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Chapter 6: The Question of Quidditch
Towards the end of his second week at Hogwarts, Hermione stopped James after Defence Against the Dark Arts and asked if he would like to spend Saturday at their house in Hogsmeade.
First and second years were not usually allowed into Hogsmeade, but when Harriet had started Hogwarts last year, Professor McGonagall had given her permission to go home with her mother to see her family a couple of times a term. It seemed as if this permission had also been extended to James.
“Harriet isn’t coming,” Hermione assured him. “It’ll just be you and the boys.”
Naturally, James said that he would. It had been some time since he had seen his cousins, as they had spent the last few weeks of their summer holidays with their Muggle grandparents, Hermione’s parents.
The Weasley children loved visiting Grandma and Granddad Granger, as they got to experience so many things that they would otherwise never have known about, living in an all-wizarding settlement like Hogsmeade. The Muggle world was just as exciting to them as the wizarding world was to Muggle borns, when they started Hogwarts.
As far as the Weasley boys were concerned, one of the best parts of visiting the Muggle world was learning all the Muggle games, such as football and rugby. On visits to their grandparents they played these games with other boys from the street and when they got home they taught them to their cousins.
Although he would never have admitted it to his father, who had been the youngest player on the Gryffindor team in one hundred years, James actually preferred football to Quidditch. He was always a little nervous of the Bludgers when playing Quidditch. He would never have the nerve to be a Seeker like his father. He had read that most serious Quidditch accidents happened to Seekers. It was just one more piece of evidence of his father’s courage, which James was convinced that he was lacking in.
Having recently been to their grandparents, Michael and Steve were equally practiced at both football and Quidditch and on Saturday the question arose of what game they should play. Naturally, there weren’t enough people to play either game properly, but they could practice either.
“Quidditch or football?” Michael asked.
“Football,” James replied, justifying his choice with the comment, “I haven’t played that in a while.”
He chose not to mention that he hadn’t played Quidditch in a while either.
“But Dad’s got today off from the Ministry,” Michael argued. “I bet he’ll practice Quidditch with us if we ask. That would be two on two. I think we should play that.”
Both boys turned to Steve, who was considering deeply what he wanted to do. Being only seven, it was rare that he got to choose. Only when his older brother and cousin did not agree was he given the casting vote. Therefore he was determined to make the most of this occasion. The only problem was he found it difficult to decide which he would prefer.
It was only recently that he had been allowed to fly on one of his dad’s old brooms, and playing Quidditch was still a novelty to him. On the other hand, he could play that any old time, whereas it was very difficult to get anybody in the wizarding world to play football and he wouldn’t be going to his grandparents again until Christmas at the earliest. And even then, they would probably only stay for the day and it was quite possible that there would be little or no time to play with the Muggle children.
“Both,” he eventually decided. “Let’s play Quidditch first and then football.”
This satisfied everyone, and the three boys had a very enjoyable afternoon before heading inside for their tea.
As soon as they entered the house, Hermione began to berate her husband for spending the afternoon outside with the boys while she was left to make the tea all by herself.
“The boys needed another Quidditch player to make up the numbers,” Ron excused himself.
“Chancer,” Hermione laughed. “They’ve been playing football this last half hour and all you’ve been doing is standing there watching them and questioning why they’d want to play a game like that instead of spending the entire afternoon at the Quidditch. There was no reason you couldn’t have come in here and given me a hand. I work all week too, you know.”
“You see, this is why we need a House Elf,” Ron joked. It was the wrong thing to say.
“You know how I feel about House Elves,” Hermione retorted, sounding genuinely annoyed now, instead of just pretending. “It’s one of the worst forms of exploitation I have ever come across. Muggle England banned slavery back at the start of the 19th century, you know?”
“Ok, ok, I was only joking,” Ron defended himself. “Anyway, you really have done a great job of the tea. It looks utterly delicious.”
He was just trying a bit of flattery, James knew. Compared to his own mother, Hermione wasn’t really much of a cook. James supposed you couldn’t expect her to be good at everything, and she really was a fantastic teacher. Defence Against the Dark Arts was everybody’s favourite lesson.
Even if the meal wasn’t quite as good as what he’d get at home, James really enjoyed his afternoon with the Weasleys, and he was sorry when the time came for Hermione to bring him back to the school.
“You shouldn’t have any problems with the flying lessons anyway,” Hermione pointed out, as she dropped him off. “When are they starting, actually? I’ve forgotten.”
“Tuesday,” James replied. “And we’re with the Gryffindors. That’s ok, so long as Kelly doesn’t start on about Dad again. She can be really annoying sometimes.”
The truth was that James found it hard to decide whether he was looking forward to the flying lessons or not. This was certainly a class where he had an advantage; over the Muggle borns at least. After all, his father had taught him to fly on his own old broomstick when he had only been four or five. It was one of the few classes where James was pretty sure he would be a success.
The downside was that he felt sure that people would expect him to be a natural Quidditch player, the way his father had been. Already, Jessica Birch, the Hufflepuff Quidditch captain had stopped him for a “chat” in the corridor.
“Your dad was the youngest player in years on the Gryffindor team, wasn’t he?” she asked.
“Yeah,” James had replied reluctantly, pretty sure where this was going.
“Well, if you are anything like him, we could really do with you on our team,” she continued. “I’ve been captain for two years now and we’ve barely won a match, let alone the House Championship.”
“I’m not that great at Quidditch,” James muttered.
“Ah well, there’s plenty of time,” she answered, refusing to take him too seriously. “First years aren’t usually allowed on the team anyway. Your dad was an exception. Pity this is my last year. I won’t be here to see how you do next year.”
That was what James dreaded about flying lessons. He felt sure that all the other students, particularly the others in Hufflepuff, would be watching him, wondering how good a Quidditch player he would make.
Sure enough, Kelly raced up to him, as the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors headed outside for their first flying lesson.
"Are you looking forward to this," she asked excitedly. "I am. I love flying. Bet you're really good at it, aren't you? Has your dad taught you how to play Quidditch yet?"
"Yeah," James muttered, well aware where the conversation was leading.
"He was the youngest player in about a century to play Quidditch for his house, wasn't he?" Kelly continued. "Do you think you'll be chosen to play for Hufflepuff this year? I hear they haven't a great team, at the moment, no offence to your house or anything. But I bet they wouldn't care how young you are, if you were even half as good as your dad was."
James did his best to tune her out, and even though he felt mean about it, he had to admit he was relieved when one of the other Gryffindors called her away.
Just as he was thinking how grateful he was to whoever had distracted her, Alice whispered "I'm glad she's gone. Everybody seems to forget that some of us have never been on a broom in our lives."
James felt guilty when she said that, as he had almost forgotten about that, and it certainly hadn't occurred to him just how frightening it must be to get on a broom for the first time at the age of eleven. Riding a broom was second nature to him, and it was hard to imagine how he would feel had it been otherwise.
Despite feeling self-conscious about Kelly and other students watching him and evaluating his possible ability at Quidditch, James could not help being pleased when his broom turned out to be one of the few that immediately leapt into his hand as soon as he said “up”. A number of the others, including Alice’s did nothing more than roll over, and some didn’t move at all. Watching Alice, James was reminded of how Harry had said that during his first flying lesson, he had wondered if brooms could sense fear. If Alice's could, it was no wonder that it entirely ignored her orders, as her voice was shaking as she called "up".
Apart from a few minor criticisms, Madame Hooch was generally pleased with James’ ability. It was fantastic to have one class where he could feel like a success, even if it was something that Harry had been at least equally good at.