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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?
 

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