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“There’s just too much pressure,” I whined, “what would happen if I just don’t do it?”

 

Scorpious kept flipping through pages in his book, and Albus just shrugged and left our table to go pull more books from the shelf behind him.

 

“Come on, I’m serious!” I said, trying to get them to pay attention to me.

Scorpious begrudgingly looked up from his research.

 

“Ella, you have to do it.” 

 

“Can you do it for me?” I asked slyly, already knowing what his response would be.

 

“We’ve gone over this a hundred times, you have to choose your own Hogwarts house.”

 

I looked to Albus who had just sat back down. He set his new stack of titles down in front of him, hiding his face. He peeked his head out from the side of the stack.

 

“And before you ask, I will yet again say that I will not under any circumstances decide what Hogwarts house you should be in for you.” 

 

Tired of having this conversation to no avail, I just groaned and sank down in my chair.

Albus and Scorpious ignored me. At this point I had asked them so many times to help me choose they had learned to tune it out, and only responded my pestering so they could shut me up faster.

 

Albus passed around the new books to Scorpious and me. They were helping me research anything that could come up in the challenge next week. Yes, the first challenge in the Valor Competition was officially only ONE WEEK away. 

 

I was terrified, and the added pressure of trying to decide which Hogwarts house I best fit into did not help with my stress levels. 

 

“Can you just agree not to freak out about it until after you make it out of the first challenge alive?” Scorpious asked.

 

I sat up and nodded, deciding to agree with Scorpious’ proposition. I pushed the house debate to the back of my mind, and tried to bring my attention back to researching for the first task.

 

The book that landed in front of me was titled “The Art of Digging: A 17th Century Guide To Create A GardenYour Neighbors Will Be Jealous Of”.

 

“Why am I reading this again?” I ask Albus, gingerly holding up the book to display the title for him to read.

 

“When you lose the first challenge you’re going to need a hobby,” Scorpious grinned.

 

Instinctually, Scorpious raised his arms to shield his face right as I chucked the book at him. Unfortunately however, the cat-like librarian Madam Wells happened to be walking past our table at exactly the wrong moment.

 

“I WILL NOT HAVE STUDENTS THROWING LIBRARY BOOKS!” she aggressively pointed to the door, “OUT! NOW!” 

 

We threw our stuff into our bags and practically ran out of the library, thankfully avoiding getting into any more trouble. 

 

“If Madam Wells doesn’t skin us alive next time she sees us, same time same place tomorrow?” Scorpious asked.

 

“At this point I doubt it’ll help,” I responded. mournfully, losing hope that I would have any chance of doing well in this challenge.

 

“You’re coming tomorrow, and you’re not going to lose,” Albus said with an annoyingly optimistic grin. 

 

I just shrugged, “see you later guys.”

 

They walked off in the opposite direction to Slytherin dorms. I set off alone, hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone. My lack of enthusiasm wasn’t a lack of hope. I still hoped I could do well in the competition. My pessimism came from how unprepared I felt for it. 

 

Scorpious and Albus had been helping me almost every day in the library, pulling books and helping me learn spells even remotely related to herbology, rocks, dirt, etc. Dom and I agreed that it was best for our friendship if we kept our research and preparation to ourselves, so we didn’t do much preparation together.

 

I mentally went over the spells I had already gotten pretty good at: Exterra was useful for getting dirt and rocks out of the way, Crescare was effective at speeding up a plant’s growth, and Novis reversed it. 

 

As I walked passed the portrait of a warlock with a purple beard, I turned the corner to the last thing I needed to see today. Vanessa Wood was pressed against the corridor wall, kissing James Potter as if her life depended on it. Her hands were working hard to mess up his hair as much as possible. Their mouths were so attached I was surprised neither one of them had passed out from a lack of oxygen. 

 

I gagged inwardly at this disgusting display of public affection by these two disgusting people.

 

“Ehem.” Instead of quietly walking away as I should have, I cleared my throat, bringing attention to myself.

 

Their heads whip around to face me and they spring apart. Realizing I wasn’t a teacher there to get them into trouble, Vanessa narrows her eyes (a look I have grown used to from her).

 

“Get lost Chambers,” she said scathingly, “we were busy.”

 

“Oh I’m so sorry I interrupted,” I say, my voice brimming with sarcasm, “it’s my fault for walking in on you in a public hallway.”

 

Just leave us alone,” said Potter in a dead voice, not meeting my eyes. 

 

“She’s just jealous,” Vanessa said smugly to Potter, putting an arm around Potter’s waist and pulling him close.

 

“Oh yeah that’s it, exactly right,” I say, rolling my eyes, “I was a little worried about competing against you in a few days, but now that you’ve shown me even a flobberworm is smarter than you, I’m not so worried anymore.”

 

Before either of them had a chance to respond I brush past them and continue walking to the Ilvermorny dorms. Neither of them attempted to yell anything after me, but I did hear Vanessa’s voice faintly after I left, angrily accusing Potter of not defending her honor.

 

After that encounter I didn’t feel any more prepared for the task ahead, but it did lay one thing to rest in my mind. When it came time to choose my Hogwarts house, I definitely was not going to pick Gryffindor.

 

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The last champion class before the first challenge had just ended. The next time we would all be together in a group would be on Sunday - the day of the challenge. 

 

I was in a weird state of nervous focus. Any second I spend not practicing a spell, or without a book in my hand was a second wasted. 

 

“Ella, you need to calm down a little. Your brain is going to explode,” Dom said as we were packing up our stuff, and she saw I was trying to cram about ten books into my bag.

 

“How can you be so calm about everything?” I asked her. Over the past week, the more stressed I became, the calmer she seemed to get. 

 

“Because I know I’m prepared, and so are you.” She flicked her hair over her shoulder and put her hands on her hips in typical Dominique fashion. 

 

“I’ll meet up with you later, Jacob Thompson asked me to sit by him at dinner tonight,” she raised her eyebrows seductively, and dashed off.

 

By now I was used to Dom leaving me for her various male companions, so I was used to going down to dinner alone. I noticed David and Chase were only a few steps in front of me in the corridor, I hadn’t spoken to them much recently. Looking for any excuse to talk to Chase, I jogged up to them.

 

“How are you guys feeling?” I asked. 

 

“Nervous” they responded in unison. Chase cracked a smile, but David just looked terrified. 

 

“Any thought to what house you’re going to pick?” Chase asked me, steering the conversation away from the competition. I felt my heartbeat speed up like it always did when Chase talked directly to me. 

 

“All I know is not Gryffindor,” I say with disgust in my voice.

 

“Do you have a reason?” Chase asked curiously. 

 

As if one cue, Potter and Vanessa walk by, hand in hand. Potter pretends not to see me, but Vanessa glares at me challengingly. She stops walking in the middle of the corridor and pulls Potter into a passionate kiss.

 

I give Chase a pointed look, and motion towards the disgusting display, “Exhibit A.”

 

“Fair enough,” he chuckled. 

 

“Wait, where did David go?” I ask. He had just been walking with us. 

 

Chase just shrugged. I guess Chase had gotten used to David’s constant disappearances. 

 

Without David there, I was hit with the realization that Chase and I were walking alone. We were almost to the Great Hall, so I didn’t have a lot of time to take advantage of the moment. 

 

I was trying to think of a subtle way to flirt with Chase, but I had never really been good at talking to boys, and even worse at actually making a lasting impression (a good one anyway). I should have asked Dom for boy advice, but this timing was unexpected. 

Too nervous I would say the wrong thing, I decidedly didn’t say anything, so we walked in silence until we reached the doors to the great hall. 

 

I was so preoccupied with my own awkwardness, I hardly noticed that there were more than double the usual amount of candles, at least a hundred floating pumpkins, and high above us there were even bats flying around (not real ones I hope).  

 

I saw Albus and Scorpious sitting at the Slytherin table. Still not saying a word, I was about to go over and join them, when Chase grabbed my arm. 

 

“Wait,” he said nervously, his hand still on my arm. I turned to face him. He paused for a moment before asking, “Want to come to the Halloween party with me tonight?”

 

Dom had mentioned the party weeks ago. However, I had been so preoccupied with the upcoming task, I had completely forgotten about Halloween, and the annual party the students threw in the joint common room.

 

I felt my face uncomfortably flush. He was looking at me hopefully. 

 

“I’d love to,” I beamed. I could not believe that Chase Rester had just asked me out. I never dared to even hope that this could happen, I thought it was too unrealistic for a guy I had been pining after for years would finally give me the time of day. 

 

“Good,” he looked at the ground nervously. I had never seen his so uncomfortable, it was sweet. “I’ll uh, see you later?” 

 

“Yeah, see you.”

 

After dinner, I was up in the Ravenclaw tower with Dom rushing to explain her how Chase had asked me to the party. She shrieked with excitement and tackled me off of her bed.

 

“It’s all very exciting I know,” I said to her, sitting up on the floor, “but I’m not ready!” 

 

I was panicking.

 

I grabbed her by the shoulders, “I’ve been so focused on the first task I completely forgot about Halloween,” I blurted, “I have no idea what Chase and I even have to talk about, I completely forgot about this party…and oh my god what am I going to WE -“

 

Dom clapped her hand over my mouth, effectively stopping my rambling. 

 

“Stop. Deep breath,” she instructed. 

 

I deeply inhaled and she took her hand away.

 

“Darling, you’re forgetting that you’re friends with ME,” Dom said, “and I will take care of everything.”

 

I let out a huge sigh of relief.

 

“Dom, you are a lifesaver, how can I tha-“

 

Again she stopped me mid-sentence by putting her hand over my mouth. I licked it and she flinched away.

 

“First of all ew,” she said, wiping her hand on my robes, “and second of all, there’s no more time for talking - you can thank me later. But for now, we have a lot of work to do.”

 

She swiftly stood up and threw her wardrobe doors open. The amount of clothes she had was shocking - we wore uniforms every day, what could she possibly need this much variety for? I don’t know how she could possibly find what she was looking either, in the mess that was her closet, all I could see were heaps of different colored fabrics.

 

Dom much have had some sort of organizational system because instead of looking frightened, she determinedly sifted through her wardrobe, occasionally flinging random articles of clothing at me.

 

She flicked her silvery hair over her shoulder and swiveled around to face me, “I don’t have a spare costume, but I think this will do.”

 

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“I feel like a stereotype came to life,” I said to Dom as I examined my reflection in her full length mirror.

 

I was wearing a tight leather skirt over sheer tights, paired with a plain tank top, everything was black. Dom had fastened a thick choker with a circular charm around my neck, and after a painful fifteen minutes of arguing, I finally gave in to wearing three-inch high heels. She insisted I wear velvet cat ears in my hair and a long, black tail pinned to the back of my skirt (that Dom had transfigured from an old sock) to “complete the look”.

 

“You look great,” she said, not even looking at me but instead at her own reflection as she finished applying glitter to her cheeks.

 

I appraised her outfit, and as always, she looked stunning. Flowing white fabric draped elegantly around her, falling in exactly the right places without being too revealing. Her silver hair hung long in soft curls which fell around the massive white feathered angel wings sprouting from her back. She wore impossibly high shimmering gold shoes, and to top it all off she enchanted a halo to delicately float above her head. She would command the attention of every single person at the party tonight, she was radiant.

 

“We’re late,” she declared after she applied one last coat of lip gloss, “come on”. 

 

I had assumed we would just meet at the party because Chase hadn't mentioned anything about meeting up before, so it was unexpected for me to walk out of the Ravenclaw common room to see Chase waiting for me. 

 

He was dressed like the most ridiculous knight I’d ever seen. He was wearing shorter shorts than I would ever wear, and ill-fitting chain armor complete with a lopsided helmet and plastic sword. 

 

Instead of smiling, giving him a hug, or even saying “hi” like a normal person, I just blurted out, “who are you supposed to be?”

 

He looked down at his outfit and mockingly put his hand over his heart.

 

“How dare you m’lady - ’tis I! Sir Cadogen! Great knight and slayer of monsters! Proud protector of the portraits of Hogwarts!” He smirked. 

 

Dom was giggling beside me. It made sense now, he was dressed up as the ridiculous knight from a portrait at Hogwarts, Sir Cadogen, who was infamous for running through paintings, trying to challenge anyone who would listen to a duel. 

 

I grinned back at him, “Hi Chase.” 

 

“I’m going to meet my date, you two have fun!” Dom squeezed my arm glided away.

 

“You look great,” he complimented me, “black cat?”

 

I sighed, “yeah, I probably should have been more creative,” I didn’t want to admit to him how last minute this costume was.

 

“Your costume is so much more interesting,” I motioned to his costume.

 

He chucked, “Thanks, I just hope people get it.”

 

We started walking to the Gryffindor common room where the party was going to be. I was surprised at how easily the conversation became between us. It was mostly small talk, but I didn’t get nearly as nervous as I had been earlier that day. I was still so conscious of his presence near me, and every time I made him smile, or when his gaze lingered on me for even a millisecond, I literally felt my heart flutter. 

 

I had never really been to parties at Ilvermorny, I was never invited and I never felt the desire to go. But here I was at one of the biggest Hogwarts parties of the year — and I was extremely unprepared.

 

The room was packed, everyone was dressed up, and from the looks of it, already plastered. There was a makeshift bar set up in the corner, where I could see Fred loudly calling out to random party-goers, trying to get each of them to have a drink, and when he finally persuaded them to do it, he enthusiastically mixed at least ten different liquids in a glass. 

 

I quickly glanced around the room to see if anyone else I knew was there yet. But, before I got a chance to actually take anything in, Chase grabbed my hard and started walking towards the bar.

 

“Let’s get a drink,” he quickly turned around and told me as he gently pulled me with him.

 

Chase didn’t seem out of place at all. He easily moved through the party, nodding and greeting his various friends from both Ilvermorny and Hogwarts. I didn’t know most of the people that said hi to him, and if I did know them, we definitely weren’t friends. How did he have the time to meet so many people, and how does he get everyone to like him? I was in awe. 

 

"What do you want to drink?” He asked politely once we got to the bar. I’d never really drank before, besides sometimes drinking wine at home with my mom, and I had surely never been drunk. 

 

“I’ll have whatever you have,” I replied quickly, not wanting him to know how inexperienced I was. 

 

He motioned to Fred to come over. 

 

“Two shots of Firewhiskey please.”

 

“Coming right up,” Fred winked at me and poured the shots. I noticed Fred was wearing thin framed round glasses (even though he doesn’t need them), and saw a lightning shaped scar painted on his forehead. I giggled to myself, realizing he was impersonating his famous uncle.

 

Chase handed me one of the overflowing glasses. 

 

“Cheers to our first Hogwarts party,” he held up his glass with a smile. 

 

“Cheers,” I clink my glass with his and feel the searing warmth of the amber liquid when I gulp it down. I cough a little and Chase laughs.

 

“You okay?”  He asked, only slightly concerned.

 

I giggle, already feeling the effects of the alcohol. 

 

“Yeah I’m fine, let’s dance.”

 

Probably because of the Firewhiskey, I feel bold enough to grab his hand and drag him to the dance floor. The music is upbeat, and every few songs we go back to the bar and take another drink. I feel great, more confident than I’ve ever felt, and on a DATE with a guy I’ve been crushing on for years. 

 

I let the music course through me, and for once in my life, I let loose. Chase twirls me around and I laugh. Without thinking my instincts take over, and I turn my back to him and start moving my hips on his body. He drunkenly grabs my hips and we are swaying back and forth, grinding. I can feel the tension building between us, and I don’t know if it was the bravery or the alcohol, but I spin around and put my hand on his neck, gently bringing his forehead down to meet mine. Our faces are so close, I can feel his breath. His eyes are closed but mine stay wide open, determined. We stay like this for a moment, until I lean in, ready for Chase and I to have our first kiss. 

 

“Stop,” He puts his hand on my shoulder, pushing me away, “I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”

He doesn’t look me in the eyes and quickly shuffles away. 

 

My head is spinning. I am drunk and alone at a party where I know nobody, just rejected by the only guy I’ve ever made a move on. What was wrong with me? Why did I have to ruin everything? Why didn’t he like me?

 

Numbly walking through the dance floor, I am trying to find anybody I know, or just find my way out. All I can see is colors and bodies, the music pounding in my ears. I can’t see straight, and disoriented, I run into someone and almost knock them over. 

 

“What the fuck!”

 

I look up and realize I ran into Vanessa, who was with Potter (obviously), and he was steadying her after she almost fell. Vanessa wore a dainty tiara on her wavy blonde hair. She held a scepter and wore an extremely low cut, corseted, floor-length purple velvet dress. Potter also had a crown, along with a purple robe and matching scepter. They were king and queen — how fitting. 

 

“Well, are you just going to stare at me or are you going to apologize?” Vanessa demanded with a hand on her hip.

 

I didn’t know what to say, for some reason I could not make out any words, so instead of apologizing I try to stumble away. I suddenly stop because I feel a firm grip on my arm, a large hand that was definitely not Vanessa.

 

I look up and it’s Potter, looking at me with a weird look in his eyes.

 

“Are you…crying?” He asks in wonder, as if the concept of crying was completely foreign to him. 

 

I touched my face in confusion, and I felt wetness on my cheeks. I guess I had been crying without realizing it, and embarrassed, I tried to wipe away my tears. 

 

“James, let’s go dance, I don’t want to spend another second with this loser.” Vanessa tugged at his hand.

 

He was still gripping my arm and I tried to shake him off of me but he wouldn’t let go. He looked conflicted. 

 

Potter sighed, and defeated, he pulled his hand away from Vanessa’s. She starts to protest, but he doesn’t respond to her, and instead yanks me along with him towards the back of the room.

 

“Let’s go find my brother,” he grumbles angrily.

 

I was in shock. I was drunk and sad and lost, and James Potter of all people was helping me? He didn’t look too thrilled about it, but still…maybe he did have a soul somewhere in there.

 

We walked through the party in silence. Eventually we found Albus sitting at the bar talking to Fred.

 

“Here,” Potter dumped me on a stool next to Albus, “She’s plastered - almost ran Vanessa over,“ I heard him mumble.

 

“Thanks mate,” Albus responded, and without another glance at me, James disappeared back into the crowd. 

 

“Let’s get you to bed.” Albus instructed me, while rubbing my back soothingly. I appreciated him not asking me why I was alone and crying.

 

“Thank you,” I said back to him, relieved. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was fall asleep and forget this night had ever happened. 

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