“Maybe, they want you to turn the three of us into pieces, and then we’ll be able to charge at each other…” James was leaning far to the right in his chair, keeping his head straight as he hissed at Alba through the side of his mouth. “Or maybe, you have to be all three pieces… I don’t know though, that’s really advanced transfiguration.”
Alba stared at the wall far at the front of the class, absentmindedly chewing on the end of her quill so that the fine fibers stuck together with spit. The well-lit walls were filled with pickled potions ingredients and other interesting things, but she wasn’t tracking any of the floating curiosities. For the past two weeks James had done nothing but spew possibilities at her, placing their two pieces side by side on the desk, dining table, library book, any semi-flat and stable surface large enough to hold the figures.
She’d seen and examined the pieces so many times, she was dreaming about them. There were no runes, no creases or hinges to hide a compartment within. She was reluctant to try and break them open, as she didn’t want to ruin her chances of divining some information out of the speckled gray granite. (She was fairly certain it was granite… though she wasn’t all that well read on geology.)
She admired the detail in the little pieces. James’s Bishop had slits for imaginary eyes in the head, the curves perfectly smooth and even all the way around. The bumps and ridges were thin, but the indents deep, casting attractive shadows down the body of the piece. Her King was slightly larger, a delicate embossed cross adorning the helm. Her favorite part of Nurse Wainscott’s piece, the Knight, was the mane. Dynamically posed with its mouth open, nostrils flaring and eyes wide, the length of hair running down the bust of the beast was intricately carved. The fine engraving was the work of an artist, giving the knight just the right touch to make it come alive, though as muggle chess pieces normally were, all three remained unmoving.
Other than their static poses, all three pieces had one thing in common- the base. Around the very bottom edge was a pattern of swirls that Alba had obsessed over. She had spent the first week with her piece tracing every small detail, trying to find runes, constellation patterns, tea leaf symbols, anything that the crisscrossing elegant squiggles might mean. It was futile. They were merely decoration, nothing useful about them at all.
“...Or maybe it’s just a three player game of chess. That would be interesting,” James continued. “Are you done with that crossword? I don’t think three down is in the right place…”
There was an important equation written on the black board. Something Alba was supposed to remember, but the characters were swimming, turning into pawns and bishops charging through checkers…
The shrill wail of the bell went off around them, halting James’s idle pratter. She’d lost track of when he’d started repeating himself.
“Ms. Williamson,” Professor Pimbly was saying as the students gathered their things and vacated the room, “Would you please see me at the front of the class? Mr. Potter, you as well.”
They looked at each other, excitement spreading across James’s face like an inkblot on clean canvas. Alba assessed herself before turning towards the front of the room and decided that ‘nauseous’ probably described her best, and it wasn’t because James was right about the crossword puzzle, which she’d done in ink.
“The weighing of the wands will take place now, please present yourself to classroom 103,” Pimbly informed them, as they came to her desk.
“What about dinner,” James asked gravely, as though it was of utmost importance.
His sombre tone coaxed a grin out of Alba, and Pimbly blinked a few times in surprise. “You, Mr. Potter, I’m sure will make it back before dinner, as your mother will not need to ask you many questions and Mrs. Zauberstabe has no need to inspect your wand.” She turned her capped head towards Alba, hat ridiculously straight and pointy. “After your interviews, a house elf will present itself to take your order. Please be prepared. It will be waiting for you in Ravenclaw tower.”
The Professor fixed her with a hard stare, as though daring Alba to protest the exceptional treatment. “Yes ma’am,” she finally offered begrudgingly.
“What about my mum?” James asked.
Even with her bias, Alba had to admit he looked rather doofy with his mouth half open as he waited for an explanation as to why his mother would be part of the Weighing of the Wands.
“I didn’t realize you hadn’t been informed,” Pimbly offered him a curt nod in apology, “Your mother will be conducting the interviews at the Weighing for a report in the Daily Prophet.”
Relief washed through Alba, seeping between her ribs and allowing her breath to come easier, shoulders falling as she relaxed. Mrs. Potter was nice, warm; charming, with a wild side as visible as her flaming hair. Alba liked the woman’s honesty and had gained her respect, perhaps even a little of her favor, throughout the years of cavorting with her sons. Talking with Mrs. Potter wouldn’t be nearly as bad as talking with a stranger. With her understand of Alba’s medical history, there wouldn’t be too many questions about her condition.
“You’re excused,” Pimbly reminded them, her large, unpainted lips turned up in an amused smile at their hesitation. “You’ll do fine, Champion, Companion,” she nodded to each of them in turn.
Ten minutes later, Alba was frowning at an over-eager blonde chatterbox. The cameraman was not tactful. “Goodness, me,” he exclaimed at the sight of her. “Do you want to sit down? They could stand around you, their hands on your shoulders-”
“Stan, I’m sure our Champion can stand. Don’t worry, she’s good at it.” Ginny Potter winked at her, pushing the thin, younger man over to one side. “Now, why don’t you stand over here, that way we can shoot the lovely madame without a shadow… and JAMES!”
Mrs. Potter had finally found her eldest child. She was smothering his perpetually disheveled hair down with a flat palm, only serving to stick a few pointy bits together, standing on tip toe to reach the top. “Look at you, here with Alba, and on time to boot. I knew she’d keep you in order.”
James rolled his eyes, but bent to plant a kiss on his mother’s freckled cheek. Her outburst had drawn everyone’s attention, and the various participants in the Triwizard Tournament turned away as the encounter became more personal.
Ginny reached up to wrap her son in an embrace, and Alba could hear her whispered encouragement, “We’re so proud of you. We know it couldn’t have been easy to stay out of the competition, but your father and I are both glad you can help Alba.” Apparently he hadn’t told them about the blank paper to save his reputation.
The cameraman Alba had decided not to like began directing people around the unused classroom, long bony finger pointing here and there as everyone was arranged. The pictures seemed to take forever. First he wanted a group picture, with the Heads and Tournament Teams together, then only the Champions, then only Companions, now pairs, now only students…
Just as Alba was about ready to tell him he could shove his foul smelling camera somewhere unpleasant Ginny put a hand on his shoulder and quietly said, “I think that’s enough.”
Alba figured that Mrs. Potter must really be in charge of the situation, because he didn’t argue, simply nodded and backed off, wiping the end of his camera with a conjured cloth.
“Well, I believe that’s all we need from the Companions, so please, go and enjoy dinner.” She embraced James before he left,continuing to smile at his retreating figure even as the door shut behind him, Vesela and Blanchett in front.
It was only closed a moment before a tall Hufflepuff Prefect opened it once more, coming in and stepping aside to allow room for the small, rather shabby looking woman behind him.
“Thank you Ormsby,” Mcgonagall told the boy, who nodded politely and left. She addressed Alba, Pierre, and Dimitri next. “This is Mrs. Zauberstabe. She is a prominent wand maker, and has agreed to perform the Weighing of the Wands for several years now. If you would please, when directed hand over your wand for inspection and official presentation.”
There was a murmur of assent, but mostly the Champions were watching Zauberstabe. Her grey hair hung down past her shoulders beneath a patched hat, and her eyes darted about the room in a haze. Her name rang a bell in the back of Alba’s mind, but she couldn’t place what book the surname had been hidden. It bothered her, an itch at the back of her skull that distracted from the present.
“Ladies first,” Pierre intoned, though from the wicked grin on his face, he meant it as some kind of insult.
Alba stepped forward, towards the middle of the room where the worn lady had sat herself on an uncomfortable looking wooden stool.
She didn’t say anything, only held out a weathered, wrinkled hand with a blank expression.
Alba gulped, trepidation rising in her throat as she prepared to hand her wand over the stranger.
Alba had noticed, through the years, that witches and wizards were very different when it came to their wands. Some were rather careless, setting it down wherever, knicks and dings common and not worth any worry. Others took pride in their wands, polishing them nightly, keeping them locked away safely in boxes while they slept and reluctant to set them down otherwise.
Alba supposed she was somewhere in between. There was a scratch down the length of her wand, but it wasn’t dirty. She was not worried about it snapping in two every time she let it go, but she wasn’t going to be throwing it about the dormitory either.
As she handed her wand to the old woman in the chair, it wasn’t with any embarrassment, and the blossoming smile she got in return had her holding her head a little higher.
The woman's voice was like the turn of a page, soft and yet full of the promise of something more, “Beautiful, absolutely lovely. Ebony, you’ve got a strong will in you. No fear. Haven’t made many myself, they tend to sit on the shelves waiting. Ten and three-quarter inches,” she placed one of her fingers on the tip and wiggled it back and forth a little. “As one would expect, only slightly yielding.” Alba was a little alarmed as she pointed the wand directly at her weathered face, bringing it closer and closer, until she finally explained, “The unicorn hair in this wand is odd. I think perhaps it was from a foal, still golden. Very interesting…”
Mrs. Zauberstabe’s knobbly hands grasped Alba’s wand firmly, swirling the dark wood around her head until little clouds popped up, tiny droplets of rain falling over her silver hair, vanishing before they hit the floor. “It will serve you well,” she offered to Alba when finished.
Alba smiled, and accepted her wand back gratefully while resisting the urge to stroke it like some pet that behaved well.
Dimitri stepped forward next. Even Alba, standing several paces back, could see several dents and scratches adorning the length of his auburn wand, but when he handed it over the Zauberstabe women laughed instead of chiding him.
“Well, I can see you and this wand are well acquainted,” she fingered some of the more serious defects.
A soft voice from behind startled Alba, pulling her attention away from the examination. “Alba, if you’re ready, we’ll step next door and get the interview done,” Mrs. Potter was saying. A little disappointment must have shown in her face, because as they walked out of the room the woman added kindly, “You’ll be able to read about their results in the article, dear.”
The classroom next door to where the Weighing was taking place was unused as well, chairs stacked on top of the desks, cupboards empty, and -though nothing had a speck of dust on it- the air was stale and still. Alba waited patiently as Mrs. Potter readied her pen and notepad, pulling reading glasses from a purse at her side and placing them gently on her nose.
“What made you decide to enter?” Ginny posed first, and Alba’s stomach gave a lurch, her mind thinking of a dozen better ways to start the conversation.
“Well, uh… You know, I haven’t had many adventures while I was in school, and I figured why not-erm...end it on a bang?” The answer sounded strange, strong start with a weak finish that came out as a question, but Ginny just nodded and took notes.
“What were the main factors in deciding who your Companion and Coach would be?”
Alba felt a little better about answering questions that didn’t require her to lie. “I knew that I needed someone familiar with my capabilities. Someone who wasn’t going to be hung up on what I couldn’t do, but would be familiar with everything I can. And they- Nurse Wainscott and James- both know me better than anyone else. There were really no other choices to be had.”
Ginny’s head seemed to be stuck in a permanent nod, her hair continuing to bounce up and down as her eyes tracked the words written on paper.
The questions continued, most of them easy, a few funny, until finally Ginny looked up. “Well, I think I have enough here, Alba. Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome Mrs. Potter. Honestly, I’m just glad it’s you,” she admitted, accepting the warm embrace Ginny offered with outstretched hands.
“Me too, dear. I was worried they’d pass me up and give it to someone else, but after James was announced Companion…” she gave Alba a conspiratorial glance “I think they want me to try and get some inside dirt or something. Like that’s going to happen. Teenage boys aren’t known for being open and honest to their parents.”
They laughed, said their goodbyes, and before Alba could take more than three steps down the hallway an elf popped up beside her, bowing deeply before asking what ‘the young miss’ would like for dinner. Obeying Pimbly’s directions, Alba ordered her meal quickly, nodding awkwardly as the elf bowed, his long nose brushing with the stone floor before disappearing again.
All in all, the day hadn’t been half bad. She still had no solid idea what the first task was, but she’d gotten through her first brush with the press without a bump or bruise to show for it.
Cerebral Palsy: 4
That night, as she climbed the Ravenclaw tower one laborious step after the other, Alba thought of what her picture would like on the front of the Daily Prophet. It was difficult to show inner character in a simple moving picture, but she had seen the way proud Quidditch players commanded a sense of pride and belonging amongst their compatriots in photographs that made them stand taller than the rest, no matter their height. She repeated the words ‘stand tall’ over and over again until she conquered the staircase.
Cerebral Palsy: 4
Sometimes it was the little things that got you through.
Two days later, Alba was enjoying a nice hot bowl of oatmeal in the Great Hall when Ben plopped down beside her with a thud, nearly making her swallow the spoon.
His booming voice rang out, purposefully ensuring everyone present could hear, “ ‘...Confident and charming, Hogwarts Champion Alba Williamson relayed a desire to make the most of her last year of Hogwarts, jokingly saying “Why not end it on a bang?” when asked what her reasons were for entering the Triwizard Tournament. While she certainly has her own weaknesses, even her wand tells of her strength of character…’ Have you read this? Your review is brilliant, and she did a good job with the other teams too,” he added as an after thought, scanning the front page of The Daily Prophet at arms length. Alba noticed Nurse Wainscott waving jovially out at them from the front. “ ‘...Outgoing and rather funny, Durmstrang Champion Dimitri Ivanovic is as easy on the eyes as he his on the nerves. While certainly capable, and well acquainted with heavy wand work, the blonde youth is as comfortable with people as he is with conflict. “I’d rather shake your hand and share a joke,” he offered, “but I’ll not back down from a fight.”...’ Seems like an alright bloke all together. Wouldn’t be sad to see him get second.”
Alba smiled. Of course Ben would only be satisfied if she won.
“Yes, I’ve read it,” Alba offered, answering his initial question. “Mrs. Potter sent a copy of it before they printed it. She seemed rather pleased as well. I think it’s brilliant. I hate when it’s all about our Champion and the others are almost forgotten.”
As Ben was nodding at her, James yawned and took the chair before her, a small thunk accompanying his chess piece as he set it before her.
“Knight to E3,” he said in a distorted yawn-voice.
“Bishop to E3, Bishop takes Knight,” she countered. She’d had all night to think about what he was going to do, and prepared a defense.
As the only practical assumption to make about the task was ‘a chess game’ of some sorts, they’d started a mental match between the two. The only problem was James was rather awful at mental chess. He couldn’t remember where any of her pieces were.
“Damn,” he cursed, but it lacked conviction or surprise, deadened by the sleep still lurking in his eyes.
“Are you two still going at that?” Ben asked, grabbing a plate of eggs. At least one of her friends could function normally in the morning. Maude had most likely been up for hours and James wouldn’t be completely sentient for another two, at least. Ben seemed perfectly fine.
“It’s the only thing we have to do,” she told him.
“Queen to F6?” James asked. He was lying on the table, his head an inch above the grainy wood, searching for the orange juice. He half-heartedly made a grab at it, thrusting one hand forward across the table, but falling short by a hair’s breadth. Instead sitting up a little, he let his head bang on the table, arm falling back to his side in defeat.
“You can’t move like that with your queen. Straight lines, James. Straight lines in literally any direction. And what is wrong with you?” she asked. It wasn’t like him to sleep at the breakfast table, even if he wasn’t exactly a morning person.
As most of his mouth was pressed against the wood, his response was mostly moans with a few grunts.
“Sorry, didn’t get that, one more time?” Alba poked him with the end of her spoon.
He lifted his head enough to frown at the assault. “I had a late night,” was all he said.
Instinctively, Alba scanned the Gryffindor table. Chandra was sitting with two of her better friends, her usually perfectly curled hair thrown into a haphazard ponytail. Apparently he hadn’t been the only one to go through a rough night.
She wanted to ask if they were still fighting, or if they were on friendly terms again. She wanted to know if they’d continued snogging, as some couples did, or if they still held hands when no one was watching. She wanted to know if they were fighting about her. There were many, many things she wanted to know. But only one question she would ask.
“Are you ok?” she intoned.
His returning smile was tired, but genuine, “Yeah, I’m good.”
The relaxed note in his voice confirmed that he’d spoken with her in the last twelve hours. The shy way his head ducked down and his eyes drifted to one side indicated there were happy memories, most likely recent ones. In short, all the adorable things she looked forward to seeing were present once more. He always came alive when she entered his life again. And that’s a good thing… she told herself. It really is…
“So, I’ve come up with your emblem,” James changed the subject, grinning at her.
Ben set his fork down, eyeing James in anticipation, his mouth too full of food for him to voice any demands.
The last Triwizard Tournament had played host to some of the best Companions they’d seen yet. Each Champion’s counterpart took it upon themselves to choose a mascot of sorts for their team. Three animals were chosen for each participant, and the various students could sport whichever ‘emblem’ they wanted in order to show their support.
There had been quite a few whispers going around, as The First Task was rapidly approaching, on whether or not the Companions would continue with the practice this year.
Several fan girls had been quite excited to see a tribal looking horse appear on the back of Pierre Roux’s robes a few days before. Of course, his Companion boasted loudly that he’d drawn the design himself, taking ‘the stallion’ from Pierre’s family crest as inspiration for the team’s emblem.
James promptly rose to the challenge, doodling away as he attempted to find Alba’s perfect animal counterpart. His initial suggestions had been rather disappointing. The eagle downright uninspired.
As he dug around in his bag for a moment, Alba couldn’t wait to see his newest idea.
It was simple, tribal looking as Roux’s had been, so that it seemed to match and counter her opponent’s appropriately. The artistic outline of an elephant in white stood out in stark contrast against the black background, a touch that Alba rather enjoyed. It was mostly arches, the lines starting in points and angles that thickened at the apex before meeting again at the end of their run. He had included a tusk, the line of it protruding out of the trunk with a sharp point, the edge of competition that the other elegant, flowing lines lacked.
All in all, it got the point across. Elephants were intelligent, steadfast, strong, and yet not all that coordinated, much like herself. As Pierre Roux had an emblem that shared his strength and physical prowess, the elephant, as a matriarchal creature, would be a nice nod to the fact that she was the only female Champion this year. The finishing touch, the color of her emblem matching the meaning of her name, was really Alba’s favorite part.
“Wow,” Ben offered before she could find words.
James seemed rather pleased with himself, and, still speechless, Alba decided that nodding vigorously got the message across just fine.
“Ooo! James, I love you!” she practically shouted a moment later, diving under the table for her bag.
“Well, I know I’m rather dashing, but why do you love me so suddenly?”
“You’ve just helped solve my crossword! Seventeen across, ANTITHESIS!”
Ben shook his head, beaming at her. “Whatever you say, dear.”
“I can’t do it,” Alba whined for the millionth time, shaking her head. The brown mess had grown long enough to bounce about, tickling her ears again.
“It’s too late for that dear,” Nurse Wainscott replied sternly from the foot of her cot. “You can do this. You’ve done it before, and you’re going to do it now.” Her wrinkled eyes were steady as they stared into Alba’s.
A single hot tear fell down Alba’s cheek. Her stretches hurt again. Walking hurt again. Everything hurt again. The First Task was only three days away, and it was the only topic of conversation to be had. The Hogwart’s Team’s white elephant was sported by most of the members of her house, but generally the students of her alma mater could be seen with green stallions or red spiders, supporters of Roux and Ivanovic much more common in the hallways. She couldn’t blame them. They did seem to be logical choices given the circumstances. Even the elder Potter boy on her side didn’t sway their opinions.
“What if I fail?” her voice seemed much too small in the empty wing, as though she wasn’t strong enough to even fill the empty air.
“Then you’re still the best this school has to offer. The Goblet knew that. Don’t forget it,” her Coach whispered back.
The edges of Nurse Wainscott’s chess piece cut into Alba’s hand as she held onto it tightly, reaching forward towards where her toes pointed obstinately at the opposite wall instead of the ceiling. When she’d agreed to discontinue her treatment, her memories of the past had been faulty. It was much more difficult than she remembered. Much more embarrassing. Now she wished she’d refused at least a little more, or at least shown some indignation.
Relaxing her legs after a few counts, Alba forced herself to attempt optimism. She pondered on Nurse Wainscott’s words, watching the woman bustle about, obsessively tidying up, humming to herself as though she had absolute faith in Alba. The good Nurse was right, Alba decided. The Cup thought she was best chance the school had at winning even when she disagreed, and that had to count for something. As she climbed into bed, Alba took comfort in the waving figure of Nurse Wainscott, beaming out from beside her own little black-and-white copy.
“Alba, how long have you been awake?” Maude’s voice floated on a whisper through the Ravenclaw dormitory. Alba turned towards her with a start, taking her eyes off the horizon for the first time in quite awhile.
It had been a long night. She’d tossed and turned through most of it, caught a few hours of sleep, and then became painfully aware that it had finally come: the task was upon her.
“I wanted to watch the sun come up,” she whispered back to Maude. It was true. In the early hours of the morning dread, adrenaline, something had kept her from dozing off again, and she had taken up residence in the cozy blue armchair by one of the windows in the tower.
Maude’s footsteps were muted on the hard floor as she make her way over the cold stones to Alba. She simply placed a hand on her shoulder and offered a smile, but it made Alba feel a little stronger. Somewhere over the course of the year, Maude had become her friend. And while it was unexpected, the support was appreciated.
“Do you want to come down to breakfast with me? There usually aren’t that many people,” Maude asked softly, gathering robes and other various articles of clothing from her trunk.
“I’ll make my way down there eventually, don’t wait up. It may take me awhile to get there.” She bent down to rub her calf, pushing deep into the muscle as she ran her thumb down the length of her leg. “I’ve got a lot of stretching to do.”
“Ok. I’ll wait there for you. Maybe Ben and I can go to the stadium with you and James?” it was posed as a question, as though she was asking permission.
“Sure, if you want,” Alba winced as she pushed her feet flat onto the ground, the strain on her achilles tendon coaxing a grimace from her.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. See you soon,” Maude offered before closing the door quietly. Alba glanced at the other four poster beds in the room, but none of the curtains rustled. They’d all pretty much gotten used to the two early birds.
Twenty minutes later Alba had stretched enough to fit into her bracers, and she strapped them on carefully, making sure to renew her anti-slipping jinxes. Once the forearm crutches were returned to their usual height, she glanced at herself in a mirror, taking the time to tuck one stray strand of hair behind her ear before heading down to the common room.
“Good luck today, Alba!” Wilhelmina offered as she left, the other’s finally rousing from beauty sleep.
“Thank you,” she tried to sound genuine, but it came out as a croak.
She took the stairs down slowly, terrified that she’d take a tumble and end up in the hospital wing before she could even make it to the task.
“There you are,” Ben’s voice greeted her as she planted her crutches on the common room floor. “Maude came down ages ago, said you’d be right behind her.”
“Why were you up that early?” she asked, inspecting him. He seemed perfectly fine. No bags under his eyes, clothes fresh and hair combed. He had to have been up almost as early as she was.
“I didn’t want you to head down alone,” he told her as though the answer were obvious.
Sometimes she forgot how his brain worked, but the gesture made her grin. “Well thank you,” she offered him.
“You know, we attempted some face painting last night, but it didn’t work out that well. White doesn’t show up on half of us, so we were thinking about doing black outlines with the white, but that didn’t end up looking good either.”
“I appreciate the effort, but I might make fun of you if you all had white elephants painted on your heads. Who is we?”
“Boys dorm. They wanted to just change the color, but I told them you liked it white. I think they’re still working on something, a banner maybe. I guess we’ll see.” He opened the door for her, and held it as she navigated the threshold with her spindly metallic extensions.
Her stomach lurched a little, worried that her feet would suddenly be lifted from the floor, stairs disappearing under them as they flew down. Insead Ben headed for the stairs first, descending a step or two before turning back to the landing and offering his arm.
She hesitated a moment, unsure as to whether she should accept it. The truth was she wasn’t in good shape, and the help would be greatly appreciated, but everything was complicated with Ben. They’d never actually discussed the “...when I want to hold you…” episode, both much more comfortable with pretending it never happened.
As though he knew her dilemma, he bowed formally, insisting, “I’ll be a perfect gentleman, I swear.”
“You’re hopeless, Benjamin,” she said as her palm met his.
But he only laughed, and soon the stairs were flying by. First one staircase, then another, and another. She began to seriously consider whether or not dropping his hand at the last step every time was really that necessary. Soon enough another staircase would pop up, he’d reach out, she’d take his hand, they’d work together, and then she would drop his. He never dropped her hand. It make her wonder if he would just hold her hand forever if she let him.
The doors to the Great Hall were in view.
She didn’t let go as the last step vanished under her feet. But three steps across the floor her mind was racing and her blood pumped too loudly for her veins.There simply wasn’t enough room in her mind, the trial ahead too great to add anything else, so she dropped it, hoping she hadn’t hurt his feelings.
The half smile Alba caught stuck in the corner of his mouth convinced her she had nothing to worry about. If anything, the prolonged contact had encouraged his bad behavior.
She would need to remember MELODRAMATIC for the half done crossword puzzle in her desk. It may fit in, but she wasn’t quite sure. Perhaps a different form of ‘melodrama’...
Even though there weren’t that many people in the Great Hall, and most of them sported red spiders or sea-green horses, there was a round of clapping as she entered the Hall, Nearly Headless Nick nodded respectfully so that his head wobbled atop his frilled collar.
The support warmed her a little, and Alba thought she may actually be able to eat something.
She was mistaken. As the first bite of bacon landed in her stomach, its instability became quite apparent. Alba worried that she’d heave it up right there on the table, and forced it to stay down by sheer force of will, pushing the plate over to Ben.
“Not hungry?” he asked after swallowing his own bulging mouthful.
“Not particularly…” she managed to reply through her gag reflex.
“You really should eat something,” Maude was saying from across the table. “That way you don’t look too peaky in the pictures after you win.”
“She’s right,” Professor Pimbly’s muted voice came from further down the table. “Why don’t you try a little toast. I’m sure that will settle your stomach nicely.” Her smile was warm, larger than usual, and Alba was having a hard time remembering why she didn’t particularly like the woman.
Three pieces of toast were presented from several angles. Pimbly, Maude, and Ben had all managed to procure their own slices from varying plates of bread strewn down the Ravenclaw table. Not wanting to offend her teacher, she accepted the slightly smaller piece from Pimbly, reluctantly nibbling on a crunchy corner.
The Professor bent down and lowered her voice further, so Alba had to strain to hear. “Just so you’re aware, I heard from a reliable source that several teachers have placed bets in your favor. So even if you feel as though the student body doesn’t expect you to do well, the older, wiser, wizarding community has faith in your abilities.” The wink that punctuated her encouragement was entirely unexpected, leaving Alba’s mouth hanging open as the austere woman made her way to the tall backed chair waiting for her at the staff table.
Alba was still mulling over Pimbly’s words as she slowly trudged down the path towards the stadium where most of the Triwizard Tasks were held. The ground beneath her feet was uneven, dusted with weeds, loose rocks, and roots of the nearby trees dotting the edge of the Forbidden Forest. She could feel the braces strapped to her feet digging into her sore, tight calves as she struggled to find balance. James was standing slightly behind her, his hands occasionally jerking forward to ensure her continued safety. Her enchantments wore off halfway there, but there was nothing to do but grit her teeth and push forward. Even if she renewed them they’d just break again before she reached the Team Tent.
Ben and Maude were a few paces before them, talking team dynamics at a leisurely pace so as to not leave her behind.
“I think his reasoning must be to play off their strengths, right? I mean, Vesela doesn’t seem to like him at all,” Ben was saying to her.
Just this morning the two Durmstrang students were arguing with each other again in Russian, or whatever language they knew.
“I believe so as well. Not sure what Pierre was thinking with that Blanchett character, what’s his first name?,” Maude asked.
Though the first to create an emblem, the Beauxbatons Companion seemed to idolize Pierre in a ridiculous manner, following him around like a lap dog waiting on his beck and call.
“Cyrille probably feeds his ego, that’s all,” Ben answered.
The large stadium was finally visible around the bend of trees, a hollow made specifically for the years the Triwizard Tournament would be held at Hogwarts. It was larger on the inside than on the out, so that the structure was no more visible than the quidditch pitch, but able to house whatever task needed within its walls.
To one side of the mostly wooden structure was a small tent, draped in all three School’s colors. The Team Tent, as it was referred to.
Maude and Ben turned as they drew nearer. Both seemed nervous and unsure, their color a little pale in the morning light, though Alba assumed she may match.
“See you on the other side,” she offered to them both, nodding. Maude stepped forward to give her a quick hug before skittering off to the entryway.
“You’re going to be brilliant, you know,” Ben said, putting a heavy hand on her slim shoulder.
“Damn right she is,” James said from behind, heading towards the tent. “Best be going,” he was saying.
Ben took a few steps backwards, raising his hand in a small wave before turning and jogging after Maude.
“Let’s go,” she sighed to James, concentrating on the ground beneath her feet once again, once again reminding herself she had too much on her mind to ponder the Honeypucker problem.
A short time later a large number of people had gathered under the tent, elbow room becoming increasingly less common.
Each of the three Teams were grouped together, Alba pressed between James and Nurse Wainscott, while the Judges were lined up at the front, Madame Maxime taking up half their room. Mrs. Potter and the photographer were present, standing off to one side and looking attentively towards the front.
After a moment Quinn Hambledon looked at his watch, cleared his throat, and stepped forward.
“Ladies and gentleman, as we are about to commence with the First Task, it is time that I explain to you the terms of this competition. I trust you have brought your tokens?” As the nine members of the Triwizard Teams brought out their chess pieces, he nodded and continued. “Good, good. Now, as we said before, these pieces will be the standard on which you are judged, literally so. Out there,” he gestured to the door that would lead them into the stadium, in front of the waiting crowd, “are five objects of varying magical degrees for each of you. We expect you to create these three pieces from those materials, as close to an exact copy as you are capable of producing. You will be able to retry at your leisure, and when you are satisfied with the product, there will be a column on which to place what you would like to submit for judgement.”
Alba frowned. There was a catch, there had to be a catch. She looked to either side, finding similar expressions of distrust on her competitor’s faces.
“You may wonder where the challenge is?” Leatrice Zhang added, smiling as she stepped forward next to Mr. Hambledon. “You will all be competing at once, with free access to competitors materials and unfinished products. However, there are rules,” she was surveying each of them in turn, making direct eye contact as she continued. “You are not allowed to curse another competitor directly. You are not allowed to vanish opponent’s materials. Once placed atop your column, all pieces are protected and irremovable until after judging. You are required to make one of each of the chess pieces given your team. Once three pieces have been submitted, you will be blocked off from the remaining Champions, no longer able to influence their materials. Any questions?”
Alba turned a little red as James’s hand shot into the air.
“Yes, Potter?” Zhang asked, slightly amused.
“Are you able to describe the terrain in which this task is to take place?” he asked quite seriously.
Alba agreed. It was a valid question.
“I’m afraid not. Your Champion will find out shortly. Any other questions?” Everyone remained still and quiet. “You have,” she glanced at a thin silver watch adorning her wrist, “five minutes from now to confer as a team, then the Champions will exit with the Judges, and the Coaches and Companions will join the spectators in the stands,” she nodded to each of them in conclusion.
“Subterfuge,” James was whispering to her as the three of them put their heads together in a huddle. “It’s your best chance to get ahead early. Look at Pierre,” he nodded to his left, where the boy was shooting dirty looks at the Durmstrangs on the far end of the tent. “He’s pretty much dismissed you as a competitor, and he’s just proud enough to have a temper. If you can, try and make it look like Dimitri is fighting him. It may give you enough time to get a piece or two in while they fight amongst themselves. You do know the right spell, right? I haven’t the slightest.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Nurse Wainscott added, ignoring the last bit. “Teach them not to underestimate you.”
They each handed her their pieces, and Alba was thankful for all the attention she had paid to the tiny carvings in the bottom. Perhaps the boys had overlooked them, and wouldn’t be able to duplicate the design.
“Alright, if you would please exit the tent, Coaches, Companions,” Mr. Hambledon said, “we’d like to begin.”
The sun was bright, and Alba blinked a few times to adjust to the glow bouncing off the arena before her. There was no vegetation. Everything seemed to be concrete and sterile, a white that reflected the light with annoying clarity. The roar from the crowd reminded her of static on her father’s old television, the noise accompanying the blurry white images before her. She placed one rubber tipped crutch on the white floor, thankful it had grip and was not slippery. There were indeed three large columns placed in triangle formation in the center of the circular room. Across from each, on the outer edge of the arena, were rectangular foundations, like an elongated podium. Alba could see that a black cloth was draped over the top, several ominous bumps concealed beneath it.
Mcgonagall gestured for Alba to follow her, the elderly Headmistress heading towards the column closest to the entrance.
There was a booming voice addressing the crowd, but Alba wasn’t able to divert enough attention away from the rapidly approaching column to make out exactly who was speaking, much less what they were saying. There was a blue glow emanating from the top of the circular podium, while hisses and snaps were coming from under the black cloth.
“The round column is for your finished products, Ms. Williamson. When the signal is given, the black clothes will be removed, and the task will begin. The other competitors are at their stations. Best of luck.” She nodded curtly, smiling encouragingly as she made her way towards where Leatrice Zhang and Quinn Hambledon were waiting behind the judges table.
Alba tried to ignore the sounds coming from the square podium and attempted to make out what the announcer was saying.
“-as our Champions are taking their positions, we will ready the arena!”
The ground beneath her began to rumble slightly, so that the tremors moved their way up her crutches and into her arms, jarring her shoulders a little. A seam in the ground appeared, a circle trapping her in with the column and podium as she rose into the air, coming level to stands above. The other Champions were still close, enough so that she could see the smug grin on Pierre’s face from her right, and caught a glint of gold on Dimitri’s hand as he waved at the crowd.
Alba’s breath came faster and faster, the words of the announcer jumbling together as she tried to review the plan. Curse Pierre first. Count on a retaliation to distract Dimitri. Take advantage and finish products as quickly as possible.
“On the count of three-”
Alba gasped as the cloth covering the square podium before her vanished.
The items were indeed ‘varying’ in magical degree, and she recognized them all almost immediately. To her far right was a depression in the solid structure, filled to the brim with a clear, shimmering potion. Next to it was a swaying plant, roots showing through the clods of dirt at its base. The swaying vines and snapping appendages gave it away as a venomous tentacula, while next to it, struggling to get out of the rope net holding it down, a young acromantula was clicking ominously at her, black eyes shining in the sunlight. A violet flame burned brightly a few inches above the hard surface, throwing an odd glow about the pile of gold coins next to it.
“The Champions have several interesting obstacles in front of them, this is no average art lesson!” the announcer’s magnified voice rang through the stadium, setting a pace to everything, a nagging reminder that everyone was watching.
It took only a moment to petrify the acromantula, as she was careful to aim for the eyes, a sure weak spot. Once completed she turned around, desperately searching for the best way incapacitate Pierre to the fullest.
Her breath came a little quicker as she found the perfect remedy. She lifted her wand at the precise moment he did, both aimed at something before him, though her target was the podium. “Epoximise,” she breathed before quickly turning back around to her own materials, unable to take the time to observe its effect.
The Venomous Tentacula was attempting to reach her, pulling itself forward little by little, rocking backwards and forwards in with every snap in her direction.
The announcer started up again, “It appears as though Roux is experiencing- woah, he’s turned on Ivanovic! I believe he’s done something with the spider, IT’S BEEN MULTIPLIED!”
Alba smirked, step two completed, and directed her wand at the gold on the opposite end of the podium, giving it a complicated little swish. The gold compiled upon itself, morphing into a solid shape. There was a yell from behind in Dimitri’s direction, but she couldn’t break her concentration by turning to look. She pieced together the right pronunciation for what she was attempting and let the details of Nurse Wainscott’s Knight token fill every corner of her mind.
“Ivanovic is still dealing with the spiders, but Roux is just not happy with the distraction” the magnified voice informed her.
The gold began churning, turning, shrinking and fading until it took on the dark, bespeckled color of the chess piece, the lines and grooves settling into place as Alba envisioned the gentle curvature of the mane, trying to shut out the loud commentary.
No longer able to resist temptation, she turned her head to glance back at the boys.
James’s plan had worked perfectly. From what she could see, Roux had attempted to Transfigure one of his objects as she had placed the binding curse on the podium. The attempt was a grotesque looking lump of what may have been a partially solidified potion, or perhaps half melted gold. Dimitri had gotten the short end of the stick, his acromantula having been shrunk and multiplied so that a dozen tiny venomous spiders were running about his column as Pierre attempted to sabotage his other materials while trying to separate his own from the gooey substance that had adhered itself to everything.
Her own spider was proving too dangerous to continue unchecked, having thrown off the body bind curse, the thing immediately started chewing away at it’s rope bindings, venom practically dissolving the thin fibers. As she began another complicated bit of transfiguration, Alba tried to remember the proportions of the curved Bishop piece, satisfied with the way her replication came to a point at the end. Two pieces down.
“Williamson seems to have made some progress, though all Champions are at 0 of 3 submitted entries! Not sure what’s holding her up, but Ivanovic will be back on point soon, now that those spiders are contained. Hopefully Roux has a plan for his sticky ordeal!”
Alba glanced behind in spite of herself. Both boys had their backs turned, until Dimitri Ivanovic spun around quickly, running the three steps to the edge of his podium to place one hard earned piece atop the column of blue light. There was a roar from the crowd, and he went back to his podium as she turned to survey hers as well.
“There’s one for Durmstrang! Dimitri Ivanovic submitting his first piece for the judges!”
Alba had refrained from submitting her pieces on purpose. The distance wasn’t a great one, but it would cost her time to walk it more than once. While she knew they weren’t looking, she gave her wand a hearty swish and flick, guiding the newly crafter Bishop and Knight over to the glowing column. There was a roar from the crowd as they came to rest upon the illuminated surface.
“And there it is! The Hogwarts Champion Alba Williamson raising the bar!” the announcer gave away.
She turned back to her table quickly, expectating complete retaliation as the crowd had blown her cover.
Two spells went whizzing past as Dimitri and Pierre turned on her together in the middle of her attempted transfiguration. The writhing plant was now growing at an alarming pace, tendrils slowly crawling down to the floor, spilling over the edge as she watched, breaking her concentration. The afflicted plant thickened and slowed, partially solidifying while other portions continued to writhe and snap. Assisted by Pierre’s curse, the flame beside her was getting hotter.
In a last ditch effort, she threw the counter jinx at Pierre’s podium to unbind his materials from the smooth surface. The acromantula on his table lurched off the edge towards him, diverting Pierre’s attention just long enough for her to use ‘epoximise’ on Dimitri’s.
“Oo, Roux’s spider has freed itself and is one the loose! Watch out for that- looks like he’s been nicked by the plant! Somehow Williamson has warded off both attackers, who have turned back towards their materials! ”
Terrifyingly aware of the fact that things were getting down to the wire, Alba attempted to deal with her own plant problem.
She jabbed her wand forward, prodding the mess half organic thing forcefully and then whipped her wand about with a little more finesse. As its shape began shifting, Alba held her breath, hoping it hadn’t been damaged beyond repair. She tried to remember all the details of her little King, the piece that she had kept beside her for weeks, so that the figure she was molding would be just as beautiful, but she also felt the pressure of time.
It took only a few seconds before she had it, her third piece. She didn’t even give a thought to the other Champions as she gave her wand a hearty swish and flick, directing her last piece over to the column as she had the other two.
“This is it!” the announcer’s voice rang out.
There was no time to register the curse that intercepted her precious chess piece, but ‘accio’ was off her tongue and through her lips as the crowd gasped. In the middle of its arch off the edge of the platform, the little King zoomed into her waiting hand.
“Roux won’t let her win that easy!”
Pierre Roux seemed to have dealt with the acromantula, turning his back on his own materials to focus his attention on her, face highlighted with a burning anger. A glance to the other side told her Dimitri was quite happy working on his second piece, the potion morphing into a ball in the air before him. Pierre followed her gaze, anger turning to dread as he watched.
Alba grinned at his sweaty, worried face as she shifted around slowly, holding on tightly to the hard chess piece in her hand as she took her first step towards the podium, her other clasped about her wand. Cursing, Pierre turned, going to work on his own pieces once more, unable to watch her take the last few steps while Ivanovic increased his lead.
A bright blaze blinded her as the third piece came to rest on the column, a blue beam shooting up into the air as though it were a searchlight for the heavens. The crowd roared as her pedestal started to vibrate again, this time descending back to the arena floor, leaving the other two competitors battling above her.
Cerebral Palsy: 4