Vulnerability

"To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength." Phoenix Lancaster is just as extraordinary as she appears, she is a muggle-born metamorphmagus, and she has never had a quiet life. Thanks to her courageous and troublesome best friends, Fred and George Weasley.

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22. Rumour Mill

Nobody woke up very early on Boxing Day. It was noon when Phoenix and Angelina finally descended the stairs from the girl's dormitories, leaving Alicia, Ava, and Arista all still very much asleep. When they arrived in the common room, they found it surprisingly quiet; evidently most of the Gryffindors were still asleep.

"So," Angelina yawned, sitting down at the rather empty Gryffindor table for lunch the day after the Yule Ball, the Great Hall had been retransformed back into its original appearance, this fact rather impressed Phoenix. "Have you thought anymore of what I said last night?"

Phoenix reframed from rolling her eyes with great difficulty. Of course she had thought about it, it had been what was keeping her awake most of the night. But she wasn't going to tell Angelina this; she would probably scream it to the heavens and then tell Fred and then it would reach all the ears of all the students before dinner that night.

"I told you, he's my best friend," she said finally, picking up a turkey sandwich to avoid looking at Angelina.

"You're so bloody stubborn Phoenix," said Angelina, her arms were crossed and she looked rather like Mrs. Weasley surveying Fred and George when she knew that they had done wrong. "You just don't want to talk about it because you're scared,"

"I'm not scared–"

"Then talk to me," Angelina coaxed, a pleading expression upon her face. "I'm one of your best friends, I'm a girl and I'm a sympathizer. Girls have each others back."

"You're also persistent," Phoenix mumbled under her breath before taking a large bite from her sandwich. This comment however just made Angelina beam fondly. She reached a hand over the table and patted Phoenix's forearm in a sort of sympathetic way.

"Tell me your problems Phoenix, I'm here for you."

Phoenix snorted with laughter. "Okay… I've thought about me and George–" Angelina squealed, sounding horribly like Alicia. Phoenix felt it had something to do with finally being with Fred that Angelina was now becoming a little more girly when it came to 'feelings', things that usually made Angelina feel like she was going to throw up. "And I have realised how terrible it would be to have any such feelings for one of my best friends."

"Merlin's bloody pants Phoenix!" Angelina almost shrieked. "Don't be so stubborn when it comes to your feelings. I haven't seen you so bloody embarrassed and flirty around a bloke since… since… that guy from Ravenclaw you used to fancy!"

"Marcel was really cute! I was eleven; of course I thought we were going to be married!"

"His last name was Maycock and if you thought I was going to let that happen to you, you are severely wrong. I saved your life as well as your dignity!" Phoenix rolled her eyes; Marcel Maycock was her very first crush when she arrived at Hogwarts. He had been third year when she was in first and in Ravenclaw – she had fancied him terribly for around three months before she had given up and she had not shown any interest in a boy since (apart from having to kiss Roger Davies reluctantly during a game of dares in her fourth year).

"Back to the matter at hand," said Angelina, who looked as though she was seconds away from throwing her pork pie at Phoenix. "I haven't seen you so flustered by a guy since our first year and then suddenly you're all blushing and flirting with George!"

"That doesn't mean anything!" said Phoenix desperately, she felt like Angelina was digging closer and closer to the truth that she was simply too scared to fancy her best friend. "Friends can flirt–"

"You don't see me trying to flirt with you do you?"

"Lee flirts me with!"

"But that's Lee!" Angelina argued. "He'll flirt with anything as long as it has a pulse."

"I was embarrassed around George because…" Phoenix stopped herself from saying that it was the fact she had been feeling strange, unexplainable feelings in the pit of stomach whenever he was close.

"Because what?"

"I–I… I don't know why…"

Angelina smiled in a triumphant sort of way. She grinned knowingly at Phoenix before she took a sip of pumpkin juice.

"You can lie to yourself all you want Phoenix but you'll be damned if you ever lied to me."

Before Phoenix could reply however, Fred, George, and Lee all chose that moment to slide onto the benches beside them.

"Afternoon all," Fred greeted, kissing Angelina's cheek before he scooped several pork chops onto his plate.

Phoenix avoided looking at George all throughout lunch. She felt as though if she looked at him, her flushing rouge cheeks would be a perfect chance for Angelina to burst out in giggles or those peculiar feelings of nervousness and fluttering inside of her stomach would arise once again.

Avoiding George Weasley's eye however did not go unnoticed. When Fred, George, and Lee were away for the afternoon pulling their festive pranks, (which included enchanting the Christmas trees to throw baubles at any passing Slytherins and changing the colour of the Beauxbatons student's robes to mustard yellow – though Phoenix suspected that this was mostly aimed at Jerome) Angelina had questioned Phoenix if she was purposely ignoring George.

"I'm not ignoring him!" Phoenix exclaimed, toppling over her ink bottle over her essay on the Imperious Curse. She swore loudly and began to wave her wand in complicated flicks and circles so the try and rid the parchment of the wet ink. "I'm just not looking at him," she mused.

"Why?" Angelina's frown grew deeper. "Are you scared that if you look at him you'll get that mushy feeling inside of your stomach again?"

Phoenix's head turned so quickly it was rather surprising that she hadn't given herself whiplash. "How did you know about that?"

"I didn't," Angelina replied triumphantly, "I just guessed."

"I-I-I… Merlin's arse!" Phoenix slapped herself in the face, which only appeared to make Angelina's grin grow wider. "Okay… Okay maybe you're right!"

"Of course I'm right! I'm always right–"

"But it's only because–"

"Yeah, yeah I know," Angelina rolled her eyes. "You don't want to feel that way around your best friend."

Phoenix looked helplessly at Angelina, her essay now cleared of the spilt ink. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Snog him."

"If I wanted to receive terrible advice I would have written to Rita Skeeter's advice column."

"It's what I did," Angelina shrugged. "Though that may not work for you and I understand… Maybe you should just ignore it for now. I mean it's not a bad feeling is it?"

"No it's a nice feeling–"

"Well there you are then," Angelina's grin was now more of an encouraging smile which made Phoenix feel a bit better. "But don't ignore it completely. The gushy feeling in your stomach means something whether you like it or not and you're going to have to face that. So either you suffer in silence or you talk to him. And then you snog him."

"Still not going to snog him... But I hate it when you're right," She sighed and continued with her essay. It was proving to be a rather difficult essay. It required for Phoenix to describe the feeling of being Imperioused, but most unfortunately Phoenix had rather been under the Imperius Curse. It was lucky therefore that Phoenix had her Will's copy The Imperioused, The Tortured and The Dead, which was something Will had given her for her early work on becoming an Auror and gave rather extensive knowledge on the Unforgivable Curses.

By the time she had completed her essay Lee, Fred, and George had finally returned. They told both Phoenix and Angelina that Snape had given them a detention for turning the Beauxbatons robes mustard yellow because apparently it was 'rude and extremely disrespectful'.

"I mean," Fred was saying through mouthfuls of chicken pie, (he, George, and Lee had taken a detour down to the kitchens) "We only did it because Jerome was a complete arse to Phoenix!"

"How do you know about that?" Phoenix asked, though she had a pretty good idea she knew the answer already.

"I told him," said George and Phoenix, for the first time that day, looked at him. It appeared as though his presence was enough to send her stomach to do a million summersaults. "Hope you don't mind but you don't think that I wouldn't tell Fred and Lee that somebody had been mistreating you."

"How thoughtful of you George," Angelina said in an overly happy voice, giving Phoenix a significant look. "He's so thoughtful isn't he Phoenix?"

Fred, George, and Lee all looked from Angelina to Phoenix as though they had gone mad. Phoenix, who was acting as though she was as bewildered to Angelina's behaviour, simply stared at her too, her eyebrow slightly raised.

The rest of the Christmas holidays past in a flurry of seemingly endless homework and antics with the Weasley twins. Phoenix, who had taken Angelina's advice to ignore her complex feelings around George (though this didn't at all put a stop to them), had been helping them out with several pranks, mainly the ones that included turning Jerome's hair pink.

She had also been talking to Hermione and Ginny in the evenings. Hermione had told Phoenix and Ginny all about what happened with Ron, though she said she was extremely mad at Ron it appeared they had both come to an unspoken agreement to forget about their argument. Though Phoenix believed this was to prevent aggravating Harry with their bickering, she could recall last only last year when Ron and Hermione had fallen out for a few weeks because Crookshanks had killed his rat, Scabbers.

On the last day of the Christmas holidays, Phoenix was finalising her Transfiguration essay on the Principles of Re-Materialisation along with Alicia, Angelina and Lee. It seemed that Fred had either already completed this essay (though Phoenix greatly doubted this) or he simply was not going to complete, as he and George were nowhere to be seen.

"I should be worried," said Angelina nonchalantly, tapping her quill against her chin. "I haven't seen Fred or George since lunch,"

"Let's just saviour the peace and quiet," said Alicia, rolling up her now finished essay and stretching. "That essay took all the energy out of me, night everyone."

Lee went to bed shortly after, leaving Angelina and Phoenix in the empty common room. Angelina had already completed her essay and said that she was waiting for Phoenix to complete hers, though Phoenix knew that really she was waiting for Fred to come back from whatever he was off doing with George.

"Where the bloody hell are they?" Angelina asked for what felt like the hundredth time that night.

"They're probably just in the kitchens," Phoenix sighed, "Maybe they've got a detention again. Merlin knows what those two get up to."

Angelina frowned, "I hate those idiots sometimes. Fred's a slightly bigger idiot however."

"Mhm, I think you're obliged to say that Ange," Phoenix nodded slowly, turning a page in her copy of Guide to Advanced Transfiguration. "It's sort of in their nature to be a pair of idiots–"

"Phoenix–"

"That's no way–"

"To talk about–"

"Your best friends!"

Fred and George had just entered through the portrait hall; they were both grinning widely and each carrying their broomstick.

"There you are!" Angelina jumped to her feet and marched over to Fred, prodding his chest with her finger and surveying him. "Where the ruddy hell have you been?!"

"I missed you too love," Fred grinned, ducking as Angelina made to swat him around the head.

"We decided to ride our brooms for a bit," said George, shouldering his broom.

"And then we thought–"

"Well, you rather thought,"

"That we should ask the two people who miss Quidditch just as much as us to come along," said Fred, slinging his arm around Angelina's shoulder and pulling her towards him. "So how about it?"

"Yes!" Angelina looked gleeful as she jumped to her feet. "Phoenix, are you coming?"

Phoenix looked longingly towards the door to the girls dormitory where her broomstick lay in the bottom of her trunk, then she turned back to look back down at her essay. "I have to finish this essay or McGonagall will have my head on a stick,"

"What a pretty little stick that would be," George smirked as Phoenix flushed rouge. "But Pixy," George drawls, taking a seat beside her and pulling her incomplete essay easily out of her hands. "You have a free period tomorrow before Transfiguration, just finish it then."

She bit her lip before she finally nodded; George was probably going to drag her there anyway so he would not have to be alone with Fred and Angelina.

Phoenix and Angelina raced to retrieve their brooms from their trunks; this had been with difficulty since Alicia was such a light sleeper. Once they had retrieved their brooms they, along with Fred and George, tiptoed through the deserted halls of the castle, they were all lucky that it was so deserted because if they were caught, Filch would probably hang them all by their ankles. They walked until they all reached the entrance hall and stood in front of the oak front doors, which Fred gladly pushed open, very quietly.

"I think we should cast Disillusionment Charms on the way back," said Phoenix in a whisper as they silently entered the Gryffindor changing rooms. "I almost forgot how badly this place smells,"

"Like a whole lot of sweat and Oliver Wood's tears," said George reminiscently, a small smile dancing across his face.

"I miss Quidditch," Angelina sighed as they walked onto the dark, snow-covered pitch.

"Don't we all," said Fred, swinging a leg over his broom and grinning at Angelina. "Race you around the Gryffindor stands." With that, Fred zoomed off with Angelina following closely behind, shouting about how she was going to kick his arse.

"They are a couple of children," George chuckled, jumping easily onto his broomstick and hovering a foot above the ground, waiting for Phoenix while she mounted her broom.

"Like yourself and Fred are any more mature," Phoenix smirked as she kicked off from the ground.

As soon as Phoenix's feet left the ground, she felt as if all the worries she had been having over the past few weeks had left her, all the thoughts about her mother, her father, Jerome and everything she had been thinking over about George. The wind blew through her now pastel blue hair and the cold night air hit her face. She could hear George zooming along beside her and turned to talk to him.

"I've forgotten how much I missed flying!" She called over to him as they both rocketed towards the starry night sky at an incredible speed.

"It's like we're free!" George yelled as he and Phoenix both began to slow down so that they were now gliding slowly through the air beside each other.

Phoenix smiled and then stared up at the sky, looking around at the different stars dotted around the black sky. "Do you ever wish you could just touch the stars?" She had now stopped in mid-air completely as George slowly circled her before he too stopped. He looked at Phoenix before he mimicked her and stared up at the sky, smiling, he didn't have to say anything for Phoenix to know his answer.

"We should fly over the school," said George as Angelina and Fred zoomed past them, moving both George and Phoenix back a few inches. "It looks so pretty at night."

George was right. The castle was lit up a several few lights and was illuminated beautifully by the moonlight. She and George soared around the castles many turrets and towers.

"Oi! You two!"

They came to a halt as Fred and Angelina flew towards them, Angelina looked delighted, which was a look that Phoenix associated with her and flying. Angelina Johnson was one very determined flyer and teammate, Phoenix would not be surprised if Angelina was given the head captainship next year.

"Fancy a little race?" Fred asked with a smirk.

"You're on lovebirds," George replied, his smirk mirroring Fred's. "First one to finish a lap of the castle wins! Last one there has to kiss Lee!"

Phoenix didn't need to be told twice, before George even finished his sentence, she zoomed off around the Astronomy Tower, Angelina and George (it appeared Fred had been momentarily distracted by an owl that had just flew by) and leaned down on her broom handle, immediately increasing her speed

"You're cheating Phoenix!" George bellowed.

"Well I for one am not kissing Lee!" she called back.

Phoenix didn't end up losing the race, nor did she win. Not so surprisingly, Angelina won and Fred came last and was forced to carry all of their brooms all the way up to Gryffindor tower. But when they finally reached the seventh floor corridor, Fred, who had their broomsticks on his shoulder and his other arm around Angelina, very suddenly stopped in his tracks.

"It's Filch!" Fred hissed, grabbing Angelina's hand and dragging her towards the Fat Lady's corridor.

Phoenix, whose heart was beating at an alarming speed, made to follow them, but suddenly Filch's shadow could be seen on the other side of the corridor. If they followed Fred and Angelina now they'd be caught, red handed.

"Shite!" Phoenix exclaimed, looking wild-eyed at George. "What do we do?"

"In here," George grabbed her wrist and dragged her into a very dark, very small broom cupboard.

"Always a gentleman Weasley," she whispered but George hushed her, clamping his hand over her mouth. They stood silently, so close together that Phoenix could once again feel his heartbeat through his shirt. One of his hands was wound around her waist to keep them from falling over several buckets, the other dropped limply from her mouth to also land upon her waist, which only awoke the warm, electric feeling in her stomach once again.

"Come on my sweet," Filch's voice travelled past the door of the broom cupboard as he spoke to his beloved cat, Ms. Norris. Phoenix grabbed tightly onto George's shirt, terrified that she would get caught, after hours, looking out of breath in a broom cupboard, with a boy. That would be a tight spot to get out of.

"If we get caught in here…" Phoenix whispered, looking up at George through the darkness.

"Don't worry my sweet," George whispered in a perfect imitation of Filch's wheezy voice, Phoenix had to bite down on her hand to stop herself from snorting with laughter.

"Is it safe to go out yet?" Phoenix asked, straining her ears to listen to any noise from the corridor outside.

"I think so–"

"Severus," said a fruity voice and Phoenix recognised the voice to be Karkaroff's. "It is still burning, it must mean–"

"It doesn't mean anything!" Snape snapped, his tone was harsh, irritant. "Don't overthink these things Igor, it means nothing!"

"I am not overthinking Severus!" Karkaroff said harshly, "And that girl is here… If she knows… She vould put me in danger!"

"But she doesn't know Igor so don't pester me about your problems!" Their voices were becoming more distant and their footsteps finally fading.

Phoenix and George stood still in the broom cupboard against each other, their hearts both still racing. They could barely move without upsetting several buckets and shelves.

"We shouldn't go back out yet," George breathed, his hot breath against her forehead which made the nervousness in her stomach only increase. "Peeves could be following Snape."

"Yeah," Phoenix replied just as quiet, trying not to lose her balance. She bit her lip and gripped onto George's arms and looked up at him once again; she could just make out his face staring down at her. "What were they talking about you reckon?"

"I have no idea," George whispered. "Snape doesn't sound too happy though…"

"He never sounds happy," said Phoenix and it was difficult to keep their laughter quiet. "Do you think Angelina and Fred managed to get away?"

"I dunno," he shrugged his shoulders. "Hope they have if Fred gets Angelina a detention she'll skin him alive."

Phoenix once again stifled a laugh and then shuffled her feet ever so slightly so she was moving closer towards the door to listen if anyone else was walking down the corridor.

"Do you still think we should leave yet?" Phoenix asked George tentatively, holding on more tightly to the front of his robes.

"Well you don't really want to be stuck in this broom cupboard with me all night do you?" George chuckled.

This question however only made Phoenix's face grow a bright red and she was thankful that the cupboard was so dark so George could not see it. "I-I-I, well… you're not Lee," her voice was hardly a whisper and George had to lean down to hear her.

"Are you saying that you wouldn't mind be stuck in broom cupboard with me all night Miss Lancaster?"

Phoenix giggled and leaned her back against the door of the cupboard. "I'm not saying that at all you baboon," she playfully slapped him around the head. "I'm saying that at least you're not Lee."

"Especially since I don't grab your arse,"

"Doesn't mean you don't think about it."

It all happened at once. George's head leaned down even further so that Phoenix could feel his hot breath on her face. Phoenix's foot then suddenly gave way and she stumbled backwards. She grabbed onto the front of George's robes as together they both tumbled out of the broom cupboard.

"Shite," they both exclaimed as the door banged loudly against the stone wall, echoing around the corridor.

"We should run," said George, whose face and ears were so red that it clashed terribly with his flaming red hair.

"Good idea," Phoenix breathed, her hair almost as red as George's. They raced down the corridors until they reached the end of the Fat Lady's corridor.

"Ooooo did Little Miss Lancaster and Mister Weasley just tumble out of a broom cupboard?"

"Peeves that was not what it looked like!" Phoenix hissed, though she felt if Peeves the Poltergeist had caught her and George falling out of a broom cupboard, red faced and clothes rather scruffy, then there was no way to avoid his snide comments.

Peeves did a few loop-the-loops through the air before he smiled devilishly at her, "Oooooo it was exactly what it looked Little Miss Lancaster,"

"If you must know Peeves," said George, his eyes now darting around the corridor for any signs of Filch. "We were hiding from Filch,"

Peeves let out a loud cackle, "Georgie loves Phoenix! Georgie loves Phoenix!"

Phoenix heard the distant sounds of Filch called to Ms. Norris and she hastily turned round to Peeves and interrupted his little sing-song, "Peeves, we're in a bit of a rush,"

"Could you distract Filch by breaking something?" George asked desperately. Being one of the school's most famous and best loved prankster did have its advantages, especially being on good terms, even friends, with the school's poltergeist – Fred and George could get Peeves to do a great deal more than most students and even Professors.

The poltergeist's smile grew even wider, "Anything for a fellow mischief maker." He zoomed off into the wall beside them and only a few moments later, they heard several loud crashes and clunks, clearly Peeves had just knocked over a few suits of armour.

Phoenix, still feeling mortified that Peeves had caught her and George in such a state, knew that the poltergeist was definitely not going to let the situation slid and she also knew that by the following morning the entire school would know that she and George Weasley had ended up in a broom cupboard at one in the morning.

"What took you so long?" Angelina asked immediately when Phoenix entered the girl's dormitory.

Alicia gave a loud snore and Phoenix tiptoed over to Angelina and sat down at the foot of her bed. "We hid in a broom cupboard," she whispered.

"A broom cupboard?" Angelina looked torn between amusement and curiosity. "It took you almost ten minutes to get out of a broom cupboard? Come on Phoenix, I thought you knew better than that."

"We ran into Peeves–"

"That's not that bad. Peeves actually likes George... and Fred for that matter."

Phoenix sighed and looked down at her hands, feeling completely embarrassed that she even had to bring this up, with Angelina of all people, "Peeves saw us falling out of the broom cupboard."

"Why did you fall out of the –"

"George tried kiss to me!"

If it was possible, Angelina's jaw could have touched the floor. If there were not three other girls in their dormitory, Phoenix was sure that Angelina would have screamed down Gryffindor Tower.

"He did what? Did you kiss back? Is he a good kisser? I've always thought he'd be a good kisser… he's got like really nice lips for a boy – though don't tell Fred that I said–"

"I said he tried to kiss me!" Phoenix cut across her. "I sort of lost my balance–"

"Wait, wait," Angelina held up her hands, now looking rather concerned. "Peeves caught you and George falling out of a broom cupboard?"

"Yes, you do speak English don't you?"

"Oh this is bad," Angelina shook her head, looking horrified. "Please tell me you weren't blushing…"

"Well… We were both kind of a little flustered."

"And your clothes were all prime and proper…"

"I was grabbing onto his shirt so that I didn't fall over. They should really make bigger broom cupboards–"

"And you weren't out of breath or anything…"

"We had to run! I didn't really want to get a detention from Filch…"

"This is going to be all over the school Phoenix," Angelina exclaimed, now struggling to keep her voice in a whisper. "Peeves isn't going to pass the opportunity to tell anyone and everyone that it looked as though you and George were snogging in bloody broom cupboard…"

"This is so embarrassing," Phoenix mumbled. "I mean I would rather have been caught by Filch, at least then maybe the whole school would not have found out! Or maybe just being skinned alive or something would be better than facing the embarrassment of people thinking that I snog my best friend in a broom cupboa–"

"Would you have kissed him back?"

"Sorry?"

Angelina sighed, "Would you have kissed him back?" She repeated, staring at Phoenix expectantly.

"I-I-I don't know–"

"Be honest," said Angelina, sitting up taller in her bed and patting Phoenix's knee. "I'm your best friend and you can talk to me about anything. Apart from the dirty of course that's completely personal."

Phoenix didn't know the answer herself. There was no way people would believe her that nothing happened. But that wasn't completely true was it, she thought. George had almost kissed her. If she had not lost her balance, he would have kissed her. At this, Phoenix felt almost… disappointed. Was she actually cursing herself being a klutz and ruining that almost-kiss? Did she actually want George to kiss her? Would she have even kissed George back? Would she have enjoyed it? Would it make her confused thoughts towards her best friend even more complex? Would it make them all crystal clear?

"Ange… I honestly have no idea. I'm still confused as to whether or not I actually like George more as a friend. He's my best friend and I'm just scared that if I develop these feelings for him it will completely ruin our friendship… and I couldn't imagine losing George."

Angelina looked sympathetically at Phoenix whose hair was a pale blonde. "It's okay to be scared of your feelings Phoenix. When I first realised that I had all these mushy feelings for Fred I was mortified,"

Phoenix grimaced; she found it difficult to believe that Angelina Johnson would ever be even remotely mortified, "Really?"

"I'm being serious for once don't smile!" Angelina hit Phoenix's arm before continuing. "Anyway I was mortified because he was one of my closest friends and in addition to that he was on my Quidditch team," Phoenix stopped herself from snorting with laughter, "But then… it was just when we had won the Quidditch Cup last year and I had never felt any happier. All of a sudden, Fred runs up to me and tackles me to the ground with a hug and in that moment I forgot all the worries that I had about him."

"How?"

"It was just one of those moments when you realise that no matter how hard you try to hold back your feelings… you just can't because feelings always take over. What I'm trying to say is that you can't ignore these feelings from George because either it's going to hit you like a ton of bricks or it's going to be too late."

Phoenix laughed heartedly, she gave Angelina a small smile before saying, "You give good advice Ange,"

"I've never been told that before," Angelina looked beamed. "I usually just tell people to stop being a pansy."

The following morning on the very first day of the new term, a rather pleasant surprise awaited the sixth years on the bulletin board in the Gryffindor common room.

APPARITION LESSONS

If you are seventeen years of age, or will turn seventeen on or before the 31st August next, you are eligible for a twelve-week course of Apparition Lessons from a Ministry of Magic Apparition instructor.
Please sign below if you would like to participate.
Cost: 12 Galleons.

"I completely forgot about we'll be able to Apparate this year!" said Fred, who looked ecstatic at the prospect of Apparition as they all grouped around the large sign that had been pinned up overnight.

"Wonder who will get splinched first," said George thoughtfully, this only made Phoenix shudder. Splinching was a rather horrific outcome when somebody Apparates unsuccessfully. It was so horrific because it was when somebody, quite literally, leaves part of themselves behind. Cecilia had once told Phoenix about an old friend of hers who had lost a large part of her arm when she had tried Apparate without a license.

"Probably Phoenix," Lee said, patting Phoenix's shoulder, grinning broodily. "She's got two left feet."

"Oh shut up Lee," Phoenix shot back, her hair an icy blue, "I hope you get splinched." Phoenix did not mean this obviously, she would not wish splinching upon her worst enemy.

Lee did not reply to this, he simply shrugged and winked at her.

"We'll hopefully do better than Charlie during his test," said Fred, as they exited out of the portrait hole. "He had to take his test twice."

"Why?" Lee asked.

"He failed his first test," said George. "He had Apparated five miles from where he was meant to be."

"Right on top of some poor old woman doing her shopping," said Fred, a large smile on his face.

"Imagine all the women I could land on top on when Apparating," said Lee with a far-away look upon his face. "I could even Apparate into the girls dormitory and–"

"Firstly Lee if you ever appeared in our dormitory we would probably throw you out of the window," said Phoenix, looking at Lee with a menacing look upon her face. "Secondly, you can't Apparate or Disapparate within the Hogwarts grounds,"

Lee scoffed, "Why is it that all of my dreams must be shot down?"

Like she had expected, Peeves had told nearly every student he passed that he had witnessed Phoenix and George coming out of a broom cupboard past curfew. It was Phoenix's first experience with being on the rumour mill and she despised every minute of it. She had to grit her teeth every time somebody would make cat call at her and some boys even had the nerve, which only included Lee Jordan, if they could have a snog in a broom cupboard.

"Merlin bloody sake Lee! We were hiding from Filch!" Phoenix exclaimed in an angry whisper at him during one of their early morning breaks. "Nothing happened between us!"

"So if it was you and I sneaking off after hours would you have hid in a broom cupboard with me?"

"I would rather be stuck in there with a Blast-Ended Skrewt."

"Damn. You're cold as ice," said Lee, winking at her before turning to George who was staring around the courtyard. "How the bloody hell did you manage to melt her icy exterior George?"

George raised an eyebrow at Lee, unlike Phoenix who had been subjected to cat-calls and snide comments all morning, George had been taking the whole Peeves and the broom cupboard situation rather well, in fact several boys had congratulated him on managing not getting caught, though admittedly it had been rather awkward between him and Phoenix all morning. "Phoenix doesn't have an icy exterior. She's telling the truth Lee, we were just in there to hide from Filch and we fell out."

"I've used that excuse before George," Lee smirked. "There isn't even a broom cupboard on the seventh floor,"

If the bell had not gone at that moment, Phoenix was sure that she would have throttled Lee with the hair tie around her wrist.

Phoenix still had to finish her Transfiguration essay so she made her way to the library by herself and sat down at a deserted table. She was thankful for solitude that she had gotten the first time that day, nobody to make a single comment about her and George's apparent goings-on in a broom cupboard.

"So I heard about you and George,"

"Cedric I have had it up to here with comments about that," she held her hand high up in the air and Cedric looked at her, simply amused.

He smiled before he sat down beside her. "Hey don't fret." He placed a few books down; most Phoenix noticed that the titles all had something to do with water, "People will forget about it once Peeves catches Cormac McLaggen doing the same thing,"

Phoenix made a face, "We weren't doing anything I swear!" When Cedric continued to look at her with disbelief on his face, she sighed, "We were hiding from Filch for Merlin's sake! And then I lost my balance–"

"What were you and George Weasley doing out of bed then?"

"We both went on a broom ride,"

"That doesn't at all sound like a romantic date."

"How is riding separate brooms romantic?"

Cedric snorted with laughter and shook his head, "Think about it Phoenix. A starry night sky, the castles little lights and the moonlight illuminating the grounds… it's even more romantic than the Astronomy Tower at night,"

"We were with Angelina and Fred–"

"So it was a double date?"

Phoenix scoffed and kicked Cedric's knee, a lot harder than she had intended, with her foot. "It wasn't even a date Cedric, drop it."

Reluctantly, as Phoenix knew that Cedric would, he didn't question her further. She completed her essay twenty minutes before the bell would ring for lunch and took the time in pestering Cedric with questions about the books. By the time the bell had finally rung, he had told her that the Second Task, which was due to take place on February 24th, would be an underwater task. Phoenix had recommended the bubblehead charm and he left in the opposite direction to ask Professor Flitwick for a spare classroom to practise in, Phoenix did recommend jokingly jumping in the Black Lake but Cedric had shot that down.

"Did you all hear about Hagrid?"

Were the first words Angelina Johnson greeted Phoenix with as she sat down in between Fred and George.

"No? What happened? Is it his Skrewts?"

Phoenix and George looked at one another before laughing; both still very clearly remembered the incident with Hagrid's Blast-Ended Skrewts.

"No – just… here read this,"

Angelina tossed a folded copy of today's Daily Prophet at Phoenix and the twins. Fred caught it and straightened it out; it was a large article alongside a moving photograph of Hagrid, who looked sly, much unlike himself.

DUMBLEDORE'S GIANT MISTAKE

Albus Dumbledore, eccentric Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, has never been afraid to make controversial staff appointments, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent. In September of this year, he hired Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, the notoriously jinx-happy ex-Auror, to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts, a decision that caused many raised eyebrows at the Ministry of Magic, given Moody's well-known habit of attacking anybody who makes a sudden movement in his presence. Mad-Eye Moody, however, looks responsible and kindly when set beside the part-human Dumbledore employs to teach Care of Magical Creatures.

Rubeus Hagrid, who admits to being expelled from Hogwarts in his third year, has enjoyed the position of gamekeeper at the school ever since, a job secured for him by Dumbledore. Last year, however, Hagrid used his mysterious influence over the headmaster to secure the additional post of Care of Magical Creatures teacher, over the heads of many better-qualified candidates.

An alarmingly large and ferocious-looking man, Hagrid has been using his newfound authority to terrify the students in his care with a succession of horrific creatures. While Dumbledore turns a blind eye, Hagrid has maimed several pupils during a series of lessons that many admit to being "very frightening."

"I was attacked by a hippogriff, and my friend Vincent Crabbe got a bad bite off a flobberworm," says Draco Malfoy, a fourth-year student. "We all hate Hagrid, but we're just too scared to say anything."

"A flobberworm?" George exclaimed through gales of laughter. "They don't even have teeth! Bloody pieces of–"

"George! Just read the bloody paper!"

Hagrid has no intention of ceasing his campaign of intimidation, however. In conversation with a Daily Prophet reporter last month, he admitted breeding creatures he has dubbed 'Blast-Ended Skrewts,' highly dangerous crosses between manti-cores and fire-crabs. The creation of new breeds of magical creature is, of course, an activity usually closely observed by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Hagrid, however, considers himself to be above such petty restrictions.

"I was just having some fun," he says, before hastily changing the subject.

As if this were not enough, the Daily Prophet has now unearthed evidence that Hagrid is not - as he has always pretended - a pure-blood wizard. He is not, in fact, even pure human. His mother, we can exclusively reveal, is none other than the giantess Fridwulfa, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.

"Hagrid's half-giant?!" Fred exclaimed in a loud whisper.

"How does a giant and a wizard do that?" said Lee, he looked perplexed and was staring into space, probably wondering how a giant and a wizard could possibly do it.

Bloodthirsty and brutal, the giants brought themselves to the point of extinction by warring amongst themselves during the last century. The handful that remained joined the ranks of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and were responsible for some of the worst mass Muggle killings of his reign of terror.

While many of the giants who served He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named were killed by Aurors working against the Dark Side, Fridwulfa was not among them. It is possible she escaped to one of the giant communities still existing in foreign mountain ranges. If his antics during Care of Magical Creatures lessons are any guide, however, Fridwulfa's son appears to have inherited her brutal nature.

"Brutal nature?" Phoenix almost shouted. "Since when has Hagrid had a brutal nature? He called his bloody three headed dog Fluffy!"

In a bizarre twist, Hagrid is reputed to have developed a close friendship with the boy who brought around You-Know-Who's fall from power - thereby driving Hagrid's own mother, like the rest of You-Know-Who's supporters, into hiding. Perhaps Harry Potter is unaware of the unpleasant truth about his large friend - but Albus Dumbledore surely has a duty to ensure that Harry Potter, along with his fellow students, is warned about the dangers of associating with part-giants.

"Who wrote this?" George exclaimed in an angry voice.

Phoenix felt just as angry, her eyes darkened as she saw the name written at the very bottom of the article. "Rita bloody Skeeter."

"Hagrid isn't taking it too well," Angelina sighed, "Professor Grubbly-Plank was taking our lesson instead today."

"How is Rita Skeeter talking to the Slytherins?" Phoenix wondered, passing the newspaper back to Angelina. "After that bloody article about Harry and how he apparently had found love with Hermione, I thought she had been banned!"

Alicia looked thoughtful for moment before she said, "Maybe she sneaks into the school somehow? There are plenty of secret passages into the castle."

"But most of them are blocked," said Phoenix. Being best friends with Fred and George Weasley gave you extensive knowledge of all the castles secret passages. "There are only two that aren't; one is planted underneath the Whomping Willow and the other is behind the statue of the One-Eyed Witch, Gunhilda of Gorsemoor."

"What if she knew about them?" said Angelina, her tone skeptical. "You don't know maybe Rita Skeeter knows just as much of the school's secret passages as you three do!"

Fred and George looked at her, affronted.

"If you weren't such a terrific kisser I would be having doubts about you," said Fred, looking at Angelina with complete seriousness on his face.

"Ha-ha funny."

"She does have a point you know," Phoenix reasoned, ignoring the flabbergasted looks on Fred and George's faces. "I mean you didn't find all those secret passages by yourself did you?" She smirked knowingly; she knew that she was right. Fred and George had not singlehandedly discovered all those passages. In their first year they had found a trusted piece of parchment that they later discovered to be Marauder's Map, by the second week of discovering it they had it completely memorised.

"It was just a little bit of help from Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs," whispered George, winking at her.

"CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Moody roared from the very front of the classroom. Phoenix and Angelina winced as Moody's scarred hand slammed against their desk with an incredibly loud bang. When his hand was withdrawn, a large dent had been made there.

"Oh Godric," Angelina mumbled. "When you become an Auror Phoenix please don't go that barmy,"

"I can't promise anything," Phoenix confessed in a whisper. She and Angelina snorted with silent laughter, their faces remaining as rigid as they could manage.

"Constant vigilance is important… any second you could be attacked. There could be an axe man waiting outside this classroom to kill all of you."

"That's comforting," Phoenix heard Fred whisper to George.

This was how Moody liked to end their classes, making his students worry that they were about to be murdered as soon as they left the room. Phoenix was beginning to find it rather amusing rather than when they had had their first lesson and she found it down right terrifying.

"At least we don't have homework today," Angelina concluded at the end of the lesson when they were all packing away their notes and in Fred and George's case, several comical and rather detailed drawings of dementors being hung, drawn and quartered. "I don't think I could handle one more piece of homework… but we have Charms next so there goes my dream of an early night."

"You weren't going to have an early night anyway," Fred winked at his furiously blushing girlfriend.

"Could you tell Professor Flitwick that I'm going to be late?" Phoenix asked Angelina, who looked at her, perplexed and still bright red. "I have to ask Professor Moody something."

"Do you want me to wait for you?" said George, he looked curious and rubbed the back of his neck before saying. "You know, in case there is any crazy axe men waiting outside for you… I could hold them off for you."

She giggled, shaking her head. "No… its fine, I don't want to make you late for Charms."

"You know I don't mind being late," he shrugged and nudged her with his elbow. "In fact I very much enjoy being late."

Phoenix laughed and pushed him towards Angelina and Fred's retreating backs, "Just go." He threw Phoenix a lasting gaze before he left the classroom, leaving her in front of Moody's desk as the Professor drank a long swig from his hip flask. "Professor…" Moody started and Phoenix was half expecting him to pull out his wand and curse her but he didn't, his magical eye whirled around in its socket before it, along with his real eye, fixed upon her.

"Lancaster," he barked. "Your essay on the Imperious Curse was superb by the way."

"Thanks… I got most of the information on it from my step-brother, William's book that he had when he was training to be an Auror…"

"You'll do great as an Auror girl," said Moody, clunking towards his desk to collect several papers. "Now what do you want? Don't you have a class to go to?"

"Yes but I really needed to ask you something…" Phoenix started in a tentative voice. Moody looked up at her, both eyes fixed directly on her as she gulped.

"Do you know anything about my mother's murder?"

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