Rey answered.  She had gotten used to supplying her friends and house with information on the seventh-year’s condition.  “I spoke to Healer Zarrin this morning.”

            A crease appeared in the center of Eliza’s forehead.  “I don’t understand.  What could she have caught?”

            Rey shrugged.  A thousand possibilities had occurred to her, but none seemed to explain Maisey’s symptoms.  Not that Rey knew much about magical diseases and healing, but she knew that Eliza had been looking into it too out of curiosity.

            They left the Three Broomsticks and headed towards Hogwarts.  The sun had passed noon and tilted towards the horizon.  There was still some daylight left and an hour or more that they could remain in Hogsmeade, but everyone had had enough.  They joined the trickle of older students heading towards the castle.  Poe glanced behind them towards the hazy main street of the town, but Finn didn’t appear.

            Rey trudged back to her common room with the events of the week weighing on her shoulders.

Chapter Text

            Another week and a half passed and still Maisey remained in a magically-induced coma in the hospital wing.  Healer Zarrin had been able to discover next to nothing about her condition.  Extra healers had been called in from St. Mungo’s, but they too had made no headway. 

            Rey shouldered her bag and went down to breakfast before her morning Double Herbology.  The Great Hall seemed oddly subdued for breakfast.  Just as she took her seat beside Rose, the post arrived in a flurry of beaks and feathers.  Rey didn’t even look up.  BB sometimes flew in with the other owls for exercise, but she rarely received anything in the post.  She reached for a glass of pumpkin juice.

            As she woke up over her juice and the eggs she piled onto her plate, she realized that the Great Hall really was quieter than usual.  The Gryffindor table was as rowdy as always, but she turned to see the Slytherin table bent in silence over their meals.  Half the seats were empty.  She didn’t see Solo or Phasma among them.

            “What happened to the Slytherins?” she asked.  “Did they all take a Sleeping Draught?”

            “You didn’t hear?” Hannah asked and set down a piece of toast.  Rey shook her head.  “They found Jeremy Steel—you know, the Slytherin fourth-year—passed out on the floor around six AM this morning.  They took him to the hospital wing, but Eliza says his symptoms sound like Maisey’s.”

            Rey dropped her fork with a clatter.  No wonder half the Slytherin table was empty and the prefects were missing.  If another case had appeared, then Maisey’s case wasn’t an isolated incident and it could spread to more students at Hogwarts. 

            “Rey?” Rose poked her in the side.  “Earth to Rey?  Are you ok?”

            “Yeah…I have to go.  I’ll see you later, okay?”  Rey shouldered her bag and left without another word or bite of her food.  Half of her eggs sat untouched.

            She ran the way to the Hospital Wing, dodging through students making their way to the Great Hall and giving her confused looks.  She arrived at the double doors of the hospital just as Professors Organa and Skywalker exited them.  Professor Skywalker nodded to her and moved on down the hall, but Professor Organa stopped at her urgency.

            “Is it true?” she asked before the older woman could say anything.  “Does Steel have the same thing as Maisey?”

            Leia Organa sighed, and her shoulders slumped with the weight of the castle.  “Yes, Ms. Niima, it does look that way.  Healer Zarrin should be able to confirm later today.”

            “And he still has no idea what Maisey has?” Rey asked in a rush.

            Leia Organa frowned and shook her head.  “I really must be getting to class, Ms. Niima,” she said.  Rey nodded and stepped out of her way, shoulders slumped.  The woman paused and placed a hand on Rey’s shoulder.  “I know you’re concerned.  We’ve barred the hospital wing for now, but you may go in and speak to Healer Zarrin.”

            The professor moved off down the hall and flicked her wand once behind her.  Rey pushed through the double doors that led to the airy hospital wing.  Shafts of morning light filtered through the cathedral-like windows and sent patterns of shadows crisscrossing the stone floor.  The wing held only two occupants, shielded with privacy curtains stretched around their cots.  The room, although spacious, was empty and silent and felt more like a funeral.  As she paused in the middle of the room, Healer Zarrin parted one set of curtains and stepped out.  He took several steps towards the middle of the room while looking down at his clipboard and started when he caught sight of her.

            “Ah, Ms. Niima.”  Although he had visibly flinched as he looked up, his voice came out as smooth and calm as the Black Lake on a clear day.  He glanced back at the curtains.  “Come to my office.”

            They left the spacious hospital wing for the small room just adjacent to it.  Rey had had little occasion to visit the hospital wing herself, except for the occasional Quidditch scrape or Pepper-Up Potion, but she always liked Healer Zarrin’s little office.  He had bottles of every concoction anyone could think of and always seemed to have no fewer than four cauldrons brewing at any given time.  Rumor had it that Zarrin brewed even the most complex potions in his arsenal, despite Tarkin residing at the school.  Rey couldn’t blame him for wanting to keep Tarkin away from healing potions.

            The healer stepped behind his messy desk and half-heartedly straightened some papers.  He looked exhausted.  She understood why when he shifted half a dozen enormous books to one side.  “I hope you’re not feeling ill, Ms. Niima.”

            “No,” she said at once.  “Not at all.  I’m sure it’s all anyone’s asking you about this week, but I’ve come about Maisey.  And I heard what happened to Steel and…”

            Healer Zarrin pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.  “I’m afraid I have nothing new to tell you.  I wish I did.  I believe I should be able to isolate the disease soon, especially now that I can see how it presents in two subjects.  There’s no cause for concern, though, Ms. Niima.  Your friends are well taken care of.”

            Rey knew he was offering comfort to her as a student, but his words rang hollow.  There was cause for concern now that two students had fallen mysteriously ill and no one could determine the cause.

            “So, you think you could know what it is?” she asked.

            He opened his mouth, closed it again, and frowned.  “You’re a bright student, Ms. Niima.  There’s a lot to explore before I can be sure what they’ve contracted.”

            “You don’t know,” she said flatly, too worried to be concerned about offending the healer.  “Are there magical diseases so rare that you can’t identify them?”

            Healer Zarrin sighed.  “Magical diseases are even more difficult than Muggle ones.  It’s not always as simple as bacteria causing an infection.  Curses can present as illnesses.  Some items even carry magical properties that cause illness.”

            “And you don’t know which this is?” she asked, pinching the fabric of her skirt. 

            He shook his head, defeated like she’d never seen him before.  “It’s difficult to work backwards.  If I could find out where they contracted the illness, it would be easier to find the cure.”

            Bells rang overhead, signaling the end of breakfast.  Rey thanked Healer Zarrin and hurried from the hospital wing.  She had to sprint her way to Herbology and barely snuck in the greenhouse door before the bells rang again.  Poe and Finn shrugged at her from across the room.  The stools around them had already filled with other students.  She took one of the two empty seats with Eliza on one side and a gap on the other.  Professor Kenobi nodded to her. 

            “Good morning, class,” he said to the crowded greenhouse.  She’d been surprised at the beginning of the year to see that all four houses had been combined into one sixth-year Herbology class.

            Rey sank down onto her chair and caught her breath as Professor Kenobi opened the class.  Several minutes in, the door to the greenhouse opened again and Ben Solo slouched his way inside.  She expected Professor Kenobi to frown at him or take points from Slytherin, but he merely nodded in response to his muttered apology.  The Slytherin prefect took the only seat available to him, the one beside her.

            “Now, pair up.  You’ll need two people today,” Professor Kenobi said.  Eliza shot her an apologetic look and turned to her partner.  That left Rey with Ben Solo.  She turned and met his gaze.  He didn’t look as upset as she expected.  “Does everyone have a partner?  Excellent.  One person from each pair come up to the front and get a Snargaluff pod.”  Giggles ran throughout the room at the name.  Solo didn’t even look up.  “Yes, yes, the name is very amusing, but I assure you that you’ll find their vines less than amusing.”

            Solo didn’t seem inclined to move, so Rey went to the front and selected a Snargaluff pod from the collection of things that looked like gnarled stumps.  Poe sidled up to the table beside her.  “I’m sorry you got stuck with Solo,” he whispered as he took too long to select his own pod.  “I didn’t see you at breakfast.  Thought maybe you’d skive off.”

            She didn’t get a chance to say anything in response, not even that she’d only ever skived off Herbology once and it was when she’d had a headache, before she had to return to her stool to make room for the next student.  She set the twisted stump-like thing on the table between them.  Solo squinted at it.

            “Doesn’t look very dangerous, does it?” he muttered.  She shook her head.  But she’d done the required reading for the day’s class and knew that Snargaluffs packed a nasty punch when someone tried to go after their pod.  According to One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, the thorns themselves could cut an arm to ribbons.

            “Dragonhide gloves on!” Professor Kenobi called.  “The object of this lesson is to retrieve the pod at the center of the Snargaluff unharmed.  It looks like this.”  He held up a pulsing green pod about the size of a grapefruit.  “Be warned.  As soon as you attempt to retrieve the pod, the Snargaluff will defend itself with thorny vines.  These can be very dangerous and will need to be somehow rendered harmless before the pod can be extracted.  I do hope you all did your reading for class today.  Phyllida Spore has given us some lovely suggestions on how to combat the vines.”  Professor Kenobi gave them all a deceptive smile.  “Good luck.”

            Rey eyed the unassuming stump between them and turned to Solo.  She found him already looking back at her.  “Do you want to get the pod or fight the vines?” he asked.

            Even after several weeks, Rey still hadn’t gotten used to his almost civil attitude.  “Did you do the reading?” she asked. 

He pressed his lips together before finally shaking his head.  “I meant to do it at breakfast,” he admitted.  He didn’t have to say the rest.  Something more important had intervened.

Rey nodded.  Prefect duties always came first.  “Then, I’ll fight the vines.  Spore suggests a good Freezing Charm, but it won’t hold for too long because of the plant’s properties, so you’ll have to be quick.  The pod’s at the center and you’ve got to reach in there to get it out.  Careful of the thorns.”

Solo nodded and didn’t even protest when she gave him instructions.  He secured his dragonhide gloves while she readied her wand.  A few of the other pairs had already begun to wrestle with their stumps.  One boy had vines wrapped up his arm to his elbow.  Poe had managed to knot a few of them together.  She shook her head.  Leave it to the Gryffindors to skip an important reading.

“Ready?” Solo asked. 

“Ready,” she answered and held her wand alert.  As soon as he reached for the stump, thorny vines rocketed out all around it and shot towards him.  Rey was ready.  “Immobulus!” she cried, and the vines stilled, frozen in all contorted shapes.  Solo ducked under them at once and, in a second, he had a pulsing green pod in hand.  With their treasure liberated, the vines shot back into the Snargaluff and it looked once again like a harmless stump.

“Oh, well done!” Professor Kenobi cried.  “Excellent charm, Ms. Niima, and a quick hand, Mr. Solo.  Full marks, both.  There’s a pair that did their reading.”  Rey offered Solo a small smile and she thought he almost returned it.  “They’re best when they’re fresh, so nip over to the bowls and express your pod.”

They were the first to complete their task and so were the first to the set of bowls along the side of the greenhouse.  They had to dodge the flying vines to get there without dropping the delicate pod.  Solo held the pulsing green thing over the bowl but paused, unsure.  Rey picked up a small scalpel and handed it to him. 

“Just a small incision at the top,” she whispered to him and pretended to peer over his shoulder.  “Delicately.  Then, just pour it all out.”

He made a small cut at the top of the bulb as she’d said and poured a generous amount of greenish tuber-like things into the bowl.  They wriggled a little as they sat there in a way that was vaguely unappetizing.  Rey pointed her wand over the contents of the bowl and cast a silent spell.  Solo glanced at her curiously.

“Preservation spell,” she muttered.  “To keep them fresh.”

“Excellent job, Ms. Niima, Mr. Solo.  Get another Snargaluff,” Professor Kenobi said.  Solo turned in silence and went to the table to select another one for them. 

“I heard about Steel,” Rey muttered when he got back.  She secured her dragonhide gloves.  “Do you want to try combating the vines this time?”

He nodded and readied his wand but acted as if he hadn’t heard her first statement.  She reached for the pod, and Solo charmed the vines before they could even come close to her.  His magic prickled along her arms.  Rey snatched the pod from the depths of the Snargaluff and it returned to its usual harmless state.  She thought he had simply chosen not to answer her, but as they took their second pod to the line of bowls again, he spoke.

“Steel’s been taken to the hospital wing.  I understand there’s a Hufflepuff with a similar condition,” he said flatly.

Rey nodded.  “Maisey Strickland, a seventh-year.”  She paused to make the small incision in her pod and pour out its contents.  This time, Solo cast the preservation charm.  “What do you think it could be?”

There were only enough Snargaluffs for each student to deal with one, so they returned to their stools and surveyed their other classmates as they struggled.  Solo shrugged dispassionately.  “I really couldn’t say.  I’m no healer.”

“Aren’t you at least a little bit curious?” she asked him, careful to keep her voice low and to not appear as if she were deep in conversation with Ben Solo.  Finn and Hux were already shooting them curious looks.

“I suppose,” he said slowly.  “But I don’t see why that matters.  I thought you would have full confidence in Healer Zarrin, ever the optimistic Hufflepuff.”

“He’s a great healer, but that doesn’t mean that he can solve every problem,” she answered.  A girl two seats down from her leaned over and begged Rey to tell her how she’d finished so quickly.  Rey whispered the freezing charm to her and went back to her unlikely conversation with Solo.

“And you think you can figure out what they have when the school’s healer can’t?”  He looked doubtful.  When he put it that way, she felt doubtful too.

“I think it’s better to have more people looking for the answer, especially if it can’t be found in all the usual places,” she said.

Professor Kenobi clapped his hands and flicked his wand to cast quick Freezing Charms on all the stumps still flailing their thorny limbs.  One Gryffindor disentangled himself from the mass of vines that had wound their way over him.  “Excellent work, class.  We’ll continue our unit on Snargaluffs next week.  In the meantime, continue the assigned reading and catch up if you failed to do it for this class.”  His eyes sparkled at his students good-naturedly, lingering on Poe’s knotted vines and the entangled Gryffindor.  “Up to the castle you go.  Can’t have you late for your next class.”

Rey tugged off her dragonhide gloves and stuffed them into her bag.  As she threw it over her shoulder, Solo stepped in her way.  The vision of him looming over her with a frown recalled their first encounter of the year on the train, when he’d ordered her to convince Paige to split them up.  They’d already come so far since then.  She hoped.

“Thank you,” he said so quietly that even Eliza beside her couldn’t possibly hear.  Those two words falling from Ben Solo’s lips startled her into both silence and stillness.  “For covering for me today.”

He didn’t seem to know what else to say.  With a stiff nod, he turned on his heel and marched out of the greenhouse.  Rey blinked at his receding back as Hux and Phasma fell into step beside him.  Finn blocked her vision and she hurried out of the greenhouse before they were late for their next class.

“Why were you talking to Niima?” she heard Phasma say.  “Since when do you associate with Mudblood filth?”

Rey winced internally and waited for Solo to join in on the pejorative slurs against her blood status.  He didn’t, just shrugged at his friends.  “Kenobi’s a stickler for the reading and I didn’t have it done for today.  Hufflepuff Princess always has the reading done.”

His words should have stung her, she thought, but they didn’t.  His muttered thank you stuck in her heart and head all the way up to the castle.  Even as her friends took up a line of questioning that sounded curiously familiar.

Rey met Solo outside her common room at their usual time.  Even on a day that had been so hectic for him, he was there at fifteen before the hour, leaning against the wall.  When he turned to look at her, she noted the dark circles beneath his eyes.  The trying day had taken its toll, if only in lack of sleep.

“Evening,” she said.  He returned the greeting only in a slow nod.  “How’s Slytherin house holding up?”

He blinked at her for a long minute before answering.  “You want to know how the Slytherins are doing?”

Rey brushed an invisible speck of dust off her uniform skirt and nodded.  “Hufflepuff house was a mess for a few days after Maisey’s illness.  I know it can be tough to deal with.”

Solo snorted and rolled his eyes and she was forcibly reminded that he rarely had a kind word for anyone, nevertheless a thank-you.  “Slytherins aren’t sniveling Hufflepuffs.  We don’t go crying when something happens.”

“Showing some emotion after a traumatic event isn’t weak,” she said patiently and expected his sneer.  “It’s normal and healthy.  Two students falling mysteriously ill one after another is frightening.”

He didn’t sneer.  He looked down at the stone ground and scuffed his shoe in the bit of dust gathered there.  “Some of the first- and second-years didn’t want to go to sleep tonight.  They thought it would happen to them.”

Rey nodded and felt her heart lift that she’d gotten Solo to open up even a fraction.  “It was the same with some of ours.  Some of the seventh-years who share her dorm were afraid to sleep in there too.”

Solo didn’t look up, as if he couldn’t both face her and admit that the events of the day had shaken his house.  “I think a few of the fourth-years are trying to sleep in the common room.”

Thin ice.  “Will you let them?”

He looked up at her then as if challenging her to question his methods.  “For tonight.  Tomorrow they have to go back to their dorms.”

Maybe it wasn’t the way she would have done it, but she could see his thought process.  Rey just nodded.  The bells tolled curfew overhead.  “Rounds?”  He pushed off the wall and stalked down the hall like this night was every other night.  “I’m still concerned about what’s happening.  With this illness.  If it spreads to more of the castle, it could be a real danger.  It already is for Maisey and Steel.”

Rey flicked her wand and checked the first few rooms.  Solo was silent for a long moment and she thought that he’d just chosen to ignore her continued musings.  “I thought about what you said,” he admitted finally.  “About finding answers in unusual places.”

“And?” she prompted when he found silent.

“And what?  Are you going to look for answers?” His dark eyes bore into hers and demanded that she have a plan of action.

“I hoped,” she ventured carefully.  “I hoped to look.  I hoped we would look.”

We?”  He stopped walking.  She stopped too and felt the flush creep up her face.  They hadn’t come this far.  They were civil, but not allies, not friends.  “Did you just say ‘we’?”

“It makes sense,” she argued in her defense.  “Everyone else thinks Healer Zarrin will have this thing sorted next week and we can all go back to business as usual.  But it’s Hufflepuff and Slytherin who are down two members.  We look out for our own.”

His eyes hardened.  “So, I’m the last choice, huh?  All your brave little heroes turned you down, so you came to me?”

Rey grew angry with him for the first time in a while.  She had been keeping that usual wave of fury at bay to give him a chance.  To give their ill-conceived partnership a chance.  But it all came roaring back.  “I’ll do this on my own if you don’t care, Solo,” she hissed at him.  “I don’t need you to come play hero.  And no, I didn’t ask them.  I just had some misguided notion that you would care.”

She turned on her heel and marched down the hallway.  His footsteps didn’t sound on the stone behind her.  “I do care,” he called, his voice bouncing off the stone of the hall. 

Rey froze.  She turned and marched back, stopping only a few feet from him.  “What did you say?” she demanded.

“You’re right.  I do care,” he said like it pained him.  “If this thing is bigger than just two students, Hogwarts could be shut down.”  She could read between the lines.  Hogwarts could be shut down and then he’d be stuck in Organa Manor with only his mother and a legion of house elves for company.  “And I don’t like not knowing what’s going on in Slytherin.”

Selfish interest and house pride.  Not exactly the motivators she was looking for, but she’d take what she could get.  “So, you’ll help?”

His inscrutable dark eyes watched her, as if weighing his options.  “Yes,” he said at last.  “I guess I’ll help.  What did you have in mind?”

Her heart swooped in victory.  It wasn’t much.  He still didn’t look happy about this prospect of a partnership, but he had agreed to help.  She had convinced someone that she could do this.  Solo, of all people, the last man in the world to agree with her.

“Well,” she started slowly.  To be totally honest, she didn’t have much to go on at all.  She didn’t have a 12-step plan like bloody Solo probably wanted from her now that he had agreed to this reluctant partnership.  She almost glared at him.  She wasn’t happy about it either.  To be fair, he hadn’t said anything provoking in a few minutes.  “They’re from different houses, which means they had to come in contact with something in a semi-public place,” she ventured.

“Or someone,” he said.  She amended her statement to agree.  “Unless they were shagging.”

Rey rolled her eyes at him.  “Great.  Let’s jump to that conclusion, shall we?”

He crossed his arms and leaned up against the wall, smirking at her.  “People do that, Niima.  Just because you’re not getting any…” She seriously considered hexing him.  “…doesn’t mean that no one is.”

“Solo, trust me, the last thing I want to talk about is your sex life or how much you know about who is shagging who,” she snapped.  “This is totally beside the point.  We have no evidence to suggest that they even knew each other, nevertheless were…”

“Go on, Niima, you can say it.  Fucking.”

“…in a relationship,” she snarled just to irritate him.  “Don’t you think it would be a wiser use of our time to investigate ways they could have encountered something or someone in a common area?”

“Unless the saintly professors, your great heroes, have already checked all the public areas, as they should have logically done after one of them fell ill,” Solo said, still looking mildly amused.

“It doesn’t hurt to look again,” Rey argued, refusing to concede his point.

“It does if we’re wasting my precious time.”

She fumed at him.  “Are you going to be anything but argumentative?  So far, you’ve offered no suggestions of your own, just torn down everything I’ve said.  If you don’t want to help, Solo, then fuck off and let me figure this out because right now you’re just getting in my way and really irritating me.”

“Watch that tongue, Niima.  Aren’t you supposed to be an upstanding prefect?”  Solo looked less than abashed at her outburst.  In fact, his smirk only grew.

“Aren’t you supposed to be something other than a pain in my ass?”  Something lit up in his eyes at that, and she finally felt like one of her hits had found its mark.

“Historically, no.”

“Are you ever planning on actually helping?”

He thought her question over for a moment, as if it were a serious question that required much debate.  “Very well.  What about the food?”

“The food?” she said blankly.

“Yes,” he said slowly, as if she were too thick to understand his form of human speech.  “The food.  You know, what we eat at meals.  What if it was something in the food?”

“On two different occasions?  That only effected those two students in a school of hundreds?”  She found the idea doubtful at best, but he had finally offered a suggestion and so she decided to humor him.  “Alright, I can talk to the house elves.  I know them fairly well.  They would be able to tell us if anything happened on those days.”

“Of course, you’re friendly with the house elves,” he muttered.  “There.  Sounds like we have a starting point.”

“And I think you should ask around Slytherin House.  See if anyone knows anything,” she added.  No way was he leaving her with all of the work. 

Solo narrowed his eyes at her.  “Are you going to ask around Hufflepuff House?”

“I already have,” she said, although she hadn’t done any such thing.  Not really. 

He took a slightly menacing step towards her.  “If you’re going to just start blaming Slytherins for this, I’m out, Niima.”

Rey held her ground, staring up at him and refusing to be cowed by his threatening stare.  “I’m not.  But you have to admit that it’s a possibility.”

“Same as it is in any other house.”

“Yes, Hufflepuffs are really prone to poisoning people,” she snapped and then sighed.  “Look, I’m not saying it was a Slytherin or some sort of evil deed brewing in your house.  But one of the victims was from there and it’s possible that someone knows something they’re not telling.  We have to explore it as an option and once we rule it out, we can move on.”

He glared down at her for a moment longer.  Rey stared back with her hands on her hips.  He had to see, then and now, that she would not be frightened by his intimidation.  No way.

“Fine,” he said.  “You talk to the house elves.  I’ll talk to Slytherin House.  Is that enough of a start for you now?”

“Yes,” she said, satisfied that they had agreed on something.  “It is.”

Merlin, she thought.  This is going to be an uphill battle.

Chapter Text

Solo lounged against the wall opposite the classroom door, talking to Phasma, who she suspected was either skiving or planning on running late to her next class.  His dark eyes slid to her as if he could tell she wanted to talk to him.  But Phasma was there.  And they were not friends.

Instead, she ducked into the Runes classroom and pulled out a slip of parchment.  Hastily, she scribbled her message.  It wasn’t much.  Solo would probably scoff at her.  Not that she cared.  Solo spent half of his time scoffing at someone.

House elves are sure it wasn’t the food.  Nothing in her things.  Found something odd.  Library, 9 PM.

As Solo entered the classroom seconds before Professor Kenobi started class, Rey made

a point of rising from her seat on the pretense of tossing something in the bin at the back of the room.  She knocked shoulders with him as he passed down the narrow aisle and her palm brushed over his.

            “Watch it, mudblood,” he hissed, but there was no venom in it.  A small smile threatened to twitch her mouth.

            “Such a gentleman, Solo,” she snapped back.  When she moved on down the aisle, she left a small slip of paper behind in his hand.  This felt…good.  A little too good, like they were co-conspirators in something.  All the sneaking, notes passed with a brush of the hand, snide remarks worn like a mask.  She caught Solo’s eye again as she slid into her seat and noted the small uptick of his lips, the approval.  Did she want Solo’s approval?

            There wasn’t time to think of that now.  Professor Kenobi had instructed the class to open their textbook.  She stared down at the familiar runes and tried to push Solo from her mind.

            The clock struck 9 PM and Rey tapped an anxious rhythm against the ancient wooden floorboards.  The stillness of the library cloaked the smallest sound, choked it into nothing.  She’d heard nothing save her own breathing and the quiet rustle of her book for the last hour, after Madame Pince, the hawkish librarian, chased out a group of students a few rows over.  Tap, tap, tap.  Maybe he wouldn’t come.  Tap, tap, tap.  Maybe she had presumed too much.  Tap, tap, tap.  Being allies in one thing didn’t make them friends.  It didn’t make them familiars.  Tap, tap tap.  Why would she want to be friends with Ben Solo anyway?  Tap.

            She stopped abruptly to listen to the footsteps that reached her ears.  They faded away again.  It occurred to her that she had given him the vaguest directions to one of the largest places in the castle.  Rey tended to sit at the same table, but she couldn’t expect Solo to know that. 

            He appeared so suddenly that she wondered for a moment if he’d apparated.  His footsteps had been too soft for her to hear his approach.  Ben pulled out the chair across from her and sat down, crossing his arms over his chest.

            “You said you found something?  It’d better be interesting,” he muttered, although his eyes never left hers.  Rey guessed that it was too much to expect him to be both here and actually interested.  She’d take what she could get.  Silently, she pulled a piece of parchment from her stack.  On it, she’d copied the strange symbol that she’d found in the seventh-year dormitory.

            “This was on the wall beside Maisey’s bed.  I don’t know what to make of it.”

            Solo glanced down and slid the paper closer with a sharp jerk of his fingers.  “Looks like a rune,” he said shortly.

            Rey rolled her eyes.  “Yes, thank you.  But what rune?  Do you recognize it?”

            He stared at it for a moment longer before shaking his head and pushing it back towards her.  “No, I don’t.  Is that all you have to go on?  A strange shape?  Some kid probably drew it half a century ago.”

            She felt her cheeks burning and fumed.  “At least I’m looking!”

            Ben quirked an eyebrow at her.  “I’m looking too.  I did exactly as you asked.  I checked around the Slytherin common room and no one knows anything about what’s going on.”

            Rey snorted.  “Yeah, they’d say that.”  She sniffed the musty air.  Great, she’d been sitting in here so long that the dust mites had stirred up her allergies.  And Ben Solo was probably about to give her a detailed list of why her evidence didn’t matter.

            He leveled a cold stare at her.  “I thought you weren’t going to blame Slytherins.”

            “I’m not.  I just mean…well, how do you know they’re telling the truth?” she asked.  A totally reasonable question.

            “I just do.”  His look sealed the matter.  “And you have nothing to report either, so we’re back to square one.”

            She wanted to retaliate and remind him that she had found something, but in the end he was right.  They had next to nothing to go on.  She bit the inside of her cheek and suppressed the temptation to lob a snide remark right back in his blank face.  He looked almost…disappointed.  Like he’d expected her to have some huge breakthrough.

            “I still think we should look into the rune,” she argued to save face. 

            He picked up the sheet of parchment again and gave her the satisfaction of studying the rune in more detail.  But his face revealed nothing as he let the sheet drop to the table again.  “I’ll look around and see if I see anything similar, but I doubt it’ll lead to much.”

            Merlin, she wanted to strangle him.  “Then, what do you propose we do?”

            His lips twitched ever-so-slightly.  Founders help her, he was enjoying tormenting her.  “Isn’t this your show, love?”  Something in her snapped to attention at the pet name.  He had never called her that before.  It sounded a little too good rolling off his tongue.  “I thought you were calling the shots.”

She slammed her hands down on the table.  “I thought you were committed to this too, but it appears I was wrong.”  Her chair made a horrible sound as she shoved back from the table.  “Forget it, Solo.”

She got up and made to march off between the stacks of books.  But his hand shot out and snagged her by the wrist.  Her other hand snatched her wand from her pocket, but she didn’t raise it.  Not yet.  For a long moment, he didn’t say anything, just stared at her from where he’d half-risen from his chair.

“I…”  A deep breath.  “I don’t know what to do next.  I’m sorry.”

She stared back at his dark eyes for a long moment, searching them for another snide comment or mockery.  Finding only sincerity, she nodded once and retook her seat.  “Have you checked his things yet?”  Solo’s eyebrows knitted, and he shook his head.  “Maybe we should start there then,” she suggested.

            He nodded slowly.  “I’ve been reading up on curses and illnesses,” he said and pulled an enormous, leather-bound book that had something suspiciously like blood staining its front cover from his bag.  The type of book that could only have come from the Restricted Section.  She decided not to open that particular can of worms.  “But there are so many that I don’t know where to start.  We need to narrow it down somewhat if we hope to find anything at all.”

            “I imagine St. Mungo’s has the medical side of things pretty well sorted,” she said.  He looked a little doubtful.  “We should focus on curses.  Maybe it’s something unique to Hogwarts?”

            Ben shrugged.  “It could be anything,” he said unhelpfully.  “Like I said, it’s hard to narrow it down right now.  We have nothing to rule out.”

            “Well,” she thought for a moment.  “We can rule out food-borne illnesses and curses.  If the food had carried it more students would be sick certainly.  And they were from two different houses.”

            Ben leaned forward a little and nodded.  “Whatever they came in contact with would have to be located where they both had access to it.  Or someone would have had to curse each of them in turn.  Did Strickland have any friends in Slytherin House?”

            Rey shook her head.  “She may have spoken to a few in class, but I know she didn’t go to the Slytherin Common Room or anything.  And we rarely have any Slytherins in the Hufflepuff Common Room.”

            “Steel was friends with a group of Ravenclaws but no Hufflepuffs,” Ben supplied.

            “That narrows down the places they could have come in contact with it,” Rey tried to stay positive.

            “Not much,” he grumbled, folding his arms across his chest.

            “Actually,” Rey brightened.  “It does.  It can’t be in one of the common areas, right?  Because more students would have fallen ill.  It has to be somewhere out of the way where only these two students could have encountered it.”

            “If there is an it at all,” he retorted.

            Rey frowned.  He had a point.  Without a point of origin, it was difficult for them to determine what or who had cursed Maisey and Steel.  “You’re right.  We really don’t have much to go on.”

            “I didn’t think it was in the Hufflepuff motto to give up so easily,” Ben said, but no bite lingered behind his words.

            “Oh, I’m not giving up,” she reassured him.  “I’m still going to look even if I have to rule everything out one by one.”

            Ben gave her a long look that she couldn’t decipher.  “Alright,” he said finally.  “What do we do next?”

            Rey almost smiled.  We, he’d said.  No matter how hopeless it seemed, it somehow felt better if Ben still stood by her side.  She filed that away to dissect later.  “Have you gotten in to Steel’s room to look through his things yet?”

            He bit the inside of his cheek.  “Not yet,” he finally admitted.  “I’ll do it this week.”

            She nodded, satisfied.  “I’ve got a few books checked out from the library on curses that look like illnesses.  I’ll do some reading, and we can go from there.”

            Solo stood from his chair and slung his bag over his shoulder.  He paused when he realized she hadn’t risen from her seat at the same time.  “Aren’t you leaving?”

            She shook her head.  “Not yet.  I have Defense to do still.”  He glanced back at the seat he’d just vacated and nodded, turning finally towards the empty aisle of the library. 

            Ben paused again.  “You know,” he said finally.  “You’re not so bad.  For a Hufflepuff.”

            Rey didn’t know if that was really a complement, but she chose to take it as one.  Ben nodded like that short sentence said everything and sauntered off through the dusty rows of books. 

“See you Thursday,” she called after him.

            His only acknowledgement was a small wave over his shoulder.

Chapter Text

            Rey landed on the pitch and splashed icy mud up her pant legs.  She cursed and shot a quick drying charm at them.  Not that it helped much.  The deep cold outside had settled in her bones, and she couldn’t even feel the change in temperature on her legs.  Shar landed next to her, cursing about the state of their team and losing the Quidditch cup, even though they hadn’t played a single match yet this season.  His face had gone beat red from the cold or the anger simmering beneath his skin or a combination of both.  The rest of the team landed around them.

            “Weasley, what’s wrong with you today?” Malbus yelled over the wind at the red-headed seventh-year.  She flushed as scarlet as her hair, and Rey worried that she would burst into tears on the pitch.  That behavior was so far from normal for Jo that Rey couldn’t recall seeing her cry a single time before Maisey had gotten sick.  “You didn’t save a single goal.”

            That wasn’t true.  Rey frowned at him and nudged him with an elbow to get him back on track.  Melshi put an arm around Jo’s shoulders.  “We’re all freezing our asses off, Malbus,” Melshi reminded him.

            “I don’t care if you’re freezing your balls off.  Do you think Ravenclaw’s going to care if you’re freezing?  Our first game is only weeks away and we have to beat Ravenclaw.  They’re the weakest team this year.  If we don’t beat them, where will we be against Slytherin and Gryffindor?”

            Their Quidditch captain’s rant continued on for several minutes, but Rey tuned him out.  Quidditch ranked near the top as one of her favorite things, but lately other problems had made it recede into the distance.  Even the Inter-House League had been pushed lower down on the list, though it had started out as her brain child and remained her pride and joy.

            Malbus finally ended his frustrated word vomit.  The team trudged back towards the castle and the promise of a hot dinner together, cold and frustrated.  None of them had Quidditch on their minds, not even Malbus, despite his anger.  Another week had gone by with no news about Maisey and Steel.  Rey had hoped Ben would find something in Steel’s room.  She had been disappointed when Ben had gone more than a week without mentioning anything about it at all.  They had done their rounds last Thursday and made some idle chatter, but he had said nothing about searching Steel’s things.  And Rey had made little headway in her research.

            The Great Hall still bustled with students heading in and out of dinner.  Rey scanned the room as she entered but didn’t see Solo among the Slytherins.  She did find her friends seated about halfway down the Gryffindor table.  She nudged a second-year aside and sat down next to them.  Finn frowned at her.

            “You look like hell,” he offered.

            “Thanks, Finn, that makes me feel great,” she snapped, out of patience for the night.

            “It must be below zero out there,” Rose said, trying to rub some warmth back into Rey’s shoulders.  “Malbus is nuts to make you practice in this weather.”

            “It’s going to get a lot colder,” Finn pointed out to her.

            “Cold weather doesn’t stop Quidditch,” Poe said at the same time.

            Rose rolled her eyes.  “It’s not that bad,” Rey assured her friend, holding her hands around a warm mug of cider.  “About five above.”

            “It’s cold enough in here.  This castle gets so drafty sometimes,” Rose complained.

            Rey just found herself grateful that the house elves had made soup for dinner.  She ladled a generous portion into her bowl and started shoveling the liquid into her mouth even when it burned her tongue.  The warmth seeping through her skin prickled a little as it thawed her limbs.  She groaned as she remembered that she still had a bit of Potions homework to do before she could kick a third-year off the best chairs and curl up in a blanket by the fire.

            Someone tapped her shoulder, and she turned to see Paige standing behind her in a blue Ravenclaw cardigan.  “Rey,” she said before interrupting herself with a yawn.  “Merlin, sorry.  Rey, you and Ben are on the rotation to stay back during the next Hogsmeade weekend.”

            Rey’s brain worked sluggishly in the new heat.  The next Hogsmeade weekend?  When was that supposed to be anyway?  She worked hard to remember the date.  Next weekend.  Finn, Rose, and Poe caught up faster than Rey did.

            “But that’s Halloween!” Rose protested.  “Rey can’t miss Hogsmeade during Halloween!”

            Paige rolled her eyes.  “It’s four days after Halloween, Rose.  Aren’t you all too old for that sort of thing anyway?” she said to her sister but shot Rey an apologetic look anyway.

            “Rey already has to put up with Solo all the time.  Couldn’t she stay back during one of the normal Hogsmeade weekends?” Finn reasoned.

            “Do you want to take her place?” Paige asked, her hands on her hips.  Finn’s mouth snapped shut.  “That’s what I thought.  Anyway, I thought she’d like to have the Hogsmeade weekend closest to Christmas instead.”

            “But…” Poe started, but Rey interrupted him.

            “It’s fine, Paige.  Really.  I don’t mind.”

            Rose and Poe looked at her like she’d gone insane, but Paige let out a relieved sigh.  “So,” she continued.  “You know the drill.  Make sure the firsties don’t blow something up.  Oh, and I can’t find Solo, so can you tell him tomorrow when you have rounds?”

            She could see Rose gearing up to say something else about that out of the corner of her eye, but Rey answered before she could.  “Of course.  Thanks, Paige.”

            Paige thanked her and headed back down the aisle in the direction of the Ravenclaw table.  Rose put her head in her hands and groaned on Rey’s behalf.  “Now you have to spend Halloween weekend with that prat,” her friend said.

            “It’s not that bad,” Rey reasoned, taking a sip from her now-lukewarm cider.  “Just bring me everything you can find at Honeydukes.”  Her friends stared at her with wide, almost frightened eyes.  “What?”

            “Who are you and what have you done with Rey?” Poe asked.

            Rey rolled her eyes.  “What are you on about?”

            “Honey,” Finn said gently.  “You hate Solo.”

            She shrugged and debated how to explain her lately more complicated feelings for one Ben Solo.  “I mean, I guess.  He hasn’t been quite as bad this year.”

            Three pairs of eyes bugged out at her.  “He definitely has been, Rey.”

            She shrugged again.  “He hasn’t called me ‘mudblood’ in a while, so that’s an improvement.”

            “Low bar for success,” Finn muttered.  “Halloween’s still going to be miserable around that wanker.”

            “Bring me lots of chocolate to compensate,” Rey said and hoped they would drop the matter entirely.  She didn’t know how to explain that Ben had become something of an ally recently.  They wouldn’t understand.  Worse, they’d be hurt that she hadn’t asked them before resorting to Ben Solo.  And she couldn’t explain why exactly that was.

            She finished her bowl of soup, grabbed a tart from the many plates of puddings, and picked up her broom.  “I need a shower.”

            Poe wrinkled his nose.  “We didn’t want to say anything, but…”

            She swatted at him before turning to leave the Great Hall.

            Rey stepped out of the shower half an hour later, drying her hair in a towel.  Rose, like many witches at Hogwarts, opted to magically dry her hair after a shower, but Rey had never gained the habit.  Her usual buns always left her hair wavy anyway. 

As she headed back towards her own dormitory, she passed the open circular door of the seventh-year dormitory.  Jo sat alone on Maisey’s old bed, holding something in her hands.  Rey debated with herself for a moment before rapping her knuckles on the open door and stepping inside.  Jo’s head shot up at the sound.  Her red hair was also plastered wetly around her shoulders.

“Oh, Rey,” she said.  “I didn’t see you there.”

“Is it alright if I come in?” Rey asked gently.  Jo nodded absently, and she took that as enough of an agreement to enter and take the spot opposite Jo Weasley.  As she did, she got a better look at the object in her hands.  It was a plain black journal, the kind of thing anyone at Hogwarts could have had.  But the way Jo looked at it told her that it had some greater meaning to her.  “What is that?”

“Oh…it’s Maisey’s journal.”

Rey perked up at that.  A journal?  Jo had told her nothing of the kind when she’d looked through Maisey’s things.  If she kept a journal, there could be some clue as to what she had come into contact with or some connection to Steel…Rey reeled herself back in.  It could be empty.  It could be nothing but useless drivel about the latest gossip.

“Maisey kept a journal?” Rey ventured instead, treading lightly around Jo’s tattered heart.

The seventh-year nodded.  “She was always writing in it, every spare minute, sometimes even in the middle of class.”

“Can I see?”  Jo reluctantly handed it over.  With shaking hands, Rey opened its front cover…and found nothing.  The journal was blank.  “It’s empty.”

Jo shook her head.  “She charmed it so only she could read it.  I don’t know what she kept in it, but she was always writing things down.”  Rey frowned and handed it back to the girl.  The journal would be no use to her if Maisey charmed it to show none of her writing.  All of her previous hope drained out of her.  Jo sniffed and wiped her nose.  “I just miss her so much.  It’s so stupid.  She was always gone on Wednesday nights and I never even noticed and now it’s so hard to not miss her.”  Jo sniffed again, and a few tears landed on the journal.  “I was a bad friend.  I wish I could apologize.”

Rey moved to sit next to her and wrapped her arm around Jo’s shoulder.  “You weren’t a bad friend.  You were a great friend to Maisey and you still are.  You’ll get to tell her.”

“How do you know?  It’s been months.  What if she never wakes up?”

Rey tried to summon her scraps of hope.  “The best people are working on it.  I’m sure they’ll figure it out soon.”

She didn’t want to tell Jo that she wasn’t sure and had never been sure.  Jo gave her a watery half-smile and patted the cover of the journal fondly.  “I wish she would come back soon.”

“Me too,” Rey admitted.  “What did Maisey do on Wednesday nights?  I thought she spent most of her time in the common room.”

“Oh, yeah, she did,” Jo said absently, toying with the frayed bookmark that poked out of the journal.  “But she joined this club and they always met on Wednesday nights in the library, I think?  I can’t remember what they called themselves.  Sleuths of Hogwarts or something.  They were all about discovering the castle’s hidden secrets.  I don’t know that they ever found anything, though.  I told Maisey that was just silly stuff and she should focus on other things, but she never would listen.  I don’t know why she liked them so much.  Odd bunch.”

Rey resolved to remember that bit of information and share it with Ben when she got the chance.  She stayed for a while longer, listening to Jo’s stories about Maisey and comforting her until Sarah came back and took over the job with much more success. 

A club dedicated to discovering the secrets of Hogwarts?  She hadn’t even known such a thing existed, but it didn’t surprise her.  And she knew half of the members would be Ravenclaws. 

When Rose came back to their shared room an hour later, Rey poked her head out from behind the hangings on her bed.  “Hey, Rose, have you ever heard of the Sleuths of Hogwarts or something like that?”

Her friend rolled her eyes.  “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard way too much about them,” she answered.  “Why do you want to know?”

Rey shrugged.  “I heard something about them and I didn’t even know they existed.”

Rose sat down on her bed with a huff.  “Yeah, I know about them.  Kay cornered me once and told me way too much about them.  They like to sniff out the secrets of Hogwarts or something.  If you ask me, they’re just asking for a disaster.  I bet there are things buried in Hogwarts that Professor Skywalker doesn’t even know about.”

Rey nodded in agreement.  “Where do they meet?”

Her eyes went wide.  “Merlin, you’re not going to join, are you?  I mean, I know you’re curious, but can you not, Rey?”  She quickly assured her friend that she was not planning on joining any new clubs, she was just curious, for prefect duties and all.  Rose didn’t look entirely convinced.  “In the library, I think.  That alcove with Harold the Insane?  Kay went to a meeting once and tried to drag me along.  Without success, I might add.  I don’t think he even goes anymore.  And when someone’s too crazy for Kay Esso, you know you’ve found some weirdos.”

Rey nodded and thanked the other Hufflepuff.  Rose shrugged it off but made her promise again that she wouldn’t join that club.  Whatever Kay had told her about it must have gone on for hours.

She added the note about where the club met to the bottom of her parchment.

            The next morning, she still couldn’t get the club out of her head.  Rey headed towards Transfiguration alone.  She’d just come up from Double Herbology and she only shared Transfiguration with Rose, who did not have Herbology.  She still had a few minutes to get to the classroom, but her friend would surely be waiting for her already.

            She had almost made it to the Transfiguration classroom when a hand seized her by the arm and hauled her into a broom cupboard.  She whipped her wand out, ready to hex whoever had decided to manhandle her into a broom closet of all places, and came face to face with Ben Solo.  He held his hands up in surrender and she decided to give him a grand total of 30 seconds to explain himself before she hexed off all that sleek hair.

            “What are you doing?  We have Transfiguration in,” she checked her watch, “six minutes.  Merlin, Solo, what do you want?”

            Her irritation didn’t seem to phase him at all.  He rummaged in the bag he carried over one shoulder.  “I have to show you something,” he said without looking up. 

            “Now?” she hissed, all too aware that she would certainly be late to Transfiguration.  “It was important enough to drag me into a broom closet for?”

            Solo gave a shout of success and pulled a piece of parchment from his bag.  She had a retort ready on her tongue, but what was drawn on the page silenced her. 

            It was a rune.  To be precise, it was the same rune that she had shown him the week before, except she was certain that her drawing sat in her trunk upstairs.  She snatched the parchment out of his hand and squinted at it in the dimness of the broom cupboard.  Definitely the same.

            “Where did you find this?” she asked.

            “Beside Steel’s bed,” he said, triumphant.  “Is that important enough to miss Transfiguration for?”

            “No one said anything about missing Transfiguration.”  Although, with two minutes left to get to class, she was almost certain to.  “You found this in Steel’s room?  Like where I found the one I showed you?”  He nodded.  “Ha!  You said it wasn’t important!”

            He rolled his eyes and snatched the parchment back.  “Well, I had no evidence at the time to suggest otherwise.”

            “Oh, just admit it,” she pressed.  “You were wrong, Solo.”

            “Don’t we have Transfiguration to get to?” he reminded her and tried to sidestep her, but she pushed him back with a hand on his chest.  Rey suddenly became very aware of how close he was to her.

            “We can’t leave now.  Don’t you realize what people will think if we come out of a broom cupboard together?”  She could still hear students shuffling past just outside the door.

            He smirked and crossed his arms over his chest.  “So?”

            “You’re infuriating,” she snapped.  “You’re the one who dragged us into a broom cupboard of all places.”

            “Was it important or not?” he demanded.

            “It was,” she admitted.

            “We’re late to Transfiguration,” he informed her.

            She glared up at him.  “Yes, I’m aware of that.  Thank you so much.”

            “If we can’t leave yet,” he said, leaning forward a little.  “And we’re already late, what do you suggest we do?”

            Her glare intensified, and she revisited the idea of cursing his hair off.  At least that might wipe the smirk from his face.  “Not what you’re thinking.”

            He leaned back but didn’t lose the smirk.  “Pull your mind out of the gutter, Niima.  That’s not what I had in mind.”

            “Oh, really?”  She threw over her shoulder as she headed for the door.  She’d finally decided that she would rather face the consequences of tumbling out of a broom cupboard than stay in there with him for one more minute.  “Because I’m a filthy mudblood?”

            Rey opened the door and breathed a sigh of relief when she found the hall empty.  Ben followed close behind her.  When he spoke, she found him closer than she’d thought.  “Because I don’t shag in dusty broom closets.”

            A shiver snaked down her spine, and she shoved that thought away.  It was only after she’d run into Transfiguration late, muttering apologies to Professor Imwe, that she realized she’d forgotten to tell him about the club.

Chapter Text

            Rey stepped out into the hallway a full fifteen minutes before they were scheduled to start rounds.  Solo, as usual, was already there, lounging against the wall.  Only his foot tapping against the ground signaled anything different.  She brought her drawing with her and immediately pulled it from her pocket to compare with his.  He had his as well.  Sure enough, they matched.

            “We finally have something to go on,” Rey said, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

            Ben frowned.  “It’s still not much.”

            “Don’t be a spoilsport.  It’s more than we’ve had so far.”  Even his perpetual bad mood couldn’t get her down tonight.  Not with something in the realm of concrete to go off of.  “Oh, and there’s something else!  I talked to Jo the other day…”

            “Jo Weasley?” he cut in, wrinkling his nose. 

            “Don’t do that,” she said and elbowed him.  He stared down at her in shock.  “Jo is friends with Maisey.  Anyway, she told me that Maisey had been going to this club on Wednesday nights in the library.  The Sleuths of Hogwarts.”

            “You think they might be connected?  The Sleuths and the runes we found?” he asked.

            “I think it’s something.  What if Maisey and Steel were looking for something hidden at Hogwarts?  They could have stumbled on something without anyone knowing,” she insisted.

            Ben considered it for a few minutes.  The bells tolled overhead, signaling curfew, and they automatically started walking down the hallway.  “I suppose it could be.  We’d have to do some more research.”

            “I found some books in the library on hidden chambers in Hogwarts.”

            Ben gave her a disappointed look.  “Wouldn’t it be easier to find if it were written in a book?”

            “At least some information could be written down.  We should at least try to know what we’re walking into,” she protested.

            He shook his head.  “If Strickland was going to this club, we should try to talk to them.  Do you know when they meet?”

            “Wednesdays in an alcove of the library,” she said.  “We could go next Wednesday and see if they’ll tell us anything.”

            Ben frowned.  “It’s probably best if we don’t go together.  You can talk with them.”  Her heart sank in disappointment.  They had come so far.  “I’ll stand around the corner,” he continued, and she brightened at once.  “And you can tell me what you figure out.  The club’s probably mostly Gryffindors and Ravenclaws anyway.”

            “Why do you think so?” she asked.

            “Well, Gryffindors are shit at rules and boundaries and knowing when to not destroy the school.  And Ravenclaws are too curious for their own good.”  Rey frowned but couldn’t come up with a good argument for that.

            “Alright,” she agreed.  “We’ll go next Wednesday, and I’ll try talking to them.”  She flicked her wand and checked an empty classroom.  “Oh, I almost forgot to tell you.  We’re on rounds for Hogsmeade next weekend.”

            He raised his eyebrows.  “The Halloween Hogsmeade?  Tico does have it out for me.”

            Rey rolled her eyes.  “And me?  Her sister’s best friend?  I doubt it.  She probably thought we’d give her the least shit about it.”

            “I must be losing my touch,” Ben answered dryly.  “I should give her shit just to make a point.”  He considered it for a moment longer.  “Just about everyone will be out of the castle,” he commented.  “Except the first and second-years who are scared to death of me.  We could investigate the runes a bit more.”

            Rey was so surprised that she stopped walking.  Ben went a few more steps before he realized she wasn’t with him and turned to her with a question in his eyes and on his tongue.

            She shook the daze from her head and started walking again.  “You’ve just never suggested looking before.”

            He shrugged.  “There wasn’t much to go on before.  I’m as invested as you are now.”

            Her feet lifted as if bolstered by the air itself.  “Alright.  We’ll spend the day looking for the runes.  But we’ll have to do some more research on them first to know where to start.”

            Beside her, Ben nodded, his shoulder brushing hers as he raised his wand and flicked open a door.  “But your books will be useless.  We should check the Restricted Section.”

            Rey checked another empty classroom and rolled her eyes.  It wasn’t the first time he’d suggested it.  “And how do you suggest we get in there?”

            Ben winked at her, actually winked.  “I have connections.”  He grinned.  “You have to think outside the box, Niima.”

            She supposed that was true, but she didn’t want to know how he planned to get into the Restricted Section without prior authorization from a teacher.  Or maybe he had some other research topic that he could convince Tarkin to give him approval for. 

            “I don’t want to know,” she answered. 

            They walked down the hall in silence together.  Hogwarts at night had always been particularly wonderful to Rey, especially when all other students had gone to their common rooms for the night.  The portraits ran back and forth between paintings and the suits of armor sometimes creaked mysteriously.  It reminded her that despite all the magic and classes and day-to-day stress of school, Hogwarts was still a castle and a beautiful one at that.

            “Have you heard anything about Steel?” Ben finally asked quietly after several long moments of a silence that Rey could only describe as companionable.

            She turned to look at him, but he didn’t meet her gaze.  He stuck his hands in his pockets, almost as if he were unsure…could Ben Solo be unsure?  Around her?  “Professor Tarkin hasn’t given you any updates?”

            His cheeks colored a little and he shook his head.  Rey wanted to punch Tarkin right in his hooked nose.  Slytherin House had plenty of problems, sure, it seemed more and more like Tarkin exacerbated more than half of them.  What kind of Head of House wouldn’t give his house updates about an injured student?  Professor Kenobi had updated them every week on both Maisey and Steel.  And it was clear from the hesitation on Ben’s face and the fact that he’d asked at all that he wanted to know, which was honestly more than she would have attributed to him.

            “As far as I know, he’s still at St. Mungo’s with Maisey.  They’ve been running tests and trying some new things, but nothing has made a difference yet.  I’m sorry I don’t know more.  Professor Kenobi can only tell us basics.”  He nodded in acknowledgement of the information but said nothing further.  Rey ventured on anyway.  “How is Slytherin House holding up?”

            Ben shrugged, but his shoulders slumped.  He passed by several doors without checking to see if the rooms were empty.  “Probably the same as Hufflepuff.  But with less crying.”  The dig against her house held no sincerity.  Rey didn’t know how to continue the conversation after that.  “Thank you,” he said after several long minutes.  “For the information about Steel.”

            A second thank-you from Ben Solo.  The world really could turn upside down.  “You’re welcome.”

 

            Rey tapped her foot through dinner on Wednesday night, watching the clock and counting down the minutes until she could meet Ben and head to the library for the Sleuths meeting.  Finally, she thought, finally they had a chance to get closer to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Maisey and Steel.

            The whole thing struck her as odd.  Only two students had gotten sick in the whole school.  Surely it had to be related?  They had to have encountered the same object or both been targeted for a curse.  That was what she kept telling herself, at least.  Otherwise, they would never find the source.

            “Rey?  Merlin, Rey, are you even listening?” Poe’s voice snapped her out of her own thoughts and counting down the minutes.  She’d barely touched her plate of food.  As she’d entered the Great Hall, Ben had left it alone and given her the smallest of nods as they passed.

            “I’m sorry, Poe.”  She winced at her inattention to her friend.  “What did you say?”

            Poe rolled his eyes but repeated his previous statement, as she knew he would.  “I said we have to figure out the team.”

            The team?  She finally realized he meant their joint Quidditch team.  “We won last weekend,” she reminded him, even though she knew the direction this conversation would take already.

            “Barely,” Poe huffed.  “Merlin’s beard, if Sarkeesian lets one more goal through, I think I’ll throttle him.  We should have trounced them, but they scored too many goals on us.”

            “Fair point,” she conceded.

            “We need a new keeper,” Finn pointed out.  Rey raised her eyebrows at him.  She would have bet money on Poe being the first to suggest that, not Finn.

            “We don’t have any other options right now, Finn,” Rey reminded him patiently.  She agreed that Sarkeesian certainly wasn’t the best option, but all the other decent keepers in the school were taken.  With one glaring exception.  But Ben Solo would under no circumstances join their Inter-House League nevertheless Rey, Finn, and Poe’s team.

            “I’ll play Keeper,” Rose piped up to offer again.  Finn and Poe turned to look at her smiling face as if she’d lost her mind and Rey choked back a laugh.

            “Rose,” Finn told her gently.  “You can’t fly.”

            Poe looked ready to shoot himself in the foot.  “Do you even want to play Keeper?”

            “No,” she snickered.  “But it would be worth falling off my broom for the look on Poe’s face.”

            Poe grunted something about needing to finish up some Potions homework before making a swift exit and leaving most of his food untouched.  Their laughter followed him out of the Great Hall.  Rey thought she should perhaps feel worse about ignoring his obvious preoccupation with their team, but his worrying would get them nowhere.

            Glancing up at the hands of the clock again, she realized that their conversation had passed the time faster than willing the clock to tick forward.  She borrowed Poe’s excuse and threw her bag over her shoulder to go meet Ben Solo and finally find out what the Sleuths were up to.

            “You’re leaving too?”  Finn’s face fell.

            She shrugged.  “Bit of homework to do before tomorrow.  Sorry.  I’ll see you at breakfast, Finn.  Later, Rose.”

            She felt a little guilty leaving the two of them together.  Rose had made it clear to her over the past few months that she had developed a crush on Finn.  And it had become increasingly obvious to Rey that something very different was happening with Finn.  She had tried to act as a buffer between her friends to keep the situation from exploding.  Now, she figured she could sacrifice one night for a more important errand.

            Rey found Ben waiting for her in an alcove just inside the library, as they had planned before they’d parted last Thursday after rounds.  He had settled himself in there to look inconspicuous—or because he actually had homework—and had a book spread before him.  He looked up as her footsteps drew closer.

            “I thought you’d forgotten,” he grumbled.

            She raised an eyebrow at his tone.  “Hullo to you too.”  She glanced at her watch.  “I’m on time.  Exactly.”

            He seemed to always run early anyway.  “I saw the club come in a few minutes ago.  I think they’ve started their meeting already.”

            She nodded.  “I think that’s probably better.”

            The stacks rose around them like tombs.  They left plenty of places to be unheard or unseen.  She could catch sight of nothing now but the dust motes floating through the air.  “If it’s empty, you could stand on the other side of the shelves and still listen,” she suggested.

            “As long as they can’t see me,” he said.

            “You could always just pretend you’re looking for a book.  We’re in a library after all.”

            Ben agreed, and they made their way down the aisle towards the secluded alcove.  Voices floated above the shelves and back to them before they reached it.  Just before they came into sight of the small club gathered there, Ben ducked between the shelves and out of view.  Rey continued alone, but she could feel him behind her like a ghost. 

            As she came into view, the voices fell silent and five pairs of eyes turned towards her.  She didn’t know why, but she’d expected more than just five members to their club.  Although, if they were right, they had once had seven.  They watched her approach their table curiously.  Several Ravenclaws sat among them, a few Gryffindors, and one Hufflepuff she vaguely recognized.

            “Hi, Rey,” the Hufflepuff, a fourth-year named Melody said.  She turned to the others.  “Rey’s a Hufflepuff prefect.”

            “Hi, Melody,” Rey greeted her.  “This is the Sleuths of Hogwarts, right?”

            One of the Ravenclaws perked up.  “Are you here to join?”

            “Sorry,” Rey said, wincing.  “I’d love to, but I don’t have time right now.  Sixth year is so busy.  But I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind?”

            They glanced around at one another before the Ravenclaw, who seemed to be in charge, nodded and pushed a chair towards her.  “Sure.  About what?  We’re allowed to be a club.  We got approval from Professor Organa and everything.”

            Rey waved off the concern.  “Oh, I know.  It’s not about that at all.  It’s about Maisey, actually.  Maisey Strickland.”

            Their eyes dropped to inspect the woodgrain of the table.  Melody nodded slowly.  “You were one of the first who found her, right?”

            Rey nodded.  “Healer Zarrin asked me to find out what kind of things she was up to, just to get a clearer picture of what she did every day.  She was part of your club, wasn’t she?”

            The Ravenclaw leader nodded.  “She started coming towards the end of last year and got really into it.  She kind of did her own thing.  Her and Gerald, that is.”

            Gerald?  She wracked her brain for a Gerald.  Not in Hufflepuff certainly, but she had heard the name before.  Gerald…Steel?  Yes, that was right.  He went by Gerry more often, but it was Gerald Steel.  “Steel was in your club too?”

            “Oh, yeah,” one of the Gryffindors piped up.  “He only started coming this year.  He and Maisey hit it off.  Some mutual interests, I think.”

            She could feel Ben’s attention on the back of her neck.  “Do you know what they were interested in?”

            The Ravenclaw leader wrinkled her forehead.  “I’m not sure.  I didn’t really understand it, to be honest.  We’ve been trying to figure out some of the spells that keep Hogwarts invisible to Muggles.  They weren’t really interested in that.”

            “They tried to get us on their project, but none of us take Runes,” the other Gryffindor explained.  “So, we weren’t much use.  I didn’t understand what they were going on about.  Some chamber in Hogwarts.  There are plenty of those.  Theirs didn’t seem too special.”

            “They were working on Runes?” Rey asked, thinking back to the twin set of runes she and Ben had found branded beside their besides.

            “They both took Ancient Runes,” Melody explained.  “None of the rest of us do.  I want to start next year, though.”

            “And these runes led to a chamber?” Rey continued.

            The Ravenclaw leader nodded again.  “That’s what I gathered anyway.  They seemed like they were on a completely different wavelength.  Maisey was always scribbling in that notebook of hers.  Had their heads together all the time.  The last meeting Maisey was at they said they were really onto something and tried to get us to join.”  She looked uneasily around the table.  “We wouldn’t.  Maisey left pretty upset.  I guess we should have done something.”

            “It’s probably not related,” Rey said quickly.  “There’s no way you could have known she would be sick in just a few days.”

            The Ravenclaw shook her head.  “I told her to leave that stuff alone.  We try to figure out the secrets of Hogwarts, but we don’t mess with them.  There are so many things hidden in the depths of Hogwarts and much of it is better left untouched.”  She frowned.  “I warned her.  But she didn’t listen.”

            And then she fell ill.

Chapter Text

Rey left the Sleuths of Hogwarts with their heads bent together around the table.  She felt their eyes on her back as she hurried down the aisle.  Ben appeared suddenly by her side.  With a hand wrapped around his wrist, she towed him between two towering shelves of books, out of sight of anyone else in the library and too enclosed to be overheard.

            “Did you hear that?” she asked at once.  He leaned a little closer to her, though they stood bare inches apart already, and nodded.

            “They were both members.”  He stuffed a hand in his pocket and pulled out the crinkled drawing of the rune they’d both found on the wall.  “You were right.  This did mean something.  What did they say?  Some sort of hidden chamber beneath Hogwarts?”

            Rey chewed on her lip and bounced on the balls of her feet.  “That could be anything, though.  There have to be hundreds of hidden chambers beneath Hogwarts.  How can we find it?  How could we possibly get in?”  She let out a groan of frustration.  “If only Maisey didn’t wipe her notebook blank.  I bet everything we need is in there.”

            Ben ran a hand through his hair, mussing it worse than it already was.  “There must be a way,” he insisted.  “They figured it out.  Maybe separately, judging by the time that passed between Maisey falling ill and Steel.”

            She squinted up at him, her forehead furrowed.  “Why didn’t he say something?  He must have known.”

            He shook his head a little.  “I don’t know.  He must have suspected.  Maybe he wanted to confirm before he said something.  Or maybe someone cursed them after they found the chamber.”  His eyes locked onto hers.  “There’s only one way to find out.”

            “Find the chamber ourselves.”  She clenched her hands into fists.  “Is that wise?  Look at what happened to them.  The same thing could happen to us.”

            “We’ll be prepared.  We know for sure now what can happen.  We’ll leave a note, just in case, but we have to try.”

            Rey agreed.  She couldn’t think of any other way.  If they went to the professors now, they wouldn’t believe them.  There were so many crazy stories floating around about what had happened to Maisey and Steel.  She herself had heard at least twenty increasingly fantastic versions of the tale.  But if they had proof…if they actually found the chamber…

            “You’re right.  We have to try.  This Saturday, while everyone is gone.”  She thought for a moment longer.  “We should start with Hogwarts: A History.  There’s loads of information about the mysteries of Hogwarts in there.  It’ll give us a starting point.  With all these books in here, one of them must be able to tell us how to get in.”

            She strode down the aisle between the shelves, Ben hot on her heels, and pulled the school’s worn copy of Hogwarts: A History from the shelves.  They slid into the most secluded table they could find and bent over the book together, their heads just inches apart.

            Rey scanned through the Table of Contents until she found a chapter that sounded promising: Secrets of Hogwarts.  The pages crinkled beneath her fingers as she flipped to it and a small puff of dust appeared in the air around them.  Their eyes raked over the sub-headings, which varied from old headmasters and their antics to things left by the Founders themselves.  Ben put a hand over hers to stop her from turning the page.

            “Wait!  What about that one?  Chambers of the Founders?” he said.

            She looked up at him and found him closer than expected.  His brown eyes, she noticed from this distance, had flecks of gold in them.  He cleared his throat and pulled his hand away.  Shaking her head a bit, she turned her attention back to the book and scanned through the section of the chapter he’d indicated.

            “It’s all speculation,” she said.  “Possible, but there’s very little to go on.  The Chamber of Secrets was real enough, but that had nothing to do with runes.”

            “Maybe Ravenclaw’s chamber would?” he suggested.

            Rey shrugged.  “But who knows if it even exists?  Let’s keep looking.  We can keep it in mind and come back to it.”

            They flipped through several more sections, a few of them with promising titles that contained nothing concrete.  Ben stopped her before she could turn the page again and pointed to one labeled Cursed Vaults.

            “Didn’t Professor Kenobi talk about those once?” she tried to recall.

            He shrugged, and she felt the movement in her shoulder.  “I don’t know.  I only listen when he talks about runes.”

            Rey gave him a brief, disapproving look and he had the sense to look a little ashamed.  “…each one is guarded by a different type of spell or magic,” she read from the book.  “This could be it.  The one they found could be guarded by runes.”

            “It’s possible,” he allowed.  “It’s the most likely option we found so far.  But what’s in them?”  He bent a little closer to the book, bringing his head a little closer to hers as he did.  Her breath caught in her throat and she forced herself to breathe normally.  She would have to examine that later, when she had a clearer head and Ben Solo wasn’t right next to her.  He made a disappointed sound in the back of his throat that snapped her back to reality.  He certainly wasn’t affected by their proximity.  “It doesn’t say.”

            “It says a little,” she rejoined the conversation.  “Hogwarts has been used to store magical artifacts and curses for centuries.  It’s the safest place for them aside from Gringotts and I would only trust them with valuables, not cursed objects.  Hogwarts is the best place for enchantments that are meant to protect us.”  She pointed to a line.  “But some have suspected that they contain treasure.”

            Ben waved his hand dismissively.  “That’s a load of shit.  An old wives’ tale.  Like you said, if someone wanted to store treasure, they’d do it in one of Gringotts’ deepest vaults, not Hogwarts.”

            “Then, it’s probably something dangerous,” she ventured.  “If it really was one of the Cursed Vaults they found.”  She took a deep breath before continuing.  “Look, I know you’re not going to like it, but maybe we should talk to Professor Organa or Skywalker.  It could be something really dangerous and they could help.”

            “No,” he said at once, with finality.  It wasn’t anything different than she expected, but her heart sank nonetheless.  Even though she thought they should involve the professors, she swore she wouldn’t do it without his consent.  She had asked him to help her, after all, and she refused to go behind his back.  But he continued with something she didn’t expect, “it won’t help, trust me.  It says they’re legendary, see?  Mu…Professor Organa doesn’t think they exist.”

            “Won’t she listen anyway?”

            He shook his head.  “She’s too focused on the here and now.”  He took a deep breath, as if steadying himself to continue.  “The first year she taught at Hogwarts, the year before we started, Professor Skywalker asked her to look into some of the secrets of the school, like the Chamber of Secrets and the Cursed Vaults, as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.  She did.  It took her the whole year of extensive research.  I don’t think she ever went looking for the Cursed Vaults herself, but she read a lot about them.  She found the Chamber of Secrets, but she concluded that the Cursed Vaults don’t exist.”

            “You remember a lot about them,” she said gently.

            He scratched at something invisible on the table.  “I didn’t like coming to Hogwarts.  Dad and I lived in Hogsmeade and I didn’t have anything to do.  Some of the professors let me sit in the back of classes and listen, but I didn’t have a wand yet.  I…I wanted her to notice how miserable I was.”  He didn’t look up as he spoke.  “She…didn’t.  Too involved in work.  I took an interest hoping it was something I could work on too.  But that only made it worse because I disagreed with her.”

            Rey took a risk and laid a hand on his shoulder.  “I’m sorry, Ben,” she said quietly.  “Families shouldn’t do that to each other.”

            He finally met her eyes then, his deep brown and unfathomable.  “People…people usually tell me how great a witch my mum is, how lucky we are to have her, how great she’s been for the wizarding world.  As if that excuses my childhood.”

            She realized suddenly and violently that she would hex anyone who dared say that to him.  Merlin, how had she not seen through his façade earlier?  Yes, he could be terrible and yes, he had said some horrible things to her, but the only thing she saw before her now was a broken boy, just as starved for affection as she had been when she arrived.

            “Nothing excuses neglecting your own child,” she said.  “Nothing.”

            Ben stared at her for a long moment before he shook his head and looked away.  “Leia’s your idol.  I know that.”

            “Professor Organa has been good to me,” Rey answered at once.  “But that doesn’t mean she’s been good to everyone.  That doesn’t mean she’s been good to you.”  He didn’t turn back to look at her, but his shoulders slumped a little.  Maybe he wasn’t ready to hear that.  “Okay, we won’t involve the professors.  I understand.”

            He looked up in surprise.  “I thought you would tell them anyway.”

            She gave him a withering look.  “I asked you to help me, didn’t I?  We’re in this together.  If you don’t want to tell them, I won’t either.”

            Something flitted across his face that she couldn’t place.  “Alright,” he said slowly.  “What do we do, then?  We can’t go into this unprepared.”

            “And if we’re still set on Saturday, we don’t have much time to prepare.”  She thought for a moment.  “There must be more on the Cursed Vaults.  You said something about the Restricted Section.  Do you think you could get some useful books from there?”

            He nodded at once and a grin spread across his face.  “I’ve corrupted you, Niima.  Look at you, suggesting the Restricted Section without prior authorization.”

            Rey snorted and sat back, putting on an innocent expression.  “I’m not going to go into the Restricted Section.  Who knows where those books came from?  Not me.”

            The look he gave her bordered on proud.  “Maybe hanging around those sodding Gryffindors has been good for you after all.”

            “Bite your tongue, Solo, I never thought you’d say something like that.”  She took a deep breath and tried to draw herself back to the matter at hand.  This banter with Solo felt too much like something else.  “Can you have the books by tomorrow?”  He nodded.  “Alright, bring them with you to rounds.  We’ll do as much research as we can before Saturday.”

            She stood up to go, throwing her school bag over her shoulder.  His voice made her pause.  “Rey,” he paused too.  “Thank you.”

            With a nod and a small smile, she left him sitting in the library.