Michael Corner had never admitted that he was rather afraid of heights. Living as he did in Ravenclaw Tower, this might have been a rather crippling disadvantage, but in fact he was fine as long as he made his way straight to the dormitory every day and pulled the shades shut. His friend Anthony, had he known, would likely have teased him no end; as it was, Anthony spent plenty of time in the common room, reading and waiting for Michael to come down.
It took Michael three tries, and a great deal of luck, to barely pass the flying test in his first year. After that, he had steered well clear of the Quidditch pitch for over two years, when he'd cautiously made it out to watch the final task of the Triwizard Tournament, something which would safely not involve flying.
The murder of a schoolmate as a result of said task had done little to help his feelings.
And yet, the vagaries of love had brought him to the pitch once again. The previous year, he had fallen for Ginny Weasley, and was able to tune out her Quidditch-related digressions given that no Quidditch was in fact being played at the school. Once she'd backed her way onto the Gryffindor team, however, Michael gulped and made his way out to the stands to cheer her on.
"They're both in with a shout, really, winner take—" Terry began, but Michael tuned him out. It wasn't difficult. Luna Lovegood, the little Ravenclaw in Dumbledore's Army, had latched on to them in the absence of other housemates, and her eagle hat was fluttering its magic wings in celebration of Roger Davies' goal.
Wait, he blinked, that can't be right. There were other girls in the organization, other people Luna could stand by and annoy. "Where's Padma?"
"Over by the sixth years," Anthony nodded.
"Oh. And Cho?"
"Over there, circling above our goalposts."
"Over— " Michael looked, very briefly, and then looked back at Anthony. "You mean she's on the team?"
"Seeking against your girlfriend, git. Catch on a bit."
"Oh," shrugged Michael. "Er, she might have mentioned it once."
He then proceeded to attempt following the score without having to actually watch the game, a process not aided by the uncharacteristically morose tone of Lee Jordan, another DA member. Ravenclaw were apparently being stymied in the goalscoring department, as evinced by Slytherin not singing loudly. Or something. Terry tried to explain the relationship to him, but it seemed to be more Lovegood's particular variety of logic.
"Oh, come on—Cho, Cho!—hurry, hurry!" Terry was suddenly whining, and Michael looked up in spite of himself. There was Cho, the—was that the Snitch? He could barely see it from his place, and he'd been sitting down all day. Sure, the exhausted players had better views, but their ability to fight through their breathlessness and stay competitive amazed him. "No!"
Something was making its way to the ground, and he followed it with his eyes, grateful not to have to watch the game. Then something else rudely fell onto the pitch—a broom, thrown down in fury or disappointment.
"You've got good taste," Terry was bitterly muttering, "I'll give you that."
"I...what?" They were all landing by then.
"Weasley. Ginny, I mean, obviously, although the way her brother—anyway, caught the Snitch. Right under Cho's nose. Dunno how she does it."
"Er. We. Lost, then?"
"Yes," said Terry, rolling his eyes.
"The game and the cup?"
"Why do you even come out here? Yes, both of them."
"To cheer...on Ginny, mostly. Think I did that a bit too well."
"You said it, mate," Terry shrugged, "I didn't."
Roger insisted that, despite their season's less than desirable ending, Ravenclaw still ought to celebrate it. Preferably with Chocolate Frogs. The results did not live up to his expectations, although they lived down to everyone else's; the last thing Cho wanted to have to do was face any of her teammates, so after five minutes of his protestations they dumped Roger outside the kitchens, hoped some of the Hufflepuffs would tow him back up to the tower if necessary, and moodily stomped upstairs.
"He'll be up in the morning flying those cursed frogs off anyway," Chambers muttered, and they left it at that.
Cho fell a step or two behind the rest of the team—they were just as beat as her, but she still refused to keep pace. "Hey," someone seemed to whisper. Seemed, only—he was speaking at normal volume but she was trying to tune the world out, and it was somewhat of an achievement that it even registered.
"Oh, come on!" a vaguely-familiar voice yelled, taking off in the opposite direction. Cho looked up, blinking, and there in front of her was...Michael, right? From the DA.
"How—I mean—sorry. That looked tough."
She flipped her hands over in a "what do you do?" gesture.
"No, I mean—here, come on."
He led her towards the next staircase, and they were halfway up before she rolled her eyes. "I lost one cursed match, okay? That doesn't mean I can't find my way up to the common room."
He laughed. A portrait sniffed, and she glanced at it, then back to Michael for a few moments—then couldn't help herself and started laughing too. Within moments all the portraits on the nearest wall were either giggling, though unsure what exactly was funny about the whole situation, or tsking them for making a scene. And even when they calmed down, she still felt a bit more lighthearted.
"Right, then," said Michael. "In that case—oh, let's get off these stairs."
Head down, he took them two or three at a time, Cho hastily following behind him. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"
"I'm all...I mean, it's actually a bit rubbish but—er, I—I just don't need to be standing out here."
"A bit rubbish? Didn't realize you followed Quidditch that much." She forced a smile.
"Er...it...never mind," he shook his head.
She turned to look back at him, but—remembering how little she liked to be talk to when she was upset—said nothing. In grateful silence, they made their way to the tower.
"Did you make it inside last night, cap'n? Or did the eagle stump you again?"
"Shurrup," Roger sulked, plunking himself into a seat at the Ravenclaw table.
Cho raised her eyebrows and scurried down, catching Michael's eye and taking a seat across from him. "Morning."
"Hey!" he smiled.
"Oy," said Anthony, quill in hand, as he squinted at the Daily Prophet's Sunday puzzle. "Ministry employee missed end of northern lights. Five letters."
"Easy," Terry smirked, "obviously it's—"
"Hey, what are you at?" Anthony cut him off with a glance at Michael.
"Just..." Michael averted his eyes from the Gryffindor table, at which Ginny was sitting with a particularly venomous glare. "Looking around."
"Going to go over there and make it up to her?" Terry asked.
"If she wants to make it up to me, she can do that. She's the one that ditched me."
Cho glanced at the Gryffindor table again, that time noticing the specific direction of the boys' glances. "You and Ginny fell out?"
"Yeah," he sighed. "She's a bit young for the interhouse thing."
"A bit young?" Terry raised his eyebrows. "How much older are you?"
But before Michael could defend himself, Cho jumped in. "Some fifth-years aren't mature enough to be snogging someone from another house. And some are. Don't you...don't you dare say otherwise."
"I'm sorry," he said, not looking at her. "That was...that was dumb of me."
She brought the wrist of her robes up to her face, wiping her nose and eyes on it. She had not thought of Cedric for weeks, but the stress of the match...she should have gotten to race him again that year, she realized, him and Harry both. That made her shut her eyes even tighter, trying not to cause a scene before she could finish her breakfast.
No use. She stood up, turning quickly. "Cho?"
"No, it's just...it's a bad day."
Michael watched her hustle out of the Great Hall, only vaguely hearing Anthony ask "Mad digs net magical creature, seven letters but "Niffler" won't fit if this one is..."
He avoided her all of Monday, but by Tuesday he was too nervous not to do something about his regret. Squeezing his books tight under his arm, he found Cho in the common room. "Chang."
She didn't seem upset with him, more curious, which was a start. "Er, I was wondering if you had any advice for O. W. L.s? My classmates are in the library, but I figured I should ask someone who's done it before..."
She smiled. "Which subject?"
"Er, any of them. I mean the core, obviously, I'm taking Muggle Studies, Ancient Runes, and Care of Magical Creatures as electives and..."
She brought down her Potions notes while he closed his eyes and tried to draft a History of Magic thesis. But when she got back, he could look at her handwritten notes (by far neater than Ginny's, neater even than Anthony's), and then, when he was trying to rattle off the important points, at her encouraging face. Anywhere but outside.
"That's good!" she smiled, as he recited the multiple names for aconite. "Yeah. No, that's really good, you have the main points, you just have to..."
"Not make stupid mistakes like confusing dragon's blood and dragonfly spit?"
"Well, er, for lack of a better word, yes."
And suddenly they were laughing again, and Michael had to close his eyes because even just looking at her made him feel dizzy...
"You okay?" she asked.
"Don't feel well," he said honestly. "I should go back to my room. But listen, I really appreciate it, so, thank you."
"You're welcome," she said. "I usually study outside once the weather gets warm, you're welcome to join me."
"Seriously? I mean...I thought I'd...I mean, that'd be great."
Anthony teased him no end about the "study dates." Terry just raised his eyebrows and expressed his hope that some studying would in fact get done.
Michael didn't care.
They breezed through the Defense Against the Dark Arts review session and Herbology almost as quickly. Michael reread Cho's notes from the previous year, and she answered his questions about the O. W. L.s while reading her own textbooks. Charms was a little more adventurous; he accidentally braided her hair and she grinningly refused to let him put it back, magically or otherwise.
"What are these?" he said, flipping past her final notes on the Cheering Charm.
"Oh. Divination." She picked one up. "This must be fourth year. I dreamed of a sky full of diamonds and decided it probably meant I was going to...find glory in the sky...or something. Win a Quidditch game." She squinted, remembering. "Yeah, we b...won against Hufflepuff by a lot. That was good."
"A sky of diamonds?" Michael muttered. "Standing all the way up there is enough of a nightmare already."
She turned to him, instinctively. "Not a Quidditch fan?"
"I..." But he had blundered in front of her, he owed her his honesty. "I'm scared of heights. Always have been."
She pursed her lips, taking it in, then slowly raised her wand to a nearby tree. "Engorgio," she said, and a single leaf grew twice, three times its normal size. Raising a finger to silence him, she kept up the spell until it was larger by far than any leaf had a right to be, larger than the branch it hung from, larger even than the limbs.
"There we go," she said, standing up. The sun was setting; between its low angle and the leaf's preposterous size, it cast a shadow on them about the size of a small dragon. Attempting to keep a straight face, she boasted, "I blocked the sky for you."
Part of him wanted to be offended, but yet again he found himself compelled to laugh instead. He opened his mouth—
but Cho lost focus and the leaf collapsed under its own weight, falling to the ground as they jumped in opposite directions.
Anthony was waving from closer to the castle. "Was that an earthquake?" he called, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Or did an Attraction Charm wear off?"
"Cho was just showing me how to practice the Engorgement Charm," Michael responded without missing a beat.
Anthony grimaced. "There are broom closets for that sort of thing."
"Well," said Cho, "as a Quidditch player, I wouldn't dream of doing anything that ran the risk of damaging the equipment. Although I'm not worried about Michael. He's a very quick study."
After finding nothing better to say, Anthony settled on "You are hopeless. Both of you."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," said Michael. "Here, watch. Reducio."
Between them, the leaf shrank back to normal size while Cho smiled, Anthony rolled his eyes, and Michael's feet dug into the ground as he refused to sprint across the suddenly-too-large gap between them.
By Friday afternoon everyone was sick of studying. Both Michael and Cho were sitting outside, enjoying some authors that had been mentioned but not assigned reading in Muggle Studies. As he was noting a chapter to recommend to Terry, Cho glanced at her watch and blinked wildly.
"Ugh, five already! Sorry, have to go."
"I'll come," said Michael, tucking his book under his arm. "What's happening?"
"No! I mean, I'm just—having dinner with a, a friend. It's all right, go finish your book."
Michael gaped. Everything had seemed friendly between them, if perhaps no more than friendly, but he had no idea what in the last few days could have prompted such a response. "Er...right...then."
He riffled through the book, trying to read it, but quickly lost track of the argument. Not really wanting to head inside right away, he reread some History of Magic notes; he also lost track of thatargument, but, it being History of Magic, wasn't particularly concerned.
When he went to eat, he sat down at the Ravenclaw table, but couldn't help but glancing around at the other tables in case Cho was there. "A friend," huh? Who'd she go for? Maybe one of the Quidditch players? Or...no, not the Slytherin table. Gryffindor—no. Hufflepuff, was that...nope, not there either. Perhaps she'd already left?
But as he turned back to his plate, there out of the corner of his eye he saw Cho and Marietta Edgecombe standing up to leave. Was it just him, or did she pick up her pace as they walked away?
Still, he exhaled with a weak smile. Traitor or not, some friends were exactly that.
And so, after dinner, he found her in the common room. "Er. Cho." Before she could interrupt, he went on, "I was—wondering. I'm obviously busy next week, but then the weekend after O. W. L.s is, er, Hogsmeade weekend and I was wondering if you would want to go with me?"
She paused, and smiled. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I would like that."
They went to Hogsmeade.
Both of them, silently, thought about calling it off. All during breakfast, they glanced at each other and the Prophet Anthony was passing around the terrified table, drained of anticipation. But eventually, Cho just glanced at him and mouthed Let's get out of here.
He led her to Quality Quidditch Supplies, which she acknowledged with a grateful smile, and spent most of the time playing with the scarves while she walked around, admiring brooms. Eventually his boredom was too much for him and he magically knotted several Appleby Arrows scarves, then untied them by hand until Cho was ready to leave.
She led him to Madam Puddifoot's, half in spite of herself. But given how much they were suddenly worrying about the future, it was pleasantly difficult to worry about the embarrassments of the past. He took quite a while looking over the tea options, and at first she thought he'd make fun of her for finding that kind of place but no, he was really that overwhelmed with the number of choices available for his tea. He settled on an unexciting Earl Gray; she only teased him about the amount of time it took to get there four or five times before they left.
"At least Umbridge is gone," he said, and almost as soon regretted it, but Cho didn't seem fazed.
"Wonder who we'll get next."
"As long as it's not some Death Eater. Course," he added, realizing she wasn't going to say anything selfish even as a joke, "it's not me who'll be taking N. E. W. T.s next year."
Cho grinned. "I foresee...desperate students trying to bribe their teacher to actually teach."
"After this year? I'd do it," he muttered and sighed, but decided he ought to try and say something cheerful. "As long as I don't have to spend my D. A. galleon."
"Oh no. You shall bribe the new teacher with...a magical pineapple."
And once more, he couldn't help it, cracking up but breaking it off abruptly when he saw Cho whisper "Expecto Patronum."
The swan took flight from the end of her neck. Michael vowed he would look up at her Patronus, watch it fly high no matter how unnerving.
But he didn't have to. It rose slightly until it hovered above them, then stayed there, blocking out the sky on its bright wings.