The Black Lake had never looked so inviting. It sparkled and glistened under the blazing sun of May. Though the Hogwarts students had heard from the triwizard champions what unfriendly creatures lurked within the lake, many couldn't help but spend a few moments to daydream about swimming through the smooth, enticing waters. But the beginning of summer only meant one thing for the occupants of Hogwarts castle – the end of year exams. And this crushed all students' wishes of swimming in the lake finely.
The castle was surprisingly quiet. Even the Weasley twins were causing less commotion than usual. Phoenix Lancaster was the most grateful for this. She, being the two prankster's best friend, spent the most time around the pair and this often meant that Phoenix barely had quiet time with the twins and most importantly, time to cram in some revision. But instead of planning their classic end of year prank, Fred and George were actually studying. Though this was mostly down to Phoenix as she had helped them by mapping them out a revision timetable.
"A revision timetable?" Fred was staring at his best friend in absolute disbelief, "really Phoenix?"
"They don't call them Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests for nothing Fred," Phoenix mused, flicking through her copy of The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, smirking as she did so, "And if I so much hear you two breathe whilst I'm revising I will not hesitate to transfigure you both into chipmunks."
The end of year exams were by no means their actual NEWT exams but it was their first real test at the types of questions that would pop up in their exams the following year. The thought of their sixth year coming to a close was daunting. Next year would be their final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and though Phoenix was looking forward to her future and her career, Hogwarts had been her home for the past six years and it would be difficult to say goodbye.
Their first exam was a written Charms exam. It was a roasting hot morning and Phoenix's stomach was growling from hunger and butterflies were fluttering from nerves.
"Relax Pixy," George cooed, patting her hair gently and smiling brightly down at her.
Phoenix looked up at him as though he had lost his mind, "Relax?" she squeaked, seizing ahold of George's sleeve and shaking it violently, "don't you dare tell me to relax George Weasley."
George was very clearly amused by Phoenix's nerves, he took her wrist gently to prevent her from shaking his sleeve again and potentially ripping the second-hand material, "Take deep breaths. You know this subject like the back of your hand."
Phoenix smiled gingerly at him, "Thank you George."
Following her Charms exam, Phoenix then had to take her Transfiguration exam the following afternoon. She barely had time to eat her dinner afterwards because she was due to study for her Ancient Runes exam that took place the next morning.
"I completely panicked at question four," Alicia was saying, she was talking at a hundred miles per hour as they ate their way through lunch (though Alicia was too busy still discussing their exam to even take a bite of her sandwiches). "I completely forgot the hand movement for Aguamenti. It's so simply how could I have forgotten?!"
"Leesh," George said with a pained expression, "If we've said it once, we've said it thousand times… please, for the love of Godric Gryffindor himself, don't talk about the exams we've just taken."
Alicia looked as though she would like nothing more than discuss what she did wrong in the exam, but she obliged with a huff and hastily took a bit of her sandwich.
Shortly after lunch Angelina, Alicia, and Lee left to collect books from the library while Phoenix and the twins remained at the Gryffindor table. Phoenix's books were stacked dangerously beside Fred and he kept glancing at them every few seconds warily.
"Did Bagman reply to your letter?" Phoenix questioned, tapping her wand against the rim of her goblet and murmuring an incantation under her breath. Her golden goblet transformed itself into a small hedgehog. It looked up inquisitively at the three of them.
Fred and George looked at one another before answering, "He did," Fred said darkly.
"He told us to bugger off basically," George grinned.
"Said that we were too young to gamble," said Fred in a monotone, "and that he wasn't giving our money back–"
"That's ridiculous!" Phoenix broke in.
"That's not the last of it," continued Fred. Phoenix was surprised to see that he was grinning.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," began George, "remember when I told you that Bagman also owed Lee's dad some money too. Well myself and Fred decided we'd do some digging."
"Without me?" Phoenix said with a wry smile, watching the hedgehog as it circled around George's goblet curiously.
"We found out that Ludo's in big trouble with the goblins," Fred explained.
"Goblins?" Phoenix looked confused before realisation dawned on her face, "that's why he was having a row with the goblins in the Three Broomsticks!"
"Yeah huh," George mused, "We found out he borrowed a lot of gold from them. After the World Cup a whole gang of goblins corned him in the woods and they took all of the gold he had."
"But it still wasn't enough to cover all of Ludo's debt," said Fred, "from what we managed to find out, and what we saw in the Three Broomsticks, the goblins followed him to Hogwarts in order to keep a close eye on him."
Phoenix let out a low whistle, "so, he's not giving your gold back?"
Fred and George both shrugged.
"Godric only knows," said Fred, "if Harry wins the tournament Bagman will be able to pay the goblins back,"
"Ludo placed a bet on Harry?" Phoenix looked astounded, she gave a short laugh before adding, "Bloody hell."
A week after the exams began Phoenix only had her Defence Against the Dark Art and Potions exams left. She had been studying so much that she barely saw sunlight these days. She spent most days in the library, often deciding to change her appearance completely in order to avoid Jerome.
Today, the library appeared to be Jerome-free, so the lilac haired witch sat happily at a table beside the large window that overlooked the Black Lake. She could see Fred and George teasing the Giant Squid in the shallows, Angelina and Lee appeared to both be roaring in laughter. Phoenix looked longingly out of the window before returning her attention to Advanced Potion-making.
"You study too much Phoenix."
"Merlin's pants!" Phoenix shrieked.
"Miss Lancaster!" Madam Pince looked affronted, staring at Phoenix in utter disbelief, "watch your mouth."
Phoenix burned bright in embarrassment, "I am so sorry Madam Pince, it won't happen again."
Cedric Diggory was trying very hard to keep in his laughter as Madam Pince continued her prowl of the library.
"Don't sneak up on me like that," Phoenix laughed, moving her bag from the chair beside her in order to make room for Cedric. He smiled handsomely and sat down, slamming a copy of A Compendium of Common Curses and Their Counter-Actions onto the table in front of him, "isn't that a seventh year book?"
"Yeah huh," Cedric murmured, looking dismally at the pages, "I cannot wait until this ruddy tournament is over."
"Aren't you excited?" Phoenix questioned with an amused expression, "You know, in case you win?"
"What do you mean in case?" Cedric asked playfully.
"Okay, when you win," Phoenix said with a roll of her eyes.
"I mean, yeah, winning would be amazing," Cedric admitted, "a thousand galleons… I could finally be able to purchase a very decent broomstick–"
"Or treat Cho."
"Or that," Cedric smiled, "but honestly, the amount of nerves and anxiety I feel building up to these tasks… I just can't wait for it all to be over."
"At least you're excused from end of year exams," Phoenix grimaced, holding up her Potions book, "You're missing out on Potions, Diggory."
"There's the silver lining," Cedric beamed, his eyes sweeping around the library to land on Harry, who was sitting quite alone a few tables away (which was a surprise since Ron and Hermione had been glued to his side since January), "How Harry can get through these tasks when he's only in his fourth year is a mystery to me,"
"Perseverance," Phoenix intoned, "He just wants to get out of the tournament alive."
Cedric nodded in understanding, "Don't we all."
The upcoming third and final task was not exactly a mystery to the students. Rumours had sprung up when many students noticed the Quidditch pitch had been closed off and high hedges were seen growing within the pitch. Many people were told that the champions were expected to perform in a duel to the death with one another, others were told that the hedges were acting as a sort of maze (which Phoenix believed was the most believable rumour). Gryffindor's Quidditch team had looked rather appalled at the sight of their beloved Quidditch pitch being used in this way. Nevertheless, the third task and final task was very much anticipated.
Phoenix's final exams was bliss. She strolled out of her Defence Against the Dark Arts exam with a smile on her face. As soon as she reached the great oak front doors, she took George's arm and raced down the castle's lawns, Fred and Angelina hot on their tail.
"Exams are over!" Phoenix exclaimed, collapsing a comfy patch of grass.
"Yeah for you," Angelina said with a roll of her eyes, sitting down much more gracefully than Phoenix, "I still have a Care of Magical Creatures exams this afternoon."
"Good luck darling," said Fred, his eyes sparkling. "Here, let's study,"
"What are you– Fred!"
Phoenix and George roared with laughter as Angelina screamed – Fred had evidently found a large spider and thrown it at her. Angelina Johnson had very few fears but spiders were one of them.
"I am going to curse your arse Fred Weasley!" Angelina bellowed, jumping on her boyfriend so that he was thrown on his back.
"Angelina! My brother and our best friend are watching, do you really want them to witness our passion?"
Phoenix shuddered and George gave a snort of laughter, "I don't think a murder is considered passion, Fred," Phoenix observed, looking away awkwardly as Fred peppered Angelina's skin with kisses.
"No Fred! I'm angry at you."
"You can't be angry with me Angie," Angelina's face contorted in dislike of her most hated nickname, "you love me."
Angelina's lips twitched slightly but her expression remained stony, "I do but I'm still mad at you,"
"That's good enough for me," Fred beamed, peaking Angelina lips several times before smiling dolefully at her.
Phoenix smiled at the couple. They had been together for several months and Phoenix had never seen Angelina so happy. She had never seen Fred so loving either. Fred Weasley was a godsend for Angelina Johnson, honestly. Fred and Angelina were a perfect balance for one another and Phoenix was very happy for the both of them. They were very rarely 'coupley' as Angelina called it, but Phoenix didn't seem to mind it when they were, because the smile on Angelina's face was worth the awkwardness.
Seeing Fred the way he was with Angelina often made Phoenix wonder how George would be in a relationship. Would he hold her hand as they strolled down the hall? Would he kiss her triumphantly after a successful prank? These thoughts often made her blush so hard she'd had to bite down on her lip to stop herself from smiling.
"You two," George groaned, kicking his brother's leg with a look scowl on his face. "I don't want to see my brother snogging anybody."
"I'm not snogging someone who just threw a spider at me," Angelina proclaimed, getting up off of Fred and taking a seat beside him instead. "Don't touch me," she added when Fred threw his arm around her.
"Is ickle Angie angry with me?" Fred cooed, pinching Angelina's cheek and tugging at it playfully.
"Angelina is always angry," Phoenix concluded, pulling her hair loose from her hair tie. She ruffled her baby pink, loose curls, her eyes looking briefly over at the Quidditch pitch where the wild hedges were now so tall that they were towering over the stands. She sighed deeply, "I miss Quidditch,"
"Only a few more weeks until the summer Pixy," George said confidently, patting his friend on the back, "Then we can play Quidditch all we want,"
Phoenix's eyes appeared much brighter as she turned to beam at George, "And this year we'll be able to use magic outside of school," she said with a far-away look that was more than often associated with Luna Lovegood, "So no more falling from your broomstick Fred,"
Fred scowled at his friend, "That was one time!"
"Yeah huh," the corners of Phoenix's mouth were twitching as she suppressed laughter, "still really funny though."
Fred look menacingly at Phoenix before a smirk swept his lips, "Well don't look now but your admirer is closing in on his prey."
"What are yo–"
"Merlin's arse," George muttered under his breath as Jerome came into view. Though there was very little wind, his brown hair appeared to be flowing, rather perfectly and his green eyes sparkled brightly in the sun. He looked as handsome as ever but it only made Phoenix scowl slightly in annoyance as his unintentional beauty.
"Hi Jerome," Phoenix said with seemingly a big effort, "How are you?"
"Et ez very chaud," He said, pulling at the collar of his robes to reveal a part of his muscled chest. Phoenix could see Angelina's eyes budge slightly.
"No need to take your clothes off Jerome," said Fred with an attempt at sounding friendly, "this isn't a photoshoot for Witch Weekly."
Jerome didn't seem to understand Fred humour and looked confusedly at him, seemingly trying his best to understand exactly what the redhead had said.
"It doesn't matter Jerome," Angelina said, slapping Fred and sending him a dark look, "Are you looking forward to the next task? Fleur seems to be a far bit nervous about it."
"Oui, she ez very nervez," Jerome replied with a brief but stunning smile at Angelina, "And the students of Beauxbatons are looking forwed to the next task,"
"That's wonderful Jerome," Fred said rather rudely, "but Angelina has an exam to study and we would appreciate if you–"
"Fred," Phoenix said in an undertone, rather irritated, "Be nice – and you George," she added, noticing the identical unfriendly expression on George's face.
"Et ez fine Fhoenix and et Angelica–" Angelina's kind expression dropped slightly and Phoenix had to suppress a snort of laughter, even Fred and George smiled slightly, "–but I must be er leaving for a meeting with Madame Maxime, farewell."
As soon as Jerome was out of earshot, Angelina looked around furiously at her friends who had burst into laughter.
"Is it okay with we address you as Angelica?" George asked the dark skinned witch who looked as though she was carefully deciding upon which curse would cause her friends the most pain. She crossed her arms and glared at George. If looks could kill, George Weasley would be six feet under.
Dinner that evening was very enjoyable. All the sixth years had finished their exams and were silently celebrating the freedom. The seventh years were partway through their actual NEWTs and Phoenix kept glancing over at them. Several of them were scooping casserole into their mouths, their eyes scanning through their heavy, annotated books after every bite. Her stomach turned with a rather daunting feeling – that would be her next year.
Phoenix couldn't even begin to imagine the amount of time and studying it would take to receive excellent grades in all of her subjects next year. She imagined that she would have to begin her revision at Christmas in order to cram everything in her head for the exams. She hoped that next year would harbour no surprise distractions such as the Triwizard Tournament.
Before heading to the common room that evening, Phoenix had to first attend her weekly consolation with Madam Pomfrey. The meetings had become gradually quicker, Madam Pomfrey only questioning Phoenix about her nightmares and then sending her away with a fresh batch of potion.
She peered at the transfixing bright violet liquid, spinning it slowly in her fingers before she slipped it into her bag. Phoenix felt as though the meeting were becoming rather tedious but she attended every week anyway. Instead of taking the shortcut to Gryffindor tower, Phoenix decided upon making her way up the many staircases. She hardly got time alone these days, being around the twins and Angelina most of the time meant that she was always surrounded by company. Not that she didn't love the company, it was just that Phoenix did enjoy her own company every now and then.
Phoenix had been so consumed by thoughts of exams that she had not had time to think about George. They had been spending a remarkable amount of time together and Phoenix had not complained once (jokingly she may have). She and Angelina spent many free periods giggling about the looks of pure jealously from both Fred and George whenever Jerome so much as spoke to the pair of them (though Jerome still addressed Angelina as Angelica).
Phoenix was still very nervous about her feelings for George. Whenever George had something in his hair and he would casually ask for her to get it out, her stomach would suddenly explode with a large population of butterflies as she ran her hands through his messy red hair and took out whatever bug or leaf was hiding in there. Even the slightest compliment from George made her blush the red of a sunset (as he had pointed out not too long ago). Phoenix wasn't ashamed to have fallen into the cliché of falling for your best friend because in true, George Weasley was a lot more than that.
Seemingly consumed by these thoughts of George, Phoenix failed to remember the suit of armour standing plainly in front of her. She only had two seconds to jump out of the way, but her bag twisted itself around the sword that the suit of armour had been holding. She swore loudly, making the suit of armour turn its head and laugh at her.
"Yes, very funny," she remarked sarcastically, moving behind the suit of armour in order to untie the strap of her bag.
With her tongue between her teeth she pulled at the strap wrapped tightly around the sword. As she did so, she heard hurried footsteps approaching her.
"You were right Igor," came the dark voice of Severus Snape not too far away, "The mark's burn is becoming stronger every passing day,"
"I told you Severus!" the unmissable fruity voice of Igor Karkaroff followed suit as Phoenix reminded as invisible as she humanly possible, ducking down slightly and pressing herself into the suit of armour, much to her embarrassment. Phoenix couldn't put her finger on it but there was something about Karkaroff's voice that made her stomach turn so uncomfortably that she feared she was about to be sick. "That can only mean one thing Severus, it must mean that the Dark Lo–"
"We cannot discuss this here Igor!" Snape spat harshly at Durmstrang's headmaster, "If anyone were to overhear this conversation– We will go to my office and discuss this in private."
Phoenix had to wait several moments for their footsteps to fade before stepping from behind her hiding place, her bag in her hand and glaring at the chuckling suit of armour.
What were Snape and Karkaroff talking about? What was burning? And why on earth did Karkaroff's voice make her feel so sick? Phoenix raked her memories as she walked towards Gryffindor tower. She thought about the times she had heard Karkaroff's voice, very briefly during the day that Beauxbatons and Durmstrang arrived and when she and George had hidden inside a broom cupboard and Snape and Karkaroff had walked past in the midst of a heated discussion. But when else had Phoenix heard his voice…
No… It couldn't be.
She stopped dead in her tracks. She had just reached the Fat Lady who was gossiping with her friend Violet in her portrait. If her suspicion was correct, and Phoenix hoped against hope that it was not, how on earth had Karkaroff managed to get away with it? How had Karkaroff been allowed to become a headteacher? How in the name of Merlin–"
"And then," Violet hiccupped, clearly the pair of them were heavily drinking their way through the night (which surprised Phoenix mostly as it was a school night), "Sir Cadogan burst through the portrait of those monks, on that fat horse of his and–"
"Hold on one second Violet," the Fat Lady interrupted her friend with a wobbly finger, "this lovely lady would l-like to get to bed."
"Er, it's oka–" But the Fat Lady had swung open to reveal the portrait hole without even asking for the password. Phoenix could only imagine how unfriendly she would be the next morning.
Phoenix decided that she would question Dumbledore about her suspicions the next morning, she didn't want to bother him at this time.
Once she clambered out of the portrait hole it didn't take her long before she found Fred, George, Lee, Alicia and Angelina gathered in the seats beside the fire.
"There she is!" beamed Lee, looking as cheery as always, "Jerome keeping you awake?"
Phoenix let out a nervous laugh, noticing the murderous expression on George's face as she did so, "No Madam Pomfrey just wanted to check up on me again. No Jerome, sorry to disappoint Lee."
Lee's smile only widened, "Nah it's okay Phoenix, this means I get you all to myself," he said with an added wink.
"In your wildest dreams Lee," Phoenix laughed, taking a seat between George and Alicia in swinging her legs onto George's lap.
"Oh Phoenix," Lee said dramatically, clutching his hand to his chest, "I don't think you want to know what happens in dreams involving you and I,"
George made a face at Lee, silencing him at once, "Come on Lee let's not get too carried away."
"Carried away?" Lee looked affronted, "Lee Jordan never gets carried away."
"I can't believe that Beauxbatons and Durmstrang are leaving next week!" Alicia said in a pained voice, looking sadly at her friends, "Jason and I haven't really spoken about what we'll do next–"
"Do you two even talk?" Fred asked with a wry smile, "I thought you two just snogged."
Alicia rolled her eyes, "No, of course we talk. But anyway, I've owled my parents about maybe visited him during the summer, my father wasn't too happy about it but he gave me his blessing."
"Oh, his blessing?" Lee exclaimed with a snort of laughter, "What are you, fifty?"
"I cannot have a conversation with you guys!" Alicia growled, getting to her feet as Fred, George and Lee all roared with laughter at her angered expression. "I'm going to bed before I'm put in Azkaban for using an Unforgivable on the three of you."
"Night gorgeous," Lee called as Alicia walked away, making sure to flip the three of them off before closing the girls dormitory door behind her.
"I should probably follow her too," Angelina announced, getting to her feet also, "just to make sure she has someone to gossip to and I know how much Phoenix hates to gossip, night losers."
"Night Angie," cooed Fred in best baby voice when Angelina gave him a kiss goodnight.
"I hate your guts," Angelina spat with a wide smile spread across her face.
"I love you too, darling," Fred winked at her as she followed Alicia through the girls' dormitory door.
Lee left shortly after. Fred and Phoenix began to play a game of exploding snap that George watched distractedly, his eyes were staring absently towards the burning embers of the fire.
Fred let out a loud yawn, rubbing his tired eyes as Phoenix brushed away a couple of cards that had just exploded in her face.
"I win," he beamed lazily, "as always."
"Shut up," she muttered, "I've won a few times before,"
"Yeah two, you're more of a sore loser than Angel–"
"Aren't you tired?" Phoenix interrupted him with a glare, she didn't like to admit that she was a sore loser when it came to card games, especially when she lost to someone as arrogant as Fred Weasley.
"I am Phoenix," Fred confirmed, stretching before clambering to a standing position. He cast a look over at George and shrugged at Phoenix, "think George is too busy looking mysteriously into the fire."
George whipped his head round to glare at his twin, "I am not trying to look mysterious–"
"Goodnight!" Fred dismissed, winking at George before leaving the common room.
Phoenix didn't know why but there was something different in the air. She glanced quickly at George to see him looking once again into the fire. Something seemed off about George but she didn't quite know what was wrong and she was almost too scared to ask.
"Why are you talking to Jerome again?" George burst suddenly. They were now very much alone in the common room now, sitting in their favourite seats right in front of the fire.
Phoenix looked exasperated, torn between amusement and utter confusion. "I hardly say hello to him that's barely a conversation, George."
"But you still talked to him! You should have cursed him at the very least," George muttered, casting a quick look in her direction, as if waiting to see her response. When she didn't say anything however and merely raised a brow at him, he continued, "I mean he's a bloody git Phoenix."
"Unlike you I'm not one to hold a grudge," Phoenix replied, the corners of her mouth twitching. "A handful of Slytherins are possibly the only exception to that. I won't be forgiving Montague any time soon–"
"But he made you cry!" George cut in, he was now on his feet, and towering over her. It reminded Phoenix coldly of the disagreement that they had months before in the exact same position where Hermione had been listening in and Phoenix had to quickly check the common room in case anybody was residing in the corners. "That bloody git made you cry!"
"I remember that," Phoenix was trying her best to keep her tone friendly. She didn't want George to be mad at her. But why was he mad at her? It wasn't as though Phoenix was going out of her way to talk to Jerome, she was merely being polite as possible. Was this just George's protective friendly instinct to keep her from any pain – both emotional and physical? "But I only said hello to the guy. It's not like I went up the bloke and tried to kiss him!"
George's expression hardened. His jaw clenched in distinct anger. He was holding himself differently, his fists were curled and his eyes had seemed to darken.
"But I-I wouldn't!" she stuttered, her face growing rather hot as she flushed violently, her hair turning a dark pink. "I don't like him like that." George's eyes softened but his composure remained stony, as though he did not believe her.
"You don't seem like it," he replied, crossing his arms over his chest and staring down at her. "Being all chummy with Jerome again makes me feel as though you still like him."
"I never liked him in the first place!" Phoenix exclaimed desperately, she was now also on her feet though this didn't make much of a difference as George's tall, lean frame still towering over her. She could hardly believe how childish and immature George was being at the present moment. It made her stomach turn uncomfortably. "I've told you about a million times that I don't like him in that way!"
"What is your problem with him?" Phoenix burst, feeling as though she was seconds away from laughing while trying desperately to keep her temper at bay.
"I just hate that guy! From the moment that he winked at you and then kissed your hand like the oh so handsome gentleman he is. I hate him almost as much as I want to kiss you right now!"
Phoenix's heart seemed to stop. Her breath was caught dangerously in her throat as she and George stared at one another from five feet away. His eyes did not leave hers. He had to be joking, he had to be. This just didn't happen. The guy you liked – your bloody best friend – didn't just tell you that he wants to kiss you. This has got to be another joke of his, she thought, before she took a shaky deep breath.
"Well then," she finally said, her heart swelling at the anticipation. "What's stopping you?"
George didn't move. He simply smirked at her and said, "You're too short."
Disappointed was not the word to even begin to describe how she felt at that moment. She really thought, she truly thought that George Weasley was going to kiss her. They were finally going to kiss. That she and George were finally going to be together. But as she knew, it was another one of his jokes.
She laughed to cover up the now uncontrollable urge to cry, "You're an arse George Weasley. Can't you go a minute without taking the mick out of me? My height no less disguises the fact that I could kick your sorry butt in any situa–"
But, Phoenix had never finished her threat, because at the moment the entire world seemed to have spun around at incredible speed as George Weasley's lips descended on hers. She could not stop the small sound of surprised that left her lips, nor could she control the rouge flush of her hair and cheeks.
George Weasley was kissing her. He was kissing her. His hands were holding her face gently. His lips were pressing against hers. He was kissing. He was kissing her.
Phoenix felt as though the butterflies in her stomach were trying to escape. Her head was spinning as his lips, so soft but at the same time so firm, moulded to her lips.
There was something rather spectacular about kissing somebody for the first time. Only seconds before, George was so unfamiliar to her in some sense. She never knew how George tasted, how his hands pressed against her skin. The kiss lasted only moments but it felt like a lifetime. When George finally pulled away, the stared at one another for a few moments, George's hands still lingering on her cheeks. Then they smiled at each other. They smiled at each other as if this was the beginning of the universe.