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Chapter 28: Lion? Meet Snake
Chapter 28: Lion? Meet Snake
“Geeze, mate. What’s wrong with you?” Zachary asked.
“Yeah, what’d you do? The game’s in a couple days and Serena hasn’t come to a practice in ages.” Orion almost smiled as it he said. Ever since a week and a half ago, when Serena stopped showing up to Quidditch practice, he had gotten all of the perks of a first-stringer.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” James insisted, pushing his plate off to the side. “And suddenly I’m not hungry anymore.”
Blake leaned forward, lowering his voice. “Listen, Potter… Normally I don’t like to get involved in this sort of stuff, but we need her to win the game against Slytherin.” Orion visibly scowled.
Casper swallowed a mouthful of food before chiming back in. “I don’t think it’s just him, though. She hasn’t spoken to me either. I think something’s up.”
“Doesn’t much matter, though. Does it? I mean, I don’t speak girl but I’m pretty certain they like to fix things on their own,” Orion put in. Sure, he cared about Serena’s well-being. But that didn’t mean he was going to sacrifice his new found spot as sole-Keeper to help her.
“That’s not Serena,” Casper corrected. “She’s a…delicate soul.”
“She’ll be back,” James assured them. “She’s just working out some stuff right now.” His mind whirred with thoughts of the last full moon. It was only a week and a half ago, but he could still picture the look in her eyes—the pleading—perfectly. Something deep in the pit of his stomach tore at him and James stood, plucking his cloak from the bench where he sat. “I need to go. I, uh, forgot to do the essay for Kettleburn’s class.”
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Casper warned him, noticing the look in his eyes. “I hear those essays are rough.”
“Yeah. Thanks, mate. I’ll catch you guys later.”
I didn’t blame him, I really didn’t. But there was something about having all of your fears thrown straight in your face when you’re wolfed that just sticks.
I wrapped my cloak further around my body, blocking against the cold November winds. Mother Nature had finally decided it was time to bring autumn to a close and there was just something about the clouds that just made it obvious I would not be getting a warm afternoon for months.
“So, is it just me, or have I heard rumors going around the castle that that dolt Orion Scott is playing for Keeps in the Gryffindor/Slytherin game?”
I looked to my right, watching the figure of Alexei emerge from the bleacher’s stairwell. He wore a smug grin, but—like usual—didn’t truly seem menacing. His black hair blew, disheveled, in his blue-gray eyes but he didn’t move to brush it away.
“Took you long enough to find me,” I remarked after a moment.
Alexei sat, though he left a few feet of distance between the two of us.
“I wasn’t trying very hard. You are a Gryffindor, remember. We aren’t necessarily even supposed to speak in civil tones to one another.” He paused for a moment, laughing at some internal joke. “Plus, I’m not a Hufflepuff. Apparently they are particularly good finders.”
“I’ve heard as much,” I responded to both of his comments. My eyes scanned the empty pitch, recalling our Quidditch rendezvous that left me in the hospital wing with three broken ribs and a side full of bruises.
Alexei looked over the pitch as well. “I came by, you know.”
I glanced at him, but Alexei’s eyes stayed glued to the pitch. “I know. Madam Pomfrey told me.” I didn’t know what he was trying to accomplish. It sounded like he was trying to apologize but didn’t know how. But any Gryffindor worth his or her salt would have told me to look for deeper meaning; Slytherins don’t apologize.
“I didn’t mean for you to break so many bones,” he said after a moment. His voice was still sharp, not soft like James or Sirius when they apologized. “I would have much rather seen you injured in an actual match.”
Is that what he calls an apology?
“Well, I appreciate that…?”
“I mean, blimey. You’re a bit daft aren’t you?”
“Excuse me?” I asked, appalled. Then again, what did I expect? He was a Slytherin after all. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that he was reminding me of that.
“You’re pretty thick. Why would you overexert yourself like that? Though I suppose as a way to get booted from first-string, that’s sure a way to get things done.” Alexei locked eyes with me and something flashed through them that I couldn’t place. “Dolt.”
“Did you seriously come here to insult me?” I asked him incredulously. “Because I’m really not in the mood.”
Alexei stood, his voice turning deeper as he spoke next. “No, actually. I came to say you don’t have to worry about your brilliant Captain’s dirty little secret.” He crossed himself like muggles sometimes do and rolled his eyes. “I’ll take the secret of his indecency with me to the grave.”
I nodded once, biting down on the inside of my lower lip to keep myself from saying anything stupid. “Thank you.”
Alexei turned back to face me for a moment. “Just stay out of the game.”
And then he was gone as swiftly as he had arrived.
I took a deep breath, feeling my lungs fill up with cool, crisp oxygen before letting it go slowly, sinking my face down into my hands. What was I supposed to do? It was like everything was spinning out of control and I had no way to ground myself, no anchor holding me back down to reality. Years ago, I would have had Tyler. I would have told him everything and he would have helped me work through it. But now? I suppose that job was transferred to Sirius the second my lips touched his. But what could I say to him that he would understand…it was James who knew my secret, not him. So James, then?
“Are you really so weak that you would just let the wolf take over like that?”
“What about Tyler, Serena? And what about the rest of us? Don’t let yourself go until you have a chance to tell the people you love the truth. The truth of how you’ve been lying to them for years. Of how you’re just another wild, man-eating, uncontrollable beast—”
I cringed, feeling the words return, hitting me with slaps. My memory had turned into a beast itself; biting, gnarling, gnashing… It was keeping me on the edge, letting me know that I will never be safe. It will always be there. I can always turn back into the wolf and someday I won’t have someone to talk me back into my body—scare me back in.
I am the wolf.
War paint in the morning. It was early, but not Oh-Merlin-Where-Is-The-Sun early, which was normal for quidditch practices.
I had seen James for a few moments during the past couple of days, but managed to slip away before any conversation commenced. I could tell it bothered him, especially since it was due to him that I even managed to pull back into my mind during the last full-moon—and I knew I shouldn’t have been punishing him. But part of me realized that if he came to me asking about quidditch I might not have the will to stick with my guns on the Alexei situation.
I stood in the locker room with my female counterparts, smearing red and gold greasepaint onto Mary’s face. She bounced nervous on the balls of her feet, eyes glued up on the ceiling. I assumed she was running through plays in her head, like a nervous actor before her first theatre performance.
“You’re going to be great,” I told her, breaking her concentration.
Mary’s baby blue eyes met my own and she smiled, touching the side of my arm as I fixed a part of her make-up that had smudged. “Thanks, Serena. I never could have done this without you.” I smiled back and she took the greasepaint from my hands. “Here, I’ll do you.”
I stood still, watching her work her magic. It was no great feat to turn someone into a red and gold blob, but when she held up a mirror a moment later, I saw that she had taken an entirely different approach. Starting by my left eye, Mary had constructed a series of red swirls and golden starbursts that seemed to shimmer and glow like the snitch in a wave of flames. It was a masterpiece in greasepaint that wouldn’t even have the opportunity to see the pitch.
I pulled Mary forward, enveloping her in a tight hug. “Have I told you lately how amazing you are?”
Mary considered for a moment. “Eh… Not lately. You’re really falling behind.”
I let her go. “I’ll get right on that,” I joked.
Banging resounded from the door to the strategy room. “You’ve got five minutes to get out on the pitch and warm up!” James’s voice was muffled from behind the cracked door, but still rang loud through the locker room.
I took a deep breath, patting Mary on the shoulder. “You’ve bloody got this.”
She grinned back at me. “Right back at you, Colton.”
I walked to my cubby and plucking up my broomstick. Staring up at the numbers “07,” I wondered how Tyler felt before his first game. Nervous, of course. But that was because he knew he wouldn’t be warming the bench to keep up his end of a deal with the Slytherin Snake; he was actually going to be the team’s star player—the backbone.
I turned away, taking one last breath, and pushing out into the cold November air.
A hand took my wrist, pulling me over to the side of the pitch, close enough to the bleachers that it broke the wind, blocking its bite from my skin. I looked up, my eyes locking with the exact person I wanted to avoid before the game but figured I wouldn’t be able to get away from.
“You’ve been skipping practice. You don’t know our newest plays.” James told me, an air of desperation in his voice.
“That’s a statement, not a question. Do you need something?” I kept my eyes on his, trying to remain stoic. A short conversation I could handle.
James blinked back at me. “I had to move Orion to first-string for the game.” He said it bluntly, but took his time as if I was going to argue. Which, to be fair, I would have done vehemently under any other circumstances.
“He’s a good player,” I admitted—which was true, he was. My stomach twisted itself around my heart and pulled. “I understand. And I apologize for missing practice.” Something deep within my growled as I added, “as you can imagine, I’ve been going through a difficult time lately.”
I could visibly see the wheels turning in his head, trying to piece it all together in some sort of fashion that made sense. He looked nervous—plagued with guilt, mostly.
James stepped forward. “We need to talk about what happened. I”—he barely paused, but I caught the look in his eyes shift—“crossed a line. But you have to know…”
“What?” I cut him off, my voice sharper than I had intended. “It wasn’t true?” I pressed.
“Not all of it.” He shook his head, trying to make me understand.
I leaned my broomstick on the ground, feeling my skin grow warm despite the cold air surrounding us. “That’s precious.”
James moved forward, a pleading but tough look in his eyes. He lowered his voice, articulating every word. “I was just trying to get you back. You need to know…I needed to bring you back.”
I knew people must have been watching us, trying to gauge the conversation—especially Alexei—so I steered us away from the cliff we were headed toward.
“I know. Listen, we can talk later, okay?” I watched him, searching his face for even the smallest sign that he wasn’t going to let this get to his game. “You need to get out there and win, okay? Without me. Which I knew you’re capable of, whether or not I would care to admit it.”
James seemed confused at my conversation quick-change, but he nodded. A couple seconds passed and I watched his lips twitch up in the corners. “Like we need you for this. You’re our secret weapon on the bench just as much as you were off it.”
He winked, leaving me with a mixed feeling of amusement and dread in the pit of my stomach. He mounted his broomstick, kicking off and leaving me back on the grass wondering if I made the right decision.
Once I found my way to the second-string bleachers—a small box raised away from the rest of the bleachers and down far enough that players can talk strategy without being overheard, especially with the wind—the game started almost immediately.
Slytherin took the head-start, getting three goals before Orion could even blink an eye. My eyes flicked between James, who now had the Quaffle, and Alexei, who was yelling inaudible demands to his Beaters. Dmitriy and Boyko, each flying on separate sides of the pitch, seemed to acknowledge the orders and made a quick dash to the Bludger.
I felt Felicia tense up next to me, her eyes firmly glued on her first-string counterpart, Casper. He dipped low, his brother firmly on his tail as they fought to caught another sighting of the golden menace. Felicia pounded the end of her broomstick against the floorboards, her mouth moving in silent screams of “come on, come on!”
Dmitriy’s bat smashed into the Bludger with a thunk that echoed through the entire pitch, and I pushed forward in the box, watching it fly by at immeasurable speeds, straight toward James. I held my breath, saying a silent prayer. Seemingly out of nowhere, Sirius appeared and hit the Bludger away with such force that he was nearly knocked off his broomstick.
An audible gasp filled the bleachers around us and a moment later I felt a hand on my forearm. I looked to its owner.
“Hey, he’s fine,” Zachary told me, his voice even and calm like any Beater worth his weight in galleons would be. “Sit back down. There’s nothing you can do from here.”
I haven’t even been aware that I was standing, but I nodded to my teammate and allowed him to pull me back down to the bench. Zachary was right, though. If I even stepped a foot out of the box, our team would be knocked over with penalties.
Sitting back down, I turned my attention back to the pitch, trying to drown out the crowd’s cheers with my own thoughts. I analyzed the plays as they happened, trying to parse out what the new formations were. In the stands behind me, I was sure there were plenty of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs also doing the same thing.
Sirius smacked the Bludger past him, missing Alexei by only a few inches and allowing him an opportunity of confusion that sent the Quaffle falling down into the waiting arms of Stella, who shot off toward the Slytherin goal posts to the enthusiastic cheers of the red and gold section of the crowd. The same moment it passed through the center ring, Stella through up her arms and Dmitriy—not to be outdone—sent the Bludger barreling into her stomach.
Stella toppled backward, a collective gasp resounding through the pitch. Even the Slytherin section—which silently congratulated their Beater on a job well done—waited anxiously to see what would happen next. At the last moment, Stella’s hand shot up and grabbed hold of the edge of her broomstick. The strain was clear on her face, even from far away, but Stella managed to heave herself back up onto the broomstick while Sirius, bat in hand, circled around her for protection.
My skin was itching. I wanted to get out there. I wanted to feel the cold air slash at my face as I guard the three hoops separating a win from a loss. I wanted to be in the fray, to be able to say I did everything I could—to do my part.
I was standing again, but I wasn’t the only one. On either side of me, my second-string mates were on their feet as well, each beating at the wooden box, screaming curses at Alexei and his team.
A pair of blue-gray eyes found me, a smirk on the person’s lips as he circled in the noon sun. His black hair was whipped back in the wind, leaving his face piercing and pointed. And I hated him. How dare he use my friendship with James to back the rest of my team into a corner?
Felicia put a hand to my forearm, smacking me until she had my attention. “If you went out there, how would you keep them from getting beaten up?” She asked, reading my mind. “Your job is in the hoops, not with the bat. It’s up to your boyfriend right now.” Her green eyes flickered over my face for a moment before she turned her attention back to the pitch. “So sodding calm down, okay? I can’t focus on the game with you freaking out next to me.”
Nearly an hour later, I watched as Blake zoomed down the pitch, doing a reverse pass over his shoulder to Stella, who caught the Quaffle with expert precision before passing it across the field to James, who slammed it straight past the Slytherin Keeper, William Agnoli. Agnoli cursed so loudly that I swear I heard McGonagall proclaim, “10 points from Slytherin!”
The game was a neat 70-60 in favor of Gryffindor after a 10-point penalty against Slytherin for having two Chasers in the scoring area at once.
My eyes trailed to the air above the stands where Casper and his brother were fighting for another glimpse of the golden menace that would end the game. Twenty minutes prior, the two of them put up a good fight, but Sirius sent a Bludger into the mix when it looked as though Slytherin was going to grab it first, sending a wet snap resounding from Ethan’s left ankle.
Casper’s eye caught onto something and he dove, fast, with Ethan confused but close on his flank. I found myself leaning forward in our box, searching the sky for a glimpse of what Casper had seen. They were fifty meters, then thirty, then twenty meters from the ground and I was holding my breath. I couldn’t see it. Was he about to end the game?
At the last second, nearly three meters from the ground, Casper pulled up, shooting back up into the sky with his fingers outreached toward a tiny, shimmering spark of gold. On the ground, Ethan wasn’t quite as lucky—but he managed to pull up enough that his landing, while not as graceful as it could have been, wasn’t entirely crippling. His feet touched down first, and he was able to throw his broomstick to the side, tucking his right shoulder down as he inevitably fell to the ground, somersaulting twice before he came to rest flat out on his back.
My eyes shot back up to Casper, who took that moment to hover in the middle of the pitch, his fist in the air, two small wings protruding from either side of his fingers. A deafening cheer rang through the stadium.
The box I sat in was empty by the time I even realized what was happening, each of my second-string mates were out on the pitch to congratulate the others—especially Casper. I watched his eyes turn to stone as he handed the snitch off to Madam Hooch before dipping his broomstick downward and touching down next to his brother.
I mounted my broomstick, swooping down to join the fray of players, and students, on the pitch. My feet touched the ground just as I spotted Casper, who leaned over Ethan with a look of concern on his features. I made my way closer, pushing past the arguing Slytherin Beaters who were paired off against a group of their fellow classmates.
“Here, sit up,” Casper urged his brother as he cradled the blonde in his arms, bringing him up into a sitting position. “Madam Pomfrey is on her way.”
“If I had the ability to sit up on my own, I would punch you,” Ethan grumbled back, a slight smile playing on his lips.
“Fair enough,” Casper agreed with a smile of his own. He held up three fingers, putting them in front of his twin’s face. “How many?”
Ethan struggled to focus on them. “I can only assume that is a trick question. You’re only supposed to have five fingers per hand…”
Casper’s gaze snapped to me. “Concussion.”
“Along with the broken ankle,” I added, moving forward to kneel beside the two, laying my broom down at my side. “Where’s Alexei?”
Casper shrugged, looking back at Ethan who had just emptied the contents of his stomach all over his brother’s loafers. Casper didn’t even seem the least bit upset, he just rubbed Ethan’s back in comforting circles. After Ethan was finished, Casper pulled out his wand and instructed his brother to open his mouth. “Aguamenti,” he muttered, sending a short jet of water into Ethan’s mouth. He swished it around for a moment before spitting it out in the grass next to him.
“Want me to find Madam Pomfrey?” I inquired, feeling as though I was intruding in on a private moment.
“I’m right here, Deary,” a voice emitted from behind me. I turned to see the flushed face of Madam Pomfrey. “I did hope to avoid any post-match injuries today… Though I suppose that’s the crazy talking. What do we have here, hmm?” She knelt beside Casper and Ethan, but I caught a look of concern flash across her face as Madam Pomfrey’s eyes flit momentarily back to me. It was gone just as fast, however, and he was poking and prodding Casper for information about his brother.
I grabbed my broom, standing and glancing around the pitch. Sirius and James stood near the Gryffindor locker rooms, Remus and Peter at their side. I smiled to myself, making my way over. Maybe everything will go back to normal.
“Hey,” I greeted, giving Sirius a peck on the lips.
He grinned, the sweat shining on his forehead. “Hey, babe. Great game, huh?”
“Yeah, you both did great,” I complimented, nodding at him and James.
They both grinned back at me, all of the earlier emotion wiped from James’s face. Remus smiled as well, a look I can’t quite place passing quickly over his features. He hoisted his book bag up onto his shoulder further, shifting his weight between his feet.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Very entertaining. But it is Saturday, so I have to get working on some stuff for this next week.” He turned his head to address the guys. “I’ll see you guys back at the dorm.” His eyes flicked back to me and he smiled. “Nice seeing you again, Serena.”
I smiled back, uncertain of what to say. But by the time I settled on, “yeah, later,” Remus was already making his way toward the castle.
Peter hands twitched nervously. “I should… I’m going with him. Great match, mates.” Peter’s eyes snapped to me for a moment, nervous. “Bye.” And with that Peter was off, moving at an awkward run-walk pace to catch up to Remus.
I waited for a moment, lacing my fingers together with Sirius’s before addressing the two of them.
“What was that all about? Didn’t you two work things out with him?” I asked pointedly, my freehand on my hip.
To be fair, if the three hadn’t made up, I wouldn’t know about it. My conscious, and unconscious, separation from them these past couple weeks kept me from knowing how any of them were doing. James and Sirius had finished up their detention this past week, which—according to Sirius—had gone well enough to almost completely patch up their friendship. But I had not gotten any updates on how Remus was doing during that time.
Sirius gave me a confused look. “We did.”
I turned my attention from Sirius to James.
James nodded as well. “I promise, everything’s been worked out. Something else has been on his mind for a week or so and he hasn’t felt like sharing thus far.”
The same moment Sirius shrugged, an elated Stella and Mary came bursting into our group.
“Can you believe it?!” Mary squealed, throwing her arms up into the air. Her sleeves fell down onto her shoulders, showing a large, Bludger-sized welt that had formed on her bicep.
“It’s just so… I just can’t even…” Stella squealed as well, at a loss for words. “We beat Slytherin!” She winced, putting a hand to her abdomen where the Bludger had knocked her earlier on in the game. “And with only minor injuries,” she added with a chuckle.
James shrugged. “They’re only human, just like us. Everyone has their weaknesses.”
My eyes drifted across the pitch, locking onto a pair of blue-gray eyes that seemed to follow me wherever I went. Alexei’s face was stoic, stone-cold, but there was something in his eyes like amusement. What did he have to laugh at? Getting me out of the game was, in his mind, a sure-fire way to secure the game for Slytherin. So now, as he looked his loss in the face…how could he just stand there with such amusement sparking in his eyes?
“Serena?” Sirius gave my hand a little jiggle, grasping my attention. “Lunch is probably still out in the Great Hall. Want to head over?”
My eyes flicked over to where Alexei had stood a moment earlier, but he had vanished into the crowd. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
A/N: Sorry it took so long for me to add this chapter! But I do hope you all enjoy it! Please rate/review! I've already started the next chapter and hope that you'll stay tuned for it! -KBD