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Stand Tall by Chelts-rhj

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As Alba’s column came to a grinding halt at ground level, deafening cheers and applause poured in from every angle. An unmistakable trumpeting sound dominated her left. Turning towards the uproar, she saw a group of Hogwart students raising their arms up and down as though trunks, their wands producing the elephant noise with every upwards wave. 
  
Alba couldn’t help but laugh, her own exuberance bubbling out of her mouth of its own volition. Ben had warned her the boys in his dormitory were working on something, and she had to say it was more noticeable than white elephants on everyone’s faces. 
  
Her approach muffled by the roar around them, Nurse Wainscott surprised Alba as the plump woman embraced her from behind, wrapping her up tightly while tears streamed down the woman’s smiling face. Soon James was with them as well, jumping up and down shouting at the top of his lungs . 
  

The announcer was still speaking, but Alba couldn’t find the mental faculties to listen. Whatever was going on up above, she was on the other side. Her father was correct; it was greener.
  
There was an eruption from the spider-clad group of spectators as the second column began to descend, a smiling and waving Ivanovic on top. He wasn’t too proud to nod at her when firmly on the ground. Soon enough, he too was embraced by his Triwizard Team. 
  
It was only a few moments later that Roux joined them, though his sportsmanship was rather lacking when compared to his Durmstrang counterpart. He looked rather ridiculous, his cheeks red from nothing more than temper. He did not greet his Companion with smiles, which even Ivanovic had been able to share with his abysmal partner. 
  
Finally, Alba caught a few words from the announcer again, “Alright ladies and gentleman, the judges are deliberating, we should receive their scores shortly.” 

  “Is that Al?” Alba yelled at James, unsure if her query would be heard over the crowd’s continuing racket. 
  
“Yeah!” he leaned forward to shout in her ear, “But who cares! You won!” 

  “We don’t know that yet,” she reminded him, “Judging!” 
  
As if on cue, Leatrice Zhang stood, pointing an ornate wand at her throat so that her voice was magnified, “The judges are ready!” 
  
There were a few more cheers, one daring Hogwarts students squeezed in an elephant trumpet, but all in all, the crowd quieted down rather quickly. Alba felt as though the entire forest around them was holding its breath in anticipation. 
  
“Hogwarts Triwizard Champion,” her voice rang out through the attentive stadium, “An excellent display of subterfuge and discretion lead to this competitor’s early completion of the task, and each of her final products displayed precise work almost identical to the originals.” She paused, taking her wand away from her throat long enough to send a long, writhing white ribbon high into the air above her. The other judges followed suit.
  
“That’s a lot of big numbers!” James hissed at her through his teeth as Alba attempted to count them quickly, adrenaline making her heart beat faster. 
  
Nine plus eight is seventeen, nine again is six-, eight again! What is that fourtee-thirteen? No, that would be twenty three...she thought furiously before they started on the next contestant. As a final nine formed at the end of the judges table, Leatrice Zhang put the wand back to her throat. 
  
“In first place, with forty three points, Alba Williamson!” Her petite face lit up in with a satisfied grin. 
  
The crowd to Alba’s left erupted in trumpeting, drowning out everyone else’s applause. The corners of her mouth seem determined to split her face in two, her smile was so big. Even as the wretched cameraman started clicking away on his camera, she laughed, pride bubbling out of her chest as elation took over her senses, the rosy tint of victory painting the world a lovely shade of red.  
  
She almost forgot about the other two contestants, but Leatrice Zhang continued without her. 
  
“While he did take extra time to complete his submissions, Triwizard Champion Pierre Roux showed admirable attention to detail with his pieces, in spite of the adversities he contended with,” she explained when the crowd began to murmur, whispering amongst themselves from between the cheering spectators. 
  
While the smile remained intact, she was a bit taken aback by their decision. Alba had quite expected her Beauxbatons competitor to receive last place.
  
After Ivanovic’s scores were revealed, the spider-clad groups were rather quiet. The tone of the crowd had changed considerably. Alba believed that his attitude after completing the task proved that even Roux had expected to lose. Why he didn’t was a mystery to everyone, even those who supported him.
  
“His wand work and ability to perform defensive and offensive spells was impressive, however Champion Dimitri Ivanovic returned one piece with severely lacking precision. His impatience and neglect was a major decision in awarding the Durmstrang Champion third place,” she seemed to regret announcing.
  
Alba had to agree with her sentiment. If there was one person she wished would’ve lost outright, it was Roux. A small part of her hoped that perhaps sportsmanship would be taken into consideration with the next task, though it was unprecedented, and therefore unlikely. 
  
As the gates to the arena floor were opened, the onlooking crowd poured in, bearing down upon the Triwizard Teams, each one trying to get through to congratulate or console their Champion. 
  
Roux was lifted into the air by his compatriots, and while her supporters were decidedly the more rowdy bunch, they were much more content to give her a pat on the shoulder than try and avoid poking someone’s eye out with a crutch as they hoisted her over their heads for a bit of crowd surfing. 
  
Ben found her after a few moments. She knew by the abrupt change in scenery. 

  One minute she was surrounded by a sea of black robes, the next towering above them, a sandy blonde crown appearing in her lap as large hands placed her atop broad shoulders. As always, it took her a bit off guard to be so high, but as the crowd’s roar swelled from beneath her in approval, she lifted her spindly extensions into the air, finally letting out a whooping cheer of her own. 
  
For one blissful moment Alba was queen of the world, Hogwarts Triwizard Champion, first place winner of the first task. Braces, crutches, CP, and all.





Alba woke with a smile on her face the next morning, the sounds of Maude sneaking about with her morning ritual a familiar alarm clock. 
  
Her legs ached and her fingernails had made little cuts in her palms that stung, but she was starting her medication again; she had won. To her own surprise, Alba had managed to do more than survive the competition, and it felt wonderful. 
  
As the morning sun slowly rose above the horizon, Alba took a minute to reflect on how the Mediator’s face beamed from above her as he asked for a detailed account of what had transpired in the ring the night before, occasionally asking other House members for a witness to corroborate her statement. She had never seen him so jovial. 
  
Alba had enjoyed the glowing pride at being the center of attention, the object of admiration and envy. But that was the night before.

  Now, Alba was back in the real world, measuring out doses of her morning medication while Maude finished putting on her shoes.

  “Would you like me to wait for you? You may have an entourage this morning,” her friend asked with a whisper. 
  
Alba’s stomach squirmed a little as she thought about how much more attention she’d likely get now from strangers, not just the Mediator and housemates. She didn’t find encounters with strangers the most pleasant of experiences. Centuries old painting, no problem. School of peers, agony. “That’d be nice, but if you’re hungry, I’ll manage,” she told Maude. 
  
“I’m not in a hurry,” Maude smiled. She had thin lips, Alba noticed for the first time. Pale, but not quite in a sickly way. They matched her quiet personality. 
  
The burn of the Strengthening Solution was a pleasant one, relieving an itch even as it warmed the bottom of her empty stomach. The Pain Philter was the same way, only a little more so. With each breath she could feel the tension ease out of her strengthening muscles, the edge chipped off the block on her shoulder. It would be a little more each morning for the next few months, and then…
  

Alba shook her head, banishing her thoughts of the second task to the shadowy corner of her mind where all the other topics covered in cobwebs stayed: liver function after years on Pain Philter, James being completely in love with Chandra, scoring well on NEWTs while surviving the Triwizard Tournament, dancing in the Yule Ball, among other completely unpleasant things.
  
Alba was brushing her teeth when the other girls in her dormitory started to rise, the sure signs of morning audible from behind their heavy blue curtains as they yawned and stretched. She surveyed her hair with disinterest in a perfectly polished mirror before deciding to chop it all off first chance she had in Hogsmeade. Nurse Wainscott was refusing to do it, and she wasn’t sure who else to ask. 




“It can’t be that close,” Alba frowned at the notice board down in the common room, yanking the parchment off its tack to shove her nose into the print for a closer look. “It can’t be that close, I can’t do it,” she insisted. 
  
Maude giggled from behind, gazing at the picture from over Alba’s shoulder. “I’m not sure you have a choice, dear. It’s a package deal isn’t it?” 
  
“Do you know how many toes I could break trying to dance with-” she got her balance long enough to hold one crutch at an awkward angle between them, “- these? All of them, that’s how many. I can just see it now, ‘one-two-ow-one-two-ow’,”
  
As people came down from the dorms in two’s and three’s, Alba was relieved to find they didn’t feel the need to gather around or let themselves in on the conversation. Most seemed quite content with a simple smile and wave routine that Alba could actually get used to.
  
“You had to work with a venomous tentacula while simultaneously babysitting an acromantula, but the Yule Ball, that you can’t do,” Maude teased. 
  
“Well, technically I said I couldn’t do that either,” Alba admitted, nodding as a fourth year boy beamed at her from by the fire. “More than once. I’m sure you remember.” 
  
“You might’ve mentioned it once or twice,” Maude took the flyer from Alba’s clutched hand so that it tore in two. Without missing a beat, the girl took her wand out and repaired it. “Do you think anyone will ask me? I don’t think I would really want to go with a boy…” 
  
“Why not?” Alba asked her timid friend, chewing on the inside of her lip. The prospect had been nagging at her as well. What if no one asked her to the dance and she had to go alone? A horrible image of her turning around in circles in time with the other two couples as everyone laughed flashed through her head. “Do you think they’d make me dance if I don’t have a date?” 
  
“I hear Mcgonagall is a stickler for the first dance. Real traditional about it,” Maude teased. “Besides, you’ll have to beat the boys off with a stick, you’re going to be on everyone’s mind after yesterday’s performance. Come on, let’s go, I’m hungry.”
  
Maude was correct in her assumption. Excitement from the previous day had not lost much momentum overnight. As they made their way through the winding corridors to the Great Hall for breakfast, several of the students they passed looked as though they had not yet been to sleep, exhaustion giving them false bursts of energy so that one minute they looked as though dead, and the next they were talking too fast to understand. One fifth year hufflepuff tried to trumpet at her, but got the incantation wrong and ended up letting off an enormous lion’s roar as his ‘trunk’ came up. He blushed profusely, but Alba and Maude laughed. 
  
“Thanks,” Alba told him. “I appreciate it all the same.” 
  
There was another outburst of trumpeting during breakfast when the owl post came. Alba’s victory had made the front page, and while she had rather disliked the cameraman, he had taken a wonderful picture. 
  
He’d gotten her shout of victory, right after Ben had lifted her up. Under the bold caption declaring her victor was the one shot of her unbridled joy. Alba couldn’t wait to see how it looked in her mother’s scrapbook. She was sure to cut it out and keep it. 

 




The first day back in classes was awkward. Alba had been rather shocked to see James practically sprawled across Chandra’s table as she entered the Potions room, his flirty face in full bloom as he no doubt tried to charm the pants off his ex. 
  
It wasn’t until Chandra gave him swift peck on the cheek that her mouth fell open in disbelief. As the chair next to his lady was taken, James removed his upper body from the wooden top and practically strutted his way towards Alba’s usual table as the bell rang. She was sure to shut her mouth before taking the seat next to his. 

Apparently the good cheer from her victory had spread far indeed. The results were bittersweet. 
  
Alba, having never been in one relationship, much less a repeat relationship, couldn’t understand why they had to go through ‘the honeymoon stage’ every time they spent even a few hours upset with each other. Seemed a bit redundant as they knew it was a phase that would wear off, making room for the arguments and conflict that lied waiting underneath all the superfluous action and useless touching. Though if she was being honest, it was really just the touching that bothered her.
  
The lesson demanded attention, though they weren’t brewing today. Instructions and theories, including several characters in greek, were covering the blackboard. Cures for a custom poison were more tricky than true and tried antidotes. Much like mixing her own medications without advice, the failure to consider magical ingredients secondary and tertiary effects could be fatal. The morbid material didn’t seem to phase Chandra or James, who still found time to float little hearts and kisses made of lipstick back and forth to each other while Pimbly’s back was turned. 
  
Herbology was a relief from the newly reunited, twittering couple, though another relationship dynamic change had Alba distracted throughout her second class as well. 
  
Over the last few weeks, Alba had become accustomed to the constant stream of arguing from two of the dozen or so Durmstrang students to share her Herbology period. Vesela and Ivanovic never failed to bicker, though as they spoke in clipped, accented words only their classmates could understand, the topics were hard to discern. 
  
The stoney silence they maintained throughout the entire period was even louder than their heated discussions had been. It wasn’t just the Triwizard Team either, the entire Durmstrang population seemed a bit wounded at their loss, and she could understand why. 
  
There had been a decrease in usage of their spider emblem, and while some of the converted student body seemed to be sporting the green stallion, Alba’s white elephant was a more prominent figure on the black robes of Hogwarts students than previously, and the halls were often interrupted in trumpeting sounds as she passed. 
  
Alba usually wasn’t the sentimental type, but she did feel for him. Dimitri had performed well, on and off the field, and now he was living what she had been afraid of all along. 
  
Not particularly eager to catch up with James and his other half for lunch, Alba waited patiently after class for the plaited haired troll to leave before trying to approach her fellow competitor. Vesela just tended to make things more… aggressive.
  
“Hey, what’s up?” Alba finally offered lamely, planting her crutches firmly into the ground for stability as she made her way towards Ivanovic’s tall, thin figure.
  
He seemed a little taken aback at first, but an intrigued grin seemed to creep to the corner of his mouth. 
  
“Oh, just preparing for lunch. If I become too found of these English foods, I may be too heavy for my broom!” he smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. 
  
Humor often became a defensive reflex for witty boys. Alba had noticed the same tendency in Ben. 
  
“I doubt that. Have you seen how big some of those beaters get? I can’t imagine being in charge of all that girth. I have a hard enough time as it is,” she tried to follow his lead with the humor, but was afraid she was coming off wrong. “Anyway, haven’t really had the chance to have a proper conversation since that day in the owlery. Are you doing well your classes?” 
  
“I am getting a long. The english translates oddly sometimes, but Professor Krum is alvays happy to help, should anyone have questions.” 
  
Small talk was never her strong suit, so Alba threw caution to the wind and let the word vomit take over. “I hope no one is being mean to you. I mean, this whole time everyone thought I would be rubbish, and they weren’t exactly supportive of my entering a tournament, what with my complications. I just want you to know that I think you did a brilliant job out there, and if everyone wasn’t constantly underestimating me, myself included, I would’ve been in exactly your position. Cutting corners just to get the job done.” 
  
The greenhouse had emptied rather quickly as students hurried up the lawn to eat, but Ivanovic still looked around cautiously before answering. 
  
“I’m not sure that you would’ve had the same problem I did,” he finally told her heavily. “I didn’t cut corners, as you say. I turned in the flawed piece first, not because I was under any pressure.” 
  
Alba frowned, drawing her brows together in confusion. 
  
“I could do no better,” he explained. “Vesela and I don’t exactly spend a lot of time together. I hadn’t even touched her piece, much less knew the exact details of its dimensions and patterns. Our collaborations were more like business deals. We separated to brainstorm, and had regular meetings to exchange ideas, but we have no camaraderie. You won because your team is solid, a functioning unit that shares all available information. I lost because mine is dysfunctional, and it is not her fault or mine, but ours together.” This time when he smiled, the corners of his eyes wrinkled, just a little. “It is a weakness that I am rectifying slowly, so do not think you will capitolize on it in the upcoming events, Miss Williamson,” he teased, pointing a finger at her as he squinted his eyes comically, slinging a packed book bag over his shoulder. “I’ve got my eye on you.”
  
“Oh, do you now? Finally got your attention, have I?” she played along, following him out. 
  
“After that trick you pulled in the arena? I think you’ve got everyone’s attention, and most likely Roux’s dislike.” 
  
“I wish I could’ve seen the look on his face when I finished,” Alba sighed. 
  
“Oh I saw, and let me tell you-” Ivanovic started, all too happy to divulge exactly what had transpired after she had descended back down to the arena floor.
  
They reached the doors to the Great Hall before the smiles died from their lips.
  
“Will you be going to the dance with Potter?” Ivanovic asked, holding the large oak door open for her. 
  
A picture of James snogging Chandra before Potions flashed before her eyes. “No,” she said firmly. “I’m pretty certain he has other plans.” 
  
“Ah. Will you be bringing the sweet one? Ah… honey something. Benjamin?” 
  
“Oh, Ben?” she asked, surprised she hadn’t thought of it before. “I’m not really certain. Why do you ask?” 

  “Well, I’m supposed to be bringing Vesela. I had hoped, if you were going with your Companion, we could trade.” The disappointment in his voice was obvious. 
  
“Why don’t you two like each other?” Alba asked, ignoring how nosey it was. 
  
“Family differences, I guess you could say,” he nodded and gave her a stiff smile, glancing at Maude as she approached.
  
Unfortunately, Alba wasn’t the kind to beat around bushes. “Is she prejudice or something?” 
  
Maude, usually so quiet, burst out laughing, “I’m so sorry, Ivanovic, Alba is aware of social custom, she just chooses to ignore it occasionally. Come on! Don’t badger him,” Maude jerked her head, gesturing towards the Tables that waited for them within. 
  
They left Dimitri standing in the doorway, looking entirely ruffled by the ordeal. 
  
“He’s a big boy, you know, it wasn’t like I was pulling  his ear or anything,” Alba grumbled on her way to the Ravenclaw table.
  
“You asked him a direct question, which he avoided. If you want to keep him on your list of ‘allies’ I wouldn’t push him about things he doesn’t want  to talk about,” Maude said an all too reasonably tone of voice.  
  
Understanding dawned on Alba like the ringing of a gong, “Ooh, you were being tactical! Look at you. You know technically, that’s my Companion’s job. You’re cheating,” she teased. 
  
“Well,” they glanced at where James sat with Chandra beside him, ogling at her long, curled hair as she ran her fingers through it and fed him spoonfuls of soup, “he’s currently occupied. Besides, watching you fail at social norms is a full time job. We work in split shifts.” 
  
They’d finally reached the Ravenclaw table. Alba was happy to take a seat and shrink her crutches to a more convenient size. 

  “I think I’ve decided not to go,” Maude said a few moments later from across the table as she reached for a sandwich.
  
“To the ball?” Alba clarified, but someone interrupted from behind.
  
“Alva Villamson?” one of the Durmstrang boys asked in a thick accent. “My name is Cory Burdgdorf. I vanted to tell you congratulations on a great performance in the task. I vas hopping per’aps you would come to the Yule Vall with me?”  

Alba gasped as Maude did, her mind turning over to find the right words as it spluttered with disbelief.
  
“Oh, ah… well, Cory? Was it? I uh-” 
  
An all too familiar deep voice came up with a solution for her, “What she means is, thank you for the congratulations Burgdorf, but she already has a date.” 
  
Alba was both furious and relieved at Ben’s intrusion. Furious because she knew just who he would have her bring, and relieved because the young man in front of her seemed to take the news well. 
  
“Ah, then I am too late! Thank you for your time, Champion,” and he was gone up the room and out the door, apparently having just finished eating.
  
Alba turned on Ben, “Who exactly am I going with?” she demanded of him. “Because I’m pretty sure that was my first proposal.”
  
“Not sure about that, I’ve asked you to ‘go with me’ almost sixty times now, just never to anywhere specific. So I’m taking you. It’s like dibs.” He took a seat next to Maude who paused while taking her first bite, eyes darting between the two of them as Alba lost her patience.
  
“Oh, well, nice talk. Glad we had it. Tell me, was I excited when you asked or did it take some convincing? I seem to have no memory of this discussion.” Her stomach gave out a growl, but she wasn’t ready to eat yet. Maude put her sandwich down, most likely looking for an escape route. 
  
“I know that James would be your first choice, but he and Chandra made up yesterday. They were snogging all over the place, surprised you missed it.” 
  
At that, Maude stood quite suddenly, vacating the area to avoid overhearing any more of the tense conversation. 
  
“Of course I saw, and I’m happy for them,” she lied to him. Her chest felt like there was a crater in it, but Ben was on a roll and didn’t seem ready to lose momentum.
  
“And yeah, it might’ve been rude for me to lie to the prospective suitor, but I was here first. I know your first, last, and middle name, Alba Irene Williamson. I know that you aren’t going to want to dance and that you’ll probably find a way to sneak more of your potions than you should to try and gain a little more stability for the night, since you’ve probably been having nightmares of falling during the opening dance since your name popped out of that oversized cup.” 
  
He paused long enough to let a yawning third year pass before continuing the onslaught. “I know better than to think I’m going to ‘get lucky’ if I try to slip firewhiskey into your punch, because it just makes you mean. I know that you don’t even own a pair of dress robes yet, because you never planned on going, and if you had your way you’d show up for the beginning and duck out before anyone could notice.” His chest heaved as though he’d ran all the way from the common room. “Just let me help make your night fun, please? Haven’t I been a good enough friend for you to allow me that?” 
  
Alba had no retort. She hated when his tone was genuine and his logic sound.
  
He shook his head, “What are you so afraid of?”
  
Trying to ignore the metallic taste coming from the bottom lip between her teeth, Alba considered his proposition while continuing to chew on it. Everything he said was true. Even down to the not having dress robes (which she would have to ask her mother for soon). 
  
As Ben stood waiting for an answer, Alba couldn’t help but glance over to where the happy couple sat. She noticed that James’s tie was wrapped in her hair like a gold stripped headband. 
  
James was always going to go with Chandra. They were bound to each other, sustained by a gravitational pull that put even the moon to shame. Alba wasn't so stubborn as to think there was no one for her but James. It was simply an attraction stemming from a long time friendship and her own self-imposed isolation from the opposite gender. 
  
She was going to have to watch them be completely perfect and happy with each other all night. She could do it alone, or she could do it with someone she liked. 
  
“Ok Honeypucker. But we’re going to have to practice dancing or I’ll make a fool of myself,” she told him, ripping her eyes away from the pair.
  
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” his mischievous grin wasn’t contagious.
  
“I really thought they were done for good this time,” Ben said in a more normal tone. “After what she did and everything.” 
  
Alba bit her tongue, quite literally, to keep the question from spilling out of her mouth, refusing to let emotion control her response. 
  
“Not sure what you mean,” she replied grabbing her glass and filling it with a bit of pumpkin juice. A statement was more innocent than a question.
  
Her plan backfired when he didn’t divulge further information. 
  
A number of Ben’s classman entered the great hall, lifting their hands and letting of their trumpeting as they caught sight of her. Ben gave a great smile, mimicking the gesture so that soon the entire Hall erupted like a heard was stampeding through. Before it began to petter off, he took her arm and raised it high in the air.
  
She supposed that was one of things that made Ben a good friend. He really did just want to have fun. Perhaps the Yule Ball won’t be so bad… Alba thought as she took a small traingular cut of sandwich, beside her, Ben had already piled a mound of food onto his plate. 
  
A few of his patriotic friends began to call him over before the first bite passed through his lips. She could see the decision on whether to go or stay weighing in his mind.
  
“So will you really go with me, please, Alba? To the Yule Ball, I mean,” he said almost under his breath. “I mean… If you really want to go with someone else, by all means. I really just didn’t want to be beaten by a guy who refers to you as ‘Champion’.” He made a disgruntled face that pulled his eyebrows together, gesturing to his friends to wait with a shooing motion. 
  
“Well, you were right,” she admitted to him. “It would be more fun to go with you than some stranger. And I won’t feel awkward practising for the first and ONLY dance I’ll be in that night with you, as I’ve ridden on your shoulders at your… I don’t even know what to call that, whim? under your kidnapping? Ooh, Abduction!” 

  He laughed deeply, standing and taking a few steps back towards his ever impatient roommates. 
  
“Wonderful. Thank you, and you know,” he gave her a boyish grin and in true Benjamin Honeypucker style, ruined the moment, “I am rather dashing. Perhaps everyone will be too fascinated with me to notice your kneehighs and tennis shoes.” 
  
She frowned, adding another mental note to her Hogsmeade to-do list:

 

Hair Cut

Dress Robes

Fancy Shoes

 

Wonderful. 

 




“You were brilliant!” Nurse Wainscott trilled again as she watched Alba stretch out the last of her exercises. 
  
“Thank you,” Alba told her once more, trying to not sound too annoyed. 
  
“Have you any idea who you’ll be going to the Yule Ball with?” the older woman asked, in a suspiciously casual tone Alba knew was backed by a fierce hunger for knowledge. It was almost like she knew already. 
  
“Yes,” Alba admitted, eying the paintings around them suspiciously. It wouldn’t be the first time the Nurse had set them on her. 

  Nurse Wainscott bustled about excitedly, returning with a cold glass of water. “So I would really appreciate it if you could cut my hair,” Alba reminded her. giving her a rather dirty look as she accepted the drink. “I don’t want it looking shabby for the Ball.” 
  
Nurse Wainscott frowned, but remained silent and gestured to the glass in Alba’s hand. 
  
With a great sigh, Alba finished the whole thing in two large swallows. “There,” she put the cup down on the table. “Now will you give me a haircut?” 
  
Nurse Wainscott giggled a little, a blush turning her plump cheeks a soft shade of pink. “Now, don’t be mad Alba, dear,” she said a little slowly. 
  
Immediately, Alba’s scalp began to itch, and she thrust her hands into her hair to try and scratch, but the mess was practically shooting out of her head, growing at an alarming rate even as she tried to stem the flow of brown locks. 
  
“No, no, no, no, no…” Alba said, jumping down from the cot and making her way over to a mirror. By the time she managed to get to it without her crutches, the wavy hair had fallen past her shoulders, and was slowing as the ends reached her waist with a gentle curl. 
  
Nurse Wainscott spoke quickly and quietly. “I promise Alba, I’ll do it up for you every day until the Ball, and then I’ll cut it. “You can pretend all you want that you like it short,” she practically whispered, “But I was there, and I watched you cry as we cut it off because you didn’t want to ask for help anymore.”
  
A tear fell down her powdered, wrinkled face. “Now it might’ve been rude, and I could get into a bit of trouble if you decide to turn me into the headmistress, but the Yule Ball is a day for you, Alba. And I want you to look back on these pictures and remember how good it felt to be you that night. I want you to be proud of the way you look, all of you. Ok?” 
  
A tear fell from Alba’s cheek to rest among the new glimmering strands of hair now falling in a cascade about her shoulders. It was beautiful, her hair was. And the Nurse was right, she had loved it long and down. But independence had won out over vanity in the long run, and she had asked the nurse to cut it off beginning of her second year, unable to stand walking downstairs every morning for the good Nurse to brush and braid it.
  
“Ok,” Alba finally replied, gathering her bag and leaving without words, but only after a very long hug. 
 



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