“You didn’t have to come,” Danny said.
Claudia frowned. “Where else am I supposed to go?”
They both knew the other was saying ‘Thank you,’ for the invitation and its acceptance.
Danny led his sister into the dining kitchen in Boston. The same as last time Claudia visited, Dakota had been told in advance and decided to be elsewhere for the day. “You’re not a pity guest,” Danny clarified. “I know you’ve got friends. Go visit them. Staying in a Muggle’s home for a few hours won’t kill you.”
Claudia wrinkled her nose. “I’m disowned, not desperate.”
“You’re a brat,” he told her fondly, levitating two tall tumblers and a carton of iced tea from the kitchen cupboards.
“You know there’s not actually any tea in a Long Island Iced Tea, right?” An unwanted voice chimed in. Kaye Packman leaned against the doorway frame, arms crossed and grinning. “You’re making it wrong.”
Claudia appraised the too-tight everything Kaye was wearing, from her purple pants to her black buckled top, with an eyebrow raised in distaste. “I see this building is still open to whoever cares to drop by, despite Holland’s best efforts,” she smirked, her own way of letting Kaye know she was pleased to see her again. She liked the misfit without any credible explanation. Maybe because she’s the only person who never altered her behavior around Claudia, no matter what happened.
“Kaye, it’s just after ten, and Claudia is sixteen,” Danny pointed out. Kaye’s raised eyebrows told him how little either of those facts meant to her.
“Nobody here believes you stayed dry until you were of age,” Claudia matched Kaye’s expression.
Danny felt like his animagus form, and the girls were hungry wolves. With no desire to be ripped to shreds, he raised his hands in surrender. “Okay, fine. I’m no longer in charge of making drinks.”
“That’s fine.” Kaye strode across the room, her high heeled boots clicking against the floor, and opened up Marissa Kendrick’s liquor cabinet. “Carrot Top won’t mind. What do you want, Claudia?”
“To not be disowned and stand about two inches taller.”
Glass bottled clinked together as Kaye pulled both whiskey and vodka from the cabinet. After a moment of thought, she put the vodka back and carried the whiskey to the table. “Can’t do much about the first thing, but you can raid my shoes if you want. We’ll charm them to fit.”
Claudia looked down at her own cream suede Mary Janes, with a chunky one-inch heel, that matched the cream pinafore dress she wore over brown tights and blouse. Then she looked at Kaye’s knee high stiletto leather boots, decorated in spikes and chains. “I’m not convinced you have anything in my style.”
Kaye pulled together brown sugar, heavy cream, and set the coffee pot to brew something strong. Her heavily lined gaze took in Claudia’s current aesthetic and shrugged. “Might be time to try something new. I dressed like you before I lost my hair and my dad got disowned.”
Claudia blinked. She glanced at Danny for confirmation that Kaye wasn’t spouting gibberish, only he was too busy looking dismayed—probably by the potential of his baby sister turning out anything like the young woman currently making her Irish coffee—to notice. Regardless, he didn’t seem surprised by the revelation, which must mean he knew already. Which meant that Kaye wasn’t lying about her father being disowned. Merlin’s magic, Claudia actually had something in common with Kaye Packman. “I don’t want to try anything that new,” Claudia said, looking back at Kaye’s footwear.
“I can work with that.” She slid the coffee over to Claudia and began to make her own. “I’d offer a makeover for you, too,” Kaye directed this comment to Danny, “but you couldn’t pull it off.”
Danny glanced down at his own sky blue chinos and lavender shirt. “I don’t need a makeover,” he grinned. Besides, only Holland was allowed to give him makeovers.
Claudia thanked her for the coffee and watched Kaye a little longer. This was the first person who’d ever helped her buy nail polish, when Claudia was a terrified little third year on Pearl Street. She didn’t trust Kaye to choose her outfits, not even a little bit, but it might be fun to walk in her shoes. Literally. It wasn’t as though she was trying to impress anyone anymore. “Okay,” Claudia blew across the steaming coffee cup. “I want to try your shoes.”
Kaye sat with her Irish coffee and proceeded to unzip each boot. They landed on the floor with a thunk!. Claudia muttered a spell to unbuckle her shoes, and she placed them neatly to one side. She stepped timidly towards Kaye’s monstrous boots, wary of summoning them in case they were cursed. Or came flying at her face, pointy parts first … which was just about all the parts. With some tugging and some magic, between them, Kaye and Claudia managed to get the boots on her feet and fastened. Claudia wobbled, standing the promised two inches taller, thanks to the stiletto heels.
“How does it feel?” Kaye asked, holding hands out just in case Claudia fell or needed something to hold on to for balance. Now that she was at her normal height, the younger girl towered over Kaye.
She couldn’t stop a smile from curling the edges of her lips. “This is a good height,” Claudia commented. She walked with more confidence than she felt to stand next to Danny, closer to looking him in the eye than she had ever been.
“That’s, um … a different look on you,” he said. “Terrifying.”
Claudia smirked at the comment but she couldn’t deny that she didn’t feel especially comfortable in chains and spikes. “They’re not really me,” she admitted, “but I like the height.” She ruffled Danny’s hair.
“I have other shoes,” Kaye reminded them. She grinned at Claudia. “You can raid my closet.” She fully believed that a good shoe - that may or may not double as a weapon - made all the difference. Made someone feel back in control of some part of themselves, however small. “Come over any time.”
“I’m free now.”
“What happened to visiting your brother?” Danny pretended to be offended. Kaye watched, blue eyes sparkling with chaotic intentions. This was fun.
“What happened to ‘go visit your friends’?” Claudia shot back.
“I will have her back with enough time to spare for your visit.” Kaye meant it. It was both a promise and a threat for future Danny: he'd have to deal with Kaye again before the day was out.
After they finished their coffees, warmed by the heat of the beverage as well as it’s alcoholic content, Claudia followed Kaye back by Floo to her single dorm room. It was small but perfect for what Kaye needed. Plus, magic could improve nearly anything. Her wigs were on display, her television still on but playing nothing, and as promised, her magically expanded closet was full of all kinds of shoes. Some matched the intensity of the boots she had on, and others were slightly less intimidating. Kaye flopped onto her dark bedspread and motioned towards the closet. “Go ahead.”
Did people really live in rooms this small? Claudia was already feeling claustrophobic after a few seconds. Mercifully there was plenty to distract her: Kaye’s room was practically a homage to the expression ‘Do not fuck with me.’
At Kaye’s invitation, Claudia directed her attention to the closet. There wasn’t quite enough shoes to fill a store, but if Claudia added her own footwear collection to the selection, between them the girls could open a boutique. With an eclectic target audience. “I don’t even know where to start,” Claudia said.
Kaye pushed herself off of her bed and considered. She took in Claudia’s shoes, her clothes, and nodded. “Lemme pull a few options for you.” The older girl chose several pairs of shoes, and a couple of boots, that might work for Claudia. Since the chain and spike embellishments didn’t seem to do it for the girl, Kaye grabbed some that kept the high heel but were more lace and leather. One pair was even purple instead of black. For good measure, she pulled out a couple of tops and a pair of dark blue pants she never wore. “Try these.”
“Pants?” Claudia fit more derision into one syllable than ought to have been possible. “No.”
“All of my longest skirts and dresses stop halfway down my thigh.” She usually wore ripped tights or fishnets with those kinds of clothes, but she got the feeling that pants would somehow be more Claudia’s style than any of the dresses or skirts Kaye had in her closet. “Unless showing off a ton of leg is more your thing?”
Glaring while biting the inside of her lip, Claudia was about to give up this ridiculous plan and go back to Boston. Back to something familiar, as if she could just go back to things whenever reality took her out of her comfort zone. “Give me the damned pants.”
Pretending she was at a robes fitting prevented Claudia from expiring from the impropriety as she climbed out of her clothes in Kaye’s college dormitory. The dark blue pants fit more snuggly than Claudia’s exercise leggings (the only time she’d ever worn pants of any description), like they were trying to fuse with her skin. Slipping off her own brown blouse, Claudia grabbed the least offensive of the selection of tops Kaye provided: a dark plum-colored sweater with such loose weave it was practically transparent. “Do you have something to put under this?”
“Um.” Kaye glanced around. Usually she wore a simple bra underneath, but she already managed to get Claudia into pants. Best not to push. She found a black tank top and tossed it her way. “That’s about it.”
“Thanks,” she huffed, trying not to sound ungrateful. Nobody was forcing her into someone else’s wardrobe. Under normal circumstances she wouldn’t even consider this but … well, circumstances hadn’t been normal for a while. Plus, “I didn’t know your father was disowned.”
“Georgia Byrons,” she said. “My dad got disowned when I was a kid. They didn’t like that he fell in love with a Muggle man who already had a halfblood daughter.”
Claudia was silent as she finished dressing. She chose a pair of knee-high black boots with a solid heel (she didn’t have much practice walking in stilettos) and laces all the way up. Kaye’s family sounded more complicated than Claudia’s. Their situations were not the same, but Claudia didn’t know anyone else who’d been through anything remotely similar. Secretly she thought her grandparents had done what her father ought—Claudia loved Danny, but he was breaking the rules! They existed for a reason. He should have expected to be disowned himself, rather than bringing his family down with him—but living the consequences felt different to embracing an ideal. She turned back to Kaye, sweeping her blonde hair back off her shoulder and putting her hands on her hips. “What do you think?”
Kaye looked her up and down with a proud grin. “You’re definitely standing taller. Just...” She reached into a drawer and fished out a black studded belt. “There.” Once Claudia put it on, Kaye gestured to the wall of wigs behind her. “Wanna try new hair, too, or is this enough change?”
“I’ll pass,” Claudia said. She didn’t want to be too much like Kaye. Wearing one of her wigs as well as a full outfit just felt a little too familiar. “But this is… freeing.” She’d never have guessed it of such restrictive attire. She allowed herself a small smile. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Ready to go back and freak out your brother?”
“Yes. Wait. Do you have a lipstick shade to match this top?”
“Do I have a lipstick to match this top?” Kaye echoed with a laugh. “Of course I do. I have four.”
“One will do.”
In the absence of his visitor, Danny caught up on reading for his export certificate and baked cinnamon rolls ready for when Claudia and Kaye got back. Of all the people his sister could befriend, Kaye was actually one of the less objectionable: Claudia had been friends with Rose’s odd little brother as long as she’d known him, and she’d once been friends with Jordan Williams. Kaye was a substantial improvement, plus she had some understanding of what Claudia might be going through.
Although, when his sister returned looking like… that, Danny reconsidered his stance. To Kaye, he said, “Did you Obliviate her?”
“If by obliviate you mean ‘be the best influence ever’ then sure.”
“Don’t you like it?” Claudia pressed, enjoying watching her brother squirm. She’d never get on board with letting her bra straps show (Lia and Marley both did that. Kaye sometimes let her whole bra be on display) but she could lower her standards of attire now that she was shunned from society. She could maybe get used to pants, in time.
“It looks fine,” Danny answered, “just not very… you.”
“Me is a fluid concept right now.”
“Do you want a turn in my closet, Pretty Boy?” Kaye asked, a very dangerous grin on her face.
“Very much no.” Terrible, bad idea. “So much no. Thank you for the offer, but there’s nothing I want in there.” He turned back to Claudia. “You look great.”
Kaye nodded in agreement. “You look ready to kick the world in the balls.”
Claudia laughed. “I’ll make it my top priority.”
Co-written with Cassie