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Cold Sharp Silver

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In her first year, Jordan McKee is declared a Slytherin, of course. The Sorting Hat makes a little noise about Ravenclaw potential, but she’s already sharp around the edges, all gritted teeth and white knuckles and a stomach heavy with resentment. It’s not a long deliberation before the hat’s shouting and her tie is magically shifting to bright green and shimmering silver. She sits down at the Slytherin table and stares at the aristocrats around her, pureblood, old magic. She’s heard things about Slytherins, that they care for nothing but breeding and subterfuge. She doesn’t know yet if she’ll belong here.

She’s a half-blood, or so she’s always been told. Her mother was definitely a witch, her father definitely a Muggle, but the magic on her mother’s side doesn’t run deep- she wasn’t a pureblood either. No one in her family’s ever had a crest, or an Order of Merlin, or an incestuous marriage- as far as she can tell, all major points of Slytherin heritage. But there’s other stuff, ambition and restlessness and determination and grit, sitting in the shadows, and it’s that which she thinks about when she dons silver and green.

People act like all the Slytherins are pureblood, but Audrey and Evi are both Muggle-born, and there are definitely others. Audrey quickly makes friends in other houses and spends almost no time with the other Slytherins- Jordan doesn’t blame her, but still finds her a little stuck up. Evi’s sarcastic and sharp and won’t sit quietly, no matter how much the others might want her to. She and Jordan are best friends within a week. It’s months before they trust each other.

In her second year, Jordan McKee tries out for Quidditch. It was Evi’s idea- how to demand respect in Slytherin without the nobility to go along with it, she says. Audrey apparently has the same thought, because she’s there, too. None of them make it, but Jordan stays on her broom, and the quiet third year who makes Keeper tells her she flies pretty well. “Keep working at it,” Wade says, flat smile and unsettling eyes, “See you at practice next year, yeah?” She does keep practicing. With Evi, and occasionally a quiet, focused Audrey, soaring around the grounds nearly until nightfall.

Some of the Slytherins are cruel; most are dismissive. All the way up to Vince Teagues, Herbology professor, Head of Slytherin House, and patronizing asshole, people just tell her that she’s doing well, “all things considered.” It’s not just condescending, it’s blatantly ridiculous- she can transfigure about as well as any of them, and her charms are close to the top of her class- but her name’s not Carr or Crocker or Driscoll or Flagg, so they’ll never see it properly. It stokes the anger every time, and she starts to suspect it’s only a matter of time until they whip her into a blaze.

In her third year, Jordan McKee tries out again. Evi’s determined for Seeker, Audrey’s going for Chaser, Jordan doesn’t have a preference. She just wants a place. She makes it far enough in the tryout to be shuffling through positions. Halfway through, one of the other contestants calls Evi a Mudblood. Jordan gets the Beater’s bat not long after and wastes no time, hitting the Bludger directly at his chest and knocking him rather neatly off his broom. Kirk, the hulking Seventh Year captain, nearly falls off his broom himself from the laughing.

She makes the team, of course, getting a Beater’s bat of her very own. Audrey makes Chaser and Evi’s an alternate. Jordan gets tough dragonhide gloves for practice, but the skin on her hands still cracks and peels. She falls off her broom her first game, and takes a Bludger to the elbow from the other team in her second. At the third, she gives a pretty decent thump to Gryffindor’s newest Chaser- it’s only after she gets raised eyebrows from Wade and Audrey that she thinks maybe her first hit shouldn’t’ve been to their Keeper’s kid brother. She improves rapidly and she quickly learns to show no mercy. Vince Teagues and all the other old blood Slytherins start to take her seriously. The Slytherins respect her and everyone else is increasingly afraid of her and she takes it, works with it. She doesn’t hear anyone whispering about her blood status anymore.

In her fourth year, Jordan McKee gets a tagline. She hits a Bludger at William, the Hufflepuff Seeker, hitting him in the hip and causing him to absentmindedly drop almost thirty feet and lose the Snitch, and the announcer exclaims, “That’s Cruciatus McKee!” and the next game, it’s being chanted by the sea of green and silver in the stands. The game after that, it’s on banners. Evi (finally a Seeker, and a pretty excellent one at that) starts saying it all the time- in class, at meals, in the morning when Jordan’s half-awake and cranky- just to watch her blush.

She doesn’t study as much anymore, and her marks and spellwork drop to the middle of the pack. Her reputation as a hell of a Beater is established enough now that her blood status is all but meaningless. No one tells her that she’s good at Charms or Defense Against the Dark Arts “all things considered,” they tell her that no wonder she has trouble keeping up, with all that Quidditch practice, and it’s all right, she’s plenty good enough to make it onto a professional team. She proves them right. She does some kind of practice every day, and gets to know all the other players with chips on their shoulders. Among other things, she starts to figure out why Audrey keeps the company she does. At the end of fourth year, she meets the first professional scout who knows her name.

In her fifth year, Jordan McKee dislocates Nathan’s shoulder in the first match and then kisses him in the middle of the pitch because he doesn’t stop smiling at her. He kisses her back and she tangles her still-gloved hands in his robes. People on both sides of the stands are shouting- some out of enjoyment for the show, some out of disgust that she is kissing a Hufflepuff of all things, and she doesn’t care. For the first time at Hogwarts, she throws herself into something without caring if it’ll help earn their acceptance or not. She has enough of their respect that she doesn’t lose much, and she’s a little annoyed to find that she still cares.

It doesn’t work out. She should have known it wouldn’t work out from the second she saw Audrey’s stiff shoulders and frozen grimace, but somehow it catches her off guard when she stumbles upon the two of them desperately entangled in each other. She cries and never admits it to anyone.

At the next match against Hufflepuff, she ties back her hair, slides on her gloves, and hits him with Bludger after Bludger after Bludger every time the Quaffle enters the scoring area. She’s careful and doesn’t foul, but it’s obvious what she’s doing, and soon the announcer is joking, “This is why we do not piss off Beaters, kids,” and “Wuornos, what did you do to her?!” Nathan takes it, can’t flee, stays by the hoops regardless of what she does to him. They capture the attention of the audience and soon half the stands are yelling, “Cruciatus McKee!” and the other half attempting to drown them out, “Play through anything!” Audrey’s still a teammate, so there’s not much to be done there, even though that betrayal stings just as much- Jordan ignores a couple Bludgers and lets Audrey dodge them herself, but otherwise has to leave her be. Slytherin wins, eventually- Evi catches the Snitch, but by that point it hardly matters, because Audrey may want Nathan but she’s not above taking advantage of his suffering to score goals. Nathan plays through the whole thing, landing on the ground at the whistle with dazed eyes, bloody robes, and an arm that’s bending in unusual ways, but he never calls in an alternate and her victory feels hollow.

Vince Teagues, head of Slytherin house, doesn’t mention her marks or spellwork when they have their career advising session. Instead, they talk about Quidditch teams, her ratings, and possible interviews with Quidditch magazines.  She studies somewhat and gets five OWLs – E in Charms, E in Defense Against the Dark Arts, A in Potions, A in Transfiguration, and A in History of Magic. No one asks her about her scores.

In her sixth year, Jordan McKee gets her first official offer to join a professional Quidditch team upon graduation. She jumps up and down and squeals and excitedly shouts it at the first Slytherin Quidditch player she sees- Wade Crocker, Captain, who responds by high-fiving and then kissing her. It’s not like kissing Nathan- it doesn’t feel like flying and it doesn’t feel like magic and she doesn’t think it’ll destroy her. She is, of course, very nearly wrong. She kisses him and touches him and lets herself be settled if not really content.

Two months later, she walks in on him killing someone. She never does figure out who. He looks up, eyes burning, and she’s too shocked to scream. Chance wasted, she can’t even fight back when he says, “Imperio.”

She floats around in a fog for six weeks before she’s able to throw off the curse, and only for a second or two at a time. It’s another month before anyone realizes that her increasingly erratic behavior might be worth paying attention to. It’s Audrey who finally notices, who asks, “What’s happening? Who did this?”

Jordan fights, pushes, and it hurts, “He’s killing people,” she chokes out, falling forward and grasping Audrey’s robes. “You have to stop him.” Audrey pushes, asks who, and Jordan shakes her head, unsuccessfully trying to clear it. “Crocker. Wade Crocker. Please.” Audrey pulls back, pale, gasping, but believing her, and the wave of relief knocks Jordan down and she gets pulled back into the fog.

In the fog, she can only half-tell what’s happening around her, or even what her body’s doing (Wade’s continued involvement with both makes even that half too much, sometimes). She knows that Audrey ties her up and leaves her in a fancy bathroom, and she knows that Wade finds her and brings back to her dormitory. She watches, unfeelingly, as he transfigures her sheet into a rope, ties it into a noose from the curtain rod, and places a stool under it. The command is simple, and clear, and so, so tempting. “Kill yourself, Jordan. Put your head through the noose and jump.”

The worst thing is how badly she wants to, how easy it would be to succumb as she has so often before, to do what he says and fight no more. But she’s a Slytherin, made of grit and bitterness and determination, and she bucks the fog and Stuns him.

It hasn’t been long enough since her talk with Audrey and she’s quickly swept back up in the curse. She’s trapped in the fog, and it’s sweet, it’s gentle when she steps onto the stool and slides the rough rope noose over her head, onto her neck, and brushes her hair out of the loop. It would be such a relief to jump, the fog sings, you know you want to, you know you’ve always wanted to.

Jordan will not go quietly. There is no pleasure in fighting, not anymore, no heat or passion, just a stubborn unyielding agony, but if anyone can take it, she can. She does not jump. She does not jump.

She doesn’t know how long she stands there, on that stool, or who severs the rope. The next thing she knows, she’s in a bed in St. Mungo’s, truly awake for the first time in months, and exhausted. An Auror- who she’s never met, but nonetheless recognizes as Garland Wuornos- arrives and gruffly informs her that Wade’s undergoing trial and will likely end up in Azkaban before the month is out. He comments on her ability to fight the curse- most people wouldn’t’ve had the gumption to withstand an Imperius like she did, he says- but she doesn’t feel proud of herself, just exhausted and uncomfortable and dirty. She’s not wholly convinced that she’s glad she’s alive, but she’s thrilled that Wade didn’t kill her, which amounts to more or less the same thing.

She has more visitors than she would have expected. Evi arrives every few days with homework and gossip. Dwight and McHugh show up early on with a giant gift basket obnoxiously draped in their red and gold. Nathan comes, hovers in the doorway for thirty seconds, tells her he’s glad she’s not dead, and then leaves again. A surprising number of Quidditch magazines attempt to get interviews, which she declines. Claire visits, but tries to talk to Jordan about Wade until Jordan gets fed up and has her barred from the ward. Duke visits once, pale and quiet, straight from Wizengamot in his dress robes, to tell her that Wade will spend the rest of his life in Azkaban. He asks her if she knows why he was killing. She doesn’t, and apparently neither does anyone else.

Jordan doesn’t go back to Hogwarts that year. She studies from St. Mungo’s- sometimes her books from class, well enough to keep up on homework and exams- but mostly she throws herself into Defense Against the Dark Arts. She reads everything anyone’ll give her on the Imperius Curse, at first, and then other mind control curses and how to fight them off. She’s convinced she doesn’t have what it takes to survive a second time, without knowledge. If it ever happens again, this time she’ll be prepared. She won’t be caught off guard again. The Healers aren’t thrilled to have her taking up space in their ward, mostly, but someone’s ordered them to let her stay, and a couple of them teach her some basic Healing spells to break up the monotony. She never really feels any safer.

In her seventh year, Jordan McKee returns to Hogwarts. She’s stared at, and there are whispers she never quite catches, but it doesn’t last long before there’s better gossip. Jordan’s made Quidditch captain. She finds out, later, that Audrey declined the position first, which ruins it a little, but she still throws herself into it. She quickly discovers that her basic knowledge of Healing spells is useful, and she just patches up most wounds at practice, saving them a lot of time on trips to the Hospital Wing and almost all of Lucassi’s bitching.

Things go to hell a few weeks in, mostly not involving Jordan. It turns out that Audrey’s not the Muggle-born everyone’s always assumed and it all gets a bit dramatic. Jordan’s mostly concerned that Audrey quits the team- she doesn’t like Audrey, has never really forgiven her for how things happened with Nathan, but she is a great Chaser.

Jordan gets an offer from almost every major Quidditch team in the region. Somehow, despite declining all those interviews last year, a version of the story- at least twice as heroic as what actually happened- got out and now she’s an up-and-coming celebrity as well as still having one of the highest ratings of pre-professional Beaters. Vince talks to her more than ever, asking her about the teams and her plans and trying to strategize, but she always blows him off.  She’s not convinced she wants to do this with her life. She became a Beater to belong as a Slytherin, but she’s always been a Slytherin, always had sharp edges and bitterness and just enough pride. Jordan doesn’t have anything to prove, now. The thought of becoming a Beater as a career makes her feel heavy and trapped and afraid. She thinks it might be too late. She thinks she might have dedicated too much time to it to turn back now. She thinks she might not be good at anything else anymore.

Jordan knows, by virtue of living seven feet away from Audrey Parker, when things get worse. Audrey breaks down one night, confessing to them what’s been going on- for years, now, for Audrey, fear and threat that Jordan’s never been close enough to see. It’s not the first night that Jordan hears the name “Croatoan” in a hushed voice, but it’s the first she gets enough context to understand. It’s also the first time that she realizes that he might be a threat to her. After that night, she starts re-reading her books on fighting off dark magic, just in case.

It’s another two months before word gets out about an imminent attack on Hogwarts, and by that time, all the Slytherins know better than to be surprised. Croatoan has the allegiance of several of the old blood families, and thus many of their parents and neighbors, and they’ve all been hearing things. There’s suspicion around them from the other houses and they have to be careful, have to watch each other’s backs and their own. Plenty of people think that the Slytherin house is entirely behind Croatoan, or would sell out the rest for their own lives. Jordan mostly shrugs it off. Evi and Audrey are both horrified, trying to defend themselves, trying to explain that they are survivors, not traitors, that Slytherins are bound in blood and power and brotherhood.

They all know when Croatoan begins making his way to the castle. His black magic roils the countryside enough that even the Muggles begin to realize that something’s happening. Someone suggests that all the Slytherins be locked away in the dungeons for the duration of the battle. Enough people agree that they go, quietly, but of course they don’t stay. As soon as everyone’s distracted, they begin moving again, Vince Teagues in the lead with his head up and his wand out. They are Slytherins and they do not cower. Audrey goes to rejoin Nathan and Duke. Evi leads a team putting wards on the secret passageways so only Hogwarts students can use them. Jordan goes to the Hospital Wing, muttering practice incantations as she goes, hoping it’s enough.

Injured and cursed people start pouring in before Croatoan even reaches the grounds, his magic preceding him. Professors Verrano and Carr and Healer Lucassi take the worst cases, but Jordan has too much work even with the moderate injuries- healing wounds and undoing hexes frantically, trying to keep up with the tide of injuries. Some of them die under her hands. There’s nothing she can do but move on.

Jennifer Mason gets dragged in early on, blood wet on her robes and still trying to leave because Gryffindors are like that. Jordan threatens to body-bind her and starts healing the jagged gash on her chest. “It was Duke,” Jennifer gasps, shaking, “But not Duke. He’s cursed.”

Jordan stills, blood running like ice in her veins, and she has to ask, “Imperius?”

“No. Something else. His eyes are black,” Jennifer says, and Jordan freezes, because she knows. She knows because she devoured every book on mind control spells for months in a hospital, because it was the only way to get Wade Crocker’s slime off her skin. She’s read over that curse ten, twenty times. It’s powerful, but harder and more obvious than the Imperius, and there’ve been no major cases of its use in the past three hundred years. The counter-curse is fairly straightforward, except that it’s considered obscure now, and no one knows what it is. Except Jordan.

She asks Jennifer where Duke is now- Gryffindor common room, to which Jennifer provides the password- before handing her off to Julia and heading for the exit. She ducks Professor Verrano, who shouts at her, and takes off running to one of the tunnels. She stays away from the action, this isn’t her battle and she’s not needed on the front lines.  She finds Duke, chains wrapped around his limbs, with Nathan frantic and Audrey horrified. She can see how hard Duke’s fighting to return to them, but the curse is strong and he can’t break it. She’s known Duke for years, now, knocks him around the sky semi-regularly. She’s never felt close to him before.

She pushes Nathan to the side, grabs Duke’s chin and says, “I can fix this, but I need you to work with me. I see how hard you’re fighting to come back, I know how much you want to beat this, and on the count of three I need you to give it all you’ve got. One. Two. Three.”  She hisses the counter-curse, wand pointed at his heart, and Duke throws his head back gasping. When she looks at his eyes again, they’re normal, relieved and horrified and resigned. Audrey undoes the chains and Nathan pulls her into a very brusque hug.

“Dave Teagues,” Duke says, raspy. “Him too. In the room by that statue of Sebastian Cabot, last I saw. You have to go.” And she does, ducking curses. Her Quidditch reflexes keep her alive. There are bodies, here and there, of others who weren’t so lucky. She finds Dave and he’s a fighter, too, and he comes back.

Dave Teagues is the head of Ravenclaw house for good reason, and the first thing he says after beating the curse is, “I know how to kill the Croatoan.” It’s still not her fight and she doesn’t want it to be, so she directs Dave to the Gryffindor common room and slips back to the hospital wing. She continues with healing spells late into the night, with little knowledge of how the battle is going, until Eleanor Carr (fairly stubborn for the head of Hufflepuff), orders her to a cot for a few hours of rest. When she wakes up, the battle is over. Dave had the knowledge, Audrey and co. got it done. Blood is still drying tacky on the stones, but they’ve won.

St. Mungo’s and the Ministry have sent real Healers there to finish the job. Professor Carr walks her back to the Slytherin dorms, compliments her on her spellwork. “I know you have Quidditch offers up to your eyes, but if you want to do something different, you’d make a great Healer. Let me know if you want a recommendation.”

The House Cup is canceled. They’ve lost too many students to divide now. They all eat together, not separated by house. Jordan sits with Dwight at one side and Evi at the other. Headmistress Cross is still in St. Mungo’s, but one by one, each Head of House stands to honor students who fought and students who died. Vince Teagues tears up on her name, thanks her for saving Dave and for her time healing the wounded. He calls her a hero, and all the real heroes seem to more or less agree with him. The whole thing is honestly more awkward than anything else.

Her NEWTs come in- O’s in Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts, E’s in Potions and Transfiguration. She talks to Professor Carr about Healing programs. Finally, she sits down, reviews every single offer she’s gotten from professional Quidditch teams- offering wheelbarrow of Galleons, some of them- and declines them all. She graduates, green and silver dress robes silky against her skin, and that’s that.

After she leaves Hogwarts, Jordan McKee goes into a Healing program. She does six months for an Auror unit, where she rubs ointments on several familiar faces, including Dwight, Audrey, Nathan and Duke (who is a Cursebreaker, not an Auror, but still seems to tromp in injured with the rest of them). It’s horrid and stuffy and intense, and she hates it. For all that Jordan’s a fighter at heart, she doesn’t want this war.

Evi, by now the Seeker for the French National Quidditch Team, puts her in touch with the trainers, and the job is secure within days. Jordan gives tips to the Beaters and heals up their scrapes and tells them embarrassing old stories about Evi and finally, finally, her bitterness starts to dissipate.