"-Navy Green salamander fiend, bitches never heard you scream, you two-faces scum of the slum, I got your whole body numb-" The clouds of breath into the winter air broke into fragments on the sharp rhythm of the words as Rowan swaggered across the yard, fists jabbing a fierce, shadow-boxed choreography betrayed by her beaming, gaptoothed grin. "-blowin' like Shalamar in eighty-one-"

Rowan spun, did an odd little crouching bob thing that might have been some kind of dance, and Vicki laughed, even as her cheeks burned with embarrassment at the growing number of students who were watching the bizarre display. She buried her face in her scarlet mittens, sure there was probably little difference in color between them. "Oh God, please, Ro -"

"Sound convincin, thousand dollar court by convention -" How did she do it? She had such total control over her body, her movements so tight, so precise and powerful and fierce...and yet she really, really couldn't dance. The rhythm, even her mangled version of it, was miles away, but Rowan didn't care, circling in tight with a teasing lick of her lips.

Vicki rolled her eyes, elbowing her girlfriend back and starting towards the castle again with an exaggerated sigh that almost hid her own smile. "Do you even know what you're saying?"

"'Course I do." The sway and bounce of her shoulders continued as she matched her pace to Vicki's. "Got the album for Christmas. I can read. Hands like Sonny Liston, get fly permission -"

"Fly permission?"

Rowan winked, flipping her hood up over her short, spiked blonde hair. "Quidditch thing?"

"Aren't the Wool Thing -"


"Wu-Tang," Vicki conceded"aren't they a Muggle band?"

"Since when you been all up on that?" The strutting dance-thing had stopped completely now, and she looked genuinely touched. Vicki smiled, offering her hand with a flirtatious flutter of her eyes.

"I do my research." Rowan took the cue, crooking an elbow to let Vicki take her arm and snuggle in close. Unlike Vicki's thick winter coat, she was only wearing a hoodie over a thin tshirt, both of them damp with sweat, but she had been running laps of the castle before Vicki's appearance had prompted the silly showing-off performance, and the heat still came off her in waves, her neck shining and actually steaming if you looked close enough. It was embarrassing, absurd, pointless posturing, but they both knew that she liked it more than she'd admit, even if she didn't know why.

She let her hand slide further through Rowan's arm and around her waist, barely avoiding the temptation to let her fingers trail lower and trace the tight, hard curve of her ass. "It matters to you," Vicki pointed out. "Even if I don't get why."

Rowan seemed to consider it a moment, biting her lip, then shrugged again. "Wicked beat. Bad-a-ba-ba-backa-ba-ba...suits me, don't you think?"

"I don't think it was ever meant to be Welsh."

"Cymru'n gwella popeth." The lilting growl of the words made Vicki let out an involuntary little gasp. That wasn't fair. She knew that wasn't fair.

"You're ridiculous."

"You're smitten."

Vicki sniffed mock offense, taking a dramatic step away, though she never dropped the other girl's hand. "Am I now?"

"I bloody hope so." Rowan reeled her in again with a little spin, leaning in to plant what she had expected to be a little kiss but turned out to be a nip to the tip of her nose that made Vicki shriek in surprise. She tried to squirm away, but Rowan didn't let go, dropping her voice to the merciless snap of the drill sergeant. "Hate to think you've just been playing me out to get an edge in training."

"Hasn't helped me yet." Vicki held her ground stubbornly. "Should have, though. You're a right bitch about that."

"Oh, aye. Wanting my girl to see the other side of this. Total cunt, I am." They had just been teasing, but the chuckle at the end was too forced, and there was a new tension in the strong lines of her body that bothered Vicki. She unwound herself again with no resistence, and they had both stopped now as Rowan reached up, cupping her chin in a way that was more wistful than wanton.

The shift in attitude surprised Vicki, but at the same time she was used to it. This year, they'd all become a bit odd that way, the strange, dark new waters having a tendency to hide shoals and rocks you never saw until you were dashed against them. The callused thumb traced the line of her jaw. "This ain't a game, Vic. You know that, right? You know why I can't go easy on you, and it ain't that I'm ashamed of having...feelings and us and crap."

Ever the poet. Still, there was no urge to smile, and she held the eye contact evenly. "I never said it was. I know people are gonna die."

"And my job's to make sure you're not one of them."

Now she took the hand from her face, squeezing it tight as she let a bit of her own steel show through. "Or you."

"Won't be trying to die," now Rowan did look away, her eyes scanning too quickly across the grounds behind them. "but let's be straight -"

"Damn. I was quite fancying -"

"Stop it, Vic." Her gaze lasered back with a frightening intensity that made her feel almost ashamed of the little jibe. "You know I'm a burner."

She didn't know, but she was afraid she might, and she let out a long, tight breath. "I don't think I'm going to like this."

"There's some of us..." Rowan looked away again, shaking her hand free and beginning to pace. Vicki matched her, but she wouldn't make eye contact again, and her shoulders had begun the bob and weave of the aggressive chanting beat in a new, joyless channeling of energy that cracked one fist staccato into the cup of the other palm. "...me, Derek, Fritz, Ernie, Finnigan...we know we're gonna fight like the Devil's own, and that'll make us both the kind of targets that don't last the night and the kind of bastards that win battles. And...and...we're...we...we're ok with that."

It was a lie in the ways that didn't matter and the awful truth in the ways that did, and Vicki felt sick to her stomach, swallowing hard. "I thought you were going to join the Harpies."

"If luck has it that way, there won't be any stopping me." She'd stopped pacing, and though her eyes came up again, her smile was a rictus of bravado, begging for understanding she couldn't quite give herself and maybe even a little comfort she would never ask for.

Vicki was silent for a long time, not knowing what to say. At last, she reached into her pocket, her voice barely above a whisper as she pulled out the little envelope that had been the entire reason for heading out to the yard to find her girlfriend in the first place. "I got you a late Valentine's present."

Rowan took it dully, pushed a thumb under the flap, but her face transformed when she peeked inside, her mouth dropping open as she began to shake, teeth chattering over a tight, strangled screech as if the cold had suddenly caught her and run a finger down her spine. "Vic, you! Didn't...oh fuck, fuck, is -"

Vicki nodded, taking the envelope back before Rowan dropped it and pulling out the green and gold slip of card, unfolding it to point at a line of numbers embossed beneath the seat designation and interlocking H's of the logo. "Look at the dates."

"That's -" The unabashed delight became abruptly overlaid with confusion, and Rowan took the ticket, turning it over in her hands as she frowned at it. "I don't -"

"Opening match of the season." Vicki explained gently. "First October, 2000. It'll be your first game." She offered the envelope, guiding Rowan's trembling hands to put it back, fold it, slide it into her pocket. She was definitely cold now, the flush of the run long gone, and Vicki took off her coat, draping it over the other girl's shoulders and using the lapels to pull her close into a deep, lingering kiss.

The fringe peeping from beneath the edge of the hoodie brushed her forehead, the salt of sweat still on her lips as they finally separated just enough for Vicki to whisper against her mouth so quietly only they could hear. "Be there, please. Don't let me down, Ro."

Rowan's arms were around her now, wrapping the coat like a blanket to enfold as much of both of them as possible in a tight shield against so much more than the cold. "Baby, I'm a burner, I told you -"

"Not to me you're not."

A deep breath, and she could feel the armor rise into place again, sensing the cheeky smile returning before she saw it and felt Rowan pull away. "Yeah, well, we'll see. How 'bout YOU make it, and I promise I'll be there...as long as you ain't too picky on it being in the flesh."

The promise and the moment around it lasted barely a breath, then the shallow, painted smile steadied, the devil-may-care veneer rising into place behind her eyes, and Rowan tossed her head, throwing the hood back again as she turned away and began to jog, her fists jabbing out against their unseen sparring partner. "C'mon, Vic! Chocolate. I need chocolate and chips. Let's go! Hit the kitchens, hit the mat, go a few rounds, maybe snog a bit?"

She was ten yards away and picking up speed, and anyone but Vicki would never have noticed her shoulders were a little too high, her voice faltering just ever so slightly on the brazen, empty words. "The swift chancellor, flex, the white-gold tarantula, Track truck diesel play the weed God -"