Chapter 10 : Competition
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I don’t understand.
“Are they all missing then?” I ask, watching the ink on the article disintegrate in my hands. Rose’s eyes don’t leave my face.
“No,” she says quietly. “But Jocelyn Miller is dead.”
Ryan Hanson is polishing his broomstick along with James, their preparation for the big game today the main focus of this morning’s breakfast. I can see most of the Quidditch team for both Gryffindor and Ravenclaw all grouped at the end of their own table, discussing tactics and plays to throw off the other team.
After the newspaper article, all I really want to do is speak to Ryan about his father, but I don’t know how. I don’t even know him.
Part of me wants to forget.
Pushing the thought out of my head, I recognize Rose’s fiery hair quickly at the end, her face etched with determination. Across from her, Albus and Jade look heated in discussion, and their faces are dangerously close. Looking at them makes my head throb and ache, calling out for relief. A distraction.
Turning away, I shiver in excitement before sitting down in the middle of the table, my stomach growling inaudibly for something, anything, to quench the gnawing feeling of hunger, jealousy, and nerves stirring deep inside. Settling for some cereal and juice, I pull it over to me, before someone yanks it back.
“Hey, not cool,” I protest moodily, before glancing up into the face of the cheeky Hugo Weasley. His hair, more of a brown than a red, is messy and in his face, but his eyes are glowing with energy. His big, soft eyes are enough to light up my day just a little bit, and I almost forgive him for stealing my breakfast.
“Hi Bella,” he smirks, sitting down across from me and taking my helping of cereal. “Ready to watch Gryffindor take down the other team?”
“Of course,” I answer, shrugging as if I have no doubts about us winning, although I know just how difficult Ravenclaw’s team will be to defeat. “They’ve all been practicing for ages. I don’t think I’ve seen James so determined.”
“Rose has been talking non-stop about this game for a while,” Hugo admits. “At least, that’s what she talks about with me. And in every letter she sends home, she always writes about it too. She’s a bit of a psycho sometimes. Isn’t that right, Lily?”
“Hugo!” I laugh, kicking his leg under the table. “Be nice, Rose is just stressed. You know how she always puts like, 110% effort into things like this. Maybe you should start picking up some of her habits, just saying.”
Her brother just rolls his eyes and digs into his breakfast. Just as I’m about to start eating, I feel someone’s hands clasp my shoulder and I jump, knocking over my glass of juice. Feeling the heat of my mistake crawl under my skin, I turn around. Rose is smiling at me, already dressed in her Quidditch uniform. By her side, Albus and Lily are waiting patiently, also kitted out and ready to go.
Albus glances at the mess I’ve made and chuckles softly, as if he’s not surprised. The heat intensifies.
“I’m so nervous, Bella,” Rose whispers, her voice a welcome diversion, her eyes wide. I stand up and give her a hug, and I can feel her shaking slightly. “I really want to win this, but I’ve been hearing about how hard the Ravenclaws have been practicing, and now I’m worried.”
“Where’s that confidence?” I ask, giving her a gentle push. “You’re a Gryffindor, you’ll be amazing.”
“Even Al’s not feeling his best,” Rose continues, glancing at Albus in concern. I hesitantly look over at him and notice a slight difference in how he carries himself. The mischievous gleam in his eyes isn’t there; it’s been replaced with a serious edge – and something else. “I asked him if he got enough sleep and he said he did, but I doubt it.”
“I’m sure he’ll do fine,” I assure her. Taking in a deep breath, I turn to him. “Hey Al, you’re okay, aren’t you?”
“I guess so,” he answers with a shrug, looking out of the giant windows at the weather outside. It’s beautiful today, sunny with a slight breeze. It’s the perfect conditions for a Quidditch game.
“You sure?” I ask. I don’t to seem overbearing, but I can’t help but include some anxiety in my voice. There’s something around that seems to overshadow him, something dark, but I can’t place a finger on it. All I can observe is that it’s weighing him down, though he doesn’t seem to show any signs of it.
Albus fixes his gaze on me, his eyes incredibly focused on mine. Finally, he gives me the smile I’ve been waiting for and the tension is gone, just like that. “I’ll be fine, Bella. Just make sure you cheer as loud as possible.”
“How loud?” I ask, pleased to see him coming back to his normal self. He laughs.
“Loud enough for me to hear you,” he says good-humoredly, before walking off to the changing rooms, ready for one of James’ lengthy pep talks on teamwork and Quaffle control. Lily gives me one of her trademark grins, completely oblivious to her brother’s sudden change in nature, and leaves.
“Do you see what I mean?” Rose asks quietly from behind me. I turn back to regard her. “There’s something different about him. He’s been so excited about the game, and ever since breakfast, something’s just changed him. Jade’s been out of her mind trying to comfort him, you know.”
“I’m sure,” I say, spotting Jade getting up from her seat and wiping her uniform of any stray crumbs. She still seems as bright and bubbly as always, grinning at her other teammates as she walks.
She radiates confidence, just like Albus.
“You should get going, Rose,” I tell my best friend, hearing James from the doorway to the Great Hall, calling out for the rest of the team. “Your captain sounds a little impatient.”
“He can learn to take things easy,” Rose grumbles, pushing any stray curls away from her face before pressing on, giving me a small tap on the shoulder as she passes. Jade waves at me enthusiastically as she passes me too, and I smile in encouragement, although it vanishes as soon as she’s gone.
Jealousy is a dangerous game to play.
There’s a huge crowd of students milling in front of the Quidditch pitch, eager to get inside and rush into the bleachers. We can’t though; we can hear the broomsticks fly by as the players get their last few minutes of practice.
I wrap my red and gold scarf around my neck and shove my hands in my black coat, wanting to head back into the castle and sleep. My nightmares have been absent for a little while, and its absence scares me, especially since I’ve promised to find out more. I need to find out more.
I’d do anything to keep the Project moving.
Scorpius comes over, the silver on his scarf gleaming. I glance behind him at the crowd of Slytherins as a precaution; I won’t be surprised if I see some of them glaring at me. Luckily, none of them are – I suppose they’re used to our friendship, and they wouldn’t dare pick on Scorpius.
“Ready to watch the game?” he asks me, his gray eyes twinkling.
“I guess so,” I say with a smirk, pretending not to sound too bothered. “Will you and the rest of the Slytherin team be ready to play against the winning team though, after the winter break? That’s the question.”
“I’m guessing you mean Gryffindor?” he asks with a small chuckle. “They’re pretty strong, and Al’s been talking non-stop about tactics and all these tricks up his sleeve, but you never know, Ravenclaw’s on top form. Either way, our team is working hard towards our game, so I doubt we’ll lose.”
“Hah, you Slytherins are so determined, it’s unbelievable,” I tease, and follow him to a less crowded spot.
“It’s basically in our DNA, it’s to be expected,” he says with a casual shrug. For some reason, his matter-of-fact tone of voice is enough to make me laugh. He watches me for a while, one eyebrow raised, a small smile playing on his lips. I think he’s quite amused at how easily humored I am, but I can’t help it.
“Sorry,” I grin. “You’re more amusing than you know.”
“I’m so glad I’m that entertaining,” he replies.
“You are,” I assure him. “But I’m not joking when I say you’ll have a lot of work to do if you want to get the House Cup and beat either Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. Actually, I was speaking to Adriana, and she’s one hell of a Beater. I’m telling you, you’re all going to –”
As I continue talking, an unmistakable shadow draws itself over Scorpius’ face, even as he listens to my voice falter. I can’t help but to bite my lower lip, wondering what I’ve said to make him so silent. Finally, he sighs and looks over my shoulder, obviously thinking about something. All I can do is wait patiently until he’s ready to talk to me.
He’s taking too long.
“Scorp?” I ask softly, reaching over and poking him in the arm. “I’m sorry about whatever I said. Of course your Quidditch team has a good chance of winning the House Cup, I was just joking about everything.”
He finally lets his eyes land on me, but the shadow hasn’t lifted.
“I’m not upset,” he says quietly, his voice lower. Deeper. I have to move in closer in order to hear him over the excited chatter of the rest of the students. “Sorry, I was a little lost in thought. How long have you been friends with Adriana for? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about her.”
“Recently,” I admit. “She’s really lovely, but she’s pretty soft-spoken and shy … that’s probably why it’s taken me so long to get to know her.”
“Right,” he says slowly. I want him to tell me what’s on his mind, but I know that won’t work. Instead, I choose to distract him with another topic.
However, there’s only one other topic on my mind. Well, two. An image of Rose pops up in my mind, but I resist the urge to blurt out her name. Instead, I settle for the safer topic of conversation.
“I want to talk to Ryan,” I reveal, shifting on the spot and glancing down at a muddy patch of grass. Thinking about the article never fails to make me nervous, to make my voice shudder at the thought of one my mother’s colleagues being dead. I shove my hands deeper into my pocket as I continue; “I need to figure out what my mother’s been up to, why it’s all a secret, and why she kept an eye on Albus when we were younger. It just doesn’t add up, you know?”
Scorpius stays silent.
“I know, this sounds stupid,” I say with a self-deprecating laugh, not waiting for his input. “I know we all agreed that the whole nightmare scenario could be about nothing, but I’m not sure about that anymore. I haven’t told Jade and Rose my confirmation, but I believe this is definitely serious. There’s no doubt about it anymore.”
“Do you really think so?”
I glance up, confused at Scorpius’ blank expression and skeptical tone of voice. Out of everyone I trust, I thought he of all people wouldn’t doubt me. Yet there he stands, his head to one side, surveying me with cynicism.
I couldn’t take it.
“I’m not lying,” I hiss. “I thought you believed me! Rose does, and Jade finally does too. You saw my father that one time in the fireplace, you saw the article, you saw the letter from the ministry about how my mother’s missing – it all has something to do with Albus, your best friend! I’m so confident that this isn’t ‘nothing’ anymore, but I can’t bear telling Rose and Jade that; do you know how devastated they would be if I confirmed their worst nightmare?”
Scorpius just watches my outburst calmly. I don’t think I can handle being regarded like an outcast any longer. I trust him too much to let him do this to me; I’ve told him everything.
“Don’t do this to me,” I whimper. “I need you to tell me you believe me. I haven’t told anyone this.”
It’s as if the crowd has fallen silent, I can’t even hear them anymore. All outside noises have become muffled, like I’m trapped in a soundproof bubble with no one but Scorpius. The silence between us is deafening and uninviting: an unwanted guest. I want him to say something, anything to shatter the painful atmosphere that surrounds us, but my mouth stays closed.
Then he nods.
“I believe you.”
I act automatically before I realize what I’m doing. My arms are wrapped around him tightly, tears streaming down my cheeks. I’ve lifted the burden of remaining quiet and now all I can do is soak in the temporary relief I’ve given myself. And as each tear seeps into the fabric of his shirt, I wince at how my behavior could be embarrassing him.
But when he hugs me back, he silently reassures me that it’s okay.
“That was a beautiful pass from James Potter to Kennedy, can they get another goal in? NO, QUAFFLE INTERCEPTED BY GEORGIA SLATE. Never fear Gryffindor, you’re still ahead, 90 – 30!”
I slump in my seat, unusually tired. I find that I can’t focus on the scene in front of me. I can’t even keep track of where Jade and Rose are, since they fly far too fast for my eyes to keep up with them. Of course, everyone can see Albus. It’s quite hard not to, seeing as he’s tailing the Snitch incredibly closely.
The only downside is that it’s slightly out of arm’s reach of him.
And there’s a Ravenclaw Seeker right behind him too.
“Come on Al!” Hugo yells from behind me. His little cheeks are bright red from yelling so hard, and the students around him can’t help but give him looks of annoyance from time to time. “Fly faster, fly faster, the Snitch is right there!”
“Calm down Hugh,” I smile. He just shakes his head at me, clearly irritated by the difficult game in front of us. He jumps down to sit next to me and buries his head in his hands, unable to watch the game any longer. I pat him on the back before I continue to half-watch the event in front of me.
There is a drawback when it comes to not watching the game.
Because while I’m busy staring into space and occasionally watching Rose make a terrific pass to one of the other team members, I’m also one of the last people to notice what’s happening to Albus.
It’s only when I hear a collective gasp from every bleacher of every house that I stand up and search the sky with my eyes.
I can see Albus high above all of us, but his broomstick is completely still, no matter how hard he tries to move it. There’s something standing right behind him, but it’s not exactly human.
It’s almost like a transparent dark shadow, a silhouette of someone who’s not quite there. A mirage.
“BEHIND YOU!” Hugo shouts out desperately, as does everyone else. The teachers are panicked; some are rushing off to grab spare broomsticks in order to aid him. Finally, Albus manages to turn his broomstick around warily, slowly. The whole stadium is silent.
“Who are you?” Albus asks the figure. I can hear him clearly, even though he’s not shouting. You could hear the sound of a penny drop judging by the complete silence around us. The shadow just stays there, unmoving. I can see Albus glaring at the figure with muted frustration as he tries to figure out just how to get rid of it. “Can you hear me?”
It’s so silent.
The shadow attacks before we can even react.
We scream as the shadow envelops itself around him, and we hear him yell out in pain and surprise as the shadow lets out a horrifying scream, loud and piercing enough for the younger students to cry out in discomfort, hands clasped tightly over their ears. Our wands are aimed high at the figure, but no one dares to shoot in case we hit Albus instead.
The teachers are in the air, moving as fast as possible towards him, but a defensive charm barrier has been placed around the intruder and his victim, and the teachers find themselves hurtling back to the ground, no longer in control.
I can see him struggling to reach his wand, located in his pocket, but the shadow intensifies its opacity, darkening until we can barely see him anymore. I don’t know what’s happening.
All I can do is watch as the shadow pushes itself off the broomstick, pulling Albus down with it. My heart is racing, and I have goose bumps running up and down the length of my arm. My wand shakes as the tip follows the path of the figure as it falls. No one knows what to do.
The charm barrier flashes an electric blue as the pair of them passes through, moving down at top speed.
None of us expected the flash of white to occur when it did.
As bright as anything, beams of light begin to break itself through the shadowy figure from the inside, causing it to shriek and disintegrate. We’re able to see Albus as he clutches his wand tightly, too focused on his spell of attack to notice his speedy descent to the ground.
Without thinking twice, I push myself to the front and aim my wand right at the space between him and the ground.
I watch in relief as he falls to the ground gently, clearly disoriented. No one is able to stop the flow of students and teachers as they rush out towards him, making sure he’s okay. I stay back as Rose comes towards me on her broomstick, her hazel eyes wide and afraid.
“What was that?” she asks hoarsely, grabbing my arm. “What was that … that thing up there with Al? What did it do to him, Bella? Did you hear him yell? It was so painful to listen to. What did they do to him?”
I’ve heard that yell so many times in my nightmares, but to hear it for real is unbearable. I shake my head and shiver. “I’ve heard it before.”
“Your nightmares?” Rose doesn’t need me to explain anymore, she already knows. “This is serious Bella, isn’t it? What you’re Seeing … and what just happened, this isn’t nothing anymore.”
“It never was,” I admit regretfully, unable to look her in the eye.
I can’t tell her yet.
I can’t tell her that the silhouette in my nightmare, the one that betrays him in the clearing, matches the one that was up there on his broomstick.
To start, they were the exact same height.
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