Alba woke just as the first pink rays of sunlight filtered through the tall, narrow, stained glass windows of the dormitories, setting the room ablaze with vibrant colors. She lay in the bed for several moments before sitting up, stretching her good arm, and gingerly massaging the other. Everything was always so stiff in the morning.
Momentarily forgetting the events of the previous day, she carelessly swung her legs over the side of the bed, flexed toes meeting with the stone cold floor. She gasped a little at the pain in her leg, looking down to see the nasty cut she’d gotten from the day before.
Thankfully, the thing had scabbed over, though now that the Pain Relief Philter was completely out of her system, she could feel an ache deep in her muscle. It was quite a bit deeper than she originally thought.
“Alrigh’ over there?” a groggy voice whispered from the bed next to hers, yawning at the end of the question.
Maude Strensall was a quiet, introverted girl who happened to be a ridiculously light sleeper. Unlike most of the girls in her year, Alba actually liked Maude, though their interactions were generally strictly academic. They often partnered together in classes, when necessary, and during their fifth year studied religiously together.
“Yeah, I’ll be all right,” Alba said, deciding she didn’t quite want to stand up yet.
“Do you want me to get the potions from your trunk? That looks pretty nasty...”
Alba closed her eyes and took a deep breath before pushing up from the bed to stand on her own two feet.
“Nope. Not taking them right now,” she whispered back.
Maude looked at her, sleep still evident in her eyes. “Why not? You always take them in the morning.”
Alba frowned and used the edge of her bed to half limp towards the washroom. She felt a little guilty for waking Maude up every morning. “Well, I’ve had to stop for a little while. Maybe you’ll be able to get some sleep in the morning.” She tried to throw a smile in her direction, but suspected it looked more like a grimace.
The girl persisted. True to Ravenclaw form, anything she didn’t understand needed to be questioned. “But, if they help you so much, why did you stop?”
Alba turned in the doorframe, searching for a good analogy. “Well, you know what band-aids are right?” she asked, pretty sure Maude was muggle born.
“Yes,” she said hesitantly, propping herself up on the blue covers with her elbow.
“And when you were little, did your mom ever tell you it needed to breathe?”
She nodded, a little life coming to her face as she woke up a little more.
“Well, at some point, you just pull off the band-aid, and it hurts, but then it’s over, and you’re relieved. You heal. The potions are my band-aid, and my leg,” she looked down at the angry red mark in her calf, “it needs to breathe.”
“Oh,” Maude yawned again, and Alba stifled one herself. “That makes sense I suppose. Well, good morning, Alba.”
“Good night, Maude,” she whispered as the girl fluffed her pillow and laid back down, pulling the blue curtains closed against the bright morning light.
The descent down the stairs was a little more terrifying than the prospect of going up them. It was more tiring to go up, but if she slipped and fell, it was a long way down. Not to mention the danger it would pose to her wand. The idea of it snapping in two sent shivers down her spine.
One after the other, they flew by until she had two feet and crutches set nicely on the floor. Now she only had the half dozen staircases to make it to the Great Hall.
Twenty minutes later Alba sat at Ravenclaw table stuffing her face with toast and eggs.
Cerebral Palsy: 1
Things were looking up.
“Ms. Williamson,” Professor Pimbly called, making her way down the Ravenclaw table with a handful of parchment, “your class schedule.” She put down one stack and pulled a long, single sheet of parchment from within her deep green robes. “Will you be submitting your name into the Goblet of Fire in October?”
The woman’s voice stayed completely neutral and she did not bring her dark brown eyes up from the page. Alba could only stare incredulously back.
After several moments, Professor Pimbly lowered her paper. “I only ask because you are taking quite a few classes. I’m advising everyone in my house with a full schedule to refrain from entering. I would hate for a competition like this to affect your ability to pass NEWT exams.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about with me, Professor. Even if I did enter my name, I’m sure the Goblet could find a much more suitable candidate.”
The front doors of the Great Hall opened and a gaggle of Gryffindors strode in, yawning and stretching. James was in the back, hair sticking in all directions, Head Boy badge glinting in the sunlight streaming down from the enchanted ceiling.
“A single thread in a tapestry cannot know its worth, Ms. Williamson. Don’t sell yourself short.” Professor Pimbly picked up the large stack of schedules and made her way back to her seat at the staff table. Alba snorted, reaching forward to dish out some oatmeal.
James pulled out the seat next to her, sitting down with a huff. Alba glanced over at him, chewing a large mouthful of eggs. Now that he was close, she noticed he had bags under his eyes and a little toothpaste dried to the corner of his mouth.
She continued chewing, resisting the urge to ask how his night had been. She didn’t need a play by play. From the looks of things, he and Chandra had quite the reunion last night.
“I’m sorry,” he grumbled, reaching to take a small triangle of toast from her plate. “I’n thorry Pinly ma’e ‘oo go wif your cruthes.” The words were thick and slurred after pushing past the mouthful of bread.
“Yeah, that wasn’t exactly the dignified return to Hogwarts I’d been hoping for.” She still didn’t look at him head on.
“Well, you can hang up your dignity. Every now and again you have to recognize that something is wrong. You can pretend to be normal all you want, but when push comes to shove, you are not just a girl, Alba.” Now that he’d swallowed, James was more intense, focused on her. Apparently he’d been holding this in for awhile.
“I’ve been trying to tell her that for years now, mate,” Ben said, taking the seat on her other side.
“Not now, Honeypucker,” James snapped.
“I have just as much a right to sit here as you do, Potter. More actually, since this is actually my house table.” Ben looked rather dignified, and began piling mounds of eggs onto his plate.
“Sit here, sure. But stay out of our conversation,” James grumbled.
Alba was torn between annoyance and amusement. To her knowledge, the two had never really interacted much before this, though apparently no introduction was needed.
“James,” she said, finally looking up at him, “you’re right. I’m not normal. I know that. But there was no harm in me waiting until after I’d finished a nice meal to go and get help. I checked it out when I was sitting down. I knew it wasn’t life threatening. I’m capable of deductive reason with my other senses." He opened his mouth to argue, but she pressed on. “I didn’t hear a crack when I fell, so there were no broken bones. I saw that there was a puncture, but if I’d severed an artery I’d be squirting blood, and if there was total separation of a tendon or ligament then the limb wouldn’t be functioning properly, Pain Relief Philter or not.” She left out the part about if she’d actually have gone through with healing it there was a possibility of permanent increased density of the muscle. That would be counterproductive to her argument.
James thought about it for a moment before replying quietly, “I can’t use logic like you do. I see blood, something’s not right. You know I’m ok with falling, and new treatments, and tripping down stairs, but blood is fair game for me to go all ‘you have to go to the hospital wing’. I’d do the same with Albus, and you know I’m right.”
He did have a point. “Fine. Blood’s fair game. But no more turning me into the authorities.”
“Only if you’ll promise the same thing,” he countered, grinning.
The moment was interrupted by a loud belch from behind. Alba glanced over her shoulder to catch Ben hitting himself in the chest with a rather satisfied grin on his face.
“That felt good,” he sighed, reaching forward for another drink of pumpkin juice.
Alba couldn’t help but laugh. That’s what happened when you hung around guys all the time.
James seemed a little disgusted. “Well, I’ll be off now,” he said, pushing the seat back and heading towards the scarlet and gold table.
“I agree with him you know," Ben said. “You aren’t just a girl. You’re much more than that."
“Thank you, Ben.”
“So will you go out with me now?” he tried again, eyebrows bouncing up and down with his head as a smile crept to her face.
“No, Ben. For the fifty-sixth time, I will not go out with you.”
“Why?” he asked, uncharacteristically. Normally he allowed her to change the subject, or deflected with a joke. She took a moment to think of the words.
“I‘m not the damsel in distress for a knight in shining armor like you. I’m not that girl. I‘m the old librarian in the back that no one notices. The cat lady. The only ‘romance’ I’m interested in is situated between Paranormal and Sociology in the library. Autobiographies are in another section entirely.”
“I disagree,” he offered, a mischievous light glinting in the corner of his eye. “I think you’re afraid.”
She snorted. “I’m not afraid of anything, Ben.”
He cocked his head a moment, eyes searching hers, as though trying to find a bluff. Alba was being honest, however. She didn’t think there was anything to be afraid of.
“You know what they say,” he finally said, turning back towards his plate. “Fifty-seventh time is the charm and all.” Now back to normal, the previous rejection bounced off. “What classes have you got this year?” She handed him her schedule, finishing off the last of her toast as he commented on how brutal NEWT level double Transfiguration was bound to be.
It was good to have things back to normal. With both of them.
The rest of the day was rather uneventful. The start of NEWT year reminded her of the start of OWL year. All the teachers felt it necessary to give them speeches on how important this year was for determining the rest of their lives, and how much they would regret slacking off later if it meant they couldn’t get into the training programs they needed. As though they could forget how difficult it was going to be.
She hadn’t told anyone, not Pimbly during the career consult, not Nurse Wainscott in all their hours of physical therapy, not even James, but she wanted to be a Healer. Mend bodies, heal lives. Do everything for others they never could do for her. The idea was intoxicating, really. Maybe one day, she’d even figure out how to help those like her.
Transfiguration, Charms, and Defense Against the Dark Arts had always been rather easy for her. Memorization of incantation, annunciation, and wand work, comprehension of theory, practical application, all of it was simple. Potions and Herbology, however, had been proving to be increasingly difficult.
Now that she was in the advanced classes, time restraints were often given to make a potion, pre-cut/crushed/skinned/peeled ingredients were not allowed, or would not yield the commendable results she needed in order to be accepted into St. Mungo’s. By the time she’d managed to pin down jumping pods, or pull the skin off a shriveled slug, there wasn’t enough class left for it to brew properly. It was ridiculously frustrating, but she expected no special treatment, and none was given. If it came down to getting an antidote to a patient in a timely manner, she needed to be proficient, at least.
Herbology was just plain difficult to manage. It was hard enough to crush up dead things in Potions, but wrestling with the live ones for ingredients was even worse. She’d gotten her first detention in Year 3 Herbology with Professor Longbottom after purposefully catching a Devil’s Snare on fire for pulling her forearm crutches out from under her. It had been the seventh time that period. She also thought it to be rather useless for her chosen career. Alba didn’t understand why it was required in the first place. Botanists, yes. Healers, no. It wasn’t as if she’d be going out the hospital garden and wrestling with the venomous greenery while someone waited in a hospital bed. Even the thought was ridiculous.
Astronomy was her one indulgence. It had nothing to do with her preferred career, but she absolutely loved the stars. At first, it had been an attempt to have an excuse for wandering about at night, but she’d found the systematic charting of the sky to be rather relaxing and inspiring at the same time. Beautiful, really. Constantly changing...
By the end of the day, after another long lecture about NEWT level Potions from Professor Pimbly, Alba limped towards the Hospital Wing to check in with Nurse Wainscott before heading off to dinner. Normally she would do a therapy session, but as the cut wasn’t healed, she doubted there would be any exercise today. Maybe some stretching though, if she could convince the older woman that she felt alright.
“Oh, Alba!” she called, waddling a little as she bustled towards the open door. “Hop up here dear, and let me take a look at you.”
Nurse Wainscott’s hair was all made up, two french braids twisting her graying hair into a crown atop her round face. The rest of the cots were empty, and so her full attention was turned on Alba.
“You’re looking a little pale. Out of breath at all? Let’s see your wrists. Any bruises from using the crutches today? Yes, looks like the left. Of course, it would be the left though, wouldn’t it. I’ll be checking your iron, young lady, and the white blood cells, of course. Have you been coughing at all?”
Alba sighed, not ready to deal with the onslaught. “A little out of breath yesterday, but with the raining and all, you know how it gets difficult to catch my breath sometimes. No coughing though, productive or otherwise.”
The mini-examination was a quick run through. Iron and white blood cells were fine. Respiratory functions normal.
“So, how about we do some stretching? I’ve got some kinks that could do with a workout,” Alba hedged, trying to ease into the idea of completing a full session.
Nurse Wainscott’s wrinkled eyes flashed above her bifocals. “Young lady, don’t try to fool me. I told you last night you’re not to do any physical therapy until this heals up.”
“But look,” she insisted, pointing to the red crusty scab, “it’s healing, so can’t you just dab some dittany on it and get it over with? I mean, the Solution is out of my system, so no harm done, right?” As they were alone, she didn’t try to hide the desperation in her voice.
Nurse Wainscott didn’t answer at first, and Alba knew better than to press her further. The woman was kind and patient, but when she gave you a treatment plan, it was difficult to convince her otherwise.
“I can use dittany on it now, yes, but I’d still prefer you wait two to three weeks before you start taking the Pain Philter and Strengthening Solution again. We’ll start up the therapy after another three days-” Alba groaned, flopping back against the thin mattress as the woman continued, “-to make sure the muscle adjusts well.” Her voice was grim, uncompromising. “That’s the deal take it or leave it, missy.”
Alba threw an arm over her eyes and grumbled, “Fine. I’ll wait.”
Dinner was wonderful. Maude sat next to her, and they discussed whether or not their schedules would be compatible again for revision sessions this year. Maude had continued taking Arithmancy, while Alba had not, and Maude intended to use her late afternoons to do major overviews, while Astrology kept Alba from being around.
“Well, why don’t we just see how it works out,” Maude finally said, finishing off the last of her steamed vegetables. No salt or anything. The girl was odd.
“Yeah. Not even sure how much studying I’ll focus on Astrology anyway,” Alba muttered, starting to consider dropping the subject altogether.
“Have you decided what you’d like to do once you leave here?” she asked, picking up her bag filled with books and standing, her mouse brown hair pulled into a ponytail.
Alba blanched a little at the prospect of admitting her ambition, but refrained. “No, I haven’t the slightest idea,” she muttered through a forced smile. “I’ll see you back in the common room.”
“See you,” Maude called over her shoulder as she left with a wave..
Perhaps Alba had lied to Ben. There was something she was afraid of, rational or not.
“I just don’t understand why you’re so upset,” she heard a familiar voice say from behind. James sounded a little exasperated, and Alba wasn’t the least surprised to see he was talking to Chandra, standing up towards the end of the Gryffindor table, as though on his way out.
“I’m not upset, I just don’t understand why you’re being like that,” she replied, hands on her hips, mouth pursed, eyes pulled together over a fuming face.
“I told you, I’m not going to enter.” James said in a cool and calm voice, as though he was hardly interested in continuing their conversation. As far as Alba knew, the two didn’t fight often. To see them arguing in the Great Hall was an anomaly at best, and yet there they were stalled in the great doorway of the Hall.
“You’re the best chance this school has,” Chandra continued, her voice more charming than acidic now. He did have a way with people, James did. “You weren’t named Head Boy for nothing, darling. Who else could take your place?”
Dawning crashed on Alba. They were talking about the Triwizard Cup. She took her lip between her teeth, biting down to keep her mouth shut. This wasn’t a fight she needed to get involved in.
“Why don’t you try for it? You’re just as likely to be picked as I am, only you’d probably enjoy it more. Just imagine the look on all your sisters’ faces-”
Chandra’s snappish demeanor was back, “Don’t be ridiculous James. I’m hardly Triwizard material, and we both know it. Two of them entered, so it’s not like anyone expects me to do any better. So I can zoom around on a broom, you can do that and more.”
At least the girl didn’t have an ego issue, Alba admitted to herself. Though why she was getting on to James for respecting his father’s wishes was a mystery to her.
“Come on now, Chandra.” He pulled her out of the doorway to the corner of the Great Hall. A little further, but still in hearing range. “I think you’d be a wonderful champion.”
The girl shook her head. “If I enter, but you don’t and lose, everyone will know why.” She was stubborn, that’s for sure.
Alba cringed and glanced away as James lifted his hand to brush her shoulder. “You’re being ridiculous. So what if your sisters already tried.”
There was silence for a moment, and Alba, fearful of peeping on them snogging, continued to avert her eyes.
“So you’ll enter then?” she heard Chandra ask eventually.
“If you do?”
“We’ll go together.”
Alba closed her eyes in concentration, imagining how James would sound rebuffing her again. It took her a moment to process his response.
“Alright.” Alba jerked her head up, watching him smile and nod down at Chandra.
Now Alba was concerned. People got hurt in the Tournament. People had died. And not just in freak undead-Dark-Lord-rebirth deaths either. Judges and participants alike had been killed before. Sure, there were a few more perks nowadays, but not many. Not enough to make it worth it.
“Really?” Chandra asked, the pleasant surprise evident in her tone.
Alba stood, quickly, and hobbled over. “James, you shouldn’t.”
He looked up quickly, surprised, then a little angry. “Have you been listening this entire time?”
Alba blushed, stuttering a little as she cleared her throat, “Well, I -er uh... no. Not all of it. Just caught the -uh the last bit.”
Chandra folded her arms across her chest, bouncing a leg up and down. James threw her a pointed look, and then focused on Alba. “Well, why not? Anyone else has just as much a chance as I have. How do we know it isn’t random in the first place?”
“But your father-”
“Isn’t living my life,” he interrupted smoothly, reverting back to his tradition calm and calculating tone. He grinned one of those half-smiles at her and took a hold of Chandra’s hand, prying an arm loose. “Everything will be fine, Alba.” Chandra couldn’t see the wink he threw to Alba as they turned to leave, but the whole exchange made her uneasy. “Trust me.” He finished, walking past.
Shaking her head, Alba turned away and finished what was on her plate, polishing off another helping of carrot cake before heading back to the common room, bookbag digging into her shoulder as she climbed staircase after staircase.
When she reached the bottom of Ravenclaw tower, there was no exuberant sixth year to carry her up the winding stairs. The disappointment she felt annoyed her, and the stupid mantra brought her no comfort. Stand tall, she thought, dragging one foot after the other. I don’t want to just stand tall. I want to run...