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Chapter 1: one
“Am I boring you?”
She quickly covered up her yawn. “No, I’m sorry. Just tired.”
“What’s your name?” Potter asked, holding out his clipboard, looking strangely mature and official. It contrasted heavily with what she had heard- and seen- of James Potter. Just last night he had organised a violent game of musical chairs, bewitching the sofas in the Gryffindor Common Room to dance around when the music had stopped. Sally had only sat on the spiral stairs leading up to the girl’s dormitories, but it had looked like fun.
“Sally Wood,” she said, chewing on her bottom lip nervously. “And I’m trying out to be Seeker,” she added quickly, knowing the question would come next.
Potter wrote it down, in cramped, small handwriting, and gestured to where the prospective Seekers stood. “Go over there then,” he said, moving onto the next person.
Sally walked over to the small group- in both senses of the word. Three second-years stood there in too big robes, clutching their brooms with white knuckles like they were lifebelts. She gave them all a friendly smile, which was only half-returned. As a sixth-year, she felt like a giant, standing with the lower years. Sally wasn’t the ideal build for a Seeker, but she wasn’t tall, and she was fairly confident in her ability. She had a good broom, built for speed and she was a competent flyer, with good eyesight.
She could only hope that this was enough, and the hours she’d put in over the summer, practicing and practicing in the woods behind her house had not been wasted. She could have spent it doing much more practical things, like making sure her homework was up to scratch and practising charms with her holiday tutor, but she really wanted this.
There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, so many weeks in a month, and so many months in a year. Time was short, and it always seemed to be running out for somebody. For Sally, there just never seemed to be enough.
No matter how hard she tried, however many extra hours she put in or how late at night she stayed up, her school marks stayed the same. A consistent, and depressingly so, ‘Acceptable’. And Sally worked so hard for that grade. Even her very best efforts were merely acceptable. Sally Wood didn’t excel in anything.
The information just didn’t seem to stick- but that didn’t mean she had given up. She may have had two highly successful parents and a brother who had never achieved less than an Outstanding, and she may have been written off as lost cause academically, but she still continued to work hard- even if that meant she didn’t have a lot of free time. And hopefully, her scant free time would now be used up with Quidditch.
A third-year was sent over to wait with Sally and the others. He was thin and wiry- and the same height as her already. Sally smiled at him too, but he ignored her.Charming, she thought to herself, and carried on watching Potter organising the hopefuls, trying to guess which position they would end up with. One more child, who could barely lift her broom, joined the group for Seekers.
Eventually, the crowd was cleared. There had been a drive to get more people interested in sports and clubs recently, and Quidditch had had to bear the brunt of it. It was already nine o’clock in the morning, and Potter had only just finished sorting people into their positions. She watched as he rolled his eyes exasperatedly as a kid dropped his broom. She could understand his annoyance- at least thirty people had turned up, but her own hands were shaking.
The Chasers -Potter’s own position- were tried out first, and there was a newcomer to the team, a black-haired girl called Marlene, who was in Sally’s Charms class. The other Chaser was a fourth-year from the previous team; a lanky boy with equally long hair tied up in a ponytail.
Potter shook each of their hands, and collected his clipboard from a nearby friend. “Seekers next,” he called. “Get over here.”
Sally picked up her broom and walked over to where Potter stood, the other Gryffindors trailing after her.
“Whoever catches the snitch first gets the place on the team,” Potter said shortly. Sally checked her gold watch. It was only half eleven, and the second try-out, and he already seemed to be tired and frustrated. The quicker Sally could catch the snitch, the better. Potter mounted his broom, and so did Sally, kicking off and climbing smoothly into the air. Potter adjusted his round glasses, followed, spiralling up into the sky after her, holding the golden ball tightly in his fist. The other hopefuls flew up to join them, shooting Sally sideways glances. She ignored them. She had tried out for the seekers position every year since she was twelve, and never even been a reserve, but this year was her year, she was certain of it.
She was under no delusions- next year she would have to give up her place on the team, next year she would have to leave Quidditch behind to focus solely on her schoolwork, so she could come out of Hogwarts with marks high enough to get herself into a moderately well paid job. But that was next year, and this year, she was determined to spend every free second with her face in the wind, relishing the blisters and the early mornings and ugly uniform. This year, she would enjoy herself.
“Ready?” he called. “On three!”
Even before he had finished counting, Sally tuned everything else out, focusing on the snitch, which eagerly thrashed its tiny yellow wings, before it leapt out of Potter’s hand, flying away faster than Sally remembered it could go. A tiny part of her was stunned into place, frozen on her broom in the heat of the moment, but the rest of her was already moving, guiding her quick broom up to follow the ball.
The Snitch skipped and danced and flew, never stopping in one place. Usually a seeker could wait above, spying out the golden flash, but today it seemed to know that there were more than two people on its tail, and it kept moving. The only way to keep track of it was to keep watching, following, looping and swerving in a desperate attempt to catch it. Sometimes Sally was merely inches from it, and other times it was at the other side of the pitch, hopelessly out of reach.
She wasn’t paying attention to the other Gryffindors, but at the same time she knew that two of the second years had returned to the ground- but why, she didn’t know. The other second year was hovering above the pitch, watching, in the usual seeker’s position. Sally left him alone, flying wide around him when the snitch came close. He wasn’t going to catch the snitch, and they both knew it. It was the silent third year that was the problem. He was constantly on Sally’s tail, preferring to follow her than the ball. It wasn’t a bad tactic- where the snitch went, Sally was sure to follow- but it wasn’t a winner’s tactic.
And that made Sally worried, because it meant he had another plan.
This is so much more difficult than training on my own, she thought. At home, she had no-one to play with, no one to beat off the snitch’s trail. Although the seeker was hardly even part of the team; she was playing a game on her own; the presence of the third year was annoying, to say the least.
The snitch circled around the back of the south goal hoops, but Sally cut the corner off, stretching out her hand to grab the ball, but it sped away. Sally risked a look behind as she leant closer to her broom handle, urging the broom faster. They couldn’t have been in the sky for longer than two minutes, but it felt like an eternity, and she was anxious to get this over with now. The third year had caught up with her, but his broom wasn’t quite as good as hers, as least for speed. He was a lot better at cornering than she was, but in a large oval pitch, there wasn’t really that many corners. The snitch angled upwards, flying up into the sun. Sally had to squint, but she followed it anyway. She was so close now- BAM!
She was thrown off course as the third year slammed into her, pushing her out of the way. She regained her balance and tried to catch up- but it was already too late. The snitch had dived down, practically flying into the silent boy’s hand. He had knocked her out of the way just in time to catch it himself. He flew down to the ground triumphantly, one hand clenched around the ball. From the grin spread across his face, it appeared that he had won the World Cup, not a place on the team.
Sally descended slowly, fighting back tears. She couldn’t believe it had all gone, all gone in one short second. She’d ignored the third-year, and he’d beaten her because of it. She had been wrong, just like with everything else. The seeker didn’t play their own game, alone; they were still part of a team, with an opponent. But Sally had had no-one to play with, no-one to train with. And now she’d lost it.
She landed awkwardly, hitting her knees with the broom and then nearly falling- but luckily no-one was looking at her. Potter was shaking the boy’s hand, welcoming him onto the team, and a curly haired blonde girl had rushed out from the side-lines to hug the third-year.
Sally shouldered her broom and walked over to where she’d left her jumper and her boots, switching them with her pumps. She didn’t like flying wearing heavy things, but the grass was too long and too wet for just pumps. Sally was a practical sort of person. She sat down, laying the broom down next to her. It wasn’t the broom’s fault that she didn’t have the place, but she found she couldn’t look it without a lump forming in her throat again.
She shoved her small shoes in her bag, and pulled on her boots, not bothering to lace them up, concentrating on anything but the fact that she’d lost the place on the team. Not lost, she berated herself. You can’t lose something you never actually had.
She pulled on her jumper, forgetting herself for a moment in the soft folds of her grandmother’s knitting. It wiped away the few tears that had escaped. She knew she was overreacting, she knew she was being silly- but it was all she had wanted this year. She just wanted to be good at something. She undid her hair from her plait, combing her fingers through it and letting it fall back over her shoulders.
The Keepers were called up. There were at least ten of them, but they were all tall with gangly arms and long legs, and it was hard to keep track of individuals. They took to the sky, a red-and-gold flock of huge birds, and Sally sat on the cold, damp ground and watched. Flitwick had already sat an essay that she hadn’t touched, and she knew she should be working on Vanishing spells, because McGonagall had given her an extra session on how to hold her wand correctly and pronunciation- but she didn’t move from her spot in the shadows. It was nice to sit and not do anything, and maybe pretend for a moment that in the next match, she would be up in the sky as well.
It didn’t take a long time for the Keeper to be chosen, as they were knocked out one by one until only the Keeper from last year remained, who saved every single goal but one, which was a sneaky shot from the black-haired Chaser. Potter high-fived her, and then shook the Keeper’s hand.
Up next were the Beaters, but Sally watched this without much enthusiasm, as for this position there were only four candidates. She noted the familiar swagger of Sirius Black, as he walked to the trunk with Potter, laughing about some trivial thing. It was a dead cert that he would get one place- aside from being practically Potter’s adopted brother- he had a deadly aim.
“Right,” Potter shouted, his voice carrying over to Sally. “All you have to do is be the last two standing. Hit the others off their brooms, while making sure you’re not going to fall.”
Black mounted his broom gracefully, his bat trailing from the strap on his wrist, and took off, followed by the other Beaters. On the ground, Potter knelt by the box of balls, unclasping the lid, and then looking at the sky.
“READY?” he called.
There was a chorus of affirmatives, before Potter flicked open the latches and the bludgers flew out of the trunk. Potter grabbed his broom and kicked off into the sky after them. Even before he had reached their height, one boy was already descending- a bludger from Black had broken his arm, and his bat had fallen to the ground with a thud. He dismounted clumsily and staggered away, his friends already crowded around him, taking him to the hospital wing.
And up in the sky, it was a mad panic of weaving and dodging and aiming. One guy was quick, and managed to dodge everything that Black sent at him, although his bat hung loosely, unused. The other guy was the exact opposite- only moving out of the way at the last second, as if he hadn’t seen the balls coming towards him, and using his bat to hit everything that came his way, even if it spiralled off to hit only thin air. It was almost a stalemate, until the big guy who didn’t move clambered up into the sky. A bludger followed him, but he beat it away. Sally watched, half-interested now. The big guy, a fifth year called David Dodson carried on flying up, up, up.
Black tried to hit a bludger at him, but it spiralled off, not even bothering to reach him before falling back down and smashing into the broom of the other wizard trying out. He’d just sent the other Bludger to hit Potter, and was looking around for the other when it broke the handle of his broom, sending him crashing into the ground. Black and Potter descended quickly to help the guy, and Dodson flew lazily down onto the ground, smug with his place on the team.
Dodson landed, and approached Potter, holding his hand out to shake. “It’s great to be on the team,” he said in gravelly tones.
Potter ignored him, checking that the other hopeful was okay. He’d landed badly, and was limping slightly. Dodson coughed.
“I said, I’m glad I’m on the team.”
There was a long pause, and Sally leaned forward, listening. Potter straightened up, patting the other Gryffindor on the shoulder. He didn’t look at Dodson. “Don’t be too sure.”
“What?” Dodson’s jaw dropped open. “What? I won fair and square! I’m on the team!”
“Not likely mate,” Black chipped in.
Potter held up a hand to shush him. “You aren’t good enough to be on the team.”
Dodson was turning purple with outrage, the veins sticking out in his thick neck. “My father is Beater for the Cleavers!” he protested, “and he was Beater for Gryffindor as well!”
“Yeah well if your father wants to come try out, he’s welcome to,” Potter spat. “But you’ve got none of his talent and those tactics will not win us a game. You couldn’t hit the bludger even if it was as slow as you are, so you are not on the team.”
“Who is going to be on the team then? You’ve only got one Beater!” For a second, Dodson looked pleased with himself, but then Potter turned away defiantly.
“WHO WANTS TO RETRY AS A BEATER?” he bellowed, his voice echoing across the pitch. Dodson’s face dropped again.
Without quite knowing why, Sally stood up and stepped forward, from out of the shadows under the stands. Potter raised an eyebrow.
“Have you played Beater before?” he asked, and Sally shook her head tentatively. She realised her knees were shaking slightly. Let’s just make a fool out of ourselves twice.
The rejected fifth-year snorted. “You have got to be kidding me! You are going to give her the place?”
Sally’s blood roiled. “Well, I can’t possibly be worse than you,” she snapped, and she thought she saw Potter’s lips tug upwards into a half-smile as he handed her a spare Beater’s bat.
Potter jerked his head up above, where Sirius Black still hovered, waiting. “Both of you, get up there. Anyone else?” he called, but most of the people left were just spectators, or already had places, and no-one came forward.
Once again, Sally mounted her broomstick, pushing off from the ground lightly, despite her big boots and the jumper that she’d not taken off. Her hair whipped around her face, and she had to balance precariously with no hands, tucking her hair into her collar. She felt unprepared and clumsy, and she couldn’t actually believe she was doing this. The big burly fifth-year lumbered up into the sky after her.
She flew up to near to where Black was, lazily gazing down at Potter, who was wrestling with the lock again on the trunk of balls.
“You’re smaller and faster than he is,” he said softly. “Use it to your advantage.”
Sally glanced at Black, shocked, but he was still watching Potter on the ground, giving no indication he’d spoken at all. The balls, once released, shot straight upwards at them like cannonballs, and Black split off from her, them both flying in opposite directions.
“Same as before,” Potter called up, climbing onto his own broom, carrying a spare Beater’s bat himself.
Sally stopped her broom, watching the pitch carefully. Her eyes were keen, and she saw that Black had just aimed one Bludger at Dodson, barely disguising a smile as it nearly hit him. And the second ball? There was a thin, high whistle to her left- and Sally slackened her grip on the broom, leaning to one side. She slipped off the broom, but her ankles were crossed over the wood, and her left hand was tightly holding on to the handle. The Bludger skimmed past where her head had been moments before.
It wasn’t that much harder with only one hand, Sally noted, before swaying to the side, making the broom drop so she practically fell on top of it. She pushed her loose hair away, over her shoulders, and watched the Bludger do a sharp U-turn, coming straight back for her again. She hefted the bat in her hand, testing the weight.
If there is a God, please, please don’t let me screw this up, she prayed, squeezing her eyes tight shut for a second, and then taking a quick bearing of the fifth-years position. Then Sally swung her arm out, catching the ball right in the centre, and propelling it across the pitch. Dodson watched it come towards him, a stupid expression of slow realisation on his face- which was cut short by the sickening crunch of wood as it collided with his broom handle. The Bludger spiralled off, but Potter whacked it out the way.
The fifth-year fell heavily to the ground, vainly attempting to control his broken broom, while Potter and Black watched disinterestedly, before descending. Sally followed, almost nervously. Was this actually happening?
Potter dropped his bat, and approached Sally, hand outstretched. “Congratulations,” he said. “You’re on the team.”