[P] [AU] it's not poison if you don't swallow
For An Alternate Universe. :)

Hogwarts AU. "Your characters are chillin' in Herbology, when an argument gets out of hand!"

Fresh snow carpeted the grounds and was nearly three feet deep along the path from the castle, but around the greenhouses was a perfect circle of exposed grass and dirt, drenched in melt. The fields were empty; herbs had been harvested in the fall from the careful rows, which were now shallow mud pits: traps for the careless student.

Condensation fully obscured the interiors of each of the seven glass buildings, and Cassandra could almost feel the warmth and heat radiating from inside just by looking at them. She didn't hate the cold, but her robes were too thin, her hat couldn't protect her huge ears, and her scarf did little to block the wind. The burst of warm, humid air that greeted her at the door was as welcomed as ever.

The crowded interior was less welcomed, however. She had forgotten that it was a double class with Gryffindor that day, which meant the narrow greenhouse was packed end to end, and they would be bumping elbows all session. As was typical, students from the two Houses self-sorted themselves on opposite ends of the main table.

Frowning just slightly, Cassandra hung up her snow-flaked outerwear and squeezed past the other students to the far end of the greenhouse near the locked exit-only door. The Gryffindors had claimed her preferred side of the table, but she maintained the practiced segregation and managed not to roll her eyes at anyone.

The table that stretched the length of the greenhouse was actually comprised of several smaller tables pushed against each other. She suspected this was so that upsetting one table didn't knock over all of the planters that sat on top, which would be disastrous since they currently housed dozens of juvenile Venomous Tentacula (?).

The juveniles weren't as aggressive or as deadly as the adults, but they tended to be moody and often caught students off guard when they suddenly lashed out after a period of apparent docility.

Leaves and venom from juveniles were easier to harvest than from adults while being equally potent for potion-making. Cassandra, who had tended the annual crop in her free time for years, considered it a trivial chore, but it was still something she enjoyed doing, especially if she could get into a good, focused rhythm and block out noisy bickering and posturing of the rest of the class.

Without waiting for the professor, the albino girl put on her dragonhide gloves, took out her wand, and got to work.

kiri is a butthead; avatar by dwudles
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The cold didn't bother Bennett all that much. He was terribly well suited for the winter weather, especially with his fluffy fur all grown in. This was especially welcomed on days where the wind was bitter and nipped at his nose and ears like today, though he played off his limited discomfort well enough.

At least the greenhouse gave him an excuse to roll up his sleeves and get comfortable. Bennett liked the sort of hands-on classes that felt like proper learning. They had spent the earlier part of the year working with less dangerous plants, and though things were finally becoming interesting, the juvenile plants were relatively boring.

Bennett found most things boring. He didn't like schooling, which felt like it had become all about tests and numbers. What he wanted was hands-on experience, like the sort he had gotten the summer before – not that he could tell anyone about the event, or what his involvement had entailed, not after what had happened to all those other witches and wizards –

“I'll be glad to be done with these stupid things,” his partner lamented, frowning at the unpleasant looking vines as they slowly shifted over the edges of the pot containing them.

“You're gonna make it mad,” Bennett warned, elbowing the other Gryffindor and grinning. “Keep talking like that, go on!”

“Listen to you, like it can understand us.”

“Go ahead then, see if I'm wrong.” With a haughty tilt of the head, the fluffy-throated wolfdog leaned back and taunted his partner. “I'm fast enough to stop it if it goes after you, ya big baby. Quick, go ahead 'fore the Professor gets here if you're afraid you're gonna look like a nob.”
Apparently Bennett's unwitting partner is Finn. :P

On the opposite end of the greenhouse, the professor might have said something about working in pairs. No one approached Cassandra though, which perhaps meant that there was another spare somewhere, or, more likely, that there was a trio instead. That was the best possible outcome, since all parties were thus satisfied with working conditions they preferred. Maybe the professor would take notice at some point, or maybe she'd decide it didn't matter, since it was more peaceful this way.

The albino hybrid worked steadily, mostly using her forefingers to pinch off leaves that looked ripe for harvest while keeping the rest of her fingers curled carefully around her wand in case of need. The particular plant she was working on seemed a little older than the others; more of its branches had hardened into brown bark, while newer sprouts remained green and tender. Several tentacles started to wrap loosely around her left hand as she worked, but she brushed them off easily, maneuvering her hand around the snake-like branches before they got too tight.

Diagonally across from her, two dogs were bickering loudly about something. Cassandra had been happily tuning them out, but as their volume rose, she unfortunately caught a few words, and then the bubble around her was broken, and she was suddenly listening to an asinine conversation by bored brutes.

"--stupid, and y'ain't good fer nothin'. Not even very poisonous, if y'ask me. Can't wait until we upgrade to somethin' properly dangerous!"

The dog, some brownish bloke with dark markings on his face and long hair tied in a loose ponytail, declared to his plant. Cassandra had to stop working a moment in order to keep herself from rolling her eyes. She curled her lip briefly, then tried to double down on refocusing on her own plant.

Then the table lurched against her suddenly, slamming painfully into the bottom of her ribs before everything on the table slid forward from the momentum. Her potted Tentacula got thrown into her lap while the one from the person next to her fell to the floor between them.

Standing quickly, Cassandra placed her plant back onto the table, then picked up the fallen pot to do the same.

On the other side of the table, the dog was now lying on the floor -- he had kicked violently against the table when his plant struck him with four long, thick vines, which had begun to twist around his chest and neck. As they gripped him, the tentacles seemed to grow in length and strength, in a way that could only be described as magic. The head of the Tentacula rose out of the leafy foliage and hissed. Its venom came slowly, but it was thick and glistened brightly.

kiri is a butthead; avatar by dwudles
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Bennett liked Finn well enough. They wore their hair in similar styles, and were of similar enough dispositions to have become friendly. The American was loud and boisterous, and always brought back interesting stories about the things he did while at home. Things sounded very different in the states, which were expansive the way the world beyond the United Kingdom felt.

When he had been in France it had been like that. Magic made the whole world open and available to him (or it would, eventually) and once he was able to shake off the collar around his neck, oh, he'd be able to do things then.

His mother, long dead in the ground, deserved justice.

Bennett wanted vengeance in abstract, desperate ways. Sometimes it felt like cowardice, but if he was a coward, he wouldn't have been sorted into a house of lions.

“Get off me!” Finn barked at the plant, squirming in the crushing grip of the constricting vines.

“I told you!” Bennett yapped, but was quick to pick up his wand. His own plant was forgotten. It had tumbled unceremoniously to the floor behind them, and was beginning to twist violently. The rest of the class had either backed away or had taken to watching the unfolding events, half silent and the other half calling out useless comments and pieces of advice Bennett didn't want to hear.

“Diffindo!”  The wolfdog's spell sliced a rather large piece of the vine from Finn's body. A squeal escaped from the fang-filled mouth of the Venomous Tentacula as the plant stiffened.

“Stupid ugly bastard—,” Finn was cursing as he fought to free himself, still writhing on the floor. Neither he nor Bennett saw the second plant that was crawling its way towards them along the cold ground.
Students acting like fools in their own time was their business.

It was easy enough to walk around victims of stupid pranks and accidental self-hexing in the hallways, and it was easy enough to grab a few food items to take her meal elsewhere when chaos occasionally erupted in the Great Hall. Rather than the house common room, Cassandra tended to work and study in secluded areas of the library or some abandoned, forgotten tower where she could be away from the incessant noise and gossip of other students. Besides, the segregation of the common rooms was tiresome, and elsewhere in the castle, her sister could join her if she wasn't off playing Quidditch.

Cassandra did not care what others did as long as it didn't affect her, but in a classroom or a greenhouse, her ability to avoid being involved was much more limited, and her patience was always a razor's edge.

"What are you doing?!" she snarled at the fool dog on the ground, unable to keep from raising her voice. She glanced briefly to the fool's partner, who apparently thought it a great idea to slice off a vine when there many, much better options. Boys and their stupid need to make everything a fight!

"Petrificus totalus!" Cassandra snapped, flicking her wand at the Tentacalus that was rightfully trying to strangle the student charged with pruning it. The plant froze. The dark-faced boy freed himself from its grasp and scrambled to his feet, just in time for a second plant, which had fallen to the ground, to seize both him and his partner around the ankles.

While the second plant seemed to sprout numerous tentacles out of nowhere in order to subdue the two boys, the albino girl retrieved the first plant and placed it back on the table, facing away from the unfolding ruckus. The other two Tentacalus on the table seemed to also be sprouting more vines all of a sudden, though neither had attacked yet.

Cassandra rolled her eyes. Riling up the plants wasn't good for anyone, least of all the plants themselves, who would lose leaves and break vines and use up a lot of energy for nothing. Didn't they know how valuable these things were? What a waste of resources to antagonise them for nothing!

Turning again, the Slytherin faced the two Gryfinndors and a Tentacalus with vines wrapped around most of their lower bodies. The plant seemed to have grown double its size since she'd last looked at it. This one had already been bigger than the other and had two heads, both with dripping fangs, eager to strike.

She didn't particularly want to stop it.

kiri is a butthead; avatar by dwudles
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There was never a punishment bad enough to warrant off the pranks and fun that he and the boys had. Detention was miserable, sure, but points were an unreal, made-up device that Bennett didn't care for. The only thing he really cared about was Quidditch, and even then there were always ways to get back into the game – appealing to a professor's more reasonable nature ensured that he could weasel his way back onto the field. Missing one game didn't hurt, anyway. Sometimes it was just as fun to be in the stands, especially when he had some notoriety for his position – not that a Beater was as flashy as a Seeker or as well-liked as a Captain, but still.

That was where he knew Cassandra from.

Not her, exactly, but her sister. It was hard not to notice the tall, skilled broom-rider out on the field. The fact that she and Creepy Cass were sisters seemed absurd. At least with Florian they looked alike.

They had surely had classes before, but he didn't remember much about her. She was smart, he knew that. Top-of-the-class smart and bookish. Some people joked that “the Creep” must have been a ghost, for her pale fur and strange skin and eyes, but over the years a fair amount of attempts had proven Cassandra was among the living.

Bennett, short and foreign-born, knew what it was to be ostracized. What his parents had done was a secret here, but he feared it wouldn't be that way forever.

The louder and more important he made himself, the less likely other people would be to turn on him – or so he had decided, being a young man on the cusp of adulthood and convinced of his own superiority in making such decisions.

“What am I doing?” He shouted, bristling. “What are you—!?”

He hit the ground. A woof of breath was knocked out of him. Bennett realized what was happening too late to kick himself free, and heard Finn shouting again. The pressure around his ankles was growing, and the toothy, sap-filled mouth of the plant was coming far closer than he liked.

A growl rolled from Bennett's throat and he lifted his arm. “Incendio!”

That was when Finn, flailing with his own wand, struck him in the arm.

The fireball shot off.
By her sixth year, the names of others in her year probably shouldn't have been a mystery, and if she really thought about it, maybe she could conjure up at least some surnames, but Cassandra had decided early on that all of the dislike was mutual.

She had never had a reason to be sensitive about her appearance, and so the teasing and rumors from her first year had been a shock, for a time, before she realised the nature of people. The rude remarks eased considerably in her second and third years, at least within earshot -- Myrika would always come angrily and loudly to her defense, and as others came to respect the "normal" sister, they became more tolerant of the other one.

No one called her "Creepy Cass" to her face anymore, but no one had ever apologised either, and so she had never had a reason to change her mind. Now though, Cassandra was happy to lean into it and play up whatever attributes distanced others from her. If they wanted to believe her some cursed ghost full of Dark magic that would doom them somehow, so be it. It was quieter if they were afraid of her.

And it seemed that every day, too, Cassandra only found new reasons to disdain those around her.

The dark-faced boy had dropped his wand at some point and so had no real way to retaliate against the Tentacula's vines, which were now curled around his body from feet to mid-chest. As its grip tightened around its victims, the two heads of the plant arched up; the venom it was secreting gathered in a visible pool in each mouth, ready to be "injected" into wounds made by the sharp fangs. The thorns of the juvenile plant weren't deadly just yet, but Cassandra wasn't as sure about the venom.

It surely wouldn't be her fault if her classmates died from their own stupidity? The rest of the class pushed towards the main door of the greenhouse, abandoning their seats and their own plants. She could join them and abandon the idiots to their fate. It--

Cassandra saw the ball of fire erupt from the wand before she heard the white-faced dog shout the spell. Knocked off course, it bounced off the glass wall behind one of the Tentacula heads and careened straight into the wooden table, which promptly erupted into flames. The two plants on the table hissed violently.

"Why are you so stupid?!" she yelled, wand flicking forward again. "Aguamenti!" Water streamed from her wandtip and washed over the table. Wand still in her hand, she picked up one of the planters and put it on the floor a short distance from the table before retrieving the other one. The heart of the fire had been put out, but smaller flames still licked threateningly at the corners of the table.

When she turned around again, it seemed that the Tentacula was about to bite into the dark-faced boy's neck. Scowling angrily at not having much of a choice, Cassandra snapped, "Diffindo!" The poised head of the plant fell from its viney neck and rolled across the floor while its other head hissed.

The girl repeated the spell thrice more, cutting through the vines that held both boys at their base. The Tentacula shuddered violently and began to shrink back, pulling its remaining tentacles towards its pot. If it was lucky, it would survive with its remaining head and it wouldn't be a total loss, but Cassandra didn't think that that was likely.

"What the hell was that?!" she demanded of the two stupid dogs, gesturing broadly at the still-burning table between them and the retreating Tentacula.

kiri is a butthead; avatar by dwudles
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The flames licked up the wooden legs of the table, spreading faster than one would expect in such a humid space. Bennett supposed it would give him enough time to get another spell off and free himself from the plant before it could bite him. The thorns had already managed to tear into his sleeves and pants, but he was more worried about the poisonous maw coming his way—

Everyone ran, as he expected them to. It would be easier for them to pretend they hadn't heard or seen anything. Bennett didn't blame them – he certainly wasn't going to take the blame for this. The fire was accidental, and besides, Finn had been the one who caused the spell to misfire. That had been how this whole thing started, hadn't it? All that yelling from Finn had been what started the whole mess, and if she had stopped the plant earlier then he wouldn't have been forced to react.

Eventually, she did help them – freeing the pair of boys from the poor plant that had been slashed asunder by her spell.

Bennett pulled the vines off of him with a growl. Irritated and full of adrenaline, the fluffy wolfdog sprung up as close to the taller girl's face as his diminutive height would allow. He didn't like looking up at people, but he had been doing it most of his life. When he was younger he had hoped he would become taller, but at sixteen, he feared this was all he was going to get. A spell might help, but it was one of those risky things he wasn't too keen on exploring. He was brash, sure, but not that stupid.

“Hey! Yeah, thanks for all the help,” he yapped sarcastically. Cassandra had gotten them out of their entanglement, but she had ignored the problem longer than she should have. “What's your problem? Did you see that comin' for us?” Bennett went on barking and pointedly not-helping Finn smother the fire. “You could have said somethin'!”
Cassandra's cynical indifference often stayed her hand and kept her from taking action.

There was no benefit to her, if she fixed or corrected others' mistakes. At best, there might be an awkward exchange of pleasantries. At worse, they'd think to depend on her, or expect it of her. On the middle of the spectrum was the indignation and anger that came from wounded pride and the accusation that she'd caused whatever misfortune she'd saved them from.

"It's the plant that's stupid!" the dark-faced dog snarled, picking up his wand as he pushed himself back up to standing. In the next moment, the other dog was in her face, complaining, of course, that she should've done better, acted sooner, paid more attention to their stupidity to better save them from it.

Cassandra pulled back, disgusted by the proximity, and curled her pink lips, all filters down. "Oh, my apologies," she replied, voice shrill with venom. "Should I have told you sooner that you were being stupid? Would that really have stopped you?" She drew herself up to her full height -- which was really quite average, but her tall, pointed ears might have made it seem otherwise -- her tail flicking in agitation.

"I bet she sicced it on us," the brownish dog said, "There's no reason it should've attacked like that!"

And suddenly Cassandra remembered his name. McGuff or something. A Quidditch player. The other one was one too, maybe. Beaters? She couldn't remember because she didn't care. No wonder they were stupid. She only occasionally watched her sister's games; Myrika had figured out long ago that she wasn't really interested and had kindly insisted that she not waste her time, that being the case. Nevertheless, Cassandra refused to be absent for all of them.

The pale girl laughed. "What a way to cover up your own incompetence! Of course the Tentacula can tell a foul mouth! If it's got a head, it's got a brain, except, perhaps, in your case!"

kiri is a butthead; avatar by dwudles
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