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Stand Tall by Chelts-rhj

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As the sun finally broke through the grumpy clouds, Alba and Ben waved goodbye to Dimitri. She was thankful for the company as they left, the sound of the boy’s exchanged pleasantries still audible over the creak from the steps beneath her feet. She wasn’t very good with small talk. 


“Well he was unexpectedly enjoyable,” Ben said under his breath from behind her. The narrow staircase with its spiraling wooden stairs was too confined for him to walk properly beside her. The earthy stones beside her were set in rhythmic, predictable patterns that she’d become very familiar with over the duration of her stay in the castle.


“Yes, though that Vesela troll seems rather volatile.” she snorted. “I wonder why he even chose her, they didn’t seem to get a long.” 


Portraits and staircases flew by during their discussion of the Durmstrang duo. They were able to come up with several reasons why two people who didn’t like each other would go into competitions like this. They exhausted every possible avenue, until finally Ben changed the subject. 


“So, James is your Companion, huh?” he asked from her side. Alba supposed that the statement was originally posed as interrogatory, bus there was as underlying tone of finality suggesting there was no actual question. 


Alba didn’t turn to look at him. “Well, he was a rather obvious choice, so why make things complicated.” 


“Why not Maude?” he asked. 


Alba was grateful he didn’t use a pleading tone. Like most of her house, he simply wanted to know the information. 


Honestly, she hadn’t even considered the girl. “Well, she’s very nice and all, I just… I don’t know. She’s not very creative, I suppose. Very logical, like I am. I think that having people of a varying disposition and expertise is the key to making a good team.” 


“So… if I was of age, would you have considered me?” His voice was quiet, and Alba again refused to turn her head a fraction to the side to catch a glimpse of him. She had too much to think about, too much to do for this supposition. 


“You aren’t of age. So why does it matter? Speculation won’t do me any good right now. You’re sixteen. You aren’t allowed to help.” Her tone was a bit more snappish than she meant, but it had never affected him before, and apparently it wasn’t going to now.


“Humor me,” he offered, coming in front of her so that her visual field was nothing but the very visage she didn’t want to see. His eyes were steady as hers darted all around. 


“Probably not, Ben. James and I work well together, we’ve known each other for years, and I just-”


“Won’t let anyone else get that close.” 


Alba was struck by the statement just as if he’d backhanded her. Her eyes popping open, and her mouth hanging, her brain turning over, trying to find a valid response, like her father trying to start the car after a snowstorm. Static filled her brain where words should’ve been. She tried to dredge up something, some shred of evidence to the contrary, but he was right. 


A very sweaty and disheveled James came skidding into view around the corner, knocking into a suit of armor hard enough to send them both sprawling. As the suit clamored to reattach his head, James continued forward, stealing Ben’s attention and saving Alba from finding a response. The pictures in the hallway seemed to disapprove of his haste, shaking their powdered wigs and noses at the Head Boy badge bouncing on his black robes with every step. The suit of armor seemed perfectly fine, to his credit.


He got about halfway down the corridor before stooping over, hands on his knees as he panted for air. “Looked for you… on the map,” he forced out between great gasps. He reached forward and loosened the knot in his red and gold striped tie as he continued, “Need to tell you… McGonogall, you and me… the nurse,” he lifted one hand, pointing at her “Saw you with Ivanovic. I was worried.” His color was returning to normal again, and he stood up straight after another deep breath.


“He’s actually quite nice,” Ben spoke up from beside her. 


“Really? Well, I’ll be sure to remember that while trying to figure out the best way to mercilessly beat him,” James responded. “Come on Alba.”


“I’ll see you later?” she offered to Ben, watching him from over her shoulder as she took a few tentative steps towards James. He nodded, but it was a curt, short nod without the grin she had taken advantage of earlier in the day.


“Yeah, sure. I’ll probably be in the library.” He turned and left without a backward glance. 


Alba was too absorbed in her own problems to try and force conversation with James again. Her last attempt had been disastrous. A few of the portraits on the crowded walls called to her, wishing her luck or shouting out odd pieces of advice. When James did speak, it startled her.


“Alba, you’d tell me if you liked anyone, right?” 


She gulped rather audibly, and appreciated that he was a few steps ahead. She took a moment to look at him before she answered. Where the sunlight filtered in through the warped glass windows, there was an undertone of red that came his from mother shining through the inky black. Most people thought he was a carbon copy of his father, but his mother was just too stubborn not to get a part of him. Alba knew that the inside of his right shoe wore down faster because of a broom accident he’d had a child that damaged a growth plate in his knee. If you paid attention, when he wore shorts you could see the slight curvature that resulted… and she 'liked' every bit of it.


With a deep breath, she forced herself to remember what it looked like when he smiled at Chandra, when he braided her hair, or asked for the best remedy for a head cold when she got the sniffles. She thought of the dark circles under his eyes every time they broke up.  


“Yeah, I suppose I would,” she said, hoping the silence hadn’t given her away, and shoving her own feelings aside. 


“So you aren’t into Honeypucker, are you? Because you’d have said something by now…” he trailed off, as though unsure of himself. Alba couldn’t help but laugh, any worries of him suspecting her vanishing.


“No, I don’t like Benjamin like that,” she said, almost to herself. “He’s great, he really is. I mean, he understands me, he thinks like me a lot. We have fun together-”


“But you know it’s more than that for him?” James interrupted, finally turning back to look at her. The accusation his tone confused her, as though he wanted the situation to be combative. 


The stone gargoyles standing guard at McGonogall’s office were just out of earshot, the important destination almost upon them. She saw one of the statues heads turn towards them, clicking a talon impatiently.  


She lowered her voice to try and diffuse the ridiculous situation, “Of course. He’s asked me out dozens of times. He’s not exactly shy.” 


James frowned. “Does he bother you?”


“No, not really. If I didn’t like him I wouldn’t hang out with him,” she reasoned. Nodding towards the entrance to the office. 


“So you do like him then?” 


Patience was a virtue Alba had in short supply. “Merlin’s arse, why are you interrogating me about this? Do you want me to be in love or something James? I’m sorry to disappoint, but I have a few more important things on my mind right now!” It all came out in a hiss as he attempted anger while whispering, a hand pointing unabashedly to where the gargoyles stood waiting.”Now are you done playing matchmaker?”



“Whatever,” James grumbled, pressing onward, as though it were his idea in the first place. “Wronski feint,” he muttered to no gargoyle in particular. They both jumped aside, but once again the staircase didn’t rise. 


Alba pushed past him, stepping under the giant archway to the top of the stairs, but James hesitated. “The castle insists that I ride,” she explained, nodding at a place beside her. 


James stepped forward without comment, and within no time they found themselves before the intimidating dark stained wood door that allowed the Heads of Hogwards privacy. The muted sound of voices filtered past the solid barrier, though it wasn’t until the door pushed open that they realized how many people were waiting for them. 


Stand tall, she thought, eyeing the unfamiliar faces around her. Just stand tall, it’ll be alright...


In addition to McGonagall, Nurse Wainscott, James, and Alba, both the other school heads were present, Voda leaning against a bookcase to the right with his arms folded over his chest, Madame Maxime visible from behind where McGonagall sat, her large girth all but blocking out the enormous window behind her.The light filtering through put her features in stark contrast, so that Alba couldn’t tell her expression. Another woman was sitting in the straight back chair before them, facing the desk, with an older man to the left.


The woman, Alba recognized. Leatrice Zhang turned and offered her a smile. Good sign. 


Time had treated the woman well. The lines creeping out from the edges of her dark eyes only served to soften her expressions. Red, square cut glasses added a nice contrast to her round face, pink lips turned into a smile. Her dark black hair was piled on top of her head, held in place by a rather large ornate butterfly clip, enchanted to flap its wings when she turned her head, as though wind were disturbing its rest.


“Alba, James,” McGonogall was saying as she stood, waving her wand so that two more chairs were placed between the adults before her, “please take a seat.” 


Nurse Wainscott still hadn’t looked away from the fireplace before her.She had expected a warm smile, a nod, a gesture, a pat on the shoulder, anything. The lack of encouragement had anxiety rising in her throat, burning on the way up as though she had suddenly acquired a particularly bad case of heartburn.


Alba stole a few furtive glances to the old man beside her as she sat, the one she assumed must be Quinn Hambledon, the last judge. He seemed to be pointedly ignoring her. Not a good sign. She was only able to register greying hair and sagging skin before McGonagall began speaking, gesturing to each of them in turn as she called out a name. 


“Leatrice Zhang, Quinn Hambledon, this is our Champion, Alba Williamson, and her Companion, James Potter.” 


Alba rolled her eyes as the adults rustled in their respective positions at the mention of his name, as though the wind of interest had blown them from their boredom and into the awesome presence of “The Chosen One’s” first-born. 


McGonagall continued as though nothing had happened, “Normally you would’ve been introduced to the other two Judges formally tonight, with the other Triwizard Teams, however, it was decided to break tradition to sort out some… complications.” 


The pit of her stomach dropped. She hadn’t realized the Teams would be announced so quickly, although with only Beauxbatons requiring the transportation of an outside Professor, perhaps the process had been expedited. The taste of bile rose into her mouth as her mind wheeled with unfounded assumptions. Maybe I’m disqualify, how embarrassing would that be. It wouldn’t be quite disqualification, she thought, more like… failure to meet pre-established requirements resulting in my ejection. Disqualified made it sound like I’d been qualified in the first place. 


McGonagall's lips were pressed tightly together, her jaw clenching and unclenching so that a muscle twitched in her face. “It was brought to my attention by Nurse Wainscott that your treatment requires potions of a chronically restorative and enhancing nature.” Alba’s breath was coming in shorter bursts, her chest tightening as fear threatened to spill over and take control of her respiratory processes. “I asked Mr. Hambledon to check in the official Triwizard Tournament Rules before he and Ms. Zhang made their trip to the school this afternoon.” 


Alba was aware that the portraits on the wall were quiet, attentive, grave almost. The effect was that the room was almost silent as she continued, her voice the only sound in the circular room.


“I’m sorry Alba, but the official rules state that potions used on oneself or another competitor in Triwizard Tournament is forbidden.” 


Alba: 3

Cerebral Palsy: 5


Official ruling- plus one for the Strengthening Solution, and one for the Pain Philter. 


A loud sniff came from the fireplace. As Alba had feared, Nurse Wainscott’s constitution was faulty. Her head was bent down to rest in her hands, her breath coming in the great gasps that Alba was fending off herself. 


“I am sorry, Ms. Williamson,” a soft, feathery voice came from her side. Hambeldon had turned towards her as he spoke. Her first impression of the man was immediate: grandfather. He looked like the type of man who belonged in a rocking chair, wrinkled, squinting eyes smiling at the bouncing toddler on his knee. “If the wording wasn’t so precise, we might be able to go around it, but as things are, there’s nothing to be done.” 


“Do you agree to desist taking your medications immediately?” Voda spoke up. His voice was startling, a window shattering an otherwise calm afternoon.


Nurse Wainscott's head snapped to his direction, her face streaked with tears, though there was a fiery light in her eyes as she spoke. 


“I hardly think that’s necessary. The next task isn’t for weeks-”


“And she should be beyond the influence of any potions before then!” Madame Maxime’s voice boomed. 


Alba’s heart was thumping, her eyes darting across the room as more and more adults spoke up. She couldn’t quite keep up with them, their points and counterpoints seeming to blur together as she tried to work out the reality of what they were asking her to do. 


Go through the entire school year, and all three tasks, without the most effective treatment she’d ever found. Essentially… ground zero. Level one. 


Just as panic was taking over, James pressed his warm hand into hers. She looked over at him, and the determination in his eyes. She’d made it through four years of school without Strengthening Solution, and six without Pain Philter. What was one more right? 


Alba stood, though she was still a full head and shoulders shorter than almost everyone else, and spoke up best she could, “Excuse me,” but the adults were too busy quarreling with another to pay attention to the source of their debate.


“Excuse me!” she shouted.


A few portraits expressed their opinions on her rudeness, but the ends justified the means. She had their attention. 


“I’ll do it,” she replied at an acceptable volume, aware that James still held her hand. 


“Alba, you don’t have to-” Nurse Wainscott started. 


“Apparently I do,” she interjected. 


“Thank you, Ms. Williamson, for your voluntary compliance,” Zhang spoke for the first time, “but I hardly think that completely abandoning your regimen is necessary. If I remember correctly, Strengthening Solution only retains its initial effectiveness for twenty-four hours, and after three days you can’t feel any discernable effects. After a week all traces are out of your system.” 


“The same can be said about Pain Philter,” Nurse Wainscott added, though her tone suggested she wasn’t sure why it was relevant, the crisp clean edge to her voice was as clinical as a surgical gauze “though its initial effectiveness can be prolonged if taken regularly, as Alba does, the effects would be processed in one week.”


Zhang’s pink smile widened, her eyebrows disappearing into straight cut bangs. “The use of Strengthening Solution and other enhancing potions are allowed to be taken during the pro-Quidditch season, so long as competitors leave ample time for any restorative properties to be processed by the body.” 


“Yes, that could work…” Hambledon was saying. 


A flair of hope lit up inside Alba’s chest. “You mean, I could take them, so long as I quit before each Task?” 


“In theory…” Zhang let the sentence hang. 


Predictably, Voda looked upset by the proposition, though he kept his mouth shut. Madame Maxime’s was opening and closing, making her look like a fish out of water. Nurse Wainscott, McGonagall, James, and Hambledon all seemed rather pleased with the idea. 


“The rules do say ‘in the Triwizard Tournament’ and not ‘for the duration of’. We could decide to interpret this as ‘in the tasks themselves’. After all, in the account of injury during the tournament, every means is administered to restore the participant back to full health. The wording allows for it,” Hambledon said.


She was liking him more and more.


“Well, there you go!” James exclaimed, squeezing her hand hard enough to press Alba’s cramped fingers painfully together. 


“He said ‘could decide’, young Potter,” Madame Maxime had finally found words. 


“Yes then, very well. I suppose we should put it to vote then?” McGonagall interceded. The adults in the room all looked at one another, as though waiting for a cue of some sort. 


“All those in favor of allowing Ms. Alba Williamson to continue her treatment until to the week leading up to the Triwizard Tasks, please raise your hand.” The voice was unfamiliar, and Alba turned in search of the man who had spoken. 


James nudged her with his elbow, nodding to the smallest portrait on the round walls, enclosed in a simple yet elegant frame directly above the front door. 


Albus Dumbledore smiled down at her as she pivoted in her chair. She heard the rustling of robes as a few raised their hands, but she couldn’t look away from the portrait, too afraid of what she might find in the room about her. 


“Then it’s settled,” Dumbledore finished. “The Judges of the Triwizard Tournament have decided, almost unanimously, to allow you to continue your regimen, so long as you adhere to the prescribed rules of the Tournament, as has already been discussed.” 


James let out a robust cheer, smiling at Alba wholeheartedly. 


“Good luck to you dear,” the portrait offered before turning from her and disappearing out of what looked to be an oil rendition of the very door he hung above. 

 


 

“So, who didn’t vote for it?” Alba asked James as the winding staircase slowly brought them back down to the corridor. 


“Maxime.” 


“Really? That was it? I expected Voda to not go for it as well.” 


“So did I. Maybe he’s a bit more reasonable than we think. I mean, all he’s really worried about is his Champion winning right? As long as you don’t have an advantage over Ivanovic during the Tasks, what does he care about your potions.”


“Then why didn’t Maxime vote for it?” Alba asked. 


“I don’t know. Women are conniving?” She raised his shoulders to his ears, offering his arms up in a ridiculous fashion that coaxed a reluctant smile at her, as was his intention, no doubt.


There were students littering the hallways, on their way to study, or eat, or get up to mischief. Alba was still trying to find her composure, and hoped she didn’t look too disheveled as one after another the students she passed looked her up and down, as though weighing her against their expectations in a Champion. 


“Are you hungry?” James asked, holding his hand out for her as they began to climb down yet another staircase. 


“I suppose I could eat,” she replied, attempting to forget that Ben may be waiting for her in the library. She didn’t feel like talking to him just yet though. 


The house tables were loaded with food when they entered the great hall. A good number of students had wandered down from their frivolities to grab a bite before heading off again. 


There was an live undercurrent to the student body, a low buzz filling the spaces between the walls of the Great Hall. The Judges were to be introduced at dinner, the official Triwizard Tournament Teams presented, and with them, any introduction to the First Task they might receive. 


As she heard snippets of conversation, Alba lost the little appetite she had managed to work up. It was too real. All the talk about the first task was bouncing around like a rogue curse, directed on her. 


“What if I just don’t show up?” she asked James in a horribly meek voice. 


“I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s an option. Don’t they say something about binding contracts with the Goblet and all that nonsense?” 


He was scanning the Gryffindor table, paying no real attention to her. Several of his extended family were waiting for him, and she waited for them to call him over, bombard him with questions on the break up. 


“Oi, James, Alba,” Rosie was calling, beckoning them both over with a jovial wave of her hand. “Don’t be a stranger!” 


Though she had been to the Potter’s residence a few times during holidays, Alba had been careful never to overstep her friend boundaries and pretend to know the rather infamous Weasley/Potter clan on a truly personal level. She knew their names, of course, and the occasional ‘hullo’ may be exchanged in the hallway, but she certainly had never been part of the gossip train, or questionable co-dependence. 


“Are you to be Companion then, James?” Lily was asking, her fiery red hair braided in a long plait that sat on her shoulder, falling to her waist. Alba always thought that Ginny had been rather persistent in her attempts to pass on her genetic traits, finally succeeding with her daughter. 


“Yes, it seems so,” James nodded her direction, sitting sideways on the bench so that he faced his little sister. 


“You can sit here Alba,” Albus scooted over on the opposite side. Alba shrunk her crutches silently and took a seat, trying not to worry about what would happen if Chandra decided to grab a bite while she was there.


“Well at least your fan girls won’t be too disappointed then. I’m sure dad and mum were happy to hear,” Rosie was saying, checking her eyeliner in a compact pulled from her purse.


“Will be happy to hear, you mean,” James corrected her, grabbing at about half a dozen sandwiches from the center of the table. “Bless those little elves,” he muttered under his breath, reaching for the chips. 


There was a sharp snap as the compact closed forcefully, “What?” his cousin snapped.


“You haven’t written your parents?” Alba asked him, startled.


He took his eyes off the food long enough to give her a reproachful look, mustard already dripping down his chin. “I’ve been a bit busy.” 


“You don’t have to eat yourself into a coma,” Albus teased, snatching one of the sandwiches from his plate. “I know that you like to gorge yourself to bloatation your big blowouts with the misses, but this is really ridiculous.”


In unison the female relatives present hissed at the insensitive comment, shushing Albus reproachfully for his lack of tact. 


“I’ll have you know that we’ve both,” he nodded to Alba, “have had a rather stressful day, and I am quite old enough to handle it, I just happen to be hungry thank you very much,” he took another bite and added “oh he-who-refuses-to-shave-when-rejected,” through a rather moist bite of sandwich. 


Though she didn’t have much to add, it was nice listening to them tease one another. It was something normal, average, predictable. Safe. Not like all the other topics buzzing about the Great Hall.


I can do this, Alba thought to herself, trying not to think about the painful days ahead. I’ll just stand tall and take it one step at a time. 

 

 


 

At dinner a few hours later, students from all Schools of Magic sat amongst one another, whispering excitedly as they waited for the presentation of the Tournament Teams. Friends talked animatedly to one another, looking this way and that for the students that may or may not end up participating. 


Alba was surprised at the number of people who were congratulating her. After the shock had worn off, perhaps they had started to hope a little that her brain could match the other boys’ brawn. She hadn’t met up with Ben in the library, too absorbed in everything that had happened, what dinner would entail, and the weeks after. She’d passed her time on the grounds, thoroughly throwing off her study schedule to enjoy a windy, chilly day wrapped in a scarf. He would forgive her. He would understand, but still she looked for his face as she entered the hall for dinner.  He was so tall, it would be easy to spot him, even in a group of people. Maude was no where to be seen as well, and she wondered if they hadn’t meet up in the library without her. Even if he wasn’t taking OWLS this year, Ben still needed to be careful with his studies...


“Ms. Williamson, if you could please collect your belongings and make your way over to the trophy room, the Headmistress would like to begin the proceedings.” Professor Pimbly placed a warm, boney hand on Alba’s shoulder as she practically whispered the words into her ear. “You’ll be able to join your classmates for dinner after the presentation.”


“Yes ma’am,” Alba muttered, trying to keep the blush from her cheeks as the heads around her turned, watching her move. They must all suspect her choice, waiting with bated breath to be proved correct, that the Potter boy would be the one she chose by her side. She bit on her lip as she stood, hoping to catch James’s attention without having to walk all the way over to the table.


He was in the middle, his luminous green gaze avoiding the far end of the table where a puffy eyed Chandra sat amid a group of hostile looking seventh-year girls. Alba took a deep breath, trying to steady her heart beat. 


Finally, James’s head turned just enough so that he would see her if only he paid attention. She gave a sharp whistle, shoving the two working fingers of her left hand into her mouth for a more effective tone. Sure enough, his head jerked to the side, and she motioned him to come with her, through the little door that she had walked through alone not too long ago. 


She was glad when they reached the door together. No one seemed to be staring straight at her, though Dimitri and the Vesela girl were directly behind them, Pierre and whomever he had chosen no where in sight. 


James held the door open for her as they went in, Dimitri motioning for Vesela to proceed. It irked Alba that the girl rolled her eyes at his kindness. She had a strong suspicion they really weren’t going to get along. Perhaps that would be to her advantage.


As she entered into the glittering space, firelight once again reflected off the shining metal surfaces. Alba saw that there were two figures already within. 


The first was the Beaxbatons Champion who had seemed so pleased with himself before, the other a freckled red-head that looked as though he could be a relative of James’s, if it weren’t for the ugly sneer etched across his face. They stood in identically guarded positions, legs spread with their hands folded over their chest. Their shoulders were touching, the only difference between the matching robes how they hung from the shoulders of their person. The Companion was smaller than his counterpart, shoulders arched in an unattractive slump.


The red-head uttered a line in french, to which Pierre Roux laughed at harshly. 


James pursed his lips, frowning. “What’d they say?” Alba whispered to him. He’d complained enough about the home-taught french lessons for her to know that they’d worked. 


“He said ‘they call this our competition. Two girls, and two scrawny boys.” 


“Is it against the rules to jinx them outside of Tasks?” she asked. The remark hadn’t particularly offended her, but the grin on James’s face was exactly what she’d been hoping for. He seemed so tense. 


“I think so, yeah…” he whispered back.


“Ah, Alba!” Dimitri was saying, coming forward to shake her hand, once again completely at ease with her oddities. “This must be your Companion. Very nice to meet you sir,” 


He offered a hand to James. Alba shifted her weight slightly so that she could bring the rubber tip of one crutch solidly down on James’s foot. He gasped slightly as he took the proffered hand, smiling through clenched teeth. She preferred no hesitation in returning the nicety, and the gesture seemed like the best way to assure it.


“And nice to meet you,” he managed to get out as she relieved the pressure. “I’m James Potter,” 


“Really?” Vesela’s sharp voice cut through the conversation, and she inserted herself with even less grace than Alba usually managed to stir up. “You are related to Harry Potter, then?” She demanded. 


“Uh...yeah,” James offered. Even his well-bred manners were shaken by her lack thereof. “He’s my dad, why?” 


“Why would you allow this girl to-” 


Alba’s patience had run out. “ ‘This girl’ is ‘allowed’ to do whatever the hell I please, regardless of his opinion. Now if you’ll excuse us, I believe we were having a conversation.” She turned her back to the girl, pointedly looking at Dimitri and searching for something to say when the door opened once more, Nurse Wainscott and Krum followed by a rather petite looking blonde woman Alba had never seen before. The blonde went over to the Beaxbaton boys, while Krum and Nurse Wainscott joined the small gathering closest to the door. 


“Ah, there is only one person you can be, fine sir! There is no hiding you are your father's son, master Potter,” Krum’s voice rang out as he clasped forearms with James. “I remember I saw you when you were just a wee little baby! Of course you wouldn’t be remembering that, it was much too long ago!” 


Now that they were close, Alba could see the grey peppered throughout the retired Quidditch player’s hair, and the way his eyes seemed to splinter and fracture like broken glass at the edges. Still, his voice was warm, and she smiled at him genuinely as he surveyed her. 


“I have been talking to your Nurse here, my good witch,” he was speaking to her now, glancing between Alba and the older woman kindly. “She tells me of your spirit.” He clasped a hand firmly on Dimitri’s shoulder, “Let us hope we can overcome your spunk!” he smiled, and Dimitri seemed to enjoy it as well. 


Thankfully, Vesela stayed silent, though the scowl on her face seemed to be permanent. 


As Krum gathered his students in a little further away, Nurse Wainscott came before Alba, taking her free hand and holding it gently in both of hers. “Are you ready?” she asked with a deep breath. 


Alba was relieved to see that warm, encouraging smile once again. If Nurse Wainscott had hope, there was hope to be had. Though as she heard the crisp voice of McGonagall through the quieting crowd outside, she wished that her mother were there. It didn’t matter if she had memorized the feel of her mother's soft finger on the bottom of her chin, pulling her head just a little higher, even if she knew in her bones the soft tone of the words, ‘stand tall’, it just wasn’t the same without her. 


All the teams gathered closer to the door to hear McGonagall as she introduced first Leatrice Zhang, and then Quinn Hambledon. The difference in applause was noticeable, as many people would recognize Zhang from her Quidditch days. 


“Without further ado,” McGonagall was saying, much sooner than Alba would’ve liked, “I would like to introduce the Beauxbaton Triwizard Tournament Team!” 


Pierre Roux, the red-headed boy, and blonde woman all straightened perceptibly at the announcement, pushing the door open quickly, eager to enter the Great Hall, greeted by a tremendous amount of applause. Alba caught sight of them crossing to the farthest end of the hall where Madame Maxime waited for them before the door shut behind with a solid thunk.


“Your Champion, Pierre Roux,” Mcgonagall continued, “Companion Cyrille Blanchett, and Coach, Professor Van Den Acker!”


More applause, a few cat calls, and the noise was leveling back out again, tension rising once again. 


Alba rubbed the textured handle of her crutch with one thumb, trying to sooth herself. She decided to refresh her Anti-slipping charms nervously while McGonagall continued.


“Please welcome the Durmstrang Triwizard Team- Champion, Dimitri Ivanovic, Companion Minodora Vesela, and Coach, Professor Krum!”


The roar from the crowd this time was deafening, even before the shining face of Dimitri bolted through the door, practically running up to the podium as Krum waived to the students cheering his name. The stopped at the closest end of the staff table, Voda clasping both Vesela and Ivanovic’s hands as they neared.


Alba’s braces and crutches were solid, her palms sweaty as she grasped the handles. James was next to her, strong and silent. He didn’t offer his hand out to her, and she would’ve have taken it even if he did. This hurdle was one she would have to jump on her own. Nurse Wainscott was opposite him, eyes forward, unworried about Alba. Their confidence gave her strength, so that when McGonagall’s voice filtered in once again, she was ready.


“And finally, the Hogwarts Triwizard Tournament Team!” Alba was thankful that this round of applause for her was much more hearty than the last. “Champion, Alba Williamson, Companion, James Potter-” several people let out hoots, “and Coach, Nurse Wainscott!” 


James held the door open for her with one hand. The sound rushed over her, as the did the candlelight as she stepped out of the little room and back into the Great Hall.


They were clapping for her. Up and down each table, people were clapping. Maybe not all too enthusiastically, no one was cat calling at her, though she was sure a few younger girls were swooning at James. They were applauding respectfully, and that was all she asked for, really.


Alba knew better than to rush herself, instead trying to make her strides seem purposeful,  not quick and hasty. James didn’t rush her, nor did Nurse Wainscott, waiting for her to take her place next to McGonagall at the center of the room.


Nurse Wainscott stayed on one side of the Headmistress, James passing behind the three woman to take his place at Alba’s other side. She knew he was a little nervous as he tossed his hair back, a tick she had noticed when he was trying to seem composed. The thought of his discomfort in front of an adoring crowd was amusing, and she was surprised to find a grin creeping into the corner of her mouth.


As the applause died down once more, McGonagall continued with the ceremony. 


“As the Teams have been chosen and approved by the panel of Judges, we will commence with the opening of the Triwizard Tournament!” 


Confetti exploded from mid air in a dozen different locations, showering everyone with silver and gold sparkles, the sound of trumpeting mingling with the delighted shrieks from the younger children. Even Alba couldn't keep the mirth from her face, reaching one hand up over her head to grab at the falling debris. 


McGonagall laughed as well for a moment before continuing. “Now, while we intend to keep the exact nature of the first Task a secret-” at the mention of the Task, the room quieted considerably, all those in attendance straining to catch every syllable of the introduction. “-we do have a little something for you to think on.” 


In unison, the Heads of the three schools pulled out their wands, waving them with a graceful flourish to produce three grey objects that hung in mid-air, spinning slowly as though on display. 


“These token from us, your judges, are the standard by which you will be measured. Take good care of them, this is the only clue you will recieve. On December first, you will present yourself for the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament. Good Luck!” 


As she finished her speech, the trinkets descended slowly, one coming to rest before each member of the Triwizard Team. Alba glanced to her left and right, making sure that the same could be said for the other two teams. 


Alba reached forward, picking the smooth, stone token from the air before her. She frowned at it, though it had done her no harm. The little thing was expertly crafted, all the edges smooth and flawless. She knew the design was classic, nothing overly elegant or complicated about it. Her mind was racing with the possibilities of what McGonagall had said, ‘these tokens… are the standard by which you will be measured…’ But how could she be measured against a game piece?


In her hand, slowly warming under the pulse of her quickening heartbeat, was a chess piece, the King, to be precise.  Confused and unsure, she glanced to her left, surprised to find that within James’s hands was a Bishop, the same color and size as her own piece. 

 

A quick look to the right, and there was a Knight, the stone horse's mouth open in what looked to be a painful protest, wild hair flowing forever blown back behind it as it reared its front legs from a squat base.


Three chess pieces, three weeks. That’s all she had to go by.



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