The cool autumn air breezes through the door of the Leaky Cauldron, disturbing the already haphazardly stacked newspapers on the counter of the bar. A windswept pair steps in, closing the door and ending the rustling disturbance of the papers. None of the patrons acknowledge the pair, though many scowl into their drinks at the intrusion of cold air.
Flo, reassured by the lack of interest in her arrival, straightens her back as she and her uncle approach old Tom at the bar. Tom's eyes flash down at Flo for a moment before focusing in on Balthazar. Flo's own eyes narrow, giving the tender a cold stare, daring the old man to acknowledge her again. A sharp elbow from Balthazar softens Flo's gaze into a quiet smirk.
"Just one room, thanks, Tom. I'm just dropping this one off," Balthazar smiles at Tom, who pulls out a room key and takes the offered coins from Balthazar. A commotion from the back draws Flo's attention, and the gentle scowl she's sporting quickly morphs into a wide grin as she recognizes the distinct sound of Molly Weasley's harrowing voice.
Not bothering to wait for her uncle, Flo races into the back kitchen, where, sure enough, Mrs Weasley is lecturing two shaggy-haired boys that Flo recognises instantly. She waits for a few moments before Mrs Weasley notices her, her frown breaking into a wide smile.
"Felicity!" She exclaims. Fred and George spin around at their mother's announcement, immediately rushing over to scoop Flo into a big hug.
"Flo!" They shout. Flo laughs, squeezing her friends back tightly before they're pried off her by Mrs Weasley, who grips Flo in a vice-like hug, rubbbing her back once before stepping back herself, a sympathising expression on her face. Flo notices, and has to reign in her sneer. In the recent weeks since Sirius Black's escape from Azkaban, everywhere she goes, Flo finds herself facing people's opinions, so far, most have been filled with pity for her, though a few suddenly cautious of her presence, as though she might pull Sirius Black out from underneath her sweatshirt.
"Hullo," Flo smiles tightly at the three Weasley's in front of her, feeling her burst of irritation ebbing as she takes in the happy grins of Fred and George.
"Guys! Flo's here!" Ginny calls, appearing at the top of the stairs. Flo grins, meeting Ginny at the base of the stairs for a hug. Ginny's appearance is quickly followed by Ron and Hermione, and lastly, a dishevelled Harry Potter, who looks as though he's only just crawled out of bed. The three chorus their greetings, though Ron seems to hesitate before coming down into the kitchen to greet them.
While the group catch up, Balthazar appears, greeting Mr Weasley with a clap on the shoulder and a firm handshake. Molly Weasley ushers the pair further away from the teenagers, glancing surreptitiously around the room.
"How is she, the poor dear?" Molly asks, glancing meaningfully over at the dark-haired girl. Balthazar and Arthur follows her gaze. Balthazar sighs, running a hand through his cropped hair.
"I honestly have no clue. She's said very little about the matter since we found out. Please, just be careful about what you say about him around her, you know how she can get sometimes," Balthazar warns Molly. The woman purses her lips and nods. "Oh and thank you so much for keeping an eye on her, I really would have preferred to stay but I'm needed back in Romania."
Molly shakes her head rapidly and pats Balthazar's shoulder. "Don't be silly, you do so much for Charlie over there, it's the least we can do," Molly replies, offering a warm smile to the younger man.
"I'll be sure to give him your love," Balthazar replies, returning his gaze to a cackling Flo. "I'd better go say goodbye."
Flo notices her uncle's approach and squeezes out from between the twins, jumping over the bench they'd occupied to talk with the others. She follows Balthazar upstairs, where he unlocks her room for her and drops her trunk inside. The pair stand in silence for a few moments.
Flo smirks at her uncle, who motions to her. Flo takes a deep breath, puffing up her cheeks before releasing it. "I'll be okay, Balt," She says with a meaningful nod, fighting with the tightness in her throat to keep her voice steady. Balt sighs heavily and hugs his niece, lightly kissing the top of her head, feeling her lean into him.
"I love you, kiddo."
The following morning, Flo, Fred and George head off into Diagon Alley. The place is bustling with witches and wizards, and for the first time since Sirius Black's escape, Flo realises that there is no secret about who her father is. She can feel eyes and hear whispers of her last name. The Weasley twins notice as well, sharing a thoughtful glance between the two of them as they walk.
"So," Flo begins as they three sit down at Florean's ice cream parlour. "How was Egypt?"
Fred and George launch into a wild tale of their explorations in tombs, including trapping Percy in a sarcophagus. They, it seemed, were more interested in hearing of Flo's holiday, which she'd spent in Germany and Romania with her uncle.
"It was so cool, I got to help mind the hatchery, and Charlie showed me the Norwegian Ridgeback he's been raising," Flo grins, feeling the tension slowly leave her body. Flo leans back in chair and smirks at the twins' expectant expressions. They'd written only briefly over the holidays, to organise their meeting up and so that Flo could tell them she'd been badly burned in an accident with an angry fledgling.
"Come on then, show us the scar," Fred finally nags. Flo wastes no time in leaning forward and shrugging off the arm of her sweater to reveal the tendrils of shiny, pink skin wrapped around her elbow. George whistles lowly, reaching out to feel the smooth scar tissue.
"Blimey! That's wicked," Fred laughs and Flo smirks, humming in agreement.
"I'm going to look so badass," She laughs, scooping a big mouthful of ice cream into her mouth, staring proudly down at her scar. "My uncle freaked out though, he says next summer I'm not allowed to go with him," Flo sighs for affect, but the twins seem unfazed by this information.
"You can stay with us!" George announces with some glee.
"Dad'll probably get tickets to the world cup," Fred adds. Flo grins, but says nothing. The three make their way through the alley, stopping in to fawn over the firebolt on display in Quality Quidditch Supplies.
Two stores down, the display in the window of Flourish and Blotts is a large, ornate cage, filled with furry books. Flo looks on with wide eyes as two of the books begin to fight, clamping onto each other and ripping pages out. On the other side of the display, a frazzled looking clerk rushes over with a cane and pries the two books apart. Flo heads into the store and Fred and George disappear, having already bought their new school supplies. Checking her list, Flo finds all her required books easily, as the bookstore has set up the new school books in the front of the store. At the counter, the assistant stutters out her greeting at the sight of Flo. Though she'd seen pictures of her parents before, Flo never realised how similar she looks to her father until his face was plastered up on every wizarding street on the continent.
Unable to resist a spiteful sneer at the assistant, Flo collects her books and drops some galleons on the counter. On the street, Flo looks around, checking off her mental list of school supplies. Books, quills, ink and an extra-large stack of parchment were all taken care of at Flourish and Blotts. Flo heads up the lane to Madam Malkins. Instore, the walls are lined with racks of robes in every colour imaginable, and there are three little stools in the centre of the shop, upon which stand Fred, George and a red-faced Percy.
"Hey, Flo," The twins chorus as she enters the shop. Percy looks over at her as well, only his scowl deepens and he whips his head away. Flo smirks gently, at least some things never change, she thinks. Percy is dismissed by the seamstress, her enchanted measuring tape ushering him off the stool. He rushes out, brushing past Flo in his hurry. Madam Malkin approaches Flo and smiles broadly, only after sending a final bemused glance in the direction Percy went.
"What do you need, deary?" She asks, placing a hand on her back and guiding her further into the store.
"No robes for me, thanks. I just need a few school shirts," Flo informs Malkin, who nods, turning Flo to face her and holding her at arm's length, Malkin sizes her up with a calculating gaze. Humming, Madam Malkin turns at hurries over to a shelf with neatly folded white shirts. While she digs around, Flo turns her attention to the fidgeting twins.
"I'm going to get an owl," Flo announces.
"Nice," George compliments.
"Get a screech owl," Fred laughs, to which Flo rolls her eyes.
"Anyways, that's all I need to get, so I'll meet you guys back at the Leaky Cauldron for tea after?" Flo continues, noticing Madam Malkin has found what she's looking for.
"Deal," They chorus, and Flo collects her shirts, waving to the boys as she leaves the store.
In the pet store, a cacophony of noise greets Flo. She smiles, looking around at the cages filled with various owls. In a glass terrarium, at least half a dozen toads the size of Flo's thumb are relaxing on a rock, flashing different shades of green and yellow. Behind the counter, a familiar face is struggling with a dark grey owl. The girl looks up as Flo approaches and smiles in recognition.
"Hey, Flo!" The girl smiles, releasing the haughty owl and ducking as it swoops up towards a perch near the high ceiling. Flo's eyes follow the owl, before falling back to smile at the girl across the counter.
"Hey, Skye," Flo greets, leaning down to pat a ginger cat that brushes against her ankles. On the counter, a cage of shiny, black rats play jump rope with their long tails. Skye, the elder sister of Flo's best friend, retrieves a fat toad from under the counter and moves out to put it into a tank alongside another large toad of the same breed.
"What can I do for ya?" She asks, moving the empty bird cage out of the way on the counter so they can talk.
"I want an owl," Flo grins. Skye nods approvingly, ushering Flo over to the back corner where the wall is lined with cages filled with owls.
"These are all the owls we have at the moment, were you looking for anything in particular?" Skye asks, opening a cage and pulling out a slender tawny owl. Flo smiles, reaching out to pat it's sleek feathers. A loud squawk causes Flo to jump as the grey owl Skye had been arguing with early dives down, landing deftly on Flo's outstretched arm. The tawny owl recoils, fluttering its wings in disdain. Flo laughs, stroking the grey owl's soft feathers, admiring the white speckles along its wings.
"This is Aura. As you probably noticed, she has a problem with being told what to do. You have to ask her nicely to do something before she'll even consider it," Skye laughs. Flo barely hears her though, her eyes still glued to the sooty owl.
"I want her," Flo states in a tone that suggests she won't take no for an answer. Skye purses her lips, giving Flo a hesitant gaze.
"Are you sure? She refuses to get into a cage, and there's no guarantee she'll come back if you let her go," Skye says, an amount of trepidation in her voice. Flo shrugs though, unfazed by this information.
At Dinner that night, the mood is jovial. The teenagers are all looking forward to returning to Hogwarts in the morning. Fred and George are sitting either side Flo, tossing a piece of bread between each other until Flo catches it, using it to dip into her gravy.
"Sod off," She laughs, swatting away Fred's hand, only to have the piece taken by George on her other side. Down the table, Molly chastises the two.
"Leave the poor girl alone, Merlin knows she has enough on her plate right now without you two getting in the way," Molly lectures. The table quietens at the mention of Flo, and Mr Weasley hisses a warning to Molly, intensifying the silence. The smirk slides off Flo's face as she stares Mr and Mrs Weasley down, steely eyes piercing theirs.
"What, exactly, do I have on my plate?" Flo questions coldly. The table is deathly silent now, no one dare breathe through the tension.
"Oh, dear, I just mean -"
"You just mean that I must be worried sick about my father escaping from Azkaban. What, I wonder, would make me a worse person, wishing he gets caught or wishing they never find him again? Well, believe it or not, there is a third option; I don't care, that man may be my father but I don't know him. His fate is not my concern, nor are his intentions," Flo speaks quietly, but there is an edge to her words that makes Ginny recoil in her seat. Silence ensues her rant and Flo, who has lost her appetite, strides up the stairs, heading for her room.
The room is dark but Flo doesn't bother to light the lanterns. Instead, she lands face down on the quilt of her bed. More than anything, she wants to go back to Romania with Balt and Charlie, where no one even cares who she is, let alone who her father is. Minutes pass before Flo sits up to light up the room. Near the window, Aura is perched, watching Flo. She stares back, unable to help a smile at the sight of her speckled friend.
"At least you don't care," Flo sighs, going over and feeding her a treat. Aura twitters contentedly, allowing Flo to stroke her. To occupy her mind, Flo pulls out her new clothes and supplies, finding space in her trunk to pack them in. In among her things, Flo sees a charms book, given to her by Balt a few weeks ago in an attempt to encourage her to stay inside after her run in with the young Chinese Fireball. Though she'd ignored him in favour of watching eggs hatch, she'd worked through half of it in the evenings of quiet nights on the dragon reserve.
Fishing it out, Flo sits cross-legged on her bed and settles in to read. Some time later, when the Leaky Cauldron grows quiet in the late hours of the evening, someone taps on Flo's door. Having calmed down since her outburst at dinner, Flo cannot help but to feel a flash of guilt, guessing that whoever it is will be a Weasley, if not two.
"It's open," She calls out quietly, piercing the silence of her room. The door opens and in files not one, but two Weasleys. Fred and George flop down at the end of Flo's bed, identical grins on their faces.
"We missed you after dinner," Fred informs her with a smirk.
"You made quite the exit though, you should have stuck around for the encore," George chuckles, ducking to avoid to pillow she hurtles his way.
"Not my finest moment, I must admit," Flo admits, but says nothing more on the matter.
"Fancy a game of exploding snap?" George offers, fishing a deck out of his pocket. The tension leaves Flo's expression as she grins, setting aside her book.