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“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.”
There weren’t enough people in the stands for Sally to hear them cheer, but the few that were left did breathe a huge sigh of relief that the lumbering fifth year was not on the team. While Sally looked too slight to be a proper Beater, it was obvious that she was at least a good flier.
Back on the ground, Sally’s knees felt like buckling. She couldn’t believe it. She was on the team- and not as a Seeker. James Potter managed to buckle the last Bludger into its case, and then walked over. He fished a piece of paper from his robes.
“These are our training times- three times in the week, and all Sunday afternoon. If you go see the Vice-Captain –that’s the Keeper, her name is Georgia- she’ll send off your Quidditch robes to get resized- and she’ll help you find the right bat as well.”
“You could use one of the school ones,” chipped in Sirius from behind, “except they are liable to explode into splinters when you hit something.”
“Thanks,” Sally said, still feeling shaky with disbelief. She checked her watch, and gasped. “Oh crap, I’m sorry but I need to be somewhere!”
She ran off without looking back at the team, but her mouth was split into a wide smile. Left behind on the field, Sirius Black looked at the captain. “Do you think she’ll be any good?”
“She’s better than Dodson, and that’s all I care about. I thought she’d get Seeker though, she’s better than she thinks.”
“What’s her name again?” Black asked.
“Wood. Sally Wood. Moony tutors her in Charms, you’ve seen her before,” James Potter said, watching the few dregs of the crowd disappear, leaving just his new team on the pitch. He sighed. They’d have to do.
Black shook his head. “I don’t remember. Come on, I need a shower.”
“I am so so sorry that I’m late, Professor,” Sally said, bursting into McGonagall’s office without knocking and collapsing into the chair on the opposite side of her desk. She dropped her satchel on the floor and pulled out her notebook and wand, pushing her sweaty hair back from her face. McGonagall turned away from the window, raising her eyebrows at Sally.
“I went to the Quidditch try outs,” she continued, unable to stop herself from telling someone the news, “and I’ve got a place on the team! I’m a Beater!”
McGonagall waited for Sally to completely settle before seating herself down, and fixing her with a piercing gaze. “It’s none of my business, Sally, but do you really have enough time for the Quidditch team, as well as your work?”
A fleeting look of worry crossed Sally’s face, but she nodded, reassuring herself more than her teacher. “I’ve worked it all out,” she said, “and I’ve got enough time. I need to do something outside of school or I’m going to go mad, and I really want to play Quidditch. And I already know that I can’t be on the team next year.”
McGonagall smiled at her student. Something Sally could not be accused of lacking was common sense. “As long as you’re sure. And in that case, congratulations are in order. Now, Miss Wood,” she said, switching instantly back to business, “shall we start with Vanishing Charms and then move onto a recap of the Transfiguration class so far this term?”
An hour later, Sally had finally mastered the Vanishing Charm, and McGonagall had also given her the syllabus for the rest of the term, so she could look up the spells and practice them in advance. As Sally shoved her papers into her bag, there was a knock on the door.
“One minute!” McGonagall called sharply. “You’ve really done well today, Miss Wood,” she told Sally in a much friendlier manner. In fact, Sally thought she saw a hint of a smile. “If you believe you can do it, the spells do come easier to you. And your new wand is definitely better for Transfiguration- your grandmother’s wand was too stiff.”
Sally smiled. “Thank you Professor,” she said, opening the door.
“Send Potter in!” she heard McGonagall call.
In the corridor outside, James Potter was leaning on the stone wall. “I heard her,” he said, grinning.
Sally tentatively smiled back. “Thanks for letting me on the team,” she said.
“Thanks for stepping up and taking the Beater position away from Dodson,” Potter said. “I’m glad you got in, and not him. What were you here for anyway? I hope you’re not in trouble in the first few weeks of term!”
Sally was taken aback by his manner. He was being so friendly, but he barely even knew her- she supposed it was because she was on the team now. She was on the team now. The words felt strange.
“No,” she said, trying to match his tone. “I’ve got extra sessions with McGonagall for Transfiguration.”
A look of comprehension dawned on James’ face. “Oh, of course.”
Sally ducked her head slightly in embarrassment, feeling her cheeks colouring. “I’ll see you around then,” Potter said with a wink, and disappeared into McGonagall’s office.
The door closed with a slam behind him, and Sally started the long walk back to the Gryffindor Tower. It was unusually warm for Scotland in late September, and the big empty stone corridor offered a welcome respite from McGonagall’s south-facing office, and she couldn’t keep a smile away from her mouth. This was easily the best morning she’d had in a while.
She took a detour, stopping off at the kitchens on the way- having an older brother did come in handy sometimes. She’d missed breakfast in order to have a quick practice in the air before try-outs, but the house-elves loaded her up with pastries and chocolate to celebrate. By the time she finally got to the Tower, just licking the last remnants of cinnamon off her fingers, she was horribly late for her Charms session with Lupin- but a tiny part of her didn’t really care.
“We can’t start until everyone is here,” James said, although he sounded slightly annoyed as well. Sirius Black was drumming his fingers against his thigh, the picture of impatience.
“Well, she should have been here ages ago.” Lupin was sat lazily at a round table near the centre of the nearly empty common room. The only other students there were the rest of the new Quidditch team, nervously perched on the arms of sofas or standing awkwardly on the edges of the room, unsure of what to expect of this impromptu new team meeting.
“Ugh, I can’t abide lateness,” said Black in a passable imitation of their Divination teacher, a Muggle born Oxford graduate with a plummy voice who thought he was ‘down with the kids’.
“You’re always late,” Lupin said, shooting a cheeky sideways look at Black.
“Moony, why are you even here? Shouldn’t you be terrorising small children or something?” Black started pacing the common room, hyped up with energy.
“Both of you, please shut up.” James sounded more than a little impatient at Sally’s absence.
“To be fair, she didn’t know she should be here,” Peter Pettigrew said, smoothing his hair back from his face in an attempt to catch the eye of Marlene McKinnon, the newest Chaser to the Gryffindor team.
“She should have been here quarter of an hour ago for me to help her with Charms,” Lupin said, watching Sirius walk past him again and again, still drumming his fingers. “What did McGonagall want you in her office for, anyway?”
“What did McGonagall want you in her office for?” Lupin repeated.
“Just Quidditch stuff. Balancing being Head Boy with Captain of the team, and work as well. All that kind of stuff,” James said, just as Sally finally clambered through the portrait hole, and Sirius walked past Lupin for the final time. Remus stuck his foot out at precisely the right moment, and Black tripped and fell, his arms wind-milling in a fruitless attempt to stay upright, and cracking his head on the edge of the table.
There was a moment of complete silence before Potter, Lupin and Pettigrew all burst out into raucous laughter.
“Er- is he okay?” Sally asked, dusting herself off, and pointing at the motionless Sirius Black on the floor. Pettigrew had gone tomato-red, and Lupin was managing to look pleased with himself while still holding his stomach from laughing so hard. James smacked Remus on the back, and knelt down next to his friend. Not really seeing the funny side, Sally couldn’t help but wonder if she was in the right place. Someone knocking themselves out on a table wasn’t that hilarious.
“Is he okay?” Sally repeated.
James gave Sirius a half-hearted kick in the side. He didn’t move. James shrugged. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. A more important matter is that you’re late for an unexpected team meeting.”
“How can I be late if I didn’t expect-” Sally started to say, but James had already turned to address the rest of the team.
Remus, who seemed slightly more concerned about his unconscious friend than James, pushed Sally into a seat. “Technically, you’re also late for our Charms session, but I’ll let you off today,” he said with a wink. “Considering the sudden team meeting and the fact you’re on the team. Well done for that, by the way. You were brilliant.”
Sally smiled shyly at him, and crossed her legs on the sofa, leaning forward to listen, and wondering if she should take notes.
“Okay,” began James, “first of all, I’m James Potter and as I’m also the Head Boy, training sessions will be probably mostly led by my wonderful vice-captain, Georgie Jones. She’s also the girl to see for your uniform to be resized and she’s good with helping us get discounts with other stuff and she organises basically everything.”
From across the room, lounging on a table, Georgia lazily waved at the rest of the team. “All James does is look pretty,” she said, and neatly caught the inkwell that James threw at her.
“We’ve got the first social of the team tonight, and we’re going to Hogsmeade, as per what you will come to find as usual. Only third-years and above allowed though, so be careful if you bring friends- as I think everyone here is above third year...” James trailed off. “I think that’s everything. Oh yeah, one more thing. We’re going to have the Slytherin captain watching a few of our training sessions.”
Georgia Jones swung her legs down from her table and stood up, crossing her arms. “Excuse me?” she said, in a voice like ice.
James held up his hands in a pathetic attempt to stem the anger from his team. “Trust me, it’s all above board and fine, he’s cleared it with me, he’s cleared it with practically everyone. Just... please fly your best, okay? I know how good you all are, just from today, so tomorrow when he comes to watch, please do your very best.”
On the floor, under the table, Sirius Black sat up, massaging his forehead, but nobody noticed- they were too focused on their captain and the collective wrath he had incurred.
“How could you-”
“What does this mean-”
“Why? I don’t understand-”
“Are you alright?” Sally said, seeing Sirius sit up uneasily, massaging the red mark on his forehead. “Black? Are you alright?”
He looked at Sally, finally focusing on her, and nodded, although he winced slightly as he did so. “I’m fine,” he said, trying to stand up.
Sally hopped off her chair and gave him a hand, and he grasped onto hers tightly. “Are you sure?”
He stood, and grimaced. “Got a banging headache, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve been hit harder than that.” He paused for a second, and seemed to regard Sally properly. “You know, Wood,” he continued, “seeing as we’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, I think we should probably get onto a first name basis.”
Sally was half-aware that Sirius Black was talking to her, but the other half was watching James and the rest of the Gryffindor team with increasing concern.
“Sirius,” he said, trying to get her full attention by holding out his hand to shake. Sally tore her gaze away from James and the rest of the team; and she couldn’t help noticing that Sirius had a rough, calloused palm from the Beater’s bats. She smiled, half-shyly at him.
“Sally,” she told him, and he flashed her a quick smile in return.
Sirius looked at James, in the middle of the common room, being bombarded by angry teammates, and frowned. “Why is James being lynched?”
“He said that the Slytherin captain is going to be watching our practices,” Sally admitted after a moment.
Black’s eyebrows- Sirius’ eyebrows, Sally reminded herself- shot up. “The Slytherin captain will be doing what?” he said, his voice dangerously low.
Sally repeated herself, although she was pretty sure that Sirius had heard the first time. Leaving her, he stalked over to James, his face as black as thunder. Remus appeared at Sally’s elbow.
“To be honest, I’ve never really understood why people get so obsessed over Quidditch,” he mused. “It’s like Muggles and football.” He grinned at her suddenly, and then said “Just because I’ve forgiven you once for turning up late, doesn’t mean I’ll do it again! Where were you, anyway?” he asked.
Sally shrugged nonchalantly. “Just... walking. You know.”
Remus raised an eyebrow. “Fine, be secretive. I’ll see you tonight instead then- we’re meeting in on the third floor, the corridor with the hunchback statue, alright? Be there at seven-thirty.”
Sally nodded, and Remus, sighing, went to go separate James, Georgia and Sirius, who were having a shouting match about the Slytherins which was loud enough to scare Peeves.
Sally arrived at the hunchbacked statue on the third floor at ten past seven- twenty minutes before they were supposed to meet. She’d left dinner early, and then quickly changed in her dormitory, managing to be finished just before Marlene came back from the Great Hall. Sally had given her a quick half-smile as she quickly ducked out the dormitory, but Marlene hadn’t noticed, talking to her friends.
Looking up and down the long corridor, Sally sighed. It was empty. She smoothed down her top, fiddling with the buttons on her front nervously. She was going out. Socialising. It was even called a ‘social’- she was pretty sure she didn’t have the qualifications for this. All she wanted to do was to play Quidditch, not go out. She’d only come because James had said ‘compulsory’ and because she’d assumed that one appearance at a social meant she wouldn’t have to go to any of the other ones.
She rubbed at an imagined scuff mark on her patent leather ballet pumps and leaned against the wall. She’d really tried hard tonight, which meant she was wearing her only non-sensible pair of shoes, newish jeans and a red cotton blouse and her hair was neatly tied back in a ponytail. The third year that had beaten Sally to seeker came around the corner, with a short girl who was wearing an even shorter skirt. They stood slightly apart from Sally, clearly not wanting to be tainted by association. Sally ignored them.
James Potter arrived five minutes before half past, and trailing behind him was the rest of the team. Sally was sat in the corridor, opposite the hunchbacked statue, leant back against the wall and her eyes were closed. Sirius Black gave her a light kick, and she started.
“W-what?” she said, blinking.
“Were you asleep?” he said, amusedly.
She rubbed her eyes. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
He held out a hand to help her up- behind him, Potter was trying to count heads, but his words seemed to be slurring slightly. “I’m afraid you probably won’t get much tonight...” Black broke off as James staggered slightly, causing Remus to put out a steadying hand.
“Look at that disgrace,” Sirius continued, indicating his friend and shaking his head. “That sad excuse is our captain, and our Head Boy. I’ve got a good mind to write to Dumbledore and complain. What kind of a school is this, anyway?”
Potter heard him and stuck his tongue out, as Remus took over the attendance. Black went over to help James stay upright, leaving Sally again. She looked around the corridor. The team (and friends) were making a hell of a lot of noise, but there was no sign of Filch, any teachers, or even a Prefect. There was about twenty of them all together, including a few reserves- most of whom were too young to come. Sally watched with interest as Remus tapped the hunchbacked statue with his wand, whispering something she couldn’t hear. With a loud creaking, the statue split open, revealing a black crevasse in the witch’s back, which grew wide enough to fit a person down.
“Everyone’s here,” Remus called, gesturing at the hole in the statue. “Let’s go!”
Sally ended up at the back of the mob, following the noise down the passageway. “Lumos!” she said, lighting her wand on the first try. It took about twenty minutes until the tunnel ended, but it probably would have been quicker if the majority of people in front of her weren’t stumbling. They finished up in Honeydukes, Sally assumed, judging from the sweet smells of chocolate and toffee.
Sirius was at the top of the passageway, holding open the trapdoor for the team. “Thought we’d lost you for a second there, Wood,” he whispered.
Sally smiled at him. “Not likely.”
He grinned back, letting the trapdoor down softly. Any noise he made was covered up by the rest of the team though- they were making more of a racket trying to be quiet than they had been earlier. Sirius jogged off to join his friends at the front of the column, and Sally stayed at the back, content to follow them.
They ended up in the Three Broomsticks, with Madam Rosmerta seemingly unaware that the majority of her patrons were underage. Sally found a corner and a stool, and squished herself in. Really, she was happy enough to just sit there and watch the rest of the team as they chatted and laughed and drank. Georgia Jones had a frothy moustache from her ale, and was also having to fend off James’ wandering hands. Remus was sitting with a few of the younger kids and was teaching them a drinking game- Pettigrew was with them as well, but he was sound asleep. Someone knocked over Remus’ drink, and he leaped up, but the pint left a brown stain all down the front of his shirt. She couldn’t see Black though and Sally felt a pang of worry, searching the familiar faces again.
“Who are you looking for?”
She jumped and swore in surprise.
“You’re quite on edge, aren’t you?” Black said, laughing.
Sally pushed him half-heartedly. “I am when people wake me up suddenly or deliberately scare me.”
Black agilely hopped up onto the stool next to her. “Enjoying yourself?” he asked.
To her surprise, Sally nodded honestly. “I am actually.”
“Good,” he said. “Wait- do you even have a drink?”
“Have you had a drink at all tonight?”
“No? Should I have?”
Black snorted. “That is the idea, you know? Socialising, having a drink with your mates...” he trailed off, and jumped down from his seat. “Stay there.”
He left and Sally settled back, almost surprised again when he returned with two pale orange pints which smelt of spices and sugar. He passed one to Sally, and managed to get back onto his tall stool without spilling any, a feat which she complimented him on.
“Thanks,” he said.
She smiled. “Thanks for the drink. What is it?” she said, sniffing it experimentally.
Black shook his head. “I have no idea. It tastes amazing though, and it’s got rum in.” He looked immensely satisfied with himself, and Sally raised a questioning eyebrow. He shrugged. “I just really like rum.”
They were silent for a moment, before Sally realised she should say something. That was how you socialised, wasn’t it? “Are all socials like this?” she asked.
Black nodded, taking a deep drink of his pint. “Yeah, we all meet up, then come down here until closing. They’re usually smaller than this though- just the main team and no friends. Less hassle, but we say its for better team bonding.”
“How come you could get away with a party this big tonight?”
“Ah, James managed to sweet talk McGonagall into letting us have one big social at the start of the year on the condition they won’t catch us having another.”
“So the rest of the socials...”
Black grinned. “We just don’t let them catch us.”
Sally laughed, and across the room, Potter threw back his head and laughed so much at something he started to hiccup.
Black shook his head. “What a mess. It’s never fun being the responsible sober one.”
“You don’t drink?” Sally asked, surprised, trying to remember. She was pretty sure she’d seen them all drunk before.
“Oh no, of course I do, but James and I take it in turns at socials to be the responsible ones. I drew the short straw tonight. Remus helps out as well,” he said, nodding at the table across from them. “He’s got the constitution of a giant though, so lucky for him, he doesn’t have to go easy on the rum,” he said forlornly, swilling his drink around in the glass.
“Don’t cry into it Black, you’ll spoil it,” Sally said, and he grinned.
It was past midnight by the time they reached the castle grounds. They’d been kicked out of the pub at closing time, about half eleven, and now Sally and Sirius were bringing up the rear of the party. Remus was leading, and the middle was a mess of drunkards who were singing an extremely rude version of the school song.
The main party was actually very far in front, but the two of them had to keep shepherding any stragglers- which was actually the Captain and a younger kid. As they got closer, Sally realised it was the third year who beat her to Seeker. The lad was propping up James as they staggered up the path, but he suddenly let go to be sick, and James fell heavily, landing on his side and rolling down the path a little way.
Sirius raised his eyebrows. “That is really going to hurt in the morning.”
James managed to get to his knees before groaning loudly and vomiting as well. Up ahead, Georgia turned around and laughed at him. Sirius shook his head at his friend and jogged up to him.
“Come on mate, better out than in.” He patted him on the back lightly, while James coughed. “Sally, can you get Daniel, please?”
Sally gingerly walked up to the boy, who was hunched over, his face ashen. “You alright, mate?” she said, trying to adopt Black’s easy going tone.
“Does it look like it?” Daniel said, spitting onto the grass.
“Are you finished?” Sally said, more snappishly. She had no time for rudeness, not when she was trying to help and could easily just leave him on the side of the path.
“Give us a hand up,” he said, instead of answering, and Sally managed to heave him to his feet, keeping a cautious hand on his arm the rest of the way to the castle, while Black half-dragged James behind.
“There’s a side door,” Black hissed as they stood in front of the huge oak doors. “Round to the right. Is it open?”
Sally left Daniel propped up against the wall and lit her wand, shining it towards where Sirius was pointing. There was a door, half-hidden in shadows, and not one she’d ever noticed before. She gave it a kick and it swung open easily.
“Yeah, it’s open,” she called back, and heard James retch again.
“God’s sake, how do you even have anything left to bring up?” Black said crossly, and Sally stepped out of their way as they stumbled through the door.
She went back for Daniel, who was in exactly the same position as she’d left him, and looped his arm across her shoulders. They made it back to the common room without incident, apart from James falling down one of the moving staircases. Sirius helped Daniel to the top before he went back for James, who seemed quite content to lie on the stone floor, curled up on his side.
“Sleepy drunk?” Sally said with a smile, after it took both of them to get him up. “My brother is exactly the same. He has a few and then hell or high water won’t wake him.”
They left James sat outside the common room, while they both got Daniel into his dormitory. “He’ll be alright,” Sirius said, as he staggered across the room and straight into the curtains of a four poster- which judging by the yell, was already occupied.
Then it was James’ turn, and Black had to pull him through the portrait hole, with Sally on the other side pushing in order to get him in.
“Why is he so heavy?” Sally panted, and Sirius shook his head.
“I’m telling him he needs to go on a diet,” he said, heaving Potter on to the nearest sofa. Sally swung his legs up after; they were like lead weights.
She pushed her hair back from her face, and sighed, checking her watch. Nearly one in the morning, and Flitwick’s essay was still untouched. She counted the hours. Maybe... five hours sleep tonight? And that was only if she got to sleep straight away. She felt too awake and alert, but Black yawned, and Sally found herself copying him.
“I’m just going to leave him down here,” he said. “I can’t be arsed dragging him up all those stairs.”
Sally nodded in agreement, and spotted the team’s Keeper also sprawled across an armchair, his mouth wide open. “I’m off to bed,” she said. “Thanks, I had a good night.”
“Despite being awfully sober and having to look after terrible drunkards?” Black said, also starting towards his staircase. Sally smiled.
“Even despite that.”
Two days later, it was the team’s first training session, and it was going terribly. Half way through, Potter called everyone down from the sky, and they made a scarlet and gold huddle in the middle of the pitch. Up in the stands, the Slytherin Captain, a tall, spindly guy who played Keeper sat alone in a sea of empty seats, apparently taking notes of their performance. He didn’t look particularly impressed.
James glanced over at the stands, and sighed in exasperation. “Seeing as you all seem to be determined to be as unhelpful as possible today with group drills, we’re going to go completely back to basics, okay? Where’s my new Seeker?” he said, looking around. The third-year raised his hand. “Okay, Daniel was it? I’ll start with teaching you, I played Seeker for a bit.”
Daniel opened his mouth to protest, but James shushed him with a wave of his hand. “Look mate, you need it, okay? Your tactics leave a lot to be desired.” Potter shot a look at Sally, who coloured, not really understanding the look he gave her. Was it saying that she should have the position, or saying that his tactics were better than hers? Probably the latter, she decided, shuffling her feet. Her own flying today had been atrocious, she knew that. James had tried to start them off with some simple plays, with everyone passing around the Quaffle and she’d dropped it three times. The third time, when she’d flown down to retrieve it, she could feel tears pricking at the back of her eyes as everyone else waited for her.
Now the elation of being on the team had subsided somewhat, coupled with the training session’s dismal failure, Sally couldn’t help feeling she didn’t belong on the team. I didn’t get the position that I trained so hard for, she thought as she fingered the handle of her broom nervously. I only got here because I was better than the worst person. But James was still talking, and she forced herself to snap out of it and tune in. Sally was inherently stubborn, and she wasn’t about to wimp out and let the whole team down.
“Georgia, you can help the new Chaser...”
“Marlene,” the dark-haired girl supplied.
“Yeah, you help Marlene, and Carl- Carl, pay attention for Christ’s sake!- Carl, you can help as well. This is your second year on the team, for God’s sake act like it. Sirius, you start teaching Sally the ropes. You’ve not played Beater before, have you?”
Sally shook her head, flushing red again, although she was pretty sure it wasn’t meant as an insult this time. Black poked her in the back with his broom, and she tried to swat him away. She felt more at ease with Black than with the rest of the team- even Marlene, and they shared a dormitory and the majority of their classes. It was comforting that Black treated almost everyone completely equally, and they had spent a large part of the social in the what Black had now dubbed ‘the super crappy sober social club’.
“Right then, well, I’m sure Sirius can help. If you need a hand, come and grab me, all right?” James said, looking around at his team. They all nodded, and murmured their agreement. “Go on then!” he said, with a final exasperated look up to the stands, before dragging his Seeker off to a corner of the pitch to talk tactics.
Sirius kicked off into the air without so much as an explanation, and Sally was forced to follow.
“What are we doing then, Black?” she asked, maneuvering her broom so she was alongside him.
“Well for a start off, you can call me Sirius, not Black,” he said. “We’re going to be working together for the next year, we should probably get on first name terms.”
“Yeah, probably,” Sally said, and grinned. “So what are we doing, Sirius?”
He shrugged. “No idea, to be honest with you. You’re not bad for a beginner, you’ve got the right handhold for the bat, and I know you’re a decent flier, I remember seeing you at last year’s try outs. Didn’t you manage a ninety degree turn at about thirty miles an hour?”
“I fell off my broom,” Sally said, trying not to think about it.
“Yeah, but that was after you managed to spin your broom around so fast I thought it was going to snap.”
“The week afterwards, it did snap,” Sally said. “It was a stupid thing to do.”
Sirius shrugged. “Regardless, you’re a great flier,” he said, and Sally smiled. “I think the only things we are really going to have to concentrate on is your upper arm strength and your aim. Are you left or right handed?”
“Okay, so we’ll need to build up the strength in your left as well, and you’ll need to learn how to co-ordinate your swings, especially when you’re using two hands on the bat. Have I shown you how to hold the bat with two hands?”
The next hour passed in a blur for Sally, so much so she didn’t even hear James the first few times he called for them to come down. She’d been hitting the tennis balls which Sirius threw at her, trying to get them through the goalposts at the opposite end of the pitch to where the Chasers and Keepers were practicing. She’d done alright, and then she’d moved onto a moving target- the team’s new Seeker, who flew sluggishly around the pitch looking for the snitch. She’d hit him a couple of times as well, but after the fourth time, James swore at Sirius and told him to focus.
After that, they had got out the proper bludgers, which Sally had found to be very difficult. Unlike tennis balls, these had minds of their own, and if they wanted to change direction at the last minute, then they damn well would. She’d batted them back and forth with Sirius across the pitch until she finally became aware that James was shouting at them all to land.
She dismounted, followed by Sirius. He stopped to wrestle the bludgers back into their chains, but waved her on when she tried to help. “You go listen to James,” he panted, putting all his weight on one ball. “I’ve heard all his pep talks a million times. He practices in front of our bathroom mirror.”
“You’ve all done really well today, and I’m proud of you,” James was saying. He didn’t look proud in the slightest. In fact, he looked rather angry. “You’ve all taken to your positions really well, and...” he trailed off as he saw the Slytherin captain get up from his seat and start making his way down from the stands. “I’ll be right back,” he said, and started jogging to the foot to meet him. “Georgie, take over will you?”
Georgia glared at his retreating back for a few seconds, before returning to the rest of the team. “Right guys, what James said is mostly true, but you all need to get your fitness up, and I expect you to turn up to all the practices we run, or you’ll stand a very high chance of being kicked off the team. We don’t want people who are just here for the ride, and we have some very good substitutes waiting in the wings.” Her gaze swept over Sally, and she cringed, biting her lip.
“Next practice will be Wednesday- that’s the day after tomorrow- at six. Meet in the changing rooms. If you need to talk to anyone about anything, then you can usually find me or James pretty easily, and if you’ve got no other option, talk to Sirius or Carl.”
Sirius came up behind Sally and blew Georgia a kiss, which she pointedly ignored.
“I think that’s it guys, you’ve done great for your first session, so well done, and go shower. Hygiene is very important.”
The team broke up, and started to amble back to the changing rooms to wash and get back into their normal clothes. Sirius dropped behind to wait with Georgia for James, and Sally found herself walking back alone. She shouldered her broom, and strode off, feeling the ache in her arms with pleasure. It was nice to have something hurting that wasn’t her fingers cramping after re-writing another essay. Sally looked back. Behind her, James had caught up with Georgia and Sirius, and he didn’t look happy. Yet again, she wondered why on earth the Slytherin captain was watching their practice sessions... and what’s more, James wanted everyone to fly their best for him. And Sally knew James fairly well, plus his reputation preceded him. He wouldn’t let the enemy captain watch without very good reason, not even if instructed to by the Headmaster himself.
Sally sighed. I’ll suppose I’ll have to wait to find out, she thought, and she looked up to the brilliant blue sky. It was a fantastic day for Quidditch and flying- although she wouldn’t be able to go out again today, she realized, remembering the essays that needed finishing and the spells she needed to practice.
The next few weeks passed in a blur for Sally. She was working even harder at her studies, and even McGonagall had remarked that it was certainly paying off, and in her free time, she was flying, and it wasn’t restricted to training. The sessions that James or Georgia held were three times a week, and they had also organised some ragtag friendly games on Saturdays, where all the houses were mixed up into teams and they played short, hour long games. It was mostly Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors, but there were also a few Slytherins and as always the ever present figure of their captain sitting in the stands. His presence had stopped worrying Sally now, and it was just a given that he’d be watching, occasionally marking things in pencil in a small black book.
Sally probably flew more than anyone else- she tried to spend every waking minute on her broom. She wanted to be good, and what’s more, she really enjoyed it. The feeling of the wind on her face and the thick tangles she had to brush out of her hair every night, the blisters and rough skin on her palms from gripping the broom and bat, the sunburn on her face and arms. It was bliss. And that was what Sally was dreaming about, as she sat draped over the table in the back of the library, her Charms books splayed out on the table in front of her and the ink on the nib of her quill drying.
When she woke up, the library was completely silent. She groaned, stretching out her neck and rolling her shoulders when she heard a soft snigger. She looked up, startled. Remus sat across the table from Sally, her quill in his hands, scribbling down notes from her books.
“W-what are you doing?” she asked sleepily, rubbing her eyes. She checked her watch. It was nearly nine o’clock.
“Just writing up the notes from our Charms session,” he said, pushing his reading glasses up to the bridge of his nose.
Sally’s eyes widened. “Oh god Remus, I’m so sorry!”
“Well, technically you turned up for it, I just didn’t have the heart to wake you up. I’m going to make a great teacher.”
Sally stretched her arms and heard her elbows click, wincing. “You are going to be a good teacher, Remus,” she told him. “You’re super patient with me and you’re very good at explaining things.”
He humphed and carried on writing, the quill making sharp, scratching sounds on the parchment. “James said to remind you about practice tomorrow night,” he said.
Sally began to collect her books together, keeping one eye out for Madam Pince, as the library closed at nine, and nodded. “I hadn’t forgotten, we’re starting an hour earlier.” She grabbed some stray rolls of parchment and stuffed them into her satchel, and Remus held out the paper he’d been writing on.
“There you go,” he said as she took it from him and gave it a quick glance. “I just wrote up everything that we would have covered today, we can do some extra practical work in our next session. Plus, you’ve just been set an essay on the so called ‘creating’ charms? I put in a few points that will be useful, I think.”
Sally smiled gratefully at him. “Thank you so much,” she said with feeling, reading a little of the thick stubby words. Remus had easily just cut the amount of time she would have had to research the essay by half.
“How come you were so sleepy?” he asked, putting some of the library books back on the shelves. His tone was easy going, but Sally thought she could detect a note of concern.
“Just been busy,” she replied, shrugging nonchalantly. “I’ve been doing extra practices, and you know the extra school work I have to do.”
There was a few seconds of silence.
“Is being on the team really good for you?” Remus asked, coming bluntly to the point. “You don’t have a lot of free time as it is, and if you want to retake your Potions OWL this year as well...”
“I really want to do it,” Sally said with finality, cutting him off, although she felt his words like a blow. Another person thought she couldn’t do it- another person thought she couldn’t make it through. And she trusted Remus, she liked him. He was her friend as well as teacher.
Remus made a face, but nodded. “Alright then... I’m here to help if you need me, okay?”
That made Sally smile again, and she picked up her bag and punched him lightly on the arm. He feigned pain. “I know. Thanks mate.”
“I’ve got to go for a Prefects meeting,” he said, “but I’ll see you later. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep!”
Sally laughed and nodded. “See you later!” she called, but when she got to her dormitory, she dumped her bags and school clothes only to pull on her trackies and grab her broomstick. As she jogged down the stairs, she nearly ran into Marlene, who looked astonished.
“Training again, Sal?”
Sally wasn’t sure if she liked Marlene or not yet, but she’d been friendly enough since they’d started practicing together, and Sally saw no problem with being nice back, so she flashed Marlene a grin.
“Just a quick one,” she said, and Marlene raised her eyebrows.
“You always say that!” she called after Sally, making no mention of the fact that it was actually past curfew now. Sally was quick and quiet enough to get past deaf old Filch –she’d done it before- and Marlene also knew that it was no use reminding her, she’d go anyway.
Finally outside, Sally kicked off from the ground and sniffed the clean sweet night smell, pushing all thoughts of Charms and school out from her mind and finally feeling alive again.
Sally came into breakfast covered in mud. She’d sneaked in an hour or two of training before school, but the rain had turned the pitch into a mire and it was practically impossible to land or take off without slipping and falling.
“You better get that kit washed before training tonight,” she heard, as she walked down the Gryffindor table. She turned to see James sat with Georgia and Sirius.
She smiled. “I will, don’t worry.”
“You going to sit down?” Georgia asked, and Sally nodded.
“Yeah, okay then.”
The mud had mostly dried, thanks to a new technique Sally had invented called ‘jump and hope’, which involved levitating the broom to four feet in the air and clambering on it, to avoid having to kick off from the slippy ground. Sirius still held his nose as she scooted onto the bench.
“Take a shower, Wood.”
“Take a shower yourself,” she said, stuffing toast in her mouth.
Sirius mock sniffed his armpit. “Good point. Here, wanna sniff?”
Sally had to bat him away with a sausage, which caused him to complain about grease stains on his school jumper.
“Didn’t you once shred a school shirt?” Sally asked. “Since when have you cared about upholding the dress code?”
A Prophet owl swooped down, and unfortunately, dropped his newspaper on Sirius’ head, before settling down by the orange juice.
“It’s just not your morning, is it?” Sally said, slipping a knut into the leather pouch attached to its leg, and giving it a scratch on the head before it flew up and out.
“And I believe it’s all your fault,” Sirius said. “What’s happening in the news today then?” he asked around a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
But Sally had unfurled the paper and gone ashen.
“A family on my street,” she said hoarsely.
Sirius snatched the paper off her and read the headline. “Murdered in their beds,” he said. “Shit. A family of six was found dead yesterday in their home in Yorkshire.”
The picture underneath the tagline showed a happy, young family standing outside their home, apparently at a barbeque. Sally pointed at one of the houses in the picture. “That’s my house,” she said. “That party was last year. I went.”
“Are you okay?” Sirius asked.
“Yeah. I didn’t know them that well. It’s just... it shouldn’t happen to anyone.”
Remus sat down opposite and pulled the paper out of Sirius’ hands. “What are the papers saying today?” he asked, and then swore under his breath. “That’s awful. Muggles have been told the deaths were due to carbon monoxide poisoning, but the real murderer is still unknown and at large.”
“Unknown my arse,” Sirius said. “Mind if we borrow this?”
Sally nodded, and stood up. “I’ll see you later.”
She left the Great Hall quickly, and headed to the Owlery. She hadn’t known the Miller’s well, except for witnessing their youngest, a five year old, unexpectedly conjuring up purple sparks after the cat bit him. She’d owled Professor McGonagall immediately, and she had shown up the next day. That had been last Christmas, and although the Prophet had mentioned nothing about any other families being hurt, she needed to make sure that her parents were okay.
She ended up being late for Potions, but Professor Slughorn merely nodded politely at her as she sat down in her usual place at the back. Potions was one of the few subjects that she did not require extra tutoring in, but she had only scraped a Poor in her OWL because of the extra strain she had been under for the other subjects.
At the end of the lesson, she had handed in a passable Shrinking Solution which was a pretty pastel green. Turning to collect up her things and leave, Marlene grabbed her arm.
“Hey, Marlene,” she said, smiling. She still wasn’t entirely comfortable with the loud and brash girl.
“Social tonight,” she said. “After training, okay?”
“I can’t go,” Sally tried to tell her, but Marlene had already disappeared into the throng of classmates leaving the room.
Sally picked at her lunch. She had pushed the social out of her mind during Charms, which had went as well as could be expected, and she had handed her essay in with confidence after Remus had written her notes for it. Now, she was wrestling with herself about the social. She couldn’t go, she shouldn’t, but she wanted to. Last time had been fun, despite only talking to Sirius the entire time.
“Did Marlene pass on the message?” James said, plopping himself down next to Sally even though there were plenty of other spaces around the table.
“Yeah,” Sally said despondently, pushing broccoli around her plate.
“Don’t sound too excited,” he said, shovelling mashed potato on his plate.
“I don’t think I can come.”
“Too much work on?” James said sympathetically. “You know, everyone needs a break now and then.”
“I know, but I have so much to catch up on, and I was going to get it done after training.”
James looked at her for a second. “You look awful, you know.”
“Thanks,” Sally said, miffed.
“No, I mean, you really need to take a break.”
“Well, I can’t,” she said, really annoyed that James was just reiterating the arguments she’d been having with herself for the last hour.
“Well, you can,” James said, in a slow voice. “I’m ordering you -as the captain- that you’re not to come to training tonight.”
Sally dropped her fork. “Are you kicking me off the team?”
“No! No, no,” James said. “Definitely not. I’m just saying, you’re putting in more hours than anyone on this team. You practiced last night, and this morning- you can have a break tonight.”
Sally paused for a minute, considering this idea. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. But it’s on the condition that you absolutely come to the social tonight.”
“There’s the lazy layabout,” Sirius called, as Sally came into the changing rooms after practice had finished.
He was only wearing his boxers, and trying vainly to catch the Snitch which had somehow escaped from the chest. Sally grabbed the first jumper she saw and threw it at him.
“Put some clothes on, Black,” she said instead. “You’ll make me hurl.”
He blew her a sarcastic kiss and found his own clothes to pull on. Sally turned her back. In their infinite wisdom, the founders of Hogwarts had not thought to put in separate changing rooms for different sexes, so the girls had to claim the showering cubicles in order to dress modestly. Except for Georgia, who was trying to dry her hair with her wand, only wearing her sports bra and shorts. None of the boys ever batted an eyelid, and she wandered over to Sally.
“James told me why you weren’t at training,” she said. “And I completely agreed with him. Did you get all your work done?”
Sally nodded, still steadfastly staring at the tiled wall opposite to avoid the boys in their various states of undress.
“Brilliant. And you look really nice tonight.”
“Thank you,” Sally said, turning to give her a genuine smile and catching a glimpse of Potter’s bare arse.
“Oh for god’s sake boys,” Georgia said, noting Sally’s shocked look. “Can you not get dressed any faster? The Hufflepuffs have got the pitch until dark and they’re not going to want to have any naked Gryffindors in their changing rooms.”
“I happen to know a few Hufflepuffs who would probably pay to see this naked Gryffindor,” Sirius whispered to Carl, the other Chaser, who snorted with laughter and it earned them both a smack on the head from Georgia.
Eventually, the entire team was dressed and their kit stowed away to be picked up in the morning. Marlene had smudged eyeliner from Daniel clumsily bumping into her at the sinks, and she had threatened to write ‘dick’ on his forehead in it, but apart from that small mishap, everything was going moderately smoothly.
Remus and Peter were already at the Three Broomsticks when they got there, already three pints deep and chatting to Madam Rosmerta about the rising prices of ale, a subject which Remus seemed to know a surprising amount about.
“So, who drew the short straw tonight?” Sally asked Sirius, who offered her the same spicy drink that she’d had last time.
“James did,” he said, pointing at him. James sat miserably in the corner with Daniel on one side playing a noisy game of slaps with Carl, and Marlene and Georgia on the other side, talking about something which involved a lot of hand gestures and pointing.
“He looks like he’s having the time of his life,” Sally said, laughing.
“Ah, I feel sorry for him.” Sirius scrunched up his receipt from the bar and threw it at James, who looked up startled. “Come on Prongs!” he called.
“Prongs?” Sally asked incredulously.
“Yeah, it’s a nickname,” he said defensively.
“A nickname? For what? Did he once stab you with a fork?”
Sirius smiled. “Many times, actually, but that’s not what the nickname is related to.”
“Hey Wood,” James said, having managed to dodge patrons and tables to get to Sirius and Sally.
“Hey Potter,” Sally said back.
“So, what are you guys chatting about?”
“Nothing much,” Sirius said. “Hey, we could regale Sally with tales of our daring and dangerous exploits.”
Sally settled back on her chair and closed her eyes. “Go on then, I could do with a nap,” she said.
James laughed. “Wow, Sally is sassy! Who knew?”
“Sassy?” Sirius said, wearing an expression of mortal offense. “Rude, more like it.”
The evening passed with banter and laughter, Remus, Peter and Georgia eventually coming over to join the three of them, leaving Marlene to fend off the clumsy advances of Carl and Daniel by herself- although by the looks of things she was actually enjoying it. No-one was as drunk as the last time, which Sally was thankful for, although she did stumble a few times on the way back to the castle.
She woke up the next day with a banging headache, and judging from the pained expression on Marlene’s face as she stuck her head out of her drapes, so did she.
“Do you have anything for headaches?” Marlene groaned.
After looking around the dorm and realising that being the only other occupant, Marlene was definitely talking to her, Sally nodded and fumbled in her beside drawer for paracetamol. She popped out two herself and chucked the packet to Marlene who looked at it with disgust.
“What is this?”
“It’s a Muggle painkiller,” Sally said. “Take them with water.”
Marlene muttered something under her breath that sounded like ‘muggle painkillers more like sweets in a fancy packaging’ but she took the pills anyway while Sally went into the bathroom and stuck her head under the tap.
She came back into the room to see Marlene hanging over the edge of the bed. “How much did you drink?”
“Daniel and Carl kept buying me drinks,” Marlene said, her voice muffled by her sheets. “It seemed rude to say no. Thank god it’s Saturday. I’m going to sleep it off.”
“Lucky for you,” Sally said, massaging her temple. “I’ve got to meet McGonagall at eleven.”
Marlene opened one eye to squint at the clock. “You know it’s ten to eleven, right?”
An hour with McGonagall practising Transfiguration did nothing to help Sally’s headache, and when she came down for lunch she drank about a pint of water before even thinking about starting on any food.
“Feeling a bit rough?” Remus said.
Sally hadn’t even noticed that he was sitting opposite. “I can’t shift my headache,” she said.
He ignored her self-pity. “Did you see the notice in the common room this morning?”
“Everyone on the Quidditch teams has to go see Dumbledore after supper tonight.”
Sally raised an eyebrow. “What for?”
“I’m afraid I cannot tell you that,” Remus said, looking mildly smug.
“Does James know?”
“Does Sirius know?”
“He can’t be happy about that.”
“Sirius doesn’t know he doesn’t know anything,” Remus said. “And besides, you’re all finding out tonight- shit!”
A bat had swooped down from the ceiling, flying dangerously close to his head.
“Why are there bats everywhere?” Sally asked, realising as she looked up that the ceiling was nearly black, with cobwebs hanging from the walls and pumpkins suspended above them.
“It’s Hallowe’en?” Remus said, smiling at Sally’s confusion.
“Oh of course- the Hogsmeade day is tomorrow. I’ve completely lost track of time,” she said, feeling a little embarrassed.
“What are your plans for the rest of the day, anyway?” Remus asked, digging in to a pasty.
“Working,” she said. “Why, are you offering your assistance?”
Sitting down for dinner after working all afternoon with Remus felt like a release, although to be perfectly honest with herself, Sally hadn’t done that much work after Sirius and Peter had showed up because ‘James was doing important things’, to which Remus’ smiled knowingly.
He had eventually turned up for dinner, and had insisted the Quidditch team had to sit together, which meant Sally was awkwardly squashed between Carl and Georgia, before James had sprinted the length of the hall to stand with the other three Captains.
“What the hell is going on?” Sirius whispered.
No-one had the opportunity to answer before Dumbledore stood, looking magnificent and slightly eccentric in deep purple robes with green cobwebs embroidered around the hem.
“Can I have your attention please?” He barely raised his voice, but everyone in the hall stopped talking immediately and heads swivelled to face him. “I have an important announcement to make. The Quidditch Inter-House Cup will not be going ahead this year.”
Nothing could have prepared Sally for the uproar that his words caused. Sirius screamed something intelligible and stood up, as did Georgia. Remus covered his ears, while Sally just sat, numbly. She’d never play for Gryffindor. It had all been for nothing.
“Quiet!” Dumbledore had to shout to be heard over the noise. It subsided into mutterings and dirty glares directed at Dumbledore and the four captains standing on either side of him. “The reason for this is because the wizarding authorities across the globe have come together to organise the first Quidditch World Cup for teams made up entirely of students.”
There was a moment of silence. “Therefore, instead of our houses competing against each other, we will come together as a school to play other schools.” He paused again, surveying the students below him. “Unfortunately, the only people eligible to represent Hogwarts are members of the current Quidditch teams.”
Sally looked around. Sirius looked elated, and she didn’t doubt that he’d have one of the Beater’s places on the team. Marlene still looked shocked, and so did Georgia, while Daniel was moodily stabbing at the potatoes on his plate. Carl was the only one who looked like he couldn’t have cared less.
“The team will be picked in the next couple of weeks, and the first matches will start in the New Year,” Dumbledore said. “So seeing as there is nothing left to say, there is only one thing to say- dig in!”
The hall erupted again into chatter, and James sprinted back down the lines to squeeze himself in next to Sirius. “So, what do you think?”
“I think you’re a bloody dick to keep this from me all this time,” Sirius said, whacking James on the arm.
“Do you automatically get a place on the team?” Carl wanted to know, but James shook his head.
“I’ve already discussed it with Dumbledore and I’ve got a place on the reserve team instead. I can’t be Head Boy and keep going off around the world as well. The Ravenclaw Captain has bowed out completely, doesn’t want to be any part of it. Says it’ll interfere with her studies.”
“She’s not wrong,” Sally muttered, but no-one heard her.
“So we’ve got the Slytherin Captain?” Georgia asked. “That’s why he’s been watching all the training sessions?”
“That’s not fair,” Daniel muttered darkly. “They’ve got an advantage now.”
“Davis is going to work out the team with Mr Barker. There won’t be any bias,” James said, doing his best to sound unconcerned.
“Yeah right,” Sirius said, shooting a black look at the Slytherin table.
“Why did you even bother with the pretence of picking teams?” Marlene asked.
James shrugged. “It wasn’t finalised until the day before our try outs, and other houses had already picked their teams. Plus, seeing as most of the school won’t attend the matches, we’ll be having some here anyway. Gryffindor and Hufflepuff against Ravenclaw and Slytherin.”
“Who decided on those teams?” Sally asked, and James smiled.
“Me,” he admitted. “I thought we’d be able to get along better- although you guys are going to have to work a bit harder at getting along with Davis, and any other Slytherins on the team.”
I won’t, Sally thought privately. I won’t have to.
After everyone had eaten, James shepherded the excitable team to a small ante-chamber off the main hall, leaving Peter and Remus still with their meals.
“What are we doing now?” asked Daniel, slouching in an armchair and looking like the whole proceedings were above him.
Georgia turfed him out, sitting down herself. “Waiting for everyone else.”
They turned out to be waiting for quite a while. James’ enthusiasm for his team had meant he had practically forced the food down their throats and then hurried them out of the Great Hall before anyone else had finished. The Slytherins came in next, and arrayed themselves across one corner of the room. Sally was sat on a sofa arm, wedged in between Sirius and a wall. He wasn’t paying any attention to her, talking animatedly to James about other wizarding schools and the possible competition they would be facing. The Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs came in eventually, as did Professor McGonagall and Barker, who taught flying to the first years and refereed matches. With the teachers’ presence, the chatter subsided to mutterings, except for Black, who carried on talking loudly about various tactics and who would be the best on the team, until his one of his flailing arms hit Sally square in the mouth and she swore colourfully at him at the precise moment that Dumbledore walked in the room.
“Sorry sir,” Sally mumbled, turning a beetroot red and ducking her head in embarrassment as Sirius unsuccessfully tried to hide his laughter.
“You are excused, Miss Wood,” he said, a hint of a smile tugging at his lips. “From what I could see, your expletives seem to be justified.”
“Thank you sir,” Sally said, hiding behind her hands from McGonagall’s death glare.
Dumbledore walked to the other side of the chamber and a tiny Slytherin boy – their Seeker, Sally assumed- hopped out of the way so Dumbledore could stand next to the fireplace.
“Everyone in this room is eligible for one of the seven positions on the Hogwarts team. Another seven of you will also be chosen for the reserve team, who will replace players if someone forfeits their place through their own choice, injury, academic failings or if myself or match officials deem it prudent to take you off the field.”
His icy blue stare swept over the assembled students. “I trust that such drastic measures will not need to be taken. The captain of your team has already been decided, and I’m sure you would all like to congratulate Richard Audley, from Slytherin, in his new role.”
The Slytherins cheered and patted him on the back, while the rest of the students clapped rather half-heartedly. Sally took the opportunity to sneakily glance his way. Audley seemed a little embarrassed by the attention he was getting, and a blush was creeping up his pale cheeks. He was your typical build for a Keeper; tall, with long arms and legs which seemed a little too large for his body. Marlene was sat underneath Sally and she tapped her on the foot.
“Isn’t he in our Potions class?” Marlene whispered up to her, and with a start, Sally realised that she was right.
Dumbledore held up his hands, and the chattering subsided instantly. “The rest of you who wish to try out for the team should see Mr Barker to sign yourself up for an interview slot. It is our intention that only the most worthy students will be selected for the team. Mr Audley has already been present at many of your team training sessions, so he will have a good indication of your ability. If he and Mr Barker deem it necessary, then there may be additional sessions so they may accurately gauge your skills.”
“You may sign up from midday tomorrow, and it will be open for a week. The team will be chosen and notified before the Christmas holiday, and the first match is on the twentieth of January in Russia.” He surveyed them again over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. “I urge you all to think before you do sign up. Some of you will not get this opportunity again, but that does not mean that this is the right opportunity for you.”
After they had left the ante-chamber, and returned to the common room, James called a team meeting. Sirius and Georgie kicked some second years off the sofa in front of the fire so they could talk, but James never got to say whatever it was that he wanted to, because Sirius was eagerly filling in Peter on the events that had unfolded, Georgia and Marlene were excitedly talking about Russia and Carl was having to listen to Daniel waxing lyrical on his selection of ties and which would be suitable for the interview. James had slumped into an armchair and had his eyes closed. Once Sally had determined that he was worn out from his day and was actually asleep, she got up from the floor and started to sidle away from the group. She was tired as heck and needed some alone time to process what had happened... and maybe for a while entertain the possibility that she could go to Russia and play for Hogwarts.
Sirius grabbed her ankle as she stepped past him. “Oh no you don’t. We need to talk tactics, Sally! We’ll have a better shot of getting places if we work together.”
“Not tonight, Sirius,” Sally managed to say, before she climbed up the stairs to the girls dormitories and fell onto her bed, only then letting her tears escape.
The next morning, Sally didn’t feel any better, and it wasn’t helped by the entire school chattering about the upcoming Quidditch tournament. She skipped breakfast and ignored the lines of students waiting for the carriages to Hogsmeade, staying in a quiet corner in the Gryffindor common room instead, trying to concentrate on her Herbology essay. It was getting dark by the time she had finished.
“Didn’t see you in the village.”
The voice made Sally look up to see Peter and Remus standing over her alcove.
“Oh, hey guys.”
Peter sat down next to her and had a quick look over her parchment. “You know you’ve spelt ‘geranium’ wrong?”
Sally sighed and scrubbed at the still wet ink with her sleeve. “Thanks.”
“Are you going to try out for the team then?” Peter said, while Remus pulled her essay towards him and started to look through it.
She settled back into her armchair. “No, I’m not.”
Remus’ eyes flicked up to her face, but he didn’t say anything. Peter pulled a packet of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans out of his pocket and started to chew on them.
“I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my schoolwork,” Sally said. Saying it aloud only made the pain a little bit deeper. It wasn’t just losing her place on the Gryffindor team, it was losing the friendships she had made and the release that Quidditch had given her.
Peter shrugged. “I think you should at least go for the interview part,” he said, but before Sally had a chance to answer, the portrait hole opened and in climbed James and Sirius, who both seemed to be in excellent spirits.
“Are you guys coming down to dinner?” Sirius called, and Remus lifted a hand in acknowledgement, still reading Sally’s essay.
Peter followed the other two up to their dormitory, while Remus pulled out a quill from his own bag and started to show Sally where corrections needed to be made, explaining things where she wasn’t so sure. Before long, the boys had come down from their dorm and Sally tagged along with them for dinner.
Unsurprisingly, sitting with James and Sirius meant that Georgie and the majority of the other members of the team came to sit next to them, and every time Sally tried to steer the conversation away from Quidditch, she was thwarted by their enthusiasm. It seemed that everyone from the Gryffindor team had decided to go to the interview portion, and James was encouraging them all, even Daniel, who Sally privately thought had as much chance getting into the Quidditch team as Peter did.
“You’re going to try out, aren’t you?” Georgie said from across the table, her mouth full of mashed potato.
“Me?” Sally said, and Georgie rolled her eyes and nodded, spearing another sausage on her fork and dumping it on her plate.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said quietly. “I need to focus on my studies- not go half way across the world during term.”
“Russia isn’t half way across the world,” Peter pointed out, rescuing the gravy from James who seemed intent on drowning his vegetables.
Sally felt her cheeks beginning to burn.
“That’s not the point,” Remus interjected before Sally could say anything. “It’s Sally’s decision.”
Peter shrugged and started to tell Daniel about a distant cousin of his in school in Russia, and Sally tuned him out. Georgie had started eating her fifth sausage and Remus was staring at his own plate. She tried to eat, but the food tasted like cardboard in her mouth and she was having trouble swallowing. Her eyes were filling with tears and she willed them to stop. She had to stop being so childish about this. People couldn’t do things all the time. There were truly horrible things happening right now to much better people than she was, and she was going to cry –again- about some stupid Quidditch matches that she wouldn’t be good enough for anyway. It was ridiculous.
Sally checked her watch. She had a session with McGonagall in half an hour, and if she left now and walked really slowly, she’d only be twenty minutes early. She got up to leave, but Remus grabbed her wrist.
“For what it’s worth, I think you should try out.”
She forced a smile at him and then fled the Great Hall. Sally ended up on the cold stone floor outside the office for fifteen minutes before McGonagall arrived after dinner. She was levitating her shoe in the air through a mist of tears, and didn’t notice the teacher approach.
The shoe fell to the floor in Sally’s surprise, and she shoved it on with one hand, furiously wiping her cheeks dry with the other. “Yes, Professor?”
Her voice came out normally, much to Sally’s relief.
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No, not at all,” Sally said, bending to lace up her boot. When she stood up, she managed a nonchalant smile.
“Come in.” McGonagall held open the office door, and Sally sat in the chair opposite the desk, pulling out her Transfiguration books.
McGonagall settled herself into her own chair. “Is there anything you would like to talk about, Miss Wood?”
“I was wondering if we could start with some conjuring spells- I know we’re not supposed to start them until next year but on the syllabus you gave me it says-” Sally was cut off.
“That’s not what I meant, Sally,” McGonagall said, her voice uncharacteristically soft.
Sally furiously scrubbed at her eyes. “I know, Professor, but I’d really rather concentrate on Transfiguration at the moment-”
McGonagall set a tartan biscuit tin down on the desk with a small crash. Sally looked up. “Please have a biscuit, Miss Wood.”
“I just had dinner-”
“You barely ate anything.” McGonagall’s teacher voice had returned. “Have a Ginger Newt.” McGonagall prised open the lid and stared at Sally until she had taken a biscuit.
“You’re upset about...” she stopped, and Sally hastily took a bite of the biscuit. Satisfied, McGonagall continued. “You’re upset about there not being a Quidditch House Cup, this year.”
It wasn’t phrased as a question, but Sally nodded. “I know it’s silly to be upset,” she began, swallowing her mouthful.
“It’s not silly to be upset. You worked very hard to get your place on the team, and you’ve worked very hard so far this term to keep your place on the team and keep up with schoolwork, and now you feel like it has all been for nothing.”
Sally looked miserably at her.
“Believe it or not, Miss Wood, but once upon a time I was a student too, and on the Quidditch team. I took a nasty fall in my seventh year, and was unable to play for the rest of the year. I was very upset.”
“You played Quidditch?” Sally asked, taking another biscuit before McGonagall could shake the tin at her.
“Yes, I did. And I was quite good.”
“But I haven’t fallen though Professor. I just won’t be able to keep up with my schoolwork if I get onto the team- I need to retake my Potions OWL and I’m failing Defence Against the Dark Arts and I won’t even get on the team in the first place so there isn’t any point even worrying about it! It’s just not fair!” Sally was angry now, rather than upset and McGonagall leaned back in her chair, watching her student worriedly.
“I’ve worked so bloody hard to get on the team and do my schoolwork and I really need to get decent marks in my damn N.E.W.T.’s and the one bloody thing I was looking forward to this year was playing Quidditch and it’s a stupid game anyway and it’s just not fair!”
Sally realised she had crushed the ginger biscuit still in her hand and she breathed out, unclenching her fists. “I’m sorry Professor.”
McGonagall waved away her apology. “Miss Wood...”
There was a knock at the door just as it opened, and two boys stumbled through.
“Mr. Potter, Mr. Black,” McGonagall said. “What are you doing in my office?”
Sally wiped her eyes again with the back of her hand, but she was sure they still looked red and puffy.
James ran a hand through his hair. “We couldn’t help overhearing...”
“Maybe because you were listening?” McGonagall said dryly.
“Alright, yeah, we were,” Sirius said, and Sally bit her tongue. They had heard her entire outburst. “The thing is, Professor, Sally has to try out. She’s easily good enough to get on the team, she has tons of natural talent.”
“I can’t,” Sally said, through gritted teeth. They were really not helping matters.
“Merlin’s beard, Sally! You must actually be stupid! What we’re trying- ow!”
James had stamped on Sirius’ foot. “What we’re trying to say Sally, is that you will get on the team, and from there you could go pro, if you wanted to,” James said.
“You’ve bloody convinced yourself that you’re crap at Quidditch and maybe you were a crap Seeker but you’re a bloody fantastic Beater,” Sirius said. “Most pro Quidditch players have tons of experience from school but there are only a few places on this team and if you get one of them you will get offers coming out of your ears! And you don’t need N.E.W.T.’s to play Quidditch.”
“Which is lucky for you, Mr. Black,” McGonagall said. “If places on the Quidditch team depended on the effort you put into your classes, you would have to find another outlet for your tendency to attack objects with a bat.”
Sally couldn’t help but smile at that.
“Now, Potter, Black, if you don’t mind, Miss Wood and I were having a private meeting.”
James took the hint and steered Sirius out the door. “Sorry for interrupting, Professor. It won’t happen again.”
McGonagall waited until they had closed the door behind them before turning back to Sally. “As I was about to say before we were rudely interrupted, I think that if you want to play Quidditch, then you should at least try for one of the positions on the Hogwarts team.”
Sally couldn’t help herself, her mouth dropped open. “You do? But what about my N.E.W.T’s?”
“We will cross that bridge when we get to it. If you want something, you have to work for it- and I think, Miss Woods, that you know that more than most. Now, you wanted to start with Conjuring Charms?”
Sally nodded, smiling properly. She would talk to Mr. Barker tomorrow about an interview. A professional Quidditch player, she mused, flipping to the right pages in her textbook. To Sally, that was all she had ever wanted to do- to play Quidditch.