If there was one thing Katie Bell knew how to do, it was fly. She could always say that being an only child meant that she was close to her parents, that every last one of their dreams was tied up in her, that she had absorbed her father's old wish to be a Quidditch player. But really, it was her own love of flying and spinning in the air, feinting and moving with dizzying speed that had done it. Her father's encouragement and her mother's loving exasperation were just bonuses.
There was nothing obvious at first, nothing she could point to as a reason why she wasn't doing as well. Oh, there was the whole chasing Marcus Flint thing, which was hilarious given that she was a chaser for the Falmouth Falcons. He had thought her affections were only because of a potion, and he generally didn't think much on his appearance. Finally getting him to see reason had been effort well spent, and she was more than overjoyed that it had all played out. Not that long ago Draco Malfoy had finally proposed to Ginny Weasley. The two of them clearly belonged together, and it made Ginny happy to plan out the rest of her life with Draco. Katie was vicariously absorbing the happy feelings, though she was nowhere ready to contemplate marriage and settling down to start a family. Marcus hadn't said anything specific, but Katie had the feeling that he would want some children and an actual family life someday.
She didn't even notice that anything was changing at first. It just took her longer to get ready in the morning, and flying her famous barrel rolls made her lightheaded and queasy. She was almost dizzy during the day, which was downright silly. Katie ate well, exercised regularly and didn't feel ill in the slightest.
But she was dizzy. She was tired. She moved slowly. It gradually grew worse as the months dragged on; she managed to dance at Ron Weasley's and Hermione Granger's wedding, Marcus' arms tight around her. That had felt wonderful, and it had been easy to push away her own physical symptoms and hide them. It was dizziness, after all. She knew if she tried talking about it with Ginny or Alicia, they would tease her and ask if her contraceptive spells had failed. They hadn't; that had been the first thing Katie had checked when she was dizzy and tired all morning long. The diagnostic spell had come up negative, and she had felt fine the next day. There was no point in talking about it, then. It meant nothing.
Only, the dizziness returned. And stayed.
Katie pushed herself to go through practices the same as always, waving off the concern of her friends. Marcus pulled her aside and asked if she was all right, which hurt because there was such sincere concern in his eyes when he looked at her. She didn't want him worrying about her or feeling responsible for her in some way. It made no sense, of course, but he had this sense of chivalry that ran through him. She wouldn't have thought it possible of a Slytherin while she was in school, but participating in the war and seeing people from all houses had shown her that the stereotypes didn't always fit.
Considering that bravery was sometimes seen as stupidity, perhaps the sorting hat had been right to place her in Gryffindor.
Katie carefully tucked herself into bed after having a spot of tea. Hopefully tomorrow the dizziness would be less, and she wouldn't have to fake her way through another practice session at the pitch.
Ginny was taking a break from her practice sessions with the Falcons. Draco wasn't in his office and was actually out on a scouting mission to look for acceptable second string players on the defensive team. Montague had fallen ill and couldn't play any longer, and one of the beaters that Ginny didn't know well was thinking of retiring to start a family. She didn't want to worry about getting too hurt while playing, though Ginny secretly thought that it was possible to play at least into the beginning of the second trimester.
After their engagement, she and Draco had started looking for a larger flat. Hers had been a tiny hole in the wall in the magical district of London, and Draco had a flat that was larger. It hadn't felt as though it could fit them both comfortably, and he insisted on looking for a new place that the two of them could live in together.
Ginny returned to her tiny little flat after a little shopping trip with Katie. She had gotten some fancy lingerie for when Draco returned from his scouting mission.
Apparently, he finished early, since he was lying sprawled on her couch with a magazine in hand. Draco looked up with a grin, taking in her look of delighted shock. "Surprise," he sang out playfully.
"You're back!" she cried happily, launching herself at him.
Draco laughed, catching her in his arms and pulling her close. "We finished up early, had some success. We arranged for tryouts so the rest of the team could see their talent, too." Draco ran his hand through her hair and kissed her soundly. "I missed you, too."
Ginny kissed him, sliding a hand along his bare chest beneath his shirt. "I got some presents," she told him in a sultry tone. "Let me show you."
He was properly appreciative of the lacy concoctions she had purchased, kissing the exposed skin and fondling her through the lace and tiny scraps of silk. Ginny pulled at his clothes, baring his flesh to her questing hands. She enjoyed the play of muscle and skin, liked the way he was just barely vocal when something felt especially good. He was able to make her weak in the knees without really trying, reducing her to a quivery, jellylike mass of nerve endings. It was ridiculous and fun and they managed at least a dozen different ways to reduce each other to monosyllabic and sweaty messes. This evening was no different, and Ginny lay sprawled across her bed gasping for breath beneath Draco's lips and tongue and hands. He was so very attentive, until she was incoherent with begging him to let her come again.
Draco collapsed on top of her afterward, face tucked against her neck. "Mmm. I approve of your presents."
"Good," Ginny replied, not able to say much more.
"You don't generally shop alone," he remarked idly. "You weren't with a bloke, were you?" he teased, stroking her breast.
Ginny swatted his arm playfully. "Of course not. Silly man. I went with Katie, since she was the only one willing to skive off practice with me."
As much as Draco appreciated the lacy confection she had been wearing, he frowned at her words. "But Katie never skives off practice. She practically lives on the pitch. The woman is mad for the game and makes the rest of us look bad in comparison."
"Well, I'm sure she wanted ideas on what to get to play with Marcus."
Draco held up a hand to stop her from speaking. "Not a visual I particularly want to have in mind, thank you."
Ginny chuckled and pressed a kiss onto Draco's cheek. "She seems perfectly fine, is what I'm saying. If you're that concerned about her, just talk to her and put your mind at ease. The world will not fall apart if you don't have all your players practicing fourteen hours a day. If anything, I'm glad she finally has a life off of the pitch. I'm sure Marcus is much happier for it, too. He seems less tense, you realize."
"I'm not picturing the man doing any of the things I just did with you," Draco muttered, screwing up his nose in distaste. He rolled his eyes when Ginny merely laughed at him. "Fine, fine. I'll just chat with her and see how she seems." He nuzzled her neck and she purred happily. "But right now, I'd rather focus on you."
"Smart man," Ginny told him, laughing as she put her arms around him.
Katie managed not to throw up from the dread building up in her gut. She had been cutting back on the practices as much as she could get away with, and had been taking potion after potion to stave off the vertigo that threatened to knock her off her broom. It didn't work well, but she was learning how much nausea she could actually deal with before she had to rush to the locker room to throw up. In the back of her head she worried that perhaps the contraceptive spells hadn't worked and she was pregnant after all, but her menses still came exactly on time and every diagnostic spell was still coming up negative.
"Oi! Bell!" Draco called out as he saw Katie heading away from the practice pitch. "Mind if I talk to you for a bit?"
"Oh? What for?" she asked, hoping she sounded nonchalant. Her insides were roiling, and Alicia was starting to notice that she wasn't quite so fanatical about practice. Katie didn't want the others on the team to think that she was simply skiving off because of Marcus and take it out on him. He was a brilliant chaser, and he was awfully good at coming up with new strategies for the team along with the captain. It hurt that Katie wouldn't be able to compete anymore because of her dizziness.
"It's about some recruits, actually." He waited until she was closer and they walked toward his office. "I know that usually you live on the pitch," he began, gesturing for her to enter the office first. "Yesterday was one of those odd moments, since you went off with Ginny for that shopping spree."
Katie chuckled and hoped it didn't sound hollow. "I take it you appreciated her thinking?"
Draco laughed but then tried to appear more serious. "In any case..." He cleared his throat and sat down after she took the seat opposite his desk. "I've of course mentioned it to Ginny yesterday, but you know how we've been out recruiting for the second string teams." Katie nodded and hoped she didn't look as ill as she felt. "Well, seeing as you are one of the ones I can depend on to be here at all hours, I wonder if you could help me put the recruits through their paces."
I can't, she thought, feeling hollow. Draco didn't know about the dizziness of course. Even Marcus didn't know. She had been hiding it from everyone, and apparently she had done such a fantastic job of it that they thought she could still do her famous barrel rolls and feints.
Dear Merlin, the very thought of a barrel roll right now made her want to vomit.
The silence stretched out uncomfortably, and Draco began to look at Katie in concern. "Are you all right? You don't get stage fright, do you?"
She could take the out he offered her, continue to play this off. But the thought of pity in his eyes, in Ginny's, in Alicia's, in Marcus'...
No, she had to do this. It was her reputation on the line.
Of course Draco was relieved when she hastily accepted and offered up the excuse of already thinking of what drills she would use to run the recruits through. He bought the excuse easily, a grin on his face. He trusted her with this, trusted her judgment on the quality of their flying. If Alicia was the spiritual heart of the team, Marcus was part of the brains and she was very well its backbone. Katie could instantly spot defects in flying technique and knew how to make suggestions to get the players back on track. She was just as brutal on herself, and her flying skills were growing legendary. There was no falling back and hiding. Katie couldn't accept that. She would figure out a way to stay level on her broom if she had to attach herself to it with sticky tape and spells.
The day the recruits were scheduled to arrive on the Falcons' practice pitch, Katie threw up twice almost as soon as she woke up. Her dreams had been full of twisting, turning spirals as she flew through the air. She had hit something on the back of her head that day, and she could never figure out what it was. As far as she was able to tell, that was possibly the source of the dizziness. But the dizziness had come on gradually even before that had happened, so she couldn't even be sure.
At first she simply sat on her broom and called out drills. That was easy enough. The recruits knew the names of the combinations that she threw at them, and performed them admirably. She used an older play that the Falcons didn't often use anymore, and the recruits managed to stumble through it with minimal difficulty. Katie knew that she was going easy on them, that she should pull out all the stops for Draco and the team to observe.
Nothing to do now but dive right in.
Taking a breath to steady her rising nerves, Katie called for the potential recruits to pay attention to what she was doing. They knew her reputation; everyone did, and she was frequently described in Quidditch magazines as the new Wronski. No pressure, after all.
She went through the same dizzying array of spirals and rolls and feints that she had done in her dreams. She was feeling queasy but ignored it and kept flying, hearing the gasps of awe from the recruits. Take that, vertigo! she thought, pride overcoming her nausea.
And then her hand slipped.
Katie plummeted toward the ground, her heart in her throat and her life flashing before her eyes. Before she hit the ground, Marcus caught her. Most of the team had been lazing about after practice, and he had jumped onto the broom as soon as he saw her slip. "You've never lost control of that roll before," he murmured as he brought her to the ground. His eyes were looking at her in concern. He still didn't know she was ill.
Without answering, she swayed out of his grasp and wound up vomiting on the ground nearby. She closed her eyes, shame washing over her. Things like this never happened to Wronski. Things like this didn't happen to professionals. Her career was over now that everyone could see that she couldn't complete her usual display of acrobatics, and she had nothing else to fall back on.
What was she going to do now?
Marcus rubbed at her back in soothing circles. "Must be something you ate, something you caught," he said. "Don't worry, Katie. I'll watch over the new ones while you take a little bit to rest up."
The world refused to stay still. It zigged and zagged at precarious angles, and there seemed to be a spin added to it as well. Just opening her eyes made her want to throw up again, and Katie couldn't stop the tears from coming to her eyes. "No, Marcus," she admitted finally. She bowed her head, not able to open her eyes and see the disbelief and shock on his face for herself. "This has only gotten worse. I don't think I can fly like that anymore."
And just like that, everything she knew came crashing to an end.
The team's Healer that Draco had hired was one of the best specialists in all of Wizarding England, and there was no good explanation for what was happening to Katie. All of his diagnostic spells told him that there was something structurally wrong with her inner ear, though there was no way to tell if it was due to some kind of trauma, infection, spell or potion. All of the anti-vertigo spells and potions in the world could only stave off the worst of the symptoms, and by Katie's description it seemed to be a progressive kind of illness. Hearing that made her burst into tears, which was uncomfortable for everyone.
"This isn't all you have, you know," Marcus tried to tell her, rubbing her arm soothingly. He pressed a kiss to her temple and brushed the tears away from her eyes. "This isn't the end of everything, Katie."
"We'll move you to assistant coach," Draco told her firmly.
Katie cracked an eye open to look at him in surprise. "But I can't fly."
"You didn't need to fly today until you were showing off," Draco told her, crossing his arms over her chest. "You can still run anyone through their paces, can still pick out the flaws in how they handle a broom or if the tail is up. I know you were taking notes on those recruits in your head today. So? Can they cut it?"
"Alvarez would definitely be good for offense," Katie responded automatically. "He's got the strength and speed for it. Not so much finesse. Whitehouse has it, but she needs to train up a lot more first." Marcus was grinning and Draco looked pleased, which confused her. "What?"
"You see?" Marcus told her, leaning in to kiss her again. "You're still in the game. It's just not flying."
"At least not flying all those crazy rolls, Bell," Draco corrected dryly. He gave her a comforting smile. "We take care of our own, you know. We just need to find a better spot to fit you in." He paused for a moment. "You and Ali can always go shopping with Ginny, you know. There is our own wedding coming up..."
Katie couldn't help but laugh. Maybe she could stay after all. Maybe this wasn't the end of her career.
She held on tightly to Marcus and thanked Merlin that she had such good friends to help her through this.