A/N: Sorry, it's been awhile. Life, you know? I want to finish this story, though, so I'm buckling down!
Sophie Devereux hated Floo travel. It was both disorienting and existentially unnerving. She had described the experience to Hardison after her first dinner with the Weasleys, and he had looked a little green at the very idea. He'd gone on to explain - in great detail - why it should be impossible and she should be very, very dead for having done it.
"I'm sorry Ms. Devereux, but we simply cannot connect your fireplace to the Floo network." The man behind the desk did not sound particularly apologetic. He sounded exasperated.
Sophie narrowed her eyes. "My little boy is at Hogwarts right now. Without a Floo connection, he won't be able to come home for Christmas."
"Ms. Devereux, I do not know how you got in here," he sounded put out by this fact, "but we do not connect No-Maj homes to the Floo network! It is unsafe and violates the statute of secrecy."
"You didn't say you can't connect No-Maj homes," Sophie pointed out. "Don't discriminate against my family on the grounds of safety and secrecy. We are permitted to know about magic because we have a child at Hogwarts and you know better than I do that the Floo network is perfectly safe."
"Witches and wizards can ward their fireplace - like a locked door," the man argued. "You can't! You'd be opening your home to anyone who stumbled through your fireplace. You're a No-Maj! You shouldn't even be here."
Sophie planted herself more firmly on the chair, making it abundantly clear that she would have her way.
"I might not have magic," Sophie said sweetly, "but that hardly means my home is without protection. You let me worry about keeping my home safe from witches and wizards who are stupid enough to stumble out the wrong fireplace."
The wizard sighed and rubbed his temple. "Look, lady. I don't know what to tell you. It is against MACUSA policy. I can't just go connecting No-Maj homes to the Floo network."
"Ah," said Sophie with a small smile. "You can't. Very well, who can?"
He sighed. "If it gets you out of my office, I'll make you the appointment myself."
"Wonderful," said Sophie, smile growing. She settled back in the chair. "Let's do that now."
It would be weeks before JP actually got the chance to use his gear, and it was a constant itch in the back of his mind. Every time they walked by an absentee staircase, he took a minute to size it up. Sometimes the drop was only a floor or two, but once he would have sworn that the opening went down at least 100 feet. While he had quickly become adept at navigating the castle, moments like that reminded him that Hogwarts still had plenty of secrets.
Also on the list of things JP hadn't managed yes was getting a crew together. He still needed to cultivate an acquaintance with the Weasley twins - having seen the results of the mischief, he knew he needed their expertise. Hermione, while super smart, was unfortunately too uptight to engage in even the smallest rulebreaking - for now. He was working on her. He'd lumped Ron in with the rest of his dorm mates (good people, lacking applicable skills for a crew) until they'd sat down to a game of chess. Ron wouldn't stand a chance against Uncle Nate, but JP recognized cultivatable talent when he saw it. Plus, with Ron finally calling him Harlin on a regular basis, the redhead made for decent company. Malfoy wasn't crew-material - he was the type of leader to surround himself with minions. He wouldn't play well with equals. The other Slytherins, while the thought the right way, were still trying to decide what they thought of the Gryffindor bent on being their friend.
Oh well. Until he had a job, he didn't really need a crew, and while the mystery of Hagrid's weird Gringot's withdrawal - apparently the day before a break in attempt - was intriguing, it wasn't really a job. Yet.
Instead, JP had buckled down and started focusing on his classes. They'd finally started to do wand work. Charms was currently his favorite; he was still dreaming up applications for the levitation spell, the very first they'd learned. While he wasn't enjoying Transfiguration quite as much, he was applying himself whole-heartedly; he desperately wanted to learn how to turn himself into an animal like Professor McGonagall, and if that meant mastering matchsticks into needles first, so be it.
Potions and Herbology were both alright, despite their less than optimal first classes. He knew that was mostly due to his choice in partners - Zabini appreciated JP's precise knife work enough to ride out the occasional unwanted focus from the dungeon bat, and Neville had a green thumb that was downright magical. JP had every intention of becoming a competent potions maker, but he'd already decided to drop Herbology when it came time to choose.
Defense Against the Dark Arts was the only class that JP didn't like. Between Quirrell's smell and his stutter, it was hard to pay attention. Plus, JP was relatively certain he was allergic to something in the room. His head always hurt when he was in there, making it hard to concentrate. When he'd confessed this to Hermione, she had immediately dragged him to the Infirmary. Madame Pomfrey had given him a potion to take before class, but all it really did was turn off his sense of smell - a blessing, true, but it didn't stop the headaches.
Today, however, was a special day. It was going to be their very first flying lesson, and JP was beside himself with excitement. Not even first period Defense was able to ruin his mood. He was practically bouncing as he ate lunch.
On his left, Neville was rolling a dark red ball morosely around on the table. It turned clear as it escaped his hand and rattled across the table.
"What's this, Neville?" asked Dean, reaching out to push the clear ball back to Neville. As soon as Neville touched it, it turned red again.
Neville sighed. "It's a Remembrall. Gran sent it. It turns red when you've forgotten something, but I don't remember what I've forgotten."
"Don't worry," JP grinned reassuringly, "I'm sure it's just a homework assignment or something."
Neville's eyes widened and he gasped: "I fell asleep without finishing the last two inches of my Transfiguration essay!" His Remembrall turned clear in his hand.
Hermioned tutted, but Dean shrugged and pointed out that they'd have at least half an hour between their Flying class and Transfiguration. Neville didn't look particularly reassured, but seemed a little happier at having remembered what it was he'd forgotten.
As a group, the first year Gryffindors headed out to the Quidditch Pitch, with JP leading the way. The Slytherins joined them in groups of two or three, and JP greeted those he knew. Zabini even stopped to exchange a few pleasantries.
Finally, finally, Madame Hooch came pushed open the doors to the broom shed and started passing out the brooms. She gave a speech about safety and expulsion that JP hardly heard. He followed her directions, placing the broom on the ground and saying "up." It thwacked firmly against his hand, and he grinned in delight.
Next to him, Hermione's broom had rolled slightly away from her, and Neville's broom was floating reluctantly toward his hand. Across from them, the Slytherins seemed to mostly have gotten their brooms up (JP snickered mentally, picturing himself saying that phrase to Uncle Hardison) and Malfoy was looking utterly bored as he held his broom and observed the slightly more chaotic Gryffindor attempts.
"It's about intent," JP observed as Hermione tried for the third time, consciously echoing a lecture she'd given him yesterday while working on Transfiguration. "If you're scared of it," he added, "you'll never get it."
Hermione's face turned an interesting purplish, and her broom obeyed her next gritted "up."
"See, there you go," JP said, trying to bite back his smile.
She scoffed and deliberately turned to watch Madam Hooch, making it clear that she was ignoring him.
"Alright class. Mount your broom. When I blow my whistle, gently kick off, hover for a second, then come back down."
JP registered that she hadn't told them how to come back down, but decided it must be intent based or otherwise intuitive. He kicked off and grinned as his feet left the earth.
Next to him, Neville shot upward like a rocket.
"Nev!" Immediately JP shot up after him, ignoring Madam Hooch's frantic shouts.
Neville had levelled off a few hundred feet up and was clinging to his broom with his eyes closed. He looked like he was about to fall.
"Hey Neville," JP said, keeping his voice calm. This was just like Auntie Parker talking Uncle Hardison through anything that involved controlled falling. "Wow, the weather is really great, isn't it?"
Neville squeaked something that didn't sound entirely friendly. Experimentally, JP leaned forward on his broom. No, that made it go forward. He pointed the nose downward and went into a little swoop. He whooped, then flew back up to Neville's side.
"Hey," he said, unable to keep the joy from his voice. "I think I've figured out how we get back down. We just point our brooms back toward the ground!" He was about to add an additional word of caution about pulling back up, but Neville was so eager to be back on the ground that he went straight into a dive.
JP squeaked in surprise, then followed. "PULL UP!" he shouted as he came in line with his friend. Neville obeyed, rocketing back up to the sky as Madam Hooch screamed at them both to come down that instant.
Now twice as high, Neville clung to his broom and whimpered. JP frowned, unsure of how to help his friend.
"It's alright," he soothed, looking around for inspiration.
"It's NOT ALRIGHT," shouted Neville, clearly on the edge of hysteria. "I HATE brooms and I HATE heights!"
"Madam Hooch is coming up to help," JP announced with a sigh of relief. "Just hang on, Nev."
Neville's broom jerked as he tried to sit up. He immediately froze, but not before his Remembrall fell from his pocket.
"I've got it," JP shouted, diving after it.
He shot past a surprised Madam Hooch, focused entirely on catching the falling glass sphere. The wind whistled in his ears and he was sure his face would break in two from smiling. This was the best. The ground was coming up fast, but he paid it no mind as he leaned over to pluck the Remembrall out of the air. He pulled the broom up with a joyful whoop, toes skimming the grass, then turned around to see Neville and Madame Hooch almost back on the ground.
His teacher's face was red and she did not look pleased.
JP swallowed, suddenly realizing that this woman might well stand in the way of his future flying career. He landed on the pitch with his classmates, clutching the Remembrall tightly. He hardly noticed their excited chatter, focusing instead on his impending doom.
The adult yell of "POTTER!" came from an unexpected direction. He spun around to find Professor McGonagall striding across the grass like an angry lioness. He nearly shrank back. Madam Hooch suddenly seemed like a much safer option.
"COME WITH ME IMMEDIATELY," she demanded, still 30 feet away. JP thrust his broom into Ron's hand and obeyed, eyes wide and ears red. She didn't even wait for him to draw even with her; she just spun around and marched back toward the castle. He heard her mumbling about fetching wood, and he had sudden flashbacks to old movies where teachers were allowed to hit misbehaving students. Was the magical world backwards in more ways than just technology? He gulped and took one last look at the Quidditch pitch before following McGonagall into the darkness of the castle.
"Sophie!" Molly beamed in delight and hurried forward to greet her guest. "I'm so glad you could make it!"
Their first dinner after seeing the boys off to Hogwarts had gone swimmingly. Sophie was a delightful conversationalist, and Molly missed having female friends to gossip with. Between motherhood and the war, it had been hard to maintain a social life.
For a moment in the train station, Molly had speculated about a match between the American and her Bill, but dinner made it clear that it wasn't to be. Just as well, she had decided. Female friendship could be just as rewarding as matchmaking for her children, and Bill would find a girl. Eventually.
"Thank you for inviting me, Molly!" Sophie smiled back at her, reaching both hands out for a friendly squeeze.
"Come, come, sit!" Molly shooed her guest into the kitchen. "I just put the kettle on."
They began with idle chit-chat about the weather while Molly made tea and wondered how to bring up the question she was dying to ask. Finally, she decided to be blunt. After all, directness had always worked for her in the past.
"Now tell me, Sophie," she said as she put the cup of tea in front of her guest, "are you a Muggle?"
Sophie blinked and looked taken aback for a moment. Molly gave her a warm smile, reaching out to pat her hand. "I don't mean to be rude, dear. It's just, Ron's written me all about little Harry - excuse me, JP - and he mentioned that JP wasn't raised around magic."
"I am," Sophie said slowly. "Not magical, that is." She was watching Molly carefully, and Molly had a fleeting premonition that this moment was far more important than making or breaking a friendship. Her reaction now mattered.
"Ah," Molly nodded. She sipped her tea, then: "so, how is JP adjusting to life at Hogwarts?"
Sophie blinked at the jump in topic, but she valiantly followed. "Oh, he hasn't gotten into too much trouble - yet. I keep waiting for the message from the Headmaster that he's gone off and done something to turn my hair grey."
"The first message is the worst," Molly opined. "Fred and George have decided it's cruel to keep me in suspense and make it a habit to get a letter sent home within the first week."
"Oh dear," Sophie smiled. "What was it this year?"
"Toilet seats," sighed Molly. "I fear I gave them that idea on accident."
"On accident," Sophie agreed, eyes crinkling over the rim of her teacup. Molly smiled, pleased to have been understood.
"I did get a letter from JP's Head of House last week," Sophie continued, exasperation seeping into her voice. "Apparently JP engaged in some risky flying during their first lesson."
"Ronnie did say something about that! He was ever so impressed with JP's flying and was worried that he'd be expelled. I told him that was nonsense, of course. Dumbledore would hardly expel a Gryffindor for behaving... well… like a Gryffindor!"
Sophie nodded her head. "He managed to land himself on the Quidditch team, actually. I came to London because he called home insisting that he needs a broom."
Oh dear. Ron was going to be green with envy when he heard that.
"My lot fly Cleansweeps," said Molly cheerfully, "like the school brooms. They last forever and have excellent safety ratings."
"JP is insisting on a Nimbus 2000. He saw one in the Quidditch store this summer and hasn't stopped asking for it since." Sophie sighed. "If it wasn't for the corroborating letter from Minerva, I would've guessed he was trying to con me."
They spent the next hour discussing their children, the differences between Muggle and wizarding fashion, and the best way to brew tea - a topic Molly hadn't expected an American to be so well versed in. As they said their goodbyes, Molly knew it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It was the beginning of October when JP finally decided that enough was enough; he had to try the staircases. He planned the outing carefully. It was a full moon, so there should be some ambient light in the central hall of staircases. His rappelling gear was neatly arranged in a small duffle bag, and he had "gone to bed" in skin-tight black leggings and a long-sleeved black t-shirt. He waited until 11pm before sliding out of bed and tiptoeing down to the common room. He'd just made it to the portrait hole when he heard a book snap shut behind him.
"And where, exactly, are you going?"
He winced, then turned to smile at Hermione. "Oh, you know. Just a little late night exploration."
Hermione scowled. "You're a terrible liar."
"Am not!" JP scowled back. He was a very good liar, thank you, Hermione. "And what are you doing, exactly, Hermione?"
She sniffed. "Well, I wasn't about to let Weasley get away with sneaking off."
"What?" JP blinked, honestly confused.
Hermione lost some of her scowl. "You didn't hear?"
"I did not hear," JP confirmed. "What didn't I hear?"
Hermione sighed and sat down on the arm of the couch. "Weasley got into an argument with Malfoy. Something about being a blood traitor? Anyways, Malfoy challenged Weasley to a duel tonight at midnight, and I was afraid he'd be stupid enough to go."
JP sighed. Of course this would happen tonight.
"Let me guess - you told Professor McGonagall about the duel."
Hermione snorted. "And lose us house points?"
He blinked. How refreshingly unexpected.
"Right. Well, I'll just be on my way then. No duels for me - just a little bit of educational exploration. See if I can't find a shortcut or two to the Library."
Hermione looked torn, but her type-A rule-following won out. "You can't leave right now. It's after curfew, so it's against the rules. Go exploring tomorrow!"
"You're out of bed past curfew," JP pointed out. "That means you're breaking the rules too."
This did not seem to be the appropriate strategy, as Hermione stood and squared her shoulders. "Go back to bed, JP."
"Here comes Ron," he said dryly. She whirled to look behind her, and he used her distraction to slip silently out the door. With her hands hopefully full with convincing Ron that dueling after hours against Malfoy was a terrible idea, it left JP with the only chance he was likely to get this evening.
Of course, now that he was out of the common room, he was second guessing whether this was a good idea after all. Did he really want to risk being caught with Ron and Malfoy stirring up a racket?
Oh well, he decided. He was out of the common room now, and there was no way that he was going back in to face Hermione. Thus decided, he started up the stairs.