Chapter 9 : Chapter 29
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For the first week or so back at school, there was a lot of buzz about the wizard family that had been killed. A lot of rumors were going around about who all was involved and whether it was part of some larger conspiracy or not. But, as tends to happen in a sheltered and secluded school, the rumors faded and life returned to normal. Talk of dark wizards and conspiracies was replaced with discussions about Quidditch teams, professors, classes and who was caught kissing whom in the broom cupboard.
The boys’ exploration of the castle continued, when possible, with spells they had found earlier coming in handy. They had found several secret passages ensuring they would almost never be late to class again. The map was coming along nicely and some of the guess-work had been taken out of drawing it with a convenient little spell Remus discovered. It sent out a tracer line from the end of the caster’s wand and traveled in a certain direction. As the tracer traveled, a corresponding line was drawn on a predetermined piece of parchment. This made the mapmaking process much easier and more accurate, as they no longer had to guestimate distances. Peter had been most helpful by discovering the patrol routes and schedules of the teachers and prefects, making getting caught a lot less likely. Filch and Mrs. Norris tended to be the only wildcards, popping up unexpectedly and most inconveniently.
Pranking as a favorite pastime had not died down with the boys. One day, the boys had snuck into the transfiguration classroom and put a spell on the chalkboards so that every time Professor McGonagall tried to write on one of the boards, it broke out into fits of giggling. Trying rather unsuccessfully to maintain her stern demeanor, she quipped, "I’m glad someone is learning from my class. However, if you wish to continue doing so, I suggest that whoever did this undo it before my afternoon class."
The Marauders continued to prank various students, either for fun or because the boys were in some way annoyed by whomever. But Sirius and James seemed to feel personally affronted by the news of dark wizards at work, so they vented their disgust on the Slytherins in general and Snape in particular. Peter went along with the more vindictive pranks, not wanting to lose face, but also because he enjoyed being on the giving end. Remus, while he didn’t stop his friends, didn’t actively participate, though he held onto enough guilt for all of them.
"Relax, Remus," Sirius tried to placate him one evening while they were sitting in the common room. "It’s not as if they don’t deserve it. Snivellus, aside from being an annoying git who tries his hardest to tattle on us, isn’t exactly innocent. Did you see the hex he used on Peter? I’ve never even seen that before."
"Well Peter wasn’t exactly an innocent by-stander either, was he?" Remus countered.
"Mark my words, if anyone becomes a dark wizard, it will be him." Sirius emphasized by wagging with his index finger.
"So you’re punishing him for things he hasn’t done yet?" Remus asked in frustration.
"We’re just adding to his dark and misunderstood past, so one day when someone writes a book about him, people will feel all sympathetic and compassionate," Sirius chuckled.
"Who would ever want to read a book about Snivellus?" James pondered in disgust.
"You’re disturbed, Sirius," Remus asserted.
"And you’re a prude."
Remus and Sirius stared at each other for a few seconds before Sirius broke into a predatory grin and dove over the table, taking out Remus and the chair, as well as knocking a few quills, scrolls and an ink bottle onto the floor. They wrestled for a minute before Ward came over.
"Oi. What do you two think you’re doing?"
Remus and Sirius both jumped to their feet, breathing heavily. "We were just… um… Spider! Huge." Sirius gestured with his hands, indicating something roughly the size of a quaffle. "Heading straight for Remus. So I had to knock him out of the way. Saved his life, I did," Sirius grinned proudly.
"Spider. It looked a lot like wrestling to me."
"Well, that’s not allowed in school. I would think you would know that, being a prefect and all," Remus added, with a grin of his own.
Ward narrowed his eyes. "And after you knocked him out of the way of the spider?"
Remus continued the story. "Sirius is… a tad clumsy. You know… growing into those gangly arms and legs. I was trying to keep him from hurting himself… or me… in his attempts to get back up."
Sirius, still smirking, punched Remus in the arm. "That’s right. Such a good git… I mean friend," he corrected quickly.
"You don’t really expect me to believe that story?" Ward asked. He looked at James and Peter for support, but James just nodded heartily and made hand motions similar to Sirius’, indicating the size of the imaginary spider. Peter looked terrified, but it was impossible to tell if it was the terror of seeing a giant spider or the threat that he could possibly get into big trouble for lying to a prefect. Ward threw up his arms in defeat and shook his head. "Whatever. Just keep the ruckus down. Other students are trying to study."
As Ward walked away, Remus whispered, "Ow!" and rubbed his shoulder. "Now, he’s a prude." James and Peter burst out laughing.
Gryffindor had easily defeated Ravenclaw in their last Quidditch match, but the real challenge was coming up. Hufflepuff had won the tournament last year and their team was largely the same. Only their seeker was new. Moira Daly was a small fifth-year with a keen eye and patience that rivaled Remus’. Her small frame made her light on her broom and she was an excellent flier, with great control and accuracy. Hufflepuff was the team to beat again this year. Slytherin was close to Gryffindor in points, so Gryffindor had to ensure that this was a high scoring game. That way, even if they lost, if they had enough points, they would still be able to play in the cup.
As the match approached, the team became increasingly tense. Weatherton, James and a few other players from Gryffindor sat in on a Hufflepuff practice in an attempt to learn the players’ strengths, weaknesses, and strategies.
"See how Daly flies in lazy figure-eights. She constantly centers herself to keep maximum lookout," Weatherton pointed out.
"They have an excellent passing team," Longbottom stated, watching the graceful way the quaffle was passed from chaser to chaser while doing an intricate dance with the beaters who guarded them.
"Yes, but game situation is always different," Audrey Turner, one of the Gryffindor beaters, added.
James watched it all, playing close attention to how the team flew and interacted. Most of the Hufflepuff team had been together for four years. That was highly unusual, but it obviously paid off, as they communicated with subtle hand gestures and were comfortable and familiar with the way they each moved. James figured their biggest weakness was the new seeker. She was the least experienced, both in playing and in being a unit with the team. If she could be kept distracted and off guard, Gryffindor would have a chance at winning. James pointed this out to Weatherton on the way back to the common room.
"Hmm…" Weatherton contemplated what James said. Then he smiled in appreciation. "Well done. I’ll think on that."
The day of the game, James was more nervous than usual, evidenced by the fact that he stared at his breakfast plate and didn’t eat. His stomach felt like it was already flying, but not at all gracefully – rather in lurching loopty-loops and sudden free-falls. The other Marauders tried to cheer him up, or at least relax him a little, but he barely heard what they were saying. After an agonizingly slow twenty minutes, Weatherton finally came and tapped James on the shoulder, telling him it was time to get ready.
"If he’s like this now, what’s he going to be like before the cup?" Remus asked quietly.
"I don’t know, but he’s got to learn to relax," Sirius said concernedly.
Shortly thereafter, the remaining Marauders left for the pitch. It seemed that most of Gryffindor was aware of the importance of this match. There was a tense excitement draped over the house.
Miles Swiftly, the flight instructor and Quidditch referee, released the Quaffle and started the game. It was exciting, though low scoring. The Hufflepuff defense was tough, and their keeper very alert. This was a problem for Gryffindor as, if they lost, they wouldn’t have enough total points to knock Slytherin out of the final game. This added pressure to the Gryffindor Seeker. Fortunately for Gryffindor, their keeper was also at the top of his game and Hufflepuff would have to catch the snitch to win as well. Weatherton had, in fact, taken James’ words to heart and he ordered the beaters to keep an extra-close eye on Daly and occasionally fly through her path to veer her off course, thus keeping her distracted.
An hour into the game, the score was Hufflepuff: 30; Gryffindor: 40. It was the first time Gryffindor had managed to gain the lead the whole game. James had the quaffle and was heading toward the Hufflepuff goals when he noticed Daly dive.
"Frank!" he called out as loudly as he could. Frank looked over at him. James nodded and hoped he understood to get ready for a pass. He noticed the Gryffindor beaters were both nearby. "Guard Frank! Guard Frank!" he yelled as he tossed the ball to his teammate. Without waiting to see if Longbottom had caught the ball, James dove to intercept Daly. His intention was not to catch the snitch, but rather get in her way and force her off course. He hoped it would be enough of a distraction to cause her to lose the snitch, if not alert his own seeker to its position. There was a moment’s hesitation on the part of the Hufflepuffs as they watched a chaser dive after their seeker. As Longbottom barreled across the playing field, guarded by his beaters, the Hufflepuffs re-focused their attention on Frank, to keep him from scoring.
Daly, in the meantime, was so focused on the snitch that she didn’t see James in time to swerve out of his way. She nearly lost her grip on her broom, but as James flew skillfully passed her, he tugged on her cloak to enable her to regain her balance. Her lack of attention caused her to lose sight of the snitch. She did a low sweep of the pitch and was just heading back to hovering height when she saw Jules, the Gryffindor seeker, fly hard and fast in the direction of his own goal and knew she would never make it on time.
Gryffindor won the game and the Gryffindor section of the stands exploded with shouts, applause, and fireworks, right before they rushed the field to congratulate their team.
As the two teams dismounted and shook hands, Daly shook James’ hand and leaned in to talk to him, ensuring he could hear her. "You fly well. And thanks for the hand."
James nodded and grinned shyly back at her. Just then Sirius came up behind James and jumped on his back, whooping and cheering. James stumbled from the unexpected collision, but Sirius, whose feet were now firmly on the ground, placed a hand on James’ shoulder to steady him.
"Way to go, mate! Excellent flying!" Sirius was shouting due to the noise of the jubilant crowd around them.
"Sirius. Moira Daly, the Hufflepuff seeker," James introduced them. "Moira, Sirius…"
"Black. I know." But there was no hint of condemnation in her voice or her eyes. Instead she shook Sirius’ hand, too. Turning back to James she said, "I look forward to the rematch." She winked at Sirius and then allowed herself to be swallowed in the crowd.
"James! You were wonderful." A group of first-years came up to James, giggling behind their hands.
"Uh, thanks," James said, a little flustered by the sudden attention.
Sirius laughed and started dragging his friend away. "Come on. I think Weatherton wants to meet with the team before we party."
As they turned away, one of the girls said in a rather wispy voice, "I love your hair, James."
James blushed, looking a bit starry-eyed, and allowed himself to be ushered to the rest of the team.
Sirius rolled his eyes and leaned close to Remus, "We’ll never hear the end of this one."
The victory party lasted so long and was so loud that, at midnight, Professor McGonagall entered the common room. "I think we have celebrated long enough for one night. Off to bed. Now!"
Ward took this as his cue to close down the party and usher everyone to bed.
As the boys lay in their beds, all lights out, Remus, doing his best impression of a first year girl, said, "I love your hair, James." Peter and Sirius started snickering and James flung his pillow at Remus.
"Damn!" James mumbled to himself. "Now I don’t have a pillow."
- - - - -
A/N - Ah, another lovely morning. Fall weather seems to be starting and the blazing heat of summer is ending. Yea! I love this time of year. Anyway. Thank you (Siriusly Cool) for continuing to stick with this story and continuing to share your thoughts about it. I love the feedback. :) Thanks.
And, of course, thank you to my ever faithful editors and beta - Mom, mei mei, and Sifi.
Anyone have any ideas of events that happened in the first war? Or good resources for it? I'll gladly take them. I'm starting on "Book Three" soon and there is so little info on the first war, any help I can get would be awesome. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, "I have no gift for strategy." (The Princess Bride) - Isn't that nice of me? Asking ya'll to work? Hee hee.
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