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The World is Ending by _EmBoDiMeNt_Of_A_nAtIoN_
Chapter 13 : A Challenge
 
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((A/N: Another wonderful day!! Hopefully, another wonderful chapter!! Review if you like it, review if you don’t like it, REVIEW!!!))

((Disclaimer: Why do I still have this thing?  I will, more than likely, never own Harry Potter, its characters, or its lovely places.))

“Where the hell have you been?” 

James nearly killed me as he bowled me over in the changing rooms, gripping my shoulders and shaking me wildly. 

“We were all panicking, we didn’t know where you’d disappeared to, we were all terrified we’d have to forfeit the match!”

“In other words, James was panicking, James didn’t know where you were, James was worried we’d have to forfeit to Slytherin,” Wes translated brightly, waving to me as James hugged me tightly, nearly strangling me in the process.

“James!” I choked out, my face turning purple.  “I told you I left something in my dormitory!”

James drew back and sniffed loudly.  “Well yeah, but it doesn’t take half an hour to get there and back!  And you can’t say you got lost, ‘cause you’re a seventh year!”

“I, er, I couldn’t find it, what I left...”

“I see...” James said, giving me a suspicious look.  “And where is this elusive object you took so long finding?”

“I couldn’t find it...”

“Well then, what is it?”

I scowled at him.  “James, am I not allowed feminine products to control my monthly biological functions?  Is it really my fault that I’m female?”

It was actually quite amusing to watch James go instantly to a shade of red so deep that he looked almost black, or it would have been if I wasn’t so focused on the numb shock that had followed Melanie’s and my chat.  He pushed me gently.  “Well, Merlin’s pants, you didn’t have to say it!”  I snorted.

“Well you’re the one who pushed it!  I’m sorry you can’t contain your curiosity, James!” 

James pouted, sticking out his bottom lip pathetically.  He didn’t retort, however, instead turning to his small chalkboard and tapping it with his wand so that the little labeled figures began moving about it.  I scowled at it.  I never could master that charm quite as well as James had (Charms wasn’t exactly my best subject, though I had managed an E on my O.W.L.).  Regardless of my charms skills, James started off on his pre-game speech, running over all of our plays quickly and shooting me scowls occasionally.

“Silvia, just remember what I said last night; Wes, the sooner you get the Snitch the better; Terry, Mike, visibility’s terrible, so watch those Bludgers and make sure they only hit Slytherin; Sirius, Artemis, don’t get cocky, that’s what happened last year.  We’re looking good, team, I can feel that Cup already!  Let’s go!”

“Finally,” I muttered, though not loud enough for James to hear, nudging Sirius a bit harder than was necessary to wake him up.  He always fell asleep during the Captain’s speeches; it was a bad habit of his.  Unfortunately, he also had a bad habit of making me into a pillow, resting his head on my shoulder while he slept.  He only did this because he knew it annoyed me; later on, he would complain that I was much too bony to be of any real use as a comfy pillow.  Today, though, I wasn’t nearly as bothered by it, as I was too busy trying to figure out how to get out of my big predicament.  Sirius’ head jerked up off my shoulder and looked around wildly as the rest of us stood up.  “Have a nice nap?” I asked pleasantly, again quiet enough that James couldn’t hear. 

Sirius yawned and smirked.  “Lovely.  You must be getting fat, you were much more comfortable today!”

I aimed a kick at him as James looked over at us.  “Artemis!  Sirius!  Come on, just make it through the match, please!”  I scowled and nodded, but as soon as James turned away, Sirius was laughing.

“Oh, shut it!” I growled, pushing him towards Wes, who accepted him happily by throwing an arm over his shoulder and immediately starting on some crazy story about this past summer (I think that was his way of letting out his nerves).  I was left at the back alone, just the way I wanted it to be at the moment, but the respite was only temporary, as moments later we stepped out onto the pitch to be greeted by the roars of both the wind and the spectators.  I could barely hear the cheers over the howling of the wind, but they didn’t matter anyways.  All that mattered right then was the big red ball in the referee’s hand, Sirius and James there next to me, and the three large hoops at the other end of the field.  I gripped my broomstick tightly and chanced a glance to my right at Sirius.  The last thought that I had about my problems with Melanie as I mounted my broom was that, maybe seducing him would be fun, or at least wouldn’t be too bad; after all, he was handsome in any case.

I blame those thoughts on the slush that was hitting me full in the face.

I heard the blast from the whistle and kicked off. 

“And the game begins!  James Potter, Captain of Gryffindor team, is the first to get his hands on the Quaffle as the lovely Madam Hooch throws it up.  Damn, she’s attractive, I wish she’d—“

“Mr. Reynolds, this is no way to begin—“

“Right, the game, James Potter, darting down the pitch, passes to Sirius Black, the arrogant bastard—“

Ah, Mason Reynolds.  I’d forgotten how wonderful his commentary was!  He happened to have a soft spot for the five girls that participated in the sport, and as for the guys, all he said about them was insults.  It was actually quite amusing, and as long as you took out the slights to the guys and flirtatious comments to the girls you could still keep up with what was happening in the game.  By now, everyone except first years had learned to do just that, and I usually just ignored the slurs while I played. 

Which is why, when Sirius passed the Quaffle to me and I heard Reynolds say something about a “slag who’s shagged half the guys at Hogwarts” and McGonagall’s furious threats of suspension, I didn’t respond at all.  James and Sirius, however, did.  Both of them swerved around to gape at where Reynolds was sitting with McGonagall and they didn’t snap out of it until he yelled, “Artemis Gaunt scores the first goal of the game, bringing us to ten-nil to Gryffindor!”

An hour later, the Snitch still hadn’t been caught, and I was wondering slightly whether I could go and catch it if I saw it.  I was freezing my ass off; the sleet was worse than snow, as it was wet and cold and horribly reduced what I could see.  It was also coming down harder and faster, smattering me in the face so that I’d almost collided with someone else three times, though all three times were Slytherins and therefore may have been on purpose.  We were a hundred points up, and currently James, Sirius, and I were fighting to make it a hundred-ten.  James had the Quaffle, but he tossed it at me as he flew by, and I was shooting down the pitch as fast as my broom could take me. 

As I said, visibility was poor, and I was freezing.  My reflexes were off, and I was a bit distracted by the insults that Mason Reynolds was stringing at me.  I’m not trying to make excuses, of course, but... well, actually I am. 

The crowd gasped loudly, almost horribly, but all I heard was vague cheering in my head and a single word: shit.  I was a bit too focused on the pain blossoming across my face as the black Bludger rebounded and soared away towards a green blob on my left.    I was dimly aware that my nose was broken; I felt blood flowing from my nostrils, and I knew I’d probably have a gorgeous black eye or two the next day, but I suppose I was lucky to still be conscious, having been hit that hard in the face by a Bludger.  I didn’t really have time to think on it, though; when I was playing Quidditch, the game was everything.  I’d dropped the Quaffle on impact, and now Jeremy Parkinson was speeding down the pitch with it. 

“And two of Gryffindor’s chasers just took the Bludgers!  It’s hard to decide which of the two looked more painful, ‘specially with all this sleet.  Black takes his in the gut; he’ll have a nasty bruise in the morning.  I suspect that he was too busy eyeing fellow chaser Gaunt as she took hers right in the face.  Not a bad idea, actually, she probably won’t look quite the same now.  Oh, she’s giving me a dirty look, least I think she is.  I probably won’t be alive in the morning, so someone tell my mum I love her.  In any case, Slytherin’s Parkinson, the ugly git, has the Quaffle, but not anymore as Potter tackles him for it.  Surprised that did anything, really, Potter’s so scrawny.  Potter steals the Quaffle, dodges one of the fatal Bludgers, passes it to Gaunt; can’t even imagine how she can see through all that blood!  She hates me right now, I can tell, she’s giving me another dirty look, but that’s okay, I never had a chance with her anyways.” 

I imagined that the goal ring was Mason Reynolds’ head as I took my shot.  He was really starting to piss me off.

“And Gaunt scores again, making the score two hundred-thirty to one hundred-twenty, Gryffindor in the lead!  Slytherin’s Palinsky takes the Quaffle.  He looks as hideous as ever, I really don’t know how he can live with himself.”

“Mr. Reynolds!  The game, if you please!”

I snorted, wondering if she would ever punish him for being a great arsehole in front of the entire school.  Sirius had the Quaffle now, and he was streaking off for the goalposts.

“Right you are, Professor, right you are!  Black has taken the Quaffle for Gryffindor, and—Yes, he scores for Gryffindor!  Two-forty to one-twenty!”

The game wore on, and I’ll confess that I was starting to feel a bit dizzy from blood loss.  My face was still throbbing and was still streaming scarlet.  This was the longest game I’d ever played.  I was seriously getting a little tired of it, too. 

And then I almost got hit as a red and green blur flashed past right in front of me.  Jeez, I thought, what’s with everything trying to kill me today? 

“And it’s over!  Apollo Gaunt has caught the Snitch, stupid bastard, I wanted Gryffindor to get it!  Doesn’t matter much, though, as the final score is two-ninty to two-eighty with the victory going to the scarlet and gold!  Gryffindor wins the match!”

“Thank God!” Sirius yelled, suddenly right next to me as we descended.  “Merlin, you look—“ he paused as James entered earshot.  But he shrugged and shook his head.  “Hell, there’s really no nice way to put it!  You look like shit!” he said gleefully.

“Shit, that just about sums it up,” Wes said, appearing by my shoulder and supporting me as I swayed unsteadily.

“Someone should help her up to the hospital wing,” James pointed out helpfully. 

“I can ged dere fine by byself,” I said, noticing as I did so that it hurt and that I really couldn’t say it.  Sirius burst out laughing, then immediately stopped, whimpering and holding his side.

“Perfect!” James cried happily.  “Artemis and Sirius will escort each other to the hospital wing, and I’ll meet you guys up there soon as we’re done here!”  And he began to shoo us off through the celebrating crowd that had gathered around us.  The people finally got the message and made us an aisle so that Sirius and I could get out of the pitch and onto the grounds.

When we were back inside, safe from the sleet, dripping water, and in my case blood, all over the floor, I swayed dangerously again.  Sirius quickly caught up to me and helped me regain my balance.  If I’d had enough blood left in my face to blush, I might have; as it was, I muttered an incoherent thanks.  Sirius, however, seemed to feel the need to go further and pulled my arm over his shoulder to better support me as we walked, his other hand on my waist.

“Dat’s nod necessary...” I whispered. 

Sirius snorted, then whimpered: “Ow, ow, ow...” He bent a little so that he was level with me, grimacing.

“Stob being a baby, Black, id can’d hurd dad bad.”

“I have no idea what you just said,” he smirked.  He seemed to understand now that it was painful to laugh at me.  “And it does.”

“I doughd you couldn’d understand be?” 

He grinned wickedly and said proudly, “I lied.”  I laughed, stopping even faster than he did when it caused me an immense amount of pain.  I could tell Sirius wanted to laugh too, but he wisely kept his amusement to facial expressions, something that I didn’t have the ability to use at the moment. 

We walked on through the corridors in silence for a few minutes before I remembered something that Reynolds had said when I’d gotten hit. 

“Hey, Black?”

Sirius looked sideways at me.  “Huh?”

“Whad did Reynolds bean by you gedding hid because you were ‘eyeing’ be?”

He snorted, obviously too overcome with emotion to hold it in.  “Ouch!  Merlin, that guy’s a moron.  Don’t get the wrong idea, Gaunt, I wasn’t eyeing you, eyeing you.  I was watching with fascination while that Bludger broke your nose.”

“Ah,” I replied after a second.  Yes, that made more sense, but for some reason, a dim feeling of... disappointment prevailed in my stomach.  Why?  Well, Merlin, it was stupid, but I think, for some weird reason, I’d thought that maybe he’d been... it was stupid, but I guess I kind of thought he might have been eyeing me, like checking me out.

Wait a second!  I didn’t mean that!  No, he wasn’t eyeing me, definitely not checking me out. 

Then again, maybe I wanted him to check me out.  Not because I wanted him to, of course!  No, I wanted him to because it would make it a lot easier if I actually had to go through with a method to get him to like me if he actually was attracted to me first!  That was definitely it. 

‘Course, Sirius was pretty ho-andsome.  Not hot.  Never hot, but admittedly handsome, and once you got past the fact that Sirius Black was a stuck-up, annoying, rude, big-mouthed, womanizing git of toerag, he wasn’t that bad.  Of course, it would be a miracle if you did get past that fact, but still.

Oh Merlin, what the bloody hell was I thinking?  My heart was starting to pound loudly in my chest, and I got the feeling that Sirius knew it, if not what I’d been thinking.  He was looking at me worriedly, still stooped slightly to my level.  Morgana, I hated being shorter than him! 

“You know, this would be a lot easier if you’d let me carry you,” he said.  “Bending over like this is killing my back.”

“I never said you had do do id, you jusd—“

“Right, right, but it would still—“

“I can walk by byself!  Besides,” I sneered, poking his rib cage with the arm he was holding over his shoulder, or rather jabbing his rib cage, “you couldn’d carry be if you dried.”  As if to prove my point, Sirius whimpered and clutched his side, hunching over still further and enabling me to take back my other arm.  I reached the last set of stairs before the hospital wing and started up them.

I was halfway up them when a dizzy spell came over me.  If you’ve ever had blood drawn and then tried to go up stairs or even just overworked yourself, you know what I mean.  I nearly fell back down the stairs as my head spun and my stomach heaved. 

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Sirius was right behind me, recovered from my attack on his wounded midsection and ready to catch me as my legs gave out.  “I think you reallyare gaining weight, maybe you should cut back on the eclairs...” he muttered in my ear.  His head was nestled in the crook of my neck, his arms wedged beneath my armpits to keep me supported.  One look at my face, though, was enough to nearly make him recoil, though he didn’t (thankfully, since I would have ended up at the bottom of the staircase if he had).  “Don’t you dare throw up on me, or I’ll make the rest of you match your face,” he growled, hoisting himself and me up the rest of the stairs.  “I’d tell you to breathe through your nose, but...” he trailed off and started dragging me towards the double doors marked HOSPITAL WING.

As soon as we entered the doors, Madam Pomfrey hastened over to us.

“I was watching from my office windows!” she exclaimed.  “Treacherous sport!  Just look at the state of you!  Broken nose, bleeding to death!  Bring her over here, Mr. Black, that bed closest to my office.  Honestly!  You seem terribly accident-prone this month, Miss Gaunt.”  And she bustled off, hopefully to find something to make the pain in my face go away, leaving me blushing at her latest statement, or rather, bleeding and leaning on Sirius.  Meanwhile, Sirius continued to drag me forward, to the bed that was right outside Madam Pomfrey’s office.  Then she was back, setting some potions on the bedside table and pulling out her wand.  “We’d better start with your nose, Miss Gaunt.  All that blood!”  She prodded my face with her wand, siphoning the blood off my face so that she could see clearly. “Oh dear...” she muttered when she was done, looking at my contenance with a thoughtful look.  Sirius looked as if he was trying very hard not to laugh. 

“Don’d you dare, Black, or I’ll bake yours batch bine,” I growled.  That shut him up real quick, which could only mean that mine must be pretty damned bad.  I continued to glare at him while he tried to keep the smirk off his face. 

“The other bed for you, Mr. Black, I’ll be with you as soon as I’ve got Miss Gaunt’s nose straight.”

At this, Sirius just couldn’t contain himself; he burst out laughing, then whining, then laughing again.  I shot him a dark look and tried to kick him, but he was to far away as he headed for the bed that Madam Pomfrey had pointed at, still laughing and cringing at the same time. 

“All right then, Miss Gaunt, I’d like to tell you that this won’t hurt a bit, but I don’t want to lie to you.  You’re plenty old enough to deal with it, so I’m just going to tell you outright that this is going to be quite painful.”

“Gread,” I muttered sarcastically.  “Jusd whad I needed do hear.”

She smiled, and for a second I saw fangs and little horns poking out of her head as she flicked her wand.

And then I almost passed out from pain as my nose twisted in my face to right itself.  I didn’t pass out; I did, however, scream shrilly and fall off the edge of the bed as I tried to cringe away from the nurse.  All this seemed to cause Sirius immense entertainment, which was apparent because he was now laughing and crying harder than before. 

“Son of a—“

“Language!” Madam Pomfrey snapped.

“Witch...” I finished weakly, feeling tears in my eyes, climbing back onto the bed.  “That f—flipping hurt!”

Madam Pomfrey shushed me and observed my olfactory organ with a smug nod.  “There now, that’s better.  I’ll be right back after I deal with Black to give you some cream for those bruises.  In the meantime, take off those sickly robes and change into these.  I’ll have to keep you overnight, just in case.”  She conjured some plain white pajamas for me and turned to Sirius.  “The same goes for you, Mr. Black, off with those robes!”  She waved her wand at my bed and the curtains zoomed out to give me privacy while I dressed. 

“But I—I don’t need to,” I heard Sirius gripe on the other side of the curtains.  “Can’t you just wave your wand and fix it?”

“Mr. Black, you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work that way, expecially if I can’t appraise the damage.  Now, take off your robes, Mr. Black.”

I smiled in appreciation of her sharp tone and of Sirius’ conceding sigh as I took of my wet, bloody Quidditch robes.

“Ouch!” Sirius exclaimed suddenly, making me jump and causing my heart to pound, which in turn made my head spin.  Too little blood and too much surprise: not a good combination. 

“A couple broken ribs, I think.”

I pulled on the soft white pajamas that Madam Pomfrey had given me, breathing deeply through my nose in an attempt to slow my frantic heart. 

“There you are.  I’d like to keep you in too, just in case of internal bleeding and such, always a risk, but I suppose you’re going object—“

“No, that’s fine.  I’d hate to die in my sleep or anything.  After all, school nurses know best what’s good for me.” 

What a load of bollocks, I thought as I passed to the curtains and pulled them back fractionally.  The little suck-up.  What the hell was he planning?

Madam Pomfrey, from what I could see of her, looked extremely surprised.  “Oh,” she said, “okay then... you can stay in this bed.”  She conjured some more pajamas, pure white, like mine, which landed with a soft flump on the blankets.  “And you can’t leave.  I don’t mind you wandering a bit in here, because you seem just fine, but no leaving the room, do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The back of Madam Pomfrey’s head tilted as if to say “I’m watching you,” and she said, “You can have the curtains as soon as Miss Gaunt is finished.”  She moved away, probably to her office, and I could see Sirius.

I was struck for the second time in two days by how good-looking he was without his shirt on.  The first time had been last night, but I’d been so mad at him for taking my stuff that I hadn’t appreciated it.  Now I had to admit that he was drop-dead-gorgeous, though it killed me to say so.  Not to mention, the smell that I caught whenever he was within a foot radius of me (not very often, but still) was so good.  One might even say he was delectable.  If I didn’t hate him so much, I would probably be like almost every other girl in the school, fawning over him constantly in order to attract his attention, prettying myself up to catch his eye, begging him to date me, even just once.

He was such a prat.  I suppose I was pretty lucky that I did hate him, or I would be a hopelessly obsessed fangirl, and I hate hopelessly obsessed fangirls.  Hell, I’d call them hopelessly possessed fangirls, because, really, it seemed like they were possessed by some crazy fanatical spirit, probably some widowed, lonely spirit called up from below.  Stupid Dark magic, possessing people...

Oh, crap.  Now I’m babbling.  I guess the point is that Sirius was very hot.  Very hot, it didn’t matter how much I loathed admitting it.  He was lean and muscular, a bit on the tan side, unlike my pale self.  He had a long, thin, white scar across his chest, but that only added to the sex appeal. 

I hated him.

I pulled the curtains shut again, then sighed and called, “I’m done, you can have the curtains now, Black!” as I climbed into my bed.  The curtains zoomed away from me, coming to a halt around Sirius and his bed.  Madam Pomfrey scurried out of her office at the sight, stopping at the bedside table and fixing up the potions.  When she handed to goblet to me, it was a sickly green color.  It didn’t exactly look like something I’d enjoy drinking. 

“There you are.  Drink it all up, now, there’s stuff in there to restore your blood and to put you to sleep.”

“But—“ I started scowling across the way to where Sirius was hidden.  “Can’t I just have some that restores blood?  I don’t feel comfortable sleeping in here while... that’s awake.”

Madam Pomfrey glared at me and thrust the potion into my hands.  “Drink it all, get some—“

At this point, James and Lily, followed by the rest of the team, burst into the hospital wing.  Madam Pomfrey cursed (after telling me not to, the hypocrite) and glowered at them.  Lily immediately rushed over to me. 

“Ar, are you all right?  James said.  “You looked absolutely horrible!”

Sirius, having just emerged from the curtains fully dressed in his white pajamas, burst out laughing, and this time he didn’t have to stop.  “Horrible?  She looked worse that horrible; you should have seen her without all that blood!”

“Shut up,” I snapped, “or should I tell them about you on the way up here?”  I put on an agonized expression and whimpered, “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow...” The rest of the team laughed a bit at that, and Sirius shut up fast.  “Anyways, why isn’t Mira with you, Lils?  Or Olivia?” I asked, looking around and realizing that neither my best friend nor hers was to be found in the crowd. 

Lily paled.  “Well, uh, she, erm,” she looked around at the rest of the team, who were all staring at her expectantly, though James was glowering at her warningly, and I got the feeling that she didn’t want to say it in front of everyone else.  “Well, I’ll tell you later,” she complied finally.  “You ought to be resting, though.  You lost all that blood...”

“I agree!” Madam Pomfrey snapped, making shooing motions at the crowd.  “Firstly, only six visitors at a time!  Secondly, this girl has lost a lot of blood and she needs rest!  Now, out!”

The team started shuffling towards the doors, all except Lily and James, who were dragged by Sirius over to his bed across the aisle from mine, leaving me to be force-fed the despicable potion that would put me to sleep.


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