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Grayden Payne

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Grayden Payne

The enchanted sky of the Great Hall shimmered like dark glass, brightened by stars. It was evening—not quite dinner, but the crowd from lunch had cleared. Grayden sat beside Elke at the Gryffindor table, feeling content. Chandeliers and candlelight blinked like diamonds.

 

“So,” he finished up the story about their classmate, leaning toward her. “It was—um, I was confused how, how they—because, you know what he was like in sex ed.” He chuckled darkly, lifting a hand to hide his bashful expression. Typically he’d feel guilt for thinking negatively or gossiping about his peers, but Elke somehow made him comfortable. He trusted her.

 

“I don’t, er, I don’t want to think about it...”

 

Over the past year, Grayden felt like less of a coward. He could speak his mind more often. He may have not made a move with Elke, but he had a friend—a friend who wasn’t brash like Ollie and Fe, pulling him into adventure after adventure despite how uncomfortable it made him. A friend who wasn’t a frenemy like Margaret. Elke was a friend who was like him, who understood him, who allowed him to be himself, fears and flaws alike. He convinced himself that his feelings for her were of the past, because he didn’t want to ruin things with someone who was quickly becoming one of his best friends.

 

He sat in the Great Hall, leaning on his elbow, when he suddenly remembered why he'd been feeling jumpy with excitement all day. 

 

“I wanted to show you something,” he smiled softly, and bent down, unearthing the folded paper from his satchel. Over the summer, during evenings after long days at the beach atop waves, surrounded by the smells of sea salt and sunscreen, he had quiet time to himself—time for hobbies, time for peace. One thing he’d decided to learn during that time was origami, partially to impress Elke, but mostly because Elke loved it, and he thought it was something they could do together. He’d done an internet search and found a mediocre tutorial.

 

Unfortunately, the tutorial hadn't mentioned special paper, and so he'd done the whole thing on rectangular parchment without realizing. Always the perfectionist, he thought he’d followed every step to a tee, so he was confused why the creature didn’t look like the picture, but that didn’t stop him from presenting it to her excitedly.

 

“See? I made it for you. It’s an elk.”

Edited by Grayden Payne

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Elke Pollard

It had been the first time since she'd first journeyed to Hogwarts that Elke Pollard had actually wanted to come back to the castle. There had been no dread twisting in the pit of her stomach, no sweaty palms and anxious breaths as she farewelled her parents at Kings Cross. She'd ventured onto the platform, a grin on her face that only grew wider when she spotted Grayden waiting for her. 

 

She had friends at Hogwarts, she'd always had friends but Elke never had a best friend. 

 

Somewhere along the line that's what Gray had become to Elke. The Gryffindor girl had worked past the blushing, the stammered words and butterflies and found a sense ease in his company. Being with Grayden was as easy as breathing, easy as being and Elke looked at the gossiping boy and bit the inside of her cheek to suppress her laughter lest they catch the attention of their peers. 

 

"It's because he's not very smart, Gray. Well," she paused for just a beat, considering her words. "Maybe he could be smart but his arrogance prevents that." A sly smile was curled onto her lips. That was Elke being kind, dark eyes shooting Grayden a look of amusement and raising her shoulders into a shrug. If he didn't want to talk about it anymore, she'd let it be. 

 

"Oh?" His admission caused her to quirk a brow, forgetting her lunch and watching the blonde boy dig through his satchel presenting her with a...

 

"Oh!"

 

Elke attempted a smile, a hand reaching up to push her hair from her face as she looked at the poorly made origami creature that Grayden had made for her. He'd even said he'd made it just for her. That alone was enough to make her genuinely smile, beaming at the Ravenclaw as she gingerly picked up the parchment creature. "It's...fantastic." Even if it was a mess. "I love it." Because a gift like this was something to be appreciated, he'd put time effort and thought into it. Even if it had come out terribly.

 

"But." But. "Usually you use special paper." Which he clearly didn't. "Do...do you want me to show you?"

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Grayden Payne

At her comment, Grayden burst into a laugh that shook his stomach. “That’s.. that’s the best way to phrase it I’ve heard.”

 

It was an unusual feeling—belonging—particularly for a boy who’d always felt so separated. He was now learning new things, new feelings, like how easy felt. Even in his closest friendships, there’d always been an anxiety that buzzed at the surface, a fear, an awareness of each of his actions and an inability to relax. Being around Elke had become so natural, however, that it was if coils were released and he was free.

 

He waited for her reaction nervously, a part of him wondering if it was too much. 

 

She loved it. His smile bloomed, turquoise eyes alight, and he had to stop himself from bouncing in place. Gray was constantly filled with excess energy these days, and when Elke praised him, he found himself craving a run, a sprint—he imagined his lanky legs propelling him forward - faster, faster, faster.

 

Oh.”

 

He sighed softly when she brought up the special paper – of course. He knew he’d done something wrong. It was strange, however, because a mistake was something he would’ve beat himself up for years ago, something that would’ve caused him to swell with feelings of imperfection. Now, however, it didn’t seem like the end of the world. If Elke wasn’t disappointed in him, why should he be disappointed in himself?

 

“Um, yes,” he smiled. “Thank you. Of course.”

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Elke Pollard

She had always felt a disconnect with other people her age. The way they spoke, acted, and what seemed to be important to them. While Elke struggled inside her own mind, she watched them all build connections and relationships with an ease that she felt would always be alien to her. She had attempted to force it at first—when she had first come to Hogwarts four years ago with Tomahawk as her only friend. 

 

It had become too hard for her to pretend, forcing herself to be somebody that she wasn't and instead living with the constant anxiety of never feeling comfortable in her own skin. So she'd opted to withdraw and just simply be.

 

Existing within the walls of Hogwarts but never actually feeling like it was home. 

 

That was until turquoise eyes seemed to follow her wherever she went, much like they were now. It was second year and his attention had made her feel so aware of herself, so self conscious in her movements. She'd attempted to ignore him at first, pretend the boy who stared at her in the Great Hall and during classes simply didn't exist.

 

Until she couldn't ignore her mind anymore, losing to that inner voice and demanding to know what Grayden's problem with her was. Except it wasn't a problem at all. 

 

It had been the first time that somebody had called her pretty (besides her mother) and the first time at Hogwarts that Elke had actually wanted to try and get to know somebody. That night in the Great Hall was the first time she shared part of herself with somebody at Hogwarts. 

 

She met his eyes and grinned wide, eyes wrinkling in the corners as Elke reached for her bag, excited to show off her improved skills to Grayden. 

 

"Well y'know it can be expensive so sometimes I just use parchment as well." It was too thick though, not as fine and pretty as the special origami paper she purchased back in Brixton. "You can get all different kinds of patterns. I got some cute new styles," she enthused, retrieving her muggle trapper keeper that she'd decorated with a variety of stickers to store the delicate origami paper. 

 

"What would you like me to make you? I can do a lot now. Heaps of animals and over the summer I learned how to make some really, really pretty flowers." She began listing them all, her tone was one of unabashed pride as she pushed the trapper keeper towards Grayden. "Pick a piece of paper too." 

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Grayden Payne

Something had changed for him at Hogwarts when some of Grayden's year-mates started showing him kindness. After Havana had scorned him, proving herself the only person he'd ever deem horrible, Selena and others were sweet.. but, as he quickly realized, they hadn't actually cared about being his friend, about sticking around, about him.. it was a temporary kindness, perhaps burgeoned out of a dislike for Havana. He still felt the same disconnect to his peers as Elke.

 

And she was the prettiest girl in their year. She may not look the same as everyone else, but he liked that. It was why he hadn't been able to stop looking at her. Even though she was his best friend now, and just that, he figured it was alright that he thought she was beautiful. 

 

As she spoke more of origami, Grayden vividly remembered years ago, when they'd first met, and she made him a fish, resembling his love for the ocean. He wanted it to be different now, though, since he was trying to learn as well...

 

"Ah. That's amazing!" He was paying more attention to Elke and the way she lit up as she listed the flowers than to the names of the flowers themselves. "Do you think we could make it at the same time?" He asked her excitedly. "So I can try to imitate you? And learn? I - well, what's your favorite thing you learned to make? We can make that. You - you're always asking me what I want, but you - you don't realize, um.." his voice trailed off as he flushed and attempted to dredge up the bravery to continue.

 

"I mean, you don't realize how special you are.  How - how what - what you want matters." He chose a paper in the shade of sea-green. "So, um, tell me what your favorite thing is to make, and we'll make it!" He paused, deflating a bit, nervously, as he met her gaze. "Er, if that's okay.."

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Elke Pollard

She felt the burn of blush on her cheeks as his words dripped with compliment for her skill. Amazing he had said, and while he didn't call Elke amazing it sort of felt like he had. Maybe? Perhaps? She wouldn't dwell on it, at least not right now (she would once alone in her dorm when the world was so quiet you could hear a pin drop and her thoughts would thunder loudly in her mind) as delicate hands selected a piece of paper, and her mind selected something simple for them both to make.

 

Simple and a favourite because she wanted to show him what was important to her but she didn't want him to feel like he couldn't keep up. 

 

"Because it's important what you want," she interrupted, her mumbled words fumbling together with his. But while he continued speaking, Elke fell silent. Everything else she had wanted to say felt like it was stuck in the back of her throat and she swallowed nervously.

 

She blinked owlishly at the blonde boy stumbling over his words. Unable to keep up with his gaze, Elke looked away and nodded her head when Grayden finished. "Okay. Okay..well." She cleared her throat, chancing a quick glance his way, "Just follow me and we'll um..make a crane. It's actually pretty simple to make." Beginning to fold the paper, Elke placed extra emphasis on the way she was folding. Slowing down the movements as Grayden followed. "I like these a lot though. They mean something. I mean, a lot of the things mean something but these are special."

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Grayden Payne

Elke was so cute.

 

Grayden felt the giddiness bubble up inside him, and he couldn't stop watching her. He had to tell himself not to, because this behavior—staring—was exactly what'd unnerved her years ago, but he wanted to stare and stare and stare. Her cheeks flushed, and the sight of it caused his heart to race. If he were alone, he'd try to count count the number of times his heart beat against his chest around her.

 

He was already looking forward to tonight, when he'd mull over their interaction while he was alone, under the glow of the moonlight. His mind would replay the things he said and she said, what he did and how she reacted, again and again, a thousand times. If he knew her train of thought was similar to his, it'd only add wonderful layers to his imagination.

 

His cheeks burned hotter when she told him what he wanted was important, and thankfully, she spoke more before he could fumble through a reply. 

 

"Okay!" He beamed. "A crane, okay, yes." He held the paper in his slightly shaky hands, watching Elke with rapt attention. It was lucky he was a visual person—ironically, despite how much he loved to read, he learned better from watching than from a list of instructions. He was able to mimic Elke's motions, and by his third fold, when he realized how well he was doing, he had to briefly place a hand over his mouth to hide the prideful smile that'd bloomed on his lips. He didn't want her to think he was full of himself. 

 

Thankfully, he had sense to remove the hand eventually, and almost immediately, he continued folding. "Oh! And, um, why are theycranes, specificallyso special to you?" He asked her, greedy to learn as much about his best friend as he could. 

Edited by Grayden Payne

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Elke Pollard

She knew he watched her, that was just what he did. There was nothing sinister about it, because there was nothing sinister about Grayden. He was a good person—and kind. That was rare in their year. At least in her opinion kindness was a trait rarely displayed by their classmates. The way their peers behaved  It didn't bother her anymore but Elke had used to let it get to her frequently. Hormone driven monsters was the phrase she had used when explaining them to her mother. 

 

Then she'd almost become exactly like them. 

 

She couldn't recall at what point her relationship with Grayden had slipped into this comfortable friendship but Elke was glad it had. Trying to ignore his gaze (lest her concentration break) as she carefully folded the paper before her, Elke cast him a sideways glance and giggled at his pitiful attempt to hide his smile. "You're doing really well," she praised him. He needn't be modest, this was hard and it had taken her years to perfect it without referring to instruction books. 

 

"Oh um, well." Elke paused her folding, one hand awkwardly in mid air and another one went to her long hair, pushing through it as she thought over his words. The answer was simple enough, but sharing things so personal to her was still so new. Licking her lips nervously before she spoke. Words spoken with hesitation, wondering if the next thing she would say would make him laugh at how stupid she was. "There's this story about paper cranes and," Elke looked fiercely at the table, the goblet of juice, the unfinished origami birds, anywhere but Grayden. "If you fold one thousand of them and put them on a string your....um your wish would come true. It's stupid, I know." She quickly adds, shacking her head and pursing her lips together. "I just...I just think it's nice y'know? Hopeful." 

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Grayden Payne

"Thank you," he replied with a bouncy giggle. "Finally.. I mean, maybe I'll make up points from before," he joked, but he was a lot less ashamed now.

 

Grayden, for all his fumbling awkwardness and perpetual insecurity, was far from unintelligent. He recognized the vibrant signs of embarrassment, of fear, as he'd experienced them and let them shine through his own being time and time again. The way she was looking away from him, flushed, refusing to meet his gaze. Grayden felt a rush of sympathy for her, mixed with a deep understanding. He knew exactly what she was going through, and he wanted to say something comforting, something he would've wanted to hear if the situation were reversed.

 

Heart pounding, mind a blur, he did something potentially stupid. He lifted a hand up and set it on top of hers. "It's - Elke, you don't have to say." You never have to do anything you don't want to do. In the bravery that made her a Gryffindor (bravery, as Grayden knew it, wasn't lack of fear, but fearing something and doing it anyway), she went on to explain anyway.

 

"What!" Grayden said with a start. "That's not stupid at all, that's - that's so cool." He beamed at her, gaze alight with admiration. He pulled his hand back to continue folding his crane. "Plus with magic, it makes it more believable, so it can actually happen. I definitely want to try. We should both make wishes." 

Edited by Grayden Payne

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Elke Pollard

She had always been so fearful to speak her mind lest she be met with harsh words, rejection and alienation. Elke didn't do friendships, she didn't do social situations well at all and was always hesitant to speak her truth because people were always so quick to shoot others down. The hesitation was habit now, something that had grown over time and had festered into a cage around her heart that she was scared to open. 

 

Of course Elke needn't hesitate around Grayden and her timid answer and embarrassment was merely a side effect to this new and exciting part of her life. 

 

It was nice (more than nice, lovely and it filled her with happiness she didn't know she was capable of feeling) to have somebody to open up to without fear and have them understand you without judging or conditions. 

 

His delight was met with a bright laugh from Elke and she turned to him, a grin wide and eyes sparkling as she revelled in his excitement and enthusiasm. She pushed a hand through her hair, considered his reply for just a moment before enthusiastically nodding her head. "I'd love that! We can start here and then maybe by the end of seventh year we'll finally be done," she giggled, excited by the thought of their shared project. 

 

"It gives us plenty of time to think about what we'd wish for too. Obviously we can't tell each other either," she continued, delicately folding the future wings of the crane and watching Grayden follow her instructions. "You're wonderful by the way...I mean," Elke paused, fumbling over her words once more. "I mean you are wonderful, obviously. But I mean you're wonderful at this," she nodded at the crane he was carefully folding. "Like a natural."   

Edited by Elke Pollard

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Grayden Payne

Grayden, also (if it wasn't obvious!) flailed in social situations. He always thought that he was unable to express his true self by his presence, that he couldn't verbally communicate his humor and the things about him his mum said made him great, and he often saw the poor reactions from others—the boredom, the way he missed conversational beats, the inability to connect (even when he thought they connected). He didn't feel that way with Elke because she understood him, understood that he didn't always express himself the way he wanted to and yet she saw him anyway. 

 

"I am?" He repeated, dizzy, heart still pounding, gaze searing a hole into the table. A natural? After his initial origami failure, he had no idea Elke would turn around and call him wonderful. "You're a great teacher," he murmured, grinning now. "Much better than.. than a lot of our professors." He bit back a laugh, a splash of guilt hitting him. It felt awful to talk poorly of professors, but it was true. 

 

"You're wonderful too," he tacked on, finding it an apt word to boomerang. "Really, at - at showing me, and yeah." He shrugged.  "And you're my best friend." In case she didn't know. He was learning lately how important it was to tell people how he felt. 

 

He folded one last time, and presented her with the final version—sea-green, folds neat and precise, a 'by the book' crane—the paper rested flat in his palm. He looked at it, smiling, because it was what he'd been attempting and failing for much of the summer, but finally he could do it, and the thought infused him with a confidence he lacked before.

 

"I - I do like the idea of having time," he agreed, nodding. Decisions were difficult, especially when there was so much he could wish for, and he wanted to make sure the wish he made was perfect. "We'll get strings, and put it together later." He was still gazing at his folded crane in delight. "Um,  thanks for your patience." He wasn't aware that he'd thanked her about a thousand times - apologies and thank yous were how Grayden navigated the world, how he tried to make up for being socially inept.  "You should start, like a club."

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Elke Pollard

Elke didn't think she was a good teacher. Those who taught (or taught well) were confident and assertive, commanding in their space. All things that she was not. She faltered at his words, swallowing nervously and shaking her head in disbelief. "Am I?" She'd was always so unsure of herself, constantly questioning the compliments that came from others. Grayden wouldn't lie to her though and Elke laughed, delighted that she was good at something and he had noticed. "I don't...I don't think I am but thank you."

 

His compliments kept coming and Elke felt like her heart—beating with radiance and warmth—was going to burst from her chest. 

 

Elke was Grayden's best friend. She sucked in both her cheeks, attempting to suppress the ridiculous grin that wanted to dominate her round face. A best friend! She was stuck on those two words. She'd never been one of those before (she'd had them, but the relationships had always been so unbalanced and eventually she'd be left behind) and out of all the people he could choose Grayden had chosen her. 

 

"You're...you're my best friend too!" Elke spluttered, exhaling the words so rapidly that they tumbled out in a hurried whisper. The corners of her eyes wrinkled as he presented her his completed crane. Her chest swelled with pride as she delicately took it from his palm to lay it flat in her own. "It's lovely. The colour," she paused, lips curling into a smile. "Anything that is like the sea or ocean reminds me of you." Deep and blue, she likened it all back to him. The ocean was ever present, and calming—just like Grayden was for her. 

 

Elke gingerly handed him back the crane and shook her head once more. "Stop thanking me. You'd do the same for me." Reaching out she patted him on the hand, the affectionate gesture lasting a second before Elke ripped her hand away like a bandaid to fold them gently in her lap. "I'll write my mum to send me some more paper. We'll need lots of it." She paused, considering his other suggestion. 

 

A club? That would mean inviting other people. The idea alone made her stomach churn and Elke gaped at Grayden. "A club with like...people or just us two?"

Edited by Elke Pollard

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Grayden Payne

To be fair, a part of Grayden realized that calling Elke a better teacher than 'a lot of their professors' wasn't a great compliment since the pool of 'good professors' was very small, but at the same time, he thought she was genuinely very good. "You're patient," he told her. "With.. with me, anyway, and smart. Knowledgeable." The familiar blush began to creep up his cheeks, but he willed it back (or tried to). 

 

When Elke called him her best friend too, Grayden felt a sudden urge to skip around the Great Hall in a way that'd surely get him teased (and maybe punched), but the amount of pure energy her words shot through him was hard to shake. He did stay still, or tried to (his legs bounced mildly), but Merlin, it was hard. 

 

He attempted to keep his expression composed. He thought about other blokes he'd seen (not in his year, but older), who would have cool reactions and, unlike him, know exactly what to say. Something that'd make her grin and blush (and swoon?) But.. Grayden also knew, with her, he'd never had to try to be someone else before. He'd always been completely himself, and she never had any problem with it—she, unbelievably, liked it— no matter how nerdy or strange. There was no reason for him to change now.

 

"I - thank you," he managed. "Just.." He shrugged. "It's, um, good to know you feel the same way." Don't blush, he silently begged his cheeks.

 

His heart was already aglow, but if possible, the brightness intensified, radiating from his being when she said anything like the sea and ocean reminded her of him. "Anything like.. art reminds me of you," he quipped happily. "Not just origami, but I went to a museum with my sister over the summer and looked at the, you know, exhibits with sculptures and it made me think of what you built with paper!" He beamed. 

 

As Elke touched his hand, Grayden's gaze trailed down to follow it, tensing slightly at the contact. He swallowed. "I don't know how to stop thanking you," he admitted, followed by a soft giggle. "Please and thank you and sorry are the easiest to say." 

 

Her question caused him to pause. Elke had the tendency to make him feel brave enough to do anything, but when she phrased it like that and he thought of including others..

 

"Just us," he answered immediately. "But a club, as in, we.. we get together and work on it regularly. Be productive so we finish!"

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