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Chapter 11 : Preparation
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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.
“Apparently, it was a prank.”
I count out the number of cupcakes we’ve prepared for the Yule Ball, ready to be iced, and note it down on a piece of paper. Beside me, Jade is organizing the various colored icing and decorations in order to decorate them, but her mind is not on food. I want to slap myself for being so petty, but I can’t control myself. I can’t help but have bitterness slip out along with my words, like an intruder in my tone of voice.
A welcome intruder.
“I don’t think it’s a prank Jade,” I tell her, speaking quietly just in case anyone comes close to overhearing us. “What happened on the pitch went much farther than some average, acceptable joke.”
Jade fixes her solemn hazel eyes on me, no longer focused on our task. That one look is enough to drain the hall of some light. Please look somewhere else.
“Have you had a nightmare recently?” she asks seriously. When I shake my head, she looks visibly at rest again. “There you go; this is probably a prank. Now, do you think we have enough white icing?”
“I thought you trusted me on these nightmares?”
“I do! But if you had no nightmare, then they can’t be connected to Albus’ fiasco, that’s all.”
I don’t want to admit to myself that her words make sense, but in a way, they do. I sigh and shake my head, busying my hands by organizing the cupcakes in front of us.
“Jade, listen. I know you don’t want to believe this, but you have to. There was something up there with Al, and judging by the fact that it wrapped him up and flung him off the broomstick and sent him hurtling to the ground, I don’t think this was a joke.”
“Thank Merlin he’s okay though,” Jade whispers, missing the point and glancing around my shoulder to look at Gryffindor’s brave Seeker. I look behind me and find him organizing the sandwiches and starters along with Damien and a few other students. One night in the hospital wing and he’s back to normal again. He doesn’t even seem too bothered about the whole thing either.
Something tells me Jade’s convinced him it was a prank, just to reassure him that nothing’s going on. I didn’t think he’d easily believe her as quickly as he did.
“Look at him, he’s perfectly fine,” I say under my breath, before turning back to the cupcakes. “Okay, focus Jade.”
“Hey Al, how are you feeling?” she calls out, a light suddenly igniting from deep within in her eyes. A hint of admiration caresses her voice as she says his name, and it sends uncomfortable shivers up my arms.
She really does love him.
I try my best to stifle the annoyed groan threatening to emerge from my throat, and busy myself with getting the icing together. From behind me, I can hear her jump up from her seat and fling her arms around his neck.
“Hey Jade,” Albus greets her warmly. I jump slightly when I hear his voice again, closer to my ear. “Bella.”
“Good to see you’re fine,” I say quickly, flicking my wand in order to get the cupcakes iced and ready to go. Albus just smiles and watches silently as the cupcakes get their treatment of icing. Finally, he clears his throat and sighs deeply.
“Thanks for looking out for me,” he murmurs, coming up closer to me. I look up at him and can’t help but smile at the gratitude apparent in his face. Ignoring the flush of my cheeks, I nod.
“I couldn’t let you just hit the ground at the speed you were going, could I?” I joke, before biting my tongue. I sound stupid, and somehow, that makes the situation awkward for me. However, Albus laughs easily and leans on the table in front of us, his eyes never leaving my face. “What are the professors doing about this?”
“They’re rescheduling a rematch after the winter break,” he informs me. “And they’re all convinced this was a prank gone wrong, so they’re looking out for any student who had anything to do with this.”
“Do you have any of your own ideas about this?” I ask, subtly hinting at something more dangerous than some innocent joke. He just shrugs.
“I don’t really know,” he says. “It could be a prank, these sort of things have happened often enough. But I don’t really mind. I forgive the person who did it, I’m sure they didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Yes they did.
“But Al –” Before I could hint any further, a group of seventh-year girls stop by our table. I instantly know that they haven’t come for either Jade or me. It’s Albus they want to speak to, and they make it apparent.
“Hey you,” one girl grins, tapping Albus on the shoulder. He turns and smiles at her. “The Yule Ball’s coming up next week, but I’m guessing you haven’t really had the time to get a date yet, have you?”
Well obviously, seeing as he almost died.
“Mm, you’re right,” Albus replies. From the side, I can see Jade watching the scene unfold, but she doesn’t make her irritation apparent. Instead, she just rolls her eyes and settles in her seat again, arms folded. I almost smile at her behavior; it’s almost as if she’s traded places with me.
“Aw, that must suck,” another girl says sympathetically, her big brown eyes wide. I believe her name is Violet, one of the most sociable girls in the school, but not one of the brightest. I think I’ve heard James speak about her on a few occasions. “Do you have any girl in mind?”
“Not really,” he answers, and the girls giggle. “You know how I am. I like to keep my options open.”
“That’s so typical of you, Al,” Violet laughs. “You remind me of your brother so much sometimes, it’s insane. Although to be honest, you’re much better with the ladies.”
“If you ever need a date though, give me a call,” the first girl says. “Unless you don’t think I’m a good enough potential date?”
Albus laughs in amusement. “Why wouldn’t any guy think of going with you, Emma? You’re stunning.”
Emma blushes as her smile widens. “Al, you absolute charmer.”
Jade pretends to be sick in the back and I nod discreetly at her, sympathizing wholeheartedly with her feelings. The whole conversation was beginning to get on my nerves. I knew Albus would never speak to me like that – we were too close for that sort of talk to happen. Instead, I grab the finished cupcakes and put them in a container, before heading off to the school’s kitchen to store them.
I pause, waiting for Jade to follow me. A quick glance confirms that she’s staying put, making sure to keep an eye on the girls and Albus. I should have known. With another weary sigh, I continue along.
The corridor leading to the kitchen is deathly quiet. Everyone is either doing last-minute work in the Great Hall or are currently residing in their respective common rooms, avoiding the drizzle of surprisingly warm rain currently splashing on the stone floor of the courtyard. I pause at one of the large windows decorating the narrow corridor, watching the droplets catch the light and gleam for a split second, before they shatter to the ground.
There’s something sad about it.
Shaking my random thoughts from my head, I keep walking, my arms clutched tightly around the container.
“These look so good,” I remark to myself, looking at the cupcakes through the transparent lid with approval. “I can’t wait for the ball –”
Someone’s voice around the corner stops me mid-sentence. Embarrassed, I hold my tongue and wait for them to come into view. They don’t. Instead, I can hear someone’s voice singing. It’s an intricate melody, gentle enough to lull anyone to sleep, but too melancholy to be used as a lullaby.
It’s like a lament; as if the singer is calling for someone she’s lost.
Loss. The word makes me shiver.
“Hello?” I call out. The singer doesn’t reply, but she continues to sing. Her voice echoes quietly off the high walls, forcing their way into my ears. Like a burst of life, my eyes widen in shock. I recognize the tune, but I don’t know where I’ve heard it.
“You have a lovely voice,” I try again, my voice shaking as I slowly make my way forwards. I don’t want to see who’s around the corner. The fear of the unknown, as my father would point out. It was a phrase I heard a lot when I was a little girl.
The singing gets louder and I turn around, waiting to see if anyone else hears it. I see a young Hufflepuff student walk in the same corridor where I stand, and she gives me a smile before turning right and disappearing from view again.
“I don’t understand,” I murmur. “Hello?”
The voice is quiet.
My feet start to move again, slowly, slowly, slowly …
I scream. I don’t realize the container has left my hands and is on the ground, the unfortunate cupcakes splattered on the cold stone floor, icing everywhere. I can’t be bothered to pick them up; I’m so scared. Fear and adrenaline make a home through my veins and my legs shake uncontrollably. I’m so frightened; I want to get out of here.
I scream and I scream and finally, I run.
I don’t stop by the Great Hall – instead, I run right past it, up the flights of stairs until I can’t run any longer. It’s not like I’m going anywhere anymore. To my surprise, I find myself in front of the Transfiguration classroom.
I sigh as soon as I hear other voices from inside the room, some that I recognize. Real voices, belonging to people I can see.
The door opens slowly and Scorpius steps out, holding a few papers in hand. The minute he sees me, sees my eyes still wide in terror, he bends down to reach eye level with me.
“Bella?” he asks in confusion. I can’t speak. The fear hasn’t left my body yet and it has rendered me speechless. All I can do is shake my head and bite my lip as tears begin to well up in my eyes. He doesn’t say anything, but he can sense what has happened. He straightens up and holds out a hand, which I gratefully accept.
“We – we need to talk,” I manage, still shaking. He only nods. I try again, hoping to strengthen the sound of my voice. “Library?”
He watches me with his clear gray eyes and unreadable expression. I feel so small and vulnerable beside him. Finally, he says, “Okay.”
I start to say more but I hear delicate footsteps coming up from the stairs behind me. I shoot him a confused look but keep my back to the stranger, choosing to look in his direction instead. The minute the stranger speaks, relief floods through me like a tidal wave.
“Bella?” It’s Adriana.
“Hey,” I grin, turning around in time to receive her hug. Scorpius just stands behind me quietly, watching her every move. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” she says softly, her big eyes following mine with excitement. “Thanks to yours and Jade’s Divination calculations, it really enhanced my Astronomy paper, and Albus agrees. We’ve just handed in our project to Professor Sinistra, and she seems quite pleased to see what we’ve come up with. Oh, and I spoke to Professor Trelawney, she’s giving you and Jade extra credit marks as we speak.”
“Thank you,” I tell her sincerely, unable to wipe the smile off my face. Being around her makes me feel safe again, safer than I did with anyone else. “We need to hang out before the break, Adriana, and I mean it.”
“Me too!” she beams. “Lunch tomorrow in the courtyard, maybe? Hopefully the weather cooperates with us a bit, although it would probably be a bit chilly –”
“Sounds fine by me,” I interrupt enthusiastically. “We have too much to talk about.”
I can feel Scorpius shift on his feet suddenly, and I turn to look at him with a questioning gaze on my face. He just regards me dangerously, and I feel the sudden urge to be more careful. There’s something bothering him.
“I’m sorry, you seem quite impatient,” Adriana says slowly, looking past me to glance at Scorpius. He stays silent. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“No,” I say easily. “We were just heading to the library to do some research, that’s all.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” Adriana replies. “I should head down now, but I’ll see you tomorrow.” As she reaches over and gives me one last hug, she says, “Goodbye, Scorpius.”
“Don’t you think you could’ve arranged your meeting with Adriana to some other time?” Scorpius asks me, settling into a large brown armchair by the side, located at the very back of the library. I sit across from him and roll my eyes.
“She’s one of my friends, Scorp,” I tell him. “She’s lovely, you should get to know her.”
“I’m fine,” he says, dismissing the idea quickly. “But promise me you won’t tell her about any of this, okay?”
“Be more specific.”
“Don’t tell her anything about Albus. Don’t tell her about your relationship with him and how you’ve known him since you were tiny, any of that. Don’t tell her about your nightmares. Don’t even cover it up and say you have insomnia or something like that, it’s dangerous. And don’t, for Merlin’s sake, discuss what happened to Albus yesterday.”
I cross my arms, frustrated at the restrictions he gives me. I know he’s looking out for the Project, his best friend, and me, but I can’t help but feel the slightest bit rebellious. After the panic attack I experienced, I have a lot of extra energy – energy that I don’t have a use for. Instead, to ease his mind, I lean forwards and nod. “I promise.”
“Good,” he says, and a hint of what seems to be a relieved smile flits across his lips. “Tell me what happened to you.”
So I do. I tell him everything, right from the moment I left the hall to the moment I bumped into him. I elaborated on the melody, even attempting to hum it for him. I told him about how the Hufflepuff student didn’t seem to hear it. It didn’t seem to bother anyone but me.
Then I told him about the cry for help.
By the time I finish, I find that I’m cold again. I huddle into the soft chair and close my eyes, trying to forget the tune. I can’t, it’s stuck in my head.
“You recognize it, don’t you?” Scorpius mutters under his breath. I open my eyes and shrug, afraid of what that might mean. He doesn’t say anything after that. I watch as he sits there and thinks. I’m relieved to have someone else help me.
“I need to talk to Ryan and Tiffany,” I tell him softly, glancing up at the ceiling as I speak. “I’m even debating on talking to my dad again, but I don’t want to worry him. I even considered speaking to Professor Trelawney, but she’s going to get the teachers involved, and I don’t want that.”
“Have you told Rose and Jade?” he asks, his voice low and urgent. I shake my head.
“You’re the only one that knows everything,” I admit with a half-smile. “I guess it’s because you seem to know exactly what to do. Jade’s too smitten with Albus, if you haven’t noticed, and Rose is so stressed about everything at the moment. Sometimes, her worry rubs off on me too.”
“I guess you’re right,” Scorpius says, and I laugh. “What do you want me to do?”
“I need you to help me get the information I need,” I tell him. “I guess I just need you around until school’s out, in case anything else happens.”
Scorpius sighs. “Think about it, Bella. If I’m suddenly seen around you all the time, won’t that raise some suspicion to everyone else? And I don’t want to have people constantly asking what’s going on, especially if we’re seen going off somewhere secluded to talk about this. Your situation isn’t exactly an ideal topic to tell people.”
But I need your help.
I exhale loudly and bury my face in my hands. I have to do this. I have to find out more, but I need his help. No one knows this better than him. No one I know understands this better than him. No one can come up with ideas and suggestions better than him. Then I stop thinking and look up at him.
He’s watching me again. The glowing torches on the wall make his face glow mysteriously, makes his eyes light up with secrets that only I know about. The darkness of the library and the extra energy surging through my body suddenly fills me with a strange confidence that I can’t explain. It’s a different kind of electricity buzzing in the atmosphere. Unlike Albus, whose electric touch sends shivers of delight through my skin, this electricity is smoldering, overpowering, intense.
“I have an idea,” I say suddenly, feeling this new electricity move through my body slowly, making my head dizzy with determination and confidence. I walk to his seat, never leaving his gaze, until I’m standing right in front of him. “You say it would be odd if we’re always seen together, am I right?”
I don’t notice my voice as it drops lower, adopting a husky edge to it.
Scorpius raises one eyebrow but nods. “Right.” To our left, one of the torches flickers and intensifies the mood. My heart is racing, but I need to get him to understand. I reach over and place a hand on his leg, waiting to see if he understands my behavior.
He knows my plan immediately and doesn’t stop me.
Come on, Bella. Make that move.
“They can’t say anything –” I pause, letting him figure out the rest of the sentence for himself. He shakes his head in amusement and I smile back.
“The Yule Ball is next week,” he says, his voice deep and low. It forces me to move closer to hear him better. “Go with me.”
It wasn’t a question – it was an order.
“Command granted,” I answer, unable to hide the sneaky smile forming on my face.
“Are you ready to put on the best performance you can?” he asks me, as if challenging my idea. He’s waiting for me to back down, I know him all too well. I place a finger on my lips before glancing around me.
I seal the deal with a kiss.
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