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Chapter 7: Team News
‘Is this it?’ Matthew sighed, casting his eyes around the Quidditch fields that evening. ‘Only seven players?’
‘Who else did you expect to come?’ Oscar asked his friend, rhetorically. ‘There’s only one second-year, nobody in the fifth, and you know what those sixth-years were like...’
The captain nodded, turning to the gathered handful of boys. ‘It looks like it’s gonna be pretty easy to pick the team this year,’ he smiled, tentatively. ‘I guess it’s a good thing we got four first-years: welcome on board, guys. I suppose we should get onto our brooms and up in the air.’ He glanced around. ‘What are you waiting for, Brand?’
Lucas stared impassively back at Matthew.
‘Come on, Kevin,’ Matthew glared at the first-year. ‘Get on your broom.’
‘I’m not Kevin,’ Lucas shuddered.
‘You fly like him,’ the captain shot back, as the redhead’s eyes began to water.
‘Come on, Matt,’ Greg shook his head as he guided his broom back to the ground beside the other first-year. ‘How’s that meant to help?’
‘If he’s going to be in the team, then he needs to do what I tell him to,’ the older boy defended himself.
‘So you think shouting at him is going to help?’ Isaac supported his classmate, landing on the other side of Lucas.
‘But... that’s always what Glenayre did...’ Matthew stammered. ‘The last captain.’
‘Yeah,’ Oscar rolled his eyes, ‘and you know how much we liked that.’ He hovered beside the captain, a handful of feet above the ground. ‘Why do you need to shout at him?’
‘He’s doing his best,’ Greg chipped in again, ‘and we wouldn’t be able to have a team at all without him.’ The first-year insisted. ‘You’re the best flier here – so why don’t you help him, rather than telling him he’s no good?’
Matthew grimaced. ‘I suppose you’re right,’ he admitted, gliding down to land beside Lucas. ‘Sorry.’
‘Don’t call me Kevin,’ the younger boy’s eyes flashed. ‘I’m not Kevin. I’m nothing like Kevin,’ he breathed. ‘Just because he’s my brother, and I look like him, that doesn’t mean I’m like him.’
‘Okay, mate.’ Matthew nodded as he made eye contact with the first-year. ‘I’m sorry. Really.’ The captain offered his hand, and the eleven-year-old took it, nervously. ‘Let’s work out how we’re going to get you up in the air then, alright?’
An hour later, however, the best efforts of the rest of the team hadn’t helped Lucas to get more than a few inches above the ground. The squad had decided that each player would take it in turns to aid the red-headed boy, whilst the other five joined in with the usual practice.
As the sun started to drift below the castle turrets that marked the western horizon, the captain called his players back together. ‘Well done, guys,’ Matthew dismounted from his broom. ‘Not bad for a bunch of first-years,’ he grinned as Lucas joined his team mates. ‘How are you getting on?’
‘Slow,’ Lucas answered, barely looking above the captain’s knees as he spoke.
‘I don’t know what’s the problem,’ Isaac, who had been the last of the team to work with Lucas, shook his head. ‘Are you sure you’re not a squib?’
The circle of boys fell instantly silent.
‘What did you just say?’ Oscar gasped, as Greg and Theo turned to look at one another with equally confused expressions on their faces.
‘You said I shouldn’t shout at people if they were finding it difficult,’ Matthew’s voice turned cold as he glared at Isaac, ‘but I’ll shout at you now, you little hypocrite.’ He took a couple of steps forward, standing over the first-year. ‘Don’t you ever let me hear you calling anybody that again... ever again.’
The words echoed back off the ramshackle terracing that encircled the pitch, hitting Isaac for a second time as he dropped his broomstick before turning to run from the other children.
‘W... What’s that word mean?’ Greg asked, nervously, as he watched Isaac’s figure grow smaller as it headed back towards the castle.
‘A squib is someone who’s got magical parents, but can’t do magic themselves,’ explained Oscar. ‘It’s basically saying he doesn’t deserve to be at Hogwarts.’
‘Do you think he really means that?’ Theo shook his head, glancing at Lucas as the redhead stared at his own feet.
‘I hope not,’ Greg murmured.
‘So do I,’ Oscar agreed, before lowering his voice to whisper in the first-year’s ear. ‘Wouldn’t want to be in your dorm tonight.’
‘Yeah,’ the eleven-year-old grimaced, pacing over towards Lucas and resting a hand on the other boy’s shoulder. ‘I’m sure that’s not true, mate,’ he offered.
‘It can’t be,’ Matthew added. ‘He wouldn’t have got his letter if he wasn’t a wizard.’
Lucas looked back up at the captain without a word, his face still pale.
‘Come on, Luc,’ Greg encouraged his roommate. ‘Let’s go back to the dungeon.’ He glanced back at the captain. ‘What should we do with the brooms?’
‘Just leave them out here, Greg,’ Matthew answered. ‘We’ll sort them out. You two should go back with Lucas.’
‘Alright,’ the eleven-year-old nodded, turning to lead the other first-years back towards their room. ‘You’ll get there, Lucas. I know you will.’ He smiled, thinly.
‘Thank you,’ the other boy’s voice was hoarse as he responded. ‘I’m not sure.’
‘Oh, come on,’ Theo turned round, staring back at Lucas. ‘My rugby coach always said, if you don’t think you can do it, then who else is going to?’
‘No one,’ Lucas muttered. ‘No one’s ever interested.’ He sighed, shaking his head as he shuffled ahead of the other two boys.
‘Hey, Lucas, wait!’ Greg insisted, hurrying after his roommate. ‘You can’t give up.’
Lucas shrugged. ‘Why does it matter? I’m hopeless. You don’t need me in the team. He doesn’t want me in the team.’
‘He didn’t mean it...’ Greg protested, ‘and anyway, what about what you want to do? You want to be on the team, don’t you?’
Lucas looked away from the other boy’s question. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘Come on,’ Theo nagged him, nudging his shoulder. ‘You are a Slytherin, aren’t you?’
‘I don’t know why,’ Lucas muttered. ‘I never thought I’d be in the same house as Kevin. He’s...’ the redhead tailed off, shaking his head again.
‘Matt said he’s a spoilt brat,’ Greg offered, ‘he thinks he should have the best of everything. We were worried you were gonna turn out like that, too.’ He held an arm over the other boy’s shoulders.
‘I hate him,’ Lucas lashed out at the air ahead. ‘He thinks he’s so special,’ he snapped, ‘like everyone should do whatever he wants them to do. He treats me like a bloody house-elf, and he always gets away with it, just cause mum says he’s the man of the house...’ He shivered as his eyes began to water. ‘Lucas, do the washing-up; Lucas, get rid of the gnomes. Lucas, clean my cauldron...’
‘Tosser,’ Theo remarked, remembering the stories the older boys had told him.
‘Yeah,’ Greg nodded, ‘but remember, like you said, you don’t have to be like him. Matt and Oscar aren’t like him. We’re not like him. You want to be in the Quidditch team, and he doesn’t. That’s one difference already.’
Lucas grimaced. ‘I’m no good...’
‘You’ll get there,’ Greg insisted, ‘if you keep on practising, you’ll get there. You heard what Neal said in History of Magic.’
‘Yeah,’ Theo agreed. ‘Ordovicius!’ He touched his wand to the marble of the dungeon door. ‘I wonder what Isaac’s got to say for himself.’
The hissing drone of water from the shower room attached to the first-year dormitory greeted the three children on their return from the Quidditch pitch.
‘He can’t hide forever,’ Theo dropped down onto his bunk beside the doorway, before pushing himself up again to pull a footstool across the entrance. ‘He’s not going anywhere till he explains himself.’ Theo justified his actions as he pulled his robes over his head.
‘Close the curtains, will you?’ Greg rolled his eyes as his friend continued to change into his pyjamas.
‘Oh, yeah,’ Theo grinned, sheepishly. ‘Sorry!’
‘He’s right about not being a Ravenclaw...’ Greg muttered as he drew the curtains around his own bed, searching out the knee-length shorts in which he would sleep. ‘Is it safe to come out yet?’
‘Yeah, you’re safe,’ Theo laughed, his white-blond fringe falling down over his eyes. ‘All you’re gonna see is my birthmark.’
‘Where’s that...?’ Greg peered out from behind the drapes.
‘On my shoulder,’ Theo turned his back as he explained, showing his friend a dark blotch inside one of his shoulder blades.
‘Cool,’ Greg nodded. ‘I reckon it looks a bit like a snitch if you look at it this way...’ He tilted his head to one side, beckoning the other boy. ‘What do you reckon, Lucas?’
‘I guess it does – maybe a little bit,’ the redhead admitted. ‘What do you think mine looks like?’ Lucas lifted up his left sleeve, revealing a thin dark brown mark at the top of his pallid arm.
‘Uh...’ Greg squinted, ‘a wand?’
Theo trotted across to take a look for himself. ‘Well,’ he offered, ‘if mine’s a snitch, then yours is definitely a broom.’
Lucas managed a brief grin as he heard his roommate’s suggestion, but as the door to the shower room creaked open moments later, the dormitory plunged back into silence.
Isaac shuffled through the half-open doorway into the bedroom, his brown hair still dripping water that trickled down onto his pale chest.
‘Well?’ Theo challenged Isaac, drawing himself up to his full height and striding forwards to stand over the other boy.
‘W... what?’ Isaac stammered, but Theo swiftly cut off the rest of his reply.
‘You know what,’ he snapped. ‘What happened to Slytherins stick together? How dare you call him that?’
Isaac stared down at his own feet.
‘At least look at him,’ Greg stood up. ‘At least have the guts to face him and look him in the eye.’
Isaac shook his head, still hiding his eyes from the other boys as the water droplets on his cheeks began to mix with his tears.
‘Coward,’ Theo taunted him. ‘I can see why your sister picks on you, you little piece of crap.’
Isaac turned away from Theo’s insults, trying to pick his way past Greg to the sanctuary of his own bunk, only to find the other boy blocking his way.
‘No way past,’ Greg folded his arms, glaring down at the top of Isaac’s fringe. ‘Not till you explain yourself.’
Isaac looked up for a moment, briefly, pleadingly, towards the boy who stood in his path, but cowered away again as he met Greg’s stony glare.
‘We can stay here all night if we have to,’ Theo warned, edging behind Isaac and cutting off his chance of escape back into the bathroom. ‘You’re not getting away with this.’
Isaac shivered, looking left and right between the other Slytherin children for a way out, before his eyes settled on Lucas’ blank face. ‘Luc...’ he swallowed, before his head dropped down once again.
‘What?’ Theo answered for his roommate. ‘What are you going to call him this time?’
‘I wasn’t...’ Isaac stumbled backwards onto the dormitory wall, sliding down to slump against the skirting boards, his face as white as his shoulders.
‘Are you sure about that?’ Theo towered over him. ‘Maybe he’s not like his brother, but you are? Maybe you’re the real tosser?’
‘Okay, Theo,’ Greg extended an arm across his friend’s chest as Isaac hid his own face beneath his towel. ‘He gets it.’
‘Then he can bloody well apologise,’ Theo snapped.
‘And so can you,’ Lucas interrupted.
‘What?’ Theo turned. ‘Me?’
‘You can apologise to him, too,’ Lucas repeated. ‘You didn’t need to call him that.’
‘You’re doing exactly the same thing that you were having a go at him for,’ Lucas insisted. ‘How’s that fair?’ The red-haired boy turned to face Greg. ‘You said yourself that he didn’t mean it.’
Isaac looked up gratefully at Greg as he heard the other first-year’s words, blinking a film of moisture away from his raw eyes.
‘That doesn’t mean you don’t have to apologise,’ Greg maintained, ‘but he’s right. I don’t think you meant it.’
‘I didn’t,’ Isaac spluttered. ‘I don’t know why I said it.’ He rubbed his forearm across his eyes. ‘Sorry, Lucas.’
‘Alright,’ Lucas nodded. ‘Theo?’
‘You know what he means, mate,’ Greg stretched an arm around his friend’s shoulders.
‘I’m not sorry,’ Theo glowered at Isaac’s hunched posture. ‘What should I be sorry for?’
‘You shouldn’t have called him a tosser,’ the other boys heard Lucas raise his voice for the first time. ‘He made one mistake! If I can forgive him, why can’t you?’
‘Come on, Theo,’ Greg whispered. ‘We’ve got to live with each other for seven years, remember.’
‘Fine,’ Theo sighed. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered. ‘That doesn’t make it alright, though.’
‘I know,’ Isaac blinked again, clearing the last of the moisture from his eyelids. ‘I just wasn’t thinking. I guess I thought it would be funny... my sister always calls me it...’
‘Zac,’ Greg knelt down as he used the shortened form of the name that the boys had come up with over the past weekend. ‘It’s okay. We all screw up sometimes. We know you didn’t mean it; that’s enough. Stop beating yourself up about it.’
‘Yeah,’ Lucas echoed. ‘Slytherins stick together.’
‘Wow,’ Isaac gazed up at the roof of the Charms classroom the following morning. ‘I guess there’s absolutely no way you’re a squib.’
Lucas laughed, watching a single tawny feather, which hovered three-quarters of the way towards the ceiling, flutter on a gentle breeze. ‘You’re lucky I know you can fly,’ he turned to his friend, nodding towards the stationary plumage on the other boy’s desk, ‘cause otherwise...’
‘Hey!’ Isaac elbowed the red-headed boy, causing him to lose concentration on the levitation charm, but Lucas only grinned as the feather drifted down onto the classroom floor. ‘If you can do that...’ the shorter boy wondered, ‘you must be able to fly.’
‘Yeah,’ Lucas smiled, ‘I guess you’re right.’
‘Well done, mate,’ Greg leaned across Isaac, along the long bench that traced the wall of the classroom. ‘That’s fantastic.’ He smiled. ‘That’ll be you up there soon, I swear it. We’ll go down the pitch again tonight and help you practise some more if you want to.’
‘Thanks, Greg,’ He returned his friend’s grin. ‘That’d be cool. Wingardium Leviosa!’ He aimed his wand down towards the feather that now lay alone on the classroom floor, and with Lucas’ face locked in a stare of fierce concentration, the feather rose back to the first-year’s desk.
‘Oh, tremendous, Mr Brand!’ The impish form of Professor Flitwick scuttled excitably over the classroom floor towards Lucas. ‘Not just levitation, but controlled levitation. This is a very promising start, young man – ten points to Slytherin!’
Isaac punched his friend playfully on the shoulder. ‘Way to go, Lucas! We can’t be far off the lead now.’
‘I bet we won’t be there for too long, though,’ Greg sighed. ‘There’s just not enough of us to keep on getting points.’
‘Who cares about that now?’ Theo cut him off. ‘Let’s enjoy it whilst we can!’ He grinned as the sharp ring of the school bell signalled the end of Flitwick’s lesson. ‘Now, we’ve hardly got anything else left today...’
‘Except Transfiguration at half eleven,’ Greg contradicted his friend.
‘That’s only a study lesson...’
‘I saw your matchsticks yesterday!’ Greg laughed. ‘After you’d tried to turn them into needles and only managed sawdust...’
Theo shrugged. ‘At least I managed to change them into something.’
‘Remind me never to let you try any spells on me,’ Isaac shook his head. ‘Anyway, we’ve got Muggle Studies after lunch – and double prep, too...’
‘Muggle Studies?’ Theo snorted. ‘Yeah, me and Greg are really dreading that. We’ve only been living without magic for, oh, eleven years.’
Isaac glared back at the blond-haired boy.
‘Oh come on, Zac,’ Greg nudged his friend in the back. ‘Let him have his moment. I bet you beat him in every other subject.’
Isaac managed a smile that grew wider as Theo responded by asking Greg exactly how much he was prepared to stake on his prediction.
‘Are we heading back to the dungeons for break, then?’ Lucas changed the subject amiably.
‘Sure,’ Greg nodded, following the redhead as he turned down a twisting staircase that led to the hidden marble doors of the Slytherin common room.
‘Ordovicius!’ Lucas announced as the doorway melted into the wall in front of him.
‘Matt? Ossie? You in here?’ Greg called out over his friend’s shoulder. ‘I guess that’s a no.’
‘We’ll see them at lunch, mate,’ Theo reasoned.
‘We didn’t at breakfast.’
‘Yeah,’ Isaac’s distant voice caused the other three boys to snap their heads around. ‘That’s probably cause they didn’t need to get up until second period.’ He was gazing at a noticeboard that, amongst Matthew’s ignored posters for the Quidditch tryouts, listed the timetable for all the year groups.
‘Lucky them,’ Theo moaned.
‘It’s us tomorrow,’ Isaac shot back, ‘and it’s only Muggle Studies at ten...’
‘Which we’re all definitely going to,’ Greg jumped in before Theo could consider any other ideas. ‘You haven’t even been here a week yet – and we haven’t had any Muggle Study lessons either!’
‘I suppose so,’ Theo admitted reluctantly.
‘I’m interested in it,’ Lucas offered. ‘Kevin hates it,’ he explained. ‘He says he can’t see why he should care how Muggles do things without magic, when it’s so much easier with a wand. I figure anything he can’t stand is probably pretty good.’
Greg smiled. ‘Well, if you like it, I guess you could come and do some extra Muggle Studies if you came and stayed with us over the holidays.’
Theo and Isaac laughed at their housemate’s joke, but Lucas did not join in. Instead, the redheaded boy’s face froze as he heard Greg speak, before bolting up and making for the stairs that led to the first-years’ dormitory.
Greg shook his head. ‘What did I say?’
‘I dunno, mate,’ Theo’s voice echoed his friend’s disbelief. ‘I guess you better go and find out, though.’
‘Yeah...’ Casting a brief glance towards Isaac, who could only return his stunned gaze, Greg pushed himself up to follow Lucas downstairs. ‘See you in Transfig. Save us seats.’
Theo rolled his eyes. ‘It’s not like anyone’s gonna sit next to us, is it?’
‘You know what I mean, mate.’
‘Yeah,’ Theo nodded. ‘See you.’
‘Luc?’ Greg knocked tentatively on the dormitory door as he eased it open. ‘Lucas? Are you alright, mate?’ He tiptoed across the dormitory towards the furthest bed from the door, where the red-haired boy lay, face down amongst his sheets. ‘Was it something I said?’
Slowly, Lucas rolled onto his side, rubbing a thin film of moisture out of his eyes. ‘Did you mean it? Really?’
‘Did I mean what?’ Greg stuttered, caught off guard by the nature of the other boy’s question.
‘That I could come and stay with you?’
‘Well...’ Greg hesitated, still half-paralysed as his mind raced to decipher Lucas’ reactions. ‘Yes. I mean,’ he hurried to add, ‘only if you wanted to...’
Lucas’ eyes fell shut again as he turned, wordlessly, away from Greg.
‘Luc... are you okay?’ Greg reached out. ‘Do you want to go to the Hospital Wing?’
‘No,’ Lucas spoke unusually forcefully. ‘It’s just...’ he turned on his mattress, shuffling as he faced Greg. ‘No one ever asked me that before,’ he explained. ‘No one ever thought I wasn’t just going to be like Kevin.’
Greg managed a timid smile as he began to understand the other boy’s reaction. ‘I remember the day I got my Hogwarts letter,’ he offered, sitting down on the bed beside Lucas. ‘I remember seeing the owl... I think I felt like you do now.’ He sighed. ‘I’ve never told anyone this – but I was scared. It didn’t make sense; it was so different to anything I’d ever seen before. I didn’t know how to react... but luckily Matt was there, he saw the owl arrive, and he explained everything to me.’ He paused. ‘God, that sounds stupid, doesn’t it?’
Lucas shook his head. ‘I think I get what you mean. I know I really wanted what you said to be true... but I couldn’t quite believe it. Especially as nothing ever happens like I want it to.’
‘Well, maybe it’s starting to happen,’ Greg suggested. ‘Remember that feather this morning? I reckon things are starting to go your way.'