Dawn light flashed off the placid ocean waves, painting the deep blue-and-green a vivid gold that lapped at the sand, painting abstract designs.
Bare feet wiggling as the cool water reached up to her toes, Nasrin smiled as Star leapt from the water with a laugh, twisting so her pursuers-a pair of Basculin that loved playing tag-smacked into each other instead of catching her between them.
Squeakers giggled as they splashed back into the water, Star bouncing on a water bubble and laughing uproariously until a Water Gun from behind startled her into a face-plant through the water, the offending Wooper smiling mischievously.
At this point, Squeakers could hardly breathe, and Nasrin bit her lip to keep from smiling as Star resurfaced, firing a Bubblebeam at her new playmate in retaliation.
As water and bubbles flew between the ever-growing crowd of Water-types, Nasrin retreated a few feet up the beach to keep from being thoroughly soaked, a gasping Squeakers cradled in the crook of one arm.
Snow slit one eye open, cool air misting off her fur, and Scooby peeked over the rim of his newest hole as the half-Gem placed Squeakers safely in Snow's fur.
Brushing off the seat of her shorts, she turned to watch a triumphant Star approach, belting a victory-song until Scooby bowled her over with enthusiastic yips and licks.
Nasrin sat with Snow and Squeakers, smothering her grin with one hand, as Star wrestled her friend over in a spray of sand.
They had all been training hard at Pearl's insistence, even Squeakers, and the time off was much appreciated.
Squeakers let out a squeak in greeting as the half-Gem turned, perking up at the sight of Garnet and her Xatu on the boardwalk.
"It's time to go."
Star yipped in excitement at this declaration, shoving Scooby's face into the sand in the process of leaping up to Nasrin's shoulder as their girl blurred to Garnet's side, Squeakers safely tucked into the front of her 'Sarcasm Is My Language' crop top.
A smile turned the corner of Garnet's mouth, and Xatu spread a long-feathered wing to gather Snow and Scooby close, gaze unfocused in the middle-distance.
Nasrin figured that long-distance teleportation was like how Dorothy must have felt trapped in that hurricane to Oz, disoriented and a touch nauseous from the rapid spinning.
Only years of experience with the warp pad kept her from being sick or falling over once they landed, and Snow shook out her fur as Scooby stumbled into their trainer's ankle, dizzy.
Nasrin skipped to catch up with Garnet, the short grass and widely-spaced trees reducing their risk of accidentally tripping over any wild Pokemon and starting a battle, while the icy Vulpix straightened out her canine companion and followed.
When the fusion paused just behind the tree line, Xatu a statue on her righthand side, she pulled up short, waiting with baited breath.
Scooby perked up, nearly knocking into Snow, and Garnet tipped her head in a nod.
Harry yelped as Fred and George's original birthday song was interrupted by a flying hug, spinning unsteadily to absorb the impact.
Squeakers squealed at the ride, waving his little arms, and Nasrin beamed, giggles bubbling up from the glow in her Gem.
"Nazz?" He realized, hands dropping to her hips.
"Happy birthday!" The half-Gem chirped, bouncing up to press a kiss to his cheek.
Star hopped to his shoulder, already chattering away, as Harry's own Pokemon released themselves to greet old friends.
Eevee dove forward, snagging Scooby's tail, and the Rockruff yelped before following his playmate in circles in an attempt at revenge, barking up a storm.
Togepi trilled in delight, matching Squeaker's high-pitched squeaks, as the two baby Pokemon came together in the most adorable hug, and Snow gave Ludwig a nod in greeting, tails rustling with ice chips as the Litwick smiled back.
"Hi, Ron." Nasrin greeted, pulling the startled redhead into a one-armed hug before offering the twins and their pair of Raticate a smile. "Hey, Fred. Hey, George."
"What, no hug?" Fred whined, pouting.
"I'm sensing favoritism here, brother."
"As do I, brother."
Sticking out her tongue at their teasing, she turned to wave in hello to an amused Remus Lupin, crouching to scratch his Zorua, Moony, behind the ears.
"Everybody, this is Garnet." The half-Gem introduced, apparently oblivious to the boys' wide-eyed stares as they looked up to meet Garnet's face. "Garnet, these are my friends Harry and Ron, and my teammates Fred and George, and Harry's guardian, Remus Lupin."
The Fusion inclined her head, amusement hidden behind her blank expression and trademark visor.
"It's an honor to meet you." Remus voiced, dipping his head respectfully.
Scooping up Squeakers and Togepi, Nasrin followed as Fred and George began leading their group into Tor Town, her Gem's glow dancing off the old wooden sign that marks its boundary line.
"Your Raticate are pretty well-trained." Harry noted, watching as the Weasley Twin's Mouse Pokemon scurried about.
George nodded, clapping a hand on his younger brother's shoulder.
"Don't blame Ronny here for Scabbers. He just got the bad draw, that's all. I doubt even dad could get that one to behave."
"Harry was telling me about that." Remus noted, looking to Ron. "I would have thought your father would have given you a Rattata. That's what he started with, and his father before him."
"I was supposed to get a Rattata, but at the last minute, dad got a surprise order from Kalos for a dozen, so any that could have been mine got shipped off." Ron explained, letting out a gusty sigh. "He couldn't give me one of the breeding pairs of Raticate, so I got stuck with Scabbers."
"He doesn't breed?" Garnet voiced as the path curved, the faint calls of street vendors up ahead.
"Dad got him a couple years ago real cheap. He was one of the last Pokemon to be sold by the Ministry. Scabbers likes to just lie around and doesn't interact with any of the other couples." The youngest Weasley boy answered, patting the Raticate's Poke Ball. "It's okay, though. He can stay in there as long as he wants now that I have Cubchoo! And maybe this year, I'll catch an Emolga!"
"Must you copy us, little brother?" Fred wondered. "We're the ones with the Electric mice, not you. Why not a nice Spearow?"
"No way! Emolga is the coolest, and I'm so catching one this year! It has lightning attacks and can fly!"
Squeakers chittered to Togepi huffily, as if informing her that he was actually the coolest, and Snow giggled as the Spike Ball Pokemon patted her friend's head in consoling agreement.
Tor Town looked as if it was straight out of a storybook, all weather-beaten wood and brick, with every shop proclaiming they had been open fifty, seventy, over a hundred years being run by the same family.
Even some of the shopkeepers and vendors wore old styles, vests and bowties and long dresses, to keep up the illusion even with the computer banks and modern Pokemon Center.
A Ponyta trotted by, pulling a wagon full of tourists, and Star leaned over Harry's shoulder to catch sight of a couple riding past on a tandem bicycle as Scooby led Eevee in a chase around an impassive Xatu.
"Tor Town wasn't always this busy." Remus commented, gesturing to the many businessmen and tourists going up and down the brick-lined street. "It lies right on the coast of Avalon, and the Guinevere River splits a mile north of here and circles the town. That lets trainers from the north and those coming from other regions on cruise ships to stop here instead of taking the more pricey trains in Galahad. In the old days, you'd get that traffic, but they mostly passed through. About sixty years ago, though, there was this fad that rolled through Avalon where adult trainers would go back through all the cities and towns they had traveled to get their Gym Badges. Now, it wasn't all that uncommon to go to Galahad City or Percival, but Tor Town didn't get a lot of repeat foot traffic, and when these adults came back and remembered the first city that started their journey…Suddenly an industry popped up."
"Tell that to some of the Gym Leaders, though!" Ron huffed. "They still look down on us and call us backwater! We have our own Gauntlet team, for Merlin's sake."
Nasrin was mid-turn, about to demand names, when the Tor Town Gym came into view and apparently stunned both her and Harry speechless.
"Ain't she amazing?" Ron voiced, obviously proud.
The patchwork tower loomed over every other building in town, each level a different point in history and slightly off-center, like a toddler's building block tower.
"Don't worry, it's completely safe." Remus assured them, low enough so the Weasley's would not hear as Garnet tilted her head back to take the whole Gym in quietly. "I had a panic attack the first moment I saw it. The Gym, thank Merlin, is in the basement, but Arthur invited us to the very top to meet the family."
"Not liking this birthday surprise anymore, Remus." Harry gulped, shoulder bumping against Nasrin's as Scooby and Eevee pressed close in comfort.
"The building looks like that because there's a hollow concrete support running right through the middle of it." Remus explained, laughing. "It's based on Sprout Tower over in Johto, and that thing has been standing for years."
Garnet shrugged at her charge's uncertain look, as did Xatu, and Ludwig muttered from his spot on Nasrin's shoulder as Snow scoffed.
"Hello, Remus!" Arthur Weasley greeted as he hustled out of the Gym, shaking hands with the Gym Evaluator. "I'm glad this isn't an official visit!"
"Have something I shouldn't see in there, Arthur?" Remus joked.
"Oh, no no no!" The Weasley patriarch stammered, going red. "I merely meant-"
"I'm just pulling your leg, Arthur. No need to worry."
Calming himself, Arthur turned to Garnet and smiled.
"I'm happy to see you again, Garnet. It's been a long time."
"So it has." She acknowledged. "You haven't changed a bit."
Arthur beamed at that, and gestured for the group to follow him into the Gym, a skip in his step.
"Come on, come on, no need to stand out there in this heat! Normally we get a nice stiff sea breeze coming out of the south, but today it's been just stifling."
Judging by Fred and George's pantomime, the real reason for their father's suffering was all the extra weight, though it did not slow him down in the slightest.
The lobby was not overly large, barely the size of a Hogwarts classroom, a receptionist desk with a display board opposite the door and chairs ringing the walls, LCD screens sitting above each one.
A few people were already seated, with the trainers and more uniquely dressed individuals-like the nurse in full scrubs and the man dressed like a Pikachu-sitting under a lit screen of red, blue or green.
Harry and Nasrin turned to find a dark-haired man leaning against one of the pillars that bracketed the door, Poke Balls carved into the top.
"You want to be a champ? Of course you do! I can let you know-"
"They're with us, Franky." Arthur cut in.
"Oh, okay, Mister Weasley."
"An advisor." Garnet explained to the confused pair. "They enjoy hanging around Gyms to help trainers."
"Harry!" Molly Weasley greeted, rushing from behind the desk to wrap Harry up in a hug. "Oh, it's so good to see you!"
Star yelped, nearly being unseated from the force, and the half-Gem agreed with that sentiment when she was also swept in a bone-creaking embrace.
"You must be Nasrin! I'm so glad these boys have you to look after them."
A touch unsure, she returned the sentiment before Molly stepped back, glancing over them both.
"Look at you, Harry. You've grown so much since last year. Still a bit on the skinny side…"
"Mum, you think everybody is a bit on the skinny side." Fred pointed out, earning a pointed look.
"So, I suppose you're wondering about all of this?" She continued, making her way behind the desk as Arthur broke away from the group, flashing his ID card at the teleporter to warp away. "You've probably heard that every Gym also serves a secondary function in the community. Well, you've obviously seen the unusual design of this Gym. We ourselves only use this floor, the basement, the top floor, and the breeding paddock out back. The other floors we rent out to companies, people looking to put on parties…The town council even uses the fourth floor to hold their monthly meetings!"
Molly smiled, pointing back to the board.
"This here shows what's going on each day and on what floor. Now, since we had the lobby installed, Arthur had the brilliant idea to use it as part of his puzzle. You see those LCD screens? The black ones mean that whoever sitting under them is here to use one of the other floors. The lit up ones have our junior trainers and assistant Gym Leaders under them."
Harry and Nasrin shared a confused look, and even Star shrugged, just as uncertain as to why said trainers and assistants were dressed in costumes.
"When a trainer comes in, we give them a riddle, the difficulty of which depends on how many badges they have." Molly explained, taking a slip of paper from the mini-printer on her desk. "Since you have none, why don't you try your hand at a simple one?"
Harry accepted the paper, and both read the riddle quietly as Eevee and Scooby leapt up to crowd Star so they could see.
I am the color of Fire's Bane. No matter what, I am never the opposite of wrong. I like fruit, despite what some say.
After a quick look around at the studiously-uninterested trainers, and Nasrin nodded her head, staying put as Harry approached the one in full medical scrubs.
"Water-types beat Fire-types, and Water is represented by the color blue. The opposite of wrong is right, so the trainer is on the left, and an apple a day keeps the doctor away."
The 'doctor' nodded, handing over an ID card that matched Arthur's.
"Great job, mate!" Ron congratulated, patting him on the back.
"Thanks. So what if we had guessed wrong?" Harry wondered, looking over the card as Nasrin approached, Ludwig riding along on Snow's back.
"You would have had to battle one of the junior Gym Leaders." Molly answered, printing out another riddle. "We have different riddles every day, and they become more vague the more badges you have. Here's one for someone with seven badges."
Squeakers nabbed the paper, holding it up for them to read as Togepi chirped, confused.
Two away from the ice-melter.
"I don't get it. Ice-melter would mean Fire…"
"Remember the cycle?" Nasrin piped up, Scooby and Eevee clinging to her top. "Fire beats Grass, Grass beats Water, and Water beats Fire. Two away would mean going back on the cycle, so the answer would be Grass."
"But there are three trainers with green screens." Harry noted, glancing around.
"Exactly." Molly answered. "We feel that if you have seven badges, you deserve a challenge. You have to guess which trainer is the right one, and that will only earn you another riddle card."
"Sometimes dad lets me and George sit in." Fred confided, grinning. "That really confuses the challengers."
"I don't see why it would, since we look nothing alike." George voiced.
"Indeed. I'm clearly the prettier one."
"Clearly I'm the smarter one, since you don't realize I'm the prettier of the two of us."
"Why don't you give the card a try, Harry?" Molly stated, motioning towards the teleporter.
Harry swiped the card and stepped up, disappearing in a whirl, and Nasrin bounced over with the rest of their Pokemon in tow, pink light seeping through her top.
Harry, of course, had leapt at the chance to have a real Gym battle against Arthur, and the whole Weasley family converged on the sidelines with their guests, eager to see how things went.
"This will be an unofficial Gym battle." Percy declared, dressed in an official referee outfit as his Watchog looked over the room with a similar stern expression. "The opponents will each use one Pokemon. The challenger is allowed to use one Potion during the match, but is restricted from using any other medicines, berries or items. There will be no time limit. The match will end when a Pokemon is unable to continue battling, due to fainting or command of their trainer. Any attempt to interfere-"
"Oi, get on with it!" Ron called, earning a snicker from the twins and an amused huff from Garnet.
"Rattata, I choose you!"
"Ludwig, I choose you!"
The Candle Pokemon floated over from his perch on Snow, taking a position in front of his trainer as Nasrin set down the rest of their little pack, sitting down cross-legged so Scooby, Eevee and Star could curl up on her lap to watch.
"Whoa there!" She scolded playfully, plucking up Togepi as she tried to toddle over to the battlefield. "Harry and Ludwig are busy right now, sweetheart. Why don't you sit here with Snow and watch?"
The baby pouted stubbornly until a low murmur from Snow settled her, and the icy Vulpix curled around Togepi and Squeakers, fanning her tail to distract them.
"Rattata, use Bite!"
Ludwig cried out as the purple Mouse Pokemon bit down, shaking the other off as wax dribbled from a new cut on his head.
"We have lots of trainers bring in Ghost-types here, thinking that will give them an edge." Arthur pointed out. "Poor things are barely trained and half-mad out of their heads because they're dealing with a trainer that doesn't know how to care for them properly. Do you know what happens to those trainers, Harry? Nine times out of ten, they lose. They lose terribly."
The elder Weasley shook his head sadly at the memory.
"And they just look at me and wonder what they did wrong. Some of them don't do their research and forget that Normal-types are immune to Ghost moves, so the two types cancel each other out. I've seen trainers get the weirdest looks on their faces when they realize that their 'all-powerful Ghost' can't even do anything to my Rattata. For others…Well, they went out of their way to catch a Ghost-type, figuring that if it knows a Poison move or a Dark move they can beat me real easy."
Squeakers chittered to Togepi, easing her upset over Ludwig's injury, and Nasrin reached out to soothe both babies as Snow hummed comfortingly.
"There's a reason we raise Rattata, Harry. They're able to use several different attack types. Electric, for example. I have a Raticate that would make you think he was a Pikachu in disguise. Another one I love to use against Grass-types because of its Ice Beam and Blizzard attacks. This one is the child of my Ghost Breaker Raticate. He's been taught plenty of Dark moves that can take out any spooks. Now, those attacks might not be my Rattata's strongest, but since your Litwick is a Ghost-type, you lose out on your strongest attacks, just like Rattata."
"Yes and no." Harry replied calmly, a smile forming on Nasrin's face. "Ludwig is a Ghost-type, so that's why I picked him to fight your Normal-type Pokemon. But he's also a Fire-type, and that gives me a few other moves to try out! Ludwig, use Will-O-Wisp!"
With a cry, the Candle Pokemon threw ghostly orbs of light from his flame to cover the battlefield, and Rattata, almost in a trance, approached one and ended up with a bad burn on his snout.
"Rattata, use Bite again!"
Upset at being tricked, the Normal-type sunk his oversized teeth into Ludwig's head a second time, and Snow growled low.
"Now that he's close, bring him around and use Smog!"
Ripping the Mouse Pokemon off, Ludwig brought him close and expelled a thick, poisonous cloud right into his opponent's face before dropping him.
The poor Normal-type coughed, a touch dazed from the burn and the poison, but responded to his trainer's orders when prompted.
"Harry will win shortly." Remus noted, watching Nasrin from his peripheral as she whispered to the Pokemon in her lap, fingers playing with the spikes on Togepi's head so the Spike Ball Pokemon purred.
"What do you mean, Mister Lupin?" Ron wondered as Rattata performed another Bite. "My dad's Rattata nearly has Ludwig down for the count!"
This certainly seemed the case, since Ludwig was covered in cuts and growing sluggish compared to Rattata, but Nasrin shook her head.
"Rattata only knows Bite. But Ludwig-"
The Candle Pokemon caught his opponent and shoved him up at his flame, doing a good chunk of damage before Rattata pulled away.
"Knows three moves that aren't Ghost. Two of them are meant to chip away at health, and the other for direct damage. It's a blow-by-blow battle, since neither seem to know any moves to help them dodge."
"So doesn't that mean my dad will win?" The youngest male Weasley asked, brow furrowing. "I mean, Harry's my mate, too, but even he has to see this is all over. Ludwig is barely able to stand."
"You're forgetting something important." Garnet intoned, Xatu half-watching the battle with unfocused eyes.
"Ludwig, come here!" Harry called, pulling out a Potion as Ludwig floated over. "I'm using my one Potion now."
While the cuts were still present, the Litwick's strength was returned, and he responded to Rattata's next Bite with an Ember.
"Okay, so Ludwig is healed up." Ron noted. "But my dad's Rattata is still stronger than it with those Bite attacks."
"You're forgetting what I said." Nasrin reminded him, Star pinning the boy with an exasperated look.
"The burn." Ginny Weasley said quietly, peeking out from behind her mother.
But the burns had become too much, and Rattata fell over in a dead faint.
"Good work, Rattata." Arthur praised, recalling the Pokemon as Percy stepped forward.
"Harry Potter wins."
The boy whooped in joy for a moment before restraining himself, approaching Arthur to offer his hand to shake.
"Good battle, Mister Weasley. Sorry about the woohoo."
"No need to be embarrassed about celebrating, Harry." The Gym Leader assured with a laugh, accepting the offer. "You have every right to be thrilled. If this were a real Gym battle, I'd be handing you the Standard Badge and a TM. That was a clever strategy, and it worked out in your favor. Trust me, you did well and earned the right to celebrate."
"Still, it's very good that you remembered to thank your opponent." Remus pointed out as he approached. "There are many trainers I know that forget that while we call them 'battles', these challenges are rarely about anything more than testing ourselves. Thanking an opponent is the first step towards honoring them and their Pokemon, and forging a bond of friendship."
Nasrin trotted up to poor Ludwig with their Pokemon on her heels, praising him for doing such a good job and pressing a kiss to the Litwick's cheek that healed his wounds, much to Togepi's delight.
"Ron, why don't you show them around? Get yourselves some lunch, too." Arthur suggested, pulling out some Poke Dollars and turning towards his wife. "It'd a special occasion, and they'll still be back in time for the big birthday supper you're cooking up. Percy and I will be busy with trainers, anyway."
Molly relented after a moment, turning on the twins with a wagging finger.
"Yes, and Fred and George, you two will be giving the Raticate their baths."
"But mum!" Fred whined.
"Don't 'but, mum' me, young man! I know it was you two that switched out the waiting room chair pads with whoopee cushions."
"I told you she'd figure it out." George grumbled, elbowing his brother.
"Remus, Garnet, why don't you, Ginny and I go upstairs and have a cup of tea. Maybe you can tell Ginny a few of her favorite stories."
Garnet inclined her head in acceptance, reaching out to muss Nasrin's curls.
Nodding eagerly, the half-Gem rushed to join Harry and Ron back at the teleporter, Pokemon clinging to her shirt and laughing the whole way.
Honestly, what could go wrong?