Beta’d by the wonderful Summer! x (ginerva_molly_weasley) Just close your eyes
You'll be all right
Come morning light,
You and I'll be safe and sound...
Safe & Sound - Taylor Swift
Athanas was already waiting in the Potions lab when I entered. He was standing vigilantly beside one of the front desks facing the chalkboard at the front, but his gaze was floating somewhere out of the window in a different time than the present. The rain trickled down the window after giving up the fight against the glass, pooling at the bottom of the windowsill and seeping into the cracks of the wood.
The sound was almost melodic, but it soon became a saddening and mournful rhythm as I watched Athanas stare out. His suit was pristine, with not a single crease visible in the crisp white shirt - the Auror looked exactly as he had when I first met him the week before. Even his expression was identical - blank. He was not looking out into the rain or onto the grounds, not even further into the distance of the highlands. He wasn’t showing any sort of emotion.
He turned suddenly, catching sight of my pale reflection in the glass. I drew in a sharp intake of breath as his cool blue eyes met my own grey ones. I hoped the pity hadn’t shown on my face; I was the last person who should have been allowed to pity someone who had earned such scars as he had.
‘Miss Sanders,’ he said coolly. His voice told me, quite certainly, that it had.
‘Auror Athanas,’ I replied with an apologetic smile.
He stared at me a moment longer before his gaze flickered to Clegg’s desk. My eyes widened, startled, as the professor’s brown ones burned into mine. I hadn’t even noticed him. His glasses were low on the bridge of his nose, low enough that the lenses didn’t cover his eyes and I could just about catch his thinly veiled curiosity and perhaps… worry.
‘Professor, if you could…?’ Athanas began.
Clegg’s eyes turned to his, but the rest of his body - elbows on the table; ink-drenched quill hanging from one of his loosely linked hands; shoulders slightly hunched over the tumults of blotchy paper - didn’t move. I noticed then the similarities that Clegg and the Auror had. Both were stoic and almost helplessly wry, though Clegg more so than Athanas.
‘If I could?’ he asked, straight-faced.
‘Leave, please. I’m sorry for disrupting you from your work but this is the only room I had available.’
‘I doubt that,’ Clegg retorted, though not with derision.
Athanas’ back still straightened a little, and his grip on his wrist tightened. ‘The questions for Miss Sanders are of a personal matter, Professor Clegg, and we thought it would be ideal for Miss Sanders to be in an area where she is comfortable. I was told she enjoyed her Potions lessons very much.’
Clegg continued to stare at Athanas for some time, but at the end of the day, he was an elderly professor, and Athanas was a hard, supposedly ruthless soldier of the government. There really was no competition, but Clegg was sure not to go down silently. He was not one for conformity.
He slowly rose from his chair, his back clicking as he straightened up to his impressive height. His eyes swivelled back to mine.
‘Are you all right, Genevieve?’ he asked me.
I nodded and gave him a tentative smile that convinced neither of us. I couldn’t exactly say no. ‘I’ll be fine, Professor. Thank you.’
‘Well, just… come to my office if you need anything. You know where I am.’
I nodded again. ‘Thank you, Professor. I will.’
He let out a weary sigh and gathered a bundle of papers together with almost painfully slow movements. I tried to stifle a smile; the waves of irritation seeping from the Auror were practically palpable. The only sounds were the rustles of shuffling parchment and the sudden, startlingly loud clearing of Athanas’ throat.
Clegg flashed him a look of annoyance before walking through the door to his office. He shut it with a quiet click. I could have sworn I saw a small smile on his face when he turned his back, but there really was no telling with him.
‘Shall we begin?’ Athanas asked the moment we were alone.
He waved a hand at the desk and two of the bench stools levitated either side. He withdrew a notepad and biro identical to Bahram’s, buttoned up his suit jacket, and sat down on the chair facing the front of the classroom. I sat facing the wall.
‘Miss Sanders,’ he began. I wondered what difficulty it would have cost him just to call me ‘Genevieve’.
‘I’m going to admit straight out that we have no clue who could have done this. Hogwarts is an… astronomically secure place. Without authorisation no one can get inside or out anymore.’ The words it can only be a teacher or student couldn’t have been clearer even if he screamed them. ‘My partner and I are not going to lie. We need to be as clear as possible with you to ensure your cooperation. We need to ensure that we find the guilty party as soon as possible before you or someone else gets hurt. Do you understand?’
I blinked, but his perpetually stern and severe expression did not change. It made me feel like I was in danger right now. I resisted glancing behind me, and instead looked out of the window. The scene was blurred by the rain that dribbled down the glass, leaving the grounds in a muddy mess of greens and browns that flowed together. It made me feel better; at least there was the comfort of knowing my mind was in a clearer state than that of the view outside the window.
‘I understand,’ I told him quietly, lowering my eyes to the tightly wringing hands in my lap. My reflection looked paler than normal, and the purplish bruises under my eyes that I thought I had abandoned for a while were slowly returning. Deya had offered me some concealer at breakfast. I declined.
‘Then I’ll continue. Miss Sanders, is there anyone you know who would want to harm you or cause you harm?’
And so the question was out. It didn’t stop my grey eyes from widening or my small mouth opening in a little ‘o’ of surprise, and neither did it stop the feeling that he’d just tipped a bucket of ice-cold water of me, leaving my hair soaking; my skin freezing and covered in goose bumps.
To suggest I’d been singly targeted with physical abuse was so terribly wrong, and with such a horrific connotation about someone that it made me feel ill. What sort of person would go to such lengths to harm a person in such a way? What sort of reasoning could they possibly have that would justify their actions?
I blinked at Athanas after a moment and tried to hide my fear as well as my own guilt. I’d already spent hours wondering the same question, wondering who could do such a thing. My mind never seemed to want to form any names. ‘No, I… I don’t know of anyone that would… want to hurt me.’
‘You can’t think of anything you’ve done that would provoke or upset anyone?’ he asked. I wasn’t sure if I imagined his longing glance at the empty notepad in his hand.
‘No,’ I said, a little stronger than intended. He didn’t look shocked by my outburst, simply scribbled a few quick notes on his notepad in black ink, and then looked back up.
‘What was the last thing you remember, Miss Sanders? From that evening?’
‘I’ve told you this already, sir.’
‘I know,’ he said, almost cheerily, ‘I just want to verify your account.’
I wanted to protest and ask if he was accusing me of lying, but instead: ‘The last thing I remember was leaving the party after I had spoken with Albus and Deya.’
‘Deyanira Silver. She’s Albus’ girlfriend. Seventh Year Slytherin,’ I told him. He knew these details already. I was beginning to realise that repeating details was a habit of his, and wondered if by hearing them over and over again he remembered something he hadn’t first thought of.
‘Deyanira… Where’ve I heard that name before?’ he murmured quietly, his pen tap-tapping against the paper, like he’d been pondering the question for much longer than five seconds.
‘Greek mythology,’ I offered. ‘Heracles’ third wife.’
His blond eyebrows rose, two deep lines forming in his forehead. ‘You’ve looked this up?’
‘I read it before I met her. I had a lot of time to spare at the orphanage.’
‘This would be Wool’s, correct?’
‘Yes, that’s correct.’
‘And this is the same place where the death of Nathaniel Greene occurred?’
I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and remember that we had effectively agreed on this direct method of questioning. Think of the people that could be saved… Athanas waited a moment or two before I could nod shakily in agreement. ‘Yes, that’s right. That’s… where it happened.’
Had he not been so characteristically impassive I wondered if he would have shown pity, or as Harry had done, simply not thought about the emotional aspect of it at all. As partial as I tried to be about that day, it was such a grossly impossible defeat. Even someone utterly apathetic, ignorant, or even sadistic could not forget such a thing. It was still there, still in the back of your mind, though how it was remembered could vary for different people.
Gemma thought me a monster for it, which of course I could do nothing to change. I believed I was dangerous and that I was damaging to others, but I did not think myself as a monster so much as someone who could not be helped.
When you believe something is right and you have convinced yourself that something is so utterly true, no one can do anything to persuade it, because you are blind to anyone’s reasoning but your own. You can do nothing unless your argument is so great that it is able to plant a seedling of doubt that will spread and grow inside someone’s mind.
When we went to the museum, Rory said that was how Muggle wars started, and if I had listened to Binns during History of Magic, I probably would have realised that it was how ours started, too. Two people believing in totally opposing beliefs could never convince one another that they are the right ones, and they are the people believing the right thing.
‘It’s like pushing two magnets with the same ends together,’ he had said, ‘and hoping that they’ll attract. It doesn’t work. You cannot change the pathway that the human mind travels unless it changes itself, and that is ultimately our downfall: our inability to see reason in others because it is not something we created.’
Athanas continued to ask me questions for much of that Sunday morning. I didn’t know whether my answers were helpful, but by the time the bell rang and signalled lunch, his notepad was brimming with small, jotted notes. I hoped that was a good sign and not simply his random doodles or snatches of thoughts.
I spoke with both he and Bahram over the next few weeks. We often talked about the same things; sometimes they’d ask me a question one day, and ask it again the next. I was pretty sure my answers never changed, but ‘pretty sure’ just didn’t cut it given the circumstances. Some of the questions were odd, like: ‘How are you feeling about your Quidditch practices?’ or: ‘How often do you speak to Lily Potter?’ or even: ‘How’s your relationship with William Nott going?’
They asked them with casual, almost friendly voices, but their expressions didn’t quite fit. It was as if they were foreign to the ways of humanity. They didn’t look at all interested by the question or the answer, because they were constantly looking behind the words, trying to find some meaning in them. I’d spend hours at night thinking about my answers, trying to approach them with the same mind-set as the Aurors, but nothing ever occurred to me.
I constantly had to remind myself that they were the professionals and that they knew what they were doing. I so often didn’t know what I was doing that it was rare having to put that sort of faith in someone.
They’d been questioning the students, too, but no one said a word. I knew whom the Aurors had approached when they started glancing at me across the lunch hall, or they’d scuttle past me when we were heading in the same direction, or I’d be slapped with a sudden bout of silence when I walked into a room. Rooms where groups of students, that I’d always shared a smile with, huddled together with hushed voices. When I looked at them now, they just looked back with uncomfortable, slightly startled faces.
I didn’t know what they’d been asked; I didn’t know how much they knew about what had happened, but I did know that they were either curious about what it was, or they were scared. Scared of me, of the Aurors, or of the same thing happening to them - I just didn’t know. That was the infuriating thing about the whole situation. I didn’t know. No one did.
Normally I’d go to the library and pick up a book and immerse myself in knowledge and satisfy my questions so easily, but this wasn’t such a clean-cut job. There wasn’t some sort of answer bank willing to dole out what I wanted and needed to know, and there didn’t seem to be one opening up any time soon.
Headmistress McGonagall grew tired of their presence in the school pretty quickly, but when she sent a letter to Harry requesting a new pair after their astounding lack of progress, Harry said that they were the best they had, and if they didn’t find out who committed it, then it was unlikely anyone else they sent would either. He simply told McGonagall to give them time, but I knew what more than one mind was thinking - time was one thing we didn’t really know if we had.
Exactly a month later to that Saturday, I found myself sat in the common room window. It was still raining, the droplets streaking down the windows like tears and the trees of the forest swaying violently in the wind, their new leaves and flower buds clinging onto the branches for dear life. Spring and Winter were still battling for control over the season, but no one could tell who was winning.
It happened that morning: the shift. The realisation that life actually went on despite everything. My growing distance from people, the investigation and everything else that was happening made it seem like the world needed to stop and take a breath before normality could continue. It hadn’t, and it wouldn’t, because this was reality.
Albus had left earlier with Deya; the two went for a walk around the grounds before the Gryffindor Quidditch practice began. I eyed the weather outside. Quidditch could survive perhaps, but their walk would have to be postponed.
I noticed Rory had missed breakfast again that morning, and neither had he answered the door to his dorm. I had long since stopped asking Will to get him to come talk to me. My eyes would find Will’s dark ones during breakfast and I’d stare at the empty seat beside him with a more-than-meaningful look, and then he’d just give me a near-imperceptible shake of his head. Will said that he barely spoke to anyone, just did his homework, ran Quidditch practices, and slept. I wondered how that life was going for him.
Getting Madam Pomfrey to check on him had crossed my mind once or twice, but his anger and the burning looks he was likely give me if he were forced to sit on a bed in the Hospital Wing weren’t entirely worth it.
The only two that were utterly at peace, encompassed within their own bubble of warmth, tender looks and loving brushes of skin against skin, were Scorpius and Rose. They were sat on the sofa, his arm wrapped around her as she snuggled into his chest.
I leaned my head against the cold stone of the window’s alcove and pulled my knees up closer to my chest, tucked away on the sill. I was sure they had forgotten I was there, but their quiet words lulled me into some kind of half-awareness. It was like the seconds before you fell asleep in a room with other people, and despite the fuzziness of everything around you, their distant voices are the clearest things you’ve ever heard, but you know that by morning you’re not likely to remember a single word of what’s been said. I didn’t mind not remembering. I wasn’t even supposed to be listening, but maybe they shouldn’t have been talking.
‘Don’t worry about your dad,’ I heard Rose murmur. ‘Everything will be fine.’
He chuckled slightly. ‘Tell him that and then we’ll talk.’
She lifted her chin up to look at him. ‘What does your mum think about us?’
‘She thinks it’s great — she wasn’t even in their year at Hogwarts anyway. Her place in the war was... limited. My dad’s just being a prejudiced bastard.’
‘Well perhaps she can talk to him about it?’
Scorp’s sigh was bone-deep. ‘Perhaps.’ He’d never spoken to me about he and Rose, but then again we never talked about our personal lives much - things seemed just easier not to, and it was nice; not having to worry what each other thought about their secrets.
Rose had said nothing to me either. I wondered if this was her way of telling me that Mr Malfoy wasn’t being entirely supportive. A pang of guilt hit me as the thought ‘It doesn’t surprise me’ arose. I barely knew the man; I was just basing those thoughts on circulated rumours as well as old stories of their childhoods and the war. Thinking those things made me no better than verbal gossips.
‘Look, Rose... I don’t care what either of them thinks. If they want to be children about our relationship then they’re more than welcome to. You know what my opinion has always been.’
‘It wasn’t always that way,’ she said softly, as if daring herself to say it. I tilted my head to the side, just enough that I could see the steady, soul-wrenching look he gave her as he played with the long, fire-red strands of hair between his callused fingertips.
‘And you made me see sense,’ he said. ‘I’m just… I’m just hoping that they’ll reach the same realisations that I did. If they want to fight about it then... well, I’m just going to leave them to it. They’re not going to ruin our happiness for anything, Rose. There isn’t the time in life to be waiting for people to give up their grudges and move on. You have to move with the change or you’ll be left behind.’
I looked back out through the window, onto the rain-sodden grounds and the white-grey rumbling sky, then sighed: A long, heavy, drawn-out sigh.
And then I stood up, left the common room silently, and headed down, early, to the Quidditch Pitch.
‘Run! Run! Run! Come on you lot! If you don't want to see Spence hold that bloody Snitch at the end tomorrow then you’d better run!’
I supressed a groan, forcing my legs to keep running through the thudding and agonising motions, willing them to cease their burning and for the finish line to inch a little closer.
I looked to Albus who was running beside me, instead of with Scorpius. Both their strides were even and more balanced than mine given their added heights, but with such little time to share anymore, being running partners was our only resolution, and that was fine with me.
His jaw was clenched tightly and he was shaking his head. His cheeks were flushed and his hair was sticking to his forehead soaked with water droplets and sweat. He seemed to be on the verge of saying something, but when all he did was let out an exhalation, I knew what he had realised: If you can talk then you’re not running hard enough.
‘If you three sprint you’ll never be able to finish, idiots!’ James shouted, his breath steady, even as he ran beside us all. If he didn’t run I doubted the rest of us would have.
Fred, Robin, and Charlie were about fifty metres up ahead, barely visible through the vehemently pouring rain, but just near enough that I could make out their playful shoving and attempts to trip one another up. I tried not to laugh — I didn’t have the breath to waste.
I was comforted by James’ more frequent praise that I was improving. I could go for longer and break through that invisible brick wall sooner. The burn wasn’t as bad now, either; it was satisfactory by the end, and I just had to remember that when I was actually running but in fact felt like I was dying.
‘Well done, Nieves! Keep it up! One more lap to go!’
I moaned, but kept going. I felt sick, my head was pounding, my lungs burning and my legs screaming at me as they thudded. It’s just running, I told myself. You’re going to be fine. Just get this one done and that’s it. Then you can stop.
Those thoughts circulated as we continued, Albus passing the occasional supportive comment of ‘You’re doing great,’ and ‘Nearly done, Nieves,’ and finally we’d completed the ten laps of the pitch.
You always set out thinking: This is great, I can do this and I’ll feel better afterwards, but that is superbly vaporised once you actually begin and hit the final stretch.
‘Remind me of the meaning of running, please?’ Albus moaned as he bent over, hands on his hips, Scorpius resting an elbow on his shoulder as he stretched his calves.
‘Building up leg muscle. You’ve got to stay on your broom somehow,’ James told him easily, like he hadn’t just run a quarter of a marathon. He was barely sweating, and his hair was almost neat, still.
I stared up at him from where I was led on the sodden grass, and he crouched down by my side and took a hold of my hands.
‘Up we get, Nieves,’ he said, pulling me up my sweaty palms.
My hands slid out from his, and as I felt myself falling backwards, his arms slid thoughtlessly around me.
Then, as if on cue, Fred wolf-whistled and Robin let out a bark of laughter, both holding onto one another to stretch their legs as James held me flush against his chest. I noticed Charlie had turned away and was walking towards the Quidditch chest.
‘Sod off,’ James muttered, stepping back. He shoved his hands in his pockets then gave me a blank, detached look.
I nodded, my face burning and my legs feeling like jelly.
‘Too much build-up of lactic acid,’ he informed me. ‘You just need to walk around for a few minutes. Stretch your arms while you do that.’
I followed his advice, head bowed as I walked a lap of the pitch, feeling like my head was going to burst and I was about to throw up at any minute. The rain helped though, the cold water drenching my clothes and cooling my skin.
We had beaten Ravenclaw back in January, and now, a month later, we were only left with Slytherin. This match would be the deciding one of who took the Quidditch Cup, and we were all especially adamant to ensure that it would be us.
I swung my arms back and forth, my breath even, but I had to stop and cough once or twice. Damn oxygen debt.
‘You ready, Nieves?’ I heard Albus shout.
‘Nearly!’ I called back, and he turned back to the boys handing one another their brooms.
I took a step forwards, and then I stopped. I stopped and stood in the rain, feeling it hammer down on me like the pulse I could feel thrumming in my veins and my head and my palms and my legs. Rivulets dribbled across my skin, just bobbing on the surface like tiny crystal mirrors that split and made one huge fish-eyed view.
I sighed, and lowered my arm. The water flowed down to my hands, separating at my fingers like tiny blood vessels. The droplets hesitated for a moment, on the tips of my nails, before dropping to the ground where it sank into the soil, absorbed into one huge mass; suddenly so insignificant.
Everything just seemed so… mundane, slow-paced and normal. I wasn’t used to normal. Normal scared me; normal meant things were slowing down and losing interest; that I wasn’t dreaming and hoping as much as I should have been. Normal meant things were becoming less. Less meaning, less value, less happiness. Was this normal life? Was this what I had settled into? I had a boyfriend, wonderful, kind friends who were in relationships and they seemed so happy, too… The only one who was unchanging, who I could rely on, was Rory.
I sensed him slowly begin to break away from me when we returned. It was such a thrill to have someone know my secret and just know that there was someone I could go to if I needed, if I wanted, if I simply felt like it. And I hoped he knew he could do the same. I didn’t want him carrying that secret around like some heavy burden in the shadowed, cold corridors. I wanted him to know that I was there for him.
When I told Rose about his odd distancing, she suggested that maybe he was jealous. To me that was ludicrous, but she said it again. I realised she didn’t mean he was jealous of Will. She meant he was jealous of having a relationship, of having a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, for that matter — I still hadn’t figured it all out on that part.
Then suddenly I felt such pain for him. Because I knew why he wouldn’t get involved with anyone. He wouldn’t because relationships meant intimacy, which meant contact and touching, which meant he would always be worn out.
He would always have his barriers up — something he didn’t have to do when he was with me — and if he was with someone, Merlin forbid they suffered a terrible fate because he would see it all, feel it all, experience it all before them and have to be with them knowing what was going to happen. He would have to wait with them, hold their hand and offer them fake smiles when everything was so horribly morbid inside his mind.
And then… And then I wondered if that was going to happen to me. If that was why he was distancing himself… because something was going to happen to me.
What had he seen?
I snapped my head up, and there he stood, next to James, the rain surrounding him. And all he wore was a t-shirt and some stupidly skinny jeans. I wasn’t even sure if he was wearing shoes but I ran over to him, my bones now pleasantly worked-up and warm, and hugged him tightly because I hadn’t done so properly since January. I half-expected him to push me away, but his arms just stayed limp and by his sides.
I stepped back and suddenly realised quite how tall he was and quite how silly the words I wanted to say aloud would sound. I missed you. Instead I just asked, ‘Where’ve you been?’
He shrugged. ‘Busy.’
‘Oh,’ I replied weakly. I stared down at my boots and slicked a few strands of hair back that had fallen out of their bun. I squinted at him, blinking away the water droplets that were caught in my eyelashes like a net. They streamed down my face like tears as the seconds ticked on. ‘Was there… was there something you wanted, Rory?’
‘Yeah,’ he said. He cleared his throat. ‘Look, Genevieve, I don’t think it’s a good idea that you play tomorrow.’
The boys, who had been bantering and pushing each other and joking, all fell silent and stared at Rory as if he’d just sprouted a second head.
James was the only one that let out a sound, and it was a chocked sort of one. ‘Sorry, what was that, mate?’ he said, the endearment on the end not sounding very endearing at all.
‘I said you shouldn’t play,’ Rory repeated, quieter, staring into my eyes, his own almost hidden by the dark strands that had fallen into them. With his hair so dark his skin looked pale and his features slightly sunken, like he hadn’t slept in a very long time.
‘Please tell me you’re joking,’ I said, my expression unable to settle on a frown or incredulity. ‘I mean, you’re my friend, Rory, but you can’t tell me not to play just because you think you might lose.’ I shook my head. I said quieter: ‘You haven’t spoken to me properly in months and even if you did you wouldn’t get to call those kinds of shots.’
He pulled me away by the arm, nearer the edges of the pitch. I smacked his hand but he didn’t let go until we were far enough away, where the team was barely visible and ears couldn’t listen. He leaned close.
‘I’m saying you shouldn’t play because I think you’re in danger, not because I don’t want to lose, Genevieve.’
‘Well you know what I think?’ I said acridly. ‘I think you just get a thrill out of playing God.’
His face slowly crumbled. He looked like he’d just been stabbed in the back.
‘Rory, I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, I—’
‘Look, just forget it,’ he muttered quietly, his eyes downcast, and his face suddenly that familiar detached wall that I was beginning to see more and more. It was always directed at someone else, or when his thoughts were occupied with other things, but never directed at me, never used as some sort of guard to keep me out. ‘I just want you to know what I saw. Forgive me for being worried.’
‘And what did you see?’
‘That you might fall of your broom.’
‘Might?’ I asked wearily. I rubbed a gloved hand across my forehead and stared up at the sky. The rain was suddenly tiresome and I was covered in a cold layer of sweat and it didn’t have the sudden thrilling, poetic appeal to it that it had before. ‘Might or will? Actually… no. Don’t answer that.’ I crossed my arms beneath my chest. ‘Rory, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: It wouldn’t change a thing even if I did fall. I’m playing tomorrow and that’s final.’
‘I knew you’d say that,’ he sighed.
‘You did say I liked to make my own choices all those months ago. Summed it up as independent with that invisible inkwell and quill of yours,’ I reminded him, feeling a faint nostalgia.
He laughed slightly, but it wasn’t a very happy one. It made my heart sink just a little.
The hours I had spent knocking on the door to his dorm came rushing back to me; the hours sat outside with my back pressed to the wall arose; the days seeing Will shaking his head at me in defeat and sometimes in a ‘not right now’ kind of way that made me so confused because nothing made sense, reformed and made me whisper: ‘Rory, where’ve you been?’
Will didn’t know what was wrong with him, which made me wonder if he’d even dared to ask. Lucas, Callum and Lewis hardly knew him. But I knew him. I knew him better than anyone and yet over the weeks I felt like I barely knew him at all, like I’d never really known him and I’d simply seen a fragment of him, a shard from a cracked mirror that was distorted and fitted to the view that I wanted to have of him.
‘I… I’ve really missed you, you know. Everything seems…’
‘Yeah,’ I said softly. I’d long since stopped marvelling how he knew what I was feeling and could sum it up in one word. ‘It’s dull without you.’
He nodded. ‘It’s been dull for me too.’
‘Then why?’ I implored, shamed that I felt a small burst of happiness that he’d been just as dismal as I. There was nothing as sadistically comforting than knowing that you weren’t the only one suffering. ‘What’s been going on?’
‘Genevieve, I can’t tell you, I just…’ He shoved his hands in his pockets, bowed his head, and shook it a little. He looked defeated. ‘I love you, all right?’
I blushed. Rory wasn’t known for his affectionate attitude let alone his declarations of love.
‘I know you do,’ I said, smiling a small smile. ‘And I love you.’
‘Good. Then you won’t play tomorrow, for me?’
I shook my head, a torn expression working its way quickly onto my face and wiping out the smile that no longer lingered. I sometimes stupidly forgot that he was a Slytherin - they used their means to achieve their ends, after all.
‘That’s not fair,’ I said quietly.
He put his long, thin, and ever so warm hands either side of my face then leaned forwards. His breath still smelled of apples. ‘Genevieve, I’m trying to keep you safe and you’re not listening to me.’
‘You’re not listening to me!’ I said, putting my hands on his. ‘I know you see horrible things, and I know you see things about me, but isn’t this what you wanted? For me to not let my fate constrict how I live? You said it yourself,’ I said, quieter this time because I’d hurt him enough already. It hurt me just as much, like a double-edged sword. ‘You said you couldn’t change the future, Ror, so why bother trying it with me?’
He rested his forehead on mine. ‘Because then at least I know I tried when I see you falling to the ground.’
‘Welcome all guests and students to the biggest game of the year at Hogwarts! We’ve got some of the best players we’ve seen in twenty years here, going head-to-head today, serpent versus lion, slyness versus camaraderie, independent tact versus team work, all working towards one thing: the Quidditch House Cup. Ladies and gentlemen,’ Alex Jordan said, ‘I give you… SLYTHERIN VERSUS GRYFFINDOR!’
The rest of his words regarding the current house scores were drowned out by the sudden eruption of the crowds. Everything was splattered in a mingling array of gold and silver and red and green, banners flying high, whistles being blown, Flitwick’s Brass Band trumpeting away near the entrance. Everything was a distraction, everything a noise and a loudness but such a thrill, to know that you could hear them cheering your name and your team.
It was so distracting, in fact, that I almost missed the single stand that contained no decoration at all, a stand where no one cheered. I almost missed it, as I stared up and out of the tunnel, but not quite. There were about half a dozen of them - official looking men and women with severe expressions on their faces, most with sharp eyes, grey hair and an aura of experience and authority about them.
‘Scouts,’ James whispered behind me, close enough that his breath tickled my ear as he leaned over my shoulder to take a look upwards, out of the tunnel that we stood in.
‘Scouts? Here?’ Fred asked, sidling up to him and taking a look as well.
‘Shit, that’s Lorna Thrumpet,’ Charlie muttered, joining him.
‘And Duncan van Ingen,’ Scorpius said, pointing up discreetly.
‘And Henri Durran,’ James added.
I felt entirely lost. I didn’t have a clue about Quidditch if I was honest. All I knew was that I had to catch the Snitch. Fancy moves were impressive, of course, but when there was the chance of entertainment compared to winning the game, I would have preferred the team’s name engraved on a placard than being praised for my ‘cool moves’.
But these boys, these eager young men that surrounded me now, had known about Quidditch and had grown up with it. I had too, at one point, but times changed as did my interests and I’d never really considered Quidditch a serious profession… until now. Until I saw the mixture of fear and nervousness and panic and excitement and joy and pride and I felt it, too. Each and everyone one of them deserved to be there that day, and if these ‘Scouts’ didn’t see that then they were blind.
‘What about the others?’ I asked.
‘Others?’ said Albus, walking up behind me in the only space that was left, pressed up against my back to look out and up.
‘Uh, yeah,’ I said, stepping forwards slightly and swallowing. The sun beat down and just leaked over the edge of my boots, out of the shadow of the tunnel. ‘The other teams? Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff — won’t they get a chance?’
‘They’ll probably come to watch their match at the end of March. That's only just over three weeks,,’ James told me, his eyes still latched onto the forms of the Scouts.
I nodded, our names were called, we flew out, and the downward spiral began.
Having seen Rory play in previous matches, and knowing that he had his ‘skill’ on his side, I found myself feeling a little unnerved as the game took place below me. I flew passed him once or twice, and once or twice he brushed a hand over my arm. I wasn’t sure if it was a comforting touch - to him and me - or if it was a questioning touch, as if to say, ‘You can back out now,’ even though he knew I couldn’t more than I wouldn’t. Letting my team down like this now didn’t cross my mind.
But I could see the tightness around his eyes, a tightness that wasn’t just from searching for the tiny gold ball of the Snitch. He was monitoring me more than he was trying to play the game.
We had been playing for nearly half an hour (the Snitch was being particularly evasive today) and the score was a draw at 20-20, when I first felt something… odd.
I was doing a lap of the pitch, hoping to seek out the Snitch from the birds-eye view, and I felt my broom becoming sluggish, sluggish to the point that it felt almost like something was tugging on it, like there was a rope attached to the end and someone was pulling it towards them.
I thought nothing of it until my broom came to a halt, leaving me simply hanging there, motionless, desperately willing my broom to go forwards or backwards - just move.
‘Are you alright, Nieves?’ a familiar voice called out.
I looked down, surprised when a pair of dark eyes met my own rather than the green or amber ones I had expected to see. I was hanging some three-quarters down the pitch, nearer to the Gryffindor posts where Phil Anderson was Keeper.
Will was one of the Slytherin Beaters, and further across the pitch Olive Griffiths held the other baton firmly in her hand.
‘Yeah, I’m-I’m fine!’ I called back, trying to nudge the broom forwards. ‘I’m just - having a little trouble - with my broom!’
Will was still frowning at me, but the moment he turned his eyes away to hit the oncoming Bludger, and Rory began diving for the Snitch, and Albus was speeding towards the goalposts with the Quaffle under his arm, and everything became a dizzying head rush, I felt something go out from beneath me.
My broom was wrenched out from under me, whistling as it was thrown like a javelin downwards, and after a few seconds where I thought I was simply to hang there and that someone was keeping me safe, I found myself falling. A feeling of weightlessness overcame me as my stomach dropped and the sudden feeling of nausea surfaced. In what felt like a single click of the world’s fingers, I was sent hurtling towards the ground like a ragdoll, abused and abandoned by some insolent child, or like a pawn in some game taking place in the sky, and I didn’t see the fun in it.
The wind whistled in my ears, just as loudly as the screams, the shouts and the yelling travelling around the pitch, and I felt more terrified than ever as I watched my broom pummelled into the ground, hitting it as if something had crushed it or a giant had stomped all over it until there was nothing left but a few wooden shards, stakes that were impaled into the dirt and sticking up, pointed, sharp, and right where I was to fall.
It was like I needed reminding that there were more ways to die than one in this situation, and I was the person holding all the lucky tickets.
A/N: Dun, dun, duuuun!
Hope you enjoyed this chapter! I’d love to hear from you if you did. ;)