I steered clear of Al that night, after the humiliation of a Quidditch practice. I knew him well enough to let him lick his wounds in private. Or at least in the privacy of his team.
I watched him shuffle back to the changing rooms after the game, head hanging, dark hair plastered to his neck, broom held limply. I wished that he trusted me enough let me console him, but I feared that he wouldn’t know how to react to an outsider commenting on his game. Al had never really befriended someone outside his group before me, and it was clear that he still sometimes had to remind himself to act differently in my presence. He didn’t change himself for me, exactly… Just toned himself down a bit.
It was dark out, and the wind blew icy rain into my face. I hurried inside to the Great Hall, where dinner had just started. It was Al and his team’s custom to take long, pitying showers after a loss; it had only been a practice game, but the Gryffindors were their rivals, and Al liked to win as much as the next person. Therefore, I sat down at the Hufflepuff table, in between Ellie Rinkle and Steph Tilley.
“How was practice?” Steph asked, as I pulled off a few layers of clothing.
“Awful,” I said, “Gryffindor appeared and wanted to scrimmage. They crushed Slytherin.”
“I don’t get why Slytherin isn’t winning all their games.” Ellie said. “They’ve got some of the best players in the school!”
“They’re cocky,” I replied, helping myself to some mashed potato, “And they can be sore losers, so their losses become exaggerated.”
“Sore losers? Really?” Steph said.
“I don’t like saying things like that…” I admitted, feeling like I was betraying Al. “But I’ve never understood why losing a practice game is such a tragedy.”
“I’m with you there.” Ellie nodded vigorously. “But boys will be boys.”
I smiled. That had been Ellie, Steph and my motto for our first few years at Hogwarts, when boys could only get louder, grosser, and more stuck up. It had all changed a year or two ago, when boys started to become men, went from “disgusting” to “cute”, and the idea of kissing one didn’t seem so terrible.
The three of us continued eating in silence, but the peace was interrupted before too long. The Gryffindor Quidditch team strutted into the Great Hall a few minutes later. The older, male players shouted manly things in deep voices in the direction of the Slytherin table, despite the fact that only Kev and Dash were back from the pitch. Several Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws figured out the gist of what had happened at practice and cheered as well.
I sighed and picked at my biscuit. Another problem I faced too often was the fact that most Hufflepuffs tended to side with the Gryffindors. It was stupid that so many people still thought unconsciously that the Slytherins were the bad guys. Back in the days of my parents, Hufflepuff had always supported Gryffindor. But now there were no such thing as Death Eaters, so why should the Slytherins face so many glares?
Al and his team trooped in a little after the Gryffindors’ show, hunched and sullen. Al didn’t even look up as I called his name, and I wasn’t sure whether to be irritable with him for being so grumpy about a dumb game or worried that he was so down about it. Surely it wasn’t that big a deal? Al had next to year win the Quidditch Cup too, in case he’d forgotten.
I sat there, desperately not wanting to intervene in Al’s life, but at the same time thinking I could do no great wrong by comforting him. Didn’t all men want a doting girlfriend who could read their every mood swing anyway?
I decided to forget that Al was being childish, and followed him to his table. He was slouched in his bench, griping about the amount of homework he had that night and how stupid it was to play Quidditch in the rain. Next to him, Scorpius and Eddie replied similarly.
I stood behind Al for a moment and tried to remember what I was going to say, until I realized I hadn’t had a plan to begin with. So I ignored the fact that I would be butting in on his life, and draped a gentle arm around his shoulder while squeezing in between Al and Jon.
Al glanced up at my touch, and his mouth twitched into a smile. “Hi,” he said, “Hell of a game, huh?”
“You guys weren’t that bad,” I said, trying my hardest to be sympathetic and honest at the same time, “Gryffindor was just better.”
Scorpius laughed bitterly. “Yeah, maybe so, but that’s not gonna get us into the finals.”
“You still have two weeks until the game.” I said, “Surely you can pull something together.”
“It all always depends on my genius,” Scorpius replied, “And that comes and goes.”
“Just hang in there.” I said firmly. “It’s not the end of the world.”
Al and Scorpius looked blankly at each other, then back to me. “Sharon,” Al said, patting my back, “You’re the best, but you just don’t get Quidditch.”
“I don’t need to! It’s just a game! You have all of next year to win, anyway!”
Al sighed, and glanced warningly at Scorpius, who had tensed. “Let’s just drop it,” Al said finally, and sunk back into his bad mood.
“Fine.” I said, no longer feeling so sorry for Al, but not quite annoyed enough to give up on him entirely. “So, er…” There wasn’t much else to talk about, unfortunately. I didn’t feel like bringing up homework, because then Al would just complain about how much he’d left to the last minute. Nothing else came to mind, although Al and I had always found plenty to discuss, both stupid and complicated. “I’ll go back to my table, then.”
“No, please stay,” Al said sincerely, grabbing my elbow as I shook back my hair and rose from the table, “Please.”
So, with a sigh, I sat back down, and was subjected to nearly half an hour of debate on whether or not Eddie should pursue his latest love, the voluptuous Tatiana Smith.
I awoke a few days later, full of the promise that a Friday brings. The thought of a sunny weekend, a Hogsmeade trip, and plenty of free time to spend with Al was enough to put me in a good mood that wouldn’t be beaten down. I dressed quickly and went down to breakfast, steeling myself to battle off Al’s grumpiness that surely would have remained after last night.
However, I apparently hadn’t prepared for the fact that Wood would get into a fight late last night, and besides being stuck in the hospital wing covered head to toe in a rash, he was banned from Quidditch for two weeks. So Gryffindor was without their best player for the match against Slytherin, and Al and his team were exuberant.
“Did you hear the good news?” Al asked me excitedly when I sat next to him in the seat he’d saved for me.
“I passed Russ and Scorpius on the way down, so yes, I heard about a hundred times, thank you.”
“This is excellent!” Al continued, piling egg onto my plate. I’d noticed lately that happier Al and his friends were, the more they consumed.
Russ and Scorpius entered then; they’d probably spread the word about Wood on their way up. When they arrived at the table, they had to slap high fives with everyone, and then all the players already sitting down had to high five each other again, and the mood was infectious. I nearly found myself hoping another Gryffindor would be injured, so that Al would continue being that happy forever.
“I got a letter from Roxanne,” Al continued, “She’s in a very lovey-dovey mood, after her wedding. She wants to know how good a chance there is of you becoming her sister-in-law.”
I laughed a patted Al’s shoulder. “It’s a girl thing,” I assured him, “We always make things out to be more serious and awkward and important than they are.”
“Serious and awkward is better than single and slick.” Al replied.
After breakfast we had a break, and the sixth years on the team ran off to find whoever had started the fight with Wood, to congratulate him. I wandered off in the direction of the library, to get ahead with my homework. Al would find me there later; he was still perplexed that I spent so much time working to save time in the future.
Al’s cute, shaggy black head disappeared down a hall, and I made my way to the library, humming tunelessly. I wasn’t worried about Al anymore; he had his team there for him. It was odd how they all banded together, in good times and bad. I wasn’t close enough to anyone, even Steph, to have that pack mentality. Although Steph and I were different people; Al and his team all loved the same things, hated the same people, agreed on everything. Sometimes it was hard to tell them apart; all of them but Dash and Scorpius had dark hair, and they all sported impressive six packs (with the exception of Eddie, who hadn’t quite filled out yet).
I skimmed several shelves in the library, and ended up reading an advanced Charms book, curled up in a chair at the very back of the room. Soon I was immersed in Supersensory Spells and Fidelius Charms and other magic that I wished dearly that I could do. From time to time I almost reached for my wand to try out a new jinx, and before I knew it the bell was ringing for the next class and Al’s lips were on the back of my neck.
“You should’ve been a Ravenclaw, for all your reading.” He teased, easing the book out of my fingers, dropping it in my bag, then slinging it over his shoulder. He led the way out of the library, and walked me in the direction of Defense Against the Dark Arts, despite the fact that he was due in Transfiguration.
“I’m not smart like a Ravenclaw,” I argued, twining our hands together, “I just try hard.”
“Too hard.” He corrected, but he was just playing with me. He was almost jealous of my ability to get work finished before fun. Almost.
“Well, I’ll get good grades, and then I’ll get a better job when I graduate. You should begin studying harder; N.E.W.T.s are going to come faster than you expect.”
“I did just fine on my O.W.L.s,” Al yawned, “Besides, they don’t even look at your sixth year grades when you apply for a job. Just your N.E.W.T.s, and maybe how similar they are to your O.W.L.s.”
“Not if you get P’s all sixth year and E’s on all your N.E.W.T.s. Then they know something’s up.”
“Let’s stop talking about school,” Al said, “It’s making my head hurt.”
I laughed. “You’re going to go write an entire essay before class as soon as you get to Transfiguration, and you don’t want to talk about work?”
Al grinned as we approached the Defense door, and kissed me goodbye. “I like to postpone it as long as possible.” He said, as he began walking back downstairs. “I’ll see you next break.”
“Bye,” I called after him, and he waved back before turning a corner.
I entered the classroom and unpacked my things next to Steph and Ellie. Professor Sussman began his lecture on Petrification, and I listened with one ear. With the other, I heard Al’s rumbling voice, and his sweet, echoing laugh.
I wandered outside during the next break, right before lunch. I knew Al and his group would be huddled under a tree, bundled up in their cloaks, letting out some steam. The closed-in classrooms weren’t good for their levels of energy.
Sure enough, the Slytherin team was under a large willow by the lake, but they weren’t stretched on their backs or in the limbs of the tree, as usual. One of them stood, legs braced, fists clenched, shouting at the other, who was looking infuriatingly calm. The others surrounded them, and it appeared they were trying to calm the shouter down. I could hear their deep voices all the way from the castle door, and I hurried down to the scene. It was hard to see from the distance, but I was fairly sure Al wasn’t one of the angry ones. As for the others, I could only guess.
As I ran closer, I could make out some of the words, and nearly smiled at the boys’ stupidity. It appeared that Dash had hooked up with one of Eddie’s many crushes, after Eddie had asked her out to Hogsmeade.
“You knew I had asked her!” bellowed Eddie, and I saw that Russ and Jon had warning hands on Eddie’s shoulders. It was almost comedic how little red-faced Eddie yelled at Dash, who was more than a head taller.
Dash crossed his arms and glared at Eddie. “She’s a seventh year, McKenley,” He said, “And we’ve been talking for a while.”
“Talking?” scoffed Eddie, “I’m in love!”
“Ok, that’s enough,” Al broke in, “Eddie, you’re not in love, and she’s three years older than you. Dash, we all know you’re only dating her to get to Isabel McDonald, and you also knew that Eddie liked her. Let’s just let it go.”
“Not until he breaks up with her and lets her go to Hogsmeade with me.” Eddie said.
“Eddie,” said Scorpius, “To be honest, she’ll never go out with you. Dash will break up with her in a few weeks when he gets closer to Isabel, and then you can stalk her all you want.”
Dash smirked and walked off with Kev. Eddie stomped back to the castle, and I stepped up from where I’d been standing a few meters back. Al turned and wrapped an arm around my shoulder as Scorpius, Russ and Jon wandered off.
“Sorry about that,” he said, “Eddie will cool down. It was just Dash being an insensitive prat, like always.”
“They’ll get over it?”
“Oh yeah,” Al said, “They’ll both forget about it in a few days. Eddie always finds someone else to stare at, and Dash never has much success with girls, anyway.”
“Just like that?” I asked. “They’ll still be friends?”
“’Course,” Al said, looking at me oddly, “It was just a small fight. They didn’t even hit each other. Why?”
“Oh, I guess girls just don’t make up as quickly, that’s all.”
“We’re a team, Sharon,” Al said seriously, “We’re close as brothers. It’s hard for Eddie, Kev, and Dash sometimes, because of the age difference, and Kev and Dash give Scorpius a hard time because he’s captain and they’re not, but it’s all cool. A girl wouldn’t get in between us that easily.”
“Oh,” I said, wondering how much I meant to Al in comparison to his friends. Of course I didn’t think I was more special to him; after all, Al had known most of these guys since third year when he made the team. He, Scorpius, Russ and Jon had hung out before that as well. But Al and I also had a different relationship. His teammates were his brothers, but I was more than a sister…
“You’re quiet,” All commented. Sometime during our conversation, Al had sat us down under the tree, leaning against its trunk, where the snow remaining from winter was thin enough that he could brush it away. I leaned against his solid chest and shook my head.
“Just thinking,” I said, and Al didn’t press me. I liked that about him; he could be a sore loser, and he could brag too much, and sometimes he acted as if Quidditch were a life-or-death situation, but he really was a good guy.
After a few minutes, Al started to sit up and I slid off him where I’d been half-sitting on his lap. He pulled me to my feet and when I looked up at him to ask where he was going, he said, “We should probably go finish our Potions work before class this afternoon.”
I couldn’t help it; I laughed. Al never wanted to use up free time to do homework. “You mean your work. I did mine last night, when we were supposed to.”
“Fine, my homework.” Al said, and we walked back to the castle, arm in arm. “But you can help,” he added.
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