The cool metal felt slippery against Alba’s sweaty palms as she pushed her way through the crowd, the toes of her shoes dragging on the dirty concrete with a soft scraping noise that could almost be heard above the babble of King’s Cross Station. Alba bit her lip in concentration as she shifted her weight to the left, making sure the opposite forearm crutch was balanced before pulling her toes forward once again, just like always.
“Are you sure you don’t want the wheelchair, dear?” her mother whispered from behind. Alba waited a moment for a large man carrying several suitcases to clear out of her way before pushing forward again.
“You heard the Headmaster, Mum.” She said. Right. Left. Right. Left. “There are too many stairs. I’m doing fine-“ but as the words left her mouth the right forearm crutch landed on a slick patch, and she listed wildly, scrambling to find balance on unsteady legs.
Burning shame filled Alba’s eyes with tears. She’d been so excited to get her letter, so determined to prove that she could be a good witch, just like her mother, and yet she couldn’t even make it to the platform on her own. There, on the floor of the train station, she despised her little legs and knobby knees, the thick glasses resting crooked on her nose, and the two fingers on each hand that refused to straighten.
“Alba,” her mother said softly, bending down to look her in the eye, “don’t cry. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. You’re the strongest person I know. Stand tall.”
Stand tall. Easier said than done. But as Alba painstakingly pulled one leg, and then the other, up off the floor, she lifted her chin a little higher. Left. Right. Left. Right.
The platform was looming ahead, deliciously close. She saw a family in front of them: mother, father, a boy her age, one a little younger, and a little girl bouncing on the black shoes of her father.
“They say it’s best if you take it at a run,” the red haired woman was telling the oldest boy.
“It’s true, worked for me and your uncle,” the father added.
Alba blanched. Running was not something she’d been able to accomplish yet. Stand tall, she thought, pulling her crutches in a little closer and straightening her spine as much as possible. Running was probably overrated anyways.
“Mummy, Mummy,” the younger boy interrupted. “What’s she got them for?” He was pointing a pudgy finger to the contraptions strapped to her arms. Alba smiled.
She loved when children asked about her. They were so astute, so ready to learn about the things they didn’t understand. She preferred their honest curiosity to the gawkers who slyly tried to hide their interest with furtive glances and hushed whispers to others.
Predictably, both parents looked in the direction their son was pointing, and quickly away again as they caught sight of Alba, mouths gaping open in search of the right words.
“They help me walk,” she replied for them. “’Cause my legs don’t work so well.” She glanced back at her mother, who smiled at the adults in front of them and gave a slight nod as though to say, ‘It’s ok. She gets this all the time.’
“Woah!” the older boy said, rushing forward to inspect the shiny metal. “You’re like a robot! Grandad’s told me all about robots!”
She wasn’t sure what a robot was, but it bothered Alba for some reason that he thought her to be like one. “I’m not a robot, I’m a girl. Just a girl.” She frowned at him.
His green eyes met hers, and a crooked grin spread across his face. “Hullo, just-a-girl. I’m James Potter!” And he thrust a hand towards her.
Not breaking eye contact, she let go of the lower metal bar of the crutch and took his hands with the three fingers she could, pinky and ring finger remaining curled into her palm. “Alba Williamson. Nice to meet you, James.” He glanced down at her hand only for a moment before vigorously shaking, and she laughed as the tremors made their way up her arm, crutch banging about wildly between them.
Stand tall, she thought. I can do that.
“Come on!” he was tugging slightly on her hand, urging her forward towards the brick wall between platforms 9 and 10. “We’ll go together.”
His perfect hand was warm in hers, unlike the cool metal bar of the crutch. His smiled widened as she took a step forward, and he didn’t seem to mind that she had to borrow his strength to keep her balance now that crutch was dangling from her forearm. He matched his pace to hers, and, hand in hand, they crossed through to platform 9 ¾ and boarded the Hogwarts Express, Alba’s head held high, smile beaming out for all to see.
Six Years Later
Alba stared out the window of her compartment, looking drearily into the drizzling rain as the Hogwarts Express rushed onward towards Hogsmeade Station. Her forehead was pressed against the cool glass, a nice change from the muggy interior of the compartment.There were two other people sitting across from her: a fifth year Gryffindor girl engrossed in a copy of Witch Weekly and a Hufflepuff boy she remembered at her own Sorting. She thought his name was Edward, but there was no telling. She only had one class with him back in third year, before she’d dropped out of Divination, and names weren’t exactly her strong suit. He was slowly nodding off, and occasionally he would jerk back and knock his head against the padded cushion.
Not very interesting conversation.
She took a crossword puzzle book (a muggle indulgence she’d picked up from her father) out from the bag beside her and started on the first mini-riddle, quill held snugly between her contracted hand.
3 Across, 12 letters, beginning with T- to be infatuated or obsessed; in a state of nervous excitement.
She chewed on the tip of the feather, glanced back at the compartment door, then tried to focus on the page again.
Infatuated, hmmm…love sick…taken, no not long enough… She went through a short list of synonyms in her head before laughing aloud softly and writing:
In the tiny little squares.
The compartment door opened and James stood gallantly in the corridor beyond, puffing out his chest to show the tiny silver badge emblazoned with HB. Admittedly, it did look rather nice framed by his scarlet and gold shirt, not that she’d ever admit it to him. His head was quite big enough already.
“Very nicely done,” Alba said instead, grinning as he took the seat next to her. Since he’d been made prefect in their fifth year, he often burst into the compartment proudly showing off his shiny badges. She often wondered if he went down the whole train bursting into other students’ compartments waiting for the one she was it. It was probable. Best friends did those kinds of things. The chocolate frog he tossed landed in her lap nicely, pre-opened for convenience sake.
“Here you are. Figure I owe you for keeping me in line all these years,” he teased. He sat with one leg tucked up under him so that mud from his shoe stained the butt of his nice pants.
“You’re right. It hasn’t been easy.” The chocolate tasted wonderful after such a dreary day.
They quickly began to regale one another with tales from over the summer, though the funny ones came from James. She’d spent the summer with her nose in books, and while he had a penchant for a good mystery novel every now and again, reading wasn’t exactly James’ specialty.
Without fail, the conversation turned to the topic everyone had been waiting for. The Triwizard Tournament.
“Who do you think will try for it?” Alba asked. She desperately hoped that none of her friends would. Most participants ended up severely injured at least once.
“Not sure, really. Father practically forbade me from entering myself, but that’s just his memory talking. It’s not like I’d be transported to a horrid cemetery and used to bring back my arch nemesis, would I,” he pouted a little.
“You’ll be hard pressed not to. I mean, you’re of age, Head Boy, and as there’s already been one Potter to win it, everyone will be begging you to.”
“You’re right. Maybe I’ll tell dad they forced me to put my name in.”
“He’ll know you’re lying.”
“He’s horrid at reading minds.”
“I thought you said it was Occlumency that he was taught in school?” she asked.
“It was.” He shoved his own chocolate frog into his mouth whole, cheeks bulging.
“That’s not reading minds. That’s keeping someone from reading your mind,” Alba insisted.
“Same thing,” he managed choke out through the chocolate.
“I just expressly proved that it is not, in fact, the same thing!”
The girl with the magazine let out an exasperated sigh. “Don’t let Chandra hear you arguing like that, Potter, or she’ll think you two are an old married couple.”
Alba blushed. The conversation died off, and Alba tried to busy herself with pulling school robes from her bag. It was about time to change anyways.
“Right then.” James cleared his throat. “Speaking of my lovely lady, I guess it’s about time I find where’s she’s run off to.” With a wave and smile he slipped back through the door.
Chandra. Long mahogany hair that curled slightly, vivaciously curved, Keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
Alba pushed her left arm through the dark sleeve of her robes without problem, but stared at the thin, bony limb that served as her right for moment before continuing. Chandra, his lovely lady. She straightened her arm gingerly and shoved it through the hole, breathing a little easier when it was tucked back safely against her side again. Hypotonia was a pain, literally and figuratively. Though, cerebral palsy in general was like that. The hypotonia was just especially annoying while dressing. Or undressing.
Open crossword. Chew feather.
23 Down, 4 letters, ends in Y- to greenly covet
They’d gotten together at the end of fourth year, but it had been a long time coming. They were both in Gryffindor, both loved Quidditch, though she was on the house team and he was not. He was good at flying, no doubt, but he always insisted that with his father being the youngest Seeker in the past century, and his mother playing professionally, he didn’t want to live under the comparison. Still, when James looked at Chandra flying in the air his eyes widened, and his mouth parted as though in awe of her. He studied her with subtle kind of ferocity. It wasn’t lost on Alba, the difference between her and Chandra. When James looked at Alba, it was with a small smile, without pity, but without longing. And she attempted to mirror that lack of attraction for years, though it had become harder recently.
The Hogwarts Express let out a loud whistle, and the hiss of the brakes was heard over the rain as they slowed. She figured she had enough time to look at one more clue as she waited until everyone else got off the train before shuffling through compartments. She tended to go slower in the narrow space and clog traffic.
37 Across, 6 letters- let these be these; that is to say, in the past
She needed harder crosswords. Edward and ‘the nosy one’ both stood, ready for departure. Before exiting Edward turned and threw over his shoulder, “Will you be needing any help?”
It was kind of him really, but it irked her, so the smile was forced. “No, thank you. I’ll manage.”
He nodded and left. She sighed, and waited for the passing throng of people to die down before standing again, getting ready for what was coming. It had been quite awhile since she brought crutches to school, the calluses on her wrist from the forearm guard long faded. She’d found that increased physical therapy and an occasional strengthening solution got her through just fine on most days, but the ground would be slick with rain, and while her ankle braces and shoes both had Anti-Slipping Charms on them, there was only so much instability she could take before tumbling down.
Stand tall, she reminded herself. It had become her mantra in stressful times, and she often chanted it internally when climbing the stairs to Ravenclaw tower, repeating one word after the other as she ascended until she came to the bronze eagle waiting to test her mind.
After reaching an exit, Alba looked out over the dreary trail winding its way up towards the castle, glowing windows like tiny yellow stars descended from the sky. She paused for a moment to appreciate the beauty. From this vantage point, the lakes reflection of the stars and school melted into a grayscale of dark shadows and highlights, mixing into each other like a watercolor painting. She tried to memorize every detail before making her way to the stone castle.
Most of the carriages had already left, but two stayed, students talking animatedly before climbing in. She could make out James holding the door open for someone in a skirt. Chandra took his hand and climbed aboard, disappearing from view. The three boys standing beside him jumped into the other carriage and it bounded off rather quickly.
Not wanting to be left behind, she hurried forward, splashing mud up the front of her robes. James was looking about with a frown on his face, no doubt realizing that Alba had missed a carriage.
“Wait,” she called out. It was tiring, running through the mud, and she felt her chest tighten, breath coming in sharps gasps as she pushed forward.
James turned back to the carriage, his mouth moving. Alba strained to hear him, losing concentration on the unstable ground beneath her.
The Anti-Slipping Charm broke, and she landed with a squish in the mud. Her thick sneakers were met with the muck, and it had begun to seep inside the ankle braces strapped beneath them.
Too used to falling to be stunned for long, Alba twisted around so her legs, knobby and uncoordinated, were to the right, with her weight supported on her strong left arm. The braces, though disgusting at the moment, did their job, and she was able to get a firm foundation with one leg before attempting to go completely upright.
It didn’t take too long; by the time she was standing James was halfway to her.
“That was a good one,” he yelled, running nearer.
“I’d give it a 6 out of 10,” she admitted, pointing at the hardware strapped to each leg. “Nothing broke, so I suppose I could’ve done better.”
“True, true,” he said, offering her a hand.
His palm was just as warm as it was seven years before. Though she had made leaps and bounds towards independence in that time, he still walked slowly with her, more than willing to lend her his strength should ever she need it. He never looked at her with pity. Never fretted over whether she was all right after taking a tumble.
With his help, Alba made it over to the carriage. Chandra’s dark head of perfectly done curls was sticking out of the door, sour expression puckering her face.
“She’s disgusting! Everything will be ruined; I don’t want her ride in here!” she shrieked.
James’s mouth dropped open in shock, but Alba snorted.
“Are we witches or not?” She let go of James and pulled her wand out of the bag at her side, pointing it directly at her soiled robes. “Scourgify.” The spell worked perfectly. All of the mud vanished. Her bracers were clean again and her hair wasn’t plastered to the side of her face. The pristine black robes settled neatly on her shoulders, and her glasses were cleared of all smudges. Chandra was the one with her mouth open now. James smiled at the floor like a parent trying not to laugh when their toddler cusses, hands clasped behind his back. Alba felt a few drops of rain fall, and looked up at the sky before addressing Chandra. “Now if you’re done whining, shall we press on? I would hate for you to get wet.”