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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.
 

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