Chapter 32

The End

Yesterday Vivi had had two weeks until Agatha’s party. Today she had thirteen days. Six of those days she would spend getting ready for the recently announced Hufflepuff vs. Ravenclaw Quidditch game. Stressful? You bet.

“Aiko,” Vivi said, as soon as she opened her eyes in the morning and remembered her situation. After her conversation with Avery the night before all thoughts of the party had been erased from her mind, or at least had decreased greatly in importance, but today they resurfaced, each urgently vying for her attention.

“I need help.” It was early morning yet, and outside frost covered the ground. Vivi shivered at the chill as her bare feet touched the floor, and then turned to Aiko, her eyes sweeping over the room as she did. That was when she saw it: an invitation addressed to Aiko in green, flaming letters.

“Ya got one too,” Vivi said, amazed. But then her whole countenance brightened, and she spun around, smiling at Aiko. “Please, please, please tell me you’re coming. And that ya know what Black Tie means.”

Vivi was too excited to care that Aiko was actually still asleep. This was good. This was great. Now the Party took on an entire new aspect. Aiko would be able to see Alex. And Vivi and Avery would not be trapped alone in the dungeons with only snakes. Aiko would be there. Hurray!

Aiko groaned. It was early. Really, really early. Like, before ten early. A make-up potions essay had kept her awake and working as the last student in the common room the night before. Three parchments of the effects of Borksnogs and Barcinas later, Aiko had wearily stumbled up the stairs and fallen onto bed.

Normally this wouldn’t be a problem; the bright sunlight was easily remedied by drawing the curtains around her bed, and Vivi’s muffled noises as she got ready were easy enough to ignore.

The shelter of curtain was most noticeably absent however, having been marked as insignificant the night before, when Aiko was jerked into awareness by a far too chipper roommate. Talking loudly. At her. Aiko squinted at the blurry shape she assumed was her best friend. Showing lots of teeth….smiling…right. She was pretty sure Vivi said something about a black tie too.

Aiko blinked wearily at the ceiling. “Don’ own a black tie…” she mumbled, sleep slurring her speech. ” ‘M a girl…”

And with that revelation, the small Hufflepuff rolled over and buried her face into her pillow.

“I don’t need a black tie,” Vivi announced, pouncing on the end of her best friend’s bed. She no realized that Aiko was not awake, which meant that she needed waking up. If she had not yet opened the invitation, Vivi wanted her to open it. Very soon if possible. Like right now. “I need ta know what black tie means. When you’re talking about a party,” Vivi punctured her message by bouncing once. Her eagerness was due to nervousness, and to the new realization that it would not be just Avery and herself and the Snakes at the party. If Agatha had invited Aiko, she must have invited the entire school, and it must not actually be for vindictive reasons— or at least not entirely.

It seemed that Agatha just wanted to show off to everyone at her big hoopla. Vivi could cope with that. The display was ostentatious, not evil.

“And then we have to find outfits. And get presents. And get Alex to ask ya. So wake up, wake up wake up, pleeeaasse.”

Aiko was pureblood, and proper, and had been to she-bangs like this before. As Vivi had no intention of asking Agatha for help, Aiko was her only hope. It was a bit disturbing that her only hope was still asleep. “Up or you’re getting attacked with the Mississippi Feather torture!”

Mississippi Feather Torture? Aiko wondered groggily. Well, as long as they were throwing around threats… “You touch me with a single feather and I swear to you I will shove them somewhere not even Avery will be able to find,” she grumped out. Her polite bred nature was not due to surface for another twenty minutes, and only with a cup of tea and a good warm shower. As long as she was under the covers, she was going to be as irate as she wanted. And she was firmly determined to stay there until she had to pee really badly, or her breath started to stink. Whichever came first.

Or until the sun that was shining through the window drove her mad.

A hand snaked up from under the yellow silk sheets to grab the pillow next to her, and throw it over her face.

Okay, the pillow wasn’t nearly as comfortable as it was the night before. Harsh material rubbed against her face, and a sickly sweet perfume wafted from the surface. She recognized it vaguely from one of the socials she had been to over the summer; one of her father’s Italian colleagues had been wearing it when she enveloped Aiko in a highly improper hug.

Which didn’t begin to explain why it was on her pillow. She doubted Vivs had sprayed it there; Aiko didn’t think Vivi owned perfumed, much less such an expensive, foul smelling variant.

Senses offended, and unfortunately awakened, Aiko threw the pillow onto her stomach and stared at the small envelope pinned neatly to the surface. On the front was her name neatly scrawled in expert penmanship.

Well, that would explain the babbling about dresses and gifts.

Eyes scanning the formally written letter, Aiko suppressed a sigh. Petty and malicious as the Slytherin was, she was still highly bred, and Aiko doubted her affair would be much different than any other. There was a time for pernicious dealings, and a time for prestige, and Agatha had shown mastery of the difference time and again.

“A bit short notice for such an event,” Aiko said, folding the invitation and laying it on a nearby dresser. She would not have been surprised if the lack of time was planned specifically for her friends disadvantage; one could scarcely be fully prepared for a high class gathering without considerable thought, and the American hardly had the background to guide her actions.

“And black tie means formal,” Aiko added, remembering the girls earlier question. “We’ll be expected in gowns, jewels, and make-up.” Aiko paused. “Do you own any of that?”

“Only make-up.” Vivi admitted, glancing towards her closet. The only dress she owned was a sporty red halter that matched her blue jean jacket. The last time she had worn a gown, she had been five, and a flower girl at a distant relative’s wedding. It was not an affair she remembered very well. “What’am I gonna do, Aiko?” She wailed, getting up and pacing. “I can’t not go, but how am I gonna get ready in two weeks?”

There was the dress to buy. That alone was an insanely challenging task. There were the shoes. There was hair and make-up to worry about, and jewelry. There was the present, as it was a birthday party, no matter how fancy it might be. That was a dilemma in itself. What does a girl who does not know Gucci from Nike get Agatha Swales, the queen of designer labels?

“And it’s masked,” she added, collapsing once more onto the bed. All of her fretting was as strenuous as an early morning run.

Aiko’s mind raced. She didn’t doubt Vivi’s lack of proper attire in the slightest, but it did present a huge problem. Aiko wasn’t going to show up without her best friend (really, she wasn’t suicidal) and her best friend wasn’t going to show up without a dress.

Perhaps she could borrow one of Aiko’s? The two were both petite, and possibly the same size…

A quick mental assessment of her closet brought that brilliant idea to a screeching halt. Vivi might be easygoing covered in mud in a Quidditch uniform, but Aiko doubted she would be quite so optimistic in a pink, frilly dress, no matter how good the stitching was.

Only one solution then…

“We’re going shopping,” Aiko announced with a grimace. That would mean skipping a day of classes, and breaking more than a few rules. “I don’t supposed your—” another grimace “—boyfriend could help get us out?”

“Really?” Vivi asked, surprised. Aiko was many things, but daring she was not, and sneaking out of school constituted breaking a lot of rules.

“Thanks, Aiko,” Vivi said gratefully, before adding, “And Avery could get us out. But might be easier ta floo— I’ve got power, and don’t think D’Rigeour has the network bugged.”

The Headmistress of course presented a problem. If she found out, well, there was always Beauxbatons for when they were expelled. But then Vivi did not speak a word of French, and she doubted that the prestigious, preppier school would much fit her fancy.

All right, then, they just wouldn’t be caught.

“What’d ya think?”

“It’s not bad, you’ll see,” Vivi reassured Avery as she tugged at his hand, leading him towards the Quidditch Pitch on Friday afternoon. It was late afternoon and the light breeze had just died. The Quidditch Pitch was still, quiet. Vivi shivered with delight as she stepped onto it, her shoes sinking into the damp, late fall ground.

It was the perfect, the absolute perfect day for a flight lesson, probably the last warm one they would have for many months. The ground was soft but not muddy. The breeze was nonexistent, the pitch empty. Vivi was brimming over with happiness that bubbled from spending time with Avery, and life just felt so clear, so breathtaking, she had to wonder if it was even real. The best part was, Avery had finally, after much pestering and many kisses, agreed to a broomstick lesson.

Tomorrow Vivi had to worry about the Quidditch game, but for now, she could simply be happy with Avery.

“Ready?” Vivi asked, fingers intertwining with Avery’s. She smiled sweetly up at him. “We won’t go high. Promise.”

Avery groaned.

He didn’t like bridges.

He didn’t like flying.

He didn’t like anything high.

People were meant to be on the ground. Hence the legs. And GRAVITY.

He groaned again.

“Vivs, ya know, I’m not really feelin’ so good. I think I should just go lie down…” He looked at her hopefully, knowing full-well she wouldn’t buy it.

But heck, a guy’s gotta try, right?

He wanted to run away. Hex Vivi, and then run away. But if he hexed her, she’d either be hurt or angry. Maybe a combination of the two. There was no way out of it. Nothing he could to do avoid pain, anger, or a major guilt-trip except fly.

He had to fly.

“Okay…” he finally said, slowly approaching Vivi and the broom. “I can do this. I can do this…” He stared at it for a few minutes, wondering how in the world a flying broom could be safe. It was a stick. You sit on the stick as it rises into the air.

How can that be safe?!

“Okay…” he said again, straddling the broom and sitting down as Vivi did the same, “I can do this.” He snaked his arms around Vivi’s waist and buried his head in her shoulder. “Let’s just get this over with.” “Great.” Vivi kicked off of the ground, softly, so that the two rose about six feet into the air. And then she stopped. She shifted on the broom, until she was facing Avery, patting him reassuringly on the hand. The broom floated right along, staying carefully level. It did not even shudder, or rock, seeming to sense the importance of stability.

“Avery. Look at me?” Vivi coaxed, careful. If either one fell off at this height, the most they might get would be a sore bottom— if that. “We’re just a few feet off the ground. Shorter than ya are. Okay?” With any luck, Avery would uncover his eyes and realize that he was in absolutely no danger at all.

He shook his head. “No way. What I can’t see won’t make me panic.”

So what if they were closer to the ground than his head when he was standing? His legs and body were always between his head and the ground. Now he was hovering on a stick, his butt where his head should have been. His head should be 6’4″ off the ground, not his butt. It was like he was sitting on his own shoulders without him being under…er, him.

Nothing about it was normal.

Vivi lowered the broom down until they were about three feet off of the ground. Avery’s toes were practically skimming the grass. She nudged him. “All right, try now.” Small hands closed around his face, and she lifted his head. “Look at me Avery. It’s all right.”

Vivi was beginning to feel a bit repetitive, but she hoped that if she said it enough times, Avery would believe her.

Avery slowly opened his eyes. He’d felt Vivi go down a few feet and he could feel his toes on the ground now and then. They couldn’t be too high up, right?

And should they fall, they wouldn’t get hurt.

Oh happy day…

Avery looked at Vivi for a few seconds, then slowly turned his head and looked down at the ground. It wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t that comfortable either. “I-it’s not t-too bad…” he said shakily, looking back at Vivi, “Just—turn around so I can grab onto you, o-k-kay?”

He closed his eyes again.

I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay I’m okay…

“If I turn around, I can’t do this.” Vivi teased, as she leaned forward and kissed Avery. “See? Flying’s not all bad.”

Swinging back around, Vivi took a moment to adjust. She repositioned Avery’s hands firmly around her waist, so she could move with more freedom, and then raised the broom two feet. Yet as she gained altitude, she lost speed, until the broom was merely hovering in midair.

Avery will never get comfortable with flying if he refuses to look, she thought, and was tempted to end the flying lesson then. Avery could simply limit his contact with Quidditch to snogging in the broom hut.

The lesson seemed hopeless. Avery was so afraid of heights. It was hard for Vivi to understand, but she respected him for even agreeing to a lesson. So, sighing a little, but resigned to the inevitable, Vivi glanced back at Avery and asked, “Do ya want ta land? I will if ya want ta.”

“Don’t tempt me… Just keep going.” She was the only reason he kept going. If he stopped now, he’d feel guilty. She’d kissed him to calm him. Quidditch was her life. He couldn’t back down.

Well, he could, but he’d be stupid to do it.

He had to do something for Vivi. She was dead-set on teaching him how to fly. He had to learn. Just do it, Berke… he told himself as he opened his eyes slowly. He left his head on Vivi’s shoulder, deciding that too much at once would be stupid, but he looked around a little, trying to get used to the feel of flying.

It actually wasn’t too bad.

Sure, the thought of a painful death still stuck in his mind, but the more he thought of how great flying felt, the less he thought about his neck snapping like a twig. With enough of Vivi’s help, he could get used to flying.

Though he’d always prefer the ground. It was just safer. “All right, I’m looking.”

Vivi beamed, knowing that Avery was doing this for her. It was so sweet, she smiled just thinking about it. She had the best boyfriend in the world. “Eight feet work? It’s a harmless fall, but high enough for ya to get a feel for it.” She allowed the broom to start rising. Hopefully a greater altitude would not terrify Avery. She wanted him to be comfortable with this. Part of it was that she wanted to share her love with him. The other part was that Avery was a wizard. Eventually he might need to fly, or even have to fly. It was a life skill.

“Keep holding on ta me Avery—but put your hand here.” She tugged at one hand, until it was settled on the broom stick. The other hand she left on her shoulder. “You’ve got to be kidding…” he said as she repositioned his hand. “Lean forward ta go, back ta stop. Ta go up or down, apply pressure on the handle,” Vivi continued her instructions, ignoring Avery’s obvious discomfort. “I’m still where I can be in control if I need ta be,” she placed her hand over his, and then turned the control of the broom over to Avery. The next move was his call.

Avery heard her instructions, but they all blurred together. Even though she was supposed to be teaching him how to fly, he didn’t want to learn. He didn’t intend to learn. He just wanted to prove that he could ride on a broom, not that he could learn to control one.

Dangit..

. She passed control over to him, so he decided to do something. He squeezed the handle and broom started rising quickly. Panicking, he leaned closer to Vivi. The broom started moving forward.

It was going too fast.

He hadn’t loosened his grip on the handle, so the broom was now flying upward at a dangerous angle.

He felt like he was gonna fall off.

He felt like he was gonna be sick.

“Dangit…”

“Whoa, there.” Vivi whispered. She pried Avery’s super-tight grip loose, and leaned back against him so that the broom slowed down and leveled up. They were higher than she had planned to take Avery now, but it was still a very shallow height.

“Let’s go down some.” Vivi suggested, pressing down on Avery’s hand. The broom sank. “Like that. See?”

Looking westward, she noticed the sunset. It was gorgeous, with fire orange and deep blue swirling together. Light poured from behind the clouds. “Fly towards the sunset?” Vivi asked, a little breathless. The sky always touched her like that. “Lean foward. Slowly this time.”

Avery just nodded dumbly. It was really beautiful and almost took his mind completely off of flying. While he was still aware of where he was, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. He was with Vivi staring into a beautiful sunset.

He leaned into her slowly, gently. The broom started moving, though very slowly. It was as if it knew to behave because Avery was riding. It was as if it knew it had to be extremely careful.

The broom was moving at a comfortable speed, Avery wasn’t completely hysterical, and they were together.

It was perfect.


It was five minutes before the first Quidditch game of the year was due to start: Hufflepuff vs. Ravenclaw. This game would determine the season, as Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw had the two strongest teams. The winner of this game was virtually guaranteed the Quidditch cup.

For Vivi, nervous was an understatement.

With three minutes left until the game started, Vivi ended her pep talk with a lusty battle cry of, “Let’s go, team!” and led her players out of the locker room and onto the pitch.

Crystal stood and watched as the players from both sides trooped out onto the pitch, amidst growing cheers. Crystal felt the butterflies rising into her throat. Nervously she recited the various rules of the game to herself, hoping she wouldn’t need them. She didn’t have a reason to be nervous—it wasn’t as if she herself was playing. But this was her first real game. She was in charge of it, she had organized everything and she was determined to make it all run smoothly.

The teams drew level with each other.

“Captains, shake hands,” said Crystal, stepping back out of the way. She smiled briefly before bending down and letting loose the snitch and the bludgers.

Shaking hands with Ling, Vivi smiled as broadly as she could manage, hoping to instill confidence in her team. Yet when she spotted the Ravenclaw seeker, a newbie by the looks of it, her smiled grew into a real one.

They were going to win this game if it killed her.

“Teams, mount your brooms,” Crystal said, unstrapping the quaffle. With it under her arm she mounted her own broom and zoomed up to meet the players. Blowing hard on her whistle, which echoed around the pitch, she threw the quaffle up into the air and zoomed off to the side.

The game had begun.

Vivi shot straight up. Altitude was everything. She swooped low again, and then spiraled higher, warming up her muscles and her broom while searching for the snitch. She was also showing off, just a little bit.

Intimidating the other seeker never hurt anyone.

Rising higher, Vivi zigzagged across the sky, scanning the ground. A quick roll saved her from a bludger, and she checked quickly to make sure her new beaters were active. Satisfied, she turned abruptly around to a bright glimmer catching her eye. She did not see the snitch; what she saw was the Ravenclaw seeker.

Turning away, Vivi smiled secretly. So— Tanner, was that his name?—was tailing her, was he. Well, this would be interesting.

Pretending nonchalance, Vivi soared even higher, until she was close to one hundred feet off of the ground. It was well above the action, and a perfect place for snitch-hunting. She drifted hesitantly to one side, and then, whipping around as if she had seen the snitch, she dove.

The dive was steep, almost vertical, and Vivi hurtled down, her speed increasing by the second. She aimed for the bottom right goal post, hair and robes streaming out behind her, hand outstretched as though intent upon snatching up the snitch. Vivi was four feet, three feet, two feet from colliding with the ground or the post, she was going to hit!

Yet at the last moment, Vivi turned her broom handle, flipping away from the ground and up into the air. It was a brilliantly executed Wronski feint, one she had practiced time after time. She had only ever attempted it once in a game, with unsuccessful results, but the Ravenclaw seeker then had been several years her elder. Now things were different.

So the only question was: had it worked?

BAM

The other seeker, Tanner, collided with the ground, curling into a ball on impact, holding his arms close to his body in an effort to protect them from breaking. It seemed like his body was a potato sack being rolled lifelessly across the ground, and then slowly he stopped rolling until his body stopped. He was on his back, not moving, eyes closed. His broom landed gently on the ground next to him.

His eyes fluttered briefly.

He was lying on something soft, fluffy and…wet? His eyes snapped open and he looked around. The last few moments flashed before his eyes.

Hufflepuff. Game. Snitch.

There was no roaring that signified the end of a match. Tanner glanced upward; the stands were still filled in anticipation. He still had a chance. Ravenclaw still had a chance.

As he stood up a wave of dizziness hit him and he toppled over. His robes curled around him as he crawled to his knees and then slowly to his feet. He clung to his broom as something of a crutch, and then when the dizziness passed, got on his broom and pushed off.

He would fly.

Inwardly Vivi cheered as the first year got plowed—and at that speed no less! She was surprised he even managed to stand up, without a Medi-wizard or someone else to revive him. Still, he had taken a good beating. That would give her some extra time, and the advantage of being fresh. She smiled. On the ground, Vivi would have considered such thoughts blatantly cruel. She rarely delighted in the pain of another. In the air her philosophy was slightly different. After all, all is fair in love and Quidditch.

Sinking below the game, Vivienne quickly checked around the opposite goal post from the one she had just dived towards. Nothing. The snitch was not hovering along the ground either. Vivi frowned. Her preciously bought, other-seeker-less time was ticking quietly away, with no results. Not good.

She shivered slightly in the fog, which seemed to be rolling in thicker, and tugged her robes closer. So, the snitch was not near the ground right now. It was time for a new strategy. Vivi flitted upwards, circling tightly, her nerves acting back up. It was not unusual not to sight the Snitch early in the game, but she had hoped to have some luck while the other seeker was down.

Back in Mississippi, Vivi knew that her mother would be baking something and glancing often at the palm pilot Mr. Moor had bought her the Christmas before. The palm pilot displayed the time changes between most of the major cities. Mrs. Moor did not care about the time in Hong Kong or Sydney. She would be watching the English time, and wincing as she imagined her daughter whizzing about on a broom stick, hundreds of feet in the air.

Vivi had reassured her parents time after time that wizards and witches were hardier than muggles. She explained that it would take more than a fall to kill a witch, more than a car crash even. She insisted that broom flying was safe, really, and she was good at it. They didn’t have to worry about her.

Vivi’s insistences did not stop Mrs. Moor from worrying. And so Mr. Moor had bought the palm pilot. He had also bought an owl.

“So ya can mail her, ‘stead a the other way ‘round,” he explained when he brought home the dusty barn owl. “Keep it in the mud room so the neighbors don’t notice.”

Gleefully, Mrs. Moor had agreed. So now Vivi received letters from her family, asking her when her next game was, how she was doing in her classes, and sending along baked goods for Aiko, Avery, and Vivi. Vivi imagined that the entire school thought she was either in good with the house elves or a great cook, the way she always had cookies and pies to share. Perhaps they even thought she was accomplished at needlework; Mrs. Moor was also an avid knitter. So Vivi had mittens, and an abundance of scarves and blankets.

The snitch, Vivi reminded herself, letting her thoughts of home drain away. She would mail her mother after the game was over, and tell her the outcome. Yet right now, she had to focus, to make sure that the outcome was worth writing home about.

Tanner’s broom wobbled slightly as he pushed upward into the air and hissed in pain. His head throbbed in beat with his heart and the previously brand new Quidditch robes were in a state of complete disrepair. Turning his head, his hand flew to his neck as a instant signal of pain flashed in his brain. It came away bloody, probably cut by a rock in his roll.

He squinted through the pain down at his legs and the amount of cuts surprised him. Only a few littered his legs, most of his problem was that it felt like a bruise—a big bruise.

He had to admit he was lucky.

The instinctive protective curling along with the soggy ground had protected him from major injury.

He wasn’t quite sure if a concussion counted as a major injury but if it wasn’t counted, he was going to make sure it counted by the time he was done complaining.

His life mission.

After this game of course.

Through the misty air he managed to see the sixth year who had quite efficiently pummeled him to the ground and a hint of anger smoldered in the back of his mind. The girl had probably known that he wouldn’t be able to see the feint for what it was, and, if the rolls had been reversed, he would have at least checked to see if the other seeker was healthy—or as healthy as could be after a tumble like that.

Or at least that’s what he made himself think.

A bludger whirled near him, and he snapped, otherworld adrenaline cruising through his blood and blocking out some of the pain. His hair stuck up, as it always did when he was angry.

He was sick of being pushed around.

He was sick of making a fool of himself.

He was sick of being shot at by bludgers.

He was used to being the one who beat bludgers at other people, not the other way around. He knew how to control a bludger, and the bludger was going down. He rose upward, although he didn’t have a proper stick, he did have a proper target.

His eyes zeroed in on the sixth year seeker.

Another bludger came within distance and that was that.

With a brief struggle, his shoe came into his hand and he chased after the bludger, all thoughts of the snitch leaving his mind.

With a lunge his shoe hit the black ball with a satisfying thud and the fabric fell apart in his hand. He looked at it regretfully. It had been a good shoe, and served him well, more reason for the bludger to go where he planned.

Unfortunately the Bludger had a different idea. It spun off target, going dangerously close to another Ravenclaw player and he growled slightly under his breath. In an instant his other shoe came into his hand.

There wasn’t a rule about non-beaters hitting bludgers was there?

Of course he didn’t really care one way or the other. As long as the bludger came close to his target he would be a happy man.

A very happy man. He glanced at the girl with an almost maniac, anger-filled smile.

He chased down another bludger. This was what he knew, this was what he had been doing for many years. Beating bludgers towards players. With a thunderous WACK the bludger went in the correct direction. It wasn’t hit with precision, but it went close enough to the other seeker for her to notice. He let the remains of his shoe fall to the ground.

Mission accomplished.

Now to find the snitch.

Vivi watched as Tanner rose into the air. The majority of her concentration was on the search for the snitch, but she was careful not to ignore the other seeker. If he saw the snitch first she certainly did not want him to reach it first. That would be catastrophic.

So she kept one eye on Tanner, the other on the ground, and she wished for one more to watch the air with. Yet, when the first bludger whizzed by her, albeit too far to the left to hit her, she swerved to see where it had come from. She was more than surprised to see Tanner there, rather than Kameko, and it was even more shocking to realize that he had just hit the bludger with his shoe.

She had to wonder what on earth he was doing; had the fall really concussed him that much? Did he think he was a beater?

With the second Bludger, Vivi understood. He was enacting revenge. She rolled easily to the side, avoiding the Bludger as it was a little off, but a scowl settled onto her face. The actions of the other seeker deeply offended her notion of how the game was played.

Acting on a vengeful whim was unprofessional. It was the type of thing that got you yelled at by your Captain; when Vivi was a first year, Amanda probably would have eaten her alive for something like that.

Besides, Tanner was wasting his time by acting as a beater instead of a seeker, and he was wasting hers by demeaning the game. She had come to battle him as a seeker, not to exchange blows as a beater for crying-out-loud.

She was tempted to sic Dean on him. Maybe the Hufflepuff beater would go for him anyway; “Take out the seeker,” was the first rule of the Beater’s Bible.

And it was not her fault he had fallen for the feint. Looking after him was not her job. Beating him was, and he could have pulled up before he was too steep to stop.

Don’t mess with me, firstie, she thought indignantly, putting on an extra burst of speed so that she was out from between the two bludgers. Yet she was not entirely unhappy. Now that he had been tricked once, Tanner was much less likely to follow her when she actually saw the snitch, which made her job oh-so-much-easier.

Yes, maybe his temper was a good thing.

Tanner let the previous events of the game melt away as the seeker sped away from him. The cool misty air weighed down his hair, and in turn cooled down his raging temper.

It also brought back his headache.

And the incredibly stupid thing he’d just done with his shoes—he’d ruined them. The thought of the expensive shoes lying in a torn heap on the ground made him cringe. His grandmother was going to kill him.

As was the other seeker when this game was done and quite possibly his Captain as well.

His head pounded as he shook his hair out of his eyes, but it cleared the scene so he could look at the pitch. His eyes darted from side to side as he attempted to keep his head as still as possible.

It was useless.

A black blur flickered at the corner of his vision.

Why was it coming from above? The only one who’d been above him before was…

His eyes widened.

The other seeker?

If the other Seeker had the temper that Tanner had then he was in deep trouble. He was dead meat— and this time it wasn’t chicken meat— it was Seeker meat and that was even worse. He rolled away from the oncoming bludger and he couldn’t with-hold a small growl of pain. His head throbbed and he was surprised that he was even able to think.

Tanner sent his broom upward and looked in the direction the bludger had come. The Seeker was nowhere to be seen, but another player in yellow, with a club in hand, was laughing. At him.

This time anger didn’t overcome him.

It was another feeling altogether.

Fear.

The beater was coming to get him, with a club, strength and the skill to knock him off his broom. The worst thing, though, was the fact that he couldn’t protect himself. He didn’t have any shoes.

As the Hufflepuff beaters advanced upon Tanner, the Captain of Ravenclaw was beginning to have similar ideas. Ravenclaw had to win; there was no other way about it. By pitting Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff against each other, the cup would be effectively decided.

Ling Moon watched as the quaffle slipped from the fingers of one of the Ravenclaw chasers.

She waved her arm, trying to get Kameko’s attention. “Take out the seeker,” she called. It was either the keeper or the seeker that needed to be taken care of, that much Ling knew. And with Vivienne Moor as the opposing seeker, it had to be the seeker.

Out of the corner of her eye, Kameko caught frantic waving. She veered her Frostbite to the left and listened to Ling shout for her to… well, she only caught snippets. “Take… seeker….” This was enough for Kameko to discern the idea. Ling must want her to take out Vivienne.

She scanned the pitch quickly through her sharp green eyes and caught sight of a black ball whizzing up above. With a painful upwards wrench of the broom handle, she flew upwards, dusty Quidditch jeans whapping her legs as the wind flew down upon her face. Coming alongside the bludger, she raised her bat in her black-gloved right hand (right hand best for Quidditch, left hand best for spells) and brought it down upon the wailing ball, sending it at a screaming pace towards Vivienne, last-year’s coach. Vivienne was absorbed in searching for the snitch, and faced the other way. Kameko pumped her fist with delight, a tiny wisp of black hair falling from her ponytail into her face.

Unfortunately for Ravenclaw, Vivi chose that moment to turn. She saw the black ball a full five feet before it reached her, and dodged out of the way with another foot to spare. It was a close call, but not close enough from a Ravenclaw perspective. So the near-collusion did not achieve the aims it had intended.

What it did achieve was a distraction, as all eyes on the Quidditch Pitch focused on Vivi and Kameko. Donal Talmorra grinned, clutching something tightly to his chest. He could not have planned this better if he had tried.

He’d wanted to do this for a while now, but things had never quite panned out well enough. This time, however, he would succeed….

Making his way to a less-crowded area of the stands, he crouched low, out of view. Carefully, so as not to get injured by the concealed object, he wrestled it out from beneath his robes, and then flung it hard into the air.

That should add some extra interest to the game, he thought, dusting off his hands and watching as the third Bludger proceeded entered the game.

The Hufflepuff Beater, Dean McGowan, was keeping an eye on the Bludgers, making sure that neither came close to any of his teammates.

By the Ravenclaw goalpost…one by the Slytherin stands, he thought to himself, noting the positions of the two Bludgers. One near Vivi…

It took a moment before Dean thought to recount the Bludgers, and another moment before he realized there were three Bludgers.

THREE?

After two more checks, he was positive there were three heavy flying balls on the Pitch.

“Vivi,” he yelled, flagging down the Captain with a wave of his arm. “Vivi!”

Vivi squinted at Dean. It was hard to tell what he was saying from across the pitch, but there was something clearly amiss. It was her turn to scream and wave, as a bludger hurtled towards the other Beater, Alex, but Vivi’s warning was lost among the shuffle of the game.

Alex was hit. One beater down. Moments later Dean was also struck, and now they were two beaters down.

And that was when Vivi realized: there were two beaters and three bludgers.

Or maybe she just couldn’t count. Incredulous, Vivi spun her broom around, trying to see all of the pitch at once. What she realized quickly was that she could count, and that there were three, not two, but three bludgers in play.

Oh, if she found out who did this, there would be a duel to settle. Pranks were all well and good, but this prank involved a bludger with a taste for Hufflepuff and the most important game of the year.

“Time out!” Vivi screamed at Crystal, invoking her Captain’s privilege. “TIME OUT.”

She heard the whistle and flew towards the ground, already pulling out her wand. Alex and Dean needed attention badly, having both suffered from the bludger injuries. And they could all use the break, in order to recoup and breathe, while Crystal took care of that evil bludger.

Landing stoutly, Vivi turned to her compatriots. “Alex?” She asked, “How bad is it?” It looked bad. Broken, even.

If the Ravens let that Bludger loose we better get a foul shot, she thought bitterly. It was highly distressing that Hufflepuff was now down by two beaters. Dean and Alex were the ones keeping Vivi alive, with the Ravenclaw beaters (and their deranged seeker) smacking bludgers her way left and right.

“Can ya stay in with a numbing potion, or are ya out?” The numbing potion was one of the several she carried on her person during games, as first aid for injuries. The other potions included one aimed at stopping wounds from bleeding, one meant to reduce the swelling from a concussion, and one that could heal small injuries, like a broken finger or a missing tooth.

Yet Vivi as in no way equipped to reconstruct the bones in Alex’s hip, or assess the capability of Dean to play after being knocked unconscious. That was the duty of the Medic. So, if her two beaters were out, that left a keeper, three chasers, and herself only to win the game with.

“The numbing potion will do me fine; the nurse can fix it after the game. We still have to win this!” Alex stayed on her broom as she lowered to the ground. There was no way she was going to put weight on her leg. At least not until after she’d had something to remove the searing shots of fire in her thigh.

“Great,” Vivi said, relieved. It was looking like Dean was out of the game—the Medic was seeing to him, but he was unconscious—but at least they would have one beater. These accidents, however, suddenly placed ever more weight on Vivi’s shoulders.

The snitch was everything.

Turning, Vivi spotted Crystal descending nearby. “Everyone okay?” Crystal asked, landing beside the two girls. She held a case with the third bludger in it, and looked particularly concerned.

“Yeah,” Vivi answered, mounting up. The time out was over. It was time to finish this game.

The next hour passed slowly, and a change spread rapidly over the pitch. Vivi shivered. The fog was heavy and enclosing, now. It rose as dusk fell, blocking out all other noise, encasing her alone in her own shifting world. Time seemed to pass in jolts. Ten minutes would stretch on forever, and then forty would pass without notice. She did notice, however, that night was coming early, due to the clouded sky and thick fog. It was evening, but it felt, much, much later.

She swung her broom low, skimming close to the ground as she swiped her hair away from her face. The moisture in the air had plastered her hair to her forehead and her robes to her body. It was a chilly damp, though, not the damp of sweat, so she pulled her robes away from her skin, wiped her hair back out of her eyes, and tried to get rid of the creeping, slimy touch of the water. It didn’t help.

For some reason, Vivi suddenly thought of Avery. He was probably down there, somewhere, watching. The thought made her smile; at least someone would be rooting for her. Ever since he had confided his dark past to her, she had felt closer to him, as though she understood him better and loved him more for it. It buoyed their relationship, his trust in her, hers in him. He was one of two people at Hogwarts that she trusted with her secrets, her life, her heart. He was her best friend and her boyfriend, he was her Avey.

She was jolted out of her reverie when a sudden cheer erupted. One team—Vivi had no idea which—had scored. It sounded a very long way off. It was dangerous, this lack of visibility, this airborne quagmire. She wondered where the snitch was. She had not seen it all game! Where was it, where? Frustrated, Vivi yanked on her broom, sending it into an upward climb. She had to end this!

Scanning the air, she saw more of nothing. Yet at the top of her flight, a half-second before she leveled off and glanced downward, Vivi saw a hint of gold, the flick of silver wings. That was all it took. She accelerated, her broom almost leaping from under her as it sensed her abrupt zeal. The snitch bobbed in the air as she sped for it, but then it was off, flying directly up, up, up.

She had never chased the snitch upwards before. It always flew downwards, or sideways, or looped-around. It never flown straight up. But now it did.

As fast as the snitch was, on a broom Vivi was faster. She drew within a yard’s length of it, her hand outstretched, his eyes focused on the golden object only. It veered right and she followed, it turned left and she anticipated. She made a grab for it then, and her fingers touched upon the tiny silver wings, but it eluded her. Just barely, it eluded her.

Flattening herself harder along the broom, she stretched out, clinging to the handle with her knees only, and snatched at the air. The grab almost sent her head over heels, but she did not catch the snitch. It had shot up again as soon as she tried for it. Recovering, Vivi followed it.

The snitch had lured her higher than she had ever been before now. She had to be two hundred feet from the ground—over two hundred! The stands were diminutive in size from here; the ground shone ethereal in its coat of silver mist. Windy hands clawed at her at this altitude, but Vivi clung to her broom and her mission. That snitch was hers.

It stopped at an altitude of three hundred feet. It hovered, gloating, as Vivi fought to reach it, gravity and the weather acting as her foes. She drew level with it, finally, and paused, breathless. She wanted to grab it, to snatch it out of the air, but somehow she knew that there was something else coming. The snitch had not led her on this wild, impossible chase, just to stop at the top. Quidditch was never that easy. Nothing was ever that easy.

Staring at it, Vivi’s eyes slipped beyond the snitch towards the west, where the sun sank, its last orange rays slicing through the fog. There was something unexpected about that sunset. Something unexpected and wild, that seemed to cleave a straight line to her. The last rays rest upon the gold, and Vivi lunged for it…

…and her hands closed on it, and it was hers, it was hers, it was hers! Hufflepuff had won! A hard fought game, a hard fought victory, it belonged to them, this moment, this happy instance. Could they see? Did they know of their triumph?

Pulling the snitch to her chest, Vivi yelled, pure exhilaration filling her veins. Yes! Hufflepuff had beaten Ravenclaw, yes! She pumped one fist in the air, almost crying she was so happy, and then…

And then the clock struck six.

And she was falling, falling, falling! Vivi tumbled through the air, an acrobat turning somersaults as she plummeted towards the ground. Penetrating disbelief ripped through her. Where was her broom? What had happened to it? It had disappeared, her broom of six years was…gone.

There was screaming, sudden terrified screaming—who was it? Maybe it was the crowd, maybe it was her…maybe it was both. Her feet flew up into the air, and her robes buffeted out until she had the appearance of a winged creature, her arms flailed. The snitch flew out of her hand, away, away, for the Ravenclaw seeker to catch. Gusts of wind caught her, and swept her sideways, so she did not fall towards the pitch so far below, but towards the outside of it.

Ages ago, when the Quidditch Pitch was being constructed, the wizards of the day had lifted the rocks in the meadow that had existed there previously, and deposited them around the edges of the Pitch. It solved two problems with, well, more than one stone so to speak. Leaving the rocks at the edge of the pitch was convenient, and it fortified the landscape, protecting the carefully mowed and preened lawn against the flood waters of the lake.

So now Vivi fell towards the perimeter of the pitch, three hundred feet towards solid stone. Three hundred feet until her death. It gave her a long time to think about what would happen when she hit the rocks. But the only thought she could coherently form was, This is not how it was supposed to be.

Kameko heard Vivi’s small scream as it rose to a feverous wail. Wondering what was wrong, she spun just in time to see a deadweight fly downwards past her face. With horror, she realized it was Vivienne, broomless, hurtling towards the cold stone below. With a cry, Kameko yanked the end of her broom down and threw her full weight toward the sixth year. She was making a slow gain, but the ground was approaching even faster. Hardening her gaze she pushed harder, reaching out at an almost painful stretch in an attempt to catch even a tiny bit of Vivienne’s robes or flesh. Please, she prayed to who knows what, please, just a bit further.

But Vivi never saw Kameko’s efforts to save her. She never heard the noise of her own body impacting with stone. Her legs hit first, but she did not hear the cracking as her bones splintered and thrust through her flesh. She did not know when her ribs followed suit, her arms and hands busted against the rock, her head hit, cracking her skull and sending her brain crashing into bone. She never knew when her lungs stopped receiving the signals to pump oxygen into her blood. Vivi never saw her breath end and her heart falter and stop.

Nothing but silence echoed as, slowly, the realization that Vivi was dead broke over the Quidditch Pitch. It was hard to understand; hard to believe; surely it could not be real. But it was real

It was terribly, terribly, real.

For a moment it was like time hung suspended, and then the crowds and players watched as a lone figure sprinted out across the Quidditch Pitch towards Vivi, her wand in her hand.
,br> Medic Echo flipped herself to a kneeling position and looked at Vivienne. Using a simple yet effective test, Echo placed her head to Vivienne’s chest gingerly. There was no heartbeat.

The Medic placed her wand on Vivienne’s chest, took a deep breath, and muttered a freezing charm: “Nordica presvato.” A white-blue frost covered the Hufflepuff. With a Wingardium Leviosa that two minutes ago might have saved Vivi, Echo lifted the girl and floated her quickly away from the pitch and to the Hospital Wing.

As Echo disappeared with Vivi, Crystal stopped and closed her eyes, the mangled body of Vivi fresh in her vision. But whilst inside Crystal was falling apart, she knew that this was a time to be strong. Her hands fumbling around her neck, she drew her whistle to her mouth and blew, hard, calling for the game to pause.

Crystal spotted Kameko as she landed, and ran over to the girl, putting her arm around her shoulders. “You…you okay?” she asked, her voice shaking.

Kameko leaned with both hands on her knees, shaking. She had thrown up after seeing Vivi, and now she wiped remnants from the corners of her mouth.

Not looking at Crystal, Kameko closed her eyes and began to breathe raggedly as tears welled up behind her eyelids and her chest tightened with a sickening feeling of guilt and loss.

No Kameko thought, turning to face Crystal, I should have gotten Vivienne. If it wasn’t for my slow reflexes she wouldn’t have smashed on the rocks.

But instead of speaking her thoughts, she nodded fervently and wiped her eyes with a gasp like a goldfish. “Yeah, yeah, I’m—I’m fine,” she lied in a quavering voice, threatening to break into sobs. “Could I, erm, sit out the rest of— of the game?” She bit her lip hard, willing herself not to totally break down in hysterics. Crystal was likewise distraught, similar thoughts running through her head. Tears came to her large blue eyes, before slowly spilling out, cascading down her face in a silent torrent of grief.

A trembling hand rose to her face and Crystal slowly wiped away the tears that fell from her eyes. Silent she stood and faced the direction that Echo had carried Vivi’s lifeless body in. The stadium was silent, as the whole school watched, stony faced, the odd cry of grief escaping from the different people.

Turning toward Kameko, Crystal lifted her arm from Kameko’s shoulder and reached into her robe pocket. Her fingers clasped around a large, solid bar of Honeydukes Chocolate. Reaching forward she pressed the bar into Kameko’s hands before helping her off of the ground and onto the bench.

“Eat it,” commanded Crystal gently. “Little bits at a time, don’t force it, small, small pieces.” Chocolate may have seemed rather inappropriate at a time like this, but it had a way of warming even the darkest of situations.

Hoping that Kameko would be all right, Crystal rose and cast her eyes around the pitch. Thirteen players were still and silent. Some hung in the air; others had landed, clinging to each other in support. Stepping forward Crystal blew her whistle and asked, “Is there anybody here who wants to continue?”

She expected the answer would be no.

Aiko, standing nearby, growled deeply. The woman had that look on her face. That awful, evil look of shock and forced control that stank of death. Like a mom who brings in your new puppy after he was run over by a passing muggle and tells you that, “it’s okay, we’ll fix it,” all the while wondering what to do with a bloody, stinking corpse.

Only this wasn’t a favorite puppy. This was Vivi. This was spunky Vivs who couldn’t sit still if her life depended on it, and somehow found it in her heart to kiss a Bird-Brain-Berke, and listened to Aiko cry, and wore cheap clothes and went to class on time, and spent twenty minutes too long in the shower just so she could wait until all the steam had cleared off the mirror, and tucked her laces into her shoes, and never, ever barked.

So did anyone want to continue the game?

The game could go to hell and take its players with it. They had killed her best friend.

Bile rose up in her throat. It was disgusting, and wrong, so very, very wrong, because Vivienne wasn’t supposed to die, she was supposed to play Quidditch after hours and eat chocolate until it was on her cheeks, and snog a jerk, and now she was dead, deadeadeadeadeadeadeadead, so very, very dead and she wasn’t going to wear that new dress that Aiko had hated because it was just so plain and it was sitting on her dresser and it would stay there because no one was going to touch it because she was dead!

Aiko heaved onto the grass, her stomach a mass of cutting spasms. Her fingers dug themselves into the ground beneath her and she—Vivi was a good Quidditch player, one of the best, how could she be so stupid?—slowly rocked herself to her knees—dead and mutilated and hideous—then her toes and raised—deadeadeadead—to a hunching form of herself.

Stumbling, Aiko joined the procession heading back to castle. She did not see when the snitch, appearing out of no where, hit Tanner, nor did she see him reach up and catch it, holding it out, feeling sick.

But Crystal did She stood, unwilling to remounted her broom. She watched as the Ravenclaw seeker caught the snitch. Slowly she put her whistle, yet again, to her mouth and blew.

“Victory to Ravenclaw,” her voice was cold and empty, echoing around the silent stadium.

Usually at this point the Captains shook hands.

Usually. But not now.

The game was over. But no one felt like celebrating, because Vivienne Moor, Hufflepuff’s seeker and captain, was dead.

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