Chapter 13 : Relief
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I’m in a glass room, and it’s peaceful. There’s no one inside. At least, not that I can see. I turn to the right and I see the small, slim silhouette of a person by the side again, curled into a ball and weeping, its voice distorted and unrecognizable. That is, until the silhouette looks up at me.
And I can see its face.
According to Rose, it took two buckets of ice cold water and an hour of Hugo’s screeching to wake me up from inside my head. In fact, the first thing I see when my eyes open are familiar faces staring down at me in concern.
Damn it. I can see Albus too – there’s no way I can explain this to him.
“Bella!” Rose grabs my shoulders tight and smothers me in a hug, tears streaming down her face. “That was the scariest thing I have ever witnessed, I’m not joking.” I can’t properly understand her through the tears and the sobs, but I pat her back softly, still unsure of everything. I still don’t feel like I deserve her concern after everything I’ve put her through.
“Is Bella okay?” I hear a younger boy’s voice pop up from the distance, and I turn to see Hugo bound over to me, attacking me with one of his hugs. “What did you do? You should’ve seen yourself!”
“What happened?” I ask slowly, searching back painfully through the saved images of my most recent nightmare in my memories. I wince when I see the pure hatred and anger on Albus’ face from my unconscious state.
What caused him to become so upset?
I promise I will kill whoever’s doing this to him. I swear.
“It was the worst yet,” Rose whispers to me, making sure Albus can’t hear her. He’s watching me from the side, his eyes filled with concern for me. I manage a wobbly smile at him and he smiles back in relief, his hand reaching out to push stray strands of hair from my face.
“Belle,” he breathes, shaking his head. “Don’t do that to me.”
I can sense Scorpius by my side and I silently thank him for bringing me to safety back in my common room. I know he’s uncomfortable being surrounded by drapes of gold and red, which makes me appreciate his actions all the more.
“Thank you,” I mouth at him silently. He just looks at me without giving away his thoughts, before a small smirk forms on his mouth as he nods at me.
“It’s like you were dead,” Jade says quietly from the end of the couch that I’m lying on. I look at her in confusion, waiting for her to elaborate. “I mean, you were completely limp and pale; it was frightening. You wouldn’t respond to anything or anyone … but – but then sometimes, you’d suddenly tense up and scream.”
“Did I?” I ask in shock. I definitely don’t remember this.
“What’s going on Bella?” Albus asks me under his breath, kneeling down and keeping a steady gaze. I can’t look right at him and lie, but that’s what I’m going to have to do. I lock eyes with him, letting his chocolate brown eyes melt through my body, warming up my veins.
“Nothing,” I tell him slowly and firmly, as if I’m speaking nothing but the truth. “I stayed up real late last night, later than I should have, and I guess this is how my body reacts to being tired and stressed.”
“Screaming fits?” he asks with a low chuckle. Color spreads through my face like wildfire. “Definitely something new.”
“Y-Yeah,” I say with a shrug. “We can’t all be the same, can we?”
“You’re definitely the most unique,” he says as he shakes his head in amusement, his eyes shining good-humoredly. I could just sit here and listen to him all day given the choice. Then again, I’ve come to realize that I don’t particularly have any control over my life anymore.
“Strengthen up then,” Rose pleads, grabbing my hand. Hugo nods his head vigorously at his sister’s words. “The Yule Ball is coming up soon, and we need you there in one piece.”
“One healthy piece,” Jade corrects, hinting at my face drained of color. I sigh and sink back into the cushions.
“And then we’ll be at the Burrow,” Albus points out as he loosens his tie in front of the fireplace. “And we can all relax and hang out, just the four of us.” He comes back over to me and surveys me for a moment. “We can only do that if you get better, Belle. Don’t you want that?”
The way he murmurs his last sentence, low, rough, and enticing, sends waves crashing down my spine, electricity moving at high speed through every fiber of my being until I can’t even focus on him anymore.
He is electric.
“I want that.”
The Great Hall is beautiful. I’m not saying this because I spent so much time and effort in the process of making the winter event what it is, but I say this because it’s true: the Great Hall is beautiful. There are little snowflakes that drizzle from the ceiling, sparkling as it catches the thrilling blue wall lights. The lights are my favorite; they cast the expanse of the hall in a glow of hazy blue and purple hues like a fog from a dream sequence.
“It feels like forever ago since I’ve had a dream,” I mutter to myself with a subtle eye roll, but then I mentally slap myself. I’m not going to think about the nightmares anymore. Tonight, tonight I’m going to enjoy myself.
I twirl around in my simple white and silver lace dress before making my way to the center of the hall, where a giant group of students are dancing. I can see Jade in the middle of the crowd, attracting the most attention. The spotlight is her home. I know it’s where she feels the most comfortable. I watch as she lands her dance moves in perfect rhythm to the music and I feel the vibrations of energy soaking through the floor and seeping through the soles of our feet.
I feel the urge to dance but stop myself.
“Hey stunner!” I feel someone jump on my back excitedly and I gasp, almost tripping over the hem of my dress as I stumble forwards. I laugh as I look behind me; it’s Rose. She looks gorgeous tonight and I’m speechless. Her curly red hair is straight and glossy, put into a simple but classy loose bun. She looks effortlessly beautiful.
“Look who’s talking,” I manage to blurt out after I admire her soft green mid-length dress, contrasting against her flame of red hair. She beams at me, radiating a subtle confidence under her quiet exterior.
She glances over my shoulder, a shadow casting itself over her eyes. Then she says, “I see your Yule Ball date.” I see she’s trying her best to smile, to reassure me that she understands and that it’s okay, but it hurts. I feel awful about doing this to her.
She’s my best friend.
Scorpius acknowledges us as he makes his way towards us and we both are at a loss of words. The light emphasizes the clear gray of his eyes and gives him an aura of mystery. I sneak a glance at Rose, watching her expression closely. Her mouth is pursed tight and her cheeks are rosier than they were before. Her eyes never drift away from his but she never says a word.
“You … I like your suit,” Rose says softly, her eyes finally dropping to safer levels. I hold in a breath as Scorpius steps closer, narrowing the gap between them. I feel like an intruder, like a shadow watching them through a window. A shadow.
“Rose,” he breathes, speaking so quietly that Rose has no choice but to take a step in. My heart is pulsing madly for her. Looking down at my hands, I find that they’re shaking slightly with nerves. I desperately want her to be happy.
“Yes?” she asks, trying to maintain a face that looks like it’s not bothered by his presence.
He leans over and whispers in her ear. It doesn’t take long. His message lasts for about five seconds before he pulls away, but it’s enough. Rose is smiling, her beauty intensifying as she blushes. Then someone calls out my name and his, and all three of us turn.
“It’s Hogwart’s secret couple,” a boy calls out, pointing at Scorpius and me. My cheeks grow hot in embarrassment. “I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this, Bella!”
“It’s not official –” I start to explain, but the boy ignores me. He rallies a group of his friends and they begin to chant.
The hollers begin to start up as the group eyes us, impressed. I can hear them calling out all sorts of things, but there’s one message that they’re all agreed on.
“Kiss!” they call out to us, and others begin to wolf-whistle. Some of the older girls are watching us too: half of them with smiles on their faces and some of the boring holes in my skull with their resentful glares. I don’t know what to do. I know Rose is still standing behind me, I can hear her nervous gasp in my ear.
I can’t do this to her.
The silence in my head lasts for ages. My limbs are frozen and my arms break out in goose bumps from all this unwanted attention. I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to do. I need assurance.
“Bella,” Rose says finally. “This is our last day before the break, you might as well keep up this image until we’re let out.”
I’m not mistaken when I hear the pain interlaced in her voice.
Bracing myself with a sharp inhale of air, I tap Scorpius on the arm and he understands, holding my face gently in his hand. I can feel every inch of my skin tingle with nerves and an odd sense of exhilaration. I don’t understand what I’m feeling anymore, but I play along with it. I stretch up as high as I can go and he moves closer to me.
My eyes shut.
All I can hear are hollers and wolf-whistles from around me, and a scatter of impressed claps, but I can’t really hear it properly. I feel like I’m surrounded by a deafening charm of some sort, and all I can feel are his lips on mine. It’s both soft and warm and it moves with mine in a way that I can’t explain. I don’t even feel the embarrassment of being looked upon by the other students anymore. All I feel is him.
But when I finally pull away, the guilt hits me hard like a brick wall. I see Albus and Jade by the refreshments table and they see me. They are watching.
Jade is beaming, apparently oblivious to both Rose’s feelings for Scorpius as well as the true reason behind this act. However, Albus isn’t clapping or hollering with the rest of them. He watches me with a blank look on his face, neither disgusted nor impressed with my behavior. I feel awful.
I remember Rose is standing behind me and the guilt hits me again, ten times harder than the last.
I spin around on my heel, words of heartfelt apologies on the tip of my tongue, waiting impatiently to get out. Instead, Rose shakes her head slightly, already forgiving me for my actions. I don’t deserve her.
“You should go talk to Jade,” Rose says, glancing over my shoulder. I turn and find Jade beckoning me over, her eyes wide. I know I’ll have to explain this to her, but I’d need to get rid of Albus first.
“Okay,” I say immediately, willing to do anything she tells me. I turn to Scorpius and add, “You don’t have to follow me. You should stay here on the dance floor. With Rose.” I strain the last word as much as I can to see if he gets the hint. He doesn’t say he does, but he follows my instructions without question. Rose gives me a quick half-smile before I leave.
I’m not prepared for Jade when she flings her arms around me and almost pushes me to the ground, overwhelmed with her excitement. I suppose the relief of having the Yule Ball completed and being Albus’ date is too much for her to handle. I suppose I’d be the same way too if I were her. On the long line of tables draped in blue silk, I can see a pile of dainty looking cupcakes.
“Cupcakes … did you do them again?” I splutter, managing to pull myself out of her tight grip long enough to survey them. They look even better than the ones I dropped.
“Yeah, I did,” Jade admits with a casual shrug. She doesn’t even look bothered about it. “Scorpius explained that you …” Her voice trails off when she sees Albus behind me, and changes the track of her story. “You gave the cupcakes to some kitchen elf and she dropped them, but you only found out about it later.”
“Right,” I nod. The smell of cinnamon is faint, but I can feel it in the air. I reach for a cupcake but someone’s hand makes it faster than I do. I smile as Albus gives me one instead, and I accept his offer.
“Thanks, Al,” I say with an amused eye roll before biting down into the dessert. He laughs as soon as the icing smears the top of my nose. This is not ideal. I manage to laugh too. “Shut up, this isn’t my fault.”
“Of course not,” Albus says, fully pretending I make sense. “Sometimes, icing just ends up on everyone’s face. It’s a part of life, isn’t it?”
“What do you want?” I laugh, wiping off the icing. He smiles and looks at me for a moment, leaving both of us in a semi-comfortable silence. Then he finally drops his gaze.
“You look beautiful, Belle. You really do.”
Each word that leaves his mouth seems to have a tremendous effect on my head. I feel dizzy, but it isn’t an unpleasant feeling where my head aches and my eyes blur. I feel light and refreshed, filled with energy. It doesn’t help that my heart is now drumming out an irregular beat and that familiar cozy smell of cinnamon is wrapping itself around my bare arms like a blanket.
Then I giggle.
“Um,” I start, mentally scolding myself for acting like such an idiot. “Thanks. You look beautiful too. I mean, you look handsome; you don’t look like a girl, if that’s what you’re thinking. No, I … yeah. You look great.”
“Some things never change, do they?” Albus asks in amusement. Then he glances around him, his friendly smile wavering slightly, transforming into something that tells me he wants to be serious. “So, why didn’t you tell me about Scorpius? That guy’s my best friend and he didn’t even tell me about this.”
“I don’t know,” I admit automatically, unable to keep up my role-play in front of him. However, I need to make some sort of effort. “His asking me to the Yule Ball was a last minute decision. I mean, I’m not sure, I-I guess I’ve always –”
“Liked him?” Albus finishes.
No, no, no. No, that’s not true. You know I’ve always liked you, you know this.
Then again, I don’t blame him for being skeptical about the situation.
“Not exactly,” I say vaguely. I can’t properly lie to him. “He just asked me and I said sure. We came as friends, but everyone’s just … making a big deal about it.”
“And you guys decide to add to it by kissing?”
I don’t know how to get myself out of this one. “We were being reckless, I suppose. Just trying to be sarcastic; it’s like our way of answering the rumors. We weren’t thinking.”
Albus is quick to reply. “Scorpius is smarter than that.”
His response is like a slap to the face.
“And I’m not?”
His expression changes immediately.
“No Bella, I didn’t mean that.” Albus finally stops interrogating me, and I can feel his warm hand on my cold arm. It sends me comfort. “Of course you are, it’s just that behaving like this is so far from his usual personality. Yet out there in the crowd, he makes you two seem natural. I guess I feel like I’m not sure about what’s going on.”
“It’s fine, we’re just being stupid,” I reassure him. “You know, it’s the last day of school, why not?”
“If you say so,” Albus says with a raised eyebrow, not quite believing me.
“If you think I’m trying to lead him on or anything, I’m not,” I tell him firmly, an eyebrow raised to match his too. I hope he’s not thinking that, but I can’t be too sure. “I’m not using him to move on from …” I don’t want to finish my sentence.
He just regards me silently, his chocolate brown eyes scanning my face for any signs that give away my lies. Finally, he shifts on his feet and puts his hands in his pockets, half-smiling at the ground.
“Okay,” he says, mostly satisfied with my answer, although a tinge of confusion is still apparent in his voice. “I still don’t know what you and Scorp are up to but whatever. I asked Jade and she has no clue. She actually thinks you two have something going on.”
“We don’t,” I reply. “I promise.”
“Bella, it’s okay if you do,” Albus says, just before he leaves. I regard him with bewilderment. “You don’t have to hide anything from me, you know I won’t judge you. And Scorp is my man, you know I’d approve of him.” That cheeky smile emerges on his face and I whack him playfully on the arm.
“Stop it, I’m serious!” I laugh. Albus just shakes his head at me, still half-smiling, before he excuses himself and makes his way into the crowd where a beckoning Jade is waiting for him. I lean by the table, still a little unsure of what happened.
Does he actually really think I might like Scorpius?
Does he know what’s going on in the Project?
Does he trust me?
No, I don’t think he does.
“We’ve had an excellent evening tonight, ladies and gentlemen!” Tiffany’s voice is loud and clear in the hall and the music pauses to let her speak. “I’ve managed to get a couple Yule Ball committee members to tally up the votes for your Winter Queen and King of the year, and I’m proud to announce that your Winter Queen is … Hufflepuff’s Henrietta Slater!”
We all clap as a blushing fifth-year Hufflepuff looks up at the podium in front of us in shock, before she collects her long dress in hand, making her way to the beautifully lit stage. The minute she steps up, Tiffany flicks her wand easily in Henrietta’s direction, showering her with snowflakes and miniature glowing balls of light.
We couldn’t even see her; all we could see was a pale gray silhouette amidst the flurry of shining flakes of snow and ice. Finally, the spectacle dies down and we collectively gasp as Henrietta emerges, her cheeks rosy from the chill.
Adriana’s dress looks stunning on her, and in this atmosphere, it increases in allure. We can’t help but clap when we catch sight of her. I can feel Jade on one side, clapping enthusiastically.
“I’m so pleased she won! I voted for her, isn’t she the cutest thing? And that dress is literally to die for, I’m not even joking –”
“Calm down, Jade,” Rose interjects from my other side. From the corner of my eye, I can see Scorpius’ arm brush against her arm and her smile widens slightly, although she pretends she doesn’t notice. The sight causes a rush of emotions in me, wreaking havoc in my ribcage.
They are beautiful.
“Now we have our Winter King. This was definitely a close one,” Tiffany says, drawing out the suspense and ignoring a few pleads to hurry up. I’m tempted to join them but I keep my mouth shut, knowing full well that she’d recognize my voice in the crowd. I don’t think she’s forgiven me for interrogating her. “It was a close call between a few boys, ranging from every house, but tonight’s Winter King is … Gryffindor’s Albus Potter!”
I can’t help but clap wildly, immensely proud of him. I know he’s surprised, it’s written all over his face. However, I had a feeling he’d win the title, and I’m pleased to see him up there with Henrietta, smiling as the crowds go crazy for both of them. Jade is like a maniac now; she applauses louder than anyone else and her hair is all over her face.
“Good job, baby!” she screams, although he can’t hear her. “I’m so proud of you!”
And for some reason, I don’t mind it tonight.
Because being surrounded by my best friends on the last day of school, without being plagued by mysterious noises and recurring nightmares throughout the duration of the day, has made my mood plummet to the highest it’s ever been. I feel at peace for once, and a wave of relief is cleansing my insides, removing all the worry I’ve had to carry for a while.
I know this won’t last. I know this for a fact.
But it’s something.
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