“Ah, another year at dear old Hogwarts,” Thaddeus Peabody said expansively, throwing his arms wide as he burst into the dorm room.
“Shut up, Thad,” Reid said, burrowing under his blanket.
Arthur grinned at both of them, sitting up in bed. He put his glasses on and the world came into focus. Thad was already dressed in his robes, his prefect's badge shiny and polished on his chest. Dunstan was sitting at the foot of his bed, tying his shoelaces, and Roddy Feltham sat yawning and stretching on his bed.
“The sun is shining, breakfast will be on the table at any moment, and Cressida will be waiting for me. You lot ought to get up now, or you'll all be late for the first day of class. Reid, Cecilia's already down in the common room, you'd better get up.” Thad waved to them and went back downstairs, his duty as their year's male prefect apparently completed.
Arthur yawned and wondered, as he got dressed, if Cecilia dragged the girls out of bed as well. Maybe it was just a prefect thing. Thad was inordinately cheerful every morning, though. It was quite annoying to Reid, who was a night owl.
“Damn him,” Reid muttered, emerging from the blankets. He squinted at the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. “What time is it?”
“Six thirty,” Dunstan told him, grabbing his robes and pulling them on over his head.
“Dear God,” Reid said, and slid back under his blankets.
“Cecilia's waiting,” Dunstan reminded him.
“Damn her as well,” came Reid's voice from under the blanket.
“I'm going to tell her you said that,” Dunstan called back as he left the dormitory.
Reid mumbled a few more swear words and threw back the covers, revealing the horrible green pyjamas, printed with small cartoon puffskeins, that he had acquired over the summer. Arthur rolled his eyes at him and headed down the stairs, where Dunstan was just tattling on Reid to Cecilia, who looked as if she might march up the stairs and hit Reid over the head with the disturbingly thick Ancient Runes textbook she was holding.
Thad was still in the common room, talking in a low voice to Francine Allen and Atalanta Weekes, two sixth-year girls who had been on the Gryffindor Quidditch team last year. He looked up and saw Arthur, and waved him over.
“Good morning,” Arthur said cheerfully to the three of them.
“Hi Arthur,” Francine said, smiling at him. “Have a good holiday?”
Thad interrupted before Arthur could answer her. “Arthur, old boy, I'm Quidditch captain this year.”
Arthur nodded. He had rather been expecting that. Thad was now the most senior player on the team, since Icarus Teague and Andrew Bishop had finished school last year. Icarus had been the captain last year, and had been signed to Puddlemere United as reserve Keeper after leaving Hogwarts. He wasn't a terribly good captain, but he'd been a damn good Keeper. Thad had been playing for Gryffindor since his fourth year, and was generally agreed by their House's fans to be a very good Beater.
“We'll be holding try-outs in two weeks,” Thad said then. “Are you going to try for Chaser again this year?”
Francine nodded encouragingly. “You nearly made the team last year, Arthur, you should try.”
Arthur puffed out his chest a little, feeling very pleased. They wanted him on the team. “Are you keeping the old team?”
“Everyone that's still here and wants to play,” Thad said, nodding. “Francine is back, of course, and I already talked to Njemile and Julian, and Atalanta says she'll play Seeker again, so we'll be looking for a new Keeper and Chaser. We'll still try out every position though,” Thad added, giving Francine a stern look. She rolled her eyes at him.
Atalanta looked rather sour, but then she usually did. Arthur didn't know the girl very well, but he knew she was a pureblood who mostly kept to herself, and people often said she ought to have been a Slytherin. It had come as rather a surprise last year when she'd tried out for the team and turned out to be a fairly good Seeker. She was fast and light, and she'd been quite popular with the Gryffindor fans even though she'd only caught the Snitch twice last year – at least, she'd been popular with the male fans. Atalanta was very pretty.
“It would be such fun if you were on the team as well, Arthur,” Francine said warmly. She wasn't very pretty, but she was very nice and funny, and a good friend of Cosmo's. Arthur was quite fond of Francine, who was Muggle-born and didn't mind answering questions about Muggles, even when Arthur could tell she was laughing at him a bit about it.
“All right, I'll try out,” he told them, still feeling quite pleased at being asked specifically.
“Right then,” said Thad. “I'll post an announcement on the notice board this afternoon. Make sure you practice, Arthur.”
“I played quite a lot of one-on-one this summer,” he said. "My brother still doesn't have a job."
“Well done. I'm off to breakfast. See you later,” Thad said to the girls, and Arthur fell into step beside him as they headed down to the Great Hall for breakfast.
“How's Molly? I didn't get a chance to say hello to her yesterday,” Thad said.
“She's well. And Cressida?”
Thad had been dating Cressida Titherington of Ravenclaw since last fall, since Molly had, in a way, set them up together. He shook his head, looking a little dejected. “I didn't get to see much of her this summer, she went on holiday to America. Apparently she's got cousins at the Salem Witches Academy.”
Thad clapped him on the back. “Tell Molly I said hello,” he said as he split off toward the Ravenclaw table.
Arthur made his way to the front of the Gryffindor table, where Molly was sitting with Hattie. She looked up and smiled at him when she saw him.
He was very happy to be back at school again, where he could see her every day without having to worry about being caught by their parents. He hadn't seen nearly as much of her this summer as he would have liked, though they'd been at each other's houses at least twice a week. It just wasn't the same as spending all day, every day together as they did at school. He didn't want to think about this being their final year, and he wouldn't be able to see her every day any more.
Unless he convinced her to marry him as soon as school was over.
He sat down next to Molly and kissed her cheek quickly, aware that they were quite close to the staff table. Professor McGonagall wasn't looking their way, fortunately.
“Morning, Arthur,” Hattie said, smiling at him.
Molly was in a businesslike mood that morning, and gave Arthur a brief smile before saying briskly, “I've got your schedule from Professor McGonagall and copied it into your homework planner. You've got Muggle Studies first thing this morning, so you'd better eat quickly.”
Arthur smiled at her bossiness and grabbed a piece of bacon. It was good to be back at Hogwarts.
Molly informed him later that morning in Charms that they would be going to the library that evening for a start of term revising session. Arthur was against any sort of actual work the first week of school, on principle, but Molly was a force of nature and he found himself in the library after dinner that evening with a stack of books on preparing for N.E.W.T.s.
“Hattie will be here shortly, she wants to discuss N.E.W.T. practice exams,” Molly told him, looking more excited about additional schoolwork than Arthur thought was healthy. He wondered if she'd been like this O.W.L. year.
“Practice exams?” he echoed. “Isn't it a little early for that?”
She gave him a look of disbelief. “These are the most important exams we'll ever take! Our entire future is dependent on this year!”
Arthur could feel his heartrate accelerating as panic set in over that pronouncement, and decided he wasn't going to think about any of that just yet. He tuned her out for the next couple of minutes, pretending to look at one of the books while she lectured him about the importance of practice exams, and instead mentally replayed a few tactical manoeuvres he'd seen at professional Quidditch matches. He thought he and Bilius had figured out the Hawkshead Attacking Formation, though with only two of them to try it, he wasn't sure they'd got it right, but it ought to impress Thad that he knew that one...
“Are you listening to me, Arthur?”
He gave a start, and looked up at her guiltily. “What?”
She was giving him a stern look. “What were you thinking about?”
“Quidditch,” he admitted, caught. “I ran into Thad earlier, he's captain this year.”
“How lovely for him,” Molly said, smiling now. “I'm sure he's very pleased about that.”
“Yes. He's scheduled tryouts in two weeks,” Arthur said nonchalantly, waiting to gauge her reaction.
“That's nice,” she said, picking up one of the practice books. “Here's the Muggle Studies book, you and Petula can both use it to study for your N.E.W.T.s.”
Arthur took the book from her and set it down in front of him, leafing through it without really seeing the pages. This wasn't going the way he'd hoped. He'd had fantasies all through Muggle Studies of Molly in the stands, cheering him on as he played Chaser for their House team, but those images in his mind's eye had imploded in the face of her disinterest. He'd always known she didn't give a hoot about Quidditch, but somehow he'd still hoped she would encourage him. He was rather disappointed that she wasn't playing along with her half of the Quidditch-star fantasy he'd concocted.
“You're not really going to try out this year, are you?” Molly said then.
Arthur eyed her askance. Her face was stern again, as if she were sure he would back down. He wasn't sure why she disapproved, so he said cautiously, “I might do, yes. I nearly made the team last year.”
Molly frowned. “But this is N.E.W.T. year. You'll have more homework and revising than ever, how will you have time for it if you're playing Quidditch?”
“I'm just thinking about it right now, I haven't figured everything out yet,” Arthur said, feeling rather uncomfortable.
“You have a very busy schedule this year,” Molly said in a brisk tone, sorting through the stacks of N.E.W.T. books. “You haven't time for Quidditch. Blast, I didn't get the one with the practice quizzes in Arithmancy. I'll be right back,” she said, patting his shoulder as she stood.
Arthur propped his chin up on his hand as he watched her go.
He didn't want to lie to Molly, which was difficult to do in the best of circumstances, but... he really did want to play Quidditch. He decided to try out and not tell her about it unless he made the team, then he'd tell her the truth. He felt better after giving himself an avenue for honesty, and when Molly returned, he gave her a kiss on the cheek for worrying about his grades. She smiled at him invitingly, and they spent a few happy moments in their private corner of the stacks, until Hattie turned up and brought them back to reality with a cough and a knowing grin.
“Arthur!” Gideon Prewett, one of Molly's little brothers, was waving at him as he and his twin brother Fabian jogged down the corridor toward Arthur as he was leaving the Muggle Studies classroom later that week. Arthur wondered why they weren't in class, but decided that, as with most things related to the Prewett brothers, he preferred not to know.
Arthur slowed down so they could catch up, and the twins fell into step beside him.
“Heard you were trying out for Quidditch this year,” Gideon said eagerly.
“From whom?” Arthur asked warily.
“Njemile Kamara. So you're going to try out for Chaser? Are you any good?” Fabian asked.
Arthur shrugged. “I tried out last year and didn't make the team,” he said self-consciously, feeling his ears get hot.
“We'll help you train,” Gideon said. “We can help you practice before the tryouts.”
Arthur gave them a surprised look. “Why should you do that?”
“So you'll keep Molly off our backs- oof
.” Gideon's breath came out in a whoosh, cutting off his sentence, as his brother's elbow shot into his side.
“Do I want to know what you're up to this year?” Arthur asked suspiciously.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Fabian said airily. “So, when do you want to go down to the pitch for some practice?”
Arthur felt rather uncomfortable at that. He appreciated the offer and thought the help would be useful – it was difficult to really play Quidditch by one's self – but he wanted to keep his involvement in the tryouts as quiet as possible, so certain people didn't find out. Somehow it didn't seem right to ask her own brothers to lie to her. “Look, Molly didn't think I ought to play Quidditch this year, with N.E.W.T.s and all, so...”
“Don't worry, we won't tell her a thing,” Gideon assured him. “If you can keep it from Molly, then she'll never know.”
He should have known better than to worry about the twins lying to their sister. They did it every day, he thought ruefully. “Are you sure you
can keep it from her?” Arthur asked sceptically.
“We've had years of experience lying to Molly, and hiding stuff from her,” Fabian said cheerfully. “You'll get used to it eventually, mate.”
Arthur would have liked to say he didn't have to get used to it, but he rather felt he'd lost his moral high ground when he decided to try out for Quidditch behind her back. Instead he said, “Well then, thanks boys. How about Saturday morning?”
Arthur had noticed, since he'd begun spending a great deal of time in Molly's company almost a year ago, that it was often necessary to present her with a fait accompli
. She was inclined to argue and lecture for days on end if warned prior to an event of which she was sure to disapprove, but if told of it afterwards, the result might reasonably be expected to be a bit of shouting, followed by a pronouncement of “Well, on your own head be it, then.”
If he had informed her a fortnight ago that he was in fact going to try out for Quidditch, he would have been lectured at on a daily basis until she had secured a promise from him not to try out for the team. By simply trying out and postponing the possibility of even needing to tell her until he found out whether or not he'd made the team, he was really saving both of them a great deal of bother and unpleasant arguing.
Really, he was doing her a favour.
Guilty conscience assuaged, and feeling rather cheerful at the thought that his girlfriend would just wash her hands of the entire subject and possibly not shout at him, Arthur set off for the Quidditch tryouts in high spirits.
Thad was on the centre of the pitch, with Njemile Kamara and Julian Kirkpatrick at his side, gesticulating in a manner that indicated he was explaining some new techniques to them. Julian, whose father had played for the Kenmare Kestrels, looked rather bored. A small crowd of Gryffindor hopefuls was milling about nearby, brooms in hand and mostly looking quite nervous.
Arthur joined their little crowd and was unsurprised to see Dunstan among them. Dunstan had tried out for the team every year since first year and never made it, but a bullheaded determination kept him coming out every year, just in case he had mysteriously gained some talent over the summer. He usually hadn't.
Dunstan nodded at Arthur, and he went over to stand next to him. Dunstan was tossing his broomstick lightly from hand to hand, a nervous habit that Arthur had seen before. He was staring at Thad as if he were trying to force Thad to accept him onto the team by the strength of his thoughts.
“All right there, Arthur?” Dunstan said, not looking at him.
“Good morning. Feeling confident this morning?” Arthur asked, eyeing Dunstan's broomstick as it swished back and forth.
“I suppose.” The broomstick sped up a bit in its path from hand to hand. Dunstan didn't look very confident.
Arthur, on the other hand, was not nervous this time. He'd managed to get out to the pitch twice with the Prewett brothers, and they'd pronounced his Chaser abilities to be above-average, which he felt was quite a compliment from them, and he'd been feeling very cheerful about his Quidditch abilities in the knowledge that Gideon and Fabian, at least, were on his side.
He hadn't been brave enough to try out until fifth year, but had missed out on the team, to the eternal delight of his brother Bilius. Sixth year he had felt he'd done rather better, but still hadn't made the team. He hadn't been dumb enough to tell his brother that time, so he'd been fortunate enough to miss out on Bilius's glee at his not making the team.
This year, he had a good feeling about the team. He'd played Quidditch a few times over the summer with Reid, and the usual one-on-one games with his brother, and now he'd had several hours of serious practice under his belt on the school's pitch with the Prewett brothers, he felt quite confident that he would do better this year than he had last.
Atalanta Weekes turned up then with Francine Allen, and Thad blew his whistle to get everyone's attention. Arthur followed the small crowd as it gathered around him, and he and Dunstan stood at the back. Much of the crowd seemed to be third and fourth years, and Arthur felt very tall and old next to them.
“Thanks for coming out, everyone,” Thad called out, his broomstick tucked under one arm. “We're going to start with the Keeper tryouts, so everyone else go and sit down for a bit.”
After half an hour of watching Njemile and Francine fly around and throw Quaffles at the goalposts, Thad declared a fourth-year boy named Grant Swyndlehurst as the new Keeper. Arthur was favourably impressed by Grant, though he wasn't as good as Icarus Teague had been.
Thad sent up the Chasers then, and as Arthur kicked off from the ground, he felt a thrill of nerves. The position of Chaser seemed to be the most popular one, as the crowd of hopefuls was largest. Francine gave him an encouraging smile from across the pitch, and he took a deep breath and took off.
Thad had released a single Bludger to see how the prospective Chasers were at avoiding it, and Julian Kirkpatrick was flying around with a Beater's bat to prevent any bad injuries. Two second-year girls squealed as the Bludger came near them, and took refuge on the ground. Arthur rolled his eyes at them and ducked as the Bludger flew over his head.
He caught the Quaffle easily when Njemile passed it to him, and felt quite exhilarated as he threw it through the goal post. No one was guarding them, but he was sure he could have made the shot even with a Keeper on duty. He put on an extra burst of speed and caught a tricky reverse pass from Francine, who grinned at him as he then tossed it over to Njemile, allowing her to score easily.
Finally Thad blew his whistle, and Arthur made it to the ground first. Dunstan landed right behind him.
“Right,” said Thad, surveying them.
Arthur eyed a couple of fourth-years, who were watching Thad eagerly. Dunstan didn't look particularly optimistic, and Arthur guessed his friend must know he hadn't performed well. Dunstan hadn't managed to catch a single pass and had nearly been knocked out by the Bludger because he hadn't been paying it any attention.
“Arthur, you're in. Francine, Njemile, welcome back to the team.”
Arthur grinned widely, feeling a burst of pride. Dunstan didn't look terribly surprised, and gave Arthur a clap on the shoulder before heading to go sit in the stands and watch the rest of the tryouts.
Atalanta once again proved that she was the best Seeker in their House, and as the only person to turn up to play Beater aside from Thad and Julian was a weedy little third-year boy, there seemed to be no question of who would play that position for Gryffindor. Julian was only a fifth year and already nearly as tall as Thad and just as broad-chested, and had grown up watching his father play professionally. The tryouts ended quite amicably once the third-year had been told, very kindly, that he ought to try again next year.
Thad informed everyone that practices would begin on Tuesday, and the newly formed Gryffindor team headed for the castle to celebrate. Gideon and Fabian were in the stands, and called congratulations to Arthur as he left the pitch, and as he waved to them in thanks, a thought occurred to him that cut through a bit of his jubilation at his own victory.
He was going to have to tell Molly now.