Goblet of Fire 18 – Will To Live
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Rhiannon awoke in a warm, heavy darkness that blanketed the room and weighed on her lungs. She coughed and wheezed weakly, flailing for her glasses, until her hand caught against fabric and threw open the curtain a short way through which light, harsh and yellow-gold, pierced her dark sanctum. For a moment she was disoriented, the world a blur of hazy purple-and-green dots, shadows and too-bright light, she didn’t know who she was let alone where. Then it hit her, a hammer-blow to the senses that sent her reeling, crawling back beneath the blanket and gasping for breath, the reality of where she was, what had happened. It had haunted her dreams and for a moment upon waking, Rhiannon had thought that to be all it was – a dream. The choice of the goblet, the indecision of the gamemakers, even the tournament itself – all of it.

Reality itself was her prison now, and Rhiannon crawled deeper into her blankets with a pitiful whine and a miserable sigh as she realised she had fallen asleep in smelly clothes, on top of the more comforting duvet. She would have simply rolled over onto her face and pulled the blankets over her head, but there was a rustle from outside and a series of soft thuds as someone got up and crossed the room toward her bed.

“Hey, Rhi,” Harry Pace greeted her softly, and Rhiannon flinched from them with a pathetic growl and a whine. Leave me alone. The world is too big and scary. But sadly, Rhiannon had not learnt the art of silent mind-to-mind communication, and Harry was not dissuaded. “Rhi, it’s nine in the morning, the Mac said I could let you sleep in but, aren’t you hungry? You’ve got to be hungry.”

Normally, the thought of food would have had Rhiannon leaping out of bed, sore joints be damned. But even though her stomach ached and her breath rasped against a dry throat, through a mouth sour with sickness, she could not muster so much as a thread of desire for food. She reached up and fumbled for the pillow, which she promptly slammed down over her head, but Harry was having none of that and took it from her with a disapproving sigh. “No, Rhi, come on. I know you feel like hell, but if I can’t get you out of bed I have to call Madam Pomfrey, come on.” they wheedled.

Rhiannon growled and turned her face into the blankets, she didn’t care about breakfast, and she didn’t care if Harry brought Madam Pomfrey. Madam Pomfrey couldn’t get her out of bed either, she thought mulishly. “Fine, you asked for it,” Harry grumbled, and there was a soft whoosh of clothes as they stepped away. Then, all of a sudden, Rhiannon’s little den was fractured and even hidden in the mattress, her eyes were assailed with light as with a firm, cut-off sssssshhhh sort of sound, Harry drew back the curtains that surrounded her four-poster bed.

There was no hiding from a world that blared brightly through her eyelids, and finally Rhiannon turned over to lie on her back, gasping for air as all of a sudden her thin body was wracked with great choking sobs. “No- n-n-n-no, I d-d-d-don’t, I can’t,” she sobbed, overwhelmed all at once by how big, how frightening the world was now that she was faced by its reality. The refuge of sleep had protected her for a time but that time was up.

“I know you can’t,” Harry murmured, the bed bouncing a little under their weight as they sat down on the bed beside Rhiannon and pulled her unceremoniously into their lap. “That’s what you’ve got friends for. But friends don’t like hugs from vomit-smelling werewolves, so come on, let’s get in the shower, I’ll help you wash out your hair.”

Through her gasps and sobs, Rhiannon got a great lungful of air and in it, the smells of the room. She wrinkled her nose and gagged in disgust – wet dog, vomit, sweat and a little blood, urine – to her mortification, it seemed she had wet herself in the night, and she resolved to leave a galleon on the table for whichever poor elf was assigned to launder the bed. Then she realised that meant she had accepted she would have to get up, and flopped back into Harry’s lap with a groan and a whimper.

“Yeah, you know you stink,” Harry told her good-naturedly, leaning down as they spoke to hug her tightly. “Now, c’mon, I already got your things ready in a shower bag, let’s go clean the both of us up.”

Once upon a time, Rhiannon might have been embarrassed at a friend seeing her naked body. But today, she couldn’t bring herself to care as Harry helped her clean the smell from her body and shampoo her tangled hair until finally, she resembled a person again. Not a healthy, functioning person, but at least a person, and when she emerged from the bathroom with her arm looped through Harry’s for support her hair was sweet-smelling with a protective oil and she was neatly clothed in a fresh uniform ready for class.

The first class – well, the first for Rhiannon, as she’d slept through the morning classes and break besides – was History of Magic. Ordinarily it was a class Rhiannon quite liked, even though the teacher was duller than his own gravedust – she rather enjoyed diverting the lessons with strident disagreements on his teaching methods, bias and additional perspectives on the events he was teaching. But on a low-energy sick day, Rhiannon’s hopes for success in the class were low to begin with, and as she entered the room leaning heavily on Harry’s shoulder by the time they reached the ground floor, she stopped and stared foggily around her at the hostile faces of what felt like almost all her classmates.

What Rhiannon hadn’t expected, what floored her as she walked in, was how fast the petty bullies had moved, having had only a morning to carry out their plans. Any other teacher – at least, any currently employed by Hogwarts whose classes Rhiannon attended – would have ordered they look to the front and remove any non-uniform items, perhaps made a statement about not singling out their classmates or even pointed out that Cedric Diggory openly supported Rhiannon. Professor Binns’ approach to bullying was firm ignorance of any student misbehaviour in his classroom, so she hadn’t exactly counted him among her allies to begin with, but she had not expected at least half the classroom to be smirking, whispering and gesturing to brilliant violet buttons that spelled out in yellow letters – Support Cedric Diggory, a real man and the REAL Hogwarts Champion.

Rhiannon curled her lip – it was a clumsy slogan, a petty jab at her gender yet again, and the blinking of the badges was out of synchronisation which meant the enchanting job was shoddy. But even that little bit of satisfaction didn’t alleviate the fact that that shoddy enchanting job was going to give her a headache, and the prickling of her skin from their hostile stares was going to be pretty bloody irritating if she had to put up with it the whole lesson.

“Sit down, Potter,” Professor Binns droned, his voice as sympathetic as a papercut. Rhiannon curled her lip and lifted her chin, challenging her classmates to say anything further – if they wanted to have a go at her, let them do it openly. But they said nothing, only sat and smirked, and eventually Rhiannon relented with an irritable growl as Harry tugged her into a pair of open seats near the front of the class that Padma and Mairi had saved for them.

“Are you alright? You’ve slept in a couple times around the you-know-what but, never this bad, we were all worried,” Padma whispered anxiously. Rhiannon’s heart wrenched – Padma was a lot more emotionally reserved than her sister, so for her to express worry, well, she must be feeling pretty awful.

“Crap,” Rhiannon replied, after a moment of staring into space and not having noticed she was being spoken to. Even arranging her paper and pens on the desk was an effort, her hands trembled so badly with weariness and tension and it felt like every yellow flash of a Real Hogwarts Champion badge was laughing at her as she fumbled with the stationery. “I – t-hhhh- thanks, for looking after me, though. Makes it, bearable, sort of.”

Harry made a squeaky little sound that Rhiannon guessed to be a wordless expression of overwhelmed affection – her goofy nonbinary friend was a bit of a marshmallow at heart, but they didn’t always manage to express that with words, and she leaned over to hug them around the waist in response.

Professor Binns cleared his throat irritably, and Rhiannon and Harry settled back into their own separate chairs with matching scowls as their ghostly professor launched into his talk on the Goblin Rebellions, the new topic for the first term. This week was covering the very earliest of those, incited by the activity of one Yardley Platt, a Ministry employee of the Department of Mysteries, and serial goblin killer known for his ‘controversial’ research on the use of goblin bodily parts and substances in potionsmaking and alchemy.

Personally, Rhiannon could rather see why the goblins were upset, but the class had always taken a very wizard-centric point of view and apparently that extended to serial killers. On a normal day it would have taken all Rhiannon’s energy not to point out why the rebellions had begun. A goblin family had called for legal action and justice after the father had been killed by Platt, and the Ministry had not just let Platt keep his position and go free – they refused to allow the case even to come before the Wizengamot and laughed the family out of court. In response, young goblins employed in and around the area had burned the court to the ground and rioted, inciting the first open rebellion against wizarding rule in Britain since the tenth century.

Today, Rhiannon just didn’t have the energy to stand up and point any of that out, and as a result, the first quarter hour of class had her seething silently in her chair with only her own notes as a release for her frustration. Every full stop was a little inky hole in the page, and each of Binns’ points was annotated with her irritable corrections.

An interruption arrived not quite twenty minutes into the class, just when Rhiannon was beginning to think there would be no end to Binns’ endlessly boring, bigoted material. But just before she lost the last of her patience, there was a knock at the door, and in peeped the tousled flaxen-blond head of Colin Creevey. “Hey, Professor, sorry – the Headmaster sent me to fetch Rhiannon, something about the Tournament,” he stammered apologetically.

Rhiannon’s stomach dropped into her shoes, and she braced herself against the top of her desk as a wave of nausea hit her. The Tournament. She had done her best to ignore the idea of it since waking, but clearly she could do so no longer. She sighed, and clenched her fists on the table as she straightened up – if anything, this was a crooked blessing. Better she face it now than fret about it for who knew how long. And if the worst case came to pass, and she were forced to compete in this tournament... she’d need all the time she could to prepare for it.

“Well, I suppose, if it’s the Headmaster’s orders...” Professor Binns grumbled, as Rhiannon slid her book, notes and pens back into her backpack and prepared to leave.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Harry whispered anxiously, clearly speaking aloud for their whole little group as Rhiannon stood and straightened out her robes.

“No,” Rhiannon replied with an uncomfortable shrug. “B-b-b- but it’s this or hide until they have to drag me in, and I’ve had, enough of tha-a-at for now.”

With that, Rhiannon squeezed Harry’s hand and edged out from behind the desk, head held stubbornly high. They’d seen her broken the night before. She would not give them the satisfaction of seeing that again so soon. She nodded stiffly to Colin and followed him out of the room, but she couldn’t relax until he closed the door behind them. Then, she slumped on her cane and sighed. “I’m glad it’s someone I know coming to fetch me,” she grumbled by way of greeting.

Colin managed a trembling smile and Rhiannon jumped as he slipped his hand into hers. She’d admittedly lost track of him last year, it seemed he had grown more confident since his awful first year and despite the unfortunate circumstances of this meeting, well, that gladdened her. “As if I was letting anyone else do it? You wrote letters to my dad while I was sick, sent him my pictures and everything – I’d, like to think you’re my friend, and I didn’t want somebody with, one of those horrid badges coming to fetch you, make it even worse.” he stammered, rambling a little just as she remembered he did.

“I, ap-p-p-p- I appreciate that,” Rhiannon stuttered, touched by the younger boy’s kindness. She shuddered, thinking of all the yellow-flashing badges in the classroom... true, she was stubbornly pushing through this, but had the messenger been hostile... no, she had to admit it to herself, she might have broken again.

Colin grinned, more brightly this time, and he squeezed her hand tightly. “I know. You know, I used to think you were this, big hero and stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I still really admire you and all but... well, you’re not exactly hard to read, you kind of, broadcast how you’re feeling all over the place. It makes you, less scary, more human, you know?”

Rhiannon couldn’t help herself, she burst out laughing at that. More human... ha. She had only become more expressive, more open, since becoming a werewolf – since losing that humanity, as far as some were concerned. If only she could tell Colin the truth – being muggle-born, he’d almost certainly be kinder on the subject than most regular wizards. But it was hard enough for her closest friends to bear the weight of the secret... no, that wasn’t fair either, Colin was the same age as Ginny and Hayley, if he wanted to know he could. Like he’d said – she had sent letters to his father, they had their own sort of closeness that others didn’t share.

Colin looked over at her curiously, one pale eyebrow raised. “Er – what’s funny?” he inquired, looking a little owlish, and Rhiannon shook her head with a grin and a sigh.

“If – if-if-f-f-f, if, you really want to know... um, it’s a really long story for right now, it’s just a silly thing... uh, ask Nina, if you see her. You’re in the same house, right? Yeah, uh – tell her, I said it’s okay.” she replied. To hell with it, she thought impulsively. She might die, what did it matter.

Colin shrugged, still looking nonplussed. “If you say so. Uh, here, the Headmaster’s in here,” he said, gesturing to the open door of a disused classroom. “I’ll see you around, yeah?”

“Definitely,” Rhiannon agreed with a crooked little smile. She actually meant it, too. If she was going to die, she wanted to keep all the friends she could get. “Thanks for looking out for me. I- I n-n-n- I needed that, today.”

Colin’s smile was sad that time, as he let go of Rhiannon’s hand and turned away. “I know. Figured you might.” he said. Then, as impulsive as Rhiannon had been herself, he lurched forward and hugged her tightly. “Uh... please don’t die. Or try not to, I... I, don’t know any other heroes who’re as cool as you are.” he added, his pale cheeks flushing deeply. Rhiannon squeezed him back until his spine clicked and she let go hurriedly, embarrassed at her lapse in control. She’d forgotten, werewolf hugs were a bit much for most people.

Colin wheezed and spluttered, and reached into his pocket for a greyish plastic device that Rhiannon recognised belatedly as an inhaler. Once he’d used it, he waved in Rhiannon’s general direction and shook his head tiredly. “For future reference, I do actually like my lungs un-squashed, thanks!” he grumbled, though there was no heat in the retort, and they both even managed a brief laugh before Colin turned and hurried away.

Then, Rhiannon was on her own. She grimaced, drew herself upright and straightened her clothes and hair, adjusted her grip on her cane, and limped steadily into the room with her chin set at a stubborn angle. Inside, Minerva McGonagall stood leaning against a desk flanked by Remus, Assistant Professor Tonks and Professors Moody and Flitwick, while Mr Crouch sat perched on a high-backed wooden chair in the far corner of the room. As soon as Remus saw her, he leapt from the chair and crossed the room in a few unsteady bounds to wrap her up in a tight hug.

“Oh, Rhi, I’m so glad to see you standing,” Remus murmured, his voice muffled by Rhiannon’s thick hair as he held he close. “When we heard, I – well, just ask anyone in the east wing of the third floor.”

“You were scared,” Rhiannon murmured woodenly. She was used to being scared for others, protecting them. Having a family who felt that for her, well... she wondered when it would ever stop feeling new and strange.

Remus squeezed her close once more, before he let go and held her at arms’ length, his scarred hands trembling where they gripped her shoulders. “Scared. Yes, that’s, the simplest way of putting it. Something’s gone wrong and it’s my daughter’s name they called out- er, well, that is... oh, forget it, you know what I mean. We’re going to do our best to get you out of this, Rhi, we’ve all got your back,” he murmured, tripping over his words in his clumsy, fervent rush of caring. That warmed Rhiannon, brought strength to her weary, fear-chilled body. She had her friends, her allies in the competition – and she had her family. If anyone could keep her alive – no, help her keep herself alive – it was them.

“Yeah, I, know what you mean,” Rhiannon replied with a fragile smile. “Let’s deal with this.”

Rhiannon took Remus’ hand and together the two of them turned to face the remaining adults. Rhiannon had already accepted her fate as a Triwizard competitor, she was relatively well-informed about how an Unbreakable Oath worked and thus of their chances of wiggling out of this one... but, well, at least she’d be buried by people who loved her. Oh, that was grimmer than she’d meant it to sound. Sound? Was that the right word if one was talking to oneself? Then, if one was talking to oneself, perhaps there were bigger problems than whether ‘sound’ was the correct term.

“Miss Potter?”

Rhiannon blinked, jolted from her circular pondering by a querulous voice, and she fixed her eyes on the tip of Mr Crouch’s nose as she realised it was he who had addressed her. “Uh – s-s-s-sorry, sir, can you rep-p-p-p-peat that?” she stammered, quietly bristling irritably at her own weakness.

“Your hand, Miss Potter. The competitors’ bond is written into your body itself, I need to examine it.” Mr Crouch explained stiffly. Rhiannon wrinkled her nose, but begrudgingly held out her hand so that he might take it. The skin of the elderly man’s palms was papery and dry, sending a shudder up through Rhiannon’s arm, and his grip tightened to a vicelike strength as she tried to jerk her arm away.

“Minerva, Alastor, your assistance please,” Crouch ground out, a tremor running through his hand strongly enough that it made Rhiannon’s ache. Minerva frowned and rose from her chair, crossing the room in a few brisk strides to stand at Rhiannon’s shoulder opposite Remus, while Professor Moody grinned and hobbled over to take Rhiannon’s free hand.

“Apologies for our not properly explaining things, Rhiannon,” Minerva McGonagall supplied quietly, and at a nod of permission from Rhiannon herself, the Headmaster settled her hand on the girl’s thin shoulder, eyeballing Moody sternly as she did so. “Mr Crouch would like to try and sever the competition bond outright, before we discuss anything further. He did mention some of that, though he really should have repeated it after we saw you weren’t attentive.”

Rhiannon shrugged, and Minerva tightened her grip on her shoulder as between the four of them – lawmaker, former enforcer, teacher, student – flowed the complex, tangled threads of a deeply-rooted magic. She could feel it flex, twist and pull away from the older mages as they struggled to unravel it, but it was as if the threads formed a great knot around her heart and lungs, and the harder they tried to unravel it, the tighter the knot at the heart grew until Rhiannon was choking for breath. Then all at once, it was like a bowstring breaking, and as Rhiannon fell to her knees gasping and coughing, the two adults were sent reeling backwards.

Rhiannon felt that morbid certainty settle deep in her gut, felt that knot tie itself tighter around her organs now that it had been let go. She knew even before Minerva opened her mouth that they had failed, and there would be no getting out of this.

“Rhiannon, I’m so sorry, but...” Minerva began, knotting her fingers together anxiously.

Rhiannon growled, and pushed herself off the floor with her cane, facing the array of teachers with Remus once again at her back. “No, don’t say it,” she hissed, raising her eyes to meet each pair before her for a brief, charged moment. “You can’t fix it. I felt the magic recoil, s-s-s-s-same as both’ve you. I’m a Champion, fuck what I want right?”

Mr. Crouch coughed, and drew himself upright with an irritable splutter. “Well, vulgar language aside... yes, that is rather the crux of the matter, unfortunately. Had we tried this last night, before the binding had a chance to embed itself... well, perhaps we might have been successful. It’s too entwined now, any attempts to disentangle or sever the bond will damage critical biological systems – as an Unbreakable Vow is designed to do.”

“A vow I didn’t make,” Rhiannon grumbled resentfully, but that remark was more for posterity than anything else, she knew it didn’t matter who had entered her name at this point.

“Regardless of who made it, it would mean your death to break the binding now,” Crouch replied stiffly.

“Which brings us to the matter of her competing,” Minerva cut across him with a sharp look. “All three fellow Champions have committed to supporting Rhiannon in the tournament. Take that as you will, Mr Crouch, but to Rhiannon at least I hope it will be a reassurance. If you must compete, stand alongside them knowing they have your back, or something like that. I don’t know, it’s all a bloody mess. But, it’s a bloody mess with a lot of official protocols, and the first of those is the Weighing of the Wands, a ceremony scheduled for later this afternoon.”

Rhiannon groaned, and leaned on her cane for support. “If- if-f-ff-f- if there’s gonna be a stupid ceremony, c-c-c-c-can I have a chair? ‘m tired’ve this already,” she grumbled irritably.

Minerva chuckled softly and shook her head ruefully. “I’m sure there’ll be chairs, everyone should be set up already, I believe they’re using the largest of the unused Charms classrooms. We’ll be heading there now, if you would like to follow behind with Remus at an easier pace.”

Rhiannon wrinkled her nose irritably as she glanced around the room, seeing the pity plain on their faces – even Tonks, a teacher she ordinarily quite liked. Poor Rhiannon, the little cripple doomed to this tournament. Only Remus knew that her weakness, her frailty, concealed a strength that could put her on equal footing with the others – were they intending to compete against her. Yes, she decided, she’d much rather follow behind with Remus where she wouldn’t have to endure pitying glances every time she stumbled.

“Yeah I’ll, do that, thanks,” she mumbled, and Minerva squeezed her shoulder with a regretful smile before turning away and leading the other staff from the room. Tonks favoured Rhiannon with a sympathetic grimace in passing, but there wasn’t much the assistant Defense teacher, their hair styled in irregular spikes and coloured an electric blue that matched the badge on their lapel which read ‘he/him’, could do when the surly Professor Moody followed behind them and grumbled something about ‘slower than a one-legged old veteran’ when they stopped to begin with.

When the others had left the room, Remus released a weary sigh and took Rhiannon’s free hand in one of his. “I’m so sorry you have to go through with this, it’s not right,” he growled softly, setting off at a limping pace along the corridor with her.

Rhiannon shrugged, suddenly gripped by a reckless burst of grim humour. “N-n-n-n-nothing you can do about it except... oh, tell da- Sirius, maybe he’d let them put Rhiannon Black on my tombstone.” she retorted drily.

Remus’ stride hitched and Rhiannon hissed with pain as his grip on her hand tightened painfully for a moment. “No, don’t – don’t think like that. You can’t think like that,” he whispered hoarsely, unable to meet her gaze. “I just found you, Sirius... I- d-don’t make us lose you, Rhiannon, not yet. If you believe you’re gonna die, well, in my experience I’ve found people tend to make that happen. You’re a powerful witch, Rhi, and a werewolf besides – and you’re the one who taught me the strength in that. Don’t give up. Please, kiddo, promise me.”

Shaken, Rhiannon backed away and tried to tug her hand free from Remus’ grip, the other hugged tight to her chest. She hadn’t really thought about how her morbid humour could hurt those that cared about her. “I’m... I’m sorry, that was a- a-a-a- a really, stupid think to say,” she muttered, a hot flush rising in her cheeks.

Remus shook his head, and her hand for emphasis. “No, Rhi, I mean it. Don’t, wave it off, apologise for it, whatever... I’m not upset that you said it. I’m upset that, somewhere inside, you mean it. That stuff doesn’t come from nowhere.”

Rhiannon coughed and scrunched the fingers of her free hand in the knitted pattern of her school jumper. He was right, she knew he was right – when her name had come out of that goblet, she’d lost hope for the future. He had never touched on the details, but Rhiannon got the distinct impression that her soon-to-be-adoptive father was all too familiar with that mindset, and she could only guess how awful he must feel seeing that same expectance of death in someone he’d admitted he considered a daughter. “You’re-r-r-r-r-r r-righ’,” she whispered, the r sound tangling her words up and slurring them together – so many emotions were tiring, and she’d only been awake for a couple of hours. “I promise, I’ll, rage against the dying of the light, however it goes. I’ve got, stuff I haven’t done yet.”

Remus grinned, and he pulled Rhiannon into a tight, slightly teary hug. “You’re damn right you do – have you kissed that Hermione properly yet? Or Luna? You know, in my day we might’ve got all angsty about who to choose, but I guess you don’t have to anymore,” he teased.

Rhiannon groaned and wiggled free of the hug, her cheeks once again blazing with heat. “Da! No! I – I-i-i- - I am not talking about kissing with you!” she protested, mortified, and she set off a little too quickly down the hallway again to escape Remus’ gleeful chuckle. His suggestion had lit a stubborn little spark though, because as usual he was right. She hadn’t kissed anyone properly, or gone on a proper date. She’d never learned to ride a bike or to swim, or baked a cake. She had her whole damn life ahead of her, and she was going to fight for it – she’d just forgotten, for a little while, that she could.