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Shadows of Midnight by Moments Reprieve

Format: Novel
Chapters: 12
Word Count: 47,790
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Humor, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Teddy, Scorpius, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Hugo, Rose, Victoire, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 01/17/2010
Last Chapter: 08/10/2011
Last Updated: 08/10/2011

Summary:





Lurvely banner by Swissmiss@TDA
Elaina Riley has an odd life spent traveling the world with her father hunting magical creatures. Something evil is unleashed at Hogwarts, she is called in to investigate and dispose of the threat. But suddenly every eye is on the girl with the unique accent when James Sirius Potter notices her wickedly fast reflexes and when her teachers realize that she has no clue when it comes to transfiguring pincushions.


Chapter 1: Vampire Hunting
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I sat on the counter and let my legs swing freely, the worn tips of my high-tops telling horror stories of the paths I had walked. My fingers drummed against my knee, feeling the holes in my jeans and the scarred skin beneath. The dank darkness around me made my nose wrinkle, but no longer sent shivers up my spine, like it had so long ago; in fact, it was almost more welcoming than the glaring sunlight hovering six feet above us.  

The voices in the other room began to rise, almost loud enough to become understandable. I rolled my eyes and fiddled with the knife strapped to my thigh, pulling it in and out of its sheath to make it click loudly. I really didn’t see the point of Dad going all secretive on me when we arrived at The Armory; it’s not like I didn’t know what he was doing. He was restocking bullets, researching spells, buying magical gear that rivaled the stuff they sold at Knockturn Alley. He always told me that the negotiations weren’t suitable for the ears of a young woman; I always retorted that he should say that after cursing the Kashi we were stalking from Hell to High Heaven.

Finally, the voices dropped again and footsteps echoed from the back room. I looked up as my father walked inside with a box in his hands, a grimy looking fellow close behind.

There was nothing, living or dead, animate or not, that I loved more than my father. He often complained about how I had gotten his face and my mother’s build, and that strong features on such a petite body made me look feral. I liked it, though; a strong jaw, high cheekbones, and a humble swagger was enough to make people want you and want to avoid you all at the same time. His hair, however, was close-cropped and bleach blonde, far from my own long black curls, and his eyes were brown while mine were an odd shade of blue-grey-green that I had never seen on a person before. His shoulders were broad and his muscles almost oversized, each step he took seeming to condemn the ground beneath his feet.

The man behind him was one whose habits I knew almost as well as my father’s. Arcell and I had a loudly-voiced agreement – I thought he was an ass as long as he was convinced I was a spoiled little bint. We uttered these opinions as often as we could without saying it outright, which, of course, was the reason why my father kept the two of us as far apart as possible.

“Hey Dad,” I said, picking a piece of lint off of my pants. “Find what you were looking for?”

He nodded and opened his mouth to say something when Arcell piped up, foul-tempered as always. “Get off of that counter, girl!” he squawked. “There is expensive merchandise beneath that glass!”

I rolled my eyes and dropped to the floor, tossing my rucksack over my shoulder. I was just stepping closer to my father when he added, “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“Shouldn’t you be nagging someone who gives a shit?” I retorted, causing my father to scowl at me.

“Elaina!” he growled. “Apologize.”

“Tell him to mind his own business!”

“Now, Ella.”

I glowered and stared at the floor as I grudgingly muttered, “Sorry,” under my breath. Dad sighed and pressed his box into my hands, nodding to the short staircase almost hidden in the dark clutter in the corner of the room.

“Go up,” he said. “Wait outside. And take my cloak, for Christ’s sake.”

I turned and began to march towards the stairs, pausing only to pick up his heavy coat and shrug it on. I climbed the steps until I reached the thick metal door at its top, twisting the rusted knob and pushing out into the outside world.

The sun was just beginning to set over the small muggle village, its red light coloring everything a bloody shade. The cold October air bit at my flesh the way a playful animal would nip at my fingers – teasingly, testing its boundaries. I resisted the urge to shiver and reached back, flipping Dad’s hood over my eyes as I leaned against the building. I began to search his pockets, pulling out bubble gum wrappers and small, random items that seemed to have no apparent purpose. I dropped the papers into a trash bin and examined a black stone, absently moving it from hand to hand as I watched the street before me. It was empty, save for a stumbling drunkard and a mangy dog; the former ignored me completely while the latter sniffed in my direction for a few seconds before deciding that I wasn’t suitable for consumption. I grinned faintly as I turned my eyes to the sky, watching the sun disappear behind a wall of angry grey clouds.

The door beside me flew open, nearly colliding with my unsuspecting shoulder. I flinched back, my hand flying to my knife even though I knew who it was climbing out of the hole.

“Would it really kill you to behave yourself around Arcell?” My father asked as he appeared beside me, his heavy pack over his shoulder.

“Yes.”

He shook his head and rolled his eyes, scratching at his scalp as his forehead puckered. “He’s an old friend, Ella.”

“He’s also a jerk. I pull my weight and he acts like I don’t!”

“But I know that you do, so why does his opinion matter?”

I scowled at the ground, avoiding his insistent gaze while pretending to tighten the strap off my bag. “It doesn’t! I just don’t like how much of a bas-“

“Elaina!”

“- uh, meanie he is.”

My edit was enough to make my dad grin and I knew I was out of hot water. I finally looked up, rattling the box he had given me under his nose.

“So what took an hour and a half of negotiation?” I asked as he snatched the container from my fingertips. “It had better be something good.”

“Oh, it is.” Dad’s face lit up in an odd way, like a little kid asked about some project that he was dying to explain. He struggled for a moment to get everything balanced, then, with an air of false grandeur, he opened the lid and displayed the contents to me.

My face fell as I surveyed the tangled mass of string and beads, my hand twitching as I almost reached for the items. “Rosary beads?” I asked slowly, trying to hide my disappointment. “I know we’ve been dealing with a lot of demonic stuff, but I didn’t know you were going to go all Born-Again Christian on me.”

He laughed lightly, shaking his head. “You might want to use your powers of observation a little bit more, sweetheart,” he said.

I frowned and leaned forward, squinting in the lack of light. My fingers finally rose to brush against the dusty surface of the beads, feeling the oddly fragile glass beneath my hand. Slowly, I gripped a strand of the beads and pulled it from the others, letting the setting sun strike it with as much light as possible. The small spheres were a deep red color, almost too large for prayer beads, and had a sinister feel to them. My first instinct was to drop the string and take several steps back, but I denied myself the pleasure of fleeing and continued to hold on as I met my father’s still slightly teasing gaze.

“These beads… they’re made of blood, aren’t they?” I asked.

He nodded approvingly. “Not just any blood – werewolf blood. Seeing as our old supply was… diminished.”

I flushed, remembering exactly what happened to the old vials of blood that we had been packing around for the longest time. “Why do we need dog blood?” I asked, trying to divert the memory. “Are we baiting vampires sometime soon?”

“Tonight.”

Finally, I released the beads, crossing my arms over my chest. “Thanks for the heads-up!” I snapped.

Dad grinned again. “Why? Did you have plans for the evening?”

I scowled darkly. “Well, no, but I like to have some time to plan before we hunt things that can think for themselves instead of just prowling after animals. Bloodsuckers are the worst, too – total creepers, the lot of them!”

He nodded and reached into his pocket, pulling out a small roll of parchment and handing it to me. I unfurled it and examined the slanted, hasty script covering its surface.

“Schull Ireland, eh?” I asked lightly.

“Yep. Just one vampire tonight – he’s hiding out in a wizard church.”

“Oh, the irony.”

Dad ignored me, continuing to recite the information I held in my hands. “He’s already taken three people – all women, and all of their bodies found outside the building when the sun came up.”

“Why are we just now getting to it? Usually we tackle things like this right when they pop up.”

“I didn’t want to walk in there unprepared.” Dad reached into his box and pulled out a string of the bloody beads, draping it over my neck. “Without bait, I would be very uncomfortable with going after this thing. Besides,” another slight smile, “it’s a full moon tonight.”

I felt a scowl weighing down the corners of my mouth as I crossed my arms over my chest. “Why do I not like the way this is going?” I asked.

Dad just laughed and held out his hand, his calluses like tiny hills all over his skin. “Come on, Elaina,” he said as, grudgingly, I took his hand. “We have a monster to hunt down.”

 

It was raining, the small droplets plummeting from the sky high above and peppering the top of my head. I resisted the tremors that attempted to wrack my frame, one hand clutching the beads my father had given me while the other stroked the knives encircling my thigh. My mouth silently formed the words to the long list of spells that were useful against bloodsuckers – charms of fire and burning, of paralysis and freezing, of death and destruction.

I glanced around nervously, the darkness around me omnipotent and crippling. The loss of my sight was both a curse and a blessing – while now I was blind, I could hear everything. Including the loud clattering echoing from the open door somewhere in front of me. I was itching to move, to stalk through the hallways of the church and find the creature that was currently beginning to drain yet another girl of her life – just standing there doing nothing was making me antsy.

The man at my side cleared his throat, making me jump. Pastor Statis was the typical holy man, with his black clothing broken only by a white slash at his neck and a silver cross hanging around his sternum. He was clutching a bible in both hands, like it was all he could do to not read from it; when Dad and I arrived, he had been reciting from one of the many sections it contained. After Dad disappeared, he had started at it again until I told him that if he didn’t stop I would take it away from him.

There was something pathetic and oddly satisfying about a sixty-something year-old-man bowing to the will of a girl of sixteen.

“Perhaps something has happened to your father?” he said slowly in the famous Irish brogue, as if he feared my wrath.

I turned to glare at him, barely seeing his pale face in the little light we had. “Nothing has happened,” I said sternly, like a teacher reprimanding a naughty student. “My father has been gone longer than this before, and he will undoubtedly do it again. Many more preparations are necessary for the eradication of a vampire than you believe, Father.”

Those ‘preparations’ included a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and nearly an hour of staring at the dog tags that were my mother’s before she died. Very rarely was I allowed to be present at these times, mostly because bars scowled upon underage females entering the premises.

“Of course. I should have guessed.”

I tuned back to watching the night, waiting for my father’s sign. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a packet of chewing gum, unwrapping a vibrant green piece and shoving it into my mouth. It was a relief to give my jaw something to do other than mouth spells, the spicy mint flavor a good distraction.  

The minutes trickled by, filled only with the sound of my teeth clicking together and my fingers drumming on my knives. The pastor began to flip through his bible, in spite of the lack of lighting and the blowing rain. The clattering from the church began to lessen, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up as my imagination kicked in, images of the poor victim rising to the front of my mind. Dad and I had walked into all sorts of gory scenes – a Serra staining the water of the ocean black as it feasted upon the flesh of oblivious beach-goers; a Donestre, coated in blood, trying to coax us into a sense of comfort; a Vulpangue gnawing on the leg of a child – but somehow vampires made the worst. Maybe it was because of how human they looked – a person drenched in another person’s blood.

Every thought in my head was brushed away as, somewhere in the distance, a bright white light flared. I let my pack slide from my shoulders, shoving it into the pastor’s stomach. “Hold that until I get back.”

“Miss Riley!” he exclaimed. “Surely you jest! Your father is sending you in there? Alone?”

I turned my cold glare on him, whispering a charm under my breath. Each fingertip on my left hand burst into illumination, cold, harsh light making the world visible to us once more. The bleak hilltop we stood in was blank, adorned only by a few low-lying shrubs and the small chapel that was my main concern. “Father, I have seen things that would make you never wish to sleep again. I have walked the dark paths with beasts from your deepest nightmares and beyond. You have lived four times my years, but I have more experience in these areas than you will ever possibly grasp. Your concern, while flattering, is nothing more than a hindrance.”

With that, I spun around and marched through the ever-unpleasant slush, my fingertips lighting my way. Wandless magic was something I had been blessed with since birth; in fact, wands did nothing but annoy me. Dad said that I had several generations of powerful magic users to thank for my ability, but I wasn’t quite sure of that.

I reached the church doors, pressing against the wall and taking a deep breath. A large crash echoed out of the house of worship, making me stiffen and finally duck inside.

It smelled like dust and age, scents that made me wrinkle my nose and want a shower. Slowly, I crept through the small entry hallway, finally entering the lofty central room.

Every pew, it seemed, had been shattered into a million splinters, the remaining boards lying on the ground. The chandelier had been extinguished and was hanging by a rusted chain, and the two stained glass windows that had been in the far wall were nothing but shards in a frame. In the very front of the church, where the priest would usually stand to give his sermon, was a large, misshapen figure.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the blood-made beads, running my thumb over the red balls. My teeth sank into my lip as, with a grunt of effort, I pinched the beads so hard several shattered, coating my hand with cold werewolf blood.

I knew the scent of its enemy was drifting towards the vampire and that I had, at most, fifteen seconds to move. I spun on my heel and pressed my palm against the wall, sprinting back out into the night and leaving a long streak of blood behind me.

I hated being bait. With the fiery passion of a thousand suns, I hated being bait.

My father was standing just outside the church, his hand on his wand and a focused scowl on his lips. The moment I appeared, he stiffened and raised his wand, waving me behind him. I ducked to the ground, kneeling in the slop and wiping my hands off on the grass. Then, I whispered my light-spell again, making my fingertips explode in illumination.

The vampire burst out of the church, roaring furiously as the scent of its enemy. Blindly, it began to charge, rushing into our small, pale circle of light.

My scientific mind took over at that point, blocking the fear that began swirling in my chest. The vampire was male, black-eyed and fair haired. He had the build of a runner, and the speed to match – he was darting quicker than I could follow, cutting into our defenses before I could blink.

Ineto!” my father yelled, giving his wand the slightest flick. There an upsurge of fire that shot directly into the bloodsucker’s face, folding around his head like a blanket. The creature fell back into the mud, splashing around for a split second before he was back on his feet. He roared in rebellion, his hair smoking and his face a painful flush.

I began to move, rising from my crouch in the murk and starting to lunge after the beast. But as my hands rose to my shoulder’s height, my dad yelled, “STAY ELAINA!”

I shot him a glare that he didn’t see as he sprinted out of my orb of light, vanishing in the darkness as if he had never been there at all. I growled a curse and listened to the groans and screams and thumps, trying to see through the black and help. Finally, I let out huff and said, “Lucmagniroc!”

My lighted fingertips suddenly flared with renewed brilliance, throwing my field of vision forward another dozen yards in every direction. My dad and the vampire reappeared, but the sight was enough to make my heart stop.

Because my dad was on the ground, the vampire crouched over him like some bird of prey.

Did I mention that the vamp’s fangs were inches from my father’s jugular?

I didn’t hesitate in flipping the bloody rosary beads into my hand, squeezing them so hard that half of them shattered. The werewolf’s blood poured from my hands, hitting the ground in a series of thumps.

In spite of the nearness of human blood, the vampire turned towards me and let out a scream of rage. His jaw seemed to dislocate from the rest of his skull as he leaped from my father’s abdomen, his claws reaching for me.

Before I could say a spell or even let out a scream the creature was on me, driving me into the mud with a loud squelch. Grime and water flew through the air, half blinding me as the vampire sunk his iron-like teeth into my bloody forearm.

Pain launched through my arm as the vampire began to pull away, taking a chunk of my flesh with him. I let a hiss, allowing years of training to take over my body. My free hand rose up and buried itself in the creature’s chest, his chill and lack of heartbeat disconcerting. He was just returning for a second bite out of my arm when I yelled, “Termicaust!”

Fire, so extreme that it was blue, began rolling in my palm, tight against the vampire’s chest. He let out a scream so brutal and animalistic that it created gooseflesh on my arms and down my neck, trying to pull away from me. It was too late for the vampire, however, as the flames grew in heat and size, abruptly engulfing his entire body as quickly as if he was made out the solid form of gasoline.

Then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over, and I was lying on the ground, wearing a layer of grey ashes. I groaned and struggled to my feet, my entire backside a layer of mud and my front nothing but soot. My father watched me with an arched eyebrow as I tried to dust myself off, only succeeding in grinding the mess deeper into my clothes. He was about to say something when we heard a gasp from behind us. Both of us flinched, expecting the worst, but only found Father Statis standing in the outskirts of our vision. He took one look at me and immediately crossed himself, chanting some prayer that sounded Latin.

My father, ever the gentlemen, walked forward and wrapped his buff arm around the man’s scrawny shoulders. “So, Father, how much did we decide to be our pay again?”

Father Statis stopped in mid-prayer to stare blankly at my dad before turning to me. “May God have mercy on you, child,” he said, shaking his head. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a heavy sack of coins, passing them to my father before swiftly retreating from under the man’s arm. “May God have mercy on you both.”

E/N: So... what did you think? Leave a review and let me know? Pretty please with whatever you want on top?
 
 
 


Chapter 2: The Mission
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 I stumbled into the apartment, clutching my arm as tightly as possible and trying to staunch the flow of blood. Regardless, the worn wooden floors still got splattered as I maneuvered through the hallways and living room, eventually making it into the bathroom.

A quick word about Dad’s apartment. Walking into it unwary would be like walking into a mine field, blindfolded and leading a herd of elephants. There were boxes of cursed items scattered in the strangest places, waiting to be reverted to their harmless state, and huge piles of spell books teetering on the edges of tables and chairs and shelves. There were discarded weapons all over the place – everything from guns to samurai swords to throwing stars – and enough booby traps to make a tomb raider cry for mercy. Most of them were deactivated the moment Dad or I walk through the door, but there were a few, mainly the ones around our private quarters, which remained until we personally said the counter-spell.  

I made it to the bathroom, leaving a gory trail behind me. Immediately, I turned on the sink, shoving my arm under it and watching the water run red. I sighed and reached up with my good arm, pulling on the mirror and revealing a cabinet filled with potions and bandages. I rummaged around until I found a small purple bottle of blood replenishing potion, a toxin remover brew, and a thin strip of paper that was covered with black writing that almost looked like hex marks. I popped the cork off of the first bottle, cautiously taking a sip and shuddering at the flavor. Slowly, I drained the bottle, careful not to rush its consumption. Then I took the second potion, chugging that one and resisting the heaving in my stomach. By the time I drained the bottles, the water was only faintly pink as it swirled down the drain.

I picked up the strip of paper just as my father appeared in the doorway, a bundle of clothes in his hands. “Here,” he said, placing them on the counter. “You should take a shower, clean up.”

“What about you?” I asked, taking a long look at his muddy pants and dripping shirt.

He shrugged. “I’ll just change. I’m not as filthy as you.”

I nodded agreement and pulled my arm out of the water, placing the strip of paper in the middle of my ravaged flesh. Dad and I both watched as the strip grew and wrapped around my skin multiple times, encasing my forearm in the perfect bandage. I flexed slightly and looked up as my father turned, walking away. He was just about to turn the corner when he paused, glancing back at me. “You did good tonight, kid,” he said. “Saved my ass.”

“Just returning the favor,” I whispered, closing the door behind me.

I went to the shower and grabbed the faucet, cranking the hot water on and watching it splutter to life. Quickly, I stripped from my clothes, casting a minor cleansing charm on them and ridding them of all grime. I still considered throwing it in the muggle washing machine we had, just to get that clean feeling you got when you slip into freshly washed clothes.

Happily, I slipped into the hot water, gasping at the scalding temperature. I reached out and chose one of the many bottles of shampoo the shelf inside of the tiled space, squeezing a ton onto my palm and smearing it on my hair. Slowly, I worked it in, getting my head so foamy that I couldn’t see through the bubbles. It took me nearly fifteen minutes to rinse it all out, and the second I did I filled my hair with conditioner. I then moved to scrubbing my body with a bar of soap, attacking my hands and nails and calves. I was just trying to scrape muck from under my toes when I heard voices in the living room.

I froze, cocking my head to the side as if that would help me hear. We had very few visitors at Dad’s place, mostly customers who needed us to deal with some feral Chikara or something. Occasionally, people I didn’t know would show up, people who Dad would invite into his bedroom and cast silencing charms on the doors. On these nights, he would only come out to get bottle after bottle of alcohol, getting into an increasingly drunken stupor.

But this person was obviously a customer – the very fact that I could hear the two talking was enough to prove that. I sigh and finish cleaning myself, straining the conditioner out of my hair and turning off the water. I dried myself with a towel and braided my hair, sliding into the oversized sweatpants and hooded military sweatshirt. Then I exited the bathroom, steam still rising from my skin.

 I walked into the living room, which was basically a collection of mismatched furniture that was all so old that it was probably created before my grandmother. Sitting in his favorite red chair was my father, drinking a cup of tea that I knew was spiked with brandy, and across from him was a man I felt like I should recognize. He was tall and pale, with brown hair and a thin face. There were a few freckles across his nose and a long burn mark along his hairline, right where one might wear a hat. He was dressed in rich maroon robes with a small crest over his heart and he, also, was nursing a drink.

Abruptly, as he glanced at me, I realized who he was and blurted out, “Headmaster Longbottom, from Hogwarts.”

He smiled gently and nodded greeting. “The one and only Elaina Riley. It is a pleasure to meet you again.”

I walked across the room and held out my hand, gripping his tightly. “Forgive me for not remembering our first meeting,” I said as we shake hands.

“It was when you were very young – three or four, I think.”

“That would explain it.” I released his grip and moved to my father, perching on the ottoman that he rested his feet on. “What brings you to our home?” I asked.

Dad nudged my thigh with his sock. “We were just discussing that.”

“What did I miss, then?”

“Something is amiss at Hogwarts School,” Headmaster Longbottom said, sighing heavily. “Something – and for the life of us, no one knows what – is on the prowl.”

“What is it doing?”

“It started by disrupting things in the forest, preying on the magical creatures there. The centaurs reported strange tracks in the mud by streams and whatnot. But the animal seemed to grow brave, and the centaurs came to us, saying that several of their number had disappeared. The population of magical creatures on our grounds has drastically dropped in the last month.”

I sensed that there was more to it and my eyebrows rose. “What else?” I asked.

He smiled grimly. “You have your father’s instinct.” I took the complement with a nod and he continued by saying, “The tracks have moved on to the Black Lake. Right next to the castle.”

“You think that it will start coming after students?” I asked.

He nodded.

I frowned, rubbing my neck. My father watched me for a long second before commenting lightly, as if talking about the weather, “Ella, say what’s on your mind. No questions are unwise when dealing with something this serious.”

“I…. I just have trouble getting it,” I said hesitantly. “I mean, if this thing is big enough to take out centaurs, then how can it not have been seen by someone? Aren't there always kids or ghosts or someone looking at the lake?”

Headmaster Longbottom sighed. “A point, my dear, which you would not voice if you have ever seen the castle. Only one side of it faces the lake, and that is the side that is mostly dominated by classrooms. Those rooms are locked during the night, which means that the creature has ample opportunity to prowl about as it pleases. The Gryffindor tower does, of course, face the lake, but it is so high up that it wouldn’t be too outrageous a thing to believe that something well-camouflaged would be hidden.”

I accepted this with a shrug, the gears of my mind still churning. “How big is it?”

The Headmaster reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph, handing it to me. My father leaned forward and looked over my shoulder as I flipped it over, examining it with caution.

It was a picture of a footprint in the mud. It was similar to the tracks of wolves, but there was an extra joint and all of the fingers seemed to be topped with wicked points. There was a yardstick beside it to demonstrate its awing size – it was roughly three and a half feet long.

I frowned and passed the photo to my father. “Are you aware, sir, that the average adult Greenback dragon has a footprint that is two feet long, and the longest one recorded was four?”

The Headmaster nodded sagely and my father reached out, gently gripping my shoulder as he understood what I was implying. This thing, whatever it was, was almost twice the size of your normal Greenback.
 

Roughly four tons, if the beast happened to have hollow bones and zero percent body fat.
“I assume you want us to come in immediately,” my father said after studying the photo for another minute.

Headmaster Longbottom sighed and scratched the side of his face. “With all due respect, Mr. Riley,” he said slowly, “you don’t exactly blend in with a crowd. To this point, we have kept the students unaware of the issues surrounding this beast. If you were to come, a man with a name many of them know as a hunter, they will realize that there is something wrong.”

My father’s eyebrows rose as he took a long sip of tea. “What are you saying?” he asked. “What are we supposed to do?”

“You’re daughter is sixteen, correct?”

“Yes.”

Headmaster Longbottom gave me a long look, as if examining me closer would prove this true. “Hogwarts is always open to accepting students, regardless of their age or background. It is understood if you, her parent, thought it would be wise to end her homeschooling and allow her to come to our school.”

It grew so silent that you could have heard a feather drop. My mouth opened as I gathered what he was implying, my hands beginning to tremble.

My father’s voice was deadly when he said, “You want me to send my daughter to a school to investigate the biggest monster I have probably ever seen?”

“Yes.”

“Even if this creature was a manageable size, my daughter is my only assistant, and a fucking good one if I do say so myself. She’s saved my life almost as many times as I have saved hers, and she does it unthinkingly. She has the instinct and the head for survival. And you want me to let that disappear when God knows I might need her?”

I felt a stirring in my chest when he said this, a pride and embarrassment that made me want to smile and hide my face all at the same time. My father wasn’t one to insult me – in fact, he complemented me often. But it was usually about my appearance, or if I did something that reminded him of my mother; never about our work.

“I understand that this must be difficult for you,” Headmaster Longbottom said slowly. “She is obviously someone to be proud of. But the students wouldn’t recognize her, and she obviously knows enough magic that she will do more than keep up with her class with practical lessons at the very least. She can investigate and send information back to you.”

“And if this thing decides to attack?” Dad snapped.

“Then you have permission to come to the castle immediately and dispose of it how you wish.”

I could feel my father’s gaze on the side of my face, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at him. I was far to disputed in my mind to appear calm on the surface.

I wanted this. I wanted to go more than anything I had ever wanted before. It was a taste of the freedom that I had been admittedly starved from, the ability to think on my feet, the chance to test myself and see if I was actually suited to hunt monsters for the rest of my life. It was a beautiful opportunity, so perfect that I almost couldn’t stand it.

But it was also terrifying. This animal was bigger than anything I had ever seen before, and it was hunting. It could probably eat half of the Hogwarts student population without getting a stomach ache. Was there any way I could take that?

Dad nudged my thigh again and I finally looked at him. His face was oddly detached, as if he didn’t want his emotions to influence me in the way we both knew they would. But there was something in his eyes, something so burning that it was almost painful, that made me realize that he was almost as torn as I was.

“I want to go,” I whispered, my fists clenching on my lap. “I want to do this.”

“We’ll pay you a substantial sum, of course,” the headmaster chimed. “Approximately one thousand galleons, if that suits you.”

Dad and I both stared at him, so incredulously that he added, “Unless you require more.”

One thousand galleons were enough to keep us in the lap of luxury for years. To require more was a ridiculous idea.

Dad rubbed his face, his fingers rasping against his stubble. “How about this, Headmaster,” he said slowly. “You give us seven hundred and fifty, but you buy my daughter her… school supplies and anything she finds that she needs for the investigation of this beast. I will also send her an allowance, so between the two of us she will not miss anything.”

I felt my heart swell as he turned his tired gaze to me, reaching out and taking my hand. I squeezed it reassuringly as the headmaster cleared his throat, suddenly looking chagrined.

“Well, that might not work out entirely,” he said.

“Why not?” Dad asked.

“We already purchased your daughter’s supplies. But aside from that, this new deal will suit Hogwarts excellently.”

“You bought me my things?” I asked, my eyebrows lodged in my hairline. “How did you know I was going to take the job?”

“Well, my dear girl, we assumed that you were a bit like your father, and, well… if memory serves, he never backed down from a challenge in his days either.”

 

House elves delivered my new equipment the next day and it was decided that I would depart for Hogwarts the morning after, which was what the headmaster had called a Hogsmeade Saturday. He said it would ensure that I could take some time to get settled in the dorm room, but it didn’t matter much to me – I would be spending my first day, classes or not, exploring the castle.

I found most of the items Headmaster Longbottom had brought to be satisfactory – the robes fit, the books were new, and the potions ingredients were fresh. The only thing that I didn’t like was the wand, which I threw in my closet and refused to take back.

Friday night discovered me sitting in my room, my elbows propped up on my windowsill as I watched the evening. An icy wind drifted through the city and into my room, making it so cold that I could see my breath. I was trying very hard not to think about anything in particular, my fingertip tracing the bandages on my arm. Idly, I realized that I would have to come up with a good story for why I had human teeth marks on my flesh; maybe I could tell them I once had a really masochistic boyfriend who wanted to introduce me to the wonders of biting each other.

I grinned grimly at the thought before I sighed, turning my gaze to my room. Everything had been tidied up for my extended leave – the floor vacuumed, the shelves dusted, my things returned to their proper places. I hadn’t actually seen the floor in a few months, but now it was cleared of all stains and dust.

There were footsteps outside my room and a faint knock, making me jump. I called, “Come in!” and reached outside, pulling my window shut.

Dad opened my door, his jacket on and his bag over his shoulder. My heart fell as he stepped in, one hand in his pocket.

“You’re leaving?” I asked, trying not to sound pathetic.

He nodded slowly. “An emergency. A flock of those damned Nintu birds has popped up over Bristol, and they need me to deal with it as soon as possible.”

I sighed and rose, crossing the room and wrapping my arms around him. “I’ll miss you,” I said quietly as he hugged me back.

“I’ll miss you too, Ella.” He pulled away slightly, looking me up and down. “You pack your knives?”

“Yes sir.”

“Your extra spell books?”

“Yes sir.”

“Your money?”

I grinned shakily and nodded. “Yes Father, I’ve packed everything that I will need.”

Dad smiled back and gently cupped my face in his hands, pecking my forehead. “Good luck out there, Elaina. It’s a big world, and you know normal teenagers are a bit different from you.”

“Yeah.” I closed my eyes, fighting the panic beginning to rise in my chest. He was leaving when I needed him most – abandoning me on the night before I left.

“And Ella? I want you to have this.” I looked at him as he held out a small white box with a red bow. “Take care of them, okay?”

With that, he kissed my forehead again and disappeared, walking down the hallway and out the front door. I waited for a long moment before carefully pulling the ribbon off of the box, taking off the lid.

Nestled on a small piece of white cotton were two dog tags on a thin chain, the metal gleaming in the light and their engraved surfaces easily reading:

Charisa Riley

83rd Infantry

Cairo, Egypt

Field Medic

Mom’s tags. The ones my father hadn’t let out of his sight for eleven years.

I closed my eyes and carefully slip the chain over my neck, feeling the foreign weight of the metal against my chest. I suddenly wanted to cry, but tears were pointless; instead, I returned to my window and threw it open, propping my elbows up against the sill and staring at the lights of London.

I knew I would be exhausted, but I didn’t sleep a wink. I watched the sun rise over the buildings and could do nothing to steady the unease that was writhing in my chest.


Chapter 3: James Potter and the Near Death-By-Apple
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At ten o’clock, I dragged my old, sticker-covered trunk out of my room and into the kitchen, kneeling beside the fireplace. My stomach was churning around the toast I had forced myself to swallow, my shaking hands groping the hearth for the bag of Floo Powder. Finally, I was able to open the bag and pour a small pile of the stuff into my palm, casting a quick charm to light the logs in the fireplace.

I cast one last look around the kitchen, my heart already throbbing for home, as I tossed the handful of powder into the fire and yelled, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Headmaster Longbottom’s office!”

The fire had barely turned green before I leaped into it, the heat making my hair rustle as I was sucked down into the hearth. I was barely able to keep my grip on my trunk as I spun around, my eyes closed to keep the majority of the nausea at bay.

When I exploded out of the warm tunnel, I landed face-first on a hardwood floor, my head smacking against a hefty table leg so hard that I felt a welt rise. I groaned and pushed myself up, rising to my unsteady feet in order to look around.

The room was filled with tables bowing under the weight of so many gleaming inventions that my eyes hurt with the light they reflect. The walls were lined with many moving portraits, and close to the far wall was a paper-coated desk, behind which was Headmaster Longbottom.

“Sir,” I said, walking forward to shake his hand again.

He smiled and rose from his seat, saying, “Welcome to Hogwarts, my dear Elaina. How are you?”

“Fine, thank you.” I looked around again, trying to hide my curiosity best I could. Suddenly, all of my trepidation is gone, replaced with only eagerness. I wanted to run through the halls of the school, find every nook and cranny and hidden spot, and know every secret. I was experiencing what every Hogwarts first-year probably felt the first week of their school career, but the behavior was a little less cute on a sixteen-year-old girl.

“We may as well get down to business.” Headmaster Longbottom rubbed his hands together eagerly and turned to his desk, picking up a singed old hat that looked like it had been around the rough side of the tracks a few times too many. My eyebrows rose at the sight of it as he neared me, holding it out.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Didn’t your father tell you? It’s the Sorting Hat. We need to know what house you belong to.”

“But I thought you were just going to put me in a random dorm!” I exclaimed, crossing my arms.

“Oh no, no, no, no. We need to keep up the pretences of you being a Scottish homeschooled witch who wanted to come to Hogwarts for her last year.”

“Sir, it’s October. I’m hardly going to be able to fake it.”

“That’s why we decided that it would be best to tell the others that your mother died recently and you were trying to make sure everything was in order at home.”

I sighed and brushed my hair out of my eyes. “Fine,” I said. “Put the hat on me. It’s not like I’ll be spending a whole lot of time with my classmates anyway.”

“Eight hours a day, minimum,” Longbottom said. “You will be going to classes.”

“I know, but I won’t have to converse with them too much then.”

He laughed and dropped the hat on my head.

I could feel the hat rustling and a wave of consciousness brushed my brain, making me want to recoil. I, who had experienced the mind-probing ways of the Bubsur one too many times, immediately threw up mental shields, stopping all cognizant thought.

Something chuckled in my mind, sending a shiver up my spine. You’re a smart one, girl, a hoarse voice said. You’re prepared. I like that. But I must insist that you let me in so I can place you where you belong.

“Should the hat be talking to me?” I asked quietly, peeking at Headmaster Longbottom.

He laughed again. “Yes, it should. That’s how it decides what your appropriate house is."

I sighed and, slowly, lower the barriers that I had raised in my mind. I could feel the hat probing around, sorting through memories and thoughts and everything. After a moment, the hat purred, Slyness characteristics of a Slytherin, you know. But acceptance is from Hufflepuff, and intelligence is from Ravenclaw. Of course, bravery is from Gryffindor, and that is obviously present. I may as well put you in with all of the other oddballs.

“I don’t like the way that sounds,” I muttered.

A voice, matching the one in my mind but much more substantial, said, “Best we shove her in Gryffindor, Headmaster.”

Longbottom smiled and reached out, taking the hat from my head. “You always act as if that is a terrible thing, my friend,” he said, placing the hat on his desk.

“Isn’t Gryffindor the one with the tower? Overlooking the lake?”

Longbottom nodded.

“Then why didn’t you just put me there in the first place?” I asked, reaching down and heaving on my trunk. “That way I could watch the lake at night.”

“Like I said before, dear, you will be spending time with your new dorm mates. We don’t want there to be a conflict of attitudes.”

I rolled my eyes and followed the Headmaster as he walked through the sea of odd instruments and into the school beyond. The moment we stepped into the hallway, however, there was a flash of robes and a black-haired boy my age ran past, pure terror on his face. As he turned the corner, there was a screech of pure, horrific rage and another flash of robes, another boy with a pair of moose antlers sticking from his head sprinted after him, spewing curses and threats at the top of his lungs.

I stared after them as Headmaster Longbottom chuckled and gestured for me to walk in the opposite direction. “Aren’t you going to do something about that?” I asked hesitantly as we moved away from the still-audible screams of anger.

“Oh, no. That’s just James Potter and his friend, Oak Wood. They’re always at each other’s throats – so much so that I gave up writing letters home several years ago. I believe they’ve been in detention more times than you’ve been in danger.”

I couldn’t help but smile slightly, turning my head to look down the corridor as if I could still see them. “At least this will be entertaining,” I muttered, almost to myself.

Longbottom giggled again as he said, “Entertaining isn’t even the beginning of it.”

 

I sat on my new bed and stared around at the others around me, a bit taken aback. When Professor Longbottom had told me I would be bunking with other girls, I had expected cleaned floors, bedside tables covered with beauty supplies, and the smell of artificial flowery perfume. What I got was, well, more like my room back at home when I hadn’t cleaned it in a month. The floor was coated with a layer of worn clothes and old magazines that were everything from Quidditch guides to ‘Ten Tips to Impressing Your Man’. There were beauty supplies, but most of them were open or discarded in a hurry, and the only artificial smell in the room was of Febreeze Air Freshener that really wasn’t enough to cover the smell of mud and broomstick polish. There were posters and newspaper clippings all over the walls and a pile of shoes in the corner. Beds were nothing but heaps of tangles sheets, dressers were thrown open and overflowing with underwear and socks, and the bathroom was decorated with muddy splatters.

Oh, and the food. There were chocolates and candies and even one or two sandwiches scattered all over the place.

The only clean spot was my bed, which, rest assured, would soon be a disgusting mess. My trunk was resting against the footboard, closed and locked with every charm I knew.

Slowly, I pushed myself off of my mattress and tugged at the sleeves of the new, Gryffindor-crest-adorned robes. After a final look around at my new home, I flipped my hood up over my face and walked out of the room.

Down the spiral staircase, through the children-filled common room, out the talking portrait of a morbidly obese woman in a frilly pink dress. I systematically began my searching from the very top floor down, poking my head into every room I could, prying at portraits that looked suspiciously like passageways, uncovering a few interesting secrets. There was a tapestry that hid a broom closet, an image of scenery that led to a dark staircase that popped out beside the Hufflepuff common room entrance, and a narrow corridor behind a portrait of a girl dressed like a china doll that ended up near the Library. I got lost frequently enough, but every time I did I would find a window and get my directions straight, easily getting back on track.

By the time I had walked every corridor from the Gryffindor tower to the Potions dungeon, my stomach was growling so loudly that I had to clench the muscles in my abdomen to keep it quiet. I wandered to the Great Hall, following my nose and realizing that all I had eaten all day was a measly piece of toast. I could almost hear my father’s voice, growling a reprimand at me.

Ella! He would yell. You’re no good to me if you’re weak with hunger! Get your head in the game and your food in your stomach!

The minute I thought of that, a wave of nostalgia washed over me so powerfully that I almost lost my appetite. Then I realized that I could easily write him a letter and I shook myself, forcing my feet to take me to the food.

The Great Hall really was spectacular. I had popped in briefly sometime that afternoon, but I hadn’t actually stopped to appreciate it. Now, the ceiling was the same puffy grey as the clouds overhead and all of the four gleaming tables were covered with polished gold flatware. Food was heaped everywhere, its rich smell permeating the air and making my stomach muscles have to work overtime to keep the rumbling to a minimum.

All of the tables were almost full of kids, so I wandered until I found one that was mostly people with the same crest as me. Then I walked down to the very end, closest to the far wall, and settled down where there were few people.

I reached out and began piling my plate high with the foods that Dad always told me to eat – meats and vegetables and fruits. I left the pastas and breads alone, as well as the scattering of deserts; even thinking about tasting chocolate pudding would have made my father furious.

As I gnawed on a piece of steak, a pack of my new fellow Gryffindor students tromped in from outside, their faces red with cold and happiness. They looked about my age and didn’t hesitate in filing in to my right, taking seats that were so close that it wasn’t difficult to listen to their conversation.

There were two girls and three boys, all of them long and lean and muscular. I recognized two of the boys from this morning, the ones named James Potter and Oak Wood. Pretty famous names – the sons of the Chosen One and the internationally renowned Quidditch player.

James, closest to me, had the male Potter tussled black hair, sharp face, and mischievously twisting lips. His eyes were the same luminous brown as the wooden table beneath us and he had a little bit of a heavier build than I remember the photos of his father having. There was something hauntingly attractive about him; it was the kind of face that wasn’t exactly stunning but you couldn’t get it out of your head.

Oak Wood was more flamboyant about his looks, now that the antlers were gone. Stronger features beneath straight brown hair, vibrant blue eyes on sharp cheekbones, thicker muscles. The boy beside him was a dark-skinned Arabic with curly black hair that brushed his collar and a thin face.

The girls weren’t as similar in appearance as the three boys were. One was a platinum blonde with corkscrew curls and vibrant green eyes and the other was a straight brunette that was so willowy that I was half expecting her to turn into a tree. All of them, however, were laughing and chatting as if there were no differences between them at all.

The girls were going on about people I didn’t yet know – mostly someone’s too-tight pants and how they needed and enlarging spell to fit properly. The boys were talking Quidditch, mostly the ever-approaching season and how their seeker needed work. From what I gathered by the latter conversation, all five of them were on the Gryffindor team – Wood was a keeper, like his father, and Potter and the two girls were chasers. The Arabic boy was a beater, which I wouldn’t have expected but understood once I gleaned the information.

I will admit that I sound like a stalker, going on like this, but you need to understand that I was struggling to learn as much as possible so I could blend in more. I wanted very little attention so all I would have to worry about was my mission to find out what this preying monster was and dispose of it.

After a few minutes of this divided conversation, they all began talking to one another, mentioning something that happened in Hogsmeade. The brunette girl was getting insulted, her face darkening in a scowl. James Potter was enjoying this reaction and continued teasing her mercilessly, having so much fun ridiculing whatever had happened that he didn’t notice her tightening grip on the apple she ate.


I did. I noticed every flinching muscle, every flare of anger, every biting retort. My mouth slowed in chewing a piece of meat as I watched her reaction to everything he said, getting closer and closer to the breaking point.

Thinking back, it would have been so much easier if I had just let what happened happen. I would have been able to float under the radar, no issues whatsoever. But I didn’t. I just had to intervene. Granted, it did make things a lot more fun, but also more complicated.

James, guffawing loudly, said, “Well, maybe if you closed your legs every now and then…”

The brunette’s face turned red in anger and she lobbed the apple at him with the strength of a very pissed off chaser.

I leaned forward and, faster than a flash, reached out, my hand opening as it arrived in the area an inch from James’s face. The apple landed in my palm with a satisfying thwack, juices oozing from between my fingers from the force of her throw and flying onto the boy’s head.

All of them turned to stare at me, their shock overruling their anger. I pulled my hand away from the boy and rolled the muscles in my fingers, flipping the apple into my palm. Carefully, I offered it to the brunette, saying quietly, “I think this is yours.”

Her hand trembled when she reached out and took it from me, the juice running from my palm onto the table as I tipped it. I wiped my fingers on my robes and rose, my appetite suddenly abated as I turned and walked from the group.

I made it to the staircase before a boy’s voice rose above the din of the hall behind me. I paused, one hand on the banister, and half-turned.

James Potter ran up to me, skidding to a halt just before he slammed into the first step. His eyes were bright with enthusiasm, a crooked grin on his face and his cheeks still shining with apple slush.

“Hey,” he said somewhat lamely, running his hand over his face.

“Hello,” I replied hesitantly.

“You saved my life back there.” He leaned against the stone balustrade, his eyes zeroed in on me as if I was the only thing that existed in the world.

“Yeah, well…” I glanced past him and watched a trio of girls march in through the doors, complaining loudly about the chill. “I hear death-by-apple is particularly disturbing.”

“Exactly. I owe you, girl-that-I-have-never-seen-before.”

“I do have a name.”

He smiled winningly. “Care to tell me what that is?”

“No.” I turned and began to march up the stairs, almost moving quicker than my new lackey.

“Please? I’ll tell you mine if you do!”

“I already know your name.”

“How?”

We reached the first floor and neither of us stopped. “Because I can read minds,” I retorted, wiggling my eyebrows at him.

“Oh yeah? Then what am I thinking about.”

“Quidditch and girls.” I said dryly.

“One girl in particular.” He leaped up in front of me and stopped, facing me with his arms crossed over his chest. “Do you play Quidditch at all? You’d make a fantastic seeker.”

“Go away James. Your friends will be looking for you.”

“Let them look.” He reached out and, before I could stop him, brushed my hood from my face. I wanted to retreat from the flickering light in the hallway, but I couldn’t – there was no way I was about to show fear or nervousness in front of this boy. “Please, Madame Life Saver.”

“No, Sir Mucho Annoying.”

I edged around him, trying to resume climbing the stairs in peace. Of course, however, he trailed after me like a lost puppy.

“How about this – I tell you what I know about you.”

“You know nothing about me.”

“Thing one – you’re new to Hogwarts.”

“No!” I gasped in feigned shock. “Really?”

“Thing two – you act like you play Quidditch. Everything from your speed to your diet screams it.”

I sighed but allowed that one, figuring that it was a better suggestion than me telling him that I couldn’t afford to be slow and fat because that would make it easier for me to die.

“Thing three – you’re in Gryffindor. Thing four – you are clueless as to how things work around here.”

“Everything you’ve said are things that anyone could have known about me,” I replied as we walked into a dark corridor. Most intelligent people would have refrained from entering the shadows, but I was far more comfortable there than anywhere else. Besides, it would give me a better chance to lose the punk.

“But I am right. So how about we make a deal.”

I was silent, but that only encouraged him.

“How about, in return for you saving me from decapitation, I show you the ropes. You know, tell you the ins and outs of Hogwarts that no one but I could. Who to avoid, who to befriend, what teacher is a bitch on Fridays – not to mention what staircase to not take and whatnot.”

Finally, I hesitated in my resolve to completely ignore him. Hanging around the James Potter, son of the Harry Potter, would attract as much attention as you could get. But one of my father’s favorite sayings was to never look a gift horse in the mouth.

He could also provide immediate companionship, a niche. I could surf through this mission with no effort whatsoever.

I turned around and cocked my head to the side, examining his foolish enthusiasm. “You would do that?” I asked.

“You saved me from P.J.’s fury.”

“P.J.?”

“The girl who threw the apple. Real name Patricia Johnson. Also known as Pissy and Jagged.”

I filed this information away in my brain as I looked him up and down. He was shallow, harmless – not a bad person to befriend, but popular enough that he would be dangerous if an enemy.

I held out my hand. “I’m Elaina Riley,” I said.

“James Potter,” he replied, taking my fingers in his. Then, with a cocky grin, he bowed over my hand and kissed the back of my palm. “Welcome to Hogwarts.”

E/N: Third chapter - any chance you could make this "third time's the charm" and leave me some pretty reviews?
 


Chapter 4: Friends
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The common room before lunch is a much different place than it is after dinner. Loud and boisterous, it made me think that something had exploded, leaving debris to litter the floor, walls, and ceiling.

James Potter and I sat in the corner window, the one overlooking the Dark Forest and a sliver of the lake. I was basically destroying him in chess while he munched his way through an impossibly large amount of sweets, prattling on about not plucking Mrs. Widgeon’s daisies and Henry Gerald’s obsession with girl’s nails and why I should actually make an attempt on my Potions homework. I listened to all this in near silence, occasionally asking a quiet question that James was more than eager to answer.

My queen was just moving forward to put his king into check when the portrait hole opened, James’s pack of friends bursting through. Oak Wood saw us and his eyebrows shot up into his hairline. He, closely followed by the other three, marched through the crowd until they were close enough to smell.

Flowers and masculine musk. Interesting mix.

“Hey-lo,” Oak said, leaning against the wall behind me. I shifted slightly so that he wasn’t pressed against my back, turning to face the rest of the common room.

“Hi,” I replied as James moved his king to the side. In retaliation, I moved my knight, once again putting his piece in danger.

“Who might you be?”

James took out my knight and glanced up, saying, “Elaina, this is Oak Wood. You already know P.J., and the other two are Rhyad Kouri and Annalie Moore.”

The Arab smirked and extended his hand, saying, “I’m Rhyad, just so you don’t get confused. We get mixed up all the time.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I shook it, replying, “I can see why.”

“So you’re the new girl?” Annalie said gently. I nodded and she continued, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“So,” Oak drawled before I could respond. “Where are you from, beautiful?”

I forced myself not to stiffen at the term, instead looking at the chess board and saying, “A place.”

Oak snorted. “That’s specific.”

P.J. spoke up, her smooth voice cutting through the din around us. “I don’t care if she wants to be vague. I just want to know how she got so bloody fast.”

Anger prickled at the back of my mind as she refused to address me directly. Sarcastically, I thought, You can’t exactly afford to be slow when you’re being chased by a Minjodo through a swamp when it’s intent on eating your brains. If you want to speed up, I would be more than happy to arrange something between the two of you.

Outwardly, I shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was just born quick.”

“Do you know how many people would kill for reflexes like yours?” Rhyad asked, moving one of my pieces so that it took out James’s last pawn.

“I wish we could kill for them,” Oak moaned pathetically. “Jessica needs all the help she can get.”

My eyebrows rose as I said, “Should I be concerned for my safety?”

Two voices choruses “Yes” while three said, “No”. Darkly, I muttered, “Nothing like unanimous comforting to put a girl at ease.”

James and Annalie chuckled while Rhyad moved James’s last rook to counter a possible check. Before he could switch sides again. I forced my queen to take his bishop that was getting dangerously close to my king. Rhyad frowned and, after a moment, smacked James’s shoulder with the back of his hand. James moved out of his seat and Rhyad took his place, moving one of his pieces. I countered as I asked, “Who is Jessica, by the way?”

“Seeker for the Gryffindor team,” Oak said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t have let her on the squad if I had known that her try-outs were all beginners luck.”

I glanced at James and he nodded. “She was absolutely fantastic the first couple of practices, less so as time went on. By the beginning of this month, she was downright terrible”

“Maybe its nerves,” Annalie said graciously.

P.J. rolled her eyes and said, “We’ve already been through this, Liar. We all know she’s just pathetic.”

“So much so that we’re considering re-opening tryouts,” Rhyad commented as he took one of my pawns.

I made a small sound in the back of my throat and there was a slight pause while both Rhyad and I studied the board. Finally, Oak piped up, “So where did you say you were from again? Your accent makes you kind of hard to place.”

“I didn’t.”

“Oh, come off it Elaina,” James said. “Don’t be so secretive. We’re all friends here in Gryffindor tower.”

I couldn’t help but smile, brushing my bangs out of my eyes and saying, “My dad and I live in London, but we used to be in Dublin, and before that Paris. New York, Hong Kong, Beijing…”

“Is there anywhere you haven’t been?” P.J. asked.

I thought for a minute before shrugging, “Never been to Tahiti.” Not exactly a hotspot for monster attacks.

Oak whistled while the others snickered. P.J., however, crossed her arms and muttered, “So she’s lived in a ton of places. Big deal.”

“Don’t be jealous, P.J.” Oak said, grinning widely. “You still have your girlish charm.”

“I’m not jealous!”

“You so are.”

“Am not!”

I blocked them out as their conversation grew more and more childish, instead focusing on the suddenly difficult chess game before me. Rhyad was a defensive player, making moves that wouldn’t result in his losing pieces. I wasn’t above risky plays to get the maximum number of enemies off the board. It was a very interesting experience. By the time we had both been depleted of our queens and a bishop each, their argument had become nothing more than a few heated glowers. My eyes were beginning to grow heavy, the world black outside the chilly window.

I rose from my seat and stretched theatrically, rubbing my eyes with the heel of my palm. “Well,” I said slowly, “I’m pretty beat, so I think I’ll head upstairs. It was great meeting all of you.”

Oak patted my back and Rhyad gave me a wide grin, P.J. glaring at me as I pushed in my chair. Annalie gave me a shock by throwing her arms around me, but she retreated when I recoiled slightly. To cover myself, I awkwardly touched her arm while James chimed, “Tomorrow, we’ll help you figure out your schedule.”

I had already discovered where all of my classes were earlier that afternoon, but I figured that it wouldn’t be a wise idea to reject my new dorm mates. I smiled and said, “That would be cool. Good night, everyone.”

There was a chorus of farewells as I turned, walking up the staircase. I slipped into our dorm and made my way to my bed, kicking off my shoes and stripping out of my clothes. I slipped beneath my covers and tucked my chin beneath my blankets, tensing my muscles to generate heat. When I had chased the chill from my bed, drowsiness redoubling its grip on my mind, I drifted off within seconds, my body relaxing for the first time that day.

 

I was unused to sleeping in the same space as other people – I always either had my own room or just didn’t sleep. Because of this, my rest was fitful, my mind forcing my body to flinch awake every time someone entered the room or moved. At one point, a girl dropped a text book onto the floor and the resonating bang made me shoot upright, spells for revealing and destruction on my lips. The girl blushed and apologized, looking genuinely upset that she had awoken me. I mumbled something about it being fine and settled back down, but it took me a minute to calm my heart enough to drift back into slumber.

Eventually, around five o’clock, I ended my uneasy snooze and rose from my bed. I searched my trunk for a pair of loose sweatpants and a cotton shirt, changing and pushing into my sneakers. I walked to the door and was just beginning to turn the knob when a rustle from behind me caused me to freeze.

“Ella?” Annalie slurred tiredly. I glanced behind me and saw her sitting up in her bed, her pale hair swirling around her face in a tangled mess.

“Yeah?” I murmured back.

“What are you doing?”

“Just taking a run.”

“D’you want me to come along?” she asked, swinging her legs over the side of her mattress. I could see that her eyes were still clouded with sleep and almost laughed at the proposition, easily imagining a hundred catastrophes that could occur between the dorm and the lake.

“I’ll be fine.” I replied. “You stay here and get some more rest. You still need so show me the castle later, remember?”

She made a light rumble that I assumed was acceptance as she flipped back onto her bed. I allowed myself a smirk before I ducked out of the room and into the cold staircase beyond.

I trotted down the many floors of the castle, finally reaching the double doors leading outside. I slipped through these without much trouble and took a deep breath of frost-coated air, goose bumps rising on my skin. A single shiver made its way up my spine before I began to run, my long legs carrying me across the frozen ground.

Fog clung to everything – the trees in the forest at the edge of the grounds, the dark surface of the motionless lake, and the hills gently sloping in the distance. I ran to the slightly sandy beach beside the water and settled on a good pace, trotting along and examining the ground as I moved. Close to the water were a few faded animal tracks, similar to the ones in the photograph but distorted by time and moisture. I paused to examine each I came by, feeling the mud from which they had been formed, smelling it, running my fingers over the trampled sticks and disturbed rocks around each print. I wasn’t much of a spiritual person, but something about each of the indentations made my soul shrink back. An evil aura seemed to hang around those markings, something so powerful that it made me want to vomit. By the time I had run around the lake. I found myself completely mentally exhausted, like this beast was draining me from afar.

I made my way back to the castle as the sun finally drifted from behind the mountains. Quietly, I slipped indoors and made my way into the Great Hall, plopping down on a bench in front of a breakfast feast. I piled food onto my plate and was about to dig in when there was a dull hoot and the flutter of wings.

An owl, old, ruffled, and as scarred as any I had seen before, landed in front of my plate. A letter was tied to its leg and it let out a resigned chirp when I reached for it.

“Thanks there, Patchy.” I murmured. It glowered, stole a piece of toast from the tray, and fluttered back into the air. I slipped a piece of bacon into my mouth and ripped open the envelope, pulling the slip of parchment inside free of its paper prison. Unfolding it, I began to read, first taking a second to appreciate my father’s untidy script.

Ella,

I hope things are going well at school. If it’s anything like it was in my day, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Remember why you are away from home. Be careful, and keep me posted.

Dad

I sighed and pushed the letter into my pocket, resigning to write him back that evening. My homesickness returned with a vengeance, making me lose my appetite. I forced myself to eat, regardless, emptying my plate. Just as I finished, there was a loud explosion of laughter and my five new companions entered the room. James saw me and exclaimed, “Elaina! There you are!”

I waved as they approached, smiling slightly. I forced myself to push home out of my heart and take Dad’s advice: Remember why I am at Hogwarts. 

E/N: I recieved excellant feedback on chapter three... care to continue the wonderful reviewing?
 


Chapter 5: Professors
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7:53 a.m. Much too early to be trying my patience by preparing to listen to someone who thinks they know everything. This, I’d heard, is exactly what Professor Alendria believed.

I leaned against my hand and watched James inhale the ninth muffin he’d had since we left the Great Hall three minutes prior. His defense: they had chocolate in them. My offence: he was going to clog his arteries and kill himself.

Death by chocolate. Death by apple. I was beginning to detect a morose pattern surrounding this boy’s life.

He had caught me that morning as I was coming in from another jog around the lake. Apparently, he woke up from a bad dream and saw me outside, figuring that it would be polite to wait for me. A nice thought, but I don’t believe I was pleasant with him – the dark sense of foreboding surrounding each footprint had put me on edge, especially because I had found one with a very definite indentation of a claw in it.

Might I add that this claw seemed to be very, very sharp?

“So,” he finally said when he finished licking his fingers. “Why do you run so much? I mean, it’s great and all, but you could burn so many more calories playing Quidditch.”

I smiled slightly and moved the corner of my text book so it was in the exact center of my desk. “It’s meditational.” I said lightly. “I can think so much better when I’m running.”

He shrugged. “Fair enough. Bet you’re in great shape.”

I hesitated before nodding, unsure if I was walking into a trap of some sort. I was relatively sure that he was scheming, but I figured I was smart enough to wiggle out of it.

“Why don’t you - ?”

Whatever suggestion he had was cut off as a handful of students walked into the room, talking loudly. All of them looked tired and as if they hadn’t done their homework, because several of them had rolls of parchment in their hands and were frantically scribbling down answers to the problems that had been given over the weekend. (Thanks to my new friends, my homework had been completed before the teachers even had a chance to assign it.)

The class began to fill rapidly after that, my other friends shuffling in and taking the seats behind us. I started idle chatter with Rhyad about Transfiguration in general, though I could tell he was poking my brain to find out how much I knew. To be perfectly honest, Transfiguration was not my strong point – when you’re fighting the stuff I chase after, it doesn’t do much to transfigure rocks into apples or whatever the hell Transfiguration is all about.

He was just beginning to explain what I felt like was a standard theory of changing things when the door opened and a woman walked in. She was tall, blonde, and beautiful, but starting to show the signs of age around her eyes and mouth.

“Good morning class,” she chimed and was given the gift of a chorused, “Morning,” back. She walked up the aisle, adding, “Everyone, books away and wands out! Practical lesson today.”

There were scattered cheers and a few clapped hands while everyone shoved their books under their seats with dull thumps, pulling out their magical aids. I put my book away but crossed my hands over my stomach, suddenly growing nervous. Headmaster Longbottom was smart enough to inform my teachers about my lack of wand usage... wasn’t he?

Professor Alendria seemed to notice me, pausing on her way to her desk. “Miss Elaina Riley?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am,” I said politely, trying to look small and nice.

“Welcome to my class. I might as well tell you that

 I do not tolerate any kind of insolence or stupidity in my classroom. I demand respect, and will only issue it in return.”

“That won’t be a problem, ma’am.”

“Good. Now, today we will be transfiguring our desks into piglets. This spell is complex, not only because it is changing one thing into several, but because each living organism must have all the things necessary to its survival. You will be working with your partners today. The instructions,” she reached the front of the room and flipped the chalkboard over, showing us lines and lines of tiny script, “are here. I will be walking around in case you need any help.”

Everyone began to push their belongings to the floor, before the furniture they were lying on suddenly became a squealing, wiggling pig. I tried to swallow my nerves as I followed suit, rubbing my hands on my robe and reading the instructions.

Why was I so anxious? I had faced vampires, werewolves, dragons, and everything before, between, and after. Did it really make sense that I was worried about a little piece of magic?

“Where’s your wand?” James asked as he pulled his own out of his pocket.

“I don’t need one.”

“You don’t need one?” he repeated dumbly.

Aqualumate,” I whispered, hiding my hand under the table. He looked beneath just as the space beneath the wood erupted in a glowing light, stemming from a small puddle of water growing in my palm. James gasped as I shook my hand, ending the spell, but I blocked him out and began to read the instructions.

“How?” he spluttered.

“I don’t know. I just can.”

“That is so. Fucking. Sweet.”

I smiled and pulled up my sleeves, saying, “Shouldn’t we get to work?”

I was just beginning to say the incantation when Professor Alendria called out, “Miss Riley?”

I paused and looked up as she walked up, her heels clicking against the ground. “Yes ma’am?”

“Where is your wand?”

“I don’t need one,” I said, feeling a wave of déjà vu.

Her plucked eyebrows rose as she quietly said, “For my class, you do. You see, we do magic here at Hogwarts, and to do that you require a wand.”

“Not her!” James piped up, making me turn to glare at him. He ignored me and said, “She can do magic with her hands!”

“Not if she doesn’t want a detention,” Professor Alendria said acidly.

“But ma’am, I can’t use a wand. It doesn’t work.” I broke out before James could do any more damage.

“Prove it.”

There was a silence that would have been broken by a feather dropping as I looked around the room. There was an inkpot sitting on her desk, and it was that I focused on – with a wild sweep of my hand, I lifted it into the air. Another flick and it was spinning around, dancing wildly with the dust motes. A handful of quills soared into the air as the inkpot uncorked itself, were loaded with ink, then flew back down to the desk and wrote on a slip of parchment that was lying, blank, on the wood.

There were gasps of surprise and shock and wonder, several people actually falling out of their chairs in astonishment. I didn’t exactly care about their impressions, though – the one I needed was Professor Alendria’s.

Her expression was cold as she said, “Transfigure it.”

“Excuse me?” I gasped.

“This is Transfiguration. Transfigure it.”

I will once again attract your attention to the fact that I hadn’t practiced Transfiguration much. There was just no need for it while working with my dad. So I took a deep breath, gathered all of my spell knowledge, and exclaimed, “Metacorpfelon!”

Abruptly, there was a wicked pop and the inkpot fell onto the desk. Except that it wasn’t an inkpot anymore.

It was a fluffy kitten, so black it was blue, with green eyes and little white teeth. Its tail erect and walking on unsure feet, it trotted off the edge of the desk, fell flat on its face, shook itself, and made its way over to my desk. I reached down and picked it up, scratching beneath its chin. James leaned forward and ran his finger along the creature’s spine, making it meow in pleasure. The poor thing was barely as big as my palm, but was trying it’s hardest to purr louder than even the biggest of tom cats. I smiled at it as Professor Alendria stepped closer, examining the creature as if she was hoping for it to be maimed in some way.

Finally, she sniffed. “You are rough, coarse,” she said scathingly. “You are going to have to work much harder than you have ever worked in your life if you expect to pass your N.E.W.T.s.”

I bristled slightly, but I figured it wasn’t the time to explain to her that I wasn’t planning on staying past February.

“Continue, the rest of you,” she snapped to the others before turning heel and marching to her desk. She cleaned up the mess I had made as I sighed, placing the kitten on my shoulder.

“Well,” James said, falsely perky. “We'd best get started, right?”

I nodded and gestured for him to begin the transfiguration of our desk.

 

“That chick’s a bitch sometimes,” P.J. said, oddly comforting as she sat down beside me. “Don’t let her get to you.”

“Thanks,” I muttered glumly, petting the kitten that I had smuggled from the room at the end of the lesson. I figured he was mine by right, seeing as I had made him and all.

“She always assigns a ton of work on Mondays,” James added, piling lunch onto his plate. “That’s not anything new.”

I sighed and rubbed my eyes, feeling the weight of the book in my bag. After nearly an hour of trying to teach James how to make piglets out of the desk, I had spent the remainder of the hour reading my book. Of course, it contained next to no useful information for performing basic Transfiguration, so… I was probably sunk in that subject.

“What do you have next?” Annalie asked gently.

“Advanced Potions.”

“Not too bad, then,” Rhyad commented. “Ranson is okay – a little quirky, but not bad.”

“Quirky?” I asked slowly, naturally being hesitant to the term.

“Yeah,” James reached for a roll, shoving half of it into his mouth and dipping the other half in a bowl of butter. “Funny dude. He’s, well…”

“The first time we met him, he spent five minutes describing, in detail, how much his nostril hairs were tickling his nose,” Oak said, grinning crookedly.

“That’s mildly disturbing.” I scooped a bite of chicken into my mouth before James would eat it for me, chewing slowly and trying not to think about my potions professor’s nose issues.

“Isn’t it?” Annalie smiled and shook her head.

There was a brief silence while we all ate, broken only when my kitten tripped over a spoon. James spoke up next, saying, “You know, you should totally come to our Quidditch practice tonight. It’ll help get your mind off things.”

“We’ll see,” I said.

“You should!” Oak exclaimed, leaning forward excitedly. “Seriously! I mean, watching us play might inspire you to come and join us on the field.”

I snorted and said, “Since when did you have an open spot?”

“Since I said we might.”

I shook my head and pet my cat, absently eating an apple. I don’t think anyone took this motion as denial, because they all seemed to be content to let the subject drop for the time being. After a few more silent seconds, Annalie started up a conversation with P.J. that was mostly gossip and Oak teased Rhyad about something that was obviously an inside joke. James leaned forward so that his elbows were practically on either side of my plate, saying, “So how has your first day been?”

I shrugged. “Interesting enough, I guess.”

“Like P.J. said, don’t let Alendria get to you. She doesn’t really like people who are different.”

“She’ll hate me, then.”

“Who cares? What’s one teacher compared to an entire staff? Everyone else will like you.”

“The teachers won’t be the only one,” Oak said, smoothly gliding into our conversation.

“What do you mean?” I asked while James, at the same time, glared and snapped, “Shut up.”

I glanced at James and felt a small shock at the expression of barely restrained fury and defense in his eyes. When I looked at Oak, he seemed a little put off too.

“What do you mean, Oak?” I repeated.

“Nothing,” he said quickly. “Nothing at all.”

James seemed temporarily satisfied with this and looked down at the food before him while I mouthed at Oak, Tell me later?

He nodded and I leaned back, returning my gaze to James.

“You really think that the rest of the teachers won’t have a problem with me?” I asked.

James grinned crookedly and nodded. “Defiantly not. If they haven’t kicked me out by now, they’ll adore you.”

I smiled and turned, gently worming my way into Annalie’s conversation with P.J. They pointed out the owners of the many names they mentioned, telling me who was cheating on whom and who was recently seen exiting a broom cupboard with Darby Mackintosh. I just nodded as if I understood what they were talking about, munching my way through a plate of fruit and trying to forget the morning’s escapades.

Eventually, enough time had passed that I was getting close to potentially being late, so I rose from my seat. Oak, to my dim surprise, rose as well.

“We’d better get going,” he said.

“We?” I asked.

“Oak’s in Advanced Potions too,” Annalie informed me. “He aced his O.W.L.s, in that subject at least.”

I blinked at him and he stuck his tongue out at her, the others laughing. I shook it off, however, and slung my bag over my shoulder. I froze when I saw my kitten, sitting on the table with an innocent look on his face.

“I have a free period next hour,” Annalie said. “I’ll take him up to the common room.”

I smiled at her. “Thanks.”

“What’s his name, by the way?”

I paused and thought, considering the question for a long minute before saying, “Quill. His name is Quill.”

She laughed. “Oh, the irony.”

I smirked as we walked away from the table. Yes, the irony indeed.

Oak and I made our way to the dungeon in a mildly awkward silence, not even trying to make a conversation. When we reached the Potion’s room, he opened the door for me; I thanked him quietly before entering.

All conversation inside of the room froze when we entered. It wasn’t exactly an overflowing turn-up, but there were enough people to make a pretty noticeable silence. I swallowed and tightened my grip on my bag while Oak gestured for me to follow him, leading me to a table near the back of the room. He took two cauldrons from the stack on one of the shelves and set them up, getting everything ready for potion making.

Finally, the silence was broken. By a long, loud wolf whistle.

I blushed slightly and looked down while Oak snorted, pulling his book out of his bag. He sat down and tucked his hands behind his head, trying to look nonchalant. I tried to follow suit, but it was extremely difficult while I was trying not to glare furiously at everyone who was staring at me.

“That is what I meant earlier,” Oak whispered, so quietly that I almost didn’t hear him. I turned and frowned, brushing my hair out of my eyes.

“I don’t think I understand.” I said slowly.

“The guys here? They’re interested.”

“In me?”

“No, in physics. Of course you!”

“Why?”

He sighed as if a child had just asked him where babies came from and rubbed his neck. “Because, Elaina, you’re new, you’re unique, and you’re, well…”

“I’m what?” I asked somewhat defensively.

“Pretty. Beyond pretty. Beautiful. And you obviously can handle yourself. There aren’t a lot of girls like you here, so when one comes…. She’s a hot commodity.”

I bit my lip, unsure whether to say thank you or ask what exactly what he meant. I was deciding on some sort of middle ground when the door opened again and in walked none other than the peculiar professor.

Professor Ranson was dressed in robes that were such a pale yellow that I was wondering if he was trying to become one with the sunshine. His dark hair was cropped short around his head and his nose – the one that was giving him such nostril hair trouble – was a bit larger than considered normal.

Conversations ebbed slightly, but didn’t end entirely. Oak and I watched as he walked up the aisle and stopped by his desk, shuffling through the overflowing papers before he looked at the class.

“Well, everyone, today we’ll be making a bone-mending potion. You can find the directions in your book on page four-seventy-two. You may begin.”

I opened my book and flipped through the aged pages until I found the right set of directions. I was rising to go to the ingredients cabinet when Professor Ranson called my name.

“Elaina Riley! A word with you, please.”

I felt Oak glance nervously at me while I walked up to his desk, my book in one hand and my other fist clenched. I didn’t speak until I was right in front of his desk, saying, “Yes, sir?”

The man blinked at me, as if he had entirely forgotten asking for a moment of my time. After a second, however, his expression cleared and he asked gravely, “Are you capable, dear girl?”

“I like to think so.”

He studied me for a minute before nodding his approval. “Good. You may return to your potion making.”

My eyebrows rose and I turned, walking back to where Oak was waiting next to the ingredients cabinet. “What was that about?” he asked while I begin to shuffle through the roots and bottles of livers.

I looked at him and smiled, saying, “Well, you were right about one thing. He certainly is quirky.”

 

E/N: Sorry if this chapter felt a bit like a filler, because it kind of was. But I like to think that it sort of set the mood for Elaina’s educational career at Hogwarts, so hopefully no one resented it too much! As always, reviews of any sort are welcome… hint, hint…
 


Chapter 6: Quidditch Practice
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I collapsed onto the couch, one arm draped over my face while the other dangled beside me, my fingertips brushing the floor. It probably wasn’t wise to skip dinner, but the thought of sitting through another minute of awkward stares and self-consciousness made me shudder. After a moment, I reach into my bag and pull out a book, scowling at it as I flipped it open.

“Stupid Transfiguration,” I grumbled as I found a quill. “Useless junk if there ever was any.”

I passed a good half hour writing an essay about transfiguring furniture, ink staining my fingers and almost splattering on the couch. When I finished that, I moved on to potions, which was a simple description of how we completed our potions and what the effects should be. Then I packed up that crap and sighed, searching for a fresh roll of parchment that I could use to write my father.

This, as it turned out, was a lot more difficult than the essay. I gnawed on the end of my quill for a long few minutes, thinking, struggling. Finally, I began to write, but it was nothing more than a few lines of meaninglessness.

 

Dad,

I’m doing all right. I made some friends who are helping me get settled in. I don’t think my Transfiguration teacher likes me much, but the Potion’s Master seems okay enough. I hope work’s going well without me.

 

I bit my lip and stared at the parchment, preparing to throw it away. But then the portrait hole opened and my ‘new friends’ marched in, catching sight of me on the couch and making their way to my side.

“Hey there Ella,” James said, leaning on the back of the sofa. “We’re going up to get changed, and then we can head down to the pitch.”

“The pitch?” I asked.

“Yeah. Quidditch practice tonight, remember?”

I smiled and nodded outwardly, though on the inside I groaned. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about watching them throw balls around in the air – I guess it was a way to spend my evening, though.

“We’ll be down in a minute,” Oak said, grabbing James by his collar and dragging him off of the couch.

“Can’t wait!” I exclaimed, trying to appear cheerful. No one caught on to the façade as they clambered up their appropriate staircases, promising to not take too long. When they left, I sighed and turned back to my letter, adding,

 

I’m going to go watch Gryffindor Quidditch practice, which should be interesting. All of my friends are on the team, so I guess it’s better than sitting up in the common room alone.

Love from,

Elaina

 

I folded up the letter and shoved it in my bag. I was just pulling the strap over my head when James thudded down into the common room, dressed in an oversized pair of sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt advertising some Quidditch supply brand. He trotted over and dropped onto the couch, conveniently sitting on my thighs.

I grunted under his weight, panting, “Jesus, boy, how much do you weigh?”

“Don’t imply that I’m fat,” he warned, leaning against the cushions and relieving my body of some of his poundage.

“I’m not implying it.”

He pretended to pout for a moment before grinning, shrugging slightly. “Yeah, you’re right. I do have some heaviness to me.”

“Some?”

He chuckled slightly in a way that encouraged me to join in. There was a brief pause before he said, “So… how horrendous are we?”

I blinked, my giggle dying on my tongue. “What do you mean?” I asked.

He looked down at my stomach, reaching down and running his pointer finger along my shinbone. For some reason, the contact made my heart beat a little harder, like it had in Transfiguration earlier. As I had then, I upbraided myself, telling my foolish body that I had experienced plenty of human contact before – there was no reason to get excited about it.

“You must feel kind of out of place,” he murmured quietly. “You’re trying to make ties in a community that has been here for seven years. You’re trying to be invisible when every eye is on you. All Annalie and P.J. talk about is other people’s relationships and lives, and all we guys talk about is Quidditch and girls. We must seem so… monotonous.”

I began to think and realized with a slight shock that they weren’t. Yes, they were somewhat predictable, but this was a whole new life for me. So what that Annalie was oh so interested in who was dating who? So what that the boys were more interested in perfecting the chasers’ Woollongong Shimmy than how to prevent a Thirg bite from becoming infected?

“You aren’t,” I told him. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before – these hectic people, this insane lifestyle. It was always quiet before, and now…”

He seemed to relax a little, but then he asked a question that made me stiffen. “Why did you decide to come now, anyway? I mean, why not before?”

I swallowed and proceeded cautiously, my words carefully chosen like every lie must be. “I was going to come in my fourth year, but then my mother got really sick. I had to stay home and care for her so my dad could work harder to pay for the medical bills. Then she died a few months ago, and I had to help my father make the transition from life with her to life without her.”

“That’s a lot of responsibility for a girl who’s only sixteen.”

“What was I supposed to do? Leave her for a life of glamour at Hogwarts?”

James shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

I sighed and shook my head, suddenly feeling very tired. “I had to. There was no choice.”

“You’re a good person to have done it,” James said, still stroking my calf. “I wouldn’t have been strong enough to stay away for so long.”

I offered him a smile. “Thank you.”

“Isn’t this quaint?”

Both of us turned to see P.J. marching down the stairs in clothes similar to James’s. Her face was open, calm, but there was something in her eyes that reminded me of the smoldering remains of a burning building. James saw it too and pushed himself off of me, grinning and saying, “Hey P.J.”

She smiled coldly and started a conversation filled with Quidditch terms that I didn’t quite understand, maybe just in preparation for the practice. But something told me that it was more than that – she was trying to flaunt the ties that James had mentioned, pushing it in my face. I didn’t show any discomfort, merely waiting until Rhyad and Oak appeared behind me and talking to them. We asked each other the usual pleasantries, chatting amiably until Annalie thudded down the staircase. Then we all rose and made our way out of the room, bumping into a gaggle of first years that scattered like birds before us. Oak snorted at their terrified expressions, saying, “I love being an upperclassman.”

I smiled and followed the group through the hallways, listening to their idle banter with an air of caring. We walked out onto the vast stretch of green lawn and across it, towards the towering pitch. The atmosphere surrounding my friends changes abruptly, becoming electrically charged with excitement and nerves. None of them seemed to notice this, but it is as obvious to me as the noses on their faces.

They paused just outside their locker room, looking at me. Finally, James pointed to a long, narrow staircase clinging to the side of the stadium. “You can take those to the bleachers. We would invite you inside, but there’s no good way off of the pitch out there.”

I shrugged. “It’s cool. You can have your team time. I’ll just see you guys out there.”

They all bid me a quick goodbye – everyone but P.J., who only gave me a steady glare – and entered their big secretive orgy room. I sighed and turned, slowly making my way up the wooden steps to the bleachers. I walked to the middle of the red-and-yellow striped seats and settled down, turning my collar up against the slight wind.

I will take time to say that I was not a novice when it came to Quidditch. Dad sometimes bought tickets and took me, but only when it was the most insane crowd out there. Never when it was one of the pre-season warm up matches or any of that crap – only one of the life-or-death games during which a riot was likely to erupt. I had experienced many things during those matches, such as my first alcoholic beverages and the joy of being groped by drunken assholes; of course those eager fingers were quickly crushed in my strong grip and the faces behind them receiving my deadly glare.

I felt odd, sitting in the middle of a vacant Quidditch pitch in the cold autumn air. I passed the time watching the puffy white clouds drifting across the darkening sky and daydreaming of going home to my dad. When I was beginning to grow acutely bored, the locker rooms flew open and what looked like an army of broom-carrying teenagers hyped up on the prospect of going up into a world unchartered. I smiled faintly as I recognized the backs of my friends’ heads, even waving when James turned and saw me sitting all by my lonesome.

There were two people that I didn’t recognize, but my exceptional observation skills (sarcasm intended) led me to believe that the girl was Jessica, the terrible seeker, and the so far unnamed other beater. Jessica was a petite blonde thing, almost shorter than her broom, and the other beater was nothing but six feet of bulk.

I leaned forward while Oak gathered the team around, telling them something too quiet for me to hear. I wet my lips as they took to the sky, my heart leaping when, abruptly, I was struck with the urge to join them.

The chasers took the quaffle and began tossing it back and forth, following a pattern that even I couldn’t recognize. The beaters unleashed the bludgers and flew after them, smacking them back and forth like they were playing a game of tennis, trying not to hit the other players. Oak took his place at the goalpost, taking laps around them while he waited for the chasers to finish their exercise.

The only one who remained on the ground was Jessica, who was stretching dramatically. I could tell that she was procrastinating, taking her time loosening up because she didn’t want to start flying.

Or start showing how weak she really was.

I crossed my arms as, finally, Oak called for her to begin practicing. She grudgingly took to the air, but even then she just lapped the pitch. At long last, Oak threatened her with ‘suicides’ and she returned to the ground for a few seconds in order to release the snitch.

The beautiful ball cautiously fluttered out of its container, and even from my place in the bleachers I was struck by its perfection. It was as if someone had stolen a piece of the sun and sculpted this little creature from it – breathtaking.

Jessica lunged for it, causing the ball to immediately zoom away. She visibly scowled and straddled her broom once more, kicking into the air. But the motion caused enough of a distraction for the snitch to fly away – far enough that it seemed that she could no longer see it.

But I could. The small ball was hovering in the bottom left-hand corner of the field, hiding next to the gleaming goalposts. A clever tactic, in all honesty, but rather obvious if you really thought about it.

Not obvious to her, it seemed. She flew in the opposite direction, zooming close to where Oak hovered in front of his hoops. A game then began, the chasers running through play after play, the beaters having competitions on how far they could hit the bludgers, Jessica searching frantically for the snitch. I watched all of this while keeping an eye on the little gleaming ball, resisting the urge to scream its whereabouts to the girl on the broom.

This continued for some time, not much of extreme interest happening beside Annalie almost getting smacked in the face with a runaway bludger and P.J. screaming her head off at James when he tried to make a shot when he was much too far away. Jessica still failed to find the snitch, which obviously put everyone on edge – there were times while the entire game froze, everyone just watching her search. James and Oak shared several significant looks, and even Rhyad and Annalie seemed to have tried patiences.

Darkness was beginning to fall and still Jessica saw no sight of the snitch, which had made itself comfortable in the other beater’s shadow. I sighed and leaned even more heavily against my palm, trying to send some sort of mental vibe to her. But, apparently, she wasn’t of the same wavelength as me, and another fifteen minutes passed before Oak put his fingers to his mouth and whistled. All action stopped and the broom-riding players drifted back to the ground, gathering in a loose semi-circle on the trampled grass. Oak landed beside them and addressed his team, gesturing in ways that I didn’t quite understand. After a few minutes of this, everyone began to pack up, shoving the quaffle into the chest and going after the other balls. The snitch was cornered by a quick-eyed P.J. with the help of Oak and the unnamed player paired up with Rhyad to tackle one of the bludgers. James flew after the other bludger in what was a terrifying game of chicken, him purposely colliding with the iron ball so he could wrap his arms around it and drag it to the ground. He had obviously received the worse of the two orbs, because while the other two shoved theirs into the crate without too much trouble, James practically had to break the box in order to get it into place.

The beater told the others goodbye, claiming that he had enough Charms homework to last him until Christmas break, while Jessica mumbled some excuse and followed closely after. Oak hitch the chest onto his shoulder and began to lead the others to the locker room.

Everyone but James. When the others turned back to question him, he shook his head and said something to quiet for me to hear. I gathered my bag and was beginning to put it on when the group seemed to shrug in unison, twisting around. They made their way into the locker room while James straddled his broomstick and took to the sky, zooming easily over to me. He hovered just outside the thin metal railing that prevented overenthusiastic fans from plummeting to the breaking of their necks.

“Hey there Ella,” James said, smiling as I rose and walked to the bars.

“Hi,” I replied, offering him a small grin in return. “How was practice?”

“You tell me.” He shook his head, causing small droplets of sweat to fly off of his drenched hair. “How did it look?”

I hesitated before cautiously saying, “It looked good. Everyone was in top form… accept for…”

James sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

There was a slightly awkward silence before James smirked and said, “Let’s go for a fly.”

I blinked and recoiled slightly as if I was afraid that he would reach out and drag me onto the broom. “A fly?” I asked as if this was an unfamiliar term.

“Yeah. You, me, and the big darkening sky…”

Now, Dad and I used a lot of different forms of magical transportation, but broomsticks really weren’t high on the list. I knew how to fly on one, but it had been years since I had climbed on one.

“I don’t know, James,” I said slowly.

“Oh, come on – don’t tell me that you’re chicken.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I am not a cowardly person. For someone to call me a chicken would be like someone telling Abraham Lincoln that he was too tall to make a good president. So you really can’t blame me for huffing and clambering over the railing, sitting on top while James drifted closer.

Very hesitantly, I stretched forward, gripping the railing with white knuckles. Finally, James tired of my slow pace and swerved so close to the metal that he almost collided with it, grabbing my waist and pulling me onto the broom.

I nearly fell off within the first two seconds, thanks to him. My legs were forced into an awkward sidesaddle position as the broomstick bobbed, sort of like a cork dropped in a class of water. It righted itself, however, and when it stopped moving I threw my leg over the wooden handle.

“Thanks for that,” I squawked indignantly.

He laughed and finally took his hands from my waist, instead gripping the broomstick between my knees. I stiffened slightly, but before I could protest we were being propelled forward, flying over the pitch.

His broom was made for fast motions and quick turns, but thick enough that it could take a beating. It had the air of wanting to move faster than James was letting it, if inanimate objects could have thoughts. The farther we flew, the more relaxed I became, until I was at as much ease as James was.

“That’s a girl,” he whispered, so quietly that I was safe to assume that he didn’t want me to hear. I turned my head and looked at him, his serine face and happy eyes, as we flew over the edge of the pitch, heading towards the lake.

The more comfortable I became with the broom, however, the less comfortable I grew with James’s hold on me. It felt intimate, caring – there was something about the way his chin brushed my shoulder on every turn, how his arm would flinch up if we hit a spot of turbulence, that made an odd shiver run up my spine. It was like earlier, when he had been stroking my leg, with my heart pounding for no apparent reason.

I’m not one to believe in foolish notions like teen love. Emotions that powerful were reserved for older, wiser people, with jobs and commitment. I wasn’t worried, at the time, about James being ‘interested’ in me in the way Oak had implied before potions; I was more concerned that being around other people my age had finally kick-started the hormones that either had been missing from my life or had been easy to ignore.  

We flew over the lake, our toes skimming the dark water. I smiled faintly as the spray rose up behind us, each wide, lazy turn leaving clouds of mist in our wake.

Whenever I had flown with my father, it had been for a purpose. This pointless drifting was something I had never experienced and was one of the most beautiful things to ever grace my memory.

“How do you stop?” I asked quietly, not looking at James lest my body give me another odd reaction.

“Flying? You go to the ground and lower yourself…”

“No, you idiot, I mean how do you convince yourself to stop?”

He considered the question for a long minute before saying, “Well, you get sore after a while, so it can feel good to get down. But, I guess it’s all in knowing that at any time you can decide to go up in the air again.”

“It’s fantastic,” I said firmly.

“Yeah.” I know he smiled when he added, “Almost as good as sex.”

I didn’t respond as, suddenly, his embrace feels intimate again. He took my silence correctly, though for the wrong reason, and said, “I’ve embarrassed you, haven’t I?”

“You have not.”

“I have! I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to.”

“I’m not embarrassed!

“You’re blushing, Elaina.”

“I don’t blush.”

James chuckled but let it go for a long, quiet minute. I was almost beginning to believe that he given up when he whispered, his voice husky in my ear, “Now that I’ve introduced you to the wonders of the sky, we could move our lesson to a bedroom…”

I believe that my actions were totally justified when I reached down, gripping him beneath his knee and pulling it up. While I probably wasn’t as strong as he was, I had the advantage of surprise and being in front as I managed to tip him over, his sweaty self plummeting into the frigid lake.

He took his time to resurface, but when he did he was spluttering and spitting curses that I had never heard before. I smirked and circled overhead, just out of reach.

“Y-y-y-you j-j-j-jerk,” he finally managed through chattering teeth. “H-h-h-h-how could you?”

“How could I what?” I replied innocently. “I just thought you were getting a little heated and I was doing you a favor by helping you cool off.”

“H-h-h-help m-me n-n-n-now b-b-by getting your tight l-l-l-little a-a-ass d-d-down here and getting m-m-me out of this f-f-f-fucking cold water!”

I smiled and lowered myself a little bit. “Why don’t you ask nicely and I might consider it?”

Abruptly, he lunged, his wet hand wrapping around my ankle. He jerked downward, making me flip off of the broom and splash into the water.

It was as if someone had cast a freezing spell on my entire body. Icy, bitter coldness envelops my entire existence, smothering me in its almighty grip.

I swam to the surface and take a breath of painful air, gasping furiously. James laughed shakily as I splashed around, trying to clear the water from my eyes so I could strangle him.

“Y-y-y-you bastard,” I choked.

“Y-you totally d-deserved that,” he replied.

His broomstick drifted down within an arm’s reach and he grabbed for it. He heaved himself onto the broom, then crossed his legs around it and reached for me.

“Come on,” he said.

“I-I-I d-don’t know if I-I-I t-t-trust your m-m-muscles right now,” I managed, moving my arms in wide, circular sweeps.

“Come on,” James smirked and dropped until his knees were almost in the water. “I can lift you.”

I ignored his proffered palm and grabbed the handle of his broomstick, using that to lift my stomach onto the broom. James helped me up and into a sitting position, but the motion, as well as the draining cold, wore me out. I leaned against him heavily, my cheek against his chest, my breathing rapid and my entire body shivering. He wrapped his arms around me, rubbing my back with his palms and trying to get the tremors stopped. Finally, I was able to speak without biting off my tongue, saying, “We need to get into the castle. We’ll get hypothermia out here.”

James nodded and held me tighter with one arm while he reached down with the other, using it to steer us towards warmth.

 

E/N: So…. How’s that for a touch of romance? Surely that bit of flirtatiousness deserves some pretty reviews… right?
 


Chapter 7: Easy, Peasy, Come Here Beasty
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We stopped outside the Gryffindor locker rooms long enough for James to stash his broom and for me to run up to the bleachers and grab my bag. I had long sense cast a drying spell on us, but the cold was still deep in our bones and we hurried into the castle. Once inside, we climbed the stairs, talking about nothing in particular. We discussed the Quidditch teams we supported and detested, the foods we disliked and coveted, and stories of our childhood. The latter was a cause for my hesitation, but James saved me by producing a long anecdote about the first disastrous time he ever rode a broomstick. We were just reaching the seventh floor when I remembered my letter and paused.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, half-turning towards me.

“Nothing. I just wrote a letter to my dad and should probably send it before he flips out because of the lack of contact.”

James took a step back, moving as if to follow me. “Do you want me to come?” he asked.

“No, that’s fine. I know where the owelry is – I’ll just catch up with you in the common room.”

“If you’re sure…”

“I am.”

James paused for a minute more before dodging forward, snatching my hand and giving it a squeeze. “Then I’ll see you in a bit.”

I blinked at him as he let go and began to run, rushing down the corridor before I could respond. I sighed but couldn’t deny the prickle of a smile tugging at my lips as I turned, making my way down the hallway. Slowly, I climbed the twisting tower as I arrived at it, making my way to the pellet-coated top room.

I wasn’t alone. As I slipped inside, a boy looked up from the owl he was picking, flinching slightly as if I had surprised him.

“I’m sorry,” I said, not really knowing why I said it.

“Its fine,” he replied with a gentle smile. “I’m just a wee bit jumpy today, you know?”

I nodded and rolled my eyes in exaggeration, “Oh yeah, I know the feeling.”

The boy let go of his owl and held out his hand. “I’m Connor O’Brian.”

I glanced him up and down as I took his hand, smirking as I said, “A brilliant Scotsman, huh?”

He tapped the Ravenclaw badge on his chest, nodding. “Yes, lassie.”

“Now you’re exaggerating it.”

He grinned and chuckled. “Well, maybe a bit. But anyway, you’re Elaina Riley, aren’t you?”

“What if I am?”

“Then I would like to welcome you to Hogwarts, home of the kookiest bunch you’ll ever happen upon.”

I smiled and nodded, uttering a quiet, “Thank you.”

“So how are you getting along? I mean, with your first day.”

“Oh, it’s fine. A little hectic.” I shrugged as I reached into my bag, pulling out my letter and scanning the owls lining the walls. “Which of these are good for distance?”

“Those, there.” Connor pointed. “Where’s the bird flying?”

“London.”

“That’s not too far. You should be able to get away with any of these but the ones closest to the window.”

I took the parchment and rolled it up into a small scroll. I selected a large, tawny owl and coaxed it from its perch, tying the letter to its leg. “Godspeed, little bird.”

The creature sent a fierce glower my way before ruffling its feathers and taking off, seeming to purposely dig its talons into my forearm so to leave bloody streaks on my skin. I cursed and pulled my sleeve down over the marks, glaring at the owl as it flew away.

“Hey! Right nasty piece of work that you picked, huh?” Connor exclaimed, taking a few steps forward and reaching for my arm. I tried to keep it away from him, but he managed to pull my shirt up and examine my new wounds. “Ouch.”

“It’s fine.” I said, pulling away.

Connor stared at it for a long minute before he said, “You know, we have a medical kit up in Ravenclaw Tower. Do you want to come up and I can clean that for you?”

I smiled. “No, thanks. I can deal with it when I get back to my common room.”

“Are you sure? Because it’s no trouble.”

“I’m sure. I’m pretty good with medical magic.”

“Then why aren’t you in Ravenclaw?”

I shrugged slightly, gripping my bag tightly. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “Maybe I’m a bit to idiotically hasty. I am a leap before I look kind of person.”

“Even we smart lads need lasses like you in our house.”

“Well, I suppose the lions I am now coupled with need someone with brains to help them survive.”

Connor laughed as I turned and made my way to the door. To my slight surprise, he followed me, saying, “So who were you writing? You’re pap?”

“Yeah. I miss him, and I’m pretty sure he misses me.”

“That’s only right.”

Before he could ask another question, I countered with, “How big is your family?”

“Quite a good size. There are my folks, then me, the oldest. Then we’ve got Alexi, Sean, Brian, and Matte, all of us at Hogwarts. Then there are three wee ones, Mackenzie, Laura, and Owen.”

“Wow, that’s large!”’

Our conversation for the next few minutes consisted how big his family was. That carried us to the Gryffindor portrait, where we paused. “Well, thank you for making sure I got here all right,” I said, smiling.

“Oh, it wasn’t a problem.” He seemed to think for a minute before saying, “You know, I quite enjoyed your company, Miss Riley. If it’s of any interest to you, perhaps on Friday you would like to… follow tradition with me and some of my mates? Only, of course, if you aren’t doing it with your friends.”

I will be perfectly honest when I say that I had no idea what he meant by ‘following tradition with him and his mates’. But I wasn’t open to admit a lack of knowledge, so I shrugged and said, “They haven’t brought it up yet, but I’ll talk to them and get back to you.”

Connor grinned and bowed slightly. “Then I shall see you later, Miss Riley.”

I watched him leave for a minute, wondering if this was what Oak had meant about interest. I brushed it off, however, and said the password, entering the common room.

I slipped inside to the sound of a voice yelling. Well, not just any voice – it was P.J., and her screams were directed at her closest friends.

“There’s something wrong with her!” she yelled, her face being colored with an angry flush. “I’m telling you, she isn’t right!”

“There’s nothing about her that you need to worry about, Patricia.” Rhyad said firmly. “She’s - .”

“You’re wrong!” P.J. growled. “She’s hiding something! She isn’t being honest.”

“Her mother just died! She isn’t going to be all fluffy about life!” James retorted.

“But it goes beyond that! Everything she says has some kind of hesitation in it!”

“Of course she’s hesitant! She’s trying to make friends and doesn’t want to make us reject her!”

“You might be ready to love her and welcome her with open arms,” P.J. spat with a dangerous quiver in her voice, “but I’m not. I’m watching her, and the minute she crosses the line you can come crawling back to me and admit that I was right.”

She shoved past my friends and began to storm out the portrait hole when she saw me standing there. Her face paled slightly, but there wasn’t a single apologetic glimmer in her eyes as she marched past me. I looked up and saw our companions staring at me, their eyes wide and their throats constricting as they swallowed.

“I think I should go upstairs,” I managed quietly, gripping my bag tightly as I began to walk on the extreme outskirts of the room.

“Elaina,” James started, reaching for me. Annalie, however, grabbed his arm and whispered something I couldn’t hear. I brushed past them and walked up the staircase, rushing until I had reached a place where I would not be seen. I leaned heavily against the wall, closing my eyes and focusing on the churning emotions inside of me.

I was torn between pleasure and an odd amount of pain. My friends had defended me against one of their own, protecting my weak ties to them instead of helping one of their closest companions. I had made connections.

But on the other hand, P.J.’s words still swam around my head. How I couldn’t be trusted. How she was right and they should reject me.

Why did that hurt? Why did it create a sudden glob of unidentified materials in my throat? I should have been able to brush it off, laugh, say she was just being pissy and jagged. It should have been no issue whatsoever.

But it was. It made me feel as if she had physically stabbed me or something.

I sighed and beat my head gently against the stone behind me. Ignore her, Elaina, I told myself. She doesn’t matter.

But she did. She had some say when it came to the others. If she protested enough, she could probably have then all against me.

I turned and thumped up the stairs, entering our dorm room and throwing myself onto my bed. I changed out of my clothes and left them in a pile on the floor, worming my way beneath the covers and deciding that I would pretend I was asleep, regardless of who walked in.

 

The next few days took on a sense of monotony. Going to classes in the morning and afternoon, working on homework in the evenings, occasionally going to Quidditch practice with my friends. P.J. and I avoided each other like the plague, only speaking to each other when absolutely necessary. I learned that I had a few classes with Connor and found that whenever my companions were absent I seemed to have him as my designated escort.

This was the unbroken cycle until the Thursday of my first week, when I overheard a group of kids talking about Tradition night coming up. I paused in marching up the staircase for so long that Annalie and Oak looked back at me, both of them frowning. “What’s wrong?” Annalie asked.

“What’s Tradition?” I replied, taking a few steps up to them. “I keep hearing people talking about it.”

“Oh.” She smiled. “I’m sorry. I kept forgetting that you don’t know.”

“So what is it?”

“Every year, on Halloween night, the students dress up and go into Hogsmeade, trick-or-treating.”

“In the beginning,” Oak interjected, “it used to be just the seventh-years. But then some guy invited his sixth-year girlfriend, and then more sixth-years were invited, then fifth, then a couple of fourth… in the end, everyone was formally invited to attend. Of course, usually the firsties are too terrified to do anything outside the lines, but the second-years are a little bit braver, and only the lame third-years don’t go out.”

I smiled slightly and brushed my hair out of my face, chuckling lightly. “So are you guys going?”

“Of course!”Oak snorted. “It’s practically required by our last year!”

Holding up my hands in a pacifying manner, I laughed and said, “Okay, okay. Relax.”

“And you’re coming with us.”

 My eyebrows rose. “Thanks for the heads up!”

“Come on – like we would ever go anywhere without you.” Annalie said with a gentle smile. “We’re friends now. We aren’t about to abandon you on the finest night of the year!”

I grinned and acted excited, but on the inside the gears in my head were churning. It was dangerous to be out and about at night, walking through a town of strangers asking for candy. But being out at night might help me catch sight of this evil creepy beasty that had been plaguing the good people of Hogwarts. I know my father was expecting for me to have some sort of solid evidence by now; in fact, he was probably very disappointed.

I guess my face fell, because Annalie immediately asked, “What’s wrong?”

Blinking quickly as if coming out of a reverie, I shrugged. “Just trying to think of my costume.”

“Don’t you worry for a minute,” Oak said, throwing an arm around my neck and pulling me roughly to his side. “Annalie here has enough clothes to support a third-world country and enough money to buy what she doesn’t have!”

 

Halloween night. Ghosts and ghouls and monsters about. The halls, even though past curfew, were loaded with kids who were trying to be sly and failing miserably. Jack-o-lanterns floating in the air, bats flapping about, not to mention the multi-hued cobwebs. People dressed as everything from apples to zebras, all waiting for Professor Longbottom to unlock the front door so they could rush out into the night.

There in the corner of the stairs, sitting tight against the balustrade, was me. I was dressed in a long red cape and a knee-length blue skirt, clutching a deep wicker basket. Beneath my hood were two piggy-tails that tickled my shoulders, and even my shoes had changed from my usual sneakers to shiny black flats.

Annalie not only had tons of clothes, like Oak had said, but she liked shoving people into them.

“Wow, she really did a number on you.”

I looked up, smiling at James as he plopped down on the staircase beside me. He was dressed in a toga and a laurel wreath, a thin, shimmery material covering his arms and legs.

“Julius Caesar?” I guessed.

“Nah, ancient Olympian athlete. I would have gone naked, but Longbottom wouldn’t let me out of the castle starkers.”

I laughed in spite of myself, nudging him in the ribs with my elbow. He snorted and grabbed my arm, pulling me over his lap. “Don’t hit people; it’s not nice,” he chided in a way that was too childish to be taken seriously.

“Don’t try to molest little girls; that’s not nice either,” I countered.

He chuckled and let me go, crossing his arms behind his head. “So this is going to be fun,” he said, nodding at the doors.

“Is it?”

“Haven’t you ever been trick-or-treating before?”

No, I hadn’t. Halloween was prime night for monster-hunting, with all of the innocent little civilians running into places that they should avoid. The black things feasted while Dad and I worked our asses to the ground trying to make sure they starved.

But, of course, that isn’t a very pleasant conversation piece, is it?

“No. It just wasn’t something I got to do. We moved around so much that we never really knew a neighborhood well enough to wander around it at night.”

James openly gaped at me for a long moment before exclaiming, “Then you have no idea what you’re missing! Some of my best memories were of trick-or-treating!”

“Really?” I smiled encouragingly. “Like what?”

He thought for a minute, momentarily distracted from my lack of experience. “I don’t know. All of them were great – you know, each Halloween is kind of special in its own way. You see, we lived in a pretty safe place, so my parents weren’t worried about taking us when we were really young. But I remember,” he grinned widely, “When I was seven, my dad took me to London to trick-or-treat. Godric’s Hollow was great and all, but every time you went trick-or-treating you always stumbled across the loonies who tried to give you apples or toothpaste.” He scoffed for a minute before continuing, “So he took me to do big-time trick-or-treating, to apartment buildings that you just had to walk a few steps before you hit another jackpot. I was so proud! That first year, I got so many sweets that I was on a sugar high until Easter.”

I laughed again. “That’s so nice.”

“Yeah. It became kind of a tradition to go to London after that, once everyone was old enough.” 

I opened my mouth, but whatever I was going to say was cut off by a loud, “Hey-lo, people!”

James and I glanced up the stairs and blinked at what looked like an army of our friends. Oak was in the front of the group, dressed as a pirate with a squawking parrot on his shoulder, while beside him Rhyad was dressed in the scholarly robes of the Renaissance. Annalie wore a pale blue gown with fairy wings and glistened so much that it looked as if she had been in a glitter factory explosion. P.J. wore a bumblebee costume, complete with a stinger on her backside.

“You guys look great!” I exclaimed flatteringly, smiling at them.

“So do you. I swear, you're years younger!” Annalie offered.

“Enough jabber!” Oak interrupted, crossing his arms. “We have to come up with our battle plan!”

Rhyad sighed and shook his head, asking, “Have you no manners?”

“No, and I’m proud of it!”

“Why don’t we just go with the usual plot?” P.J. crossed her arms, putting her weight on her back foot and making her antennae wiggle. “We go to the far end of town and work our way back.”

“But we always do that!”

“And it’s foolproof – we always get more candy than anyone else.”

Oak sighed as if disappointed in her lack of ingenuity but didn’t dispute her. Then, suddenly, the room grew hushed as everyone looked up behind us. I turned and smiled to myself as Headmaster Longbottom made his way towards the base of the staircase, dressed in a bathrobe as if he had completely forgotten about us until the last minute. He saw me and nodded sagely, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a large round metal ring adorned with a single key.

Everyone stared as he reached the door, inserting the key and turning it slowly. He didn’t open the barrier, however, instead turning to address us.

“Remember, you are allowed to do this as long as you are courteous and safe. Do not go anywhere alone, do not go down dark alleys, and do not accept candy from strangers…. Wait, scratch that last bit.”

We all laughed as, at long last, he stepped aside and let us pass.

It was like a wave of bodies rushing out into the cold, almost incontrollable in its sprinting. I giggled in spite of myself, reaching around so I could grab a hold of James’s toga. “Don’t lose me!” he called as someone delivered an elbow to my ribs. “I’ll take you to where we need to get!”

We ran with the crowd until it began to disperse into large clusters of people. We managed to hook up with Connor’s bunch of friends where we were greeted with roars of welcome. Connor introduced me and my hand was passed around like a bottle of cheep booze at a party, everyone wanting to welcome me to Hogwarts. James managed to behave himself by not growling at everyone, instead starting up a conversation with some of the boys about their favorite magical sport. The rest of us took up time telling lewd joke after lewd joke, pausing only when we were laughing too hard to breathe.

We finally arrived at Hogsmeade, where we took a minute to say our goodbyes. “Maybe we’ll see you later,” Connor added hopefully as James began to lead me up a gently sloping street.

“Bye!” I replied when James reached back and snatched my hand, dragging me up the road.

“That wasn’t so painful, was it?” I asked as we began the climb through the thatch-roofed buildings.

“What wasn’t painful?”

“Being nice.”

“I am nice!”

“Yeah, but your defensiveness usually makes that one of your less noticeable qualities.”

James stopped abruptly and pushed me up against the side of a building, a shutter pressing into my back. I gasped as he placed his hands on my waist, his thumbs even with the edge of my skirt. “If you wish,” he breathed darkly, “I can show you just how nice I can be.”

I smirked and leaned my head against the window, cocking my head to the side. “What is with you and sexual innuendos?”

“Oh, there’s no implication. I’m being dead serious.” He leaned forward until his forehead was pressed against mine, his eyelashes so long that they brushed my cheeks and his breath hot on my lips.

“You’re not good enough to be serious.” I turned my head to the side and wormed my way free of his grip, taking a few steps up the hill. “We should get going,” I said. “We don’t want the others to start without us.”

“They won’t,” he replied, trailing after me. “They’re cool like that.”

“I know.”

A slightly uncomfortable silence settled around us as we climbed the hill, finally reaching the top when I thought I could take the hush no longer. The street ended in a loop lined with illuminated windows, many costumed children screaming as they went from house to house. Our friends were waiting at the far end of the road, and we rushed to greet them.

“There you two are!” Oak exclaimed, grinning widely as he pulled me into an unexpected hug. “We were wondering if you had gotten trampled or something!”

“Thanks for being concerned enough to go back and look for us,” James retorted, rolling his eyes.

“Oh, don’t be such a pussy,” P.J. snapped, rolling her eyes. “Can we just get going all ready?”

The others laughed, smirking as they all filed towards the largest house on the street. I trailed after them, listening to their hitching excited banter and trying to get into the spirit of the holiday. When we reached the doorstep, Rhyad reached out and knocked on the wooden barrier, a hush passing over us as we waited briefly.

The door opened to reveal a witch holding a candy bowl, a smile plastered on her face and her hair curly beneath a black hat. “Trick or treat!” Everyone around me chimed. I smiled and tried to go along with it as she began passing out chocolate and bubble gum and all sorts of sweet treats. I thanked her quietly and followed my companions as they rushed away, moving on to the next house.

I will admit, as time began to pass I had a better and better time. We began to joke about every little thing that was even remotely funny, excitement and the novelty of the night getting to us. Our bags grew heavier as our hearts grew lighter, all of us laughing and jabbering and happy.

Was this what it was like to be a normal teenager? Joyous and light without a care in the world outside Quidditch? I guess I would never really know, but I could still enjoy it while I could.

Or, well, not…

There was a quiet, soft curse and a clatter, and I turned around in time to watch Annalie bring her ankle closer to her body and press her fingers against it. “Ow,” she breathed softly, her face scrunching up in restrained pain.

“Are you all right?” I asked, rushing to her side. I knelt and lit the tips of my fingers, casting the illumination over her quickly swelling ankle.

“I-I tripped,” she spluttered, her eyes wincing at me.

I felt the others crowd around me as I gently turned her leg, examining the quickly swelling appendage. “It looks sprained,” I said, looking at her pale face.

“Oh, so now you’re a medical genius?” P.J. snapped, glaring furiously at me.

I met her gaze evenly, my voice cold as I said, “When you’re dealing with people who are sick, they tend to be frail. They break and sprain a lot, so you get kind of adept at telling what their damages are.”

Her face was worth the lie – pure remorse, from her chin to the roots of her hair. I turned my attention back to Annalie, whispering a charm to make bandages shoot from my hand, enveloping her ankle. “That won’t make it better, but it should help you be able to get back to the castle,” I said, carefully helping her up. “I’ll take you.”

“Nonsense,” she replied, wincing slightly. “This is the only trick-or-treat that you can have. I won’t let my leg ruin it.”

“I’ll take you,” Rhyad announced immediately, taking her arm.

“No, no I’m fine,” she insisted, but her eyes flickered past my shoulder and fixed on some point there. I glanced in the direction of her stare and saw Oak standing close behind me, concern on his brow but no offer on his lips.

I blinked as Rhyad assured her that it was no problem, that he was probably too mature to go prancing around in a scholar’s robes anyway. Annalie sighed slightly and gave Oak one last longing glance before waving to the rest of us, allowing Rhyad to help her hobble away.

We watched them as they made their way down the road until they disappeared around a corner. James sighed faintly before suggesting, “I guess we should keep going, then?”

We all nodded and, slowly, made our way to the next house.

We were more subdued at first, but then we met up with another group of Gryffindor kids who, though a year younger than us, easily lifted everyone’s spirits. Everyone’s but mine, that is.

Maybe it was just the absence of Annalie that was getting to me, but I had a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach. A cluster of clouds far overhead was enjoying blocking out the moon, the chilly wind encouraging each puff to stay over our source of light longer. The sound of the yelling children around me seemed to take a haunting tone, like each playful scream was just a forerunner to a horrified one soon to come.

I tried to shake it off as the Halloween specter casting its evil gaze on my back, but my mind wouldn’t let it go. My basket was a little over half full when I paused, smiling apologetically to James. “Sorry,” I said, “but I’m wiped. It’s been a long week.”

“Don’t go!” he cried, reaching back to snatch my hand. “Please! This is too much fun!”

I smiled and shook my head, repeating, “Sorry.”

He stared at me for a long minute before sighing. “I’ll walk you back to the castle,” he said.

“No, you won’t. Stay and have fun.”

“But-!”

“I’m a big girl James – I won’t get lost.”

“Elaina,” he started, a dangerously determined look entering his eyes.

I reached out and clasped my hand over his mouth, shaking my head again. “Stay,” I said firmly before twirling around and starting to walk down the street.

“Oh, come on Ella!” He cried after me.

“Goodbye James.”

He didn’t like it, but he had no choice but to let me go. I smirked to myself as walked down the street, trying to make my way out of the village. I was mildly surprised by how many people recognized me and called greetings, asking how the trick-or-treating was. Responding as cordially as possible, I tried not to reveal how little I knew about any of them; many of their names had escaped me, if I had even learned them at all.

Eventually, I escaped the town, exiting onto the long dark pathway that led back to the castle. I passed some small first years who were already exhausted, brushing past them as superiority gave me the right to, and the occasional frightened animal that was searching for a midnight snack. The eerie feeling was still thick on the back of my neck, goose bumps covering my skin that weren’t created from the cold.

Finally, I had walked far enough that I could see the glowing castle ahead. My speeding heart relaxed slightly as I neared it, getting close enough that I could see the individual windowpanes.

But then it happened. A deep, dark growl that made my lungs stop working and my stomach turn to fluid in my abdomen, a burning scent that made my nostrils want to shrivel up and die filling the air.

I froze, every one of my senses slamming open so that I could hear everything, from the wind in the trees to a dense, moist heartbeat thudding behind me.

Very slowly, I turned until I was facing the way I had come, the castle’s comfort disappearing. I tried to see something, anything, but there was nothing but blackness beneath the clouded moon and lack of stars.

At that point, I knew I had two options. I could immediately turn and sprint away, seeking shelter in the castle, or I could try and find where the growling was coming from and potentially solve the mystery of the Hogwarts' Beast.

Would I have been my father’s daughter if I had done the former?

“Lucmagniroc,” I whispered, making my hands alight in a bright light that burned my pupils. I ignored the sting and held my fists high in the air, casting the sphere of light as far as it could go.

But it didn’t go as far as it should have. Behind me, it stretched at least a dozen feet, but in front of me it was cut short two yards from my feet. Instead, there was another curved wall, a black-grey color that seemed to be filled with floating fluffy bits. I swallowed thickly and tried to examine it, my eyes sweeping its surface and trying to find some flaw. But it was as perfect an orb as mine would have been if it hadn’t broken my plane.

I struggled to swallow my fear as I reached out and, with the tip of my trembling middle finger, stroked the black wall.

It felt like air, only thicker, silkier. I was preparing myself to submerge my entire hand in the stuff when there was another hideous, bone-rattling growl that was so much more threatening than the one I had heard just seconds before. It was the kind of sound that makes your joints stiffen up so that even if you wanted to flee you couldn’t, and your lungs stop working so that it’s easier for the beast to kill you.

Then, through the blackness, two spheres of fiery light that were so hot that they seemed to burn my soul appeared, a warm red on the outside and the coldest, most burning blue imaginable in the middle. Immediately, a quick realization dawned on me that thawed my limbs and made me turn to sprint towards the castle.

I had just brushed up against the beast of Hogwarts.

I thanked both God and my father as I ran, taking leaps that carried me farther and farther with each step. Years of practice made me quicker than the beast that was chasing after me, its footsteps shaking the ground beneath us as it tried to catch me. I wanted to scream, but logic told me that wasting my breath on screeches would do nothing but wear me out. So I tried to keep my balance as I sprinted down the pathway, listening to the harsh beast breathing in my ear.

Instinct told me to roll to the side and I listened. I jumped to the left, twisting just enough so that I landed on my back. The sudden contact with the ground stole my breath, making me gasp for air, but I felt a huge, smoky body fly over me and hit the pathway near my head with a disgusting crunch.

I didn’t pause, didn’t hesitate as I forced myself back onto my feet and sprinted into the underbrush that was the forerunner to the forest that surrounded the school grounds. The brambles and branches clung to my clothes, holding me back so badly that I was forced to tear my cape from my neck, leaving it like a bloody stain behind me. For a few precious minutes, there was nothing in the world besides the cracking branches and the fierce wind, but the moment I paused in my head-first hurtle for breath was the second I heard the monster crashing after me.

Back to running, fighting the underbrush, trying to escape. After great deal of struggling, the bushes opened up into taller trees, and those trees grew even more towering until I knew I was in the Dark Forest. That gave me hope and revived my exhausted body, making me continue to move onward.

When I exploded out of the woods, I knew I was free. My running grew more pointed as I flashed up the sloping lawn, bursting into the opening hall of the castle and collapsing onto the floor.

I don’t know how long I spent on the floor, panting so furiously that I didn’t know if my lungs were going to give out. My hands stroked the floor as if the motion was necessary to my survival, assuring me that I was still alive and hadn’t been eaten by the beast that was, undoubtedly, pacing outside these walls.

When I finally gathered the energy to lift myself into a sitting position, I took a minute to examine my appearance. I was cut and battered and bruised everywhere, but much more noticeably I was covered with a fine layer of black stuff. When I pinched my skirt between my fingers and brought a few granules of powder to my nose, I inhaled the smell of smoke.

“Very interesting,” I murmured to myself, slowly getting to my blistered feet.

“That’s one word for your appearance, dear.” One of the portraits chimed tiredly.

I jumped and clutched my chest, the thought of talking picture frames just one thing to many for my heart to bear. I turned and sprinted up the staircase, refusing to stop running until I had reached the safety of the common room.

 

E/N: So… longest chapter ever and a glimpse of the beast. What do you think?
 


Chapter 8: P.J.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

When I finally ducked up to the dormitory, I rushed to my trunk and unlocked it, throwing the lid open. I rattled around for a minute before I unearthed a small glass vial that was usually used for potions. I scraped some of the black soot-like gunk into it, corking the container before depositing it into my trunk once more. Then I cleaned myself as best as I could with a quick spell, pulled off the tattered remains of my Halloween costume, and dressed in something much more appropriate.

I couldn’t figure it out – honest to God, I couldn’t. What was that thing that chased me through the Hogwarts grounds? It wasn’t a natural creature, born from its mother; it was something else entirely, fashioned for some dark and unseen purpose.

However, as imploring as the mystery was, there was a part of me that was very much aware of the fact that I had duties to uphold as a member of the Gryffindor house and a friend of Annalie Moore.  

I marched out of the dormitory, still shivering slightly after my sprint from the monster. Slowly, I made my way down the floors, searching for the infirmary and my two missing friends. When I finally appeared at the large double doors, I slipped inside and looked around.

Rows of beds, half-covered with curtains that provided some privacy. A long wall of windows stretched across the space, all of them black with lack of moonlight. I crossed my arms over my chest, clinging to myself as I slowly paced between the gurneys.

I didn’t like hospitals, even this little, pint-sized one. Even the open room around me smelled of sickness and death, of injury and blood, in spite of the acrid bleach that was obviously used to clean up difficult spills. But I pushed past the feeling of distaste and searched for a pair of feet extending out of the curtain, wrapped in blankets and whatnot.

I found Annalie sitting alone, curled up in the bed at the far end of the room. Her injured leg was in a black brace while her other was tucked in beside it, the sheets covering her thighs and stomach. She stared off into the distance, watching the unmoving black outside of the castle with half-closed eyes.


 “Hey Anne,” I said gently as I approached.

She blinked and looked at me, a wide smile growing on her plump lips. “Elaina!” she exclaimed, beginning to push herself upright. “Hello!”

“No, don’t move.” I reached out and touched her shoulder, carefully applying enough pressure so that she couldn’t struggle upright. “I don’t want you to wear yourself out.”

“Yeah.” She beamed at me, settling back into her pillows as she asked, “So how are you?”

“I was just about to ask you the same thing. Is your foot all right?”

Annalie nodded. “It was just a sprain, like you said. Madame Holloway gave me a tonic to heal it, but it’s not going to be better until around one o’clock so it’s still kind of sore.”

“Are you going to stay the night, then?”

“I might. It depends on whether or not I’m awake when one comes around."


I glanced around and suddenly noticed the absence of Annalie’s crutch. “Where’s Rhyad?”

“I asked him to go get me a book from the common room to pass the time.”

“So we’re alone?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

I sat down on one of the hard-backed chairs that waited beside the beds, leaning forward so I could rest my elbows on my knees. “Then how long have you liked Oak?”

Annalie gasped and blushed violently, her pale skin making it look like a four-year-old attacked her with a pink marker. “How did you know?” she breathed.

I smiled. “You aren’t exactly discrete about it.”

“Oh God.” She covered her face with her hands, her shoulders sagging dejectedly. “Oh God.”

“Don’t worry,” I said quickly. “I’m sure he doesn’t know himself.”

“But you just said it was obvious!”

“To me. An outsider. Someone who is fresh to these relationships, who can look at things and see them for what they are without prior knowledge blocking my vision.”

“But if you know, surely he must as well! Oak isn’t as oblivious as most people are.”

“You’re good at covering it, though.” I smiled and shook my head. “I didn’t notice until just a few hours ago. You’re so nice to everyone that it’s hard to see preferential treatment.”

For some reason, that seemed to make her even sadder, and a frown rose to chase away my grin. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I thought you didn’t want him to know.”

“I don’t – really. But… sometimes I think it would be easier if he did know, because then I wouldn’t have to keep lying to him.”

“Even if it ruined your friendship?”

Annalie bit her lip, staring down at her covers. “I don’t think it would. Oak isn’t like that. He… he would accept it, even if he didn’t have the same feelings as I did. He wouldn’t be as open with me and he wouldn’t confide in me as much, but he would still talk to me and be my friend.”

A surprisingly strong stab of pain arched through my chest, making me stiffen and tighten my grip on my elbows. My new friends were all so close to each other – they loved each other so much, in both platonic and romantic ways, that it made me feel completely and totally alienated from the rest of them.

I immediately reproached myself, my mind whispering to my foolish heart that I wasn’t here to make friends; I was here for a job, and my father loved me more than they could ever care about each other. But I had never experienced anything like Hogwarts before. It was confusing my hormones into thinking that I belonged there, which was absolutely untrue.

But then Annalie was looking at me for some kind of response and I had to force myself back into the present conversation. “If that’s the case,” I said slowly, “maybe you should tell him. Maybe he should know where you stand.”

“No, I could never!” she exclaimed. After a pause, however, she giggled. “I can just imagine his face if I did, though!”

“Whose face if you did what?” A voice asked, making both of us turn around.

P.J. stood in the entrance of the Hospital Wing, her arms crossed and her bumblebee costume wrinkled. I stiffened as she walked inside, her glower so hot on my face that it was almost substantial.

“Hi P.J.” Annalie said while I nodded in greeting. “How are you?”

She shrugged. “All right. Thing got a little boring after Miss Newbie left, so we decided to come back. The others will be here after they change.” I frowned heavily as she placed her bag of candy on the foot of Annalie’s bed. “I thought some sweets might make you better.”

“That’s kind of you,” Annalie replied with a smile, flipping open the sack and pulling out a piece of chocolate. “It was a good haul, I take it?”

“Yes, didn’t she tell you?” P.J. glared at me accusingly.

“No. Where is your candy, Elaina?” Annalie asked me, her head cocking to the side.

Oh, I just lost it while running for my life from a freaky smoke beast. No worries, though – I didn’t die. I think it’s all in the forest, if you want to go find it.

“I gave it away,” I said.

“To who?” P.J. cried indignantly.

“There was a first year girl who was sitting outside when I got here; she was crying because someone had taken all of hers. I gave her mine because there was no way I could eat it all and she seemed to need comfort food more than I did.”

Annalie smiled broadly and said, “Oh Ella, that was so thoughtful!”

P.J.’s eyes narrowed and she leaned back, rocking on her heals. “Yes. How thoughtful.”

“Is there a problem?” I asked, allowing my eyebrows to arch spectacularly.

“Yes, there is.”

“Pray tell, dear P.J.”

She bristled at my sarcastic ‘dear’, her frown wrinkling the corners of her mouth. “My problem is the fact that a reserved, private person like you would give the product of a night’s trick-or-treating to a sobbing girl on the doorstep. My problem is the little dark-haired child who came here with a shady story about her sick mother and a bunch of scars all over her body. My problem is you coming to steal my friends from me!”

Anger made a rushing noise in my ears that blocked out the voice of common sense. “You know,” I snapped, “you need to realize something, quickly, and that is how absolutely stupid you are.”

“Excuse me!” she gasped, an angered flush filling her face.

“If I were here to steal your friends, then I would have done it in a much more spectacular way. Besides, it’s not just you I would be stealing them from – if I were to take Annalie, for instance. I would be taking her from Rhyad and Oak and James. Any of them would be taken from all the others, and to say I was just pilfering them all from just you would be the stupidest accusation on the face of the planet.”

“And why would it be so bloody idiotic?” she spat at me, taking a step forward with clenched fists.

“What could you have possibly done to me to inspire my anger, my need to take your friends?”

I didn’t wait to listen to her response, turning heel and marching out of the wing.

 

When the morning came, it found me walking slowly through the greenhouses that squatted beside the castle. I didn’t particularly enjoy my Herbology class, which consisted mostly of things that I already knew, but the hothouse was loaded with potentially helpful plants that would really be oh-so easy to steal.

I walked through the pools of sunlight, a faint sheen of sweat threatening to appear on my flesh. My fingertips trailed in the dirt on the counters and tables, leaving a line behind me as I moved. The smell of damp dirt, lingering manure and life hung over everything, allowing me to breathe easier than I had been able to since last night after my mad sprint from the Smoky Beast of Doom.

Somewhere in the distance, a bird chirped, its light song an embodiment of daylight. I paused to examine a small, purple blossom, looking at its roots to see if it was what I was searching for.

“I apologize if it sounds like I’m making assumptions, but you don’t strike me as the type to garden in her spare time.”

I blinked and glanced up, smiling gently at Oak Wood as he quietly closed the greenhouse door behind him. “Hey stranger,” I said in response.

“I was just up in the infirmary to check on Anne, but she’s not there.” He shrugged. “I guess she got released.”

“Yeah, last night. It didn’t take too long to fix her ankle.”

“That’s good.” He walked until he stood beside me, his large fingers taking a small vine and wrapping it around the pot from which it had strayed. There was a slight silence between us, but it wasn’t uncomfortable; it was a companionable hush, the kind you have when you are thinking of the next topic to breach.

“Can I ask you a kind of personal question? Oak said, moving a flowerpot ever so slightly so that it would get even more sunlight.

“If I get to ask on in return.”

He grinned and nodded before leaning against the far counter, palms against the marble, the groggy sun creeping through a vent and bathing him in a celestial luminescence. “Who is your best friend here?”

I paused and bit my lip, thinking. “Depends – do you mean who I’m most like, who I like most, or who I’ve spent the most time with?”

“All three, I suppose.”

“Well…” I began slowly. “I’m most like P.J., I think.”

Oak snorted loudly, making me have the need to defend my statement. “I am! She’s smart, quick, and owns an extremely violent temper.”

“If there is only one truth in the world, Elaina,” he said with a gentle smile, “it is that you are nothing like Miss Pissy and Jagged.”

I couldn’t resist grin that crept onto my lips then, my feet carrying me away from the table and to his counter. I hopped up next to the sink, my legs swinging in the air as I looked at the brunette beside me. “I’m a lot like Rhyad, too, but I don’t know him well enough to consider him my best friend, and P.J. hates me so she’s out of the running as well. I’ve spent the most time with you, but Annalie’s a close second.”

“And James? What of him?”

I stared at my knees, tracing the outline of a hole on my knee. Beneath the fabric was a barely visible scar, a blotchy thing from when a Canadian Thrump took a chunk out of my leg; it had been two weeks before my muscles had healed enough to let me jog.

“I feel like I know James the most,” I said carefully. “We’ve talked a lot, sometimes serious and sometimes joking. I mean, that’s what best friends do, right?”

“So… James is?”

“Well, no,” I burst quickly, realizing that the fact might hurt Oak’s feelings. “We’ve just… I mean, it’s not like…”

He laughed and patted my leg, shaking his head. “It’s fine if he is,” he soothed. “He’s my best friend too – everyone’s, actually. That boy knows more secrets than the nasty gossip mongers could even dream of, and he’s kept them all.”

“That’s a good quality.”

“He’s a good person.”

We sat in silence for a minute before he looked at me and smiled. “So what was your question?” he asked.

“I’m kind of new here…” I began, but his laugh cut me off.

“Kind of? Honey, nothing is fresher than you.”

I crossed my arms and huffed, turning my face from him. “Fine then, if you want to be like that, I won’t ask my question.”

Oak laughed and reached out, taking my hand. “Come on Ella, just spill it. You know I was kidding."

I gave him a withering glare so he would know he wasn’t off the hook yet before I said, “What’s P.J.’s deal, exactly? She’s so angry all the time.”

His smirk was much too large for my liking, but he leaned back and said, “P.J., the one you are so much like.” I rolled my eyes while he ignored me. “She’s not exactly rich, but you know that. Well, the rest of us have never had as much need as she has at times, so she can get really defensive about a lot of things.” He sighed heavily before adding, “And she’s in love with James.”

I was relatively sure that if I had been drinking something I would have sprayed it all over the room. “What?” I gasped, turning on him.

“Yeah, and she’s going to kill me if she finds out that you know.”

I held up my hands and winced. “Slow down there, tiger. Does P.J. know James knows?”

“No. And it’s not just James who knows; our entire group does. But as far as P.J. is aware, I’m the only one who holds her secret.”

“But… how did that work out?”

Oak sighed and rubbed his palms on his jeans, gnawing on the inside of his cheek. “Have you ever gotten so drunk that you couldn’t remember anything? Not like your name, but what had happened that night?”

I nodded, remembering my first drunken experience very clearly.

“Yeah, well, that’s sort of what happened to P.J. There was this party at the beginning of last summer, one that we all went to. Everyone drank, but she drank a lot. Normally she wasn’t like that, but I guess it was a bad homecoming or something… But anyway, when it got later we all decided to make sure she got home all right. Well, Rhyad and Annalie split pretty soon after that, and I was going to stay at James’s place because my dad would commit mass homicide if I went home with booze on my breath. We were just debating whether we should bring P.J. along and let her get sobered up in the Potter’s guest bedroom when she began trying to hit on James pretty bad.”

I groaned, sensing that his story was going downhill very quickly.

“Then she went past just the batting eyelashes and pouting lips. She like, I don’t know, lunged at him and tried to kiss him. She even used her clever little fingers to undo a couple buttons on his shirt before he managed to restrain her. She began crying and moaned over and over again that she loved him, that she always has and always will, and James panicked. He told me to take her back to her house and bolted.

“When I finally got her sorted out and returned to his place, he was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He looked at me and said that he couldn’t face her again, not after that, not until she came to her senses and fell in love with someone else. The next day, though, he had sort of gotten better – he decided instead that he would do everything in his power to make it clear that he didn’t return her… affections.”

“And she didn’t remember a thing?”

“No. We told the others, of course, just so they could help us with our little schemes. James started dating more girls and being a lot more obvious about it. Before, well, he had never been in need of a date, but then he hadn’t sat on park benches kissing those girls. I approached P.J. and told her that I alone knew, so naturally I became her one confident. If anything, James’s new interests in the female anatomy encouraged her – I believe she said something along the lines of, ‘Well, this just makes it more of a challenge for me, right?’.”

“But, didn’t you guys just pass it off as drunkenness?” I asked. “Before she began spilling her guts to you, I mean.”

Oak shrugged. “We would have. But I would have been the more natural choice for drunken seduction.”

“Why is that, other than your blinding attractiveness?”

He didn’t even smirk at my joke. “Because I was the one holding her so she didn’t fall flat on her face.”

My mind, always filled with churning gears, forced me to ask, “So is that why James has been all over me, why P.J. really hates my guts? Not because I’m stealing her friends, but her potential boyfriend?”

Oak nodded. “Yeah, it’s kind of James’s fault.”

“Well, we’ll have to do something about that. I do not need P.J. out for my blood."

“Yeah. I’ll talk to her about it.”

I smiled gratefully at him. “Thank you.”

We fell into a silence, during which I suppose my face fell a little bit as I thought. I guess I had believed James’s actions to be genuine interest, not him being bent on getting P.J.’s adoration elsewhere. Oak must have been watching me and sensed this, because abruptly he began to speak.

“I’m sure James genuinely likes you, though!” Oak said hurriedly, his face briefly mortified. “Hell, everyone really likes you. I’ve almost jumped you a couple of times myself.”

“Excuse me!” I said, leaning away from him.

Apparently, he took this as defensiveness, not pure embarrassment, so some little voice in his mind told him to keep talking. “Well, I have. Every guy in Hogwarts probably has. You’re rather sexy, you know?”

“Oak…” I began warningly, my face and neck growing painfully heated.

“And you can handle yourself, not like most of the dingbats that hang around here, and you get this look in your eyes sometimes that is kind of brooding but is really one hundred percent boner-causing-”

Whatever he was planning on telling me about me next was cut off as I reached into a bag of potting soil (enriched with pure dragon dung!) and shoved a clump down his shirt. He gasped and pulled away, but not before I smacked it as hard as I could, causing it to become caked between his shoulders. “What the bloody hell did you do that for!” he practically screamed, trying to pull his shirt away from his back.

“One, because you were making a damn fool of yourself, and two, because you wouldn’t shut up.”

“How was I making a fool of myself?”

“Because you kept talking.”

He reached to the floor and scooped up a handful of the mulch that our Herbology professor so coveted, throwing it directly into my face. “That makes it one reason, then, love.”

I inhaled a clump of leaves and choked, somehow managing to say, “You’re going to pay for that.”

“Oh really? What are you going to do – throw shit down my shirt? Cause I hate to disappoint you, but that’s already happened today…”

I dropped from the counter and smiled as sweetly as I could through a layer of muck. “Do you know what’s worse than poop?” I asked.

“What’s that?”

Wet poop.”

I reached out and snatched the hose from the counter, turning it on and shooting it directly at Oak. The cold spray hit him head-on, making him stumble back and land on his bum. He used his new spot on the ground to clamber beneath the tables, reaching the other side before I could completely douse him.

I turned off the water and waited in silence, watching for the slightest bit of movement. When I saw it, it was far too late, and I was treated with a wave of frigid water right to the chest. I practically screamed and ducked down, trying to avoid Oak’s attack while launching my own.

Our water war to end all water wars continued for some time, both of us giving the plants a drink that they didn’t need and making the ground so slick with mud that we could barely walk. It was ended, quite unexpectedly, with the arrival of a new friend.

“Have you two gone completely bonkers?” Connor asked from his vantage point in the doorway.

Oak had spent too much time in the battle field and thought my buddy was a threat to his survival. He aimed his hose nozzle at Connor and was about to fire when I leaped from my hiding place beneath some snapdragons that were trying to strangle me, rushing down the aisles and practically tackling him back into the safety of the other greenhouse. I slammed the door just as a spray of water rushed across it, making a sound that was almost like rain.

It took me a few seconds to stop laughing as hard as I was to give Connor an explanation. He was a good sport, however, and held on to my disgusting elbow as I took a breather, even giggling along for a while.

“I am so sorry.” I finally said, clutching my chest. “I didn’t mean for you to get caught in that.”

“What exactly was that, if I can ask?” He smiled down at me, watching the water drip from my face.

It took me a while to explain, editing the fact that the conversation beforehand had been about me causing some… excitement among the male population. As we talked, we walked from greenhouse to greenhouse, steadily increasing the distance between me and the mess behind us. When I finally finished, Connor admitted that it was a bloody good time and that we should probably initiate something similar to the battle, only during our Herbology class to make it more interesting.

By the time we had planned out the entire fight that, apparently, was to take place very soon, we reached the front of the first greenhouse where, I assumed, our time together would end. Connor, however, had other plans, and asked me out of the blue, “Do you want to grab some breakfast?”

“But it’s past the time that they serve, isn’t it?”

He smiled at me in an odd way, the kind of grin that made me warm even though I was freezing in my muddied, watery state. “Not if you know where to go,” he said slowly.

I opened my mouth to reply when a voice, usually quiet but now loud to make itself heard, called, “Miss Riley!”

I turned around and sighed slightly, seeing Headmaster Longbottom marching across the slowly thawing grass to meet us. He did a double take at my appearance, but I guess after a few years things cease to amaze you about your students.

“Hello Headmaster,” I said, Connor echoing beside me.

He blinked at Connor and greeted him before turning to me once more. “Miss Riley, I am sorry if I am interrupting,” I could tell he really was, “but I must speak to you about something of great importance. If Mr. O’Brian wouldn’t mind, would a conversation in private be acceptable.”

Somehow, I managed to resist the urge to sigh again. I smiled at Connor and said, “Well, I guess another time would be best.”

“Tomorrow, maybe?” he probed hopefully.

I couldn’t turn down his round, puppy-dog eyes and the way he seemed to rise a little bit in eagerness. “Yeah, of course. Come find me and it’s a date.”

‘Date’ was probably not the word I should have used. He seemed to float above the ground as he left me and my Headmaster to talk, such happiness in his step that I was surprised he didn’t sail to the moon.

“Bugger,” I whispered, hanging my head. Could I not get a break?

“Um, Miss Riley?” Headmaster Longbottom probed. “Perhaps we should start walking? It’s a ways to go.”

“To your office?” I asked, my eyebrows knotting together.

“No, to the mess that horrid beast made last night.”

This time, I had to exhale as the headmaster took off his cloak and wrapped it around my cold form, leading the way down the path to the place where I had first caught sight of the reason for me being at Hogwarts.

Love you too, creature.
 


Chapter 9: Creature-Killer Mode
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A/N: Heylo everyone! I would like this note to stand for a quick apology for the slightly fillerish feel of this chapter – it might be hard to get through, but keep at it! It has a good ending, I think (hope)… I would also like to thank all of the wonderful people who have reviewed; those of you who write know how good it feels, and those of you who don’t… imagine eating a lot of chocolate, but better.

So, I will let you return to your reading, and remember to help contribute to the chocolate-happy feeling! Cheers!

 

It took us a long time to reach the spot where the beast had chased me through the forest, a place that was mangled with claw marks and blackened with soot. The bushes and vines were trying their magical best to grow back over their damaged parts, but something in the grainy residue held them back, causing the severed roots to writhe in agony.

“Do you mind telling me exactly what happened here?” Headmaster Longbottom asked as I knelt beside the torn plants, running my fingers over the stumps.

I shrugged, pulling a small, torn slip of parchment out of my pocket. I smeared some of the powder onto its rough surface before folding it multiple times, trapping the sample inside. “I was returning to the castle early,” I said slowly. “The beast came after me. I ran, obviously, and I suppose it got tangled up here.”

“You were chased by the creature? Did you see it? What was it like?”

I smiled faintly and looked up at my headmaster, shaking my head. “I was chased by it, but I didn’t get to see it. The thing was surrounded by what was like a ball of soot. I can’t really describe it.”

“But it chased you?”

I nodded and sighed, rubbing a hand over my eyes. “I should have fought it,” I mumbled. “I should have stayed and tried to get rid of it when I had the chance.”

Longbottom sighed and crouched beside me, placing a calming hand on my shoulder. “That wouldn’t have done you any good.” He said gently. “When you’re with your father, you always know what you’re up against. There’s no point in fighting what is completely unknown.”

We sat there in silence for a long, rather uncomfortable moment before I pushed myself upright, immediately becoming businesslike. “Well, now that I have something to work with, regardless of how small it is, I need some resources. A pass to the restricted section of the library and the ability to use the Floo network in your office at any time.”

“To visit your father?” Headmaster Longbottom asked, rising as well.

“No.”

“Then to do what, exactly?”

I sighed and shook my head slowly, in disbelief at the words about to pass over my tongue. “To visit Arcell.”

My arms dealer. My enemy. And the only one who, given the right information, could get me the perfect stuff to blow this thing out of the water.

 

I managed to sneak back into the dorm room without running in to any of my friends, stealing a piece of paper and writing down a quick retelling of what had occurred the night before. At the bottom, I added a line or two about my father telling Arcell that I might stop by before the month was through so he should warn the man to be civil – I was a paying customer this time, after all. When I had finished I addressed the thing to my father, signed my name with a flourish, and placed my sample of soot inside of the roll. I wasted no time in returning to the owlry, sending it off with the first creature I saw.

After that, however, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I stood at the gaping window, watching as the owl became a tinier and tinier speck in the distance, trying to come up with a plan. Headmaster Longbottom was speaking with the librarian about getting me an all-access pass to the library at any time of day or night, and I couldn’t really do much until I had that, so…

Back to being a normal human being it was.

I stepped out of the room and slowly walked down the stairs, counting each one as I went. My steps were slow as if someone had coated the treads with something sticky, or as if someone had cast a spell on me. It took me until the bottom step to realize what it was.

I had gone into my creature-killer mode, and I didn’t want to go back.

Even last night, I had fled from the animal, but I hadn’t taken much action besides taking the sample from my clothes before I had rushed off to be Annalie’s friend. But now, my plans were in motion; I was doing things I hadn’t done for a week, and it felt right. My body didn’t want to be a schoolgirl, sitting in classes and daydreaming that boys fancied her and being clever. That wasn’t me, and I knew it.

I began scrambling at ways that I could delay my return to painful normalcy – perhaps I could return to my dorm and take another sample from my still-unwashed clothes, or maybe track down Longbottom for that note…

“Elaina!” James cried, making me flinch. I turned and forced a grin, waving at the boy now running down the hall.

“Hey James,” I managed before he crashed into me, his arms wrapping around my stomach to pull me into an obnoxious and completely James-like hug.

“Where have you been, my fine feathered friend?” he asked, swinging me in large circles like a toy doll.

I laughed unwillingly and squirmed in his grasp, saying, “You need to get your eyes checked – I don’t have feathers.”

“You’re a bird, aren’t you?”

Again, I couldn’t resist a giggle as he finally put me back on my feet, his hands still on my waist. “So, where was my beautiful little dear this morning?” He asked, this time not to be distracted.

“The greenhouses. I met up with Oak and we had a mud-and-water fight, which is why, well…”

“You’re covered in dry mud?”

“Yeah.”

James’s grin seemed strained and each second he held it did a number on the humor in his gaze. I frowned slightly as his arms around me suddenly reminded me of my conversation with Oak, forcing me to sigh and say, “We need to talk, James.”

The smile slipped away and he looked dead serious for the first time since I had met him, his eyes dark as he replied, “Anything, Elaina. We can talk the moon from the sky if that’s what you need.”

I blinked and almost decided against the necessary conversation before remembering that I was Elaina Riley – Elaina Fucking Riley – and that James Potter was no one to be scared of.

I hoped.

“Well, I was talking with Oak…” I began slowly.

His muscles stiffened as he looked down on me, obviously trying to make his expression an easy façade. But I could see right through him; there was a fear smoldering inside of him that was growing larger and larger as each second passed.

“And?” he prompted when I didn’t continue.

“And he told me about P.J.”

There was silence so long that I wanted to scream, to run to a place where my hormones would settle down and behave themselves again, where my heart would stop beating so hard against James’s chest. “What about Patricia?”

I did a double-take at the use of her real name, thinking that it was never used. Swallowing thickly, I continued, “He told me about her being tragically in love with a boy who didn’t return her affections. A boy,” I pressed more quickly so he couldn’t interrupt, “who is using another girl to push her away.”

He stared at me as if he didn’t get it before his face seemed to shut down, his voice almost blank. “I don’t get it.”

I sighed and rubbed his arms, forcing his attention to be on me and me alone. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me,” I told him. “I really do. But please stop using me to get P.J. to fall out of love with you. There are better ways, and I don’t need her out to kill me.”

James blinked several times, his breath deep and slow. “Right,” he said mechanically. “Of course.”

He made me nervous, acting like a robot. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, fine. I just… yeah, I’m fine.”

“James, talk to me.”

“I… I need to talk to Oak, not you right now.”

It was suddenly very difficult to swallow as I urged, “What’s wrong? Did I upset you? I mean, Oak just said-.”

“I know exactly what Oak said,” James burst angrily, pulling away from me. “I know every single word he used.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked again, more forcefully.

“I need to go talk to my best friend,” he spat, his shoulders tense. “We need to have a few words in private.”

For some reason, I felt as if he had just rejected me in some way. I crossed my arms over my chest and clung to my elbows, my voice surprisingly soft as I said, “He might still be in the greenhouses. I doubt it, though.”

He heard my emotions in my words and turned back around, an apology on every inch of his face. “Ella, I didn’t mean it,” he whispered, walking forward. “I didn’t mean to yell. I just have to find Oak. We’re okay, okay?”

I nodded and brushed past him, still holding myself together. “You’d better start looking. I’ll see you at lunch?”

He caught my arm before I was out of reach, not looking at me. “Annalie is in the common room. You can go up there and talk to her – she was looking for you earlier.”

“Thanks for the tip,” I managed before walking away, my feet carrying me to where I was required.

Back to the grind, it seemed.

 

There was defiantly and underlay of tension between everyone during lunch that day. James’s fury was directed at Oak and, inadvertently, P.J.; Oak’s was at James, while P.J.’s was, naturally, focused on me. To our credit, we tried to create an easy conversation, but it was just shy of natural and completely pointless.

About half-way through our meal, a black-haired boy appeared at James’s side, a package in his hands. “Mum sent me your stuff,” he said, throwing it at his brother.

I blinked and examined him for a second before saying, “You’re Albus, aren’t you?”

The boy glanced at me and grinned, leaning across the table to offer me his hand. “You must be the lovely Elaina, the boy my brother won’t shut his trap about.”

“You’ve been talking about me?” I asked James, very much aware of how much hotter P.J.’s gaze became.

“Only a little.”

“As in every time he breathes.” Al piped, smirking. Before James could get properly worked up, he said, “Mum and Dad send their best wishes, Grandma is already planning our Christmas party, and Lily is still not talking to you.”

James sighed and shook his head. “I wasn’t that bad, was I?”

“No – you were worse.”

He was obviously about to say something more when there was a splash of blonde hair wafted into my line of vision, a high-pitched voice calling, “Oak!”

“See you later,” Al said quickly, adding a quick, “Nice to meet you,” directed at me before he disappeared.

“What’s his deal?” I muttered to Annalie.

“Wait two seconds and you’ll see.”

“Oak!” the voice called again, so loud this time that we couldn’t ignore it. We all turned to watch Jessica the Almighty Seeker flounce forward, pausing beside her captain with her eyelids narrowed in a way that was supposed to be seductive.

“Do we still have practice this afternoon?” she asked, leaning forward so that she was practically shoving her bosom into his face.

“If you checked the common room, you would know.”

“So that’s a yes then?” She beamed as if he had responded to her flirtations manner in a positive way. “Good. I think I need to work on my Plumpton Pass, if you know what I mean.”

“How about we work on just catching the snitch in the first place,” P.J. shot, rolling her eyes.

Jessica slipped into a pout before turning her eyes back to Oak. “I’ll see you on the pitch,” she said, winking as if this was something dirty before spinning around and marching away.

No one said anything for a long moment before they all turned to look at me. “What?” I asked.

“How did you enjoy your first up-close and personal encounter with Jessica?” Rhyad asked, his tone explaining exactly what he thought.

“Well… one thing’s for sure.”

“What?” Annalie asked.

“If she could fly by holding on to her broom and just keep her legs wide, there would be no problems with catching the snitch whatsoever.”

Their laughter was so loud that I wondered if it would bring down the roof.

 

“Why do you drag me to these practices again?” I asked James as we walked down the sloping lawn to the pitch.

“Because it builds character.”

“No it doesn’t. Painting a fence builds character.”

He grinned and shook his head. “You know you enjoy it.”

I sighed, knowing he wouldn’t believe me if I said I didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t mind watching everyone – it was the screaming at Jessica that I detested, the obvious need for her to have more experience, the pain in everyone’s eyes when the speculated that they might not be able to win their first match.

“Well, I’ll see you after,” he said when we reached the field. “Maybe we can go for another fly… if you promise not to dump me into the lake, that is.”

I smirked and raised my right hand, “Scouts honor.”

“You’re a girl – you can’t have been a scout.”

“Point, but what else am I supposed to swear on?”

With that, I began the now-familiar climb up the stairs and into the bleachers, shaking my head as I went. It was a pleasant Saturday afternoon, with the sun on my face and the temperature above zero.

I settled in to my usual spot, pulling my hands deep into my sleeves and waiting for the others. I didn’t sit bored for long – soon, everyone was pouring onto the field, broomsticks in hand.

It was painful to watch. The first fifteen minutes, Jessica avoided her duty by claiming that she had to stretch or else she would pull a muscle. (James, who had flown up to hover above my head, muttered, “What’s she afraid of damaging? Obviously not her brain.”) Then the next quarter hour was spent flying around in circles. When the snitch was finally released, however, I wanted to scream.

An hour.

A full bloody hour and she didn’t catch a thing, after which the other beater (named Serge, I would later learn) who was slower than mud when it came to things other than swinging his bat managed to catch a hold of it as it went by.

This put Oak on what we all refer to as one of his Rampages from Hell. He started off growling through his teeth, but his volume grew higher and higher until I could have heard it from Gryffindor Tower.

And it didn’t end after a moment or so. No, it was ten minutes of him telling her that she needed to get her act together or else they would lose the game.

In all honesty, it wasn’t all that violent – cursing kept to a minimum, no real insult. But Jessica took it like a stab in the back, and acted in a way that was justified in her mind.

“I am not about to put up with this anymore!” she cried, actual tears running down her face. “All of the abuse! All of the doubt! No more! I quit!”

Then she threw her broom onto the ground before her ex-captain’s feet and stormed off, sobbing as if her mother had died.

I would know.

There was a long, shocked silence in the air as everyone turned to look at Oak, not entirely sure what to do. He watched after her for a while, obviously trying to get his anger in check before he turned to his team, the wind carrying his voice to me.

“I’m sorry,” he said brokenly. “I… I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Annalie said immediately. “It’s hers. She didn’t have to…”

“We know what she didn’t have to do,” P.J. snapped. “But it’s what she chose not to do that ended in this.”

There was another pause while everyone considered her words, Serge finally shaking his curly head. “We’re doomed,” he said mournfully.

“What makes you say that?” James asked him, an odd kind of smile rising on his face.


“Because we have no seeker, and there is no way we can find one that is good enough in three weeks.”

“Who says we even have to look?” James grinned that saucy smirk of his and turned, his gaze meeting mine over the vast expanse of grass. Everyone else, one by one, followed suit, until I found myself trapped in six pairs of slightly hopeful eyes.

Shit.
 


Chapter 10: Seeker, Seek Her
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“Oh no, no, no, no, no,” I chimed as they all filed in around me, making a half-circle around my front. “I am not being drafted into this.”

“I’m pretty sure you are,” James said, sitting beside me and throwing a casual arm around my shoulder. I gave him a look that clearly tried to remind him of our earlier conversation, but he returned one that was something along the lines of who-cares-and-I-am-so-going-to-win-this-fight.

Cocky bastard.

“I’m not doing it,” I said crossing my arms over my chest.

“Ella,” Oak started before I cut him off.

“I’m not! I downright refuse!”

“Um, why are we asking this girl again?” Serge asked quietly.

“Because she’s wicked fast,” Annalie muttered back, her unfaltering attention on me.

“Faster than Jessica?”

“Way,” P.J. said grudgingly, still staring at me.

Serge shrugged and smirked. “Fine by me then.”

James leaned closer, his breath on my cheek. “We need you, Ella,” he murmured, his fingertips gently caressing the side of my neck.

I turned so that my mouth was a slim inch from his, a smirk on my lips as I said, “Need someone else.”

Then I was pulling away, zipping up my jacket and storming up the bleachers to the staircase.

I don’t know why, but my heart began to pound unnecessarily hard, reverberating off of my ribs and the other flesh that surrounded it. Breathing evenly became a struggle as I started to run with long, quick strides. My legs carried me around the field and into the Dark Forest, through the underbrush that generally discouraged such activities and around the huge trees. Small animals fled as I thundered by, their instinct so much better than mine as they ran from danger instead of towards it.

What was I looking for? A place to hide? A haven that was safe from James and his brushing fingertips, his narrowed gaze and his oh-so convincing voice?

Damn it,” I breathed, shaking my head furiously. “Don’t think about it, Ella. Don’t even start…”

But I already had started. I had thought about the feeling of a broomstick beneath me, the only thing keeping me from a death-causing plummet to the earth. I had thought about my eyes scanning the arena for that little flash of gold, soaring after it when I saw it, using my superior reflexes to snag a win. The screams of triumph, the flare of satisfaction, the way James’s eyes would light up when I landed and he wrapped his arms around me…

NO!” I screamed, turning around and slamming my back into a knotted tree trunk. I wasn’t sure if my scream of denial had been pointed towards becoming the seeker or at my little beautiful fantasy, but it hardly worked in either case. It continued in the back of my mind, becoming more and more wonderful, more and more necessary.

“It’s off limits,” I murmured, much more quietly as I looked up into the leafy canopy above me. “All of it is off limits.”

The reality of my statement struck me like a physical blow, causing much more pain than I ever imagined. None of it was for me – not Quidditch, none of my friends, not even my grades. None of it was real. My life at Hogwarts was nothing but an unreality, a dream like my fantasy of winning a Quidditch match, something we came up with. I didn’t deserve any of it.

It hurt like hell, but it was painfully true. Tears rose to my eyes, real, genuine tears; I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried. But I did now, huge, broken sobs that drove me to my knees in severe, sweeping depression.

It was weak, but I couldn’t help it. I thought about all of the things that I was claiming that weren’t rightfully mine, all of the things that I could never truly have. Friends, academic ability, a sense of belonging…

I didn’t belong. I didn’t deserve to belong. I was a lying little cheat that would never really fit in to society because of what she was – a killer, a hunter.

Merciless.

Shady.

Murderous.

My sobbing gained a new pitch as I thought about everything I was and everything I was not. Each piece of evidence stung like a bee sting, covering my mind until I was nothing but a swollen, pussy ball of pain. A want to scream began to grow inside of me, one I struggled to squash with the best of my ability.

That was where James found me – on my knees, stooped over, rocking and hiding my weepy face in my hands. His arms were around me before I could even hear him settle in beside me, an immediate shhhh sound coming from his lips. I tried to quiet, to ask him what he was doing, but every time I attempted to speak he held me tighter, his lips against my scalp as he continued his odd little hush song.

Finally, I felt my shoulders relax, my body slumping against his as I cried into his chest. His lips moved from my scalp to my temple, his mouth closer to my ears. “It’s okay Ella,” he whispered when the worst of my blubbering had faded. “We aren’t going to make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

I slipped up. I knew that the moment I whimpered, “I don’t belong here.”

In all honesty, I meant that I didn’t belong where I was right in that moment – in his arms, no matter how beautifully they fit around me. James was James; handsome, wonderful, clever, trusting James, and he was not mine, just like nothing else was mine in that place. I shouldn’t have been there, not like Annalie should have or even P.J.

His grip around me tightened as he breathed, “Of course you do. You belong with your family.”

“My family is in an apartment in London,” I whispered back, tears still moistening my cheeks.

“We are your family, Elaina Riley.” James reached down and took my chin in his strong fingers, forcing it up so I had to look at him. “We always will be.”

“But what if - .” I started, only to be cut off by his thumb over my lips.

“We. Are. Your. Family.” He repeated before the hint of a smile touched his eyes. “So you’re stuck here with us. Where you belong.”

Then his thumb moved, brushing gently across my cheek, his hand following it to my neck. I forced a shaky laugh as I murmured, “You’re just trying to get me on your Quidditch team.”

He grinned and shook his head slowly. “In most cases, that would be true, but not in yours. Never in yours.”

“Why not in mine?” I asked, closing my eyes and leaning against his chest.

“Because you’re good enough to be serious.”

“That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Of course it does – you’re so epic that I would never screw with you.” I smiled and almost commented before he added, “That’s why what Oak told you is nothing but a load of crap.”

I froze and so did he, reading my body movements as easily as he would read a picture book. I wanted to pull away, but there was a far more dominate part that said it was safer curled up inside of his grip, where I couldn’t see his eyes.

Then I made a split-second decision that would change everything.

“I’ll be your bloody seeker, James Potter.” I lunged forward and pecked his cheek, light enough that I could barely feel his body heat. “Just make sure I stay good enough to be serious.”

 

“May I request a drum roll?” James asked grandly, ignoring the odd looks everyone was shooting him.

I glared at him from behind the sweaty cloak he was holding in front of me, blocking me from the view of our friends. The theatrics were completely unnecessary, and he knew it – but then, he was a Potter, and Potter’s never did anything that was average.

Immediately, there was a long series of metallic clicks against the table as several people beat their spoons against the wood. I sighed and shifted my weight to my other foot, rolling my eyes as James purred ostentatiously, “It is my honor, my pleasure, my orgasm to present to you the new seeker of Gryffindor house – Elaina RILEY!”

He whipped the robe away from my face, revealing my ruffled and muddy form. Annalie let out a shrill scream, launching up from her seat and throwing her arms around my neck. “Yes!” she screamed as Oak jumped to his feet as well. He threw one arm around my shoulder and shook me roughly as Rhyad clapped, laughing with relief. Even P.J. was smiling, the tension that had risen up between everyone evaporating like a fog beneath the sun.

“Welcome to the team, sweet-cheeks!” Oak roared into my ear.

I squinted and grinned, poking him between his ribs. “Thanks.”

“So what changed your mind?” Rhyad asked, leaning forward on his elbows.

“My wonderful persuasion skills,” James said, striking a bold pose.

My eyebrows rose as I poked him in the chest hard enough to make him wince and rub the spot. “Yeah, that’s it.” I growled sarcastically.

“But really, what was it?” Rhyad pressed.

I shrugged slightly, very aware of P.J.’s eyes on the very small space between my body and James’s. “I figured I couldn’t turn all of you down without you torturing me in to submission, so I gave in.”

“Good choice,” Oak said with a smirk. “We would have duct taped you to a chair and made you listen to bad opera – not the good stuff, the old crap with fat ladies dressed as Viking women.”

I laughed along with the others, shaking my head at him as I finally peeled myself away from their grasps. “I’m starved,” I said, pushing my way into a spot on the bench.

“Well, you’d better eat quickly,” James advised as he reached over my head for a roll.

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re going for a fly right after dinner.”

I froze, fork in hand and eyes wide. “I’m doing what now?”

“Going for a fly. Look, love, the only time we’ve actually seen you on a broom was when we went for that ride of ours.” Both James and I smirked at the memory. “So we need to see how you are in the air.”

Abruptly, Serge, who had been sitting unnoticed beside Rhyad, taking part in a completely different conversation, joined ours. “Wait,” he said, looking affronted. “We’ve had this girl join our team when we haven’t seen her on a broomstick? What the hell are you guys thinking!”

“Serge-.” Annalie began with a soothing voice before he interrupted.

“No. I mean, why does it matter if this girl is fast when she’s a novice in the air?”

The space between us grew very thick and congested as everyone tried to think of a way to defend me – and themselves – against Serge’s outburst. Surprisingly, it was P.J. who spoke on my behalf, making me wonder if God existed after all.

“This girl is the quickest freaking thing that you will ever have seen. She caught an apple that I threw at James when she was sitting a couple of feet away from us to begin with.  No one can run faster, have better reflexes – hell, she probably has better senses than you and I can ever dream of. This girl is exactly what we need. It doesn’t matter if she can’t ride a broom; if the snitch comes within three feet of her, she’ll get it. Guaranteed.”

Maybe if Annalie or Oak had said this, Serge would have remained doubtful or angry. But with P.J.’s words, he eased up, respect entering his face. “If you guys are so convinced,” he said grudgingly. “But if she loses a game for us, I will quit.”

With that, he turned around and once again talked to his friends.

“Maybe… we should head out to the pitch,” I said quietly, my appetite suddenly abated.

“Relax Ella,” James replied, rubbing my back. “We know you’re going to rock it.”

“I’d still rather get some time on the broom now, if that’s okay.” I rose from my seat and straightened my shirt, not looking at anyone.

James could obviously tell that I was still a little insecure from my crying bout earlier, so he nodded and took my arm. “Okay, no problem.”

Oak lifted himself up as well and threw an arm around my shoulder, squeezing me encouragingly. “Yeah, we’ll go down and practice now. We probably can’t use the pitch, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fly, right?”

“Good luck,” Annalie chirped as they dragged me away. “I know you’ll do great! Just take it easy, all right?”

I wasn’t allowed time to answer as the boys pulled me out the doors and into the cold evening air. On our way to the pitch, Oak and James quizzed me on every aspect of Quidditch possible, from the positions to the rules and who broke the rules in the year 1832 to 1974. Apparently, they found my knowledge of the sport more than adequate as we reached the broom shed, Oak pulling a key out from beneath his shirt and unlocking it.

“Did you hear about what our dads did?” James asked as Oak began sorting through the broomsticks, trying to find the right one.

“No – what?”

“Well, our old men were tired of listening to us gripe about how crappy the school’s brooms were, so they got a lot of parents together to pay for some good ones to fly on. They also made a deal with the broom companies so that when any one even starts to wear out it will be replaced.”

Oak joined in, finally pulling out a slender dark brown broom with a golden-and-red fringed tail. “A lot of them are even specialized for certain Quidditch positions for the kids who can’t afford their own brooms.” He offered me the one in his hands. “You know, specially-made ones for speed, durability, maneuverability, etcetera.”

“How did you guys manage that?” I asked unthinkingly.

Both Oak and James looked at me with raised eyebrows. “My dad is an internationally known Quidditch star.” Oak said.

“My dad is ‘the Chosen One’ and still receives gift baskets for his service for the wizarding world.” James added.

“Not to mention Scorp’s old man, who is loaded…”

James saw my confused look. “Scoprius Malfoy – seeker for Slytherin team. He’s apparently as good as my dad was, but the only reason people say that is because Dad had this evil Nazi teacher on his butt all the time…”

“Bull shit!” Oak interrupted. “Your dad was always in trouble because of himself, not because of Snape!”

“Yeah, well, your dad had an ass so tight that he wouldn’t even dream of misbehaving!”

“Boys, chill!” I squawked as Oak started to retort. “Seriously – you two are like babies. Are we going to fly or not?”

The two glared at each other for another second before their anger evaporated, leaving them good-natured as ever. “Yeah,” James said, reaching out and finding a slightly thicker broom with the same colored tail. “We’ll go with you, just so we can sort of get a feel for how you move.”

I sighed and straddled the broomstick, forcing my heart to slow down. When I remained on the ground for a rather long period of time, Oak said, “We’re ready when you are.”

“Right. Of course.” I swallowed thickly and jumped into the air, the broom catching me before I could crash into the ground and carefully lifting me higher.

Slowly, experimentally, I leaned forward and was propelled out over the lake, the stick between my thighs faster than the old piece of crap my father had taught me on. I didn’t slow, however, instead encouraging the broom to carry me farther, quicker, leaving the boys behind me.

“Ella!” James called.

I sighed and leaned to the side, pulling on the front of the broom so I could turn and face them. “Yeah?” I yelled back, watching the two soaring to catch up.

“Will you fly with us for a minute? We want to make sure you’re used to the broom before you go racing off like that,” Oak said, slowing to a stop beside me.

“Hey, you were the ones who wanted to get a feel for how I move; I move swiftly.”

The boys looked at each other before sighing. “Fine – go.” James said. “But when we tell you to try something, try it, okay?”

“But stay above the water!” Oak added before I could disappear. “That way if you crash, it won’t hurt too badly.”

I snorted but didn’t deny their statement, once again beginning my flight. The two gave me a minute to just soar, getting used to the broom, rising high into the air before lowering until I was an inch above the water. After I had been granted that, Oak called, “Tight left turn!”

I pulled to the side and my tail end swung around until I was flying to what had been my left.

“Same to the right!”

I repeated the process to the other side.

“Quick rise!”

I kicked my feet onto the tail and shoved downward, resulting in a perfectly straight upward broom. I flew above the treetops, above the lower towers of the castle, until I heard James scream, “DIVE!”

It was as if I was a stone dropped from a bird’s talon. I pressed my body close to the wood, my hair streaming out behind me as I fell closer and closer into the water. I swear I felt the broom quivering beneath me, growing fearful as I continued to not pull up. When I had dropped so close to the water that I could feel its moisture on my skin, I jerked up on the handle and pulled to a sudden and definite stop.

My heart was pounding in my ears and my breath was rapid in my chest as I stared at the ripples the air from my body had made on the water, circles that grew larger and fainter as the distance between me and them grew greater. I close my eyes for a brief minute, calming myself before my hearing started to work again.

Fucking God, Elaina!” Oak roared, making me flinch towards him. “Are you trying to die?”

“Excuse me?” I asked, swinging in a slow and lazy turn to him.

“What the bloody hell was that?” James snapped, the two boys flying towards me, red-faced and raging pissed.

“What you told me to do – a dive.”

“We asked for a drop, not a suicide!” Oak snapped, swerving closer to me.

“What’s the big deal?” I asked them, looking from one boy to another.

“The big deal is the fact that we need you in one piece, not a million!”

“We don’t want you hurt,” James said, a little bit quieter than his friend.

“But I’m okay! I’m fine – I’m in control.”

There was a long silence before Oak sighed and reached out, touching the back of my hand. “You are a part of our team now, Elaina. You are working for all of us, not just yourself. And even if you weren’t our new seeker, we would do everything we could to keep you safe.”

I couldn’t help but offer him a small smile, shaking my head. “You lot are so protective,” I said.

“It comes with the package,” James replied dryly.

I flew a lazy circle around them as we were quiet for a brief moment. Then Oak said, “Let’s see how tight a circle you can do,” and I knew we were back to the grind.

 

“Elaina,” Annalie crooned softly, shaking my shoulder. “Ella, wake up.”

I made a sound that was something along the lines of ‘gggnaffno’ and rolled over, burying my face in my pillow.

“Ella, Connor O’Brian is waiting outside the portrait hole saying something about a late breakfast. And he had a bouquet.”

That caught my attention and I lifted myself upright, my hair tangled and pushed to one side of my head, “What?” I groaned, squinting at her.

She wrung her hands nervously as she stared at me. “Do you want me to tell him to go away? I could say you’re not feeling well…”

I sighed and pushed myself upright, trying to rub my eyes into usage. “No, no. Go down and tell him… tell him that I’ll be ready in five minutes, okay?”

Annalie nodded and disappeared down the staircase as I crawled towards the end of my bed, falling off of it in a painful heap. Traditionally, (as you might have noticed) I am more graceful than that, but my flying workout with James and Oak had lasted from five at night to one-thirty in the morning, at which time the current flying instructor (Professor Wiggin, complete and total old nutter) had stumbled outside and screamed us out of the air. My legs were the rough equivalent of jelly and I was completely exhausted for one of the first times in my life.

It took me a minute to unlock my trunk, at which time I managed to find a pair of pants and a shirt that I hadn’t worn that didn’t completely clash. How I changed in to these was a wonder, and by the time I did Annalie was back.

“He wants to know what you were doing before you started getting ready,” she said, leaning against the doorway.

I sighed and popped my back, saying, “Tell him that one, I was sleeping, two, he sounds like a complete and total creeper asking me that, and three, he needs to stop using you as his messenger.”

She grinned and vanished, forcing me to stumble into the bathroom. I managed to wash my face without splattering water all over myself and I brushed the worst of the knots out of my hair before moving on to my teeth, squeezing toothpaste onto my toothbrush. That was when Annalie appeared in the mirror behind me, saying, “He asked if I minded being his owl to you, and I said no, so he told me to tell you that he doesn’t mean to sound like a pervert but he wants to know why you aren’t ready for your date.” She paused before asking, “Is it a date?”

I sighed and shoved the brush in my mouth, mumbling, “Only because of a poor choice of words. And tell him that I wasn’t expecting him to take me so literally.”

I guess Annalie was getting in to the whole “lover’s messenger” part because I didn’t even have a mouth full of foamy spit before she was back again, panting slightly and chiming, “He wants to know if you’re upset with him and if you didn’t actually mean it was a date or if you were just placating him by telling him that you were going to have breakfast with him but were planning on spending the morning avoiding him at all costs.”

I spat out a glob of blue spittle before turning to her, saying, “If you’re enjoying this, tell him that I was planning on eating with him, I just wasn’t expecting him to go down and pick me a bunch of flowers and I feel bad that he went to all that effort and I accidently completely forgot about our meal together until this morning because of a rather disastrous series of events that took place last night.”

I was back to brushing and she was back to rushing and I was finally rinsing out my mouth when she reappeared. “He says don’t feel bad about forgetting but he wants to know why you forgot.”

I dried my face and smiled, giving her a hug as I passed. “You should go eat a chocolate frog or something for all of that,” I told her.

“What are you going to tell him?” she asked me, trailing after me as I made my way to the door.

“The truth.”

“Shoes,” she added as I started to slip out, making me look down at my feet and swear. I shoved my feet into my now-abused sneakers and left, thumping down the stairs and sliding out the portrait hole.

Connor O’Brian was sitting on the floor not three feet away, a bouquet of roses and Queen Anne’s lace in one hand while his other held his chin. He stared at the ground dejectedly, not having heard my approach.

I smiled and knelt beside him, cocking my head to the side as I said, “I’m sorry I forgot. I really am.”

He must have jumped a foot in the air, clutching his heart and gasping, “Jesus Elaina! Were you trying to give me a heart attack?”

“Yes, it’s my life’s ambition. Did it work?”

He laughed and nodded furtively, pushing himself upright. He remembered his flowers and offered them to me, saying, “For you, Madame.”

“Thank you, good sir,” I replied, accepting them and giving the bundle a curious sniff. “They’re lovely.”

“Quite like you.”

It was a struggle not to freeze, not to act as if I was never complemented. Instead, I smiled and nodded down the corridor, asking, “Shall we go?”

He nodded and led me to the kitchens, showing me yet another path that I had yet to discover. The moment we stepped inside I was enveloped by an embrace of heat and good smells, the kind of sensation that made you smile and feel tingly.

Connor took my elbow and led me to the corner where a small, round table waited for us, all dressed up in a white tablecloth and a wide arrange of cutlery. I smiled as he pulled my chair out for me, commenting, “This is beautiful, Connor. How did you - ?”

“A gentleman never kisses and tells,” he told me, sitting across from me.

“Are you implying that you make out with house elves on your spare time?”

“They’re excellent practice.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, the sound rising over the clank of pots and pans being thrown over fires. One of the elves, probably having heard its species named, rushed over and asked, “The muster and musses would like some fink, yes?”

I nodded at Connor and said, “I don’t know how this works.”

“We can ask you for anything we want, can’t we Lyric?” he asked the house elf, making her bob in agreement.

“Yes sir, the muster can order whatever he wishes.”

Connor smiled at me and said, “Ladies first then.”

“Um…” I felt my forehead wrinkles as I said quietly, “A blueberry muffin and some fruit, if that’s possible.”

She nodded enthusiastically before turning her wide, blue gaze to the boy across from me. “I’ll take the usual,” he offered before she darted off, her scamper containing nothing but pure joy.

“I take it you do this a lot?” I asked, placing my flowers on the table.

“Yeah.” He reached out and took a pitcher that was sitting beside his elbow, pouring iced pumpkin juice into the two goblets before us. “A lot of times I stay awake working on homework or Quidditch strategies and fall asleep really late at night, which means I wake up after breakfast is over. I’ll just come down here and grab something between classes or, on weekends, eat down here. It’s useful.”

I nodded and took the glass he offered me, swirling it a bit before taking a sip. “I didn’t even know this was here,” I admitted.

“Really? I would have thought someone in your group would have showed you.”

I shrugged. “Maybe it didn’t occur to them.”

“Or maybe they wanted to impress you.”

“It would have worked.”

“Is it working now?”

I laughed slightly and nodded, “Yes, it is.”

There was a slight pause before he asked, “So why did you forget about having breakfast with me?”

My good mood and smile faltered for a minute before I said, “I am the new seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch team.”

“You’re what?”

“My reaction exactly.”

“But how could that have happened? They, I mean, you had a seeker, didn’t you?”

I shrugged. “Not a very good one. She quit yesterday, and my friend talked me in to taking her place. Her robes even fit me, if you can believe it.”

“Oh my God. Oh my God.”

“I know,” I groaned, leaning forward and smacking my forehead against the table.

“You don’t seem too enthusiastic.”

“They had me flying for eight and a half hours yesterday.”

That made his jaw drop completely. “You’re kidding me!”

“I’m not.”

“What is Oak bloody thinking?” Connor reached out and touched the back of my hand, making me look up. “He hasn’t has a seeker for a day and he’s already worn her out.”

I smiled weakly. “Tell me about it.”

There was a brief lull before Connor said, “You know this totally messes with my plans, right?”

“What plan was that?” I asked.

“Well, I was hoping that come the Gryffindor-Ravenclaw match that there would be some part of you what was rooting for my team, but now that is obviously not going to happen now because you are forced to have allegiances to the lions down the lane.”

I laughed and brushed my hair out of my eyes, saying, “Well maybe I’ll take my time catching the snitch against you instead of just grabbing it from under your nose.”

“What makes you think my team won’t get it?”

Smiling, I replied, “Because I’m fast.”

Abruptly, Connor grabbed the pitcher from the table between us and dropped it straight down towards the ground. I lunged forward and snatched its handle, several droplets spilling out over my fingers as the fluid inside of it sloshed about.

“You weren’t kidding,” he said as I carefully replaced the jug. “Can you fly well?”

I shrugged and winced, feeling my sore muscles from the night before. “Relatively, I guess. I’m not about to fall off because of a mistake any time soon, but a first-year could probably out fly me.”

He bit his lip and watched me for a long moment before a house elf appeared, laden with our food and beaming at us. She placed the trays in front of us and walked away after a slight bow, off to continue her work.

“I didn’t really want to do it,” I admitted quietly.

“Then why did you?”

“I felt obligated in a way. They’re my friends, you know?”

“I’m your friend.”

I smiled at him as he grabbed a fork, smearing what looked like hot chocolate sauce all over his pancakes. “Yes, but they easily outnumber you, and I didn’t want to be tortured into submission.”

He smirked and we started to eat in silence, him diving into his chocolate overload and me picking at the wide selection of chopped fruit in the bowl before me. I found myself watching Connor out of the corners of my eyes, studying him as he moved.

He and his kind were a mystery to me – the race of teenagers that I was commonly inappropriately associated with.  This boy was smart, funny, charming, but then there were those like P.J., who was sullen and snappish. They all had depth, had meaning, had joy; things that I knew had been stolen from me.

Connor was also admittedly handsome. And no one in my group had claimed him like they had claimed James and (this name I thought as quietly as a whisper) Oak. If I were to enter a relationship with him, no one would think a thing of it.

And it would be harmless, even effortless. He would allow me to get James off my back – more appropriately, get his arm off my shoulders – and make P.J. feel unthreatened.

Would it really be too terrible to have someone to hold my hand? To eat meals with, to cheer me up? He could be there while I, secretly, studied to try and find the beast. And then we would be through, me ending the relationship the day I finished my mission.

But as I lifted my gaze I realized that I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that to him, giving him the wrong impression and hurting him. He was too good for that.

I sighed and rubbed my temples, feeling the inkling of a head ache starting between my eyes. The stress was beginning to tear down my body from the inside, killing me slowly.

“Things will work out, Elaina,” Connor promised, making me look at him.

“I know they will. I just… wish they would be worked out sooner.”

He nodded in agreement before he said pointedly, “So how did the end of you water fight go with Wood?”

I laughed and shook my head. “Well…”

 

E/N: So? What did you think? Why don’t you tell me with a word of two in the little box here? Liked it, didn’t, quotes that you enjoyed, you’re opinion of Elaina’s weakening resolve… Cheers.
 


Chapter 11: Dads, Diaries, and Dramas
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A/N: ~looks sheepish~ Hey everyone! Long time no see, eh?

So… in all honesty, I have no excuse for this disgustingly long wait. I just lost my muse for this story and couldn’t find it again. But I’m back (for the moment) and hopefully have created something worth… well, something. I won’t say much else, if only because there isn’t much to say – just happy reading!


 

I expected all sorts of fun to happen that day, mostly involving Oak and James hunting me down and forcing me back onto a broomstick. Connor and I were just leaving a surprisingly enjoyable breakfast (yes, I said enjoyable) when Professor Alendria appeared, looking concerned beyond my belief of her being able to.

I couldn’t help but stiffen in worry as she approached us at a near-sprint. This was a woman that had given me the overall impression of owning the universe – when something happened to make her realize that it wasn’t hers, my instinct told me that there was hell to pay.

But she didn’t look like she wanted to kill anyone quite yet. When she caught sight of the two of us clambering out of the kitchens, a flood of relief stormed her face and she approached quickly.

“Miss Riley!” She cried, clutching at a stick in her side. “There you are! We’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“You have?” I asked at the same time Connor piped, “‘We’?”

“We being the rest of the staff and me,” she said, finally catching her breath. “Elaina, Headmaster Longbottom said that he needs to meet with you immediately.”

I flinched and turned to glance at Connor, worry popping up to line the corners of my eyes. He looked almost as perturbed our instructor as he nodded for me to go ahead… as if I needed his permission.

“Of course,” I said, looking back at my Transfiguration professor. “Lead the way.”

She did so at a break-neck pace, her heels clicking and my sneakers scuffing. As we rushed through the halls, I took a deep breath and asked, “What is it? What’s happened?”

“Our Headmaster wouldn’t say. He just said that it was vital that you come to him as soon as possible.”

I swallowed thickly and suddenly wished that Alendria would move faster, could run more quickly. Somehow, we made it to Longbottom’s office without her breaking one of her spiky little heels, and when we did she uttered some nonsensical password and gestured for me to go up.

Courtesy almost fled me as I gave her a nod of thanks and vaulted up the stairs, not even breathless. My mind began to swirl, coming up with all sorts of terrible things he would have for me – another sighting of the beast, or something that had experienced its awing power?

The door was open, so I didn’t bother knocking. Instead, I leaped inside and looked around, quickly spotting Longbottom at his desk. He wasn’t working on anything, or even reading something; he sat with his fingertips pressed together, observing nothing in particular over the folds of his hands. He flinched at my appearance, however, and said, “Miss Riley.”

“Sir.”

Before I could even ask, he was talking, reaching for something on the corner of his desk. “I know that you are curious. I thought… that you might want to see the headlines for tonight’s Evening Prophet.”

My eyebrows arched before I could stop them, barely resisting the urge to scoff. He had me panicking because of a newspaper?

But when I took it and saw what he wanted me to read, my blood ran cold.

INFAMOUS HUNTER OUT OF ACTION”

“What?” I gasped, looking down to the picture beneath the print.

My father was lying in a hospital bed, looking gaunt and bandaged. As his image moved, he winced and turned his head to the side, trying to shy away from the camera’s glare.

“Oh my God,” I whispered hoarsely, almost to horrified to read on.

Almost. My eyes darted down and raced along the lines, absorbing the information too quickly.

Daniel Riley, age forty-two, was off hunting a feral Macagrosa in the swamps of New Orleans when he was attacked from behind. Feral Macagrosas are known for their shark-like attraction to blood, and when it is spilled it draws them in. He was inches from being completely devoured when he managed to Apparate to a bar he commonly frequents. He was taken to St. Mungo’s, but had been released to his home in the morning as long as he allowed his friend to live with him until further notice in order to help him.

“Oh my God,” I repeated, suddenly finding my legs unable to support my weight. I collapsed into a chair, my hands shaking so violently that the words on the paper became unreadable. “I-I have to go to him. Headmaster, please!”

Longbottom continued to study me, watching, waiting, until he said, “Before I allow you to leave, you must come up with a cover story.”

“A cover story.” I repeated dumbly, staring ahead.

“Yes. You seem to have created an effective one for your reason at Hogwarts, so you need to have another for why there is a very famous monster hunter injured and why you were forced to rush to his side.”

For a long second, I couldn’t think of anything but flying to my father’s side, wrapping my arms around him and making everything better. But I wasn’t the kind of person who struggled under pressure; it didn’t take me a minute to inhale a deep breath and pluck the perfect lie out of my mind.

“Did you know that my father has an uncle who is rather famous?” I asked, finally meeting the Headmaster’s worried expression. “He has a daughter – my cousin – who is studying abroad for some reason. He lost his wife too.”

“Your family has bad luck when it comes to women, doesn’t it?” he asked dryly.

I shrugged. “That’s the best I have, sir.”

He thought about it for a minute before nodding, rising to his feet and lighting a fire in his hearth. I leaped up and reached for the container of Floo powder he offered me, glowering when he held it out of my grip.

“You must stick to this story, Elaina,” he said severely. “And you can’t stay with him.”

I looked him straight in his brown eyes, struggling not to blink so he wouldn’t be able to call me on my lie. “Of course,” I said. “I’ll come back.”

How could he honestly believe me? If my father was lying, injured and in pain, could Longbottom think that I would leave him there?

Obviously, he did. He handed me the Floo powder and I dumped a generous amount into the fire, screaming our address and leaping in after it.

I almost didn’t notice the discomfort of traveling, so distraught was I. In what felt like seconds, I was stumbling out into my kitchen, calling, “Daddy!”

I hadn’t called him ‘daddy’ since I was seven and broke my first bone.

“Ella?” His voice was hoarse, pained, but there was some barely restrained emotion in it too – relief?

“Dad!” I was running before I regained full control over my limbs, almost falling flat on my face as I vaulted around the counter and into the living room.

He was there, sitting in his chair, covered in bandages, and just looking like the saddest creature I had ever seen. I didn’t regain my composure in time to stop myself from throwing my arms around him and burying my face in his chest. My father didn’t flinch, wince, or even hiss – he just wrapped his arms around me and whispered my name into my ear, stroking my hair.

Every emotion I had felt over the past few weeks came rushing back, filling my throat, making me almost sick. I refused to cry in front of my father, but the onslaught made it impossible to talk above a whimpering burble.

I remained in his arms for longer than I could ever remember being there until, finally, I gently pulled away and shifted my weight until I was sitting on the footstool that he rested his legs on. “What happened?” I breathed, not trusting my voice for anything louder.

He smiled faintly and brushed my bangs out of my face, answering in his own whisper, “You’re hair is different.”

“It grew. That happens to hair.”

He smirked and nodded, leaning his head back. “You’re wit hasn’t changed.”

“But my vocabulary grew. If you thought you could swear, you should hear the people I live with.”

His chuckle spoke for him and I smiled at the sound, glad that he was still able to laugh at all. “What happened?” I repeated.

Dad shrugged, but the motion made him wince. “I got stupid. I’m used to having someone covering my back – used to you having my back. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have, and one of the stupid buggers sneaked up on me.”

I smiled shakily. “You sound so nonchalant about it.”

“This isn’t the first injury I’ve had, and it won’t be the last.”

“Dad, you were in the hospital.”

He reached out and took my hand, his fingers reaching up to stroke the crescent of tooth marks that I had sustained just days before going to Hogwarts. “I wasn’t thinking when I Apparated to the bar. I was thinking about your mother, not logic.”

I felt myself stiffen, my eyes widening as he smiled at me. “I miss her Ella. Even more sense you’ve left. You are so much like her, it was like having her here again, just a braver, more instinctive version. She didn’t have the killer intuition that you did – she was taught as much as she could be, but she wasn’t like you.

“But you’ve changed – don’t! Don’t try to deny it!” He held up a hand to restrain my inevitable retort. “You’ve changed in a good way. You’re more like your mother now – you’re softer somehow, like her. You’ve been my Ella for so long, I guess it’s only right that you become your mother’s Elaina.”

“Dad, I’ll always be you’re Ella.” I insisted, twisting my arm so I could grip his hand. “Always.”

Dad chuckled. “No, you won’t. Some young lad has caught your eye, hasn’t he?”

I fought the blush that threatened my cheeks, managing quite well with it for long enough for me to say, “Dad, this isn’t about me. It’s about you.”

“Of course it’s about you! Ella, you’re searching for a beast that is unlike anything I’ve seen before! We need to talk all about you and what you’ve discovered!”

“How could you say that? Dad, you’re all torn to hell! Besides… there isn’t anything more to tell since I last wrote you about it.”

He shot me a doubting look and shook his head. “Don’t lie to me, Ella. I’m your father.”

“I know Dad. I know.”

He started to sit up and I lunged forward, trying to make him sit. “Dad, you’re hurt! Don’t!”

He chuckled and waved me off, reaching to the side for an old cane someone had dug up for him. It took him a full minute to work himself into a standing position, and then he started to hobble across the room to one of our many bookcases.

“A creature this size, leaving odd footprints, with a shroud of soot and fire eyes? This is not something that you would find in ordinary books.”

“I know. I was trying to get a pass to the Restricted Section at school, but Longbottom’s taking forever. Maybe Arcel would have something?”

Dad shook his head as his hand rose, his fingertip running along the worn spines. “I’ve been checking every now and then, and I have him on it too. There’s nothing out there, Ella. If there was any record of this creature before, it was so long ago that people didn’t dare write it down.”

“Then what are you looking for?”

“I have something better than a book from the Medieval Ages. Something that you will appreciate. Something that’s been rightfully yours sense your mother died.”

Instinctively, I touched her dog tags, stroking them gently. He started to fumble with a huge tome, a book that was almost thicker than any of the others, and I jumped to my feet. Rushing over, I took it and followed him as he made his slow way back to his chair, placing it on the footstool before him as I waited.

He settled back in and smiled sadly. “Flip the front cover open, dear.”

I did and froze. Because a large, deep box had been cut out of the pages, leaving enough room for a small leather journal with the image of a complex tree stamped into its front. It was tied closed with a long strip gold and red silk, the knot as intricate and beautiful as any I had seen.

“What is it?” I gasped, longing to stroke its soft cover.

“Your mother’s diary. The one she started keeping the day we met, holding every secret, every monster, every cure, and every moment of our lives. And you’re the only one who can read it.”

I looked up, my eyes wide. “What do you mean?”

“Surely, Ella, you know that your mother was a brilliant woman. That knot can only be untied by you – it won’t slip off, no matter how hard you pull; it won’t cut, no matter what knife you use; and it certainly won’t burn, no matter what kind of fire. She made it so that her innermost thoughts would belong to two people – you and her. Go ahead and touch it. It’s yours now.”

Hesitantly, I reached out and picked up the book, holding it in my hands. It felt warm, soft, like something that had traveled the world a hundred times just to find its way home.

“Oh,” I breathed. “Dad… oh…”

He nodded. “I don’t know what’s in there, but… something tells me that it will help you more than you expect it too.”

“Even if it doesn’t…” I bit my lips as unexpected moisture prickled my eyes, my head shaking of its own accord. He reached out and held my forearm as tightly as he could in his crippled state, his wedding band still encircling his ring finger.

“You should go,” he said softly.

I flinched. “What?”

“My buddy will be back from the store soon – I sent him off for beer – and if he sees you… well, problems will come up.”

“But I can’t just leave you! You’re hurt, and – “

“Ella. What was always the rule when we were on a job?”

I swallowed and clutched the book to my stomach. “Do the work, even if it means leaving someone behind.”

“Exactly. And we’re not in a church, fighting a bloodsucker or anything. I’m here, and I’m safe. You can visit me later, but… just not now. Go back to school and do whatever it is that you’re doing. You’ll do fine.”

I wanted to dispute this, but Dad’s tone left no room for discussion. I rose to my feet and tucked the diary inside of my shirt, bending down to peck his cheek. “Love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, Ella. Write me if anything happens.”

“Swear.”

I sighed and rose, walking towards the kitchen. “Need anything before I jet?” I called.

“Just for you to give me some space.”

I rolled my eyes and found some Floo powder, measuring some out. “Take any meds the healers give you, all right? And don’t be brave – if you need something, ask for it.”

“Get out of here, Ells. I’m tired of you already.”

I snorted and threw the powder into the fireplace, shaking my head. “Professor Longbottom’s office, Hogwarts.” I paused, calling one last, “Goodbye!” over my shoulder. “I love you!”

I was stepping into the fire before he could respond, the rush filling my ears and the spinning enough to make my stomach roll. The trip seemed to take forever, especially with my father on my mind – how was he supposed to make it without me? If this happened on a job just a few weeks after I left, what was going to happen by Christmas?

He’d probably lose an arm or something.

I shuddered as I popped into Longbottom’s office, somehow landing on my feet for once in my life. I glowered at the headmaster as he started to rise, shaking my head.

“You came back,” he said simply.

“I came back. And now I have to find my friends before they miss me.”

“You weren’t gone that long.”

“Yeah, but like you said – I have to build my story, don’t I?”

“You must stick to your character, Miss Riley.”

“I know. But that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it this time, does it?”

“Don’t strain yourself.”

I sniffed and spun around, marching to the door and slamming it closed behind me for good measure. Stupid Longbottom – he didn’t know anything.

I pressed my hand against the book hidden between my skin and my shirt, praying with all of my might that there would be something inside that would make all of this worth doing.


 

“All right Ella, are you ready for the next one?”

I rolled my eyes, glowering down at James. “I would be much more ready if you stopped asking if I was ready! James, the snitch isn’t going to tell me that it’s coming towards me – I have to learn to be prepared un-prodded!”

He paused anyway, tossing the golf ball up and down before he finally threw it into the air. With a whip of his wand, he sent it flying through the air in the opposite direction from where I hovered.

I shot towards it, flying over James’s head and out across the lake. My reflection shadowed me as I closed in on the little white ball, my hands reaching out in preparation…

I knew I had it before I even felt it, my finger closing around the thing and pulling it back to my body. I spun around and slowly made my way back to James, dropping the ball back down to him.

“Good one, Ella!” he called, clapping his hands a few times before snatching the golf ball out of the air.

“Thanks,” I said, swerving around above him. The noon-day sun was high overhead, beating down on my back as if it was trying to chase away the cold the air brought. James moved the ball around in his hands for a few seconds, singing with an oddly pleasant voice as he shot it back out across the water.

November has tied me, to an old dead tree… get word to April, to come rescue me…”

I flew faster, pushing my broom harder as I tried to leave my thoughts behind me. I hooked my fingers around the ball again, sighing and rolling my eyes before making my way back to James. “Why don’t you give me a challenge?” I asked, skidding to a stop overhead. “God, I’m tired of all this pussy-footing around.”

“Excuse me for trying to make sure you get used to everything before I move you on to the next step,” he snapped, summoning the ball from my hands.

“Oh, don’t get angry – you know you’ve been too nice.”

“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”

I dropped a few feet so that I was close enough to touch his hair with my foot if I wanted too. “James, we have less than three weeks until I have to be in the sky against people who have been there for years. We don’t have time for me to get used to anything right now.”

He pursed his lips before nodding, tossing the golf ball experimentally. “You’re right,” he said. “You have to learn to expect the unexpected.”

I hid my triumphant smirk. “So you’ll send me something fun this time?”

“You could call it that.”

Before I could get a better grip on my broom, he hopped up and grabbed the top of my shoe, his other hand reaching up to grip the fabric around my shins. I screamed as I toppled sideways, falling off and into his waiting arms.

“James!” I squawked, wiggling in discomfort as he beamed down at me. “What was that for?”

“I said that you needed to learn to expect the unexpected, didn’t I?”

“In the air, not in real life!” I scowled at him as he shifted my weight slightly, helping me nestle into a more comfortable position.

“Lighten up, Riley. Breathe a little.”

“I don’t want to breathe. I want to stand on my feet… or sit on a broom.”

“Well, unfortunately, I’m currently not allowing that.”

“Why not?”

He laughed and spun me around in a circle, making me shriek and throw my arms around his neck. “Because this is too much fun.”

“We want Ella to be a good flier, James, not vomit.”

We both flinched towards the new voice, only to relax when Annalie approached in her usual demure way. We didn’t have to speak to feel the relief that it wasn’t P.J., or Oak; both of those situations would hold all kinds of unnecessary consequences.

“I’m giving her motion-training,” James said smoothly, lowering the arm that held up my legs to I could slide from his grasp. “You know, so she can do barrel rolls and whatnot.”

“As much as that is appreciated, I think it would be better if she actually did barrel rolls instead of just having you dance about with her.”

“But twirling is so much fun!”

I took a cautious step away from him, calling my broom back to me with a snap of my fingers. “James has a secret dream of becoming a ballerina,” I told Annalie with a private wink, making her laugh.

“I knew it all along!”

“Damn!” James shook his head in shame, hiding his face with his fingertips. “I was hoping that it was a secret!”

“James, you’re about as subtle as a yellow elephant,” I said, my eyebrows arching pointedly.

“I can be subtle if I want to be.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“Anyway!” Annalie piped when James started to pout. “Ella, there’s a message for you from Longbottom. It’s sitting on your bed, but I thought I would let you know. Also, Wiggin told us that we weren’t allowed to work you so hard. The past couple of nights have been too extreme. He’s putting a cap on how much time you’re to be in the air – nine o’clock, at the latest.”

“Oak is going to be pissed about that one,” James muttered, shaking his head in almost-worry. “He’s already panicking about you being so fresh.”

“Well, I guess we don’t have a whole lot of a choice.” I sighed and straddled my broom once again, letting it lift me up into the air. “Come on James, throw me another – and give it a little curve or something.”

Annalie decided to stay to help James run me ragged, the two of them eventually playing a game of mid-air monkey in the middle in which I was permanently stuck. I still caught almost everything they threw my way, save for one that James mistakenly sent to the bottom of the lake. I glared at him for that one, barely managing to stop my dive in time to hurtle after it; he laughed nervously before tossing another.

At nine o’clock sharp, when the sky had gone black and the moon had risen to be our own natural light bulb, Wiggen appeared on the edge of the lake and gestured for us to bring it in. I handed him my broom and wandered back inside with James and Annalie, my arms wrapped around both of their waists to support my wobbling legs.

It took a while for Annalie to ask the question I had been bracing myself for, but that didn’t make it any easier to lie when she asked, “Did you see the paper tonight?”

I shook my head. “No, I’ve been with James since one this afternoon.”

“Well… P.J. saw it, and she has some questions for you.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Some… well, rather insulting ones, quite frankly.”

I let my brow furrow as I looked at James, his face wearing the same quizzical expression as mine. “What’s going on? What was in the paper?”

“I’m not supposed to tell you. P.J. wants to act like she’s a part of the Spanish Inquisition or something.”

“Come on Anne,” James moaned, rolling his eyes. “You can’t have Ella go in there without warning her first. What if she slips up something that isn’t her fault?”

“Then we have to listen to P.J. gloat for the next eight years.”

“Exactly. I don’t think that I could survive that.”

I laughed before I could help it as we turned the corner on a staircase, slowly making our way up to the common room. “Just tell me the general topic.”

“It’s about a headline in the paper. Someone who shares your last name.”

I made myself stiffen, concern evident even in its falsehood. “Who?”

“Daniel Riley?”

I gasped, looking at James for some kind of support. “That’s my uncle! He’s a monster hunter?”

“Yes.”

“What happened to him? What’s wrong?”

Annalie relayed the story in the paper to me, watching my outer distress grow greater and greater. I made them move faster, trying not to laugh at myself as we finally burst through the common room door; it was so theatrical that it was comical.

“I need a quill and a piece of parchment!” I told James, letting him peal away from me in order to find it. P.J. and Oak started towards us, but Annalie shot them a hasty, “Not now,” and they both paused.

“What’s going on?” P.J. asked sourly, crossing her arms over her chest.

“It’s her uncle.”

“You told her!”

“What was I supposed to do – would you have rather been the one to tell her?”

P.J. sulked for a minute as Oak surged forward, pressing his hands against my shoulders soothingly. “He’s fine,” he said. “Like the paper wrote, he was released into the care of a friend.”

“That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write to him! !hen my mom died, he help put our family back together. I have to!” I looked at Oak with a desperate expression, watching him nod.

“Of course.”

James arrived with my paper and a quill and I wrote a quick, almost nonsensical letter questioning my uncle's health. I addressed it to our apartment in London and took a mad dash to the owlrey, a sprint that all of my friends joined me with.

After it had vanished into the night, I sighed and let them lead me back to the common room. I spent the rest of the evening in a ‘state of disarray’, staring at walls with concern and requiring any questions directed at me to be said twice. All in all, I thought it was a rather impressive bit of acting; no one, not even P.J., called me on anything.

When the others started to retire, I stayed in the common room, resting my elbows on the arm of a couch and staring at the fire. Annalie gave me a hug as she passed, and Rhyad gave my arm an encouraging squeeze. Oak held my hand for a minute before leaving, making James, not to be outdone, kiss my head as the two of them vanished to their dorms. P.J. left without a single glance in my direction, which I suppose was more than I would have gotten under other circumstances; I wasn’t about to complain.

When they were all gone, I reached into my bag and pulled out my mother’s diary. I ran my fingers over the image in the leather, my fingers brushing against the knot keeping it closed as I took a steeling breath. Then I began to work at the strings, pulling and watching as the whole thing unraveled in my hands. It barely took a few seconds for it to fall off, lying over my legs like a blanket.

It took more courage than I had anticipated to flip open the cover of the book and stare down at the first ink-spotted page. It wasn’t a part of the book, though; it was a piece of tissue-thin paper, folded multiple times to fit her journal, and waiting with my name on it’s front.

I picked it up and carefully unfolded the page, the crinkle of old parchment like music to my ears. I took a deep breath as I looked down at it, my mouth dryer than any desert.


 

My Dearest Elaina,

I am not sure how to start this. Saying that I love you is obviously at the beginning of the list, but an apology is also necessary.

I love you. My sweet, I love you so much – more than I think I have ever loved anything. The first time I held you in my arms I knew that you were perfect, and that can’t have changed over the years.

So now the apology. Elaina, I am so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to do it – if I had known, I never would have gone. But it happened, and now you can blame me for your troubles. The fault is mine that you cannot use wands, that your magic comes from your hands.

This journal of mine will guide you through my life and let you know what I did to cause your… rarity. It is after you finish that you can decide whether or not you can ever forgive me for turning you into a person who will always be separate from your peers. I do love you, no matter my mistakes; I love you, I love you, I love you, my dear, perfect child.

Forever yours, should you chose,

Charisa Riley


 

I blinked rapidly, trying to clear away unexpected tears. Strangely, my mind wasn’t clinging to the fact that she had just admitted to somehow causing my strange power.

It was holding on to how she had said that she loved me.

I pressed the open diary to my chest and closed my eyes, pretending for the briefest moment that I was a normal girl missing her normal mother in a normal world.

Than I recovered myself and looked at the thick, parchment pages, flipping to the first word-covered one and preparing myself for a long night.
 


Chapter 12: To the Match
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My eyelashes fluttered against my cheeks, so light that I almost didn’t feel them at all. My body was relaxed, so loose that I could have been a long-forgotten piece of clothing, thrown away at the first hint of a summer sky, and my breath was even and shallow. In spite of my outward appearance of being completely unconscious, my mind was roaring within the confines of my skull, screaming and thrashing as if to escape it’s strong prison.

Exhaustion could easily be given to worry for my ‘uncle’, a night fretting on the couch hardly good for a young girl. My foul demeanor that was rather inevitable could also be just nerves, not to mention the stresses of school and Quidditch may be finally getting to me. Every aspect of me was a pretense, a lie; something that was invented to serve whatever purposes that I needed them to.

I resisted the urge to sigh as I turned over and buried my face in my pillow, effectively blocking it from view. My eyes slid open and stared into the musty fabric, already starting to ache with the closeness of it.

The footsteps that dragged me into this position in the first place grew louder before the sound of a body moving into the room became audible, making me force myself into a state of motionlessness once again. I felt something move close to me, near my head, and barely resisted the stiffening instinct that scratched at my limbs.

Then something, rough and forceful, clouted me across the back of my head.

I hissed and flinched, reaching up and grabbing the hand before it could vanish completely. There was a gasp of surprise before a voice – of course, that voice – said, “Let go, you raging bitch. Jesus, you’d think I had just tried to kill you or something!”

“For all I know,” I groaned as I sat up, twisting my head to the side to I could glower up into the bright sunlight, “you might have.”

“Bloody drama queen.” P.J. rolled her eyes and swung her leg over the couch I lounged on. Then she dropped herself down, lying across my knees and effectively crushing my legs. “Relax, Princess. We’re not in whatever war zone it is that you came from – this is Hogwarts, where the only danger is being molested by torrents of hormonal boys.”

“Not much of a danger.” I shifted and pulled on my legs until I tugged them free, curling them beneath me and leaning as far back as I could without seeming insulting. P.J. didn’t even arch her eyebrows at me as she crossed her arms behind her head and stared across the room thoughtfully, watching the young rays slicing through dust motes. The morning was still a child, still learning how to lift itself to its feet; we both regarded it with a sense of wariness that was bordering on uncomfortable in the similarity between our faces.

“You have pretty shitty luck,” she finally said, blinking tiredly before reaching up to rub her face. “If I believe everything that comes out of your mouth, that is.”

“Why shouldn’t you?” I asked, biting my tongue against an attitude.

“Why should I? Why do I have any good reason to really trust you?”

I couldn’t stop myself – the quip was too there for me to deny it. “Because I haven’t told James that you’re in love with him.”

You could have heard a pin drop on the ground a mile away with the silence that sprang up between us, P.J.’s eyes going wide as she stared at me in absolute horror. “What did you just say?” she gasped.

I wanted to laugh, to toss my head back and snort for hours at the expression on her face. But I forced my face into blankness as I leaned back, holding myself by my elbows. “Don’t worry, Patricia,” I said as cheerlessly as possible. “I’m not going to spill your secret to him.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You know, generally when you like a boy, you’re supposed to act like you like him, not pretend that we’re all still little kids on the playground and try to pull his hair out.”

She flushed in an interesting combination of anger and embarrassment, looking away from me and watching the far wall. “You have no idea what you’re talking about,” she snapped.

“Maybe I know more than you think I do. P.J., there isn’t anything between James and I. I don’t know if that’s why you hate me so much or not, but we’re just friends. You know how James is – he’s touch-oriented. He acts the same way he does with me with everyone else. There’s no reason for you to suspect that there’s anything… non-platonic between us.”

“Don’t you dare pity me,” she snapped, looking at the ground and letting her hair fall into her face. “I’m not some… stupid little fool who doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

“But you’re acting like it.” I glowered when she turned to look at me, a retort on her lips that died quickly. “You need to treat your friends right if you want to have any hope of keeping them.”

“You don’t need to lecture me, Riley – I’m not six.”

“You seem very intent on telling me all of the things you aren’t, instead of all of the things you are.”

“That’s because I assume you know everything that I am.” Abruptly, she sighed and leaned her head against the side of the couch, the image of pure dejection. “I’m tired of having to hate you, Elaina. I don’t want to second-guess everything you do, searching for a motive. I’d like to actually, you know… try to be cordial.”

“Then why not? It’s not like you’re going to lose anything.” I smiled, finally letting my humor at the situation come free. “P.J., I’m not the horrible person you think I am. At least, I don’t think so. We’re enough alike that we could get along, so why not give it a shot? I wouldn’t mind being your friend.” She stiffened slightly and I held up my hands, immediately amending, “If not your friend, than I would really enjoy not being your enemy.”

P.J. thought about it for a minute, frowning heavily before sighing. “We may as well give it a shot,” she grumbled, rubbing her palms against her calves nervously. “Besides, if we’re friends, maybe you’ll confide in me and I can use it against you later.”

“That might have worked, if you hadn’t just told me your plan.”

That brought about another smile as she rose to her feet, stretching until her shoulders popped. “I’m going to go get dressed, and maybe finish up my Transfig homework. Probably should have done that yesterday, but oh well.” She shrugged. “You might want to change your clothes, too; yours are kind of wrinkled.”

“Maybe in a bit. We still have time.”

P.J. nodded and started back towards the staircase before pausing, glancing back. “Elaina?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sure your uncle is okay. Sometimes, life gets really shitty, but… even Fate isn’t that cruel.”

Then she was gone, walking up the staircase until she disappeared somewhere above my head.

I sighed and slumped, closing my eyes for the briefest instant of awe-inspiring relief. Could it even be possible that P.J. might not want to kill me anymore? That she was actually considering becoming a friend of mine? It was almost too much to hope for – a small thing to make my job easier.

I waited for another second before reaching beneath me and pulling out my mother’s diary, running my hands over the warmth and smiling down at it. I had barely put a dent in it the night before, each page she had written containing enough information to fill a chapter in a real book. It had started with the story of how she met my father – how the shop she worked in had an infestation of Croutlumps, how my dad had been called in to fix it, how he had walked in to find her using a broom to beat them back and how she had refused to leave when he instructed her to. How, together, they had worked and banished the creatures from the building.

Then came the story of their courtship. My father, brave in the face of flesh-eating beasts and fire-breathing monsters, quailed at the thought of being alone in the same room as a beautiful woman. And, though my mother never admitted to it, she was beautiful; my long, dark hair, but she had softer edges than I could ever hope to boast. He started coming to her shop, buying strange items that she recorded in her journal that made me wonder if she worked on the wrong side of the tracks; spell books, knives, bullets, holy water. At first, their interaction was minimal, “That will be five galleons,” and “Do you have any of these for an AK-47?” Then, the small chatter started with, “How's the work treating you?” or, “It's blisteringly cold out there.” Eventually, it lead to him staying at the shop for hours, talking and flirting shamelessly as his confidence grew.

By the time he finally asked her out to dinner, her heart was already his.

I tried to imagine their love, their headlong-sprinting relationship that barely took a few months. She was a healer still learning her trade, signed up for the military so that she could afford schooling; when things blew up in Egypt and she was sent to battle the darkness rising there, my father volunteered to go with her as long as he was at her side. He was her guardian, protecting her as she slaved over injured soldiers on the front line; they survived together.

When they returned, six months into their relationship, they got married. Her father hadn't approved, so they eloped to Monte Carlo, had a beautiful honeymoon, and he started teaching her the art of his trade. She quit her job at the shop, retired from the military, and learned everything my father could show her. Between taming Everdries and killing rogue Smallards, I was conceived; I had to skip over that section of the text, something about invading that much of my father's privacy so repulsive that I almost vomited.

And that was when P.J. had found me – the night of my own conception, flipping through the pages until I found where the action began again. There was nothing I wanted more than to open the book again, read all about what creatures my mother faced – but my interaction with the girl had reminded me of a painful truth. I was back to being Ella Riley, seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch team, stunning student and friend to many.

I sighed and slid the journal into my bag, rising to my feet and wandering up into the dorm. The girls were all awake now, scrambling to dress themselves and get into the bathroom before the others used up the hot water; I smiled at their haste... until I caught sight of myself in the mirror.

Curls greasy, face sweaty, clothes so dingy that I couldn't believe that I was in them. I shuddered and went to go shove my head in a sink, the showers already taken. As I slowly tried to make myself publicly presentable, a hushed conversation met my ears; one whispered in shower stalls, trusting the water to make it so that they weren't overheard. I paused, pulling my ears free of the stream and closing my eyes to improve my hearing.

“I'm just worried, that's all,” Annalie was saying, her sweet voice cracking slightly.

“About what? She's a big girl.” P.J. swore, a bar of soap hitting the ground with a resonating thump.

“Well, with everything that's going on with her uncle, and all of the pressure we're putting on her with Quidditch... I just don't think that it's very healthy, that's all.”

“She can take care of a little stress, Liar. She was her mother's nursemaid for years, after all.”

“But she isn't used to this kind of stress. She just moved here, for Pete's sake.”

“She got here a few months ago - “

“Almost three.”

“See? She's had plenty of time to make the adjustment.”

“Sometimes I wonder.” I knew Annalie was frowning, just by the way her voice sounded. I felt my fists clench against the counter as I waited, my breathing shallow.

“I used to be the suspicious one – now you are? What's the deal?”

“There's a difference between suspicion and concern, Patricia.”

“It seems the same to me.”

“But it isn't.” Annalie sighed. “The game against Ravenclaw is coming up quickly, and I don't want her to wear herself out before she even gets to the air.”

“She won't. Have you seen how fit that girl is? I swear, if I had her body...”

I blushed violently, turning off the tap and grabbing a towel to rub my head with.

“That, and there's the whole thing with the boys...” P.J. continued slowly.

“What about the boys? And which boys?”

“All of them. You see how they look at her.”

“Does she have anything going on with any of them?”

“Not that I've heard. Do you think she knows?”

“Her head's so high in the clouds sometimes, especially when it comes to things like this... remember, she hasn't experienced anything quite like Hogwarts before.” Annalie sighed.

P.J. did, too. “I still feel like there's something she isn't telling us.”

“There are probably lots of things. She doesn't really trust us yet.”

“Do you blame her? She was here for a few months and James recruited her for Quidditch, Conner O'Brian started following her around like a stray puppy, and everyone in our group just dumps all of their problems on her as if she can make them all better.”

There was a pause as two shower faucets were turned off, the silence filling the space between deafening as I refused to move, listening with every ounce of me.

“Maybe things will get better after the match.” Annalie said hopefully. “When there's less stress.”

“If you say so, Liar.”

I snatched a towel from the rack beside the door and quickly ducked out of the room before they could discover me eavesdropping. I worked on rubbing my curls dry, trying to keep an innocent expression on my face when they reappeared a few minutes later, wrapped in towels and steam.

“The bathroom open?” I asked, smiling.

“Sure, go on in.” Annalie said as she reached for her robes.

I went into the bathroom and closed the door behind me, leaning forward and pressing my palms against the counter. As I stared at myself in the mirror, a painful truth washed over me like a wave.

I have to take care of the beast. Now.

I was surprised by how much that hurt.


 

I stopped pretending that I was just another student walking the halls of Hogwarts, eager to learn and make friends and flirt with boys who flirted back. I dove head-first into my search for the beast, only coming up for breath between classes and during mealtimes.

I stopped actually trying on my homework, instead half-assing everything in the few spare minutes I allowed myself, turning in exactly what the teachers were looking for with only a fraction of the effort put in to it. Instead, I spent that time in the Restricted Section of the library, going through bestiaries that smelled like mold and old mythological books that seemed to be written on human skin. I crossed-referenced everything I could think of pertaining to burning creatures, demons, even ghosts – everything came up empty. I began dedicating more and more time to reading my mother's journal, deciphering the slanted script and searching for some kind of a hint of what might come.

Business had picked up for her and Dad around the time of my conception, because stories of morning sickness were thin between the descriptions of monsters the two had to rush of to deal with. I searched desperately for anything that could possibly match the beast, but nothing that Mom seemed to have dealt with even looked close to the same.

I threw myself into Quidditch with a new abandon, using the physical strain to train myself in a way I had yet to experience. Dad and I were always working out, always sparing, but flying on a broomstick was something I hadn't ever done before – and I welcomed it. Flying used muscles that you wouldn't dream of, resulting in a pleasant soreness each and every morning.

As much as I wanted to, I didn't abandon my friends as I let myself becomes consumed with research. I sat with them during meals, laughing and chattering in ways as lighthearted as possible; I joined their plots for parties and pranks, even offering suggestions.

A week passed before anything remotely interesting happened, but when it did it came in the form of a letter from my father. In the evening, while I was working my way through a large stack of books I had gathered for the night from the Restricted Section, an owl appeared outside the window, tapping furiously as it was buffeted by the wind. Annalie jumped to her feet and ran to help it, throwing the window open and allowing it to flutter inside.

“I think it's from your uncle,” she said, taking the letter from it's leg and walking over to me.

I grabbed it eagerly, ripping open the seal and moving closer to the fire so to examine it better. My father's usually hasty script was neater this time, as if he actually took a few minutes to write it out – which, considering his injuries, he probably had.


 

Ella,

I just got word from Arcel. He wants to see you and talk to you about something, maybe sell you some stuff that can help you with your little problem. He knows what he's doing, so I would trust him. Buy what you have to, but have him put it on my tab; I'll pay it off when I get moving again. Take care, be safe, and for God's sake keep in contact with me.

Love,

Dad


 

I read it twice, then nodded to myself. I tucked the letter away and met Annalie's eye evenly, smiling as I said, “Don't worry. He's just bored.”

“I take it he's getting better?”

“Yes.”

“That's good.” She settled in beside me again, reading some paperback novel that she refused to let me see the cover of. But by the name on the spine, I could tell it was a dime-a-dozen romance novel, probably with a rippling-muscled bronzed youth on the front.

I wanted to rush off to Arcel immediately, but something was stopping me – and that something was the knowledge that we were taking to the air in the Quidditch pitch the next morning. If it had been any other day, I would have gone, but... I didn't dare disappoint my friends by not being there in time to play against Ravenclaw.

I looked at the storm going on just beyond our common room and sighed, the slightest tremor of unease running up my spine. Quidditch had been going wonderfully, really, but... how was I supposed to fly in something like that? It was the only reason I had tonight off of practice; because James had loudly denied Oak the right to take me out into the storm, swearing that I would catch my death and be unable to play.

Just as my thoughts turned to them, there was a large bang and the portrait hole flew open, the two boys and Rhyad stumbling through and dripping with mud. James saw us and walked to our side, panting, while Oak and Rhyad wandered along behind us and leaned against the back of the couch.

“And where have you boys been?” I asked, snatching up one of my books before James could dribble all over it.

“The pitch. It's completely under water – the locker rooms are flooded, and the green is nothing but mud.” Oak replied, shaking his head like a dog and spraying droplets into the fire. “Tomorrow is going to be hell if this keeps up.”

“Maybe it won't,” Annalie said hopefully, gaining three doubtful looks. “Well, maybe!”

“If you say so, Anna,” James said, pulling his wand out of his robes and staring to cast a quick drying charm. “Anyway, on our way up, the caretaker caught us and got into a right huff about us tracking mud all over the place, so we had to run for it to get away from him detention free.”

“You all have it so hard,” Annalie said, making me snort. When dry, James dropped down between us and stretched out, watching as the boys above us mimicked his example. Then they settled in, pressing close as if to let us feel their presence physically.

Abruptly, the book in my hands was jerked away, James checking his cover and frowning. “Dark Magical Beasts Facing Extinction in the Twentieth Century? Why are you reading this? It's not exactly, you know, normal Hogwarts stuff.”

I shrugged, reaching out and grabbing it from him. “I've been thinking about becoming a beast tamer,” I said.

“A beast timer? Why?”

“Because I've somehow survived hanging around you lot for this long, so I might be able to survive something trying to eat my head off.”

Annalie laughed while the boys booed me, James and Oak making large X symbols with their arms while Rhyad shook his head. I laughed and swatted James with the book, burying myself back in it as I resumed where I had left off. P.J. wandered into our little squashed pile eventually, working her way through the homework she had been assigned.

This was oddly peaceful, I realized as I flipped through a section strictly about water beasts. I had spent time sitting with my father, studying old texts or looking up spells, but it hadn't felt like this... like pure companionship.

“Ready for tomorrow?” James asked quietly.

There was a murmur of consent, all of us nodding or grumbling or doing something to agree. I didn't respond otherwise, busy looking for the description of a beast with fire eyes.

A few hours later, Oak herded us upstairs, telling us that if we didn't get into bed and sleep he would flay us alive. I told him that beating us wouldn’t help him win the match any quicker, making him snicker – he said he would bring in replacements or something.

I decided not to point out that he had no replacements.

I didn't sleep well that night, but it had nothing to do with nerves; when you've been in my business for as long as I have, you tend to stop getting worried about things to come. Instead, it was the wind, harsh against the side of the castle, and the fact that the book pressing against my head from beneath my pillow called to me – my wand came out and I read my mother's diary quietly, flipping pages and smiling at her vivid descriptions.

I rose early, earlier than anyone else in the dorm room, and got dressed quietly. Then I wandered downstairs, abandoning the common room for the Great Hall.

It was almost silent there, the ceiling just showing the pink morning light and a few students sleeping at their tables. I settled down and watched the clouds overhead, running my fingers along the edge of the table just to get the feel of it into my head.

“You must be suicidal.”

I flinched and glanced up, relaxing instinctively as Connor sat down beside me. “Hey,” I said, smiling. “What's up?”

“Why are you awake? Shouldn't you be snoozing, getting ready for the match later?”

“Shouldn't you be doing the same? You have a long afternoon of cheering your team on, after all.”

“As true as this is, I had a bunch of papers that I know I won't want to do tomorrow. They kept me up – now what's your excuse.”

I shrugged. “I'm still not sold on this whole 'sleep' thing.”

“Really? I would have thought sitting through History of Magic would have made you a firm believer.”

I laughed and he grinned, looking extraordinarily pleased with himself. “Are you ready?” he asked after a moment, sitting down beside me. “For the match, I mean. You must be a little nervous.”

“Not really. I guess I'm too... I don't know, ready.”

“Well, you should probably eat something, anyway. Get some food into that stomach of yours. It's not good to fly when you're empty.”

“I'll wait until Oak gets down here. Otherwise, he won't believe me and will make me eat more, which will make me sick, which makes him worry...” I rolled my eyes. “I don't want to start that cycle.”

“I don't blame you. Where are your lion men this morning? Off plotting our demise?”

I grinned. “Lion men?”

“They're from Gryffindor, aren't they?”

“So... that makes me a lion woman?”

Connor shook his head. “No, you're too pretty for that.”

I opened my mouth to deny his statement, but before I could a voice interrupted me. “Pretty? What an insult.”

We both looked up as James sat down on my other side, crossing his arms and staring darkly at Connor. “She's beautiful, and we all know it,” he snapped, reaching for a drink.

I flushed and looked down as Connor nodded sagely. “Of course. I was merely trying to save her from complete embarrassment.

“Fool's words. I thought you were in Ravenclaw, O'Brian?”

Connor stiffened, but I reached beneath the table and grabbed his knee, shaking my head ever so slightly. He relaxed and I let go, encouraging him to rise to his feet and say, “I'll be going. Good luck today, Elaina.”

“Thanks, Connor.”

He left and I turned on James, scowling. “What's your problem?” I asked.

“Nothing. I don't have a problem.”

“You obviously do. He was just being nice – you didn't need to get angry with him.”

“I want your head in the game, Ella, not in little petty romances.”

“There isn't a romance, James! We're just friends!”

He blinked. “Really?”

“Yes!”

“Oh. Well... I'm sorry, then.”

I rolled my eyes as he took a sip of pumpkin juice, the awkwardness in the air suddenly that much more obvious. After a moment, he asked cautiously, “How's the future occupation going?”

“I'm starting to think that I'll prefer wild beasts to this place.”

“Hogwarts isn't all that bad, is it?”

I sighed and shook my head. “No, it isn't. I'm sorry. I guess I'm just nervous.”

“Don't be. You'll rock it out there today.”

“At least the weather cleared up,” I muttered, looking up at the now blueish sky.

We sat in silence, James probably sensing that I needed a little bit of time to myself. In reality, I was as calm and cool as could be, but I didn't want him to know that; what kind of a person would I be if I was totally immune to anxiousness? Better to avoid the questions before they even arose.

P.J. was the next to arrive with Rhyad at her side, the two sitting down across from us as they started to pile food onto their plates. Even they were looking a little pale as they settled in, munching their way through toast and eggs. Annalie walked in with Oak some time later, when the hall contained a larger number of people, and all of us sat in a tense huddle until Serge came and joined us. I sighed as Oak forced food onto my plate, eating it as scathingly as possible as I chose to watch the students wandering around the hall. It was pretty evenly split, as far as supporters went, the space decorated with red and blue shirts, face-paints, and signs.

“You guys get pretty worked up for Quidditch, don't you?” I asked, absently tracing a scar across my forearm.

“Yeah. It's a big deal.” Serge said.

After that, no one spoke again.

Why were they all so stressed? It was just a game, not like it mattered all that much in the grand scheme of things; no one would die if we lost. The worst that would happen would be a heavy blow to the Gryffindor house pride, and even that could be repaired.

Their edginess was starting to affect me, making me shift uneasily. I began watching James's watch with hawk-like intensity, the hands moving more and more slowly as time trickled by.

Finally, at thirty minutes until ten, Oak rose. “We should get down to the pitch,” he said. “Suit up and everything.”

We all nodded in agreement, eager to be doing anything, as we stood. Together, we made our way through the suddenly applauding crowd, walking out the doors, down the hall, and into the biting cold November air.

I was ready. I was ready to run and jump and leap and fly. I was ready to move until I couldn't even twitch, to beat the other team into the ground, to be the strong, beautiful person that James saw me as.

But why did I suddenly want to vomit?
 


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