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CHAPTER II

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Meeting and Greeting…

.o.*o.O.o*.o.

The Beast is not happy. But then again he hasn't been happy in a very long time. He hasn't been happy since before Hogwarts. Since before his parents divorced. Since before the incident that made him "the Beast." This day however, he feels particularly unhappy. The morning had been bad. He'd woken up to cruel sunlight burning his eyes and a throbbing hangover. He had thought his dad had skipped breakfast, the only meal they shared, but the reality was worse: he'd woken up late and would have missed the train altogether had it not been for some (technically illegal) apparition. It was a terrible morning, a prelude to a likely terrible year at the most annoying place in the world.

Even now, a good hour later, settled somewhat comfortably into his seat, the Beast is not happy. He's restless. Only one year left. One year before it's all permanent.

He tries to focus on the view of the school looming before him, getting closer. He tries to think about the new Quidditch magazine he'd been owled before he'd left. But that just makes him think about the girl, the pretty girl he'd crashed into at the station, who'd been reading a massively thick book rather than the latest edition of Witch Weekly. What kind of story was so good people could tolerate all the words? He thinks back to the glint in her eyes as she turned the page. What kind of novel could make someone so...overjoyed?

She must be a Ravenclaw. Probably sixteen by the looks of her. Not a quidditch player, he would have seen her in one of his Slytherin vs Ravenclaw matches.

She was happy though.

Her smile was genuine.

Her horror was too. Her horror at him. Of course. He's a beast. Who wouldn't be horrified? That doesn't stop him from snarling at the thought, though.

His emotions escalate from there until he's trashing at the carriage seats. Luckily, they don't break. He kicks and punches for a while then finally he calms down and forces himself to breathe.

Control yourself. Don't give into the Beast.

He repeats the command till he's seated in his regular spot at the edge of the furthest Slytherin table.

Somehow, his eyes wander to her. She's sitting alone at a Ravenclaw table, watching the sorting intently.

The Sorting Hat screams "GRYFFINDOR!" And she laughs as Franny Framagucci's toad jumps off her lap and into the arms of a bewildered Lewis Robinson. He likes her laugh. She looks knowingly at the reassuring glance the newly sorted Fawn Swanson gives Silvermist Waters. The Beast cannot tell what it is about the way they look at each other that makes the Ravenclaw girl smile, but somehow it makes him smile too. He watches her watch an abundance of people get sorted into Hufflepuff. Iridessa Ray. Lilo Pelekai. Rosetta Gardner. There are a few students sorted into other houses too, of course. Vidia Gale, with her fierce glare and anti social vibe fits every Slytherin stereotype. John Darling, with the thoughtful look in his eyes who joins his older sister in Ravenclaw. Lastly, there is Tinkerbell Zimmermann. The hat spends a good ten minutes on her and when it finally chooses "RAVENCLAW," the little blonde tries to argue that it must be a mistake.

The Ravenclaw beauty looks bothered by this.

Headmaster Mouse begins his speech, but the Beast doesn't care enough to pay attention. A part of him is still considering the girl's identity. A part of him hopes she's Belle Dumas. That's kind of sick, hoping that the girl you're interested in is the one that's meant to be your servant for the year, but whatever. The Beast is sick.

She probably isn't Belle. He'll find out soon though. Miss Dumas is supposed to meet him in the Slytherin dorm at seven.

There's a knock at his door at precisely six fifty-nine.

He answers.

The Ravenclaw girl is standing outside, shivering. She's beautiful even as the corners of her mouth turn downwards in a frown, even as her large brown eyes glare at him.

"Come in," he says, hoping his voice sounds normal.

She follows.

"I'll show you to your room." He leads her down the corridor, to a door on the right.

Inside is a room, almost as nice as his own bedroom. Father's connections are fortunate at times.

"I hope you like it here," he adds as she steps inside. "You can go wherever you like, just not-" his voice catches, "the West Room."
Her eyes light up. "What's in the West Room?"
His reacts immediately, nearly roaring, "It's forbidden!"

She's afraid. Of course she is.

He catches control of himself. "Just don't go in there… please."

She nods, solemn.

"Is there anything in particular you want me to do?" She finally asks, voice small.

The Beast replies, "Assignments, cleaning."

Then he adds impulsively, "Eating with me."

"Okay."

And then the real question bursts out, "Is my father okay?"

"He's returning home right now."

"Okay," she manages again.

"If there isn't anything you need right now, I think I'm going to try to sleep." Her eyes are misty.

It's too early for bed.

"Of course."

He closes the door.

He can hear her muffled sobs. He hates himself a little more than usual.

.o.*o.O.o*.o.

On the other side of the castle, at Gryffindor Tower, a party is in full swing. A party that Briar Rose feels out of place in. Briar Rose hates parties. Crowds make her uncomfortable.

But her friends, who she hasn't seen in months, like parties, so of course she's there. She glances over at them . Snow has side bangs now and Ella has grown an inch. Otherwise they're the same.

Phillip on the other hand has changed a lot.

He's grown again, 3 inches at least, and he's cut his hair differently. And, he must have changed his exercise regime because, well, he looks more muscular. He's always been… err... toned, but now… he is something else entirely.
He's fit. Hot. Sexy. Attractive. Charming. Alluring. Handsome.
Of course, he's never been ugly, just maybe a bit… awkward, a little gangly, too tall and thin.
He's changed so much.
Phillip interrupts her thoughts, "Hey, having fun?"

"Hmm?" Briar looks up, "Yeah."
He hands her a drink. "It's butterbeer, don't worry."
She nods and takes it.
They stand there, uncertain of what to say.
"How was your summer?" Briar starts, just as Phillip asks, "How've you been?"
She laughs. "I've been okay. The Aunts are acting strange though. I think it's because of my sixteenth birthday coming up. I swear they're like Americans, all obsessed with how that's when you're considered a 'lady'." She turns up her nose at the last word and tries to pronounce it as snootily as she can.
He shakes his head, chuckling. "As for my summer, I've been good—"
"Well," Briar corrects automatically.

"Well," he continues. "My dad actually came on a few hunting trips with me this summer. Father-son bonding time." He rolls his eyes, "I'm pretty sure he only knows two things about me: I have my mother's eyes, and I can hunt."

Briar chuckles and shakes her head.
"Oh wait, no there's one more thing he knows," Phillip adds, "I'm the perfect way for him to make this huge deal with Stefan Industries. He wants me to start going out with the CEO's daughter—"
Briar feels a pang in her heart, which she quickly attributes to sympathy.
"—who, get this, doesn't even exist."
"What?"
"I googled her and nothing came up."
Briar rolls her eyes, "Some people keep their lives private."
"That's what I thought at first too," he retorts, "so I did a tracking spell, not to actually find her, but to make sure she was real—"
She rolls her eyes again.
"—and it didn't work."
"Have you forgotten you got a troll on the tracking test?" Briar teases.

He sticks out his tongue, and something about the action reminds her that, even with all his ramblings, this bigger, "manlier" guy is still the same Little Philly.
"I'm sure she does exist," Briar smiles, but it feels forced for some reason, "And I bet she's wonderful."
"I'm supposed to meet her at this huge party her parents are throwing for her. The date's not set, but would you like to go with me?" he asks.
"I-I'd love to, but I wouldn't want her to get the wrong idea and get all offended or something."
Briar's cheeks burn.

He shrugs, putting an end to the whole conversation, and turns to his friend Florian. They start talking about Quidditch matches and hunting trips. Briar fidgets in her seat. Any second now...
Florian turns to Snow, and Briar lets out a sigh.

"Snow, I've missed you." He smiles. "I didn't think it was possible for you to get any more beautiful, but you've done it."
Snow shakes her head and laughs, "Thank you, Florian."
Florian's grin widens.

"Listen, I was thinking about you this summer, and I had this amazing idea: why don't you be my girlfriend?" he asks, as if it wasn't the thousandth time. Briar considers burying her face in her hands.
Snow grins. "I had an amazing idea too, this summer. What if we all got pen pals from Beauxbaton or Durmstrang? Since they're coming for the games and all."
"I like your idea. How do you feel about mine?"
She shrugs, "It doesn't seem very original, to be honest."
Florian gives a resigned nod. "Alright, that's fair. Would you like a drink?"
She asks for a spiked butterbeer and he goes off. As soon as he's gone, Briar taps Snow's shoulder.
"Stop torturing the poor boy," she commands. "Either tell him you'll be his girlfriend or tell him you just want to be friends. You can't just leave him wondering like that."
Snow refuses to meet her eyes. "I can do whatever I want."
"Do you even fancy him?" Briar asks, for the millionth time.

"Do you fancy Phillip?" Snow counters.
Briar chokes on a sip of butterbeer, "What?"
"Oh please, don't act like you haven't been making cow eyes at him the last hour!"
"What?" Briar repeats, still flabbergasted.
"I understand of course, I mean he's really grown into himself now," Snow continues. "But do you fancy him, or do you just think he's fit?"
Briar stares at her friend, wishing she could hide her blush.

"You fancy him!" Snow exclaims triumphantly.
Ella chooses that moment to join us on the sofa, "Briar fancies who?"
"Whom," Briar corrects, still dazed.
"Phillip," Snow answers, grinning.
"I can't say I didn't see that one coming." Ella laughs, "I mean they flirt all the time."
"What?"
"Come on, the witty banter, the teasing, and the playing with each other's hair..."
Briar frowns. Was that flirting?
Snow takes one look at Briar's confused expression and sighs.

"Please explain to Briar that she and Phillip flirt all the time," she says to Florian, who has just arrived with her drink.
He frowns, "I think that, for once, you're wrong, Snow. That is how Phillip flirts." Florian points to Phillip a few seats away, joking around with some ditzy Hufflepuff.
Briar doesn't catch what Snow says in return. Briar feels awkward. And oddly icky about Phillip's interest in the Hufflepuff girl.
Maybe she does fancy him a little.
Shite.

.o.*o.O.o*.o.

Anastasia and Drizella. Of course they're here.
Ella rises quickly from her seat, pushing past people hurriedly to find the nearest balcony. It's empty except for one person.
"Do you mind if I hide here?" she asks, still a little out of breath.
He turns around, and Ella immediately recognizes him. Henry Charming. Shite.
"No," he replies politely. Even the sound of his voice gives her chills. Then he frowns, "Wait, who are you hiding from?"

She doesn't know how she's managing to speak to him. This is the guy she's fancied since they'd been potions partners in third year.
"Nobody important, just my stepsisters," Ella says hastily, walking closer to the railing and turning her face away. Hopefully, at this angle, he won't be able to see her blush.
"Your stepsisters are Drizella and Anastasia right?" he asks.
She sighs, "Unfortunately."
"I think you're lucky. I've always wanted siblings."
Ha. Lucky? Ella had demons watching her every move, ordering her around, and downright bullying her every chance they got. She'd lost her mom before she could walk. Her dad died her second year at Hogwarts. Her stepfamily used her rightful inheritance as blackmail. She was probably the least lucky person in England. But, of course, Henry didn't know that, and there was no way she'd burden him with the knowledge.
So she simply shrugs, "They're a bit, err, overprotective, and would not be happy to find me here."
"So you're hiding?" he clarifies.
She looks up at the starry sky. "Yeah."
He frowns, "I still don't get it. What'll happen if they find you?"
How ironic. She'd always wanted to talk to him. She never wanted to talk about this topic. He wanted to talk to her about this topic.
He's still waiting for a reply. She keeps her face turned away.
"They'll tell my stepmother, who'll cook up some sort of punishment," she sighs. "The last time they caught me at a party, she made me get a job at Hogsmeade during the weekends because 'if you have time to party hard you'll have time to work hard.'"
He grimaces, "That sucks."
Not a moment passed before he adds, "But hey, at least you got some extra money."
She doesn't want to break his optimism, so she just nods and keeps her mouth shut. He doesn't need to know that she had to use the money for school supplies anyway.
The next few minutes pass in silence, with Ella keeping her eyes trained on the stars. The stars…

She loved the stars. She and her dad had had this bedtime ritual where they'd name as many of the stars as they could before each making a wish on the North Star, Polaris. Back then, she'd wished for silly things: a new doll, a book or dress, a trip to the city, a better voice, to be able to stop biting her nails.
All of those wishes came true.
Now, none of them did. Maybe she'd used them all up. Maybe that was why her wishes couldn't stop her dad from marrying Lady Tremaine. Maybe that was why her wishes couldn't save his life.
She can't think about all of it any longer, so she turns to Henry instead.
His eyes are fixed on the stars, as her's had been a moment ago, but his eyebrows are furrowed in confusion. Ella is ready to bet the only sickle she owns that he knows nothing about constellations.
"You see that constellation over there?" she asks, pointing for him and hoping he doesn't notice the slight tremble in her arm.
Henry nods, his eyes focusing in on the cluster.
"That's Andromeda. It's my favourite."
He grins. "It's cool. What's it supposed to be?"
"It's the image of a princess who's chained to a rock." She takes a breath and explains the myth: how Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, bragged that Andromeda was even prettier than the sea nymphs, so Poseidon, the god of the sea, punished her by ravaging their city with a sea monster, how Andromeda was sacrificed to the monster but Perseus saved her.
"And then they got married and lived happily ever after?" he asks.
"Yeah, but they were of the few Greek couples that did. Most of them died or were punished unfairly. Anyway, this myth is probably my favourite because it gives me hope."
"Really?"
"Yeah. No matter how bad things look there can be a way out. No matter how small of a chance there is for a happy ending, it's still possible."
He smiles at that (he has a gorgeous smile, those damn dimples!), "It's good to be optimistic like that."
Ella wants to point out another constellation, wants to stay here all night, but the two of them are interrupted by Drizella's triumphant "AH HA!"